Howard Bender breaks down the fantasy implications of the offseason’s key player movement. This article is part of our series that highlights quality content from premium subscription sites. RotoWire has been gracious enough to share a weekly article with our users for free. For additional RotoWire insight, you can visit RotoWire.com.
As always, one of the most important parts of your fantasy baseball prep work is to track all the offseason player movement so you can properly evaluate players, teams and new situations. Put together here is a one-stop shop for all the major, fantasy-relevant moves – free agent signings and trades. With spring training almost upon us, it’s time to get to work.
David Ross, C, BOS – Whether it was the possibility of trading incumbent backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia or just his inability to hit lefties, the Sox signed the longtime Braves back-up to a two-year, $6.2 million contract. Although his contact rates have diminished the last few seasons, he still provides strong defense, a bit of pop and decent on-base skills and should work well in a complementary role in Boston this season.
Mike Napoli, C/1B, BOS – Negotiations this winter went somewhat awry as it was learned that Napoli is suffering from avascular necrosis, a disease brought on by poor blood supply that can kill cells in bone tissue. A three-year offer was pulled off the table, but with a strong desire to have his bat in the lineup, the Red Sox finally settled on a one-year, $5 million deal. While the Sox plan on using him at first base, Napoli still maintains his catcher eligibility and with his walk rate, OBP and power potential, he remains a top-five option at the position.
Stephen Drew, SS, BOS – A brutal ankle injury cut Drew’s 2011 season in half, and it took him until midway through the 2012 season to recover enough to resume playing. He posted a slash line of just .223/.309/.348 over 79 games between the Diamondbacks and the A’s, but he showed promise when he surged late in the year and hit .263 with five home runs and 15 RBI over the final month of the season. The Red Sox opted to bring him in on a one-year, $9.5 million contract in lieu of using Jose Iglesias, whom the Sox don’t think is quite ready to be handed the starting gig just yet. With depth at the position, though, Boston could also see Drew as a major trade chip near the deadline, so this might not be his final stop in 2013.
Shane Victorino, OF, BOS – The Flyin’ Hawaiian actually turned down an extra year from Cleveland but received $2 million per year more when he signed his three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox to be their starting right fielder. He brings sound defense and great speed to the table despite the fact that the 32-year old’s power and average have declined recently. He’ll likely slot into the No. 2 spot in the lineup, which should give him ample opportunities to steal bases and score runs, but keep his platoon splits in mind. Victorino crushes left-handed pitching (.323 in 164 AB last year), but hit just .230/.295/.332 against right-handers over 431 at-bats last season. If the trend continues, he could see himself dropped down in the order against righties or even get an extra day off here and there.
Jonny Gomes, OF, BOS – With a career .894 OPS against southpaws as opposed to a .732 mark against right-handers, Gomes has always been a platoon outfielder throughout his career. But the Red Sox don’t view him as such and are looking to give him every opportunity to play every day after signing him to a two-year, $10 million deal. While the notion puts Gomes and his career .211 ISO in a much better light for fantasy owners, the reality of a career .222/.307/.424 line against righties could give way to more playing time for potential platoon-partner Daniel Nava.
Ryan Dempster, SP, BOS – Although he spent a little time on the disabled list with a lat muscle issue, Dempster pitched well for the Cubs last year, posting a 2.25 ERA with a 87:23 K:BB over 104 innings, making him a major trade target for a number of teams at the deadline. He ultimately landed with the Rangers, which might not have been a good thing as he was hit hard and ended up with a 5.04 ERA in a dozen starts. Still, the Red Sox saw something in him and signed him to a two-year, $26.5 million deal. Given his struggles in Texas and the fact that the 14-year veteran and career National Leaguer has a 4.63 interleague ERA versus the AL, there is cause for concern.
Joel Hanrahan, RP, BOS – Lacking faith in their current bullpen situation, the Red Sox traded a few middling players to the Pirates in exchange for Hanrahan, who really came into his own in 2010 when he posted a career-high 12.92 K/9 over 69.2 innings as a set-up man. He was given the closer’s job the following season and although his rate dropped to 8.00, he notched 40 saves. Last season, he brought his K/9 back up to 10.11 and tallied 36 saves for the Buccos but struggled with control and command at times, registering an unpleasant 5.43 BB/9 and allowing eight home runs (he gave up just one in 2011) while seeing his groundball rate drop all the way to 38.1 percent. There are certainly some concerns with his peripherals as he heads into the American League and into a hard-hitting division like the AL East, but he should still prove to be a fairly reliable fantasy option this season.
Koji Uehara, RP BOS – Although he missed nearly two months with a lat muscle injury, Uehara still proved to be one of the top set-up men in baseball. He has now posted a double-digit K/9 for three straight seasons and hasn’t had an ERA over 2.83 in that span despite pitching in some of the more hitter-friendly parks. The Red Sox brought him in on a one-year, $4.5 million contract to set up, but could be a dark horse candidate for saves should the team’s other options fail.
Jeff Keppinger, 3B, CHW – The free-agent market could have been bleak for Keppinger after he fell down a flight of stairs and broke his right fibula, but just days before he had the walking boot removed he also signed a three-year, $12 million contract to be Chicago’s new starting third baseman. He’s really not the most glamorous fantasy player to grace the hot corner, but he does make for a solid bench guy to use as a plug-and-play throughout the season. While he likely won’t repeat his .325 average from last season, he should still contribute something close to his .288 career mark. His walk rate could use a boost, but he’s also one of the most difficult batters to strike out in the majors. And after a career-high nine homers last year, he moves to the most favorable park in the majors for right-handed power. Look for him late in drafts when rounding out your team with quality bench players.
Mark Reynolds, 1B, CLE – Big power, big strikeouts. That’s been the M.O. for Reynolds for some time now, and after a down season that saw him hit just .221 with only 23 home runs, the Indians were able to get him relatively cheap when they signed him to a one-year, $6 million contract. The poor man’s Adam Dunn will take over first base for the Tribe, a position that has been a constant source of problems. While he’ll slot in as the regular starter, he’ll also do his fair share of DH-ing on days where Carlos Santana needs a break from behind the dish. The sudden drop in power last year is somewhat inexplicable as there don’t see to be any outliers or indicators in his batted ball data. But if he is on a downslide, Progressive Field isn’t going to make thing easier for him as it is notorious for stifling right-handed power. Reynolds should be nothing more than a late-round flier in most fantasy drafts.
Mike Aviles, 3B CLE – It’s not often a player is dealt twice in the same offseason, especially when he is dealt for a manager in one of those deals. Aviles was sent from Boston to Toronto as compensation for Boston bringing in John Farrell as its skipper in 2013. From there, he was sent to Cleveland as part of a package that landed the Jays’ Esmil Rogers. He’ll likely spend a fair amount of time manning the DH spot, but more important, he’ll act as insurance in case Lonnie Chisenhall can’t cut it at third base. He has a hard time drawing walks and doesn’t have too much pop in his bat, but he does make good contact. If he can just turn some of those grounders and super-frustrating infield fly-outs into some line drives, he stands a good chance of repeating last season’s totals with a slightly better batting average.
Drew Stubbs, OF, CLE – When the Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks got together for a three-team deal, it was quite the blockbuster, and Stubbs was a fairly big part of it. He now takes his outstanding combination of power and speed to Cleveland where he will take over center field for the Tribe. His talent has never been in question, but the inconsistencies at the plate, most notably a strikeout rate in excess of 30 percent the last two seasons, have been a bit frustrating. For fantasy purposes, though, if you’re not penalized for strikeouts and you can withstand a weak batting average, then Stubbs, who has swiped at least 30 bases each of the last three years and has 15-20 home-run power, should prove to be a solid asset obtainable for a reasonable price. His .290 BABIP last season was the lowest of his career, so if you can assume regression to the mean, then that number should come up this season. When it does, he’ll at least be hitting somewhere north of .240.
Nick Swisher, OF/1B, CLE – The switch-hitting outfielder/first baseman inked a four-year, $56 million deal with a $14 million vesting option in 2017 to become the Tribe’s new starting right fielder. His consistency at the plate is something fantasy owners dream of as Swisher has hit no fewer than 21 home runs or knocked in less than 74 RBI in any of his eight seasons as a major leaguer. His average tends to fluctuate a bit, but with a career 13.3-percent walk rate, his on-base skills are first rate. People tend to cite his leaving the short porch at Yankee Stadium as a possible source of decline, but Progressive Field plays just fine for lefties and most of Swisher’s power comes as a left-handed bat. He should continue to play at his usual level and remains a solid No. 2 or 3 fantasy outfielder.
Brett Myers, SP, CLE – While Myers spent all last season pitching out of the Houston bullpen, the Indians signed him to a one-year, $7 million contract with a team option for a second year to join the starting rotation. He has had plenty of success as a starter throughout his career, so there’s no question regarding his ability to fill the role. His declining strikeout rate has been offset by his increase in groundballs induced, so he should find reasonable success as an innings-eater who can keep his ERA hovering around 4.00. It won’t be the sexiest of stat lines, but he can be a decent contributor in deeper leagues.
Trevor Bauer, SP, CLE – While the Diamondbacks received a high-quality defensive shortstop prospect, their trading of Bauer certainly raised some eyebrows when they announced their three-team deal with the Reds and the Indians. His late-season callup didn’t go as well as many hoped, posting a 6.06 ERA with an atrocious 7.16 BB/9 over just 16 innings, and that, coupled with an apparently off-putting warm-up routine caused the now 22-year-old right-hander to fall out of favor. Diamondbacks might have given up too quickly as Bauer has outstanding strikeout potential and just needs to harness everything once he steps onto the mound. Given his raw talent, it’s likely he just needs a little more seasoning, but on the major league level. The Tribe have him tentatively penciled in as their No. 4 starter, and if all goes as well as the original scouts assumed, he could end up being a fantastic late-round steal.
Torii Hunter, OF DET – If you just look at Hunter’s numbers from last season in a vacuum, his .313/.365/.451 slash line with 16 home runs, 92 RBI and nine stolen bases look good enough to understand why the Tigers gave him a two-year, $26 million deal in the offseason. However, when you factor in that he is 38-years old, that his power is on the decline, that his walk rate has dropped while his strikeout rate has increased and that his .313 average was a major byproduct of an unsustainable .389 BABIP, suddenly things don’t look so good. The only saving grace for him is that manager Jim Leyland plans on batting him second, which means Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera will be his lineup protection. You can probably expect similar numbers in the counting stats this season, but with a definite drop in average. Still, he should be a viable third or fourth outfielder in most leagues.
Carlos Pena, 1B/DH, HOU – After coming off one of the worst statistical performances of his career, Pena opted to take the Astros’ one-year, $2.9 million contract (with another possible $1.4 million in incentives) rather than continue to play the free-agent market. He still maintained a 14.5-percent walk rate, which helped keep his OBP at .330 for the season, but between a .264 BABIP, a 30.3-percent strikeout rate and an atrocious 16.5-percent infield fly-ball rate, he was unable to pull his average over the .200 mark and came up way short in the power department. The fact that he is staying in the AL and now calling hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park home should help him power up a little more this season, but the average should remain in a very flushable spot.
James Shields, SP, KC – The Royals took a bit of a risk trading prized hitting prospect Wil Myers in a deal that helped them net Shields and Wade Davis. He’s only under team control for another two years, and, obviously, given their usual frugal spending habits, the Royals could eventually lose him for a prospect they could have held onto for much longer. But Shields has posted a 3.15 ERA over the last two seasons and only Justin Verlander has thrown more innings. His K:BB ratio hasn’t been lower than 3.46 the last three seasons, and he has increased his groundball rates every year in that span. He is the front-line starter the club desperately needed and should benefit from the unbalanced schedule in the weaker AL Central.
Ervin Santana, SP, KC – The Royals are certainly rolling the dice with Santana but didn’t invest a whole lot of risk as they traded a career minor leaguer headed for nowhere while the Angels sent back plenty of cash to help cover the $13 million Santana is owed for 2013. Santana struggled mightily in 2012 as he dealt with diminished velocity, a decrease in strikeouts and an increase in both walks and home runs allowed. To make matters worse, there has been ample talk of a slight ligament tear in his elbow as the cause. Royals general manager Dayton Moore downplayed the injury reports, but it is certainly a red flag for a starter already looking like a risky play. Fantasy owners would certainly be taking a substantial risk going with Santana this year, but given his potential to post a K/9 higher than 7.00, he likely will be a hot commodity on the waiver wire should he get off to a hot start.
Wade Davis, SP, KC – The Royals acquired Davis along with James Shields in a deal that saw them send future hitting sensation Wil Myers to Tampa Bay to beef up their struggling rotation. Davis was outstanding out of the Rays bullpen last year, posting a 2.43 ERA with an 11.13 K/9 in 70.1 innings. However, despite sitting in the pen for a year, the Royals plan on using him in the rotation and manager Ned Yost has him penciled in as his fourth starter already. They hope the increased velocity with which Davis pitched last season (he picked up more than two miles per hour on his fastball) can be sustained over a full season’s workload. If he can, he should be an interesting late-round sleeper that many seem to be overlooking early in the preseason.
Josh Hamilton, OF, LAA – Just a year after doling out a 10-year, $250 million contract to Albert Pujols, the Halos beefed up their offensive power even more when they swooped in and signed Hamilton to a five-year, $125 million deal. There’s no denying that Hamilton has tremendous power and that his left-handed bat will provide the perfect complement to Pujols, as the two are likely to bat third and fourth in the lineup, but he always comes with an injury caveat despite appearing in 148 games last season. He’s been plagued by back and shoulder problems the last several years but didn’t lose much time last year, ironically in a contract year in which he hit a career-high 43 home runs with 128 RBI and 103 runs scored. However, dig a little deeper and look at his in-season splits and perhaps injuries were an underlying factor. He went from batting .308 with 27 home runs through the first half of the season to just a .256 mark with just 16 home runs after the All-Star break. He may not have missed time to injury, but there was something definitely working against him in the second half. For those concerned with him leaving the friendly confines of hitter-friendly Arlington for pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium, note that his home/road splits were nearly identical last year. They slightly favored the home park in previous seasons, but the unbalanced schedule still has him playing a good number of games back at the old homestead. So long as he is healthy, count on another season of strong power stats, but should he succumb to injuries again, it could be a season of disappointment for both the Angels and his fantasy owners.
Tommy Hanson, SP, LAA – The Angels traded relief pitcher Jordan Walden in exchange for Hanson, hoping the 26-year old’s shoulder problems are a thing of the past. Despite a decrease in both velocity and strikeouts that contributed to an increase in both ERA and HR/FB, the Halos inked him to a one-year, $3.725 million deal to avoid arbitration, so they must have a fair amount of confidence in a rebound. With a healthy shoulder, Hanson has tremendous promise and could be a strong addition as a third or fourth starter in most fantasy rotations. If the shoulder doesn’t hold, then hopefully you didn’t waste anything more than a late-round pick.
Joe Blanton, SP LAA – Although his ERA tends to reside on the high side, the 32-year-old Blanton has become the coveted innings-eater most teams look for to round out their rotations. The Angels did just that when they signed him to a two-year, $15 million contract with an $8 million club option for 2015. Blanton posted a fairly strong K/9 that sat between 7.00 and 8.00 the last two seasons, and he kept his walk rate below 2.00 in that time as well. Over his career, he has traditionally pitched better at home, almost a full run better, and now working in his favor will be the beneficial dimensions of pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium. Fantasy owners aren’t quite running out to add him to their squads on draft day, but he tends to be a valuable late-season commodity for those who like to stream pitchers down the stretch.
Jason Vargas , SP LAA – Likely due to a lack of strikeouts, the soon-to-be 30-year-old left-hander doesn’t garner much attention. But after posting a 3.85 ERA with a 2.56 K:BB over 217 innings last season, the Angels were sold on him enough that they dealt 1B/DH Kendrys Morales in exchange. While many will point to the dimensions of Safeco Field as a primary reason for much of his success, Angel Stadium is also considered pitcher friendly, and Vargas has a 1.82 ERA in five career starts there. He’ll chew up plenty of innings over the course of the season and could be a very nice late-round/low-cost addition to your roster on draft day.
Ryan Madson, RP, LAA – After blowing out his elbow and undergoing Tommy John surgery last spring in his one and only season with the Reds, Madson signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal with the Angels in late November and has rehabbed in their facilities since. He is apparently ahead of schedule and threw off a mound for the first time in mid-January, reporting no problems whatsoever. He appears to be on track to open the season with the team, and if so, he likely will be the team’s primary closer. However, given the degree of uncertainty, he should not be drafted without handcuffing him to Ernesto Frieri, and vice versa.
Vance Worley, SP, MIN – Some say that by giving up Worley and prospect Trevor May in a deal for outfielder Ben Revere, the Phillies gave up far too much while others point to a rise in ERA, a decline in both velocity and strikeout rate and recent elbow surgery as equalizers in the deal. The real question is which side to believe. He’s shown a gradual improvement in groundball rates, which could offset the decline in strikeouts. That’s especially important now with perhaps fewer called strikes on tap as new catcher Joe Mauer is considered a less-skilled pitch-framer than his former catcher, Carlos Ruiz. He also suffered from a career-high.340 BABIP and was sporting an FIP lower than his ERA. However it’s hard to say the Twins defense is any better than that of the Phillies, so maybe a lot of those groundballs continue to slip through. Regardless of which way you lean, most can agree that coming off surgery, there is a continued risk of further arm troubles down the road and while his totals were never dazzling to begin with, it’s hard to assume that he will perform that much better now that he’s in the American League.
Kevin Correia, SP, MIN – While signing Correia to a two-year, $10 million deal may have been an upgrade for the Twins’ woeful rotation, the move does virtually nothing for fantasy owners. Correia doesn’t strike anyone out, posting a K/9 below 5.00 in each of his last two seasons, and he owns a career 4.54 ERA despite the fact that his home parks have all been pitcher friendly. So even though Target Field has some cavernous dimensions, Correia’s skill set and moving to the American League easily offset that. He may be worth streaming at some point late in the season, but fantasy owners shouldn’t put their trust in him all year.
Mike Pelfrey, SP, MIN – The 29-year old right-hander underwent Tommy John surgery last April and the rehab went well enough for the Twins to make a one-year, $4 million commitment in early December. The Twins expect him to be ready for Opening Day, but there is an obvious risk for anyone considering Pelfrey for their fantasy rotation. With a career 4.36 ERA and 5.08 K/9 that had been declining the three years prior to the surgery, Pelfrey doesn’t hold much upside even though Target Field plays so friendly to pitchers. He probably shouldn’t be drafted outside of some of the deepest AL-only leagues, but there’s an outside chance that he could hold some value if coming back from surgery makes his arm stronger.
Kevin Youkilis, 3B, NYY – In need of a Band-Aid at the hot corner while Alex Rodriguez works his way back from another hip surgery, the Yankees gave a one-year, $12 million deal to their former AL East rival with the intent of using him as a DH once their incumbent third sacker returned. With news that Rodriguez could miss the entire season, it would appear that Youkilis could be more of a mainstay than a temporary solution. However, that doesn’t change the fact that he has also been a bit of a cautionary tale lately as the injuries piled up while the power declined the last few seasons. In fact, he’s also seen an increase in strikeouts, a decrease in walks and a noticeable spike in groundball rates. Yankees hitting coach Kevin long is working with Youkilis to alter his abnormal batting stance to see if the decline is correctable, but fantasy owners should continue to view him as an aging option whose days atop the position rankings are long past.
John Jaso, C, OAK – When the A’s acquired Jaso in a three-team deal in January, Billy Beane certainly got “his kind of player” to work behind the dish this season. With a career 13.4-percent walk rate and a career .359 on-base percentage, Jaso is likely to receive the majority of work behind the plate over Derek Norris this year. He doesn’t have much in the way of power and isn’t going to provide much in the way of fantasy stats, but there is an outside chance that he contributes enough to make him a more worthwhile second catcher.
Hiroyuki Nakajima, SS, OAK – On American soil, he’s a relatively unknown commodity, but in Japan, he owns a slash line everyone loves. Last season for the Seibu Lions, Nakajima posted a line of .312/.382/.451, which, according to the league stats, ranked second, fourth and fourth overall. We’ve already seen that power doesn’t necessarily translate coming from overseas, but average and OBP have in a few cases. The A’s signed him to a two-year deal, and he’s penciled in as the starter, so Billy Beane must’ve seen something he liked.
Chris Young, OF, OAK – When the A’s acquired Young from the Diamondbacks just after the 2012 season ended, it appeared to be the start of either a major overhaul in the Oakland outfield or a bigger deal on the horizon in which they would flip him to another team. Neither happened, and now the A’s are sitting on a glut of outfielders and nowhere to play them all. Young could end up the right-handed bat of a DH platoon with Seth Smith and then spell some of the outfielders, but that almost seems like a waste of a talent who went 20-20 in back-to-back seasons prior to last season’s injury-plagued downslide. The fact that his batting average remains consistently low and his OBP is no great shakes is obviously working against him on a Billy Beane-run team, but they picked him up for something. What it was exactly still remains to be seen.
Raul Ibanez, OF, SEA – When contract negotiations stalled with the Yankees, the Mariners were able to sneak in and steal the veteran, lefty slugger away with a one-year, $2.75 million contract that could get bumped to $4 million if Ibanez reaches certain incentives. It’s actually a nice homecoming for him as he was originally drafted by the Mariners and after a few years in Kansas City spent 2004-2008 back in Seattle where he enjoyed some of his most productive seasons. Although everything on the offensive front is in obvious decline, Ibanez still has the potential to be a productive fourth or fifth outfielder for your fantasy team even if he sits against lefties. All 19 of his home runs last year came against right-handed pitching, and he posted a .245 ISO against them. There is also an outside chance that he plays even more regularly should Justin Smoak falter again and the Mariners opt to bench or demote him. A move like that would push DH Kendrys Morales to first with Jesus Montero staying behind the plate and move Ibanez to the DH spot. He could prove to be an interesting late-round sleeper in deeper mixed leagues.
Michael Morse, OF SEA – The soon-to-be 31-year old slugger finds his way back to the team he began his career with thanks to a three-team deal with the A’s, Nationals and Mariners. After posting career totals in 2011, injuries helped guide Morse into a decline where his walk rate and ISO were nearly halved while he saw an increase in strikeout rate. He’ll play regularly in right field this season, but while the fences moving in at Safeco should assuage most people’s ballpark-change fears, it is highly doubtful that he even comes close to putting up numbers like he did just two years ago. Still, expect him to find a happy medium and post numbers somewhere between the last two seasons. Figure 20-25 home runs with a solid .290 average by year’s end.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH, SEA – The Mariners were adamant about re-tooling their offense in the offseason and beefing up the power, especially with the fences coming in at Safeco Field. A trade of lefty hurler Jason Vargas for the hard-hitting Morales certainly fits the bill. The now 29-year-old switch-hitter broke his ankle in 2010 and after failed rehab stints was forced to miss all 2011 and even some of the beginning of last season as well. Still, through 134 games last year, he hit 22 home runs and posted a .196 ISO, getting back into the offensive groove he was in prior to the injury. The year was fairly slow-going for him at first, but he managed to hit seven home runs in August and finished the season fairly strong. Now with Seattle, Morales should take over regular DH duties and also get some work at first base, depending on how Justin Smoak does. Should Smoak falter, Morales would likely start receiving regular at-bats at first and at least maintain his eligibility at the position. While expecting him to reach the 34 home runs he hit in 2010 seems unrealistic, hitting 20-25 doesn’t seem too far-fetched by any means.
James Loney, 1B, TB – Barely mid-level pop isn’t really a quality you like to see in your first baseman, so when Loney put up career-low numbers last year – .249/.293/.336 with six home runs and just 41 RBI – between his time with the Dodgers and Red Sox, he became even less of an attractive option in fantasy circles. Now Loney heads to Tampa Bay on a one-year, $2 million contract where he will man first base for the Rays. While it would be nice to think the change of scenery could do him some good, it’s hard to imagine Loney doing more than what he’s basically done his entire career. He’ll post an average walk rate, a respectable strikeout rate and maybe, if the luck dragons of the BABIP world help him out, a solid average. But he hasn’t posted an ISO above .130 since 2008, so expecting more than 10 home runs in a season, especially in pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field, seems unlikely.
Kelly Johnson, 2B, TB – Perhaps lacking faith in their corner outfield situations, the Rays opted to bring in Johnson on a one-year deal to handle the job at second base, freeing Ben Zobrist to head to the outfield full-time. The recently well-traveled, soon-to-be 31-year old will provide a solid left-handed bat capable of putting up close to 20 home runs while providing a little bit of speed on the bases as well as some respectable defense. Unfortunately, his strikeouts have dramatically increased the last two seasons, pushing his K-rate above 26 percent, which has subsequently left his batting average in a very undesirable place. But the power he can provide at a relatively thin position is what should help fantasy owners most, and the low average can be easily worked around. On an added note, this move should have a negative impact on players like Ryan Roberts, Sam Fuld and Matt Joyce as it will be one of them who rides the pine when Wil Myers is eventually brought up.
Yunel Escobar, SS, TB – To improve their struggling infield, the Rays traded infielder Derek Dietrich to the Marlins for the embattled Escobar, who had just been dealt the month prior in the Jose Reyes blockbuster. Known more for his off-field antics than for his on-field performance, Escobar is still likely a better option than some of the other infielders the team has platooned the last few years. He’ll offer fantasy owners a middling average with close to 10 home runs, but that is still better than what they dealt with last season. However, given some of the stunts he’s pulled, there’s also the chance the Rays tire of him quickly and opt to go back to the likes of Elliot Johnson or Sean Rodriguez.
Wil Myers, OF, TB – Showing tremendous faith in their younger starters, the Rays made a big move and traded James Shields and Wade Davis in exchange for Myers, the top hitting prospect in the Royals organization and recipient of numerous minor league accolades, including Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. Between Double-A and Triple-A last season, Myers posted a slash line of .314/.386/.600 and belted 37 home runs with 109 RBI. He also managed a 10.3-percent walk rate and actually lowered his strikeout rate after making the jump to Triple-A. Granted, some of these numbers should be taken with a grain of salt, given the hitter-friendly nature of the entire Pacific Coast league, but Myers seems to be the real deal. It has been reported that the Rays will start him at Triple-A Durham for the 2013 season, in part to delay his arbitration clock, but also because manager Joe Maddon thinks it’s better for a player to make his debut once the regular season has already begun. The Rays will begin the season with a platoon of Sam Fuld and Stephen Vogt in left field and Ryan Roberts should open as the team’s DH, however, it’s obvious that one of those spots, most likely left field, will go to Myers sooner than later.
Jake Odorizzi, SP, TB – The young right-hander impressed in the minors last season with a 15-5 record, a 3.03 ERA and a fairly impressive 135:50 K:BB over 145.1 innings between both Double-A and Triple-A. However, between a rough late-season callup and the belief of some within the organization that he wouldn’t project as anything more than a fourth starter, Odorizzi was deemed expendable and dealt to Tampa Bay in the Wil Myers deal. With a number of youngsters ahead of him on the depth chart, Odorizzi likely wil begin the season in Triple-A. Should he force his way up through strong performance, he could be worthy of a late-season look. The chances are remote, however, thus limiting any fantasy value he had for this season.
A.J. Pierzynski, C, TEX – After several seasons of decline, the 36-year-old Pierzynski turned in a career season in 2012 as he entered the final year of his contract. Having never hit more than 18 home runs in a season, Pierzynski belted 27 homers and knocked in 77 RBI. That performance gave the Rangers all they needed to sign the veteran backstop to a one-year, $7.5 million contract. A return to similar power totals seems highly unlikely despite the fact that Arlington plays like even more of a bandbox than U.S. Cellular, but he could still hit 15-18 this year if he maintains some of his peripherals. There should be enough skepticism to help keep his price tag down, but probably not enough that he won’t be a reach for somebody on draft day.
Lance Berkman, 1B/DH, TEX – Despite playing in just 32 games in 2012 due to a rash of injuries, mostly to his knees, Berkman was handed a one-year, $10 million contract with a $12 million option for 2014 that could vest to $13 million if he reaches 550 plate appearances during this season. While that seems unlikely, there is obviously a chance since he will be limited to DH duties and not required to do any fielding whatsoever. Still, he will have to run the bases and that could be enough to put this 36-year old with the 86-year-old knees on the shelf. The Rangers will bat him third, so he could have some decent early-season value. Just make sure you quickly find a trade partner should he start hot. The move also assures Mike Olt a place in the minors until some injury allows his return.
Emilio Bonifacio, 2B/OF TOR – Although he has much more speed on the bases than expected second baseman Maicer Izturis, the Jays see Bonifacio as more of a super-utility player who can spell multiple positions. Especially with just outfield eligibility for now, he doesn’t really offer much else for fantasy as he has no power and just a middling average. But should he find his way into any regular playing time, you’ll have to pay him more mind as he is easily capable of swiping 30-40 bags in a given season.
Jose Reyes, SS, TOR – The 29-year-old shortstop was one of the first casualties of the Great Miami Purge of 2012 as he and a handful of other high-priced veterans found themselves dealt to the Jays in the offseason for a handful of prospects. But after a season in which he played 160 games, Reyes proved to fantasy owners that perhaps the injuries were behind him. He also managed to swipe 40 bases, the most he’s stolen since he tallied 56 in 2008. Playing on artificial turf might be cause for some concern, particularly because of his history with hamstring problems, but given the hitter-friendly environment in Toronto, he stands a good chance to shine again and retain his spot amongst the elite shortstops in the game.
Melky Cabrera, OF, TOR – Whoever coined the phrase “cheaters never win” is obviously rolling over in his grave after the Jays ponied up a two-year, $16 million contract after Cabrera was suspended for PED use and setting up a web site to fool the powers that be that an honest mistake was made and that the punishment didn’t fit the crime. But MLB wasn’t budging and proved the web site was a scam and upheld the 50-game trip to the showers. Although many think his tainted numbers from his year in Kansas City and last year with the Giants are unsustainable, the Jays obviously thought differently and are hoping he returns with at least some of that power. He’ll get the opportunity to play left field every day and show what he is capable of at the plate, and the fact that Toronto is so hitter-friendly is certainly working in his favor. He’s being drafted in mocks as if he is able to reach close to his 2011 level, but without seeing him in major league action, most projections are likely just gut feelings more than anything.
Josh Johnson, SP, TOR – The oft-injured, 29-year-old right-hander was another casualty of the Marlins’ salary purge and was part of a package of veterans shipped to Toronto for a group of young prospects. It comes as no surprise that the Marlins were ready to part with him as he has seen both his strikeout rate and walk rate decline steadily the last three seasons. And while his ERA looks good in the overall picture, a quick look at his declining FIP is another indicator that his time is almost up. Johnson’s dramatic home/road splits – 2.96 ERA at home; 4.94 ERA on the road – also give credence to the belief that pitching in a hitter-friendly park like the Rodgers Centre will do awful things to his rate stats. Someone will blindly believe in him just based on name alone, but the savvy fantasy owner knows when to fold a losing hand.
R.A. Dickey, SP, TOR – Less than a year removed from winning the NL Cy Young award, Dickey finds himself en route to Toronto in a seven-player deal that sends him and a pair of low-level but major league-ready catchers in exchange for a boatload of quality prospects. As part of the deal, the Jays also agreed to a three-year, $30 million extension for Dickey. Although Dickey appeared to be on an upward trend dating to 2010, his season in 2012 was beyond what anyone expected of him. He posted a 2.73 ERA over 233.2 innings with five complete games and three shutouts. He raised his K/9 from 5.78 to 8.86 while also lowering his walk rate and posted an equally impressive 12.2-percent swinging strike rate. It will certainly be tough to repeat those numbers, particularly in the American League and in a division that has worked diligently over the years to handle knuckleballer Tim Wakefield. So fantasy owners should keep in mind that they’re paying for 2013 expectations and not 2012 totals. He’s obviously worth drafting if you can get him on the cheap, but leave any overpaying to your fellow league-mates.
Mark Buehrle, SP, TOR – The 33-year-old southpaw returns to his old AL stomping grounds, this time as a member of the Blue Jays, thanks to a massive 12-player trade between the Marlins and the Jays. Buehrle is an interesting one in fantasy as he has had moments of brilliance and then moments of … well, you know. But he is the true definition of an innings-eater as he has thrown 12 consecutive seasons of 200 or more innings and only three times has he finished with an ERA above 4.00. He’s not a strikeout contributor by any means, posting a career 5.11 K/9, but he also doesn’t walk many either, which tends to help keep the WHIP at a reasonable mark. Given his track record for consistency, it’s difficult to project anything but numbers resembling his career averages until he gives some sort of indication that the career is coming to a close. While he’ll likely see his K/9 come down again with a move back to the AL, that’s not enough to think he’s had it. He will have some value in deeper mixed leagues, so don’t dismiss him so easily.
Didi Gregorius, SS, ARI – When the Reds, Indians and Diamondbacks got together for a big three-team deal in the offseason, most paid attention to the names heading to Cincinnati and Cleveland. However, the Diamondbacks got the player they coveted most in Gregorius and are hoping that he’ll be able to match-up well with big-league pitching this spring. He’s phenomenal on defense, something everyone who has seen him play can agree on. However, given his unimpressive walk rate and poor average at both the Double and Triple-A levels, there are many questions regarding his bat. He got more of a shot of espresso than a cup of coffee with the reds last year and slapped six singles in 21 plate appearances, but he also struck out five times and failed to draw a single walk. The sample size of at-bats is obviously way too small to make an accurate determination, but there’s definitely a stronger chance he starts the year in the minors than he does with the D-Backs.
Martin Prado, 3B, ARI – Along with a handful of prospects, Prado comes to Arizona as part of the deal that sent superstar Justin Upton to the Braves where he could actually see a nice boost in fantasy value. Aside from having eligibility at both third base and outfield, the 29-year old will take his mid-level power to a much friendlier hitters’ park, and he’s doing it all with one year of arbitration coming followed by free agency. That should be more than enough incentive to post some career-topping numbers. Prado’s walk rate could use a little boost, but he doesn’t strike out often and has excellent contact rates. If the Diamondbacks hit him near the top of the order, he should fare very well setting the table for the likes of Aaron Hill, Miguel Montero and Paul Goldschmidt. He’ll gradually become a trendier pick the closer it moves to Opening Day, so his price tag is definitely going to increase. Value him for who he is, though, and keep a level head. Yes, you want him, but you don’t want to overpay.
Cody Ross, OF, ARI – When the Diamondbacks signed Ross to a three-year, $26 million deal in late December, the handwriting was already on the wall as most expected them to trade Justin Upton. Ross makes his return to the NL after a strong season in Boston that saw him hit .267 with 22 home runs and 81 RBI, and now he’ll be the team’s everyday right fielder. Ross is a notorious right-handed pull hitter, so the dimensions of Chase Field should be right up his alley. While it would be nice to see him improve his strikeout and walk rates, it’s not imperative as his 20-HR power will still shine through plenty.
Brandon McCarthy, SP, ARI – Injuries have long been a problem for the 29-year-old right-hander, particularly his shoulder, but his most recent run-in with the triage unit came from a line-drive comebacker to the side of the head that caused a skull fracture and so much swelling that doctors needed to drill into the head and drain the excess blood. But he’s made it through the woods on that one and has shown enough that the Diamondbacks saw nothing wrong with giving him a two-year, $15.5 million deal. While his career 6.15 K/9 isn’t all that impressive, he doesn’t walk very many batters and has maintained strong ERA totals the last few seasons. While a move to a hitter-friendly park like Chase Field isn’t exactly ideal, being a groundball pitcher who should also see an increase in strikeouts moving to the NL should offset most of the negative park factors.
Chris Johnson, 3B, ATL – While technically a position battle hasn’t quite begun, expect Johnson and Juan Francisco to fight it out all spring for the starting third-base job now that he’s come over from Arizona in the Justin Upton deal. In all likelihood, the two will end up in a platoon, damaging the fantasy value of both, but until one clearly separates from the other, that should be the way it stands. Johnson has mid-level pop in his bat but still tends to strike too much and often struggles to get on base enough thanks to weak contact rates. He showed more promise when he landed with Arizona late in the year in 2012, and that could continue with a solid surrounding lineup in Atlanta if he were to land the full-time job. For now, though, he is best left to deeper NL-only leagues.
Justin Upton, OF, ATL – Now that Upton’s with the Braves, a much-improved offensive team, the expectations of him returning to his 30-home run form are even higher. There are two things to watch for with Upton, though – the first being his injury history. Last season, a thumb injury hampered him almost all season, and he’s also had a history of shoulder problems. He did appear at full health late last season and popped seven home runs in the final month. The other thing to watch is his home/road splits. Through his career, he’s hitting .307 with 67 home runs at Chase Field while batting just .250 with 41 home runs everywhere else. That might be a bit of concern moving to pitcher-friendly Turner Field, but the splits could be exaggerating because the road parks he’s seen most often are three of the most notorious pitchers’ parks in the league. Playing alongside brother B.J and hitting between Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are certainly factors that should help, so if he can stay healthy and the splits are indeed an exaggeration, then even saying the sky’s the limit could be an understatement.
B.J. Upton, OF, ATL – The Braves set a personal record when they doled out the largest deal in franchise history, inking Upton to a five-year, $75.5 million deal in November. There’s obviously risk involved given Upton’s weak average and equally sad on-base percentage. But the fact that he has gone 20-30 each of the last two seasons, as well as posting solid numbers in both power and speed over the years prior, outweighed the other numbers, and the Braves are ready to embark on a new era. At worst, Upton should match his numbers from the last two seasons, which still puts him as a top-15 outfielder in most leagues. Add brother Justin joining the team and you could conceivably see even more out of B.J.
Nate Schierholtz, OF, CHC – Once a promising young outfielder for the Giants with a little bit of power and sound defensive skills, Schierholtz spent five and a half seasons as San Francisco’s fourth outfielder before being shipped to the Phillies. But after signing a one-year, $2.5 million deal, he gets the opportunity to start in right field for the Cubs. How long that opportunity actually lasts, though, is a different story. With Brett Jackson waiting in the wings, it seems it’s just a matter of time before Schierholtz and his rather pedestrian totals find their way back to the bench. Outside of deep NL-only leagues, he’s more of a waiver pick-up if he starts the season hot.
Edwin Jackson, SP, CHC – After pitching on a one-year deal for the Nationals last season, Jackson proved himself enough with his 4.03 ERA and 2.90 K:BB over 189.2 innings that the Cubs ponied up a four-year, $52 million deal for the well-traveled right-hander. Jackson has posted a 3.98 ERA the last four seasons and while his peripherals have fluctuated somewhat, they all have hung around his career averages. Although he was sporting a rather unsavory 11.7-percent HR/FB, he is much more of a groundball pitcher, which will obviously help him over time at Wrigley. He should slot in well in the middle of the Cubs rotation and should be considered a solid middle-to-late-round option this year.
Scott Baker, SP, CHC – Once a successful starter with the Twins, Baker spent all of 2012 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. The Cubs liked what they saw and, considering what he had done in Minnesota, got him for a solid deal – one year for $5.5 million with a chance to earn another $1.5 million in incentives. Obviously there’s tremendous risk involved, but considering his strikeout rate and FIP were moving in the right direction prior to the injury, the hope is that the trends will continue in the aftermath.
Scott Feldman, SP, CHC – Despite a poor ERA in 2012, there was plenty to like about Feldman’s continued growth the last few years, so much so that the Cubs gave him a one-year, $6 million deal with the chance to make an additional million in incentives. The last three seasons he saw his strikeout rate gradually increase, and although his ERA had some wide fluctuations, his FIP dropped consistently. Additionally, he also saw a slight uptick in velocity the last two years. He’s used to pitching in a hitter-friendly environment, having come from Texas, so the friendly confines of Wrigley Field shouldn’t be an issue, especially if he can maintain his strong groundball rates.
Shin-Soo Choo, OF, CIN – Choo was the key piece going to the Reds in the three-team deal that saw them send Drew Stubbs to Cleveland and Didi Gregorius to Arizona. Beofre signing him long-term, it appears the Reds want to see if Choo can regain the 20-20 form he showed in 2009 and 2010 prior to when injuries took their toll. He had a moderately nice bounceback season in 2012 with walk and strikeout rates close to his career averages and fell just four home runs shy of another 20-20 campaign. Although Progressive Field plays well to left-handed hitters, the move to even friendlier Great American Ball Park could help even more. Look for continued improvement this season and then watch the Reds scramble to get him a long-term deal.
Zack Greinke, SP, LAD – To match the money they threw at hitters last season, the Dodgers went big on pitching this offseason beginning with a six-year, $147 million deal that, if Greinke meets all of his incentives, could be worth up to $158 million. There’s no denying Greinke’s talent as he’s been somewhat of a hired gun since the Royals first dealt him to Milwaukee a few years ago. The last two seasons he’s amassed 31 wins with a 3.63 ERA and a 4.05 K:BB in 384 innings, and his FIP totals are significantly lower than his actual ERA. He’ll stay in a pitcher-friendly environment in Dodger Stadium, and even better for him is the fact that Clayton Kershaw is the team’s ace, which should alleviate a bit of pressure. Expect to see more of the same from Greinke this season and consider him to be one of the top pitchers off the board in nearly every draft.
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS, MIA – Although he was just considered a prospect for the Blue Jays, Hechavarria is now a starting shortstop since the big Jose Reyes deal went through. He didn’t show much power in the minors, nor did he flash much in the way of speed. He did, however, post a nice average with nice on-base totals thanks to strong contact rates. His walk total still could use some help. Now as a member of the upstart Marlins, expectations aren’t running very high. He seemed overmatched at times as a big-league callup late last season, and it’s hard to think he will be able to improve that much more in such a short period. He’ll likely go undrafted in most leagues, but could be an interesting waiver pick-up should he get off to a strong start.
Juan Pierre, OF, MIA – With almost no options to start elsewhere, Pierre accepted a one-year, $1.6 million contract to play left field for the Marlins and will get the opportunity to lead off and play every day still. Even in part-time duty last year, Pierre stole 37 bases, so there’s still plenty of giddy-up left in his legs. His age likely will deter many from taking him as anything but a late-round flier, but if he just maintains similar on-base numbers, he stands a great chance to post big numbers in steals as well as runs scored with Giancarlo Stanton hitting behind him.
Henderson Alvarez, SP MIA – After arriving in the Jose Reyes deal, Alvarez should get the opportunity to compete for a rotation spot on this fledgling Miami pitching staff. He hardly strikes anyone out, posting a 4.27 K/9 in 251 innings between last year and the year before, but his 56.2-percent groundball rate, thanks to a wicked slider and very deceptive changeup, should keep him afloat while he does more on-the-job learning. He’s not one to pick up on draft day just yet, but he could be someone to add to your watchlist for in-season moves.
John Buck, C, NYM – When Buck came to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade, it was strictly as an insurance policy for prospect Travis d’Arnaud, who will get the opportunity to prove himself and his readiness for the majors this spring. If he struggles or the Mets think he will benefit from additional time in the minors, then Buck will get his chance to play. Not that he has much in the way to offer fantasy owners, though. Over the years, the power has declined, the average has declined, the strikeouts have gone way up and Bucks’ value is almost next to nil. Maybe he’s passable in a deep, two-catcher league if he starts the season as the primary, but that’s about it.
Travis d’Arnaud, C, NYM – The highly-touted backstop was the key component coming back to the Mets in the R.A. Dickey trade and stands a good chance to open the season in the majors should he have a strong spring. Something working against him, however, is actually not the arbitration clock, but the fact that he hasn’t played since June after suffering a serious knee injury. If he can shake that rust off quickly then the power he showed in the minors could be front-and-center at Citi Field this year. His strikeouts are a little high for the minor-league level, but he’s still shown some improved on-base totals as well as a strong ability to hit left-handed pitching almost as well as he hits righties. This will certainly turn into one of the more interesting position battles this spring, so take notice and maybe consider a very late pick of him in your draft if you want to hold some depth at catcher.
Michael Young, 3B, PHI – After spending the last two seasons complaining of mistreatment by the Rangers, and being shuffled around the infield and DH slot, Young was finally granted his wish and was traded to the Phillies for a pair of relievers. With Philadelphia he’ll get a chance to play third base every day and should hopefully rebound from a poor season that saw him post a slash line of .277/.312/.370 while hitting just eight home runs. Young has proven to be a valuable commodity both with his versatility on defense as well as fantastic on-base work. While there has been some semblance of decline the last three years, it’s hard to imagine his verbal battles with both the coaching staff and the front office haven’t contributed. Maybe numbers won’t back it up, but there’s something to be said for his potential desire to stick it to the Rangers organization by showing how much of a mistake it made and posting a fantastic rebound season.
Delmon Young, OF, PHI – The embattled outfielder caught a bit of a break this offseason when the Phillies inked him to a one-year, $750,000 deal that could actually increase to $3.5 million if he reaches all of his incentive bonuses. One would think behavior and mental balance would be incentized, but the incentive garnering the most attention is the bonuse he’ll receive if he maintains a proper weight throughout the season. He’ll have six weigh-in sessions throughout the year and for every one he passes, he’ll receive $100,000. It’s an interesting way to keep him on the straight and narrow, but while that aspect will certainly be tied to playing time, fantasy owners are more concered as to whether he can regain his 2010 form. His 18 home runs were decent last season, but his average has hovered around the high .260s lately, and both his walk and strikeout rates are heading in the wrong directions. He’ll play regularly in right field and should benefit from the hitter-friendly dimensions of Citizens Bank, but he’s still a risky option based on his off-field behavior.
Ben Revere, OF, PHI – The Phillies invested relatively strongly when they traded upstart Vance Worley and prospect Trevor May for Revere, who will now take over center field as well as the No. 2 spot in the order. He’s got tremendous speed upside having swiped 74 bases the last two seasons and posts solid contact rates, which should obviously help keep his OBP up since he hardly ever walks. The team might actually be better served with him and Rollins swapping spots in the order as Revere has absolutely no power whatsoever. In fact, he hasn’t homered in 1,064 career major-league plate appearances. If the top of the order remains productive, then it looks like a good move for the Phillies, however, if they’re forced to move Revere down due to weak on-base work, then this deal could end up being somewhat of a waste.
Mike Adams, RP, PHI – The Phillies are taking a bit of a gamble with Adams as they signed him to a two-year, $12 million deal after having just come off October surgery to correct a problem with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a condition that affects the shoulder and lower neck area. Cardinals starter Chris Carpenter had it and made a fairly quick recovery, so with the entire offseason to prepare, Adams could be back by the start of the season. Should he regain his form from 2010 and 2011, the Phillies will have a great bullpen situation on their hands and a fantastic insurance policy for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Should he prove successful during his rehab and the spring, he’ll make for a great middle-relief option and closer in waiting.
Russell Martin, C, PIT – When the Yankees opted to go with their in-house youth behind the plate and let Martin walk, the Pirates jumped at the opportunity quickly, first offering a three-year, $21 million deal. But Martin, hoping to make more via free agency down the road settled on a two-year, $17 million deal instead. It seems like a questionable move by the soon-to-be 30-year-old backstop as he has seen his strikeout rate gradually increase each year since 2008. His walk rate has also dropped a bit and thanks to a lousy contact rate and weak BABIP, the average has been in the toilet. True, he hit 21 home runs last year, but Martin now moves to a much more pitcher-friendly park, and it’s unlikely the home runs pile up for him like they did in Yankee Stadium. He’ll need to change his approach to be a more complete hitter, so while he may pull his average up somewhat, the power totals are likely to diminish, which, in turn, hurts his fantasy value.
Dan Haren, SP, WAS – After dealing with back and hip issues the last few years, Haren was lucky to land even the one-year, $13 million deal he got from the Nationals. Injuries have led to a significant drop in velocity as well as a reduction in strikeouts; a fairly significant increase in home runs allowed as well. Should Haren be completely healthy and regain that lost velocity, he could end up having an excellent season back in the NL with the Nationals. If he doesn’t, then anyone taking a chance on the 32-year-old right-hander could be in for a long season. Monitor his performance during spring training. If he seems to pitching well with no discomfort, then he should be worth a mid-round flier.
Rafael Soriano, RP, WAS – Signing Soriano to a two-year, $28 million deal to close says more about Washington’s lack of faith in Drew Storen than anything. Soriano had a tremendous season filling in for Mariano Rivera last year, notching 42 saves while posting a 2.26 ERA and a 9.18 K/9 over 67.2 innings. His walk rate remained a little high, but it’s hard to argue with the overall results. Soriano heads to Washington where he was officially named the closer for this season and should prove to be a valuable bullpen commodity on an extremely competitive Nationals team.