With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in less than a month, we’re rapidly approaching the finish line in the Hot Stove season. Michael Bourn is without question the biggest name still out there on the free agent market, and I’m very curious to see if the Scott Boras client will end up signing a moderate two or three-year deal or instead opt for a one-year contract so that he can test the free agent waters again next winter.
Anyway, let’s look at the notable signings/trades that took place since my last post.
Justin Upton and Chris Johnson traded to Braves for Martin Prado, Randall Delgado and prospects
Finally! All the rumors turned into reality today as Justin will join his older brother in the Atlanta outfield. Even though J-Up is coming off a disappointing season in which he let down a lot of owners who used a first-round pick on him (myself included), I’m fairly confident that he’ll bounce back. He proved in 2011 just how great of a fantasy force he can be, and it’s not like he completely fell of a cliff last year. Note that he batted .287 with 10 homers, eight steals and a .817 OPS in the second half, which isn’t too shabby. The move from Chase Field to Turner Field might cost him a few homers, but his across the board production makes him well worth taking towards the beginning of the second round of a 12-team mixed league draft. I wouldn’t be surprised if he performs at a top-10 overall level.
As for the rest of the players involved, Johnson has some pop but should only be considered in NL-only leagues or as a last resort CI in deep mixed leagues. Playing time will probably be an issue as he figures to platoon at third base with Juan Francisco. Prado will likely serve as Arizona’s everyday third baseman and should continue to be a quality all-around fantasy contributor, particularly in the AVG department. His multi-position eligibility is a nice bonus. Delgado was erratic in 18 appearances for the Braves last year but will be only 23 on Opening Day. A spot in the D-Backs rotation to begin the season is no guarantee as he will need to beat out Tyler Skaggs, but in an NL-only league there are far worse mid to late-round gambles.
Michael Morse traded to Mariners
Seattle wasted little time following their failed attempt to acquire Justin Upton, adding a much-needed bat to the middle of their lineup. Morse’s power is legit, though you’ve got to think that moving to cavernous Safeco Field caps his home run upside. As for his ability to maintain such a high batting average, I’m very skeptical. Over the past two seasons, the 30-year-old has posted K/BB ratios of 97/16 and 126/36, yet he still managed to register a combined .297 average. This simply doesn’t add up. I can’t see myself drafting this guy. Too many question marks relative to his expected price tag.
As part of what turned out to be a three-team trade, John Jaso heads to Oakland, where he’ll assume the role of No. 1 catcher. Don’t sleep on him in AL-only leagues! Jaso swatted 10 homers with an .850 OPS in 108 games for Seattle last season and batted .302 against right-handed pitching. He even makes for a quality No. 2 catcher in mixed leagues.
Rafael Soriano signs with Nationals for two yrs/$28 million
Wow. The contract also includes a vesting option for 2015 should Soriano register a combined 120 games finished over the next two years, which is very unlikely. But even if we just focus on the two years, I don’t quite understand what the Nationals were thinking here. Both Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen have already proven that they can perform at a high level in the ninth inning role, so I’m not sure why the Nats opted to pay top dollar to address an area that was already a strength. But I guess you can never have enough bullpen arms. Washington is obviously trying to win it all in 2013. Good for them.
From a fantasy perspective, this signing kills Storen and Clippard’s value, as there’s now zero chance that either of them saves more than a few games barring an injury to Soriano, who instantly becomes a top-10 closer. There’s no reason to think that he can’t duplicate last season’s stat line. Clippard and Storen are still worth drafting in NL-only formats for their excellent ratios. Value-wise, I’ll give Storen the slight edge just because I consider him to be next in line for saves.
Delmon Young signs with Phillies for one yr/$750 K
As long as Young can avoid any major off-field incidents, this could turn out to be a steal for the Phillies, as they’re getting a quality hitter for a dirt cheap price. Young burned me in Mixed Tout last year so I’m pretty much done with him from a fantasy standpoint, but if Delmon is still available in the last few rounds of your mixed league draft, feel free to take a shot on him. With regular playing time in a hitter-friendly park (and it sounds like the Phils will give him an opportunity to be their everyday right fielder), 20 homers and 85 RBIs isn’t a stretch.
Scott Hairston signs two-year contract with Cubs
Hairston could reportedly earn up to $6 million if he reaches all of his incentives. I was somewhat surprised by this move, as it’s not like the Cubbies are in any position to contend this season, but homer-happy Wrigley Field is a nice fit for Hairston, who managed to hit 20 home runs in just 377 at-bats for the Mets last year. Nate Schierholtz will steal some playing time from Hairston, specifically versus right-handed pitching, but he should still get enough at-bats to carry fantasy value in deeper mixed leagues.
Shaun Marcum signs one-year contract with Mets
Despite the injury history, I expected there to be a lot more interest in Marcum, and I love this move for both parties. Marcum gets to re-establish his market value on a one-year deal and the Mets get a very underrated starter who will have the opportunity to pitch half of his games at Citi Field. The only risk you’re taking on by drafting Marcum in the latter rounds has to do with his health, but at what will surely be a very cheap price, I’m all for adding him to your fantasy squad. He’s one of this season’s prime examples of a low-cost SP who can net you a huge profit and help you win your league.
First, the links to access the most recent 411 podcasts:
iTunes Audio: http://tinyurl.com/32346q8
iTunes Video: http://tinyurl.com/268r7gz
MLB.com Podcast Page: http://tinyurl.com/6xk6cx5
Writing the Relief Pitcher section for the 2013 MLB.com Player Preview, which will be coming out early next month, has helped me a lot in my own preparation, as I’ve taken the time to study more than 100 players. So I figured I’d share some of my thoughts on a few guys who I think will be undervalued on draft day and a few who I can see being overvalued.
Yeah, it’s always risky to invest heavily in a guy who is coming off Tommy John surgery, but in Madson’s case I’m willing to take the risk. The reality is that I don’t think his price will be all that steep. He’s ranked as the #22 RP on the latest ESPN rankings and CBS, for the time being, has him at #20. Should Madson prove to be 100 percent healthy in spring training, I’m sure his stock will go up, but I don’t think it will rise to the level that it should. A longtime dominant setup man, Madson finally overcame his closer demons in 2011, saving 32 games for the Phillies while posting a 2.37 ERA and striking out more than a batter per inning, and the contending Angels are sure to provide him with plenty of save chances. He’s a borderline #1/high-end #2 mixed league closer who you might be able to grab for a mid to low #2 closer price. I would not be surprised if he finishes 2013 in the top-10 at the position. But if you draft him, it’s a good idea to also scoop up Ernesto Frieri in the late rounds for insurance purposes.
Although a small part of me kind of believes Bruce Bochy when he says that he will also give Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt a look in the ninth inning, a larger part of me doesn’t buy it. 2012 marked the second straight season in which Romo pitched to a sub-2.00 ERA and the third straight year that he posted a sub-1.00 WHIP. All Romo needed was the opportunity to close on a full-time basis, and towards the end of the year he got it and ran with it, going a combined 9-for-9 in save chances in August and September. Add in a career 10.68 K/9 rate and 5.77 K/BB ratio and I have little doubt that he can perform like a top-10 closer. And where is he being ranked? #18 by ESPN and outside of the top-20 by CBS. Go figure.
There’s no way around it. Axford was a major disappointment last season following a 2011 campaign that saw him join the elite class of closers. The Brewers’ stopper had trouble keeping the ball in the yard (1.30 HR/9) and often struggled with his control. There is reason for optimism, however, as his 12.07 K/9 rate represented a significant hike from his 2011 strikeout rate. Also, Axford did finish the year on a high note, registering a 3.65 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in September. Currently ranked outside of the top-20 by both ESPN and CBS, he could be a big-time bargain.
Rodney’s 2013 outlook will surely be a hot-button topic over the coming months, and for good reason. On one hand, any pitcher who puts together the kind of season Rodney did in 2012 deserves a ton of credit. But do you really feel comfortable drafting him as your #1 closer? I don’t. Keep in mind that this is a guy who was coming off five straight seasons of an ERA over 4.00 and had posted a combined 1.55 WHIP over his previous four seasons. I don’t think you will need to pay top dollar for him, as there are plenty of doubters out there, but I honestly don’t want him at all. Well, maybe for a buck. That’s not happening though. ESPN ranking him at #14 isn’t crazy. CBS slotting him in at #6 is flat-out ridiculous!
#6? Really? That’s where ESPN had Reed ranked last week (they’ve dropped him to #11 since), and it baffles me to no end. To be fair, Reed has a number of things going for him. He’s only 24 and has the stuff to thrive in the closer role. But if you owned him last season, you’re probably still dizzy from the roller coaster ride, and his brutal September (8.00 ERA, 1.67 WHIP) might have cost you a league title. Although I won’t necessarily be avoiding Reed in drafts this year, there’s no way I’m taking him over, let’s see, Joe Nathan, Mariano Rivera, J.J. Putz, Huston Street, the list goes on and on.
I’d be happy to own Storen this year…just not as my #1 closer. Elbow surgery postponed his 2012 debut until mid-July, but when Storen did return he was as dominant as ever, registering a sub-3.00 ERA for the second straight season while posting a career-best WHIP. Still, he was never quite able to re-claim the Nats’ closer job from Tyler Clippard, who pitched brilliantly for most of the season. Add in Storen’s NLDS meltdown and I’m uneasy about this whole situation. Storen will likely open 2013 as the Nats’ closer but he will have little margin for error with the proven Clippard waiting in the wings.
As for the past week’s signings, there were only two that I consider to be fantasy-relevant:
Adam LaRoche re-signs with Nationals for two yrs/$24 million
One of the more overlooked yet consistent hitters in the game over the course of his career, LaRoche has always found a home on at least one of my teams, whether it be as a rock solid CI in a 12-team mixed league or an affordable starting 1B in an NL-only. From 2005-2010, LaRoche averaged 25 homers and 87 RBIs per season, yet he routinely lasted past the top-150 or so picks on draft day. As if he wasn’t under-appreciated enough heading into the 2011 campaign, an injury-plagued season seemed to knock him off the fantasy radar entirely entering last year. So how does he respond? By driving in 100 runs for the second time in three years and launching a career-high 33 homers. The Nats did well here as they refused to budge from their two-year offer even though LaRoche was holding out for three years. So what’s the bottom line? LaRoche remains an ultra-safe bet for 25 home runs and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he again reaches the 30-homer plateau. Oh yeah, and a strong supporting lineup will continue to provide him with plenty of RBI opportunities.
Lance Berkman signs with Rangers for one yr/$10 million
Even though it’s only a one year contract, 10 million bucks is an awful lot of dough for a 36-year-old (he’ll turn 37 next month) who is coming off an injury-ravaged season in which he was limited to just 32 games. Even without Josh Hamilton, the Rangers’ lineup remains formidable. A hitter-friendly ballpark helps, as does the fact that Berkman will serve as a full-time DH, thus limiting the risk of injury. Still though, I just can’t see myself investing too much in this guy. His current Mock Draft Central ADP of 260 is fair, and I’d probably be willing to take a flier on him at that point in the draft, which equates to the 22nd round in a 12-team mixed league. But I have a feeling that he’ll go off the board well before then in the vast majority of drafts, due in part to name recognition. If we’re talking late-teen rounds, I’d rather scoop up a younger and more exciting player.
Happy 2013 everyone,
First, here are the links to access the most recent 411 podcasts:
iTunes Audio: http://tinyurl.com/32346q8
iTunes Video: http://tinyurl.com/268r7gz
MLB.com Podcast Page: http://tinyurl.com/6xk6cx5
It’s been awhile since my last post, so there’s no shortage of fantasy-relevant signings/trades to talk about. Here’s my take on a bunch of them.
Be sure to post all of your keeper/early draft prep questions here and I’ll get back to you ASAP. With the fantasy football season now over, I’m officially in a fantasy baseball state of mind!
Nick Swisher signs with Indians for four yrs/$56 million
It took awhile for Swish to decide on a team, and all indications are that the Indians were not at the top of his wish list. But it’s highly likely that the Tribe offered him the best contract, and you can’t blame him for signing it. The chances of Cleveland contending for a postseason spot this season are minute, so it’ll be interesting to see how Swisher will handle the losing after being spoiled with the Yankees for the past four years. It’ll also be interesting to see if his overall production suffers by moving into a far weaker lineup and from a hitter’s park to a pitcher’s park. One thing to consider is that he averaged 26 homers a year during his three full seasons with the A’s, so it’s not like he can’t succeed in a pitcher-friendly environment. But this can’t be a good thing for his overall fantasy value. I’ve always appreciated Swisher for his year-to-year consistency, and he’s still a quality #3 OF in standard mixed leagues. I just won’t be targeting him as heavily as I did throughout his tenure with the Yankees.
Joel Hanrahan traded to Red Sox
This one surprised me a little at first, but the more I thought about it the more it made perfect sense. Andrew Bailey just can’t stay healthy and the Red Sox were in serious need of bullpen help. Hanrahan slides into their closer spot and Bailey along with Koji Uehara form an excellent setup duo. And if Bailey finds his way back to the DL, Boston has insurance. As for Hanrahan’s fantasy outlook, this is scary. Moving from the NL to the AL East and the pressure cooker that is Boston is a recipe for disaster. I’m a big believer in mental factors when it comes to pitchers, and this is about as unfavorable a situation as it gets. Add in the fact that his walk rate skyrocketed from 2.10 BB/9 in 2011 to 5.43 BB/9 last season and there’s not a whole lot to like about Hanrahan this year. I guess I wouldn’t mind owning him as my No. 2 closer in a mixed league, but I’m unwilling to pay top-10 closer price to draft him. And that’s almost certainly what it will take.
Cubs sign Edwin Jackson for four yrs/$52 million
After coming up short in the Anibal Sanchez sweepstakes, the Cubbies were aggressive in their pursuit of Jackson, and relatively speaking I think they did well. I mean, is Anibal really one year and 28 million bucks better than E-Jax? Nope. An ugly September (7.92 ERA) put a small damper on what was, on the whole, Jackson’s finest season in the big leagues. I’d be perfectly happy drafting him as my #4 or #5 mixed league starter. The one cause for concern though is that Wrigley Field is a very home run-friendly ballpark and Jackson served up 23 homers last season despite making 15 of his 31 starts at pitcher-friendly Nationals Park. For this reason, pitching to an ERA below 4.00 this year will be a challenge.
Francisco Liriano signs with Pirates for two yrs/$14 million
How Liriano was able to score this contract coming off two straight seasons with an ERA above 5.00 and a WHIP of at least 1.47 is beyond me, but hey, all it takes is one team to overpay. To put it simply, I’m done with this guy. Too inconsistent, too many walks, too injury-prone, too much of a headache. If you want to draft him for the strikeouts, that’s fine. Rest assured though that there’s zero chance I’ll be joining you in the bidding. The change of scenery doesn’t change much for Liriano. If you can’t throw strikes, you can’t throw strikes.
Cody Ross signs with Diamondbacks for three yrs/$26 million
Arizona’s decision to add Ross is a curious one being that they already had four starting-worthy outfielders on their roster in Justin Upton, Jason Kubel, Adam Eaton and Gerardo Parra, so the logical assumption is that they will trade either Upton or Kubel between now and the beginning of spring training. Ross is the kind of low-cost yet fairly consistent run producer that I tend to gravitate towards in the latter rounds on draft day, and homer-friendly Chase Field is a nice landing spot for him. Don’t expect much in the batting average department, but he should have little trouble topping last season’s 22 home runs. And I wouldn’t be shocked if he makes a serious run at 30 round trippers. He offers excellent value as a fourth or fifth mixed league outfielder.
Rangers sign A.J. Pierzynski for one yr/$7.5 million
Pierzynski’s failure to net a multi-year contract is a little surprising being that he’s coming off a 27-home run season, but the reality is that he just turned 36 and some teams, including the Yankees, were reportedly wary of his defense. For fantasy purposes, A.J. could not have found a better new home than in Texas. With Geovany Soto backing him up, Pierzynski will get the bulk of the playing time behind the plate, and another 20-plus home run campaign is well within reach as long as he stays healthy. Despite his advanced age, I’d feel comfortable drafting A.J. as my #1 catcher in a mixed league should I decide to pass on the top-tier guys, which is more than likely.
Jose Veras signs with Astros for one yr/$2 million
This could turn out to be a shrewd signing for Houston as they get a potential serviceable closer for a dirt cheap price. Although his 1.51 WHIP last season and high walk rate (5.37 BB/9) are concerning, Veras did strike out well over a batter per inning while posting a sub-4.00 ERA for the third straight year. Despite having saved just five games in his career, Veras is the leading candidate to open 2013 as the Astros’ ninth inning man, and there are even incentives in his contract based on games finished. As much as I understand the “saves are saves” argument, I’d feel extremely uncomfortable drafting Veras as more than my third closer in any mixed league given his lack of experience in the stopper role and his career-long control problems.
Angels trade Kendrys Morales to Mariners for Jason Vargas
2012 turned out to be a solid bounce back season for Morales after a freak leg injury sidelined him for a year and a half. Moving to cavernous Safeco Field won’t do him any favors and he will be hitting in a far weaker lineup, so expecting him to return to the 30-plus home run level is unrealistic. But Kendrys did launch 22 homers in just 134 games last year. In a full season, 25 home runs is by no means a stretch. Add in a strong AVG and I think Morales offers a great deal of value as a starting CI in a mixed league. As for Vargas, he remains a back end of the rotation guy in deeper mixed leagues.
Indians sign Brett Myers for one yr/$7 million
Coming off an impressive 2012 campaign pitching as a full-time reliever, Myers will now return to a starting role for his new club. The good news is that Myers has, over the course of his 11-year big league career, shown the ability to succeed as both a starter and a reliever. Also, last year’s mid-season trade to the more hitter-friendly AL had no adverse effect on him as he actually posted better numbers with the White Sox than he did prior to getting dealt by the Astros. The bad news is that in 2011, Myers registered an uninspiring 4.46 ERA in his 33 starts for Houston, serving up 30 homers in the process. Then again, he is moving into a more pitcher-friendly ballpark. For 12-team mixed league purposes, I’ll classify him as Pitch or Ditch to begin the season with the potential to either become a grad or get demoted to DTM. All in all, I’d rather not ride the Brett Myers roller coaster.