Spring training games have already started which means Opening Day is close. Another season that is currently getting under-way is Fantasy Baseball. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write up my position-by-position preview to help prepare you for the pursuit of the ever important bragging rights. First on the list are the first basemen, led by superstar Albert Pujols.
- Albert Pujols STL- He continues to build on an already legendary career as his HR, RBIs, and SLG have all increased each of the past three years.
- Mark Teixeira NYY- Teixeira impressed in his first year with the Yanks. 100-plus runs and 100-plus RBIs are a near lock with his career .923 OPS.
- Miguel Cabrera DET- The Johnny Damon acquisition should only give Cabrera more chances to drive in runs.
- In the running: Adrian Gonzalez SD, Ryan Howard PHI, Prince Fielder MIL
- James Loney LAD- He is often forgot about due to low HR totals, but in his 4 year career Loney has a .295 AVG and two 90 RBI seasons. If his power comes through, Loney will becom a very valuable player.
- Billy Butler KC- Playing in the spacious Kauffman Stadium doesn’t help his power production, but KC’s lineup is improved and he showed progress last year.
- Adam LaRoche ARI- LaRoche will be available late in the draft and is someone you shouldn’t forget about. He’ll put up his usual 35 doubles, 25 HR, and 85 RBIs.
- Garrett Atkins BAL- Atkins will play first base in Baltimore but has been in a steady decline for three years. He bottomed out in ’09 with 9 HR and a .226 AVG.
- Garrett Jones PIT- Jones came on strong as a rookie and even had some ROY consideration. I expect him to come back down to earth after his stunning .938 OPS in ’09. Jones’ strikeout rate is also unfavorable.
- Lance Berkman HOU- Something must be in the water in Houston as Berkman and Roy Oswalt are already talking retirement. Berkman’s 2009 was below expectations and he seems to have lost his edge at the plate. He won’t be horrible but he is no longer a first tier first baseman.
The Hot Stove League had barely been simmering until earlier this week when a flurry of moves was able to keep it cooking. The Matt Hollidays and John Lackeys are already off the market. So, that leaves us with the Jon Garlands and Ronnie Belliards to spark the interest of myself and fellow transaction junkies. Nonetheless, these moves deserve some notoriety and I’m here to do just that with a quick synopsis of this weeks moves:
Rich Hill LHP- The former star prospect of the Chicago Cubs has signed on with the St. Louis Cardinals with the hope that pitching coach Dave Duncan can work his magic again. Duncan has gotten solid production out of many pitchers who were facing career declines before arriving in St. Louis. His revamping projects have included Jeff Weaver, Todd Wellemeyer, Ryan Franklin, Joel Pineiro, and Kyle Lohse, just off the top of my head. Hill has a nice repetoire including a plus curveball which makes him an enticing project for Duncan and a candidate for the 5th spot in the rotation.
Jim Edmonds OF- Edmonds is a former All-Star for the Cardinals who resurrected his career once already with the Cubs after a rough start in San Diego two years ago. After not receiving much interest last winter, Edmonds took the year off. He now returns to the NL Central on a minor league deal with the Brewers in search of a part-time role in Milwaukee. It’s a great signing for the Crew given the low risk contract.
Fernando Tatis UT– Tatis finally was able to find a home in the Majors with the Mets the past couple of seasons after being away from The Show for a while. This off-season he re-signed with the Mets to primarily serve as the platoon partner for Daniel Murphy at first base. His return seemed unlikely until recently as the Mets were rumored to be interested in higher profile first basemen like Russell Branyan, Adam LaRoche and Carlos Delgado. The Mets continue to miss out on their targets this off-season but this signing is a nice fallback plan.
Jon Garland RHP- Garland has never been great and has never been bad. That means he should have a pretty steady salary of about $5M on one year deals for a while. You know what you’re going to get with Garland and it’s usually a chance to win ball games. He goes to San Diego who I believe will make some noise this season in the NL West. The Padres were an over-achieving team in the second half. Garland’s arrival gives San Diego time to mold their abundance of young starters. If they do fall out of the race, however, Garland will be dealt along with closer Heath Bell.
Randy Winn OF- Above all else, Randy Winn signing with the Yankees finally ended the nagging drama between the Evil Empire and Johnny Damon. Whether the Yankees or Damon should’ve lowered their demands is finally behind us. Now back to Mr. Winn. He will provide plus defense and is perfect for the nine spot in an already dangerous lineup. Winn displayed durability last year and was added on a relatively inexpensive contract. This was the best destination for the veteran outfielder.
Ronnie Belliard 2B– Belliard turned out to be a difference maker down the stretch and even stole the starting gig from Orlando Hudson for the month of September. After re-signing with the Dodgers, it will be tough for him to produce at the same level but I doubt that the Dodgers are expecting that. A return to form by Russell Martin and a full season of Manny Ramirez will give the Dodgers plenty of offense. Belliard will start most of the time but Jamey Carroll will also get starts at second.
Jim Thome DH– Last year Thome put up 23 home runs along with a .366 OBP in 124 games for the White Sox and Dodgers. Much of those numbers came while Thome was starting at DH for the White Sox but he got a taste of being a pinch hitter in limited time with Los Angeles. Pinch hitting will be his main role with the Twins as the DH spot is already held down by fellow lefty Jason Kubel. However, Thome is one injury to Kubel, Michael Cuddyer or Delmon Young from the starting DH job. If Cuddyer or Young were to get injured, Kubel would take over in a corner outfield spot and Thome would inherit the DH job while quietly continuing his chase for 600 career home runs.
Eric Byrnes OF– Byrnes’ time in Arizona did not go as well as he or the Diamondbacks would’ve hoped and it resulted in his release this week. Byrnes has always been known as a stand-up guy who gives everything he’s got on every play. That attitude will embraced by both the fans and players in Seattle. He will not be a starter which may help him stay away from the DL. What he will be is a pinch runner/hitter and a part-time left fielder when the club wants to give Milton Bradley a day at designated hitter. This signing fits well for the Mariners and Byrnes.
Adam LaRoche and Jose Valverde have signed while Bengie Molina is seemingly next to leave the free agent market. The rest of the players out there will need to seriously start thinking about lowering their salary demands before more and more jobs are filled. Here’s the top three remaining free agents at each position.
- Yorvit Torrealba, 31- The Giants would be the best fit for him.
- Rod Barajas, 34- Cleveland and Houston may have openings behind the plate.
- Jose Molina, 35- Still may head back to the Bronx to catch for A.J. Burnett.
- Russell Branyan, 34- Another 1 year deal will be his only option.
- Carlos Delgado, 38- Re-signing with the Mets is his best option.
- Xavier Nady, 31- The M’s would be a perfect fit to play some 1st, left and DH.
- Orlando Hudson, 32- It will come down to the Cubs and Nats.
- Felipe Lopez, 30- 2nd base for the Dodgers or 3rd base for the Cardinals.
- Ronnie Belliard, 35- May be Tigers backup plan if prospect Sizemore isn’t ready.
- Miguel Tejada, 36- Oakland and Minnesota could look at him.
- Orlando Cabrera, 35- Will play short in Cincinnati.
- Jerry Hairston Jr., 34- Many teams could use a veteran, speedy utility man.
- Melvin Mora, 38- The Angels could use him at 3rd and in left.
- Joe Crede, 32- Fits with the O’s who want to slide Atkins to 1st base.
- Adam Kennedy, 34- Similar to Hairston’s situation.
- Johnny Damon, 36- Atlanta seems to want him still.
- Jonny Gomes, 29- May have a platoon shot in Cincinnati or Detroit.
- Marcus Thames, 33- Tampa Bay, Toronto could give him playing time.
- Rick Ankiel, 30- Could land in Atlanta if Damon doesn’t.
- Reed Johnson, 33- Could get time at all three OF spots with the Yankees.
- Jeremy Reed, 29- The Cardinals could make him there 4th outfielder.
- Jermaine Dye, 36- His market is shrinking fast.
- Randy Winn, 36- Backup at this point in his career.
- Fernando Tatis, 35- Won’t get a starting job but will get a Major League deal.
- Jim Thome, 39- The White Sox are a great fit.
- Hank Blalock, 29- A backup role will be his best bet this spring; still very talented.
- Mike Jacobs, 29- Will have to sign a minor league deal and compete.
- Joel Pineiro, 31- Down to the Mets and Dodgers.
- Ben Sheets, 31- Most upside of all remaining free agents but very risky.
- Doug Davis, 34- In about a week he will have quite a few teams bidding.
- Kiko Calero, 35- A reunion with the Cards actually makes a lot of sense.
- Chan Ho Park, 37- Next best setup man left.
- Kevin Gregg, 32- Probably a 7th inning guy.
- Joe Beimel, 32- Kansas City doesn’t have a lefty in the pen yet.
- Will Ohman, 31- Hard to predict after a disappointing 2009.
- Mark Hendrickson, 36- Lots of teams could use a lefty starter/reliever.
So what openings are left on your team? And who will be signed to fill those spots?
Last off-season Michael Young wasn’t too happy about moving to third base. That marked the second time in five years that Young move around the infield for the Texas Rangers. Well if you thought that was a big deal, check out the defense for the San Francisco Giants in just the past two months.
The field started off like this:
C- Buster Posey
1B- Travis Ishikawa
2B- Freddy Sanchez
SS- Edgar Renteria
3B- Pablo Sandoval
LF- Fred Lewis
CF- Aaron Rowand
RF- Nate Schierholtz
At this point the Giants were linked to rumors about Dan Uggla. This idea had Freddy Sanchez ready to move to third base which was his spot when he broke in with the Pirates. Sandoval would have moved to first where he will likely end up anyway. Those rumors never seemed to progress very well and GM Brian Sabean turned his attention back to first base. Adam LaRoche was linked to the team but his lofty contract demands turned Sabean’s attention to others on the market, and the defense was still set as is.
Then a flurry of moves started the musical chairs that is the Giants’ infield. Mark DeRosa was signed to potentially play third base. Infielder Juan Uribe was brought back and his late season push of 2009 may have given him the inside path to third, pushing Mark DeRosa to the outfield. Either way, Sandoval will now be their first baseman… Nope.
Sunday night the team came to an agreement with lefty Aubrey Huff. In his early days Huff played third base for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays when they were still bottom feeders in the AL East. Now don’t let that fool you. He has since moved on to more of a first base/DH role. Though it’s only a $3M deal, Huff will man first base.
Everything finally appears set with Sandoval moving back to third base where he will, for at least one more year, display his “Kung Fu Panda” skills at the hot corner. Utility man Mark DeRosa will play left and Fred Lewis will battle Nate Schierholtz for the right field job. Ishikawa and Uribe have been moved to the bench but something tells me that Bochy will have a few different lineups this year given the versatility of DeRosa, Sanchez, Uribe and Sandoval.
When the dust settles on this renovation project the Giants will come away with the feeling of pride that they atleast did something, but was it enough? In the powerful NL West it will take big strides to move past the Dodgers and Rockies. Bruce Bochy’s lineup is not built around his stadium which calls for either speed to take advantage of the gaps or power to at least drive the ball far enough into those gaps. The Giants finished 27th in extra base hits and that number won’t rise too much with these middle-of-the-road transactions. The Giants will still be adding another catcher this off-season (meaning the musical chairs aren’t done just yet) but there are no impact bats left in that market. The pitching staff will have a tough challenge ahead of them next season in keeping the scores low out west.
The multi-year deals have not been flying around like off-seasons of past. Think players like Carlos Silva or Gil Meche would walk away with 4-5 year deals this winter? Now that we’ve entered 2010 teams will be looking for this year’s low-risk/high-reward one year deals. But some guys are worthy of longer commitments. Here are the top dozen players with the best chance of getting a 2+ year deal and a possible destination.
C- Bengie Molina: 2 years, New York Mets
1B- Russell Branyan: 2 years, Texas Rangers
1B- Adam LaRoche: 2 years, Seattle Mariners
2B- Orlando Hudson: 2 years, Chicago Cubs
2B- Felipe Lopez: 2 years, Los Angeles Dodgers
SS- Orlando Cabrera: 2 years, Minnesota Twins
SS/3B- Miguel Tejada: 2 years, Cincinnati Reds
3B- Adrian Beltre: 3 years, Boston Red Sox
LF- Johnny Damon: 2 years, San Francisco Giants
LF- Matt Holliday: 6 years, St. Louis Cardinals
SP- Aroldis Chapman: 5 years, Florida Marlins
SP- Joel Piniero: 3 years, New York Mets
Some remaining free agents who are on the fringe include Rick Ankiel, Vladimir Guerrero, Doug Davis, Jarrod Washburn and Jose Valverde. Marlon Byrd’s backloaded contract with the Cubs may set precedent for quite a few of these players who want that extra year guaranteed.
With the free agency period off to a frustratingly slow start, I’ve decided to post my synopsis of the top free agents in this year’s market. Also listed are some potential destinations.
1. Matt Holliday OF– Great all-around hitter who rebounded well in St. Louis after his short stay in the AL. He is the premier offensive player in this year’s class and a legitimate 3-hitter for any contender. His combination of power, speed, and competitiveness will land him the biggest contract of all free agents in the coming months. Yankees, Mets, Red Sox
2. John Lackey SP– Despite a couple recent injuries, Lackey’s leadership and determination are great intangibles. He consistently puts his team in the spot to win games and will be the ace anywhere he goes, besides the Yankees… Yankees, Brewers, Angels
3. Jason Bay OF– Bay has taken some hits lately for his defense and even criticism for rejecting the Red Sox initial offer of 4 years/$60MM. Bay, however, was able to post great HR and RBI numbers and that’s what gets free agents paid. Bay is a great number two option to Holliday. Red Sox, Mets, Giants
4. Chone Figgins 3B/UT– After Chone struggled mightly in the playoffs, he is on a mission to get back in the post-season and earn another ring. Figgins will go to a winner where he can play third base, his best position. Many teams have been rumored to the speedy utility man for many different positions, though the White Sox have said they’re already out of the hunt due to the price. Angels, Phillies, Mariners
5. Aroldis Chapman LHP– Chapman is a lefty phenom who defected from Cuba who just changed his agency. He has great stuff and a fastball that approaches 100mph. Nearly every team has some level of interest in his rare skills set. He may spend some time in the minors, but will still earn a great paycheck. I could see Chapman as the Dodgers’ single big move this off-season if they’re unable to attain Roy Halladay from the Blue Jays. Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers
6. Mike Gonzalez LHP/Rafael Soriano RHP– This pair of relievers come from the same bullpen and can both setup or close. Their electrifying stuff will earn them both a huge (and probably over-priced) payday. My guess is that both will have a chance to close. Phillies, Braves, Tigers
7. Orlando Hudson 2B– This perennial gold glover is a switch hitter with pop and speed. He can work an at-bat and is a great clubhouse guy. The only thing going against Hudson is his injury plagued second-half with the Dodgers, which will keep him affordable like this time last year. Mets, Nationals, Twins
8. Joel Piniero SP– I like Piniero. Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan once again worked his magic with Piniero. Piniero always had talent and he finally turned the corner. In a relatively weak market for starting pitchers, Piniero comes in as the number two. Mets, Cardinals, Brewers
9. Mark DeRosa 3B/UT– Mark DeRosa built his great reputation off a couple solid years with the Cubs. His value diminished a bit with a wrist injury which required surgery after the season and a rough stay with the Cards where his OBP dropped significantly. DeRosa though, is a good option for most teams as he can play a very formidable second and third along with first and the corner outfield spots. Even though the Cubs fans love this guy, they will not reunite on the Northside. Phillies, Cardinals, Twins
10. Bengie Molina C– In a very thin offering of catchers this year, Molina provides a veteran presence with a solid bat. He has hit cleanup or fifth many times in the past few years with the Giants. Mets, Brewers, Mariners
11. Jason Marquis SP– Marquis’ sinker worked well for him in Colorado where he flourished for the first half, but then dropped off. He is durable and an innings eater, and provides some offense from the pitcher’s spot for what it’s worth. Keep in mind his 10 year streak of making the playoffs. Mets, Cardinals, Rockies
12. Johnny Damon/Hideki Matsui OF/DH– Pros: came up huge in the post-season. Cons: age and declining overall skills. These two Yankees favorites would both love to be back in the Bronx but the Yankees are looking for more athleticism in LF and would rather commit one year too few than one year too many. White Sox, Yankees, Mariners
13. Rich Harden SP– Harden would like to be back in Chicago’s rotation but I’m not sure he proved his health enough to be warranted a raise in the windy city. He has an upper 90s fastball and a nice changeup/sinker that makes him perhaps the biggest risk/reward pitcher this year. It’s very conceivable Boston picks him up to be another reclamation project similar to Paul Byrd, John Smoltz, and Brad Penny of late. Red Sox, Cubs, Mets
14. Adrian Beltre 3B– Beltre is still a great defender and a power threat. His value is nowhere near it was the last time he hit market and cashed in, but he will still be coveted with lots of vacancies at the hot corner this year. Phillies, Orioles, Twins
15. Nick Johnson 1B– Johnson is known for his injuries and his above average OBP. He improved that OBP with his second half Marlins stint in which he posted a .477 OBP. This off-season he will earn himself a multiyear deal to provide the steady production people have grown accustomed to. Mets, Giants, White Sox
- Orlando Cabrera SS
- Russell Branyan 1B
- Miguel Tejada SS/3B
- Marlon Byrd OF
- Vladimir Guerrero DH/RF
- Adam LaRoche 1B
- Fernando Rodney RP
- Andy Pettitte SP (would be higher on the list, but the Yankees are the only destination)