This is quite possibly the deepest class when it comes to star production. A-Rod still leads the pack but there are some young franchise players who have the talent to be perrenial All-Stars. There will be plenty of production to go around and waiting to grab a third baseman in later rounds shouldn’t hurt you too badly.
- Alex Rodriguez NYY- Rodriguez missed time at the beginning of the year and still had 30 HRs and 100 RBIs. He’s a slugger with a lifetime .390 OBP and can still steal some bases.
- Evan Longoria TB- His first full season in the Bigs led to 33 HRs and 113 RBIs. Longo scored 100 runs and hit 44 doubles, despite lots of strikeouts.
- Pablo Sandoval SF- The Kung Fu Panda will again challenge for a batting title. His power will continue to grow and he doesn’t strikeout. Sandoval just needs the guys in front of him to get on-base.
In the running: David Wright NYM, Ryan Zimmerman WAS, Mark Reynolds ARI
- Miguel Tejada BAL- Miggy’s power isn’t what it once was, but he is still gets his extra base hits and comes through in the clutch. Tejada will be batting next to guys like Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Weiters… You get the idea. He will qualify for third base shortly after opening day.
- Aramis Ramirez CHC- When A-Ram is healthy, he is a top 5 third baseman. In only 82 games last season, Ramirez drove in 65 and hit 15 HR. His OBP has risen in each of the last three years to a career-high .389 last season.
- Kevin Kouzmanoff OAK- Kouzmanoff is not a superstar, but he’s a solid RBI hitter. He was over-shadowed by Adrian Gonzalez in San Diego but now moves on to Oakland. Kouz has had 80 RBIs in each of the last two years and could improve his HR totals now that he’s away from PETCO Park.
- David Wright NYM- Wright could very easily move back up to “The Elite” category but here’s why I moved him down to the “Caution” level. A move to Citi Field and injuries to the rest of the lineup helped bring his HRs down by 23 and his RBIs down by 52. That’s a lot. As far as I know, the Mets are still going to play half their games in Citi Field and Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran are already missing time.
- Adrian Beltre BOS- In 449 at-bast, Beltre failed to reach double-digits in homeruns. His RBIs were down to 44. Will a change of scenery help him rebound or will he continue his decline?
- Chipper Jones ATL- Chipper played in his most games since 2003 but failed to reach 20 HRs for the first time in his career (besides 1993 when he played in 8 games). Jones will put up a good AVG and OBP but for the second year in a row he had decreases in runs, hits, doubles, HRs, RBIs, and SLG.
The elite guys in this category are not as plentiful spots like first and third base. Many of the middle tier second basemen provide virtually the same offensive output. If you’re unable to land one of the few elite guys at this position, waiting until later in the draft and going for a sleeper may be the best route.
- Chase Utley PHI- Utley has been the best second baseman in Major League Baseball since his first full season in 2005 when he had 105 RBIs. Last year he had career highs in walks and stolen bases while still hitting 31 homers.
- Robinson Cano NYY- Cano doesn’t get much attention with the presence of A-Rod, Tex, and Jeter in the same lineup, which is part of the reason he is so under-rated. After a down 2008, Cano bounced back to his usual form while scoring 103 times and hitting a career high 25 home runs. Yankee stadium boosts his power production and fantasy owners can take advantage of that.
- Ian Kinsler TEX- Kinsler did not play as well as most expected in 2009 but still had career highs in HR, RBIs, and stolen bases. The emergence of Julio Borbon in the leadoff spot will give Kinsler the chance to drive in even more runs. Kinsler is hindered because he has yet to put together a completely healthy season.
- In the running: Aaron Hill TOR, Brian Roberts BAL, Gordon Beckham CHW (Beckham will qualify for second base shortly after Opening Day)
- Orlando Hudson MIN- Many forget that Hudson was an All-Star for the Dodgers last season before injuries derailed his second half. Signing with the Twins enhanced his fantasy value as he will be hitting in front of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel.
- Rickie Weeks MIL- Rickie carried the Brewers in the month of April last season. Before he got hurt, Weeks was on pace to absolutely shatter his career highs in home runs and RBIs.
- Martin Prado ATL- With Kelly Johnson now in Arizona, Martin Prado will get the full-time duty at second base in Atlanta. Prado has always been able to get onbase but last year he added gap power to his game.
- Freddy Sanchez SF- Many people still remember Sanchez for his NL batting title in 2006. He still hits for a fine average but has regressed in all aspects of run production every year since 2006.
- Alberto Callaspo KC- Callaspo is in a rough situation. His fantasy numbers were great last year but his dreadful defense has his starting spot in jeopardy. Callaspo could still be a good pick if he beats out Chris Getz during spring training, but, as of right now, that’s a big ‘if’.
- Skip Schumaker STL- The addition of Felipe Lopez will help the team win games but will also hurt the fantasy values of Skip Schumaker, David Freese, and Julio Lugo (if he had any to begin). Lopez will play all over but his best position is second base where he will get the starts against tough lefties. Schumaker is still a solid player, but the platoon situation is something to consider before your fantasy draft.
Rosters are starting to take shape as we inch closer to spring training. The trade market has been relatively quiet this off-season and the free agent market is dwindling. Some teams are rather comfortable with their rosters as they currently stand but many spots are still in question. Let’s take a look at the most important position battles for each National League team this spring:
Diamondbacks- 2B: Kelly Johnson was brought in to play second base but the starting job will not be given to him. After playing 150 solid games for the Braves in 2008, Johnson struggled mightiliy in 2009 and lost the job to Martin Prado. Ryan Roberts played second base down the stretch for Arizona and hit to a .279/.367/.416 line. Johnson is a lefty while Roberts is a righty so a platoon may be in their future. Tony Abreu is a younger option in case both struggle.
Braves- LF/RF: Nate McClouth will be the team’s center fielder but the corners are far from set. Melky Cabrera was acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade and will probably start at one of the corners after playing 154 games for the Yankees last year. He is a winner, a switch hitter, and capable of playing all three outfield spots. Matt Diaz is a quiet .310 career hitter but has never had 400 at-bats during his 7 years in the pros. Diaz is best suited for left field. The wild card in all of this is Jason Heyward, the number one prospect in baseball. He will be a franchise player soon, but how soon? Heyward is only 20 years old but could very well be ready for The Show.
Cubs- 2B: Mike Fontenot disappointed after beating out Aaron Miles for the second base job last year. His struggles, along with the injury to Aramis Ramirez, prompted a Jeff Baker acquisition. In 69 games with the Cubbies, Baker hit .305 and took over the second base job. Similar to Arizona’s situation, the Cubs have a left handed option with Fontenot and a right handed option with Baker. A straight platoon situation seems unlikely after Baker’s solid showing last September.
Reds- LF: Chris Dickerson will be the early favorite to start in left field due to a career .383 OBP in 128 games the last two years. He is a lefty with some speed and the potential for 15 homers a year. He will be challenged by Wladimir Balentien who has under-performed after being tabbed as a great prospect earlier in his career. Laynce Nix hit 15 home runs but the Reds would rather use him as a reserve. The Reds could still look to the free agent market for a guy like Jonny Gomes or even Johnny Damon.
Rockies- PH: Colorado’s starting lineup is basically set and they have a great bench. Ian Stewart will split time at third with Melvin Mora while Chris Iannetta and Miguel Olivo each get time behind the plate. Ryan Spilborghs will get plenty of playing time with lefties Carlos Gonzalez and Brad Hawpe starting in the outfield corners. The bench will also have Seth Smith and Jason Giambi to pinch hit late in the game. Even with their strong depth, the Rockies’ most interesting question entering the 2010 season may be if they carry six bench players. It is unlikely that they would carry another bench bat, but the front office has brought in some notable veterans including catcher Paul LoDuca, first baseman Josh Phelps, and outfielder Jay Payton, who will all be considered.
Florida- 1B: Mid-season acquisition Nick Johnson has moved on and Jorge Cantu may move to first base. If Cantu stays at third, the Marlins will have competition between Gaby Sanchez and prospect Logan Morrison. Sanchez has not developed as fast as the Marlins had hoped and Morrison may not be ready. Wes Helms will get some at-bats at first base but the free agent market still has a couple of possibilities. Russell Branyan, Carlos Delgado, and Hank Blalock are hoping for starting jobs.
Astros- C: This battle points to a potentially tough road ahead for the Houston Astros. Humberto Quintero will be the veteran in camp but has never played well. J.R. Towles was supposed to be the team’s catcher a few years ago but has hit .188 in 234 career at-bats. The bright spot at catcher is a great prospect by the name of Jason Castro. Castro is the top prospect in the organization but is only 22 and may need another year in the minors. Will the team get a guy like Rod Barajas to be a stopgap until Castro arrives in Houston?
Dodgers- 2B: Ronnie Belliard worked hard and stole the job from Orlando Hudson last season during the playoff push and was re-signed. He’s going to have to work just as hard to get the majority of starts at second this year. Along with Belliard, the Dodgers have plenty of other veteran options at second base: Nick Green, Alfredo Amezaga, Jamey Carroll, Angel Berroa. There are some younger guys who are looking for a chance this spring as well: Blake Dewitt, Chin-Lung Hu, Ivan DeJesus. Belliard is definitely the favorite but he will have to earn it.
Brewers- 3B: One of Milwaukee’s top prospects has been third baseman, Mat Gamel. He got some playing time last season and did OK. Meanwhile, Casey McGehee got a chance to play and did very well. McGehee provided a spark with his bat and posted a .859 OPS in 116 games. A huge spring from Gamel may be earn him a platoon role at third base but everyday at-bats in the minors would be helpful at this point in his career.
Mets- C: The Mets will have plenty of options at catcher and each comes from a very different background. Henry Blanco’s abilities to mentor a pitching staff and his great defensive attributes make him the backup catcher. Chris Coste was a long-time minor leaguer who finally broke into the Majors with the Phillies a few years ago. He struggled last year but has been useful as a pinch hitter. Omir Santos took over for Brian Schneider last year with the Mets to drive in 40 runs with only 281 at-bats. Josh Thole is the catcher of the future and may be ready after finding success in the big leagues last season. Even with all of this depth, the Mets have been linked to many other veteran catchers this off-season.
Phillies- OF: No, I’m not talking about a starting outfield spot. Those should be held down by Raul Ibanez, Shane Victorino, and Jayson Werth. I’m not even talking about the opening day bench for that matter of fact. Ben Francisco and Ross Gload will be the backups. I’m talking about September. The Phillies have positioned themselves to make a playoff run again this year and having a speedy pinch runner when the rosters expands never hurts. The Phillies have brought in Dewayne Wise, Freddy Guzman, and Chris Duffy to compete in the minors for that opportunity. Freddy Guzman held that role with the Yankees in the playoffs last year.
Pirates- SS: Ronny Cedeno was the Pirates’ late-season shortstop after being acquired from Seattle. With Pittsburgh he hit .258 with 5 home runs. That performance was enough to make him the early favorite for this season but the team brought in veteran infielder, Bobby Crosby, to compete. Crosby has hit over .239 only once since 2004. Either way, the Pirates don’t project to get a lot of production from their shortstop this season.
Padres- C: The team is about to sign veteran Yorvit Torrealba to a Major League deal. He will battle incumbent Nick Hundley for innings at catcher. Torrealba had a similar situation in Colorado and the starting job went back and forth between himself and Chris Iannetta. Torrealba hit .291 last year but had only 2 home runs in 213 at-bats. In similar playing time last year, Hundley hit .238 with 8 homers.
Giants- LF/RF: Mark DeRosa moves to the outfield with the signing of Aubrey Huff who will play first base and keep Pablo Sandoval at third. It is still to be seen if DeRosa will play left or right but who will play in the other spot? They have a pair of lefties in Fred Lewis and Nate Schierholtz who have not gotten to their potential yet. Lewis is better suited for left field and offers more tools with his speed. Schierholtz is better suited for right field and is younger. Andres Torres and Eugenio Velez will fight for playing time in the outfield too. Could the Giants still sign Johnny Damon, Jermaine Dye, or Jonny Gomes?
Cardinals- OF: The Cardinals don’t have an obvious option as their fourth outfielder. The starters are set from left to right for a while and that puts the Cardinals in an interesting position. The team doesn’t have to worry about grooming an outfielder and giving him everyday at-bats in the minors as much as most other teams do. So while other teams sign veterans to pinch hit, the Cardinals may just promote their next-best outfield prospects to get those at-bats and innings. They have plenty of minor league outfielders who are good but not great such as Jon Jay, Allen Craig, Daryl Jones, Joe Mather, Shane Robinson, and Nick Stavinoha.
Nationals- PH: The Nationals have a lineup that is basically set. The bench, however, has a couple open spots. Jesus Flores will be the backup catcher unless he encounters a setback while rehabbing from an injury-plagued season. Willie Harris has become a fan favorite with versatility, speed, and some pop. Besides those two, there are no guarantees. Eric Bruntlett could make the team as a backup infielder after holding that role with the Phillies for a couple season. Chris Duncan is looking for a pinch hitting role. Justin Maxwell is a big outfielder who can play all three outfield spots and has had success in limited time with the Nationals. Others who will get a look are catcher Wil Nieves, infielder Alberto Gonzalez, utility men Pete Orr and Mike Morse, and outfielders Jerry Owens, Roger Bernadina, and Kevin Mench.
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.
My predictions of a free agent pitcher each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Tim Redding could reunite with his former team as a swing-man after failing in NY.
Royals: Joe Beimel to be their lefty out of the bullpen.
Pirates: Kevin Gregg who will compete with Joel Hanrahan for the closer job.
Orioles: Erik Bedard can comeback to Baltimore and help a push for the Wild Card.
Indians: D.J. Carrasco will be the fifth man in their young rotation after performing well out of the White Sox’ bullpen.
Mets: Joel Piniero to help solidify their rotation because their makeover won’t be complete without a couple more starters.
Diamondbacks: Will Ohman to give the D-Backs another lefty to throw against the left-handed sluggers of the NL West (Helton, Gonzalez, Ethier, Loney, etc.).
Padres: Seth McClung who may get a chance to start.
Astros: Rich Hill as a low-risk/high-reward lefty; they don’t have much to spend after a couple questionable commitments this off-season.
Blue Jays: Pedro Martinez to mentor the very young rotation and be a trade chip at the deadline.
Athletics: John Bale as a veteran lefty out of the pen.
Cincinnati: Luis Vizcaino on an inexpensive deal; not much money left after they reportedly signed Aroldis Chapman this morning.
White Sox: Noah Lowry to rehab at AAA and provide depth for the strong rotation.
Brewers: Mark Mulder to meet up with a couple former coaches and try to stay healthy.
Cubs: Kiko Calero as a veteran righty in the pen though they need a starter badly as well.
Rays: Brendan Donnelly to come out of a bullpen that doesn’t have much depth.
Mariners: Ron Mahay to join the team’s renovation as their top bullpen lefty.
Tigers: Justin Speier who can help a good but young relief corps.
Braves: Ken Takahashi to compete for a spot in the bullpen.
Twins: Doug Davis would fit in well with the Twins as their 3 starter.
Marlins: Guillermo Mota will return to Florida for his second tour as a durable righty.
Rangers: Jon Garland who can be a reliable guy in the rotation that already has a couple injury prone starters.
Giants: Braden Looper will head back to the bullpen where he has had his most success.
Cardinals: Joe Nelson has been a solid reliever the past few years and the Cards don’t have much to spend.
Rockies: Jose Contreras pitched well last year in 7 games for Colorado.
Red Sox: Horacio Ramirez to provide lefty depth in the bullpen but will begin the season in AAA.
Dodgers: Chien-Ming Wang who will have to get healthy in a hurry because the Dodgers desperately need starters.
Angels: Chan Ho Park to be a middle reliever.
Phillies: Brian Shouse to replace retiree Scott Eyre as the second lefty in the pen.
Yankees: Mark Prior to continue his lengthy rehab process.
My predictions of a free agent hitter each team will still sign this off-season:
Nationals: Chad Tracy to pinch hit and get some defense at 1st base for Adam Dunn.
Royals: Vladimir Guerrero to DH; maybe play some right to keep Jose Guillen rested. (I would say Scott Podsednik but it appears he is about to sign with them anyway.)
Pirates: Rick Ankiel to play right field and hit 4th/5th.
Orioles: Hank Blalock to play first base though Baltimore may use Garrett Atkins there.
Indians: Jose Molina to mentor the team’s young catching prospects.
Mets: Bengie Molina who will start at catcher.
Diamondbacks: Randy Winn to play left field and mentor their young outfielders.
Padres: Brad Ausmus to backup Nick Hundley at catcher.
Astros: Jerry Hairston Jr. to start the season at short until Manzella is ready
Blue Jays: Endy Chavez is a great defender in the outfield.
A’s: Khalil Greene to possibly get some innings at short and third.
Reds: Miguel Tejada to start at shortstop and hit 2nd.
White Sox: Ryan Church to be insurance for oft-injured outfielders Andruw Jones and Carlos Quentin.
Brewers: Fernando Tatis to provide some pop off the bench from the right side.
Cubs: Orlando Hudson to play second base and hit 2nd.
Rays: Marcus Thames who can hit for power and start if Joyce/Perez need time at AAA.
Mariners: Xavier Nady has power and can split innings at first with Casey Kotchman.
Tigers: Alfredo Amezaga to spend time in center and at second while prospects learn.
Braves: Jeremy Reed who won’t cost to much and can play all three OF spots.
Twins: Orlando Cabrera fit right in last year and he’ll be back to play second base this time.
Marlins: Gabe Gross to provide a lefty bat off the bench.
Rangers: Russell Branyan who will have to sign another cheap, one year deal.
Giants: Yorvit Torrealba to share catching duties with Buster Posey like Torrealba did with Iannetta in Colorado.
Cardinals: Matt Stairs to pinch hit.
Rockies: Jason Giambi will re-sign after a fun run in Colorado last year.
Red Sox: Rocco Baldelli to backup the outfield because I believe they will trade Jeremy Hermida.
Dodgers: Felipe Lopez to play second base and thrive in that lineup.
Angels: Melvin Mora who will get time at third and left.
Phillies: Paul Bako to play catcher at AAA and wait for an opportunity like he got last year with the Phillies.
Yankees: Reed Johnson to split time with Brett Gardner in left.
On the eve of Matt Holliday signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, I would like to take a look at the other end of the free agent spectrum. Here are three players who hope the hot stove league simmers long enough for them to cash in too.
Melvin Mora 3B: Melvin is a more interesting candidate than most people would think. Playing in Baltimore didn’t bring him a ton of publicity but he’s put up good numbers in his ten year career. Mora has hovered around a .275 AVG and .340 OBP since 2003 while driving in 104 runs twice in that span. His power dropped bigtime in 2009 but he has dedicated himself to conditioning this off-season in order to have more defensive versatility. I see him going to the Angels as a 3B/LF option as they have never seemed too keen on giving Brandon Wood a whole season at third.
Hank Blalock 1B: Hank Blalock was once a highly touted third baseman for Texas until a string of injuries interrupted his career for parts of the 2007-2009 seasons. His progress was stunted but his pure talent came through this year as he hammered 25 homeruns as a first baseman and DH. He lost his third base job to Michael Young but his body may be healthy enough to get some more innings over there next year. He will be signed as a first baseman primarily with Baltimore being the best fit because he could DH now and then as well.
Braden Looper SP: In the spring of 2007 Cardinals manager Tony LaRusa decided to move Braden Looper into the rotation because the club needed another starter. He started 30 games and won half of his decisions. The move worked alright for the Cardinals but it wasn’t the best move for Braden Looper. That made him think he was a starter and the Milwaukee Brewers agreed by giving him a 2 year deal. Looper’s straight fastball and pitching machine motion led to a league worst 39 homers allowed in 2009. An idea for Looper this winter: Go back to the bullpen! Out of the pen he was extremely durable (8 consecutive years with at least 60 appearances) and rather effective (only one of those years with an ERA over 3.94). He will stay in the NL and sign with the San Francisco Giants as a middle reliever.
Are there better fits for these players? Who else will be flying under the radar as the hot stove moves on?