This week in (fantasy) baseballby Karl de Vries
January 30, 2012
It’s hard enough following one’s own fantasy team without having to keep track of an entire sport’s daily transactions.
So here’s a column dedicated to recapping the most notable trades, signings, promotions, demotions and role changes across the majors over the past week as they relate to fantasy. We'll do this on a regular basis. If you feel I've missed anything important, please don't hesitate to keep the conversation going in the comments below.
Prince Fielder to the Tigers
As if anyone expected anything less from Scott Boras.
Sure, it took the superagent some time to complete his latest masterpiece, but from a business standpoint, it’s hard to argue with the success of a nine-year, $214 million contract, especially when it’s signed by a player who is almost certain to be significantly overpaid by the second half of the deal.
For us mere fantasy-playing minions, who own no such financial stake in Fielder’s future fortunes, Detroit’s acquisition will likely prove to be the most consequential transaction of the offseason for its impact on not one, but two, superstars.
Let’s start with the obvious. Very much in the prime of his career, Fielder, 27, is an OPS machine on wheels who’s nearly a lock to put up monster numbers this season. Having played in no fewer than 157 games since his first full season in 2006, Fielder’s lifetime triple slash line of .282/.390/.540 provides a baseline of consistency that hints at another 30-plus home run season in 2012.
Granted, Stat Corner’s data note that, unlike Miller Park, Comerica Park suppresses left-handed home runs by 12 percent. Then again, a typical Fielder home run isn’t bound to the same limits of mortal major league hitters, as the big fella’s 38 home runs, on average, would have escaped the playing fields of 25 major league parks, according to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker.
As THT’s Nick Fleder points out, the trio of Austin Jackson, Brennan Boesch and Miguel Cabrera should provide similar table-setting opportunities compared to the Brewers’ 1-2-3 of Rickie Weeks, Nyjer Morgan and Ryan Braun. And I’m willing to bet Fielder will see worse starting pitching in the AL Central compared to his old division, as the Twins, Royals, Indians and White Sox all finished in the AL’s lower half in team ERA last year.
Fielder’s arrival, as you already know, bumps Miguel Cabrera over to third base in what will likely be the worst trial since the Stanford prison experiment. But that’s just Detroit’s problem, right? Well, not necessarily. As we look forward to watching Miggy gain eligibility at third base, keep an eye out for an eventual shift to DH, a spot currently occupied by the likes of Don Kelly, Ryan Raburn and Brandon Inge, all of whom could spell Cabrera in the field.
If (when) he’s demoted to DH, Miggy’s productivity runs the risk of a 10-percent decline, and although 111 plate appearances is hardly conclusive, his career .230/.306/.370 line doesn’t inspire a great deal of confidence. That said, Cabrera still enters 2012 as the most desirable third baseman in fantasy and probably surpasses Albert Pujols—if not Matt Kemp—with regard to candidacy as the first overall pick.
Francisco Cordero to set up Sergio Santos
In the end, Cordero was the closer left without a chair when the offseason music stopped, as a guy who’s averaged nearly 39 saves over the past five seasons settled for a one-year, $4.5 million deal to serve as Santos’ caddy.
Of course, at 36 years old, Cordero is entering a stage of his career when he’ll begin experiencing a natural decline, a trend already evidenced by several drooping numbers. At 5.4, Cordero’s K/9 rate was his worst since 2001—when he hurled all of 2.1 innings—and his average fastball velocity has lost two mph since 2009. Last year’s 4.02 FIP is out of sync with his 2.45 ERA, as were his .214 BABIP and 82.3 LOB percentage, numbers well outside his career norms.
Still, Cordero improved upon his walk rate and WHIP and still retains significant value in leagues that reward holds. And while his presence at the back end of Toronto’s bullpen will boost Santos’ fantasy value, he now represents the most immediate threat to the new closer’s job security if things go haywire this season.
Cody Ross to enter right-field platoon for Red Sox
Three years removed from a season in which he posted 24 home runs and 90 RBIs, Ross is a classic platoon player, featuring a career .912 OPS against left-handed pitchers that’s nearly 200 points above his mark against righties. That’s important, since he projects as a platoon partner with Ryan Sweeney as they anchor Boston’s right field.
Of course, his fantasy value will be limited so long as his at-bats are capped, but he could be an intriguing option in deeper AL-only leagues, especially if he’s fully recovered from the left hamstring injury that plagued his second half last year.
Odds and ends from around the majors
• The Phillies agreed to a minor-league deal with 34-year-old Juan Pierre, who will have to contend with John Mayberry, Jr., Laynce Nix and possibly Scott Posednik for playing time in left field. A steady job could return steal-happy Pierre to fantasy relevance, though his stolen-base success rate last year was an abysmal 61.3 percent, and his 44 attempts were nearly a career low over a full season.
• Ryan Theriot enters spring training as Brandon Crawford’s most threatening competition for shortstop appearances, though manager Bruce Bochy has reiterated his plan to hand the position’s keys to the 25-year-old this season. If Crawford runs into trouble, Theriot’s old buddy from Chicago, Mike Fontenot, also could compete for regular playing time.
• Jeff Keppinger will likely see utility work on the Rays this season, though it’s possible he’ll be relegated mostly to action against left-handed pitchers. He hit .255/.285/.333 in 230 plate appearances last year between the Astros and Giants.
• Brad Lidge has signed with Washington to help set up Drew Storen, but it’s not clear if he’s next in line following Tyler Clippard’s excellent 2011 season as the Nationals’ eighth-inning man. At 35, Lidge's injury history is also unavoidable, particularly after a partially torn rotator cuff zapped the first half of his 2011 season and probably helped slow his fastball to an alarming 89 mph.
Obviously, there's no guarantee Clippard will replicate last year's magic, and if something disastrous strikes Storen, opportunity may come knocking for the veteran reliever.
• Cincinnati’s currently projected starting rotation doesn’t leave a lot of room for Jeff Francis, who signed a minor-league contract this week. Then again, it remains to be seen whether Aroldis Chapman finally will make the transition from the bullpen to the rotation, or whether Homer Bailey—whose first name not only serves as a distinctive moniker but a source of ironic black humor—will hold down a starting job this season.
True, no one's running out to buy Jeff Francis t-shirts just yet, but in his defense, several teams were reportedly interested in his services this year, and his contract allows him to opt out before March closes if he feels he can find a better opportunity elsewhere.
Karl de Vries is a New Jersey-based writer and journalist who prefers following fantasy baseball to watching his hapless Mets embarrass themselves on TV every night. He can be reached at karl[dot]rotodiamond[at]gmail.com or followed on Twitter at @Karl_de_Vries.
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