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.
Edwin Jackson signs with Nationals
An otherwise slow week in fantasy news was interrupted Wednesday when Edwin Jackson agreed to a one-year, $11 million contract with the Nationals. Jackson, 28, finished last season with a cumulative 12-9 record, 3.79 ERA, 1.437 WHIP and 6.7 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) rate as he split time between the White Sox and Cardinals.
Despite reports that agent Scott Boras was seeking a five-year contract for the right-hander, Jackson ended up settling for a shorter deal in hopes of testing the market again next year. That’s a bargain for the Nationals, who acquire a mid-rotation pitcher in the prime of his career who has made at least 30 starts in each of the past five seasons.
Fantasy owners, meanwhile, will stare once again at the Rorschach test that is E-Jax, a live arm who’s been touted as a potential breakout candidate in past years even if he’s yet to become a top-level hurler.
The good news is, several indicators last year provide hints to better results in 2012, as Jackson posted the best strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) ratio and full-season home run rate (HR/9) of his career. His solid ERA is matched by a 3.73 xFIP, and his 3.8 WAR last year was tied for his career best.
And yet, he still finished with a very pedestrian WHIP, an alarming 10.1 hits per nine innings (H/9) rate and suffered a spike in line-drive percentage.
So even if we might not see anything new from the right-hander this year, there’s hope his new environment will provide a boost to his fantasy value. Joining a rotation headlined by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann, Jackson enters spring training with a guaranteed job but without the pressure of carrying what should be a competitive Nationals ballclub.
Park-wise, Nationals Park plays fairly neutral, so he while his new digs might not do him any favors, he shouldn’t fear pitching there, either.
The team’s lineup boasts several intriguing pieces in guys like Danny Espinosa, Ian Desmond and Wilson Ramos, all of whom have the potential to build off their 2011 campaigns. But for a squad that finished 12th in the National League in runs scored, it’s hard to project Jackson working with run support to spare, especially when much of the team’s offensive output depends on Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth bouncing back from sub-par 2011 seasons.
Still, the best aspect of being a rotation man for the Nationals is enjoying the air support of the team’s sterling bullpen. The late-inning tag team of Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard just gained a new friend in Brad Lidge, who will only help a pen that finished fifth in baseball with a 3.20 ERA last year. And although the team missed out on the Prince Fielder sweepstakes, they won’t have to deal with his iron glove at first base, either.
So while you shouldn’t expect Jackson to learn any new tricks at this point in his career, he’s certainly someone who brings upside to this year’s draft (especially with an average draft position currently around 226) and perhaps stands to break the 15-win mark that has eluded him so far.
Indians add Casey Kotchman, Russ Canzler at first base
Still not ready to sign off on Matt LaPorta as a full-time major-leaguer, the Indians Thursday signed Casey Kotchman to a one-year, $3 million deal. Kotchman, who turns 29 later this month, posted an .800 OPS and .351 wOBA in 563 plate appearances for the Rays last year after signing a minor-league contract, though his .306 average was boosted by a .335 BABIP, a mark more than 50 points above his career average.
Five major-league plate appearances aside, Canzler, the 2011 International League MVP, has spent his entire career in the minors, where he’s posted a .280/.351/.469 line. Designated for assignment by the Rays in order to make room for Jeff Keppinger, Canzler, who turns 26 in April, has spent the bulk of his playing time at first base, though he’s also appeared at third and both corner outfield positions during his eight minor league seasons.
His versatility and right-handed power could give him a leg up on making the club out of spring training, though as FanGraph’s David Golebiewski points out, Canzler enjoyed home fields at the Double- and Triple-A levels that favor right-handed hitters.
Of course, the biggest obstacle facing both players is available playing time. Carlos Santana started 63 games at first base last season, a trend unlikely to be reversed given his status as the team’s best offensive player. Shelley Duncan could challenge Canzler for a spot out of spring training. And LaPorta, forever to be branded as the centerpiece of the CC Sabathia trade, wouldn’t spend much time toiling in the minor leagues if he comes out swinging in 2012.
So while both Kotchman and Canzler have value, I’d be leery of drafting them in all but the deepest of AL-only leagues.
Odds and ends from around the majors
• The Padres added another starter—and right-handed bat off the bench—by inking Micah Owings to a one-year, $1 million contract. Owings, 29, made 33 appearances (29 in relief) for the D’Backs last year, posting a 8-0 record with a 3.57 ERA and 1.254 WHIP. A crowded rotation of Tim Stauffer, Clayton Richard, Edinson Volquez, Cory Luebke and Dustin Moseley likely will push Owings to the bullpen full-time, though a significant injury could change that.
• The ageless Livan Hernandez agreed to a minor-league contract with the Astros, giving the team some rotation depth as it enters its final National League season. Hernandez, who turns 37 later this month, has made at least 29 starts each season dating back to 1998 and posted an 8-13 record, 4.47 ERA and 1.397 WHIP last season in 175.1 innings for the Nationals.
In nine career starts at Minute Maid Park, Hernandez is 6-2 with a 3.98 ERA and has allowed five home runs in 61 innings.
• Carlos Guillen has returned to the Mariners in the form of a backup infielder thanks to a spring training invitation. At 36 years old, Guillen’s previous two seasons have been decimated by injuries, and he was limited to just 28 games last year due to knee and wrist injuries. If healthy, he could see action backing up Kyle Seager at third base and/or Mike Carp in the outfield.