Hey there, hardball fans. While no MLB players who made an impact in 2011 signed, we did find out that a big-time import will be landing on the West Coast this year. And even though there’s only one big free agent left on the market, a couple of new faces found new places to call home last week. We’ve got all the transactions broken down below, here at the Roster Report.
(Seriously guys, what are we gonna do about this Roy Oswalt thing?)
The Oakland Athletics sign Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $36MM contract.
What’s left to say about Yoenis Cespedes? If you haven’t heard yet, Cespedes is the hottest thing to come out of Cuba since black market cigars. As an elite athlete (he looks like a NFL running back) who also put up elite stats (20-30 HR per year…in 90 game seasons) at home in Cuba, Cespedes has rare upside. The only question is if he can translate his awesome tools to the MLB game. I actually like this deal for Oakland very much…it is the kind of high-risk, high-reward signing that teams firmly out of contention should do. If Cespedes turns out to be a 2.0 WAR center fielder over the life of this contract, I’d say that’s a fair return on investment, as current metrics usually parse out a dollar value between $4-5MM for one win. If he’s better than that projection, the Athletics have a nice, undervalued asset and you can make a Moneyball joke.
But as an Oakland Athletic in 2012, where does Yoenis fit? The big-money major-league contract would seem to indicate that the Athletics want to see an immediate return on investment, but I wouldn’t rush to judgement yet. Cespedes probably needs more than a Spring Training run to adapt to ML pitching, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start 2012 in Double-A. There he’ll get regular plate appearances, and the A’s brass will be able to evaluate his offensive and defensive talents in game situations. Keep in mind that Oakland sees every player as a trade asset, and wouldn’t want an ineffective Cespedes in the majors, looking like a “bust”.
Unless Cespedes falls apart entirely (or goes nuts and hits dozens of HR), I’m going against the grain and predicting that he’ll probably find his way to Oakland around June or so. Oakland is said to have a logjam in the outfield now…one that I covered a few days ago in this article. Me, I’m not sure that they do. Coco Crisp and Seth Smith are locks for two OF/DH positions, with Smith possibly looking for a platoon partner. Josh Reddick will likely get a long look in RF, as he proved he’s got major league chops last season. And Yoenis isn’t the only player that the A’s need to take a look at. Michael Taylor, Chris Carter, Brandon Allen, Collin Cowgill, and others all need to get ML at-bats to prove their worth. The odd man out, at least for me, is Jonny Gomes. Gomes hits right-handed (same as Cespedes), but has little upside and will only be in Oakland on a one-year deal worth $1MM. While Gomes is a known commodity, the A’s need to see what right-handed hitters Carter and Taylor can do. I doubt the A’s would lose much if they replaced Gomes with Chris Carter for 2012.
So what is Cespedes’s fantasy value? I see him as a very high-risk prospect, a la Desmond Jennings in 2011. He should offer steals and power if everything breaks right, but in a limited amount of AB. And while Cespedes could put up numbers like Jennings did last season, there’s also the possibility that he could crater and provide little or no value for your fantasy squad. Use caution when drafting him, or even just setting your expectations for his performance. In many respects, he is quite a bit like another import: Yu Darvish. Hype and gaudy stats in other leagues could make these players as good as advertised, or they could mean little compared to U.S. competition. Cespedes may be a star, just don’t expect miracles right away.
The Chicago White Sox sign Kosuke Fukudome to a one-year, $1MM contract.
It’s back to Chicago for Kosuke Fukudome, who signed a one-year deal to play for the Chicago White Sox yesterday. Fukudome never quite lived up to the hype of his signing in his time in the Windy City, but he’s put up 5.6 fWAR over the last four seasons. Fukudome’s calling card has always been his stellar walk rate, but that fell precipitously from 15.4% in 2010 to 10.1% in 2011. The good news is that his performance improved after a mid-season trade to the Cleveland Indians, and he’ll find himself back in the AL Central again this year. The outfielder, who can play all three positions in a pinch, is entering his age-35 season, so one might expect his already suspect tools to diminish further as time goes on.
Fukudome profiles as the fourth outfielder in Chicago, likely behind Alex Rios, Alejandro De Aza, and maybe Dayan Viciedo. The White Sox don’t really have any other good internal options on the bench, though Brent Lillibridge does a decent job playing the super-sub role. Jordan Danks may be close to contributing, and if he breaks camp with the big club, De Aza (or Brent Morel) may be pushed to the bench and Fukudome moves even further down the depth chart. If Danks doesn’t break with the team, Dayan Viciedo’s fielding deficiencies may cause Fukudome to fill in as a late-inning defensive replacement, even though his defense isn’t particularly good. New manager Robin Ventura may value Fukudome’s patient approach at the plate, but if he can’t get on base, then even he could have trouble hanging around at the ML level.
From a fantasy standpoint, you’ll probably want to stay away from Kosuke. I drafted him in an OBP league and still regret it, as his declining skill at the plate makes him an unimpressive fantasy player. If he gets full-season playing time, he could muster ten homers, but he won’t get that playing time and you’re better off investing in a higher-upside player.
In all honesty, I’m a little surprised the White Sox committed guaranteed money (and a club option for 2013) to Fukudome. He more fits the role of a minor-league contract guy. If Jordan Danks and Dayan Viciedo play as well as expected in 2012, chances are the White Sox will wish they had the money back…but fora million dollars, the team also could have done worse than Fukudome. He’s a fourth or fifth outfielder who won’t kill you, but he won’t provide the pop off the bench that many managers like in a pinch-hitting outfielder.
The Baltimore Orioles sign Luis Ayala to a one-year, $925K contract.
Believe it or not, this was the only other “big” signing since our previous edition of the Roster Report. Luis Ayala, coming off a fairly effective 2011, received a low-ball, but guaranteed contract offer. Those aren’t just flying around these days. Ayala managed a shiny 2.09 ERA last season with the Yankees, but don’t be fooled! That ERA belies a 4.19 FIP and 4.15 xFIP. Ayala’s just a league-average reliever who benefited from a huge 85.7% strand rate in 2011. When a reliever is about league average, and his upside is also league-average, then he can be worth a roster spot. But Ayala obviously isn’t a fantasy factor, and is hardly likely to put up shocking numbers for not-gonna-contend Baltimore. I’m not sure if Baltimore would be better served by putting a young guy with upside in their ‘pen, but these are hardly the moves that make or break a team.
- The Orioles also added OBP machine Nick Johnson on a one-year, minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Johnson is great when he’s healthy, except he’s not. Nor was he any good last year in Triple-A with the Indians. More than likely, this is the last stop in his career. And even if he does make it to the majors somehow, he’s only fantasy-relevant in OBP leagues.
- The Cleveland Indians continue to explore starting pitching options after the fallout from the Fausto Carmona / Roberto Heredia controversy. Now they’ve added former White Sox mainstay Jon Garland on a minor-league deal. Garland has been an interesting pitcher over the course of his career: durable, reliable, but not particularly good (4.68 career FIP). Last year, he followed the same pattern, except without the “durable” and “reliable” parts. He only posted 54 innings, but otherwise his rate stats were very similar to his career norms. Garland can’t strike anyone out, so even if he stays healthy he’s unlikely to be fantasy-relevant or anything other than a #5 starter at the ML level.
- It’s a pattern. Another player who used to be pretty good isn’t so good any more, and is now trying to catch on with a minor league deal. This time it’s Scott LInebrink, and the team in question is the St. Louis Cardinals. Linebrink used to be a pretty solid middle-relief and setup guy, but now he gives up way too many HR to be anything more than just another guy in the bullpen. Though Linebrink might’ve had a respectable ERA last season with Atlanta, he benefited from a strand rate over 80%, and his FIP and xFIP (4.30 and 4.18, respectively) tell a story of mediocrity. A minor league deal isn’t a bad flyer, but with little upside and lots of miles, chances are that we’ll only talk about Linebrink after he gives up a big HR to someone like Ryan Braun.