Hey there, hardball fans! Welcome to the first edition of The Roster Report here at Full Spectrum Baseball. I’ll be breaking down transactions big and small here at FSB on a twice-weekly basis. Basically, I’m here to get you caught up on the major and minor moves that shape your favorite MLB squads, and give you the best analysis as to how that will affect their on-field success in the future. And if there’s a chance that a move will affect your fantasy baseball team, well, I’ll cover that too! Lastly, if you have any questions or comments, please reach out in the comments section or via Twitter (@bgrosnick), and I’ll do my best to keep up.
This week’s article features acquisitions from the Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, and New York Mets. Let’s get to it!
The Detroit Tigers sign 1B Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214MM contract.
Yeah, you’ve probably already heard about this one. Let’s not talk about Prince, who is already entrenched as the new Tiger 1B, and should continue to be a productive power hitter for at least a few more years. Instead, let’s talk about the rest of the Detroit Tigers, and how this team will be affected by his arrival. First, and most importantly, incumbent first-sacker and perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera is off to third base. While Cabrera’s bat is potent, his glove is not. Cabrera was a poor-fielding third baseman in 2006 and 2007, and he was an average-to-poor fielding first baseman over the past four years, whether you look at advanced metrics like UZR, or just the eye test. With an infield of Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Ryan Raburn, and Prince Fielder, Detroit could offer one of the worst defensive squads in major-league history. They’re basically the opposite of the Ventura-Ordonez-Alfonzo-Olerud “Greatest Infield Ever” that the New York Mets had in the early 2000s. Even worse, Delmon Young, the prohibitive Opening Day left-fielder, is equally awful in the field. The Tigers are going all-in on hitting, and their run prevention will suffer as a result. I would not want to be a ground ball pitcher like Rick Porcello in 2012.
Fielder’s addition and Cabrera’s move definitely changes the makeup of the Detroit bench. With only four bench spots available on most AL squads, versatility will be especially key for the Tigers and manager Jim Leyland. A backup catcher (Gerald Laird) is a necessity, and Ramon Santiago will likely platoon with Ryan Raburn at 2B and back up Jhonny Peralta at short. The last two slots should be going towards a backup outfielder (likely Andy Dirks, who can play all three OF positions), and perhaps long-time Tiger Brandon Inge. Leyland sees Inge as a super-sub who can cycle in not just at his natural 3B, but also at catcher, outfield, and (according to Leyland) 2B and SS. Inge has never played in the middle of the infield before, but if he can, he would be one of the most versatile players in the majors this year. That’s great and everything, but he still can’t hit a lick. Fortunately, offense should be in heavy supply in the Motor City this season. Don Kelly, who may start the season as the DH, can also back up at the corners.
The Tigers’ addition of another massive bat to the lineup certainly shook up the AL Central, but it shouldn’t shake up the fantasy order of things too much. Miguel Cabrera’s move to third, a woefully weak position in 2012, makes him an easy top-5 pick in any mixed fantasy draft. I’d even look at him as the No. 1 overall choice in many leagues. Prince Fielder may see a drop in HR due to Comerica Park’s debilitating effect on left-handed power, but his overall stats will still keep him as a high-ranking 1B option. The rest of Detroit’s offensive starters will see a small boost due to the addition of another great hitter, and all of Detroit’s pitchers should lose value due to the newly-porous defense. Doug Fister may have had a brilliant breakout 2011, but his reliance on D will hurt him this season. And I would run away from Rick Porcello, a ground-ball specialist, like he was on fire.
The Philadelphia Phillies sign LF Juan Pierre to a minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training.
Dominic Brown, and plenty of Phillies fans, must be shaking their heads at this one. Though Pierre isn’t guaranteed a spot on the major-league roster, he’ll provide increased competition for the void in left field left by the departure of Raul Ibanez. Competition in LF will be tight, as Pierre must fend off new Phillies Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix as well as holdovers John Mayberry Jr. and Dominic Brown. Wigginton will probably start at 1B with Ryan Howard out to start the season, but when and if Howard returns (or if Jim Thome can handle everyday duties at first), expect the former Rockie to fill in at LF.
Before the signing of Pierre, the best bet for left field was probably a platoon of John Mayberry Jr. and newly-acquired Laynce Nix. A Nix-Mayberry platoon is actually a pretty solid left fielder, as Mayberry can do some real damage against lefties and Nix strikes the ball hard against right-handers. Both players have home run power and positional versatility. But Dominic Brown is still an excellent prospect with a well-rounded skillset. He’s also one of the few Phillies young enough to be a long-term fixture at Citizens Bank Park. With the Phillies looking to make another run at the World Series, manager Charlie Manuel may want Juan Pierre’s “veteran leadership” more than he would want a good ballplayer in LF, and that’s bad news for those of us who think Brown could be a star soon.
From a fantasy standpoint, Pierre gets another stay of execution. If Juan gets the Opening Day start, it will probably be atop the Philadelphia order, and he’ll go back to racking up SB, R, and batting average, owned in all leagues. Steals are valuable, and even as Pierre’s SB totals slide, he still finds value on any fantasy squad that values speed. But make no mistake, Juan Pierre is no longer a starting-caliber outfielder in real-world baseball. Sooner or later, the Phillies are going to have to run a real player out there in left field, whether it is Dom Brown, Laynce Nix, or John Mayberry. If Dominic Brown gets the LF job, then he’s worth a fantasy own, but Nix and Mayberry may not get enough plate appearances to be fantasy factors in anything but NL-only leagues.
The San Francisco Giants sign RP / SP Clay Hensley to a one-year, $750K contract.
The Giants signed former Marlin Clay Hensley to a non-guaranteed one-year contract. In my opinion, this is a great, low-risk deal for a reliever who’s been effective in the past. In a full year in relief for the Marlins in 2010, Hensley was very solid, posting an unreal 2.16 ERA and 2.87 FIP. But that isn’t what you should expect from him going forward…he’s unlikely to strike out a batter an inning again. Last year, Hensley regressed, though part of the reason his stats (5.19 ERA, 4.90 FIP) were so bad was due to an unimpressive nine-game run as a starter. Left to his devices in the bullpen, and especially benefiting from San Francisco’s wacky park magic (ESPN’s Park Factors have AT&T Park as the most pitcher-friendly park in MLB), Hensley will probably notch solid rate stats and more than a few holds. This is the kind of low-risk deal on a reliever every team should shoot for.
- The San Francisco Giants also added Ryan Theriot on a one-year, $1.25MM contract. The Riot is completely replaceable, a very average option at 2B or SS. But we all know how much Brian Sabean likes bringing in veteran retreads, so this feels like a natural fit. If and when Freddy Sanchez gets injured again, he’ll probably take over at 2B. Avoid in fantasy.
- Dan Wheeler, a journeyman reliever who last pitched for the Red Sox, signed on with the Cleveland Indians. Wheeler made a bad business decision when he turned down arbitration from the Sox, but then had to settle for a minor-league contract. He’s a very solid reliever, and will probably fit nicely in the Cleveland bullpen, as he posted his best FIP and xFIP in three years with Boston last year. Wheeler even has a little closing experience, so he could get the call if Chris Perez implodes during the season.
- The Indians also acquired Russ Canzler from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for cash considerations. Canzler hit quite well at Triple-A Durham for the Rays, won the International League MVP award, and could very well compete with Matt LaPorta for time at 1B this season. Canzler has a .411 wOBA over the past two seasons in Double-A and Triple-A, hits for power, and has remarkable plate discipline. Steve Slowinski at DRaysBay advocated making him a part of the Rays major-league roster earlier this offseason, so this could very well be an under-the-radar move that pays big dividends for Cleveland. If he gets a starting gig, he’ll play in fantasy leagues too.
- The Phillies made another move as part of their bullpen revamp, adding Chad Qualls on a one-year, $1.15MM contract. It’s a good deal for a reliever because it only lasts one year, and Qualls has had a lot of success in the past. In 2011 with the Padres, Chad saw his K rate fall off by two strikeouts per nine innings, but his walk rate and HR rate fell as well, balancing things out. Qualls probably isn’t an elite reliever, or even as good as Antonio Bastardo, but he’s a solid piece for the rebuilt Philadelphia ‘pen, and he came much cheaper than Jonathan Papelbon did.
- The Mets added former top prospect Matt Tuiasosopo, previously of the Seattle Mariners. Despite being a toolsy player and a former top prospect, Tui played very poorly in Triple-A last season, and is probably nothing more than an organizational depth guy. Tui’s only impact will be on spell-checkers, as he shouldn’t be a factor in fantasy or for the major-league squad. He’s just a guy.