Tag Archive | "Matt LaPorta"

Finding Keepers: Cleveland Indians

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Finding Keepers: Cleveland Indians

Posted on 30 March 2012 by Jeff Coleman

The Cleveland Indians are as much of an enigma in the fantasy baseball world as they are on the real baseball diamond. There are players that show enough flashes of talent to give fantasy GMs hope, but wind up either bowing out with injuries (Grady Sizemore), pure lack of overall production (Matt LaPorta), or some other off-the-field ‘excitement’ (Fausto Carmona / Roberto Hernandez).

This is enough to make any fantasy GM wonder: Are there any keeper-worthy prospects on the Tribe roster? The reality of the Indians’ piecemeal situation, especially in the outfield, would make the answer seem like a ‘no’. However, there are a few players that I would recommend for extended looks in a Keeper League.

  • RP Vinnie Pestano – It is difficult to judge a player off of only one year of Major League numbers, but Pestano was honestly dominant for a majority of the 2011 season. Sporting a sub-3.00 ERA, sub-1.20 WHIP, and around a 3.0 K/BB ratio throughout his career, both Majors and Minors, Pestano has shown a consistency that is very promising. He is also the best candidate on the Indians staff to poach saves from closer Chris Perez should the need arise. Pestano’s current ADP of 241.96 might make eyebrows raise, and his rankings in the “Big 3″ fantasy sites (ESPN #286, out of the top 100 RP on Yahoo!, out of the top 300 total on CBS) may leave owners wondering if my sanity has left me. However, I see Pestano growing into a solid, reliable, league-defining set-up man that will be worth setting aside a roster spot for.
  • RF Shin-Soo Choo – A tumultuous 2011 campaign seemed to have Choo on the ropes; off-the-field issues, injuries, and contract talk were predominant, and as a result his stats suffered greatly. A quiet off-season (and a stint with the South Korean Army) later, Choo seems more humbled, wiser, and ready to get his focus back onto baseball. Choo, even nearing the age of 30, has the potential to continue as a consistent .290/75/20/75/20 5×5 threat for several years, and the Indians will be relying on him heavily to produce if they have a chance in the AL Central. With an ADP of 63.50, and relatively high Big 3 rankings  (ESPN #75, Yahoo! #9 OF, CBS #75), a lot of folks are figuring for Choo to bounce back to the player of old.
  • SS Asdrubal Cabrera – Most people were surprised by AsCab’s power surge last year (25 HR, 92 RBI), but lost in that was another solid hitting (.273 BA) and running (17/22 SB) season. While we shouldn’t expect another power-laden season in 2012, the Indians will be expecting him to fill a major contributing and leadership role with the team this year. A line of .275/70/15/70/15 in your 5×5 league is not out of the question. Many folks have seen the low risk/high reward of the Tribe’s shortstop; Cabrera’s ADP sits at 78.96 (ahead of Rollins and Jeter), and the Big 3 set him as follows: ESPN #63, Yahoo! #5 SS, and CBS #86.
  • 2B Jason Kipnis – The Twitter hashtag #WeAreAllKipnesses made an appearance in the 2011 season when Jason Kipnis was called up to the Indians in July. The rookie wasn’t an instant hit, but put together an amazing month of August on the way to a final 5×5 of .272/24/7/19/5. Obviously using a keeper pick on anyone without a proven Big League record is inherently high-risk. But like Pestano, Kipnis has proven himself solid and consistent in his minor league career. With the chances high for the starting 2B job out of Spring Training, Kipnis’ upside is well worth the risk. His current ADP is 166.32, good enough to be in the top 15 in 2B league-wide. The Big 3 are equally kind, ranking him at #170 at ESPN, the #3 2B at Yahoo!, and #245 at CBS.

The Indians have a lot of decent pieces… But there are very few that will likely be breaking into Opening Day and producing consistently enough for recommendation. Plus there is the fact that the years past have proven that the weirdest things can happen in the City By The Lake. The above 4 players I see as key (and near untouchable) cogs in the quest to return the Indians to the dominance they had in the mid- to late-90′s.

Do you agree or disagree with my keeper recommendations? I’d love to get the conversations going with Tribe fans and non-fans alike! Go ahead and comment below, or feel free to follow me on Twitter (@JCPronkFan48) and continue the conversation there, too.

NOTE: All ADP values are from Mock Draft Central as of March 26, 2012.

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The Roster Report – March 3, 2012

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The Roster Report – March 3, 2012

Posted on 03 March 2012 by Bryan Grosnick

Hey there, hardball fans. Welcome to the first Roster Report of March. Spring Training has sprung on us, and players are showing up and getting ready for the 2012 season. With the beginning of Spring Training comes the inevitable swath of injuries throughout the league, and this column focuses on some of the most important injuries that have cropped up over the last few days. Two Central Division squads will be missing big-name (and big-money) players for the start of the season – one due to a freak injury, the other due to an injury that was anything but unexpected.

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Cleveland Indians CF Grady Sizemore will miss 8-12 weeks due to back surgery.

It was almost a given that Grady Sizemore would miss time in 2012, but even the Indians probably didn’t expect it to happen so soon. The superstar outfielder had a micro discectomy, and this back surgery will cause him to miss most of Spring Training, as well as the start to the season. With an extensive rehab process needed before Grady can get back on the field, and his existing history of injury, I’d say mid-May is the earliest we’d see Sizemore take the field for Cleveland. This is not the way the Indians wanted to spend the $5MM contract they signed Sizemore to before the season started.

With Grady missing from center field, it is safe to assume that Michael Brantley will take over in the middle of the outfield. Brantley posted respectable, if not stupendous, numbers in 2011. He amassed nearly 500 plate appearances, hit .266/.318/.384, and stole 13 bases. There’s still potential for his power, speed, and OBP numbers to improve a bit, and Brantley’s defense in center is solid enough to play everyday there. Brantley probably would have been the everyday left-fielder with Sizemore healthy, but now he’s more likely to hit near the top of the order, depending on the choices the Indians make with the newly-open left field position.

There’s no absolute clear left fielder in Cleveland with Brantley moving to center. The Indians have a host of guys in camp looking for a spot, including Russ Canzler, Matt LaPorta, Shelley Duncan, Aaron Cunningham, Ezequiel Carrera, Ryan Spilborghs, and Trevor Crowe. Spilborghs looks to have very, very little left in the tank after a terrible 2011, and Thomas Neal was very unimpressive in 2011 as well, except he was bad in Triple-A. Carrera makes a fine pinch-runner, but doesn’t project to have the bat to play every day. And Matt LaPorta may just be out of luck and time to prove himself as something greater than a Triple-A hitter. In fact, Canzler, LaPorta, and Cunningham all have a similar knock. All three have played well in the minors, but haven’t seen their production translate at the ML level yet. All three are also right-handed, which makes them pretty interchangeable as an option in left. I’d actually expect that Cunningham’s versatility will keep him in the mix in Cleveland, but as a fourth-outfielder capable of spelling Brantley, Choo, or whomever gets the LF job. Canzler is able to back up all four corner spots, but LaPorta has more upside if his bat ever starts working in the bigs, but both could wind up in Columbus to begin the year.

That leaves two options for the LF job: Shelley Duncan and Trevor Crowe. Duncan, like the three candidates I just covered, bats right-handed. But unlike those three, Duncan actually put up pretty decent numbers in limited action last season. Duncan hit 11 HR in 247 plate appearances last year, and was good for a 118 wRC+. That will play, especially given how badly he treated right-handed pitchers, torching them for a .390 wOBA. If he could keep up that level of hitting against same-handed pitchers, that would make for a worthwhile everyday left fielder. But that performance was outside of his usual abilities, he typically hits lefties better than righties. If Duncan needed a platoon partner, the Indians might want to leverage one of the only backup outfielders on the roster who can hit left-handed in Trevor Crowe. Crowe’s a switch-hitting outfielder with some speed, and he has a tendency to perform better when hitting left-handed in the majors. If Crowe can put up league-average numbers against opposite-handed pitchers, he might be as good a caddy as anyone if the Indians want to get the platoon advantage.

Ultimately, I see this as Shelley Duncan’s position to lose, unless LaPorta, Canzler, or one of the other candidates has a ridiculous Spring Training. Duncan has enough power to be a worthwhile (if very, very late round) fantasy pickup, as his power is legit. In a full season, he’s the type of player who could put up 20+ HR. But we’ll certainly have to see how Spring Training plays out before we know anything definite. And even once Sizemore comes back from this particular injury, don’t expect the position shuffle to end. Given injury histories for fellow Indians Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner, there could be a lot of moving a shaking before the season is over in Cleveland.

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Pittsburgh Pirates SP A.J. Burnett will miss 8-12 weeks due to facial surgery.

Freak injuries like the one to A.J. Burnett’s face during bunting practice are never a good thing. And as someone projected to be the Opening Day starter for an improving Pittsburgh team, this one has to particularly sting. Now that A.J. will be having surgery on his face due to a fractured orbital bone around his eye, the Pirates are back to where they were a month ago: a rotation filled with young guys who don’t have a whole lot to offer. While Burnett isn’t an elite starter, he would have provided heft to a rotation full of end-of-the-bench starters.

With A.J. out, both Jeff Karstens and Charlie Morton should be guaranteed their spots in the rotation to start. Neither player is particularly noteworthy, but hey, it’s a slow week so we’ll break them down anyways! Charlie Morton got a little bit of press by admitting he tried to copy Roy Halladay‘s delivery and style note-for-note before the 2011 season, and then started off having quite a bit of success with the copycat style. Pretty soon, though, things came back to normal. By the end of the season, the Pirates might have been better served by running the other baseball-playing Charlie Morton out there every fifth day. You know, the one who’s been dead for nearly a century. The current Morton is great at not giving up home runs (0.31 HR/9 in 2011), but his Roy Halladay impersonation doesn’t include the requisite strikeouts to make him a top-level starter. He’s a replacement-level guy, or maybe a little better if he can continue to keep the ball in the yard at such a low rate.

Jeff Karstens, like Burnett, is another former Yankee who’s been exiled to Pittsburgh. Karstens had a good season if you use ERA as measure (3.38 ERA in 2011), but the advanced metrics tell a different story. His FIP was a full run higher at 4.29, which isn’t awful, but belied a very low BABIP of .275. Karsten relies on his command, reducing walks, and getting guys out on balls in play, so luck plays a big part in his success. The Pirates won’t get killed running him out there every fifth day, but chances are that they’ll wish they had Burnett back sooner rather than later.

Before the injury, A.J. Burnett was a pretty solid fantasy option in the later rounds of a draft or in deep leagues. Now, he’s more of a wait-and-see guy. The only reason this injury should affect his game is the missed Spring Training time to get ready; remember that this isn’t an arm injury that could mess with his velocity or control. Hopefully, Burnett will have a speedy recovery and be back soon, but until he does, you might be better off drafting someone else and waiting for A.J. on the waiver wire.

Quick Hits

  • The Cleveland Indians already have another injury issue worth watching. Closer Chris Perez is dealing with an oblique strain and will probably miss the first few weeks of the season. Yeah, Perez is the closer, but he was pretty bad in 2011. A live arm in previous seasons, Perez saw his strikeout rate (2010: 8.71 K/9, 2011: 5.88 K/9) crater all of a sudden, with no change to his walk rate (3.92 BB/9) at all. He managed a 3.32 ERA and 36 saves, but that masked a SIERA of 4.65 and xFIP of 5.01. That’s hardly closer quality. Picking up the slack in the meantime will be Vinnie Pestano, who emerged in his rookie season as the best reliever in the Cleveland ‘pen. Pestano struck out a mountain of guys (84, to be exact) and could well be more effective in a ninth-inning role than Perez ever was. Since we don’t know if Pestano will snatch the job away on a permanent basis, don’t go crazy drafting Pestano in fantasy yet. But I trust that Manny Acta and punk-rock pitching coach Scott Radinsky will eventually turn the ninth over to Pestano. And don’t be too surprised in Tony Sipp sees a few holds chances with Pestano closing.

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The Roster Report – February 4, 2012

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The Roster Report – February 4, 2012

Posted on 04 February 2012 by Bryan Grosnick

Welcome back, hardball fans. This edition of The Roster Report features a few minor moves made by non-contenders hoping to move into respectability. With most (but not all) of the big names in this year’s free agent class already under contract, the most recent roster moves are those when teams are trying to fill holes or add depth. Of course, Edwin Jackson is an exception, but we’ll get to him in a moment.

Casey Kotchman

The Cleveland Indians sign 1B Casey Kotchman to a one-year, $3MM contract.

Fresh off the heels of bringing in one former Rays first baseman in Russ Canzler, the Cleveland Indians are doubling down by signing Casey Kotchman to a one-year deal. Kotchman exceeded expectations in 2011, posting his first season since 2007 as an above-average hitter. In addition to posting a wOBA of .351 and 10 HR, the left-handed-hitting Kotchman provided strong defense at first. At a position dominated by elite power bats and gaudy HR totals, Kotchman is an outlier; he provides solid contact, fielding and OBP skills, but little pop even during his good offensive seasons. But aside from 2005, 2007, and 2011, he hasn’t had many good offensive seasons over his career.

The Tribe now has four players of questionable quality at first going into the season. Carlos Santana got a lot of time at first last season, but one could expect that he’ll be moved into a heavier load at catcher, where his bat makes him an elite talent. Russ Canzler and Matt LaPorta, both right-handed hitters, are Triple-A proven, but not exactly sure things. Canzler has never been a premium hitting prospect, and though he’s the reigning International League MVP, he may not have the upside of Matt LaPorta. LaPorta, best known as the prime return in the C.C. Sabathia trade, has but up unreal numbers in the minors, but has yet to get going as a hitter at the major league level. In parts of three seasons with the Indians, LaPorta has never put together an above average hitting season (90 wRC+ for his career), and has been a below-replacement value at  -0.9 fWAR in 2010, and -0.8 fWAR in 2011. Yet he still has potential to be a solid power-hitter, so one could expect the Indians to go with a Kotchman-LaPorta platoon at first to start the season.

Infield defense is sure to be a priority with the Tribe’s collection of worm-burners on the hill, so Kotchman could match up against righties or when Derek Lowe and Justin Masterson take the mound. LaPorta would fit in on days when the Indians face a lefty, or when Ubaldo Jimenez pitches. And since LaPorta also can play the outfield (just not very well), this platoon would still provide the team with some roster flexibility in case of injury or long games. Chances are, the Indians will hold open auditions at first during Spring Training, and if one player shows exceptional skill, then they’ll see the lion’s share of time at first to start the season.

From a fantasy standpoint, Kotchman has a little value in AL-only leagues and as a replacement, but only if he’s a regular at first. Kotchman’s value is almost entirely tied to his batting average (.306 last year, but .268 over his career), and if that slips, he’s useless no matter the park, the lineup slot, or the opponent. Obviously, Canzler or LaPorta could have some fantasy value if they strike on a full-time job and break out, but Kotchman’s presence and the competition he brings causes both of their values to drop in fantasy as well. None of these three players are good fantasy buys.

Edwin Jackson

The Washington Nationals sign SP Edwin Jackson to a one-year contract, worth $11MM.

The next-to-last big-time free agent has finally found a home, as the Nationals were the last team standing in the Edwin Jackson sweepstakes. Though before the season many expected E-Jax to lock in a long-term deal, the pitching market proved saturated and the Scott Boras client took a short-term deal. He’ll re-enter free agency in the offseason. Not only did Jackson put up his best statistical season in 2011 (3.55 FIP, 3.73 xFIP, 4.01 SIERA), but he also helped the St. Louis Cardinals win the World Series as a late-season acquisition. Jackson joins young aces Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg, as well as newcomer Gio Gonzalez in an intriguing Nationals rotation. John Lannan appears to be the odd man out, and he’ll find himself on another team or toiling in long relief as a result. Jackson can probably expect to put up numbers close to, or better than his 2011 numbers, due to the Nats playing in a pitcher’s park in the weaker league. This will make Scott Boras very happy when free agency rolls around again next year.

I see this move as a savvy acquisition by the Nationals, who obviously think that they’re ready to compete in 2012. While they may be a year or two (or an offensive piece or two) from really competing in the NL East, this is still a good deal. If everything breaks right, the Nats can ride the foursome of Strasburg-Zimmermann-Jackson-Gonzalez to the playoffs and there, anything goes. But here’s where I blow your mind.

Edwin Jackson will NOT finish 2012 as a National. He’ll head to his eighth major league team, most likely the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.

If the Nationals are out of contention near the trade deadline, or close, they have a perfectly good trade asset in Jackson and his expiring contract. Any contender can look at Jackson’s solid peripherals, or the fact that he helped the Cardinals lock up a World Series ring last year, and swap a couple of C+ or B- prospects for Jackson at the deadline. A team like the Red Sox would get the benefit of Jackson at the end of the season, without having to pay the full sticker price that the Nats paid this week. It’s a move that will work for every team involved, provided Jackson stays both healthy and productive.

From a fantasy standpoint, Jackson is a solid fantasy starter, good to slot in the middle of your rotation. He doesn’t muster the big-time strikeouts that someone with his stuff should be stacking, but he’s a lock to put up 180 innings, and his FIP has improved every season since 2007. While his WHIP may hurt you a little, he’s above-average and reliable, and in the pitching market, that’s a tough combination to find. Buy, but don’t think he’ll suddenly put up Justin Verlander numbers.

Dan Johnson

The Chicago White Sox sign 1B Dan Johnson to a minor league contract.

The exodus of former Rays 1B continues, as Dan Johnson moves to the South Side on a minor league deal. Best known for two of the most important home runs in Rays franchise history, Johnson has done precious little else to establish himself as a big-league regular. Nearly all of his 91 plate appearances for the Rays in 2011 were terrible, and despite a positive baserunning and fielding adjustment, he was worth -0.8 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs. To do that, Johnson had to rack up a ridiculous .119/.187/.202 slash line, and a wOBA of .181.

Dan’s an elite Triple-A player, but rarely gets plate appearances these days at the major-league level. The underlying reason for this is based on his sub-par hitting for the position, even in years when he’s better than he was in 2011. While Dan has flashed a potent combination of pop and plate discipline in the minors, he doesn’t make great contact on balls that stay in the park. The Quad-A label is frustrating, but in Johnson’s case, it’s probably accurate. Keep in mind that this is a guy with over 1500 major league plate appearances. More than likely we’re seeing Dan’s true talent level in his stats, and that makes him just another guy who is replacement-level at first base.

In Chicago, he’s an injury-replacement player in case Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn gets hurt, and he probably doesn’t break Spring Training with the big club. The Sox are already have enough bad-glove / risky-bat guys in Adam Dunn and Dayan Viciedo, so unless one of those guys gets moved or badly injured, Johnson will be the regular first baseman in Triple-A for the Sox. There’s very little way he’d be relevant in any fantasy league, unless something goes very wrong for the Pale Hose.

Then again, if the White Sox need a clutch home run near the end of the season, they know who to call up.

Quick Hits

  • Todd Coffey just inked a one-year, $1.3MM with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodger bullpen is already headlined by Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra, but Coffey will add depth and experience.  Over the last four seasons, Coffey has alternated between being very average on even years, and very effective on odd years. In 2011 he managed a 3.62 ERA and 3.41 FIP, both of which were better than league average. He should be a consistent cog in the Dodger bullpen, and comes at a fair price, but he won’t emerge as a serious holds or saves option in fantasy.
  • The Mariners signed UT Carlos Guillen to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Guillen has seen his plate appearances diminish greatly over the past four seasons, and he’s nearing the end of the line for his career. If healthy, Guillen provides pop and good plate discipline, as well as some positional versatility, having played 1B, 2B, 3B, and LF in the past few seasons. But Guillen isn’t healthy very often, and his performance has been in decline with his health. Going back to his original team is a nice story, but don’t expect him to stick on the 25-man roster to start the season. And unless he has a monster Spring Training, he has no fantasy value either.
  • The Houston Astros locked in a pitcher capable of giving them 200 innings in 2012 when they signed SP Livan Hernandez to a minor league contract. By signing Livan to a minor league contract, Jeff Luhnow and the Astros have limited their risk, but Hernandez is no longer anything other than average, at best. Last season, Livan managed a 3.96 FIP over 175.1 innings for the Nationals, and that put his FIP just slightly worse than the league average. I imagine that he’ll be the fifth starter to open the season. Hernandez is a great guy to run out there every fifth day, so long as you don’t care whether or not you actually win the game. In that sense, this is a perfect fit for the Astros. (Also, he has little to no fantasy value, as he can’t strike anyone out and may spontaneously combust.)
  • Micah Owings, a rare double-threat as both a pitcher and hitter, has found himself in a place that should help his pitching, but hurt his hitting. The San Diego Padres inked Owings to a one-year deal, worth about $1MM. Owings has been both a starter and, more recently, a reliever with both the Diamondbacks and the Reds in his career. In addition, he puts out a career .286/.317/.507 slash line, which makes him look more like an average corner outfielder than a pitcher at the dish. Moving to PetCo park will limit his worst feature as a pitcher, his propensity to give up home runs. At the same time, it will limit his ability to hit the ball out of the park…which given how infrequently he hits, won’t be a big deal. Owings is a curiosity, and a fun player to watch, but he probably has no fantasy relevance.

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The Roster Report – February 1, 2012

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The Roster Report – February 1, 2012

Posted on 01 February 2012 by Bryan Grosnick

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Quick Hits

  • 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.

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