Play ball! Not quite—but almost. Even though official games are still a month or so away, the terrific fantasy baseball analyst here at Fantistics will get things rolling with some player notes and team outlooks for the upcoming season and how it will affect your fantasy decisions for the season start. I get the honor of batting leadoff and I’ll be covering the spring happenings for the New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels, Oakland A’s and the Seattle Mariners.
New York Mets
Let’s begin in the N.L. East with the New York Mess…uh…Mets. The Mets are grabbing the back pages of the New York newspapers these days and for all the wrong reasons. But let’s focus on the baseball side of things. The Mets made some key moves showing GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel the door and hired Terry Collins to lead the team and Sandy Alderson and the “Moneyball” team to provide the vision.
The Rotation: One of the key questions the team will face this spring will be in regards to the pitching staff. Realistically, Johan Santana is out for the first half of the season. So immediately his fantasy value takes a big hit as he will probably be passed over by many fantasy owners or grabbed in the very late rounds and stashed away for later. Mike Pelfrey, Jon Niese, R.A. Dickey are the “sure things” to make the rotation. Pelfrey has been named the “ace” of the staff in Santana’s absence which is a frightening thought as there probably isn’t another team in the division that would crown him with that title. Pelfrey is certainly draftable but not where most team’s aces would be drafted. His lack of strikeouts (K/9—4.99) and high hit total (H/9--9.4) will have fantasy owners on their heels. Jon Niese and R.A. Dickey, like Pelfrey, could be serviceable options that could go in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. Dickey’s career season in 2010 may not be repeatable so fantasy owners should proceed with caution where Dickey is concerned.
The two wildcards that are thrown into the mix are the low cost/high upside signings of Chris Capuano and Chris Young who are hungry to prove themselves again on the baseball diamond and put the long line of injuries behind them. These two may be draft-worthy and round out the last bits of your pitching staff on draft day. But a better strategy would be to monitor their performance during pre-season and at the start of the season and make decisions from there. They are worth putting on your radar because they could benefit from the pitcher-friendly park of CitiField. And then there’s Oliver Perez…don’t even get me started. We’ll leave it at that.
Second Chances: This spring, second base should be dubbed the hot corner for the Mets as their will be a pretty heated battle as to who will be the starting second baseman. Luis “Slappy” Castillo is the incumbent and is owned about $6 million this year. By virtue of the large contract that the Mets can’t offload, he becomes the favorite to win the position. From a fantasy perspective, Castillo offers nothing to the fantasy owner unless they are in a league where the most slap singles wins the grand prize. With an XBH% of 2% and an ISO of .032, it’s a wonder Castillo can get himself out of bed in the morning.
Daniel Murphy is the other option that Mets are giving serious consideration at second base. The Mets like his left handed bat and he has been working diligently at second for quite some time after spending a considerable amount of time on the shelf with knee injuries. If he can prove that he can turn the double play, Murph could be a viable option. He’s a lifetime .275 hitter with the ability hit double digits in home runs and could be a fantasy consideration should he earn the job.
Finally, the last candidate competing for second base is minor leaguer Brad Emaus whom the Mets selected in last year’s Rule 5 draft. In the Blue Jays’ system, he proved to be a good utility guy with decent power, decent speed and a handy hitter. He has an advantage to make the team out of spring training, otherwise he will be returned to the Blue Jays.
Los Angeles Angels
Closer Job Up for Grabs: Well, not really. Or not yet. Fernando Rodney is the closer going into the season and for that reason alone, he will be a valuable pickup for any fantasy team. But his position is tenuous. Although Rodney managed to notch 14 saves for the Angels in 2010, it wasn’t pretty. His ERA was a bloated 4.24 and his WHIP was 1.54. If Rodney should falter, the Angels have a couple of guys who could move up into his role. Scott Downs could be the next in line having come over from Toronto where he filled in as the closer in 2009 and racked up 9 saves. And don’t count out hard-throwing Kevin Jepsen whose fastball comes in around 95 mph and had a nifty K/9 of 9.31 last season despite having some bouts of wildness. Even Hisanori Takahashi from the Mets could be used in a save situation given the right circumstance. The Angels have increased their bullpen depth considerably which will provide them with a multitude of options. Unless Rodney has a meltdown in spring, he will be the Angels closer. But have your fingers on the trigger in case someone else jumps ahead of him.
Offensive Comings, Goings and Returns: Perhaps the Angels biggest obstacle last year was an offense that was inconsistent that resulted in 202 less runs in 2010 than they had scored the prior year. Kendry Morales return should help that problem considerably. His unfortunate ankle injury last year seemed to take all of the air out of the team and hurt their attack greatly. Morales should be back healthy this yea. He brings a 30+ home run swing, 100 RBI and a near .300 batting average. Fantasy owners will not want to overlook Morales on draft day.
The Angels did lose Hideki Matsui, Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli over the off-season which could hurt them. They did acquire Vernon Wells from the Blue Jays and his hefty contract. The worry would be that a contract like that might prove to add some financial inflexibility should the team need to make additional moves. That remains to be seen. The Angels middle of the lineup with Morales, Torii Hunter and Vernon Wells could pose problems for opposing pitchers. But the supporting cast will need to chip in as well and that’s where the Angels may be a little thin.
Addressing the Weaknesses: Billy Beane was busy this off-season. He obviously recognized that if the A’s were to have any chance of capturing the division title, the team would have to infuse more run production and offense into their game. So Beane acquired new faces Josh Willingham, Hideki Matsui, and David Dejesus to help with this task. So the question is whether this is enough offensive to allow them to compete for the division? And while it’s better, it is not exactly an offense that will strike fear into opposing pitchers. Willingham is worthy of a draft pick as he has 20+ home run potential and a pretty good knack for getting on base with a .367 lifetime OBP and 0.79 EYE. But remember that the Oakland Coliseum will sap offensive numbers so fantasy owners will need to curb their expectations.
Same goes for Matsui who just inched over 20 home runs last year with 21 and probably will have a tougher time reaching that plateau in 2011. As for DeJesus, he should be able to maintain a decent average and provide better than average speed assuming he is healthy. But none of these new faces will set the world on fire for the A’s.
If the A’s do make it to the playoffs, it will be in large part due to their solid pitching. Which brings us to…
Potentially the Best Bullpen Around: OK, these are brash words and big statements. But the with the addition of Grant Balfour(K/9—9.11, ERA—2.28) from the Rays and Brian Fuentes(K/9—8.81, saves—24, ERA—2.81) from the Twins, it rounds out a very impressive staff. Andrew Bailey(25 saves, ERA—1.47), Brad Ziegler(ERA—3.26), Michael Wuertz(6 saves, K/9—9.08), Craig Breslow(K/9—8.56, ERA—3.01) and potentially Joey Devine who we last saw in 2008 with an ERA 0.59 complete the bullpen. This is a staff where four players could conceivably close for the team. Great for the A’s. Bad for fantasy owners. If Bailey should misstep at all, it would be very easy for manager Eric Wedge to utilize one of the other talented arms for closing games and therefore go with the “flavor of the day”. This would be tough for fantasy owners to zero in on one particular closer for saves and could potentially dilute a team’s save opportunities. Bailey’s a great choice for closer—as long as he stays a closer. But draft him knowing full well that the A’s have plenty of other guys to go to who would be more than happy to close out that ninth inning.
The Teeter-Totter Team: When you look at the Seattle Mariners going into spring training, you see some obvious talent. Some real serious talent. But you also see many question marks that seem to temper all of the good stuff. Felix Hernandez is unquestionably one of the best pitchers in baseball and if he isn’t high on your “Must-Have” list on draft day, then you should rethink your approach. So that’s one day out of five days that the Mariners look like they can take on the best of the best. The other four days of the week, we are looking at Jason Vargas, Doug Fister, David Pauley and the ever unpredictable Erik Bedard. Bedard is an amazing talent but he is also a fixture on the DL and a bit of a wildcard as far as whether he “feels” like going deep into games. Ichiro Suzuki is good for a .300 batting average but when you have a team that is using Franklin Gutierrez in the #3 hole in the lineup, well, you have to raise an eyebrow if that team has the makings of a contender. For an outfield spot Gutierrez is a complete afterthought with a slash line of .245/.303/.363 and just 12 home runs in 2010. Because he is in a prime run production position, Gutierrez is may be worthy of a draft but he can be had, if you want him at all, in the late, late rounds.
The Up-and-Comers: The bright spot for the Mariners is that they have some good young talent that fantasy owners should keep an eye on this season and beyond. They may not be seasoned enough to get the Mariners out of the projected cellar, but they could provide a fantasy team with some decent contributions. The ones to look out for are Justin Smoak, Michael Saunders and Dustin Ackley. Smoak and Saunders both will probably be in starting spots for Seattle. Smoak struggled some in his 2010 debut but has plus power and a lot of talent to consider taking in later draft rounds. Saunders could eventually turn out to be a nice combination of power and speed but unfortunately is having more of a problem putting the bat on the ball. He’s probably not ready for drafting unless in long-term keeper leagues. But keep him on your watch list. As for Ackley, he is probably a year away but profiles as a talented hitter and was MVP of the Arizona Fall League. Right now, grab him in keeper leagues but otherwise he isn’t worth a draft pick at this point.
Adrian Gonzalez (1B—Red Sox) Every season there’s a slew of players that change teams. Some find themselves in better situations that provide a boost to their performance and others simply don’t adjust well to the change of scenery. But if there’s one player out there that should benefit the most from this off-seasons’ moves, it’s Adrian Gonzalez. Going from Petco Park to Fenway is like going from a vegan restaurant to eating a 72oz steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch restaurant. In 2010, Petco suppressed runs by 19% more than Fenway, so Gonzalez should benefit from his new digs. Take for example that of Gonzalez’s 31 home runs last season, only 11 of those were hit at Petco. Stick him in a lineup with Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Jacoby Ellsbury, Gonzalez has to be looking at a potential for big numbers. Keep in mind that he is going to a new league with new pitchers that he will have to get a handle on. But, he should be a considered one of the top 5 first basemen on draft day as he has hit 30 or more home runs and 99+ RBI the past four seasons in a row.
Anibal Sanchez (SP—Marlins) Looking for a sleeper that you can grab in the middle rounds of this year’s draft that could be a steal? Well, keep Anibal Sanchez in mind. Forget about last year’s mediocre 13-12 record. The ERA proved to be a very respectable 3.55 ERA for the season. But the second half is where Sanchez really excelled showing what he is capable of when he’s healthy. He held opponents to a .239 average the second half which represented a .34 drop from the start of the season. His K/9 jumped from 6.2 to 8.4 and had a K/BB of 2.77 post AS break. Again, health may be a concern for Sanchez as it has been in the past, but he pitched 195 innings in 2010 with 32 starts. Throw in a 0.46 HR/9 and you have the makings of a pitcher who could be a solid #3 with the potential for higher.
Craig Kimbrel (RP—Braves) 2010 proved to be Billy Wagner’s final season and with that piece of news, the Braves will have a vacant closer spot to fill this spring training. Rookie Craig Kimbrel has an excellent chance to earn the role as he showed electric stuff the end of last year coupled with tremendous poise for a 22 year-old. Sure he has barely 20 MLB innings under his belt, but in those 20 innings he struck out 40 batters (K/9 of 17.4) and allowed just one earned run (ERA of 0.44). Control may be an issue with 16 walks which could lead to some very exciting and nail-biting ninth innings for Atlanta fans. But barring a complete spring training bust, Kimbrel has an excellent chance to be handed the closer role which will see his fantasy value skyrocket. Make sure you keep him on your radar for draft day. He could slip pretty far but make sure you don’t wait too long to grab him.
Rafael Soriano (RP—Yankees) While Adrian Gonzalez’s fantasy value should increase with his move to Boston, Rafael Soriano’s fantasy value should take a big hit and plummet with his move to the Yankees. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Soriano got big, big money. But we’re talking fantasy baseball here and Soriano does little for me as the setup guy for Mo Rivera. Such a shame too. He put together a career year in 2010, knocking out 45 saves and a 1.73 ERA which, if truth be told, was pretty lucky considering his FIP of 2.81 was a full run higher. Fantasy owners have to be disappointed that Soriano will lose save opportunities with the exception of picking up one here or there on a day when Rivera needs rest. Unless Rivera shows some signs of being human and falters, Soriano will be a nice option for leagues that honor holds. Otherwise, you can take a pass on him on draft day.
Victor Martinez (C/1B/DH—Tigers) OK, when we talk offensive catchers, the list is not a long one: Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, Brian McCann and Victor Martinez usually make up the top five in some order. But for the first time, I’m a little on the fence when it comes to V-Mart this year and especially for next season for those in keeper leagues. First off, his move from Boston to Detroit doesn’t bode well for his offense as he moves from hitter-friendly Fenway to pitcher-friendly Comerica. At home last year, Martinez was Mr. Offense batting .335 with 34 extra base hits out of 81—that means that 42% of his hits were for extra bases at Fenway. Away from Boston, Martinez managed just 19 extra bases out of 68 hits, good for 28% rate. That’s a 14% drop off. If that wasn’t enough to show a little concern, Martinez lifetime stats at his new home in Detroit shows a line of .225/.321/.349 in 196 plate appearances with just 13 extra bases of which only four were home runs. Martinez could take an offensive hit this year. Additionally, he will be making the transition from catcher to first baseman/DH which means that he could lose his catching eligibility next year which takes a huge hit on his value for 2012. Those who are keeper leagues should be cognizant of this and possibly use this time to offload him while he is still considered one of the better catchers for now.
Jose Bautista (OF—Blue Jays) OK, we gotta sit down here and have a serious pow-wow about Jose Bautista. First, he hit 54 home runs last year which comprises almost half of his career total (113) over the course of six seasons. Second, the guy has an ISO of .357 in 2010 which is 63 points higher than the second player on the list, Miguel Cabrera. So if you are going into the draft thinking that Bautista is going to hit another 50+ home runs, then you are probably very good at catching lightning in a bottle. Realistically, the truth of Bautista’s numbers probably lie somewhere in the middle of 2010 and all of his previous seasons. His swing changed pretty drastically with an increase in FB% to 54.5% which is roughly 9% greater than his lifetime average. Bautista also expanded his strike zone last year, reaching for pitches 24.1% of the time which was about 5% higher than his lifetime number. And he was pretty good at making contact with the pitches out of the zone at a rate of 68.7%. That also represented an increase of 6% on his career norm. It would be safe to say that Bautista may have some trouble duplicating the year he had in 2010.
Jake Peavy (SP—White Sox) Tough to know what to expect out of Jake Peavy this year. He has barely logged 100 innings the past couple of years due to injuries and the move to U.S. cellar from Petco doesn’t provide the safe haven he enjoyed with the Padres. Peavy can be dominant, but in a league where the pitcher doesn’t hit, it’s going to be tough to put Peavy into that “lights out “category anymore. More concerning is his recovery from shoulder surgery which is an entirely different kind of injury than even an elbow. Shoulders are tough to come back from. You can probably grab Peavy late in your draft and take a flier on him. No set timetable for when he will pitch, but if you want to stash him away, he’s not a bad one to take a shot on. Just don’t expect him to be the ace he once was. A sub-4.00 ERA and K/9 of 7.0+ would be a real positive.
Brett Anderson (SP—A’s) Brett Anderson’s season in 2010 was shortened due to some elbow issues that he incurred, but it also turned out to be a season that he took his game up a level. The last two months of the season, Anderson put together a 5-4 record but his performances were undermined by an anemic A’s offense. During that span his ERA was a nifty 2.59. His control (BB/9 of 1.76) and his ability to avoid home runs (HR/9 of 0.48) gives him legitimate shots at earning wins and an solid ERA. He may not be a true sleeper pick come draft day, but he may be somewhat overlooked. He has a chance to put together solid numbers for a fantasy team.
Dan Uggla (2B—Braves) There’s nothing pretty about Uggla. He’s got little speed and although he hit a career high .287, we can usually expect him in the .260 range. He’ll strikeout 150 times a year but his 30+ home run power and .200+ ISO makes him an attractive option at second base. Now that he is with the Braves, he shouldn’t lose any of that power run clout at the TED. Projections have Uggla batting cleanup for the Braves which could provide him with plenty of RBI situations. If you can live with the strikeouts, Uggla is one of the better options at second.
Drew Stubbs (OF—Reds) Drew Stubbs is one of those feast or famine kind of players. Here’s a guy with power and speed but it comes with a price. In 150 games last year, Stubbs stole 30 bases while popping 22 home runs. But he also wound up striking out 168 times. Playing in Cincinnati, he could have an outside choice to be a 30/30 guy, but with a CT% of just 72.3%, he’ll never hit that high for average. If he could improve his plate discipline (EYE of 0.33), he could be a real solid fantasy option with a better batting average. Still, he’s worth a grab in later rounds in the draft as his speed and power may go unappreciated.
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You can also follow Richard all season long on Twitter @rsgross.