Punxatawney Phil said we'd have an early Spring. I don't know whether that's holding true for you but at least we have some baseball to talk about.
We'll start off with some insights dealing with the Orioles, defending AL Champion Rangers and the Marlins before looking around the rest of the Major Leagues.
Happy Spring Training Opening for many positions players!
Vladimir Guerrero- BAL- Vlad posted improvements last year in all standard categories over his injury riddled 2009 season. It wasn’t a result of merely playing more games, either. Guerrero saw his indicators, from Batting EYE to HR/FB also rise. Those indicators are still below where he was during his prime production years of 1999-2007, but Vlad still has enough in the tank to push the .300/30 HR/100+ RBI envelope this season. He is slated for the cleanup slot in Baltimore’s order.
Kevin Gregg- BAL- Gregg signed a 2-year, $10 million contract with the Orioles in the offseason. Despite that and his 37 saves for the Blue Jays in 2010, he is not guaranteed to be the closer for Baltimore. Koji Uehara is in the mix as well, having saved 13 of 15 opportunities at the end of last year. This will be a key competition as Spring Training evolves.
Michael Young- TEX- Young is expected to report to the Rangers’ camp today. How long he will be there is unknown. Young requested a trade after Texas signed Adrian Beltre. Young’s contract lists 8 teams he can be traded to without him having to give approval. That same contract also calls for him to be paid $48 million over the next 3 years, which makes a trade a bit more difficult. Young was not happy about a move to DH, but this may end up being a replay of 2009, when Young also asked for a trade when moved to 3B, but eventually things were smoothed out between him and the club. Young’s value for 2011 will vary widely depend on who he plays for and what position he plays.
Arthur Rhodes- TEX- Rhodes adds the Rangers to the list of teams he has pitched for in his 20-year major league career. If your league counts holds, Rhodes will probably be his usual valuable self, with a low ERA and some strikeouts added into the mix. His 8.18 K/9 in 2010 shows that Rhodes can still bring it when needed. Rhodes should be a nice addition to the Texas bullpen.
Javier Vazquez- FLA- Vazquez signed with the Marlins in the offseason and is slotted into the 3rd spot in their rotation. He had a horrible 2010 season with the Yankees, posting a 5.32 ERA after a career best 2.87 with the Braves in 2009. Will Vazquez experience a revival with the fish in 2011? Two big factors argue against it. First, his bloated ERA last year came despite a favorable .269 BABIP. Second, his K/9 plunged from 9.77 to 6.92, most likely as a result of a severe drop in velocity from 91.1 MPH down to 88.7. If anything, Vazquez may put up worse numbers this year than last.
John Baker- FLA- When Baker underwent Tommy John surgery last September, it was thought his 2011 season would probably be shelved. That no longer appears to be the case. While Baker will not be ready to play behind the plate until at least May, he could avoid starting the season on the DL by filling a pinch hitting role and possibly playing some first base. John Buck is still expected to be the main Florida catcher this season, but Baker might get more playing time than originally thought.
Francisco Liriano- MIN- Liriano missed the first official workout of Spring Training with some soreness in his shoulder. He attributes it to not doing enough stretching as he prepared for camp. Last year Liriano hit a career high in IP (191.2) and pushed his K rate back over 1 per inning for the first time since Tommy John surgery back in 2006. Trade talks are swirling around him and any perceived medical issue will make some teams shy away. If this is as minor as the Twins are saying right now, Liriano may end up as an ex-Twin before too long.
Buster Posey- SF- Although Posey will have 1B eligibility this season based on his 2010 usage, don’t expect him to see much time there in 2011. "I don't know how much first base he'll play this year, if any," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. Posey’s heavy workload behind the plate at the end of last season (he caught 30 of San Francisco’s last 31 regular season games and every postseason inning) will continue this year. He is expected to be behind the plate for a minimum of 130 games. This should help increase Posey’s counting numbers from 2010 (18 homers, 58 runs, 67 RBI) that he posted in 108 games.
Ryan Howard- PHI- Look for a rebound from Howard in 2011. His August ankle sprain robbed him of his usual late season power surge. In the 4 seasons prior to last year, Howard hit a homer every 10.79 ABs from August 1st onward. Last year he hit 8 homers in 143 ABs over that time frame. Being able to drive the ball again will make a big difference.
Jim Edmonds- STL- Edmonds’ Achilles tendon isn‘t going to permit him to have an encore with the Cardinals. The outfielder had signed a minor league contract but won’t be healthy enough to play and announced his retirement. Edmonds certainly had a productive career and contributed to many fantasy teams over the years.
Vernon Wells- LAA- Wells is highly luck dependent. In his career he has hit .300+ 4 times. Each time his BABIP was at least .293. In his other seasons his highest BABIP was .285 and he hit no better than .275. Wells has also been inconsistent in the power category. Over the past 4 seasons his HR/FB ratio has yo-yoed from 7.3% to 14.4% to 6.4% to 14.6%. Trying to count on solid production from Wells is difficult. Leave him to someone else in your league. They might end up hitting a gusher but the risk is great.
Milton Bradley- SEA- Bradley won’t have charges filed against him stemming from his arrest last month for making a criminal threat. We’ll see if he ends up facing any more similar charges after being in close proximity to once and current manager Eric Wedge. The two had “issues” (as they say) when both were with Cleveland a few years ago. So far both Bradley and Wedge say they have buried the hatchet. With Bradley, you never know what’s going to happen. He is in his walk year so has some incentive to put up some numbers. First he will have to beat back the competition and nail down the left field job for the Mariners. This one should be entertaining.
Jeremy Hellickson- TB- Hellickson missed yesterday’s workout with a strained hamstring. It is not thought to be serious and doesn’t put his chances at a rotation spot in doubt.
Lance Berkman- STL- Berkman will be patrolling the outfield for the first time since 2007, since some Pujols guy is at his regular 1B spot for his new team. His power plummeted last year, with his HR/FB ratio dropping from 17.5% to 12.1% and his GB/FB ratio jumping from 1.10 to 1.31. There were injury issues involved so there is a good possibility some of this can be reversed, but at age 35 there is possibly some normal decline involved as well. Don’t expect Berkman to regain his 30+ homer form.
Rod Barajas- LAD- Barajas is the starting catcher heading into the 2011 season, with Dioner Navarro as the primary backup. That just doesn’t seem tenable for a major league team. Barajas batted .297 last year for LA after being rescued from the waiver wire, but that was only in 25 games. His heaviest workload came in 2009 with the Blue jays when he played in 125 games. They didn’t feel he was worth keeping around last season after that. Look for the Dodgers to try and upgrade this position sometime this season.
Miguel Cabrera- DET- The Tigers were saying that Cabrera’s DUI arrest and personal issues were not going to be a distraction to the team. And they kept saying it and saying it to members of the local and national media who were there peppering them with questions about Cabrera. The undertone seemed to be one of concern. That seems reasonable. From a fantasy standpoint, it will be important to see if Cabrera shows up for camp today. If not, it may be an indication that he will be headed to rehab or some other treatment.