by Scott Strandberg
After one of the more eventful offseasons in recent memory, the potential fantasy values of many players have been altered by changes in roster construction going into 2013. In these pieces, I will go division-by-division, analyzing fantasy-relevant players who find themselves in new homes this season, as well as the ripple effects each team’s offseason moves could have on the club’s returning players. Before we begin, I would like to note that, as with every offseason, some teams changed much more than others. So, if I don’t have much to say about your favorite team, that’s why.
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The Braves brought both Upton brothers to town, making a big splash in an effort to go toe-to-toe with Washington in the NL East.
Justin Upton, LF
It wasn’t exactly a secret that the Diamondbacks were shopping Upton this offseason, but few expected that they would sell him at such a discounted rate, considering he is still just 25 years old and has a career slash line of .278/.357/.475 in over 3,000 career plate appearances. Upton has had his share of inconsistency issues in the past four seasons, specifically in the power department, posting a career-best SLG in 2009 at .532, followed by .442 in 2010, .529 in 2011 and .430 last year. Sure, the fluctuations in his power numbers from year-to-year are frustrating and a bit baffling, but this is a guy who had a slash line of .280/.355/.430 in 2012 in a “down year.” I strongly believe that one day, we’ll all look back on this trade and wonder what the heck Arizona GM Kevin Towers was thinking for giving up on Upton so early.
So, off to Atlanta you go, Justin. What does this mean for Upton’s fantasy prospects? This is the part where I usually start pulling out statistics, park factors, roster construction and the like to build a case for or against a player. I’m not going to do that here. As cliche as it is, Justin Upton is a classic change-of-scenery guy. The front office in Arizona had clearly soured on him to the point where they sold him for 60 cents on the dollar, and no player is going to perform his best in that environment. We have to remind ourselves sometimes that these are human beings, not just baseball robots, and Upton is still just 25. It would take an unusually mentally strong 25-year-old to excel at his profession while dealing with that kind of pressure from management, whether in baseball or any other career.
I cannot think of a better change of scenery for a young, talented player than to be traded from a team that did not want him to a team that actively pursued him to play with his older brother. Yes, he’s going from hitter-friendly Chase Field to relatively neutral Turner Field, but I believe that to be far less of a factor than a stable, positive playing environment. I’m fully expecting a 25+ HR season with an AVG around .290, his usual 18-21 steals, and gaudy R and RBI totals. I’m also expecting that to continue for many years. Go all-in on Justin Upton.
B.J. Upton, CF
Speaking of Uptons, Justin’s older brother B.J. is here now too, acquired as a free agent. Unlike his brother, the 28-year-old B.J. sees a substantial park upgrade, from Tropicana Field, a park that suppresses offense to the point of 83 R per 100 R in a league-average park and 87 HR per 100 HR, to a home that is nearly league-average in both aspects. Additionally, Atlanta’s lineup looks to have considerably more run-production potential than the group he played with last season in Tampa.
As my MLBDepthCharts Fantasy Podcast co-host Andrew Berg commented on last week’s episode, B.J. Upton is often unfairly undervalued because of his low batting average, and I agree. Over the last three seasons, he has compiled a .242 AVG, but he’s also produced an average of 23 HR, 36 SB, 83 R and 74 RBI. With the move to Turner Field, which has considerably less foul ground than Tropicana, I could see a 5-10 point bump in his AVG. Expect an increase in R and RBI with the improved lineup as well. The bottom line with B.J. is that he’s a legitimate four-category fantasy contributor, and there’s fewer of those out there than most people think. Don’t let the AVG scare you too much; you can always compensate for it elsewhere on your roster.
Chris Johnson is new in town too, arriving with Justin Upton in the trade with Arizona, but as Jason Martinez mentioned on this week’s podcast, he’s likely to find himself in a time-share with Juan Francisco, which makes both players relevant only in deep NL-only formats.
There were plenty of departures for Atlanta this offseason as well, with Martin Prado, Michael Bourn, and an assortment of replacement-level fantasy pitchers finding new homes and Chipper Jones retiring. The acquisition of the Upton brothers more than fills the holes left by Prado and Bourn, Jones’ retirement opened the door for the previously discussed Francisco/Johnson platoon at 3B, and the departure of guys like Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, and Randall Delgado opened up the 5th starter’s spot for top prospect Julio Teheran.
Teheran would be interesting if he wasn’t coming off the worst year of his professional career. In 26 starts at AAA last year, he put up an ugly 5.08 ERA with a K/9 of just 6.66. He is absolutely still a prospect to keep an eye on, as he dominated the lower levels of the minors, but unless you’re in a keeper league or a deep NL-only, he’s not someone you’re drafting this year.
Owner Jeffrey Loria turned the knife in Marlins’ fans hearts this offseason, as he conducted yet another Miami fire-sale. There’s a laundry list of acquisitions and departures here, but not much fantasy-relevance for a Marlins team that figures to struggle mightily in 2013.
Only two of the Marlins’ offseason acquisitions are relevant in even deep or NL-only leagues. Juan Pierre will likely be the regular leadoff hitter and, even at 35 years old, he’s still capable of providing an AVG around .280 and 30+ SB. He is not capable of providing anything else. He doesn’t drive in any runs, has zero power and his run total, even for a leadoff hitter, will be nothing special considering how bad the rest of the lineup is.
Henderson Alvarez will certainly benefit from his spacious new home ballpark and the move from the AL East, so an ERA around 4.00 wouldn’t be surprising. However, Alvarez doesn’t strike anyone out (career 4.27 K/9) and this isn’t a team you can rely on to provide wins for starting pitchers.
Trading away Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio to Toronto leaves Giancarlo Stanton and Logan Morrison without table-setters. Expect decreased RBI totals for both players. John Buck’s trade cements Rob Brantly as the team’s go-to catcher, but he had already won that job in the last six weeks of 2012. On the pitching side, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle are gone, but that just opens up spots for Wade LeBlanc, Nathan Eovaldi, and Jacob Turner in the rotation. They’re all in the same boat as far as fantasy-relevance is concerned; they’ll all probably have ERAs in the mid-4.00 range with mediocre strikeout totals and a handful of wins. All should be ignored in anything but NL-only drafts, unless you’re in a deep keeper league, in which case Turner is still somewhat interesting.
New York Mets
The Mets were one of the quieter teams in the division over the winter, making few fantasy-relevant moves, but that’s not to say there aren’t situations worth discussing.
Shaun Marcum, SP
The Mets signed Marcum as a free agent from the Brewers and, on the surface, there’s quite a bit to like about Marcum’s fantasy prospects in his new home. Miller Park is one of the most hitter-friendly parks in baseball, producing 107 R for every 100 and 131 HR for every 100. While the walls were moved in before last season at Citi Field, it is still certainly a pitcher’s park and thus, a major positive for Marcum’s potential success in 2013.
The real problem with Marcum is health. Remember Spring Training 2012, when Marcum was questionable for the start of the season with shoulder stiffness? Fast-forward to 2013, and Marcum once again experienced a weak shoulder at the start of spring. He seems fine now, but he also seemed fine at the start of last season before eventually missing two months with elbow issues. There’s considerable upside here, as Marcum has proven himself to be a reliable mid-rotation fantasy starter when healthy and he’s pitching in the best pitcher’s park of his career by a wide margin, but there’s also a chance he misses significant time again. Invest with caution.
Keep an eye on catcher Travis d’Arnaud as well, as many believe it is only a matter of time before he takes over the starting spot from fellow newcomer John Buck, but it’s impossible to tell when that will happen so he’s a dicey proposition for fantasy drafts outside of a keeper or NL-only league with plentiful bench spots.
R.A. Dickey is gone, but Matt Harvey had already done enough in his ten-start audition last year to be ensured a spot in this year’s rotation, so the only ripple effect is that Dillon Gee gets to keep his rotation spot and Jeremy Hefner will see a few starts until Johan Santana gets back.
It was a busy offseason in Philly, but questions remain about whether the team made the right moves to compete with Washington and Atlanta in the division.
Ben Revere, CF
Coming over via trade from Minnesota, Revere will take over the everyday CF job. The 24-year-old is a classic two-category guy; he offers AVG and SB. He’ll hit .290 with 40+ SB, but he has no power (0 HR in 1064 career plate appearances) and his run totals will be suppressed by both his low walk-rate and his likely position low in the Phillies’ batting order. Overall, the move to Philly doesn’t affect his fantasy value at all, except that he might take a hit in R due to the move from hitting near the top of Minnesota’s lineup to hitting near the bottom of Philly’s.
Michael Young is here too, but he’s now completely fantasy-irrelevant except in NL-only or extremely deep leagues. He’ll hit .280, but with near-zero power and no speed, and he doesn’t walk enough to provide solid run totals. I can’t recommend Delmon Young outside of very deep or NL-only leagues either. He’s coming off ankle surgery and is likely to start the season on the DL, so it clearly remains to be seen how effective he’ll be when he gets back, seeing as ankle injuries affect your abilities to plant and push off at the plate. And also, it’s Delmon Young we’re talking about here. Even though he logged 608 plate appearances last season, he was still only the #73 OF in 5x5 scoring. He’s bench fodder at best in the vast majority of fantasy leagues even when he’s healthy. Additionally, feel free to completely ignore John Lannan. He has a terrible K/BB rate (1.39 career), a career WHIP of 1.42, and his career FIP of 4.57 and xFIP of 4.46 point to that 4.01 career ERA being a bit fluky.
None of the Phillies’ offseason moves made much of an effect on the rest of the roster. The team finally seems to want to give Domonic Brown a good long look, but once Young returns, there’s one outfield spot for Brown, John Mayberry, Jr. and Darin Ruf. That situation is probably too dicey to risk a draft pick or auction dollars on.
The Nationals cruised to baseball’s best record last season only to be eliminated by St. Louis in the NL Division Series. Washington didn’t rest on their laurels in the offseason, addressing their need for a leadoff hitter and bolstering the pitching staff. Let’s take a look at the impact of each fantasy-relevant move.
Rafael Soriano, RP
What’s not to love about Soriano? In his six full major league seasons out of the pen (I’m using 50 IP as the benchmark here), Soriano has never posted an ERA above 3.00. He’s also been pretty durable; outside of a difficult 2011, when he missed 2 ½ months with elbow inflammation, he hasn’t missed time since 2008. Moving from the AL East and the extreme hitter’s haven that is Yankee Stadium (110 R for every 100, 128 HR for every 100) to relatively neutral Nationals Park sure doesn’t hurt his cause. Expect an ERA comfortably under 3.00, a strikeout per inning, a WHIP around 1.15 and a whole bunch of saves. He’s a top-five closer for 2013 in my book.
Dan Haren, SP
Haren is one of my top bounceback candidates of the year. He’s coming off a mediocre 2012, in which he pitched through back stiffness for much of the season, finishing with a 4.33 ERA in 176.2 IP, both career-worst marks for Haren in a full season. This is a guy who will be underrated in every single fantasy draft this year. Consider this: From 2005-2011, Haren pitched no less than 216 innings in a season and had an ERA over 4.00 once in those seven seasons. The 32-year-old is the definition of a workhorse, and he’s a very good one. I’m not letting one injury-limited season in which he tossed 176.2 IP to a 4.33 ERA change my opinion of him one bit.
Throwing in the fact that Haren is moving back to the NL, I’m expecting an uptick in the 7.24 K/9 we got used to in Anaheim and for his ERA to bounce back to his career average of 3.66. Haren has reportedly appeared to be fully healthy in spring and is one of those guys I’m really going all-in on this year, and I recommend that you do as well.
Denard Span, CF
As a lifelong Twins fan, I had mixed feelings about Span’s departure to Philly. On one hand, my favorite team was losing a talented player who had been part of their core for the better part of five seasons. On the other hand, I can stop dreaming on him. The promise he showed in 2008, when he posted a slash line of .294/.387/.432 with 18 SB in 93 games, and 2009, when he put up .311/.392/.415 with 23 SB in 145 games, has faded considerably after a lackluster 2010 (.264/.331/.348) and two injury-plagued campaigns that saw him play in just 70 games in 2011 and 128 in 2012.
Span is now 29 years old, and if he can stay healthy, he could be a solid fantasy producer hitting at the top of a potent Washington lineup that is clearly better than the one he left behind in Minnesota, just don’t expect the Span of ‘08-’09 to return. He’ll hit enough to neither hurt nor help your AVG significantly, he’ll steal 15-20 bases and could score runs in bunches. All that, of course, hinges on him staying healthy. In summary, he’s worth a low-round draft pick to fill out your bench in a 12-team mixed league and is clearly starter-worthy in an NL-only.
The big losers here are Drew Storen and Tyler Clippard, who are both now firmly entrenched in setup roles with the arrival of Soriano. The other moves have little fantasy-relevant effect on the returning roster. If Span stays healthy, he should provide a stabilizing force at the top of the lineup. Michael Morse is gone, but the Nats didn’t have room for him with Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper entrenched in the corner outfield spots and Adam LaRoche signing a two-year deal to play first.
Scott Strandberg lives in Norman, OK with his cat, Bea. He is a musician by night and a writer by day. In addition to writing for MLBDepthCharts, Scott writes for ProFootballRosters.com, is the co-host of the ProFootballRosters Radio Podcast and MLBDepthCharts Fantasy Podcast, writes weekly film reviews for the Arts section of NormanWeekender.com. You can follow him on Twitter @scottstrandberg.