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.
The Astros had pretty much unloaded their valuable major-league talent by the time the 2012 season ended, but they made some moves in the offseason that give two new acquisitions the potential for fantasy value in Houston’s first season in the AL West.
Chris Carter, 1B/LF
Coming over in the Jed Lowrie trade from Oakland, Carter’s fantasy value gets a huge boost. First, he goes from spacious O.Co Coliseum to Minute Maid, where he should hit plenty of homers into the Crawford Boxes in left field’s short porch. Secondly, the Astros have every reason to give the 26-year-old ample opportunities he likely would not have had in Oakland. I would be very surprised if Carter isn’t close to a full-time player. He’s in the running for the starting LF spot and he’ll also likely see time at 1B and DH.
The rub on Carter is that he strikes out too much to hit for a high average, which is likely true. However, 25+ HR isn’t unrealistic, and for those of you in OBP leagues, his ability to draw walks helps neutralize his bad AVG. Don’t expect high R or RBI totals due to the poor lineup in Houston, but his power and favorable hitter’s park make him an intriguing fantasy sleeper.
Jose Veras, RP
Here we are, it’s 2013 and Jose Veras is fantasy-relevant. It’s a strange world we live in. The 32-year-old journeyman reliever, a free agent signee who played the last three seasons bouncing around between the Brewers, Pirates and Marlins, has been named the closer and there’s little reason to think he won’t hold on to the job. His K/9 has been over 10.00 for three straight seasons, and he’s pitched to a sub-4.00 ERA in all three seasons as well. He does still have an alarmingly high BB/9 rate (5.37 last season, 4.92 career), but his high K/9 and ability to limit home runs should allow him to maintain that sub-4.00 ERA.
While Veras is completely untested as a closer, there’s no one in the Houston bullpen who looks like a real threat to take the job, even if he doesn’t pitch particularly well. The most likely scenario here is that Veras holds the closer’s role for the Astros until July, when they trade him to be a setup man for a contender. There should be good value here until then, though.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
The Angels won the Josh Hamilton sweepstakes this winter, but that wasn’t their only fantasy-relevant roster move.
Josh Hamilton, RF
Hamilton’s fantasy value takes a big hit with the move to Anaheim. There’s just no way a power hitter can move from the extreme hitter’s park that is The Ballpark in Arlington, which produces 123 runs for every 100 runs in an average park and 128 HR for every 100 homers, to The Big A (84 runs for every 100, 79 HR for every 100) without seeing a decrease in his power numbers. Matching 2012’s career-high 43 homers in Anaheim just isn’t realistic; think more along the lines of the 32 HR he hit in 2010.
The 31-year-old stayed healthy enough to play in 148 games last year, his best total since the 156 games he played in 2008. That’s definitely a positive, but keep in mind that he averaged just 114 games per season from 2009-2011. One more important thing to note is that his K% skyrocketed last year, finishing at 25.5%, far above the 17.3% from 2011 and 16.6% from 2010. It’s too early to know if that stat was an outlier or the start of a trend, but its certainly worth mentioning.
All in all, this is still Josh Hamilton we’re talking about here. He’s still an elite option, he’s just not THE elite option anymore. Expect an AVG a tick under .300, 30 HR and gaudy R and RBI totals...if he stays healthy. Hamilton is a clear top-10 fantasy outfielder, but he’s now well below the Braun/McCutchen/Trout/Kemp tier.
Ryan Madson, RP
Madson is a real risk, as his return from Tommy John surgery hit a setback seven weeks ago. He threw his first bullpen session of the season last week, but he’s nowhere near ready. The 32-year-old righty will almost certainly begin the season on the DL and his timetable is uncertain. Even ignoring the injury, he’s moving to the AL for the first time, and while The Big A will help lessen the impact in other areas, his strikeout rate will likely dip from the 9.00+ we’ve grown to expect.
In short, you just can’t know what to expect from a pitcher returning from Tommy John, and I’m not the kind of fantasy owner who likes drafting guys who will start the year on the DL. I wouldn’t be surprised if Madson’s 2013 ends up looking an awful lot like Joe Nathan’s 2011.
In less fantasy-relevant moves, the departures of Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana opened rotation spots for newcomers Joe Blanton, Jason Vargas and Tommy Hanson. None of them are worth more than a $1 bid or a late-round flier.
Ernesto Frieri, RP
If you’re going to draft Madson, you absolutely must draft Frieri as well. The 27-year-old has been lights-out ever since he got his first taste of major-league action in 2009; his career marks include a 2.32 ERA, 12.01 K/9 and 1.14 WHIP. When batters do make contact, Frieri’s extreme fly-ball tendencies fit The Big A perfectly. He still walks too many hitters, although his 4.09 BB/9 in 2012 was a marked improvement from the 4.86 and 4.83 rates he produced in his two prior seasons.
In case you hadn’t caught on yet, I’m a big Frieri supporter. What’s really interesting is that Madson’s contract only includes $3.25 million of guaranteed money. If he doesn’t come back 100% and Frieri gets off to a hot start, there’s no reason to force Madson back into the role. $3.25 million isn’t an outrageous figure for a setup man. For example, Mike Adams is making $6 million a year. I’ve got a serious feeling about Frieri, and I wholeheartedly recommend reaching a couple rounds or paying a few extra auction dollars for him in your draft.
The A’s made a flurry of moves over the winter, but few if any of them generate any fantasy interest. Hiroyuki Nakajima was brought in from Japan to replace Stephen Drew at SS, but scouting reports indicate that he doesn’t have much power or speed. He reportedly has a good hit tool, which makes him relevant in AL-only leagues, but not elsewhere. Jed Lowrie, acquired from Houston in the Carter deal, will likely see regular playing time at 3B, as well as SS and 2B. The prospect of multi-position eligibility is nice, and he’s always been somewhat productive when he’s healthy, but in five MLB seasons, the 28-year-old has never played in more than 94 games. Chris Young is new in town too, but he’s stuck in an outfield logjam that includes Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith. Additionally, the move to O.Co Coliseum probably sets his HR ceiling at 20 even if he plays nearly full-time, and the cavernous foul ground is not likely to help his .239 career AVG.
With the walls coming in at Safeco Field, the Mariners addressed their dire need for power hitting this offseason.
Michael Morse, LF
Moving to Seattle isn’t the sunniest transition for Morse, and I’m not just talking about the weather. While the walls are being moved in, Safeco will almost certainly still be a pitcher-friendly park, which probably limits Morse’s HR ceiling to around 25. Also, there’s a disturbing trend developing with the 31-year-old’s plate discipline. His BB%, which has never been good, has decreased in each of the last two seasons, plummeting to an embarrassing 3.7% last year. Compare that with his 22.6 K% and you end up with an absolutely putrid 0.16 BB/K rate.
It’s even scarier when placed in context; if Morse had enough plate appearances to qualify in 2012, he would have had the worst BB/K rate in MLB. Yes, worse than Delmon Young. This matters even if your league doesn’t count OBP or K, seeing as you don’t score runs if you don’t get on base. Also, this trend indicates that Morse will have to maintain his crazy-high .344 career BABIP to get anywhere near a .300 AVG. Combine all of this with a move to a worse lineup than the one he leaves behind in Washington and the suppressed R and RBI totals that come with it, and I’m staying away from Morse this year.
Kendrys Morales, 1B/DH
The picture is a little brighter for Morales. The new dimensions of Safeco are very similar to The Big A, and while the cold air in Seattle will likely keep it slightly more pitcher-friendly than The Big A, it shouldn’t be too big of a change for Morales. Take last year’s numbers and maybe knock off a few R and RBI due to the less-potent lineup.
The changes to Safeco’s dimensions were more extreme than those made in San Diego, which will likely help returning Mariners like Kyle Seager, Jesus Montero, Michael Saunders and Justin Smoak. Also, the additions of Morse and Morales should help the entire lineup. Keep this in mind on draft day and bump all those guys up a round or drop an extra auction dollar on them.
Not satisfied to stand pat after losing Josh Hamilton to the Angels, the Rangers fortified their lineup with two free agent acquisitions.
Lance Berkman, 1B/DH
Berkman is not expected to play much, if at all, in the field this year, so it’s possible he could stay healthy. That said, as my co-host Andrew Berg and I discussed on this week’s MLBDC Fantasy Podcast, moving from the field to being a full-time DH is not a guarantee of health (Travis Hafner, for example), but it certainly helps. If, and it’s a very big if, Berkman stays healthy, I love his fantasy potential this year.
The move from roomy Busch Stadium (94 R for every 100, 82 HR for every 100) to cozy Arlington (123 R for every 100, 128 HR for every 100) is absolutely fantastic, so if you like rolling the dice, snap up Berkman in your draft. Don’t expect 2011 to happen again, but if he stays relatively healthy, I could see Berkman duplicating his .274/.399/.509, 25-homer production from 2009.
A.J. Pierzynski, C
Traditional analysis does not apply to A.J. Pierzynski’s 2012 season. In one of the most ridiculous outlier seasons in recent memory, Pierzynski launched 27 home runs after hitting 17 in the previous two seasons combined. At age 35, he broke his career-best mark by nine, and that previous 18-homer campaign was way back in 2005. It’s not happening again. It’s just not. I’m looking at his 2007 numbers (.263/.309/.403, 14 HR) and thinking that sounds about right. Someone in your league will overpay for him in a big way. Don’t let that someone be you.
Alexi Ogando, SP
The departures of Ryan Dempster and Scott Feldman opened the door for Ogando’s return to the rotation, where he had a very solid 2011 season, pitching to a 3.51 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 6.71 K/9 in 169 IP. While the Rangers aren’t going to let him throw 200 innings after back moving from the bullpen, they did let him toss 169 innings in the aforementioned 2011 season after just 72.1 IP, mostly in relief, the previous year. There’s really not much reason to expect anything different from those 2011 numbers. The circumstances are nearly identical.
Robbie Ross could be an interesting guy to take a late-found flier on. He’ll likely hold down the 5th starter’s spot at least until Martin Perez returns, and if he pitches well, the Rangers won’t have any reason to stick Perez back in there. Ross was a very good reliever last season, and he was a successful starter throughout all levels in the minors, pitching to an ERA of 2.66 or better at all but one of his five stops as he climbed through the minors. The only real issue with Ross is that he had a 6.51 K/9 last year as a reliever, a number which will likely drop with his
transition to starting. ---
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.