After signing a front-line starter, a near-elite closer, and snatching up a few bats via trade, the Blue Jays finished their offseason redecorating by adding a cherry on top with catcher Bengie Molina. Molina, 31, had somewhat of a breakout year in 2005. In 119 games, Molina reached highs in batting average, homers, and on-base and slugging percentage. Hes been an Angel his entire career, but should benefit from playing his home games in the Rogers Centre and batting in what is becoming an impressive lineup. In a homer-friendly ballpark, look for Molina to maintain this level of power with 400-450 at-bats, while hitting behind Vernon Wells, Troy Glaus, and Lyle Overbay. After the top six or seven catchers are off the board, Molina is a decent mid-tier option in a standard 12-team mixed league.
With the signing of Molina, Gregg Zaun will be relegated to backup duty and fight for playing time with prospect Guillermo Quiroz. Unless theres an injury or trade, both of their values have dipped to nil.
Mike Piazza is going back to California, where he began his Major League career. Only this time, hell play in San Diegos PETCO Park, the fences of which are to right-handed home run hitters what Shaquille ONeal is to Mugsy Bogues trying to throw a punch: Hard to reach. Although he does retain his catcher eligibility on the Padres, Piazza will have a tough time duplicating 19 or 20 dingers -- as he did the last two consecutive seasons -- playing in his new home field. Although he should bat fourth or fifth in the batting order, expect his homer number to be closer to 10 than 20. That said, hes still a top 12 catcher in mixed leagues.
Finally, Jason Michaels is freed from being a fourth outfielder! From a real baseball point of view, Michaels is one of the best-kept secrets in the league, racking up a career on-base percentage of .380 and slugging percentage of .442. As a member of the Tribe, Michaels has the inside track on the starting corner outfield spot that was vacated by Coco Crisp. If he gets a shot at the everyday role in 2006, Michaels could become this years version of Brady Clark, with the ability to score a bunch of runs and hit around .285 with 15 dingers. A solid late-round option in NL-only leagues.
Although he provides the Phillies with veteran left-handed reliever, Arthur Rhodes doesnt have much fantasy use unless Tom Gordon falters in the closer's role.
From a fantasy perspective, there really arent any losers in this deal. The main attraction in this swap is Coco Crisp, who at 26 is entering the prime of his career. Going to Boston, Crisp will move into the everyday center field spot formerly occupied by Johnny Damon, and isnt far from his predecessor's production level. Crisp has reached 15 homers and 15 steals in the last two seasons, and all that separates him from Damons numbers are a powerful lineup and a signature season. Lucky for him, Crisp will have the former in Beantown -- protected by Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz -- and could very well go 20-20 in Fenway. Either way, hes a good buy before he receives more attention. In 2006, avoid Fruity Pebbles and Count Chocula, and get yourself some Coco Crisp. Sorry, I couldnt help myself.
From Atlanta to Boston to Cleveland, its unfair that such a talented prospect like Andy Marte had to pack his bags so often this offseason. Fortunately, hes likely to obtain more at-bats on the Indians than behind Chipper Jones or Mike Lowell, with only Aaron Boone standing in his way from a full-time spot. Since general manager Mark Shapiro acquired Marte to be their cornerstone third baseman of the future, the job is his when hes ready or at the first sign of struggles from Boone. That moment should come at some point in 2006, as Marte doesnt have much more to prove with the glove or the bat in the Minors anymore. Marte reached the Majors at the legal drinking age after belting 20 homers and hitting .276 in Triple-A. Marte has the skill set to become a stud with maturity. Its simply a matter of playing time; once its there, hes a solid sleeper and an excellent keeper.
The value of David Riske and Guillermo Mota changes very little. Both the Red Sox and Indians have deep bullpens and it would take a couple of injuries for them to get the ninth-inning nod. The same general rule goes for catchers Josh Bard and Kelly Shoppach, with the best-case scenario are that both serve as defensive backups to Jason Varitek and Victor Martinez.
In a strange way, The Big Hurt has lived up to his name the last few seasons. Unfortunately, the difference between today and his heyday is that the nickname can be taken literally, since Frank Thomas has played only 108 games in the last two seasons. Thomas will turn 38 in May, and injuries have clearly made him a shell of his former self. At this stage of his career, hell provide the As with an excellent situational bat against left-handed hurlers, along with a valuable veteran presence in a young clubhouse. Hes expected to cut into the at-bats of Jay Payton, Bobby Kielty, and to a lesser extent Nick Swisher and Dan Johnson. Unless its a bench spot on an AL-only roster, pass on Thomas.
The Mets have dished their second starting pitcher this offseason in an attempt to add depth to their bullpen. Like Duaner Sanchez in the Jae Seo trade, Jorge Julio will serve as another middle reliever to Billy Wagner. For a right-hander who was expected to be in the running for the closer's job in Baltimore, his rotisserie value takes a significant hit in New York. In turn, its likely that the Os new closer will likely be decided between journeyman LaTroy Hawkins and 24-year-old Chris Ray. Look for clues in Spring Training performances and quotes from management.
Kris Benson ought to give the Os another middle-rotation starting pitcher. With a 4.13 ERA in 174 1/3 IP, Benson went 10-8 in his first season with the Mets. Leaving Shea Stadium for Camden Yards is a negative on a couple of fronts. One, the dimensions of Shea Stadium are much better for pitchers than that of Camden Yards, inducing less homers and extra-base hits in the last three years. Two, Benson is not a strikeout pitcher, so hell have to muster up a ton of finesse and savvy if he is to prevent runs from scoring on a regular basis in the heavy-hitting AL East. With new pitching coach Leo Mazzone on his side, look for him to be respectable but probably not as successful as he was in the NL. Hes a third or forth pitcher in the AL.
The move should also allow Aaron Heilman to slide into the Mets rotation. The long reliever fanned 106 batters in 108 IP, with a 3.17 ERA. Adding more innings to his arm will have its challenges, but Heilman has a chance to be just as good, if not better than Benson in his first full season as a starting pitcher. Providing strikeouts and quality innings, the 27-year-old could be a true sleeper in mixed fantasy leagues.
John Maine will turn 25 in May and if he learns to cut down on his walks and enhance his command, he could jump into the role of long relief that Heilman served so well in 2005. His Minor League resume shows that capability, but it doesnt have much standing in fantasy leagues unless a New York starter goes down with an injury or gets dealt.
The Dodgers ventured out into the trade to market to acquire some insurance for closer Eric Gagne. With the former Cy Young winner questionable to return from Tommy John surgery by Spring Training and eligible for free agency at the end of 2006, the Dodgers shored up their bullpen with Danys Baez and Lance Carter. While Carter won't provide much fantasy value in a middle relief role, Baez will serve as the Dodgers' interim closer until Gagne is deemed 100 percent healthy.
At 28, Baez is in the prime of his career and is now headed to Hollywood in a division where offense is not nearly as intimidating as the bashers of the AL East. Thus, moving to an NL West division in a great pitchers' park should only help his performance. The right-hander had his best season yet in 2005, reaching highs in saves (41) and ERA (2.86). Although his command wasn't anything to write home about, Baez finished with his best groundball-to-flyball ratio of his career. So long as Gagne is recovering, Baez ought to be a solid option in all rotisserie leagues. Consequently, if there's one committee to lock down on draft day, it's this tandem.
Chuck Tiffany, who turns 22 later this month, was drafted in the first round of the 2003 draft and is touted as a top pitching prospect. The left-hander fanned 134 in 110 IP, walking just 43 for the Class-A Vero Beach Dodgers. With a lack of quality arms in the Majors, the Devil Rays will likely have Tiffany on the fast track, possibly beginning at Double-A in 2006.
Though it feels like Edwin Jackson has been around for ages, the right-hander is just 22. He was once considered one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, but has disappointed in his tenure with the Dodgers. Jackson entered the Majors on his 20th birthday and has declined since, due to a rash of injuries and the inability to gain control over his fiery pitch arsenal. A change in scenery is probably the best thing that could have happened to the struggling fireballer, and with the demand for arms in Tampa Bay; Jackson could enter in the fray this year. He needs more polishing, but his raw talent merits watching in Spring Training and throughout the 2006 season.
The departure of Baez means that 25-year-old Chad Orvella has the inside track on the vacant closer job. The right-hander has showed an impeccable combination to dominate and control the strike zone in the Minors and fared well in his rookie season, with a 3.60 ERA in 50 innings. Stay tuned to see how the race unfolds this spring.
After helping the Red Sox win a World Series in 2004, Kevin Millar tumbled. Most notably, his power all but disappeared in a productive lineup -- he hit just nine homers in 449 at-bats. The first baseman/outfielder offered a glimmer of hope in the second half, slugging .440 with a .283 batting average.
His outlook is cloudy in Baltimore. Millar is not guaranteed a starting spot and will fight for playing time with Walter Young, Javy Lopez, Corey Patterson, Luis Matos and Jay Gibbons. Camden Yards is slightly more of a hitters' park than Fenway, so there's a chance for a mild rebound. His status bears monitoring in AL-only leagues, but it's likely that we've already seen Millar's best days.
Shawn Estes hasnt been the same pitcher since leaving San Francisco. Unfortunately, five years have passed from the time when he pitched for the Giants. In perspective, Estes had one superb season and a couple of decent ones, while the rest of his career has been mediocre. Due to the fact that hes received good run support, accumulated wins when he didnt pitch particularly well, and that there is a scarcity of lefty starting pitchers, he remains marketable.
PETCO Park will be the most forgiving home field that Estes has ever hurled in, so theres a slim possibility he could provide marginal value at some point in NL-only leagues. With a 6.16 ERA in the second half of 2005, however, Estes is nothing more than a bona fide innings-eater. Hell compete for a spot in the Padres rotation during Spring Training.
Corey Patterson possesses the kind of tools that scouts drool over. With speed, power and good range in the outfield, Patterson was able to translate those abilities into respectable numbers from 2002-2004. But this past season, the 26-year-old center fielder struggled mightily, batting just .213 with 13 homers and 15 steals, and was even sent down to the Minors for a month. The problems with Patterson dont necessarily lie in his physical talent, but rather, a poor set of skills at the plate. Most notably, hes been unable to show any sort of restraint on pitches early in the count that are outside of the strike zone -- exhibited in his outlandish 23/118 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 451 at-bats.
Moving to Camden Yards -- where the right field porch helps left-handed batters -- will provide some assistance. The current Orioles lineup isnt as complete as the Cubs, so a starting outfield spot will be Pattersons to lose. Regardless, there isnt a park or a coach that can force a guy to make adjustments at the plate. If Patterson begins to take more walks in Spring Training or in the regular season, then hes worth a roster spot. Until he learns to hone his free-swinging ways, Patterson is worth no more than a speculative AL-only bench bid.
The Patterson deal allows the promising Matt Murton to take over full-time in left field for the Cubs. With a .321 batting average and a .521 slugging percentage in 140 Major League at-bats last year, along with an impressive Minor League resume, Murton becomes a sleeper to watch in 06.
Both shortstop Nate Spears and pitcher Carlos Perez are considered mid-tier prospects; neither has ventured above Class A. They have no immediate fantasy worth.
After acquiring heavy hitting third baseman Troy Glaus from the Diamondbacks in December, the Blue Jays were left with a glut of corner infielders. In trading Corey Koskie to the Brewers, it's essentially addition by subtraction, with more playing time going to Overbay at first base, Hillenbrand at DH and Eric Hinske reportedly attempting to play the outfield in Spring Training.
The disabled list has had a magnetic pull on Koskie's body for a large portion of his career. In each of the last four seasons, Koskie played in fewer and fewer games, failing to arrive at 100 for the first time -- in 2005. With the Brewers, Koskie will likely be used as a part-time player, splitting time with Bill Hall at third base. A versatile hitter and infielder, Hall will be used at shortstop occasionally, second base, and perhaps even at first to help mega-prospect Prince Fielder every now and then.
Both the Rogers Centre and Miller Park are hitter-friendly parks, and the Brewers are an underestimated offense on the rise. The 32-year-old Koskie could actually be more productive in a part-time role, without the demands and reoccurring injuries from starting every day. When healthy, Koskie is a solid left-handed run-producer, worthy of an NL-only roster spot particularly when he bats against right-handed pitchers.
Brian Wolfe had a solid Arizona Fall League performance and will try to make the Blue Jays roster in Spring Training as a reliever. He has no fantasy value.
How sweet the Colorado surroundings can be. In 2004, in the declining stage of his career, Jeromy Burnitz boosted his reputation by belting 37 homers and 110 RBIs for the Rockies. Leaving Coors Field for Wrigley Field this past season was more of a true reflection of Burnitzs skills, as he batted .258 with 24 homers and a .435 slugging percentage. At the age of 36, Burnitz -- as the overused cliche goes -- isnt getting any younger.
In signing with the Pirates, Burnitz will probably bat fifth or sixth in a lineup that was weak in 2005 and is currently below-average. Like Wrigley Field, PNC Park is a slight hitters park so the new environment shouldnt play a factor in his output. In a home field that doesnt offer a great advantage to his aging bat, Burnitz is unlikely to surpass last years numbers. If you cover up his name and resume, then youre left with a healthy outfield version of Travis Lee. Unless its a bench spot in an NL-only league, pass on Burnitz.
Going from Queens to Los Angeles, Jae Seo swaps one pitchers park for one of the best in baseball. Dodger Stadium ought to help Seo prevent runs and as a result, pad his numbers. In 2005, Seo spent the majority of the first half in the Minors but was impressive after being recalled to the Majors in August. Thereafter, the 28-year-old went 6-1 as a starter, with a 2.74 ERA in 72 IP and displayed good control, evidenced by a 45/13 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
If Seo can continue to locate his pitches as well as he did in 05, he could have some sleeper value. The Korean starter heads to a team with a decent offensive and defensive support system, with the chance to have his best full season to date. Seo has decent upside in NL-only leagues and may be worth a late-round selection in deeper mixed formats.
Duaner Sanchez had a late trial run at the Dodgers closing job in the latter part of the season and pitched adequately in the role. With the Mets, Sanchez becomes the likely setup man for their new closer, Billy Wagner, and should get the late-inning call if the lefty is unavailable. Sanchez went 4-7 with eight saves and a 3.73 ERA in 2005.
Steve Schmoll and Tim Hamulack should have minimal fantasy significance, pitching in middle relief roles for their respective teams.
Bret Boone has become a shell of his former self. The right-handed hitter -- who belted 37 homers with a .331 batting average in 2001 while contending for the AL MVP award -- has rapidly gone downhill the last couple of seasons. Boone was released by both the Mariners and Twins in 2005, batting just .221 with seven homers in 326 at-bats.
With Kaz Matsui presently standing in the way of a daily second base job, perhaps the Mets are hoping that two underachieving second basemen competing for one spot may light a spark under one of them. Unless Boone or Matsui prove otherwise in Spring Training or during the season, they are best left in fantasy free agency.
After thriving in the thin air of Coors Field and battling the roomy dimensions of RFK Stadium, Preston Wilson is headed back to a hitter-friendly ballpark in Houston. Minute Maid Park features a shallow left-field fence, which leaves right-handed hitters salivating at the temptation to pull each pitch. The short porch in left will likely bolster Wilsons power numbers at home, leading to the possibility of a 30-homer season.
Splitting the season between the Rockies before being traded to the Nationals, the 31-year-old outfielder hit .260 with 25 jacks and 90 RBIs. Wilson will probably bat behind Lance Berkman and Morgan Ensberg, so there should be more opportunities to drive in his teammates. He'll probably end up playing left field, occasionally filling in at center, He'll probably end up playing left field and occasionally fill in at center, which should render Lance Berkman as the everyday first baseman and decrease Jeff Bagwell's chances of returning to full-time status. The 31-year-old is regularly fooled by breaking balls and frequently fails to make contact, so dont expect him to bat close to .300 anytime soon. A knee injury has drained Wilson's ability to steal bases at a high rate. If healthy, Wilson should provide a fantasy team with solid power numbers but also hurt the batting average department.
Eric Byrnes will likely keep center field warm until prospect Chris Young, acquired in the Javier Vazquez trade, is deemed Major League ready. After a couple of solid years of all-around production, the 29-year-old outfielder hit just .226 with 10 homers and seven steals for three different teams in 2005. Before Young cuts into his playing time, likely at some point in 2006, Byrnes has a good chance to show that this past season was nothing more than a fluke.
Byrnes is a scrappy baserunner, capable of stealing 15-20 bases without being caught much. With the Diamondbacks, Byrnes may be given the green light to steal more often than he did under a cautious Athletics franchise. There's a possibility for him to bat at the top of an adequate lineup in Chase Field, a park that favor hitters more than pitchers. Byrnes' Achilles heel is his inability to hit right-handed pitchers, batting just .203 against them in '05. If he can work to correct this flaw, Byrnes has a chance to be a good power/speed contributor in mixed leagues. Look for him to rebound at least slightly, making Byrnes at least worthy of a bench spot in NL-only leagues for the time being.
By signing starter Ramon Ortiz, the Nationals will again look to catch lightning in a bottle, just as they did with Esteban Loiaza last season. The spacious confines of RFK Stadium give an advantage to pitchers when it comes to reducing homers. Ortiz, 32, will certainly be helped by the move from the Great American ballpark -- a hitters heaven -- to our nations capital. The question is, how much will he be aided by his new home?
Ortiz is a flyball pitcher who has never struck out many batters. In 2005, the 6-foot right-hander went 9-11 with a 5.36 ERA and allowed 34 dingers. Dont expect Ortiz to turn into Loiaza or John Patterson in 2006. With added outfield space and not enough strikeouts, opponents will still slug a good amount of extra-base hits, even if they arent able to slam 34 homers off him again. While he should fare better next season, Ortizs potential taps out at a No. 4 pitcher. He may be worth a few spot starts in NL-only leagues, when he takes the mound in D.C.
Joe Randa will return to familiar ground when he comes back to Pittsburgh in 2006. The third baseman played for the Pirates in 1997, and ironically, not much has changed in his hitting abilities. Randa has evolved into the typical mid-tier third baseman that can hit 10-20 homers, 30-plus doubles and contribute a solid batting average. In 2005, Randa looked determined to break out of that mold, hitting .300 with 12 homers and 45 RBIs in the first half of the season. Once he was traded away from the Great American Ball Park (a hitters' heaven) to the San Diego Padres (in a pitchers' park), Randa faded by batting just .246 with five jacks.
It may be tough to match his '05 performance, since he'll be surrounded by a weaker offense in Pittsburgh, and won't be as fortunate to play in a clear-cut hitters' park as he has in the past. A conditioned professional, Randa has averaged 509 at-bats in each of the last 10 seasons. Though Randa turned 36 on Dec. 1, he should be able to muster together another respectable season and be roster-worthy in NL-only leagues.
After pitching the worst season of his Major League career in 2004, with the Phillies, Kevin Millwood bounced back in 2005. Although the tendency is for starting pitchers to improve in the NL, Millwood defied that rule, leading the AL in ERA (2.86) and catapulting the Indians into playoff contention. The starters return to good health enabled him to enhance his command of the strike zone, whiffing 146 batters and walking 52 in 192 IP. A strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 3-1 is a sign that Millwood may be headed in the right direction.
Then again, the climate in Texas could throw some curveballs, so to speak. Millwood has shown that he can retire hitters in the AL on a regular basis -- even in Jacobs Field -- a ballpark with a reputation for favoring hitters. However, pitching in Ameriquest Field could prove to be more challenging for the 31-year-old pitcher. Though he works hard to keep the ball low, Millwood should allow a few extra dingers in a climate conducive to giving up homers.
Like the Indians, the Rangers have a young, productive offense and a defense that covers a good amount of ground. Millwood could be helped by the tutelage of pitching coach Orel Hershiser and should immediately become the ace and the newest face of a rebuilt rotation. That being said, a switch to Ameriquest Field in the first season of a huge five-year contract will likely result in Millwood finishing 2006 with an ERA closer to 4 than 3, assuming he remains healthy.
The Diamondbacks sent Troy Glaus and prospect Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for Miguel Batista and Orlando Hudson.
Glaus, 29, is the best player in this deal from an offensive standpoint. The 6-foot-5, right-handed slugger returned from an injury-plagued season in '04 to belt 37 homers and 97 RBIs in 2005. Glaus is a prototypical power-hitter with a thunderous swing -- and the high strikeouts (145) to show for it. He works the count and takes his fair share of walks, though, earning 84 in 634 plate appearances last season. His batting average (.258 in '05) will weigh down a fantasy team, but if you play in a league that counts walks, his .363 on-base percentage compensates for the lack of hits.
Glaus will be the everyday third baseman for the Blue Jays, batting fourth or fifth in a run-producing capacity. Both Chase Field in Arizona and Rogers Centre of Toronto are good home run parks, so Glaus should continue his good fortune when it comes to the power numbers. His health is always a concern, but Glaus was able to play through a knee injury in 2005. When healthy, Glaus is one of the most dangerous sluggers in baseball. The trade also adds to the corner-infield logjam of Shea Hillenbrand, Eric Hinske, Corey Koskie and newly acquired Lyle Overbay. Thus, don't be shocked if one or two players from the group of Hillenbrand, Hinske and Koskie are dealt before Spring Training. For the Diamondbacks, the trade will allow Chad Tracy to return to playing full time at third, adding to his fantasy stock.
Batista knows his way around Arizona. The right-hander pitched for the Diamondbacks from 2001-03 as a member of the starting rotation. Though he had 31 saves for the Blue Jays in '05, Batista is expected to make the switch back to a starter's role. Batista should join the middle of a retooled D-Backs rotation that includes Brandon Webb, Russ Ortiz, and Orlando Hernandez. The 34-year-old should be helped by the return to the NL. Though his best days are behind him, Batista should benefit from the ease of facing a pitcher instead of a DH in larger ballparks. After all, it did wonders for Derek Lowe and Esteban Loaiza.
Hudson's strengths lie more in his defensive dexterity than in the batter's box. The second baseman won an AL Gold Glove in 2005, hitting .271 with 10 homers, a career-high 63 RBIs, and seven steals before an ankle injury curtailed his season to 461 at-bats. At 28, Hudson is in the midst of his peak years, so the contact hitter should hit 10-to-15 dingers, go for a .280-plus average and a dozen or so stolen bases. While Hudson probably won't make the All-Star team, he is a decent offensive second baseman to select in the middle rounds of an NL-only draft.
Infielder Aaron Hill will likely take over for Hudson at second base in Toronto. A talented 23-year-old, Hill may match, if not surpass, Hudson's offensive output in 2006.
With the loss of Scott Elarton, the Indians have replaced him with another innings-eater in Jason Johnson, who went 8-13 with a 4.54 ERA in 2005. Pitching for intradivision rival Detroit, Johnson has had stamina issues, consistently fading in the second half of the last several seasons. The 32-year-old starter has witnessed his strikeout rate drop in each of the last four seasons to just fewer than four whiffs per nine innings, usually a sign of a tired arm. Using a plus curveball, the right-hander makes his living off inducing groundouts, so having a solid defensive shortstop like Jhonny Peralta will help his cause.
Moving from Comerica Park to Jacobs Field should enable opposing hitters to belt a few extra longballs off Johnson. Pitching in front of one baseball's best bullpens is a positive, as is the run support of a rising Indians offense. When healthy, Johnson is a back-of-the-rotation pitcher capable of winning 10 or so games. If he goes on a string of good starts in the first half, Johnson may be worth a quick ride before the inevitable roller coaster follows.
Reggie Sanders, 38, just keeps on ticking. The veteran outfielder will likely bat cleanup -- behind Mike Sweeney -- for one of the least productive lineups in baseball. In fairness, the Royals made a couple of upgrades to their offense during the offseason, but it's a far cry from the riches that Sanders was surrounded by on the St. Louis Cardinals. Going to Kauffman Stadium isn't as much of an advantage as it used to be since the fences were moved back last year, so the ballpark effects should be limited.
After enjoying a terrific first half in 2005, Sanders suffered a broken foot at midseason, limiting him to 93 games. The injury prevented Sanders -- who swiped 14 bases in the first half -- from attempting a single steal upon his recovery. As a result, it may be wise to expect no more than 10 stolen bases in 2006. An aggressive run-producer, Sanders also hit 21 dingers with a .546 slugging percentage. The right-handed hitter is a model professional, whose work ethic keeps him thriving even as he approaches 40 years of age. Barring an injury, Sanders should hit 20-to-25 homers, 5-to-10 steals, and a good amount of RBIs for the Royals.
At 29, Juan Encarnacion has developed into a decent run producer -- no more, no less. By signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, Encarnacion will replace Larry Walker's glove in right field and likely bat somewhere in the order behind Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen. The right-handed hitter is a bit of a free swinger, reaching 41 walks for only the second time in his career in 2005. With better discipline, Encarnacion has improved his numbers, hitting 16 dingers with 76 RBIs and a .287 batting average in 506 at-bats.
Playing for the Cardinals, Encarnacion will be surrounded by the best supporting cast of hitters in his nine years of experience in the Major Leagues. On top of that, leaving Dolphins Stadium should help his power numbers. In a good lineup and a favorable environment, Encarnacion could hit more than 20 homers for the first time since 2002 and also has a chance to surpass 100 RBIs for the first time. Should Encarnacion slip past the middle rounds of your fantasy draft, you could do worse than select him as a fourth or fifth outfielder.
The signing of Matt Lawton raises more questions than answers. The Mariners already have four potential starting outfielders, with Raul Ibanez, Jeremy Reed, Ichiro, and Carl Everett. Since Lawton hasn't played second base since the 1980s in Legion Ball down in Mississippi alongside Brett Favre at shortstop, the only conclusion to be drawn is that one of the aforementioned four is likely to be dealt before Opening Day. With Johnny Damon heading to the Yankees, the Red Sox interest in center fielder Jeremy Reed has intensified of late, leading inquisitive minds to assume that Reed may be the odd man out in Seattle.
Rumors aside, Lawton had a sound first half, belting 10 homers and stealing nine bases with a .379 on-base percentage. The left-handed hitter dovetailed in the second half after being traded to the Cubs and then the Yankees, batting .219 with an alarmingly low .294 slugging percentage. It was later revealed in early November that Lawton tested positive for steroids, which could possibly explain his recent surge in the last few seasons, as well as his dive after the 2005 All-Star break.
While it's difficult to predict what Lawton's output will be, a few factors are working against him: He's 34, so he's in the decline phase of his career. Also, playing in Safeco Field doesn't bode well for his power numbers since it's widely considered a pitchers' park. Expect Lawton's numbers to dip across the board.
Though veteran Rondell White has been around for nearly 13 years in the Majors, the outfielder is still only 33. Injuries have stifled White the last several seasons as he's averaged 115 games over the last five years. In 2005, White hit .313 with 12 homers and a .489 slugging percentage in 374 at-bats with Detroit.
When healthy, White will provide a solid right-handed bat in the heart of the Twins' lineup and offer protection for cornerstone lefties Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. He will replace the void left by Jacque Jones in right field, and receive many starts at DH as well. Departing Comerica Park for the Metrodome may help boost his numbers slightly, with increased responsibilities for the Twins.
The slugger is likely to slip in most fantasy drafts due to the perception that he's brittle and the misconception that he's old. When he stays off the disabled list, White is an underrated run-producer, capable of being a solid fourth outfielder in mixed leagues.
He's a starting pitcher who throws a mid-90s fastball and stands at 6-foot-4, so one might think that Brett Tomko would be lights-out on the mound. To the contrary, Tomko tends to overthrow his pitches, leading to control issues and extra-base hits -- opponents posted a .444 slugging percentage against him this past season. The 32-year-old right-hander has been fortunate enough to pitch in SBC Park, though, and in 2005 that helped mask his 5.26 ERA on the road.
Tomko will again find himself in favorable surroundings at Dodger Stadium, another pitchers' park. The starter went 8-15 in 2005, and he has become no more than a back-of-the-rotation inning-eater. Tomko's ERA should end up somewhere between four and five in the Dodgers' rotation, though it may seem higher to his owners because of his maddening inconsistency. Tomko should only be considered for the occasional fantasy spot-start against a weak offense at home.
The teams that faced off in the 2002 World Series swapped two veterans, both in the decline phases of their careers. Steve Finley, 40, experienced a sharp drop-off in 2005, batting just .222 with 12 homers, 54 RBIs and eight steals. With the addition of Finley, the Giants now have four tested outfielders with a combined age of 151, so he should get his fair share of at-bats. Finley will likely be the fourth outfielder in San Francisco, spelling days off and pinch-hitting for Barry Bonds, Moises Alou and Randy Winn. With or without an injury, Finley's fantasy engine appears to be winding down.
Edgardo Alfonzo has fallen off since leaving the Mets after the 2002 season. This past year, the 31-year-old hit .277 with only two homers and 43 RBIs in 368 at-bats, due to various injuries. Alfonzo will serve as third base insurance should young Dallas McPherson not be fully healed from the arthroscopic hip surgery he underwent in early September. At the very least, he'll force the 25-year-old to earn a job that was essentially handed to him in '05, which could garner a pickup in deep AL-only leagues. On the other hand, if McPherson begins to play up to his potential, Alfonzo would be cast aside as a utility infielder. Look for clues in Spring Training.
The subtraction of Alfonzo finally allows Pedro Feliz to play an everyday position. The 30-year-old has played shortstop, first base, third base and outfield in the last two years, and ought to qualify at the latter three in 2006. Feliz's biggest flaw is his extreme impatience at the plate, which dampened his batting average last year (.250). He has solid power and could duplicate the 20 jacks and 81 ribbies he produced in '05. If Feliz could learn to be a bit more selective in the batter's box, his numbers would go into uncharted territory. As is, Feliz's position flexibility makes him a decent reserve in mixed leagues.
Johnny Damon has agreed to a contract with the Yankees?
While Red Sox fans are surely wondering what the world is coming to, that their poster boy is fleeing to their archrivals as Christmas approaches, Damon adds an important piece to a potent New York lineup. Damon, 32, will likely man center field regularly and bat leadoff, in front of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez and other All-Stars. Although Damon was already in an offense that included David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez in Boston, the cast of characters batting behind him in New York might even be better. As a result, expect Damon to again be one of the top run-scorers in the league, possibly exceeding the 117 total he earned in 2005.
Damon's biggest offensive strengths are his ability to make consistent contact at the plate and excel on the basepaths. This past season, Damon batted .316 in 624 at-bats and was caught stealing only once with 18 swipes. The left-handed batter doesn't strike out often, fanning just 69 times opposed to 53 walks. Damon also belted at least 10 homers for the seventh time in his tenth full season in the Majors, while reaching a minimum of 30 doubles for the eighth straight year (35), for an overall slugging percentage of .439. Though Yankee Stadium doesn't offer the cozy left field dimensions of Fenway Park, right field is still only 314 feet away, so Damon should hit anywhere between 10-20 dingers in 2006. He doesn't find himself on the injured list frequently either, attaining 600-plus at-bats for the sixth consecutive season.
Don't expect the long-haired outfielder to buckle under the New York spotlight, as he's already shown the mental toughness to endure in a baseball town. Should the deal be finalized, look for Damon to produce a similar season to 2005 for the Yankees. Only this time, he'll have less hair along for the ride.
Jacque Jones has been a Minnesota Twin throughout his seven-year Major League career. Yet, leaving the Metrodome for Wrigley Field has its benefits. For one, balls can carry further in the Windy City than indoors in Minneapolis, so a few extra homers may come as a result. Also, the Cubs' offense is considerably better than the Twins' lineup, giving Jones more protection and RBI opportunities.
While the change in scenery is a bonus, Jones still isn't a great hitter. The left-handed batter has always been particularly impatient at the plate, swinging outside the strike zone quite often, and rarely taking a walk. With an overly aggressive approach to hitting, Jones could become susceptible as he ages and his bat speed slows down.
Nevertheless, at 30, Jones remains capable of producing similar stats to his 2005 line; a .249 average, 23 homers, 73 RBIs and 13 steals. Just don't expect him to return to the days of batting .300 as he did in his prime, unless he begins to adjust and show more restraint at the plate in Chicago.
The Red Sox continued to bolster their pitching staff by adding right-handed reliever Rudy Seanez to the mix. At 37, Seanez seems to be improving with age, earning career highs in strikeouts (84), wins (7) innings pitched (60 1/3), and games (57) in 2005.
Swapping locations from pitcher-heaven PETCO Park to Fenway will lessen the margin for error, but his 84/22 strikeout-to-walk ratio is an indication that Seanez can withstand the repercussions. Expect Seanez to join Mike Timlin in middle relief and is a good addition in AL-only leagues, especially if Keith Foulke finds himself on the injured list again.
Joining a revamped bullpen, Octavio Dotel should serve as a rich man's Felix Rodriguez for the Yankees in 2006. Once he recovers from his reconstructive elbow surgery -- around midseason -- Dotel should be another capable setup man (along with Kyle Farnsworth) for Mariano Rivera.
When healthy, Dotel overwhelms his opponents with a 97 mph fastball and strikes out a ton of batters. What has plagued the reliever, however, is that whenever hitters get a bat on the ball, it tends to be up in the meat of the strike zone, which allows more elevation for each hit. In fact, Dotel allows twice as many flyballs as grounders, increasing the likelihood of a homer. Yankee Stadium may neutralize that weakness some, but unless Dotel can locate his pitches a bit lower, he is at risk for a few meltdown performances throughout the year.
In deep AL-only fantasy leagues that allow owners to reserve injured players, Dotel is a solid pickup at the end of a draft, especially if you own both Farnsworth and Rivera. So long as he returns to full health, Dotel still possesses the potential to dominate as a closer if necessary.
The first factor with this trade is the opposite effects that the Rangers' and Padres' home parks have on pitchers and hitters. In San Diego, PETCO Park has vast dimensions, which plays to the pitcher's advantage; in Texas, Ameriquest Field has a climate conducive to home runs. Based solely on the ballpark swap, the possible trade should have positive consequences for Chris Young and have negative results for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka.
Otsuka will set up closer Francisco Cordero and could face a tough task duplicating his impressive '04 and '05 performances in one of the worst pitchers' parks in the AL. The same goes for Eaton. The starter injured the index finger on his pitching hand in June and never quite regained his grip, going 11-5 with a 4.27 ERA in 128 2/3 IP. Eaton, 28, has a fair amount of promise with solid command of his pitches, but should have his work cut out for him in Texas, pitching in his contract year.
Since Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge have never played full-time in the Majors, it's tough to imagine that any change in scenery is bad news for their careers. Gonzalez may finally receive a shot at playing first base on a regular basis for the Padres, but Sledge looks like a platoon outfielder at best, for the moment. Gonzalez, 23, hit .338 with a .561 slugging percentage for the Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks in 2005, but has problems against fellow left-handers. Keep an eye on him during Spring Training.
The big winner in this pending deal appears to be right-handed starter Chris Young. A former basketball player, Young stands at 6-foot-10 and his flyball-inducing ways should be greatly aided by the move to the NL in PETCO Park. In his rookie season this past year, Young went 12-7 with a 4.26 ERA, and 137 strikeouts in 164 2/3 innings. Young becomes the Padres No. 2 pitcher, behind Jake Peavy, making him an intriguing option in all 2006 fantasy formats.
Even as he heads into his 16th Major League season, center fielder Kenny Lofton refuses to fade quietly into the night. Free from New York pinstripes, the 38-year-old re-emerged this past season, batting .335 and going 22-25 in steal attempts in 367 at-bats for the Philadelphia Phillies. The center fielder benefited from batting atop one of the better offenses in the NL, which helped inflate his run total to 67 in 110 games.
Switching coasts to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers has its drawbacks. Hitting in Dodger Stadium instead of Citizens Bank Park will cut into his average a bit, and while Jeff Kent is a good slugger, the Dodgers have no equivalent to the offensive quintet of Bobby Abreu, Pat Burrell, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ryan Howard.
Lofton is no longer the full-time All-Star he once was, but could see somewhere in the neighborhood of 400 at-bats for an organization that appears reluctant to let J.D. Drew patrol center field regularly. Though he maintains his quality on-base skills, Lofton's power is diminishing, so anything above five homers would be a pleasant surprise. Expecting another average in the .330s may be a stretch of the imagination for 2006, but the gritty slap-hitter is a decent outfielder to own as a bench player in mixed leagues.
The Major League career of Jarrod Washburn could be summed up with the title, 'A tale of two pitchers'. On one hand, the left-hander pitched like a No. 2 pitcher from 2000-2002, with ERAs in the mid-threes. But the southpaw was merely average in '03 and '04, allowing 34 homers in 2004. This past year, Washburn flipped back and regained his top-of-the-rotation form that enabled him to win 18 games in '02, going 8-8 with a 3.20 ERA. So, which pitcher will the 31-year-old be on the Seattle Mariners? Will Washburn be the No. 2 pitcher he was last season, or the ordinary arm he displayed the year before?
One factor in his favor is the move to Safeco Field, an excellent pitchers' park. The switch should especially help Washburn, whose vulnerability to flyballs will be muted in a spacious home field that reduces the longball. On the negative side, the Mariners' bullpen isn't near the caliber of the Angels', so a few wins could be squandered.
Jarrod Washburn / P
Weight: 195 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: L
The main problem with Washburn is that regardless of where he pitches, he simply doesn't get enough outs on his own. His strikeout rate dropped below five whiffs per nine IP (94 K) in 2005, making him more and more reliant on his fielders. While Ichiro will chase down his fair share of flies in the outfield, Washburn allows too many balls to reach the outfield for a pitcher that struck out just 94 strikeouts in 177 1/3 innings last season.
Bottom line, Washburn is more of a No. 3 or 4 starter than a staff ace. He's not as savvy or deceptive as a young Tom Glavine or as overpowering as fellow lefty Johan Santana. If he drops to the later rounds in mixed league fantasy drafts, then by all means, select him. With a huge contract and a World Series ring on his resume, his perceived stock may be higher than his actual level of talent heading into 2006.
It seems like ages ago that Nomar Garciaparra was mentioned in the same breath as Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez, and Derek Jeter. His superstar days of playing shortstop with the Red Sox are over, and Garciaparra will look to rejuvenate his career with the Dodgers. 'Nomah' would play first base regularly for the first time in the Majors, giving him three qualified positions in fantasy leagues (shortstop, third base, first base), and effectively turned Hee-Seop Choi into a bench warmer.
Nomar Garciaparra / SS
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Garciaparra has been hampered by injuries the last few seasons. Most recently, in 2005 with the Cubs, the infielder ruptured a tendon in his groin, forcing him to miss three months of the season. The injury limited Garciaparra to just 62 games, where he batted .283 with nine homers and a .452 slugging percentage.
Moving from Wrigley Field won't help him in his quest back to stardom as Dodger Stadium is a renowned pitchers' park with spacious foul territory. Hitting in a lineup alongside J.D. Drew and Jeff Kent instead of Derrek Lee and Aramis Ramirez isn't much of a cheerful anecdote, either. That being said, Garciaparra is still only 32, and with the right medical support, still could provide a 100-RBI bat with some pop to boot. Never one to be patient at the plate, Garciaparra may find it more difficult getting back to a .320 average in the near future, since his bat speed isn't as lightning fast as it used to be.
In any event, while the location change may not be a particularly positive one, Garciaparra should be a decent buy on draft day so long as he doesn't have a bandwagon of fans and magazines calling for his resurgence in Spring Training. With a low-risk middle-round selection, Garciaparra could offer a decent bang for the buck in 2006.
After grabbing southpaw Mike Myers from the Red Sox, the Yankees decided that one lefty addition simply wasn't enough. With the acquisition of Ron Villone, the 35-year-old becomes the primary left-hander out of the Yankees bullpen. The New Jersey-born reliever struck out more than a batter an inning in 2005, fanning twice as many guys as he walked and ceded only four homers in 64 IP. Villone appeared to struggle mightily after he was dealt from the Mariners to the Marlins at the trade deadline, posting a 6.04 ERA in the NL. Nonetheless, since he allowed a similar amount of baserunners in Seattle, chalk his second half up to a case of bad luck.
Lefties have a habit of thriving in Yankee Stadium and Villone has the potential to be the New York version of Scott Eyre - and for less money. But like Eyre, unless you're in a league that counts holds, Villone brings little fantasy luggage with him to his new home.
By signing with the Kansas City Royals, Mark Grudzielanek will head to a team in rebuilding mode. The 35-year-old batted .294 with 64 runs, eight homers and eight steals for the Cardinals in 2005. Moving from one of the better offenses in baseball to one of the least productive ones in isn't likely to boost his stats.
Mark Grudzielanek / 2B
Weight: 190 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Kauffman Stadium borders on being a hitters' park and has become far more neutral since the fences were moved back last year. Look for Grudzielanek to start at second base on a regular basis and bat at the top of the Royals lineup, ahead of Mike Sweeney and Mark Teahen. While Grudzielanek is a gritty player, expect his numbers to dip across the board in Kansas City. Grudzielanek's value lies solely in AL-only leagues for batting average purposes.
Scott Elarton offers the Royals an inning-eater and helps fill a rotation in desperate need of respectable arms. The 6-foot-8 29-year-old had a mild rebirth in 2005, going 11-9 with a 4.61 ERA. On the other hand, he allowed 32 dingers in 181 2/3 IP, a number he'll have to reduce in 2006 to maintain dependability.
Elarton was once touted as a top prospect with Houston, so he may be worthy of selection during the reserve rounds in AL-only fantasy leagues. If he can't build on 2005 by improving his control, he could be in for a rough year in Kansas City.
Doug Mientkiewicz specializes in being a defensive wizard at first base. He doesn't posses much on the power front, so he practices patience at the plate in hopes of taking a walk or slapping a single. The 31-year-old had a disappointing season with the Mets in 2005 and will likely split time with Mike Sweeney, Matt Stairs and prospect Justin Huber. Departing Shea Stadium will certainly help Mientkiewicz, as would enhanced health, but unless he's given a full-time spot he won't be much of a fantasy factor next year. At best, Mientkiewicz has the potential and moxie to hit 10 jacks with an average close to .300.
Braden Looper has agreed to take a step down from the closer job. In signing a three-year contract with the St. Louis Cardinals, the 31-year-old Looper will fill the void of free agent Julian Tavarez as their primary setup man, a demotion from closing with the Mets.
Braden Looper / P
Weight: 220 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
The right-handed hurler didn't pitch as well this past season as he did in '04, going 4-7 with eight blown saves and a 3.94 ERA, compared to 2.70 the year before. However, the most notable difference was a drastic drop in his strikeout rate, plunging from six-and-a-half whiffs every nine innings (60 K) to just four (27 K) in 2005. A huge reason for this can be attributed to Looper pitching with a sore shoulder that required surgery for the entire season, a credit to his professionalism.
Looper's inconsistency appears to be more of a glitch than any overwhelming flaw in his pitching mechanics. This past season was so out of whack with his career numbers that it's only logical to cough it up to injury. With better health, there is no reason why Looper can't bounce back with more consistency and fan a few extra batters in the process. Heading to one of the best teams in the National League, Looper will be the first reliever called on to close should current fireman Jason Isringhausen be unavailable. Therefore, if you happen to draft Isringhausen in 2006, it couldn't hurt to nab Looper as an insurance clause.
The Mariners signed outfielder Carl Everett on Wednesday to add another run producer behind Richie Sexson and fill the role of full-time DH. In 2005, the switch-hitter batted .251 with 23 homers and 87 RBIs. Everett, 34, has already experienced his glory years and is in the midst of a decline phase, so it's probably unreasonable to expect him to surpass his numbers of the past few seasons.
The ballpark change from cozy US Cellular Field to spacious Safeco Field is certainly not advantageous for his power numbers, which makes it easier to envision his home run total dropping from 23, in 2006.
Also, the Mariners' lineup is slightly inferior to the '05 White Sox, so Everett may have his work cut out for him matching his 87 RBIs of last season. In summation, Everett becomes a good buy when managers in AL-only leagues allow him to slip into the later rounds of the draft.
With the acquisition of Javier Vazquez, the White Sox added another starting pitcher to one of the better rotations in the league. At a first glance, Vazquez struggled last season, going 11-15 with a 4.42 ERA while surrendering 35 homers -- the second-highest total in the Majors. Upon further review, though, the right-hander pitched better than his surface stats show, fanning 192 batters in 215 2/3 IP with 46 walks for an impressive strikeout-to-walk ratio above four, which is an excellent indicator that Vazquez can both dominate the opposition and control his pitch arsenal. He ended the season on a positive note, with an ERA of 2.93 in September.
Javier Vazquez / P
Weight: 205 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
Unfortunately, switching back to the American League won't help Vazquez prove just how undervalued he is. Both Chase Field and US Cellular Field are conducive to hitters, so the location change is simply a swap of unfavorable circumstances. The World Series champs are a huge upgrade defensively over Arizona, with the bullpen and offensive support that could lead to more opportunities for wins.
Vazquez's main issue isn't so much that he lacks control, but that he throws too many strikes down the heart of the plate; definitely a far better dilemma to have than the reverse. Thus, if Vazquez can learn to keep the ball low in the zone he could reduce the extra base hits and his ERA will follow suit. Should he fall in the draft, Vazquez has the makings of a solid fantasy buy in 2006.
Orlando Hernandez gives the Diamondbacks an average, yet brittle arm for their rotation to replace the loss of Vazquez. "El Duque" ended 2005 with a 5.12 ERA in 22 games started. At the age of 36, Hernandez should only be considered rosterable in deep NL-only leagues should he land in Arizona.
Outfield prospect Chris Young has the potential to give the Diamondbacks the true center fielder they've lacked for the past few years. The 22-year-old has a good mixture of power and speed, slamming 26 homers and 41 doubles, and swiping 32 bases for the Double-A Birmingham Barons this year. Such five-tool versatility is a rare commodity in the game, which is enough to make Young a player to watch as he enters Spring Training gunning for a starting spot.
Apparently, age was nothing but a number for Roberto Hernandez in 2005. The 41-year-old reliever reversed a three-year trend of rising ERA totals, finishing the season with a 2.58 ERA, an 8-6 record and four saves in 67 games as the Mets' setup man. His revival was the combination of a good pitching coach, Rick Peterson, and improved health.
Going from Shea Stadium to PNC Park is a wash from a pitching standpoint. Since Hernandez isn't getting any younger, it will be an uphill battle to match last year's production in 2006. More likely, expect a season somewhere between a declining '04 and the invigorated '05 performance. Pitching for the Pirates, Hernandez may have the opportunity to compete with Mike Gonzalez and Salomon Torres for the closing job in Spring Training. Although Gonzalez probably has the inside track, Hernandez is at least worthy of an insurance pick to whoever wins the role of fireman, if he doesn't win the spot himself.
Bill Mueller will likely give the Dodgers another hitter at the top of the order, alongside new addition Rafael Furcal, while also supplying a stop-gap until mega prospect Andy LaRoche is prepared to man the hot corner. Mueller batted .295 with ten jacks and 34 doubles in 2005, playing in 150 games for the Red Sox.
Parting ways with Fenway Park and an awesome offense for Dodger Stadium and a customary lineup are negatives in both respects. Anticipate a drop in his homer numbers, which are already less than gaudy, but a possible rise in his hit total. At 34, Mueller's best days are probably on the back of his baseball card, but there's no reason to believe he can't be serviceable for the next few seasons. For NL-only managers seeking a cheap alternative at third base with the capability to bat .300 and score a fair share of runs, you could do a lot worse than Bill Mueller in 'Dodger Blue.'
The perception that Milton Bradley carries a certain amount of personal baggage drove down his price down enough for the A's to acquire him, and another player, for a single prospect. The Oakland front office believes they can take on a player of Bradley's reputation because of the tolerance of their managerial staff and a united team with solid makeup.
On an objective level, the outfielder appeared as if he was ready to break out for a career year at the start of the 2005 season. He hit .326 with 16 RBIs in April, but he was stifled by numerous injuries and DL stints for the remainder of the season. The 27-year-old finished with a .290 average, 13 homers, 14 doubles, and six steals in 283 at-bats.
Bradley should be aided by the move to Oakland. For starters, he is entering into his peak years as a hitter and has yet to put it all together at the plate. Secondly, Bradley will bat in the heart of a rising, underrated Athletics' lineup, which should provide him the protection (Eric Chavez) and RBI opportunities to produce runs. The downside is that the A's are less likely to utilize his base-stealing talents since they employ a cautious, station-to-station approach to hitting. Nevertheless, Bradley should be able to swipe around ten bags in fewer attempts.
The change in home field scenery shouldn't play much of a factor, since both Dodger Stadium and McAfee Stadium are pitchers' parks. Ultimately, Bradley makes enough contact to bat .300, has enough pop to hit 30 dingers and 100 ribbies and is heading to a ballclub that seems destined for contention. Assuming he's healthy and has his head on straight, Bradley has the potential to have his best season yet in 2006 for the A's.
Antonio Perez will likely end up as a utility man, supplying infield depth across the diamond and spelling the occasional day off for second baseman Mark Ellis.
Outfielder Andre Ethier, 23, was named the Double-A Texas League Player of the Year for 2005. Most recently, Ethier slugged .598 with a stunning .495 on-base percentage in 82 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. He is considered an A-level prospect that should contend for a spot on the Dodgers' Opening Day roster in Spring Training. Although Ethier is a bit old for a blue-chip prospect to have only 15 at-bats above Double-A, his recent production outburst makes him a player worth watching in 2006.
The acquisition of Vicente Padilla adds pitching depth to a Rangers rotation in dire need of arms. At 28, Padilla never quite fulfilled the promise expected of him in the Phillies' organization and last year was no different: Padilla finished 9-12 with a 4.71 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 147 IP in 2005. His second half provided a glimmer of hope, however, when he struck out 64 with 37 walks and an ERA of 3.63.
With the trade, Padilla will likely exchange one hitters' park (Citizens Bank Park) for another (Ameriquest Field). Switching leagues likely won't help his control issues either. Unless Padila has an outstanding Spring Training, there is no reason to draft him in mixed leagues.
Matt Morris, 31, is no longer the front-line starter who once won 22 games in 2001. Since then, the right-hander has declined with a higher rate of home runs allowed, hits per nine innings, and higher ERA totals. More importantly, though, Morris' strikeout rate has dipped in each of the last four seasons (from 7.70 K per 9 IP in '01, to 5.47 in '05), usually an indication of a fatigued arm. Morris appears to wear down in the second half of the season, finishing with ERAs over five in the past two years, which is definitely something to be aware of if he's on your roster at the All-Star break.
Moving from Busch Stadium to SBC Park should be a fantastic shift for the six-foot-five Morris. While the Giants offense probably won't be as powerful as the '05 Cardinals, SBC Park is one of the most advantageous fields for pitchers in baseball and should help reduce Morris' home run rate. Morris still possesses consistent control of his pitch repertoire and will be reunited with former teammate, catcher Mike Matheny.
Barring an injury, look for Morris' ERA to drop at least slightly. Although it's unlikely he'll return to being an ace, Morris has the ability to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for a fantasy team.
The void in the Cardinals rotation will likely be filled by top pitching prospect, Anthony Reyes. The 24-year-old righty punched out 134 batters in 128 2/3 IP, with 34 walks and a 3.64 ERA on the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. If Reyes makes the rotation, as expected, he'd step into an excellent environment for a rookie pitcher with run support and a solid defense. With Morris heading to San Francisco, Reyes is an intriguing sleeper for 2006.
Kenny Rogers defied his age in 2005. The 41-year-old lefty emerged in the first half of the season, going 10-4 with a 2.54 ERA. Rogers began to fall apart at the seams after the All-Star Game, though, posting a 4.72 ERA and a 4-4 record. Overall, the southpaw did a decent job pitching in Ameriquest Field, a home run park.
Rogers will now start his home games in spacious Comerica Park, so opponents should have a tough task slugging more than the 15 dingers he gave up in '05. On the down side, Rogers is a groundball pitcher who is heavily dependent on his fielders and the Tigers' infield defense doesn't measure up to that of the Rangers.
The chief concern for Rogers isn't necessarily where he'll pitch, but rather how rapidly his strikeout rate has declined. With only four whiffs every nine innings (down from 5.36), Rogers is walking a fine line when he allows hitters to put the ball in play that often. And at age 41, his fastball is unlikely to gain velocity. In that perspective, it's surprising that his ERA was no higher than 3.46 last season.
Ultimately, expect Rogers' ERA to end up closer to 5.00 than 4.00 next season. The best course of action may be let the owner who loves indulging in last year's stats draft him in the middle rounds. Unless you're in an AL-only format or a league that doesn't count strikeouts, pass on Rogers in Detroit.
The signing of Ramon Hernandez renders Javy Lopez a DH/first baseman and give the Orioles another solid right-handed bat. The 29-year-old only played in 99 games this season due to wrist surgery, curtailing his second half to 116 at-bats. Over the course of the year, Hernandez batted .290 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs for the Padres.
Hernandez moves from pitcher-pleasant PETCO Park to a beneficial situation in Baltimore: Camden Yards is more conducive to home runs, and with Tejada, Melvin Mora and Brian Roberts, the O's have a better lineup than that of the '05 Padres. Assuming he's healthy, Hernandez should be among the first handful of catchers selected, with the ability to crack the top five by season's end. Hernandez's injury woes in 2005 make him a light fantasy sleeper in 2006.
The recent moves point the way toward Miguel Olivo starting at catcher for the Padres with Doug Mirabelli his backup.
Todd Jones discovered a fountain of youth in 2005. After a few seasons of mediocrity, the 37-year-old took hold of the closer job and pitched remarkably, earning 40 saves in 45 chances with a 2.10 ERA for the Marlins.
Todd Jones / P
Weight: 230 lbs
Bats: S / Throws: R
Coming out of nowhere, the right-hander yielded only two ding-dongs in 73 innings, fanned 62 with only 14 free passes, and increased his ground ball rate from 2004. In the second half, Jones walked only two batters in 35 IP, ending the season on an impressive note.
Moving to the AL could have a negative impact on Jones, though it probably won't dent his numbers significantly since Comerica Park is a pitchers' haven. Expect the Tigers to move Jones into the fireman role with Fernando Rodney shifting back to setup man/closer-in-waiting. Barring an injury, Jones should have a solid, unspectacular season, though not with the level of ease he pitched at in 2005. Jones ought be a reliable No. 2 fantasy closer in 2006.
Jose Mesa showed clear signals of decline in 2005. The 39-year-old reliever was 2-8 with a 4.76 ERA, adding 27 saves in 34 opportunities. Mesa faded badly down the stretch, with an ERA of 7.27 in August and 6.00 in September, prompting the Pirates to relieve him of his ninth-inning duties.
Pitching his home games in the worst pitchers' park in baseball probably won't help matters. In all likelihood, Coors Field will expose Mesa's flaws and quicken his descent as he approaches age 40. Look for him to set up for closer Brian Fuentes, and be the first choice to replace him should the lefty be out for any extended period of time. With a combined 74/46 K/BB ratio in '04 and '05, Mesa has been very fortunate the last couple of years. As a result, barring extreme circumstances, fantasy managers should stay far, far away from Mesa in 2006.
Edgar Renteria had a disappointing season in 2005. After signing with the Red Sox for a four-year, $40 million contract, Renteria hit .276 with eight homers, 70 RBIs, nine steals, and scored 100 runs -- simply because of the strong lineup that surrounded him. His plate selectivity and knack for putting the bat on the ball, which helped to produce a terrific 2003 season, has weakened since: The 30-year-old struck out 100 times for only the second time in his career, his highest whiff total since 1997. Needless to say, Renteria's best years appear to be in the history books.
Edgar Renteria / SS
Weight: 200 lbs
Bats: R / Throws: R
The shortstop will switch leagues from a hitters' park to a home field better suited for pitchers. On top of that, the Braves offense, though solid, is a clear drop-off from that of the 2005 Red Sox. The quicker that fantasy managers begin to forget about his '03 and '04 seasons with the Cardinals, the easier it'll be to watch 10 to 15 shortstops get selected before him in 2006.
Andy Marte has been touted as one of the best prospects in baseball. Playing for the Triple-A Richmond Braves, the third baseman batted .275 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs in 389 at-bats, while reducing his strikeouts to 83 and increasing his walks to 64. The 22-year-old combines raw talent with rapidly developing skills, has produced at every level, consistently met new challenges, and appears Major League ready. In short, Marte is a budding star who should be in line for a full-time job soon.
The Red Sox just acquired Mike Lowell, so Marte's future in Boston is questionable. Nevertheless, if Marte is given an everyday third base job, look for him to become a Rookie of the Year candidate and hit at least 20 homers.
With the loss of Renteria, it remains to be seen who'll be playing shortstop in Boston on Opening Day. Stay tuned.
The Blue Jays grabbed an underrated bat after investing heavily in pitchers B.J. Ryan and A.J. Burnett on the free agent market. Lyle Overbay will play first base and perhaps a few games at DH, likely batting in front of Vernon Wells in the third spot in the order.
The 28-year-old has been more of a doubles hitter with gap power than a slugger, belting 19 dingers with 34 doubles, often coming a few feet short of a homer the last couple of years. His biggest strength is patience and a willingness to hit the ball to the opposite side of the field. Overbay cut down on his strikeouts (98) while maintaining his walk rate (78), so even though his average dropped from .301 in 2004 to .276 in '05, his aptitude for making contact makes him a threat to hit .300-plus any season. Moving from Miller Park to the Rogers Centre is a wash, since both are modest hitters' parks.
All things being equal, Overbay is in the prime of his career and makes an excellent fantasy pick for those fantasy managers who miss out on the Paul Konerkos of the first base world. He has the potential to hit .300 with 20-plus homers and 100 RBIs for the Blue Jays in 2006.
Dave Bush is the player who should bring the quickest profit for the Brewers in the trade. He will likely slot into the rotation and has the talent and polish to become a solid, middle-of-the-rotation starter. Bush, 26, doesn't overpower batters but is able to command the plate and limit mistakes with refined command. In his first two seasons, the right-hander has a 134/59 K/BB ratio and moving to the National League will only aid his development. Bush is worth taking a late-round flyer on in mixed leagues with stronger sleeper value in NL-only leagues.
Gabe Gross, 26, has displayed fair ability in Triple-A, but with Carlos Lee, Geoff Jenkins, and Brady Clark ahead of him on the outfielder depth chart, he is nothing more than a fourth outfielder as of now.
Zach Jackson was one of the Blue Jays' two first-round pitcher picks in 2004. A college pitcher out of Texas A&M, Jackson projects as a solid starter who needs more seasoning in the Minors before making a significant fantasy impact. Out of the three players coming over to the Brew Crew, this prospect could end up bringing them the biggest return down the road.
This trade should impact the primary players in opposite ways. Second baseman Alfonso Soriano will go from the best hitters' parks in the American League (Ameriquest Field) to one of the worst in the National League (RFK Stadium). The differences in the climate and park dimensions may make it difficult for Soriano to reach 30 homers in 2006. After all, the 29-year-old batted just .224 with a meager .376 slugging percentage away from home last season. Also, there is no equivalent to Mark Teixeira on the Nationals' offense, so Soriano has less lineup protection in D.C.
Ultimately, expect Soriano's numbers to dip across the board as either the Nats' second baseman or left fielder. Don't be surprised if his average is in the .250-range with 25-plus homers and steals.
What this does to the job stability of Jose Vidro as an everyday second baseman remains to be seen.
For Brad Wilkerson, Christmas couldn't have arrived any sooner. The trade should have the reverse effect on Wilkerson to that of Soriano.
The 28-year-old was thwarted by numerous injuries in 2005, which led to a drop in almost every offensive category, hitting .248 with 11 homers and eight steals. Wilkerson has a lifetime on-base percentage of .365, with a slugging percentage of .452, so he should rebound with better health regardless of where he plays. His strength is taking a ton of walks; so don't be shocked if he exceeds his career high in runs scored, particularly in a lineup that includes Michael Young and Teixeira. In either '06 or '07, expect Wilkerson to hit 35-plus homers with around 15-20 steals and 110 runs as a Rangers' outfielder. In any case, Wilkerson should make an excellent buy on draft day.
The trade of Soriano opens the door for prospect Ian Kinsler at second base. The 23-year-old hit .274 with 23 jacks, 94 RBIs and 19 steals for the Triple-A Oklahoma RedHawks, showing off his five-tool talents. As the roster exists today, expect Kinsler to be given every chance to win the Rangers' second base job out of Spring Training. If you take a late-round flyer on him in AL-only leagues, you may be pleasantly surprised.
Mark Loretta missed the majority of the 2005 season with a torn ligament in his thumb. The 34-year-old hit .280 with three homers and eight steals in the injury-shortened year.
Is Loretta ready to decline?
Well, probably not. Now that Loretta is bound for Beantown, he's likely start at second base and bat ahead of David Ortiz in a far more potent lineup than the .500 Padres. Moreover, going from PETCO Park to Fenway Park could play a huge part in boosting a resurgence from the guy who batted .335 with 16 homers and a .495 SLG just a year ago. With Loretta in Boston, expect a comeback season across the board in 2006.
Mirabelli is more of a fan favorite than a guy worth owning in a fantasy league. He has never accumulated more than 230 at-bats in a season, and in a huge pitchers' park, now wouldn't be the time to start. Mirabelli will likely complete for the starting catcher's job during the Padres' spring camp.
Trading Mark Loretta opens up a starting slot for Padres' top prospect Josh Barfield. The son of former player Jesse Barfield, Josh hit .310 with 15 homers and 20 steals for the Triple-A Portland Beavers. The 22-year-old Barfield merits a significant amount of surveillance in Spring Training. After all, it isn't every year that a young second baseman comes along with the potential to go 20-20. That is, other than Rickie Weeks.
In acquiring Johnny Estrada, the Diamondbacks filled a hole at catcher where Chris Snyder hit .202 in 2005. Just a year removed from a breakout year, when he had a .314 average, 76 RBIs and a .450 SLG, Estrada looked like a completely different hitter in 2005. The 29-year-old California native was hindered by back problems and hit .261 with a .303 on-base percentage and 39 RBIs in 357 at-bats. The location change from Atlanta to Arizona is a fruitful tradeoff, as Chase Field produces more homers than Turner Field. Barring an injury, expect Estrada to bounce back, but not quite at the level of his 2004 performance. If you draft Estrada as a number two catcher in fantasy leagues, you'll likely earn more than you pay.
The impressive rookie season from Brian McCann enabled the Braves to deal Estrada. McCann, 21, slugged .476 for the Double-A Mississippi Braves and displayed enhanced strike zone judgment at the plate. When he was called up the Majors, McCann hit .278 with five dingers in 180 at-bats. With developing skills, McCann has the talent to be a sleeper as a full-time catcher next season. Keep him on your radar.
Lance Cormier and Oscar Villarreal should give the Braves some middle relief depth, especially after Kyle Farnsworth left for the New York Yankees. Cormier is the bolder, healthier pitcher of the two, and specializes in persuading groundouts along with the occasional whiff. The right-hander has struggled a bit with command, but at age 25, he's showing steady progress in that area. Should the Braves remain pat, Cormier may be a dark horse for late-inning duties. More likely, Cormier should continue to grow as a middle reliever and present slim fantasy value.
Villarreal has been stifled by injuries the past couple of years. With a strong Spring Training, he could make the 2006 Braves Opening Day Roster.
Sean Burroughs, 25, never quite lived up to the potential envisioned of him that led the San Diego Padres to draft him in the first round (ninth pick overall) of the 1998 draft. Burroughs' offensive production has declined in each of the last two seasons. In 2005, the third baseman was reduced to a bench role, hitting .250 with one homer in 284 at-bats.
After failing to develop into a solid everyday player in San Diego, new scenery could bring redemption for Burroughs. Leaving PETCO Park, a hitters' nightmare, for Tropicana Field is a good start. As it stands right now, Burroughs should get the opportunity to fill the void as the everyday third baseman for the Devil Rays. Keep an eye on him in AL-only leagues.
Dewon Brazelton though 25 and a first-round draft selection (third pick overall in 2001), was not tendered a contract by the Padres. He underachieved in the eyes of the franchise that drafted him. At six-foot-four, the pitcher has struggled mightily with control issues: Most recently, he walked 60 batters in just 71 IP and finished with a 7.61 ERA in 2005. Until he works to improve his wildness, expect Brazelton to struggle wherever he pitches.
Less than 24 hours removed from an agreement to trade Dave Williams to the Reds for Sean Casey, the Pirates dealt another left-handed starter, Mark Redman, to the Kansas City Royals for pitcher Jonah Bayliss and a player to be named later.
Redman, 31, was 5-15 with a 4.90 ERA in 2005. The 6-foot-5 southpaw pitched respectfully in the first half, but fell apart in the second half, allowing a ghastly 48 earned runs in 61 IP (7.08 ERA). He is a soft-tosser who, at the top of his peak, can keep the ball in the park and eat some innings.
Redman, who pitched for the A's in 2004, returns to the American League and gives the Royals a warm body to take the mound every fifth day. Starting in Kauffman Stadium -- a hitters' park -- for one of the worst teams of 2005 doesn't bode well for a rebound performance. What Paul Byrd and Brad Radke have proven is that unless a pitcher can make phenomenal strides to limit his walks, soft-tossers like Redman have trouble finding steady success in the AL. Unless you're in a deep AL-only league, stay away from Redman.
Bayliss is a 25-year-old who has thrown just 68 2/3 innings above Single-A. He will compete for a job in the Pirates bullpen in Spring Training and other than a slick name, offers no fantasy value.
The Pirates' acquisition of Sean Casey fills their need for a first baseman and offers much-needed protection in the lineup for Jason Bay. Casey, 31, was hampered by various injuries in 2005 and failed to meet the lofty expectations that he so commonly reaches. The left-handed batter hit his usual .312, but slugged only nine homers and 58 RBIs in 529 at-bats. Leaving Great American Ball Park for PNC Park should make it significantly more challenging to hit dingers, but a healthy Casey could do well to counteract the park effect.
Though Casey appears to have already achieved his career year, he's likely to drive in more runs and maintain a strong batting average so long as he is in good physical condition in Pittsburgh next season.
Williams was a nice surprise for the Pirates in 2005. Before the All-Star break, the lefty went 7-6 with a 4.38 ERA and 63 strikeouts. He tired in the second half, though, and his control began to betray him, as he walked just as many batters as he whiffed while going 3-5. Williams ended up leading the Pirates in wins, going 10-11.
Although the southpaw established career highs in every category last season, he will have a difficult time duplicating that performance in Cincinnati next season. At 26 years of age, Williams has gone back and forth between the Majors and the Minors the last couple of years. More importantly, he ceded 20 homers in 138 2/3 IP, which is a dangerous warning sign for a pitcher who is bound to pitch in a bandbox for a home park.
At best, Williams is a back-of-the-rotation starter who has no business being on a fantasy roster as long as he pitches home games at Great American Ball Park.
The Cubs and Marlins have agreed to a deal in which center fielder Juan Pierre will head to Chicago for right-hander Sergio Mitre and pitching prospects Ricky Nolasco and Renyel Pinto.
Pierre supplies the Cubs with a leadoff hitter who has averaged 52 stolen bases over the last five years. The speedster swiped 57 bases in 74 attempts in 2005, but saw his batting average dip to .276, below his career mark of .305. Pierre, 28, makes excellent contact with the ball, striking out only 45 times in 656 at-bats last season. Consequently, look for his average and run total to rise with better pitches to hit, batting ahead of Derrek Lee.
Pierre is in the traditional mold of a slap hitter who possesses very little power, so an address change to Wrigley field shouldn't play much of a factor in his stats line. As he enters into his prime years, anticipate Pierre to finish within the vicinity of a .300 average, 60 steals and 100-plus runs playing in the Windy City next season.
Sergio Mitre is a 24-year-old starting pitcher who has 120 2/3 career Major League innings under his belt. He has shown a good ability to induce ground outs, though opponents still managed to slug 11 homers off him in 60.1 IP last season, finishing with an ERA of 5.37. Leaving Wrigley Field for Dolphins Stadium should help in that area and Mitre will likely be offered the opportunity to start, given that there are open slots after Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett went north to Boston and Toronto, respectively. Until he proves otherwise, Mitre should be more of an innings-eater than a pitcher worth drafting in fantasy leagues.
Nolasco, 22, is the pitcher with the higher upside of the two prospects. The starting pitcher dominated Double-A West Tennessee, going 14-3 with a 2.93 ERA, 179 strikeouts in 161 1/3 innings while walking only 46. Expect Nolasco to start the season at Triple-A and if he pitches adequately, receive a midseason callup to the Majors. If Nolasco can recreate the command he showed in 2005, look out.
Pinto, 23, also overwhelmed opponents in Double-A West Tennessee, going 10-3 with a 2.71 ERA, allowing only three homers in 130 IP. He was outmatched in the Pacific Coast League, though, getting battered around to the tune of a 9.53 ERA in six games. Pinto needs more seasoning than Nolasco so don't anticipate him making a fantasy impact in 2006.
It was announced Tuesday that relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Steve Kline will swap teams in a trade between San Francisco and Baltimore.
Hawkins will be the pitcher to keep a watchful eye on. With the departure of B.J. Ryan, Hawkins could be given a chance to contend for the closer spot in Spring Training. Could he have success in Baltimore?
There will be a couple of dynamics working against Hawkins in an Orioles uniform. First, Hawkins is a fly ball pitcher with a propensity to give up homers in tight ballgames (6-for-15 in save chances in 2005). Second, Camden Yards has been known to relinquish its share of homers, a bad combination with point one.
One reason to hope that the 32-year-old reliever will improve with the Birds is their recent addition of pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who consistently works wonders with declining relievers. Either way, if the trade gets finalized, expect Hawkins to battle Chris Ray and Jorge Julio for the closer role as circumstances stand today.
Steve Kline could fill the Giants' need for a lefty specialist after Scott Eyre signed with the Cubbies this offseason. Like Eyre, Kline has minimal fantasy value unless you're somehow in a league that counts holds.
The Blue Jays signed A.J. Burnett to a contract worth $55 million over five years. The free agent starting pitcher prize of 2005 will face a disadvantageous switch from the NL East, in the pitcher-friendly Dolphins Stadium, to a home run-leaning field in the Rogers Centre. The shift from the NL to the AL brings to mind the ominous comparison to the 2004 free-agent prize, Carl Pavano, Burnett's former teammate.
Burnett is not Pavano, though. Unlike his former teammate, Burnett's success is not dependent on the caliber of defense behind him. At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, he is a classic power pitcher who features an overwhelming fastball that regularly reaches 98 mph, along with a deceptive curve. Burnett, 28, ranked 10th in the Majors in strikeouts (198 in 209 innings), walked 79, and finished with an ERA of 3.44. Not only did the Arkansas product show improved command of his potent pitch arsenal, he did an excellent job at keeping the ball on the ground, inducing groundballs nearly 2 1/2 more times than flyballs, an unusually high rate for a power pitcher. Moreover, Burnett limited his opponents to just 12 homers, a lower mark than any AL starter with at least 200 innings in 2005. As crazy as it sounds, Burnett is still an underrated pitcher in the eyes of many pundits and fans. His 12-12 record masks that he was one of the elite pitchers in baseball last season.
The Blue Jays overall defense is solid, with a nimble infield that ought to support Burnett's groundball tendencies. At the end of the day, his talent and skill combination are among the best in the Majors, so he shouldn't be too affected by league or park shifts.
The larger concern here is health. Burnett underwent Tommy John surgery in 2003, and has arrived at 200-inning seasons just twice in his career. Under GM J.P. Riccardi, the Blue Jays organization has shown an enlightened approach to pitch counts, and with the amount of money invested in Burnett, expect them to be highly conscious of overusing Burnett's arm. If healthy, Burnett has the potential to be one the better fantasy pitchers in the American League.
The Indians announced the signing of starting pitcher Paul Byrd on Monday. Byrd, 35, is a late-blossoming soft-tosser whose success is dependent on the location of his pitches. Simply put, Byrd is a control pitcher. In 2005, his strikeouts dipped to 4 1/2 whiffs per nine innings, but he also managed to lower his walk total to just 28 in 204 1/3 innings. The improved command allowed Byrd to go 12-11 with a 3.74 ERA.
Byrd may not be as fortunate pitching for the Indians in 2006. Jacobs Field has left pitchers vulnerable to the longball in the past, more so than Angel Stadium. And while Byrd has been successful in reducing free passes, he is not a groundball pitcher. As a matter of fact, Byrd has surrendered more flyballs than grounders in each of the last three seasons. If that trend continues, he could surrender close to as many home runs as he did pitching for the Royals in 2002, when he allowed 36. As a result, look for Byrd's ERA to rise at least incrementally in 2006.
The signing of Byrd appears to reduce the likelihood of Kevin Millwood re-signing with the Tribe.
Instead of investing three-plus seasons in catchers like Ramon Hernandez and Benjie Molina via free agency, the Mets have opted for the Brooklyn-born Paul Lo Duca to become their backstop. Last season, Lo Duca hit .284 with six homers, four steals, and 57 ribbies. The 33-year-old will play in another ballpark that depresses run production, but bat in an upgraded lineup along with former teammate Carlos Delgado.
While most 33-year-old hitters tend to begin their decline phase, catchers have tended to see a spike in their offensive numbers in their 30s, perhaps because the familiarity and experience with the daily defensive grind becomes less of a distraction with age. Combine that trend with the idea that Lo Duca was hampered for the majority of the second half with a hamstring injury and the possibility that he may be reinvigorated in front of his hometown, we could see increased production from the plate. Expect a mild rebound from Lo Duca. Lastly, the switch from Mike Piazza to the defensively savvy Lo Duca should help the Mets' pitchers in '06.
Gaby Hernandez, 21 years of age, has not pitched an inning above Class A. Although he has shown signs of dominance with the Class-A Hagerstown Suns, he needs time to develop. As a result, don't anticipate Hernandez making a fantasy impact next season with the Marlins.
Rafael Furcal gives the Dodgers an effective leadoff man on an offense that struggled to score runs due to a rash of injuries. The 28-year-old speedster had a career-high 46 stolen bases last season, and was caught only 10 times for a solid 82-percent success rate. He also batted .284 with 12 dingers and did so while battling through shoulder and knee injuries, becoming one of the most complete fantasy shortstops in 2005.
Furcal goes from one pitchers' park to another, in Dodgers Stadium, so the park effects shouldn't play much of a factor in the change. Furcal is in the prime of his career, so expect him to produce at this level for the next few seasons. He should again be one of the first few shortstops selected in any format.
The 30-year-old Luis Castillo will likely bat at the top of the order for an organization that is known to be aggressive on the basepaths. The Gold Glover battled leg injuries in 2005, limiting his stolen base total to 10. Assuming he's healthy in 2006, Castillo should rebound to swipe at least the 21 bags he accumulated in '03 and again in '04. The switch-hitter has a lifetime on-base percentage of .370 (.391 in 2005), so he could provide extra RBI opportunities for the heart of the Twins lineup. The Metrodome is more of a hitters' park than Dolphins Stadium and the artificial turf may also allow Castillo to gain more extra-base hits. Expect some sort of comeback from Castillo with Minnesota.
Travis Bowyer, a 24-year-old pitching prospect, has been primarily used as a reliever in the Twins system. He has a history of overpowering his opponents with strikeouts, a strong indicator for his MLB future. In 2005 for the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, the 6-foot-3, 200-pound pitcher whiffed 96 in 74.1 IP with an ERA of 2.78 and 23 saves. Coming over to a pitchers' park in the NL could also help marginalize the common mistakes most rookie pitchers make and ease his transition to the pros. Keep an eye on Bowyer. The lack of depth in the Marlins bullpen makes Bowyer a fantasy sleeper in 2006.
Scott Tyler is a 23-year-old starter who has dominated at times in the Minors, but has not pitched an inning above Double-A. He likely needs a little extra seasoning to improve his control, but his development may be accelerated with the Marlins' shortage of pitching options. Tyler was 7-8 with an ERA of 3.95 last year in Double-A.
Tom Gordon fills the void of closer after Billy Wagner recently bolted for Queens. "Flash" turned 38 a few weeks ago, and while he isn't the dominant reliever he once was, moving from the AL East to the NL East could help him sustain success as he approaches 40. Gordon used to fan a batter an inning in his prime years, but as the strikeout rate dipped, he learned to induce groundouts with the Yankees.
His new residence is an unwelcoming home run park. But Gordon just pitched two seasons in a robust hitting division, so he should be able to adapt. He also earned 46 saves for the Red Sox in 1998, so he isn't without closer experience.
Like Jon Lieber after departing New York for Philly last year, Gordon should have a consistent season if comes to the city of brotherly love. Fantasy managers that draft Gordon as a mid-tier closer aren't likely to be disappointed in 2006.
The Yankees' gain is a fantasy loss. Kyle Farnsworth had his best season to date in 2005 as the closer of the Tigers and as a setup man and eventual fireman following a midseason trade to Atlanta. The 6-foot-4 reliever was 6-for-8 in save opportunities in Detroit and 10-for-10 with the Braves for a total of 16 saves with an ERA of 2.19. With the Yankees, Farnsworth would be relegated to setup duty for Mariano Rivera, a clear demotion from his 2005 status as a closer.
Some have suggested that Farnsworth may be too erratic or doesn't have the intestinal fortitude to pitch under the Yankee spotlight. Unless you believe that palm readers give insight toward the future or that human beings can actually communicate with your pet, we are not in the business of measuring guts. Unless it's John Rocker, judging a player's makeup would be based on assumption or hearsay.
What we can assess are skills, which Farnsworth offers a good deal of. The former football player throws a fastball that occasionally reaches 100 mph with a two-seam heater that sinks, a decent slider and split-finger. Last season, Farnsworth struck out more than 11 hitters every nine innings, lowered his walk rate, induced more groundouts, and after years of pitching in Wrigley Field, gave away the fewest number of homers (five in 70 IP) in his career.
Yankee Stadium has been a fairly neutral park, but has a short right field fence, so he'll have his work cut out for him. If Farnsworth continues to keep the ball out of the air more often than not, look for the 29-year-old to continue to come into his own. If you draft Mariano Rivera or in a fantasy league that counts strikeouts, Farnsworth is still a solid reserve-round pick.
Normally, 'On the Move' wouldn't offer fantasy analysis for a player who doesn't switch teams, but since Paul Konerko is the top offensive free agent prize, he's being included.
In re-signing with the 2005 world champion White Sox, Konerko essentially decided that the grass was just as green in
the South Side of Chicago. Konerko will return to familiarity, and so should fantasy managers.
In 2005, the 6-foot-2 first baseman hit at least 40 homers for the second
straight season and drove in 100 runs while batting .283. He also worked
pitchers into deeper counts and took a career-high 81 walks, hints that
Konerko has learned to balance a powerful swing with an equally
What's more encouraging is that Konerko returns to a strengthened lineup,
with the recent acquisition of Jim Thome. Assuming Thome is healthy, he
ought to provide solid protection for the White Sox franchise hitter.
Though Konerko turns 30 in March, there's no reason why he can't produce
at this level for the next few seasons, especially in a home park that
favors the long ball. After Mark Teixeira, Konerko is the best available
AL first baseman in fantasy leagues.
After adding a left-handed specialist in Scott Eyre, the Cubs again bolstered their bullpen by signing former Indians reliever Bob Howry. The 32-year-old refined his control in 2005, walking only 16 batters in 73 IP, which allowed him reduce opposing teams to a 2.47 ERA.
Switching from Jacobs Field to Wrigley Field is an interesting change: On one hand, Howry will benefit from hurling in the National League for the first time in his career, but the fly ball pitcher may surrender a few extra homers in the Windy City.
Howry will likely be the setup man in Chicago and should post respectable numbers in that role. Unless Cubs closer Ryan Dempster suffers an injury though, don't expect him have much fantasy value in 2006.
Billy Wagner gives the Mets the closer they've been after for quite some time. The flamethrowing lefty will turn 35 next July, but remains one of the best relievers in baseball and shows no signs of aging.
Wagner had a 1.51 ERA with 87 strikeouts in 77.2 IP in 2005, accumulating 38 saves in 41 opportunities. He'll also benefit greatly from pitching in Shea Stadium (a pitchers' park), as opposed to the smaller confines of Citizens Bank Park.
The only question regarding Wagner concerns health, a significant issue for a 5-foot-11 pitcher that approaches triple digits on the radar gun and that suffered a strain groin and sore rotator cuff in 2004.
Barring an injury, he should have a season similar to 2005. The change in scenery reinforces Wagner's status as an elite closer.
With the signing, Oakland has added another quality starting pitcher to one of the deeper staffs in baseball. This past season, Esteban Loaiza profited heavily from hurling in RFK Stadium, a field that was known for its deep dimensions. The 33-year-old righty had a 3.77 ERA on the year, but that number rose to 4.71 on the road. Will Loaiza be as fortunate with the A's in 2006?
Luckily, McAfee Stadium is also a pitchers' park, so Loaiza shouldn't face huge repercussions when it comes to home-field advantage and was one of the most underrated starters in the NL last season. The more obvious problem is going from the NL to the AL, which consistently has a negative impact on the average pitcher. However, Loaiza displayed a good amount of dominance with the Nationals, striking out over seven batters every nine innings and commanded the plate with a 2.98 K/BB ratio, so he switches leagues with a solid foundation.
All things being equal, look for an ERA slightly north of four with over 150 strikeouts and around the same win total as 2005 (12). Loaiza is a fair mid-rotation fantasy starter.
At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, B.J. Ryan has been one of the best relievers in baseball for the past couple of years. The 29-year-old southpaw completed his first full season as closer in 2005 with 36 saves, overwhelming hitters to the tune of 100 strikeouts in just over 70 innings and a 2.43 ERA, and had a highly respectable strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 4-to-1 (100 K/26 BB).
Ryan also proved he could pitch in a hitters' park (Camden Yards) and in the rugged American League East, one of the toughest offensive divisions in the Major Leagues, and limit right-handed opponents to a .206 batting average.
Ryan will again close in a park with cozy dimensions on a team with two Gold Glove winners (Orlando Hudson, Vernon Wells) and solid overall defense. Though he doesn't have the experience of fellow lefty Billy Wagner, Ryan has quickly emerged as an elite fireman and should be one the first few relievers taken in fantasy leagues. There is no reason to believe that Ryan will slow down in 2006 in Toronto.
The addition forces Miguel Batista out of the closer spot, perhaps returning back to the rotation or to middle relief. The Ryan signing also leaves the Orioles with a void in the back of their bullpen. Early replacement options could be former closer Jorge Julio or 23-year-old Chris Ray. Then again, the offseason is young.
When healthy, Jim Thome can generate a substantial amount of runs in the heart of a lineup. The White Sox are hoping that his surgically repaired elbow will be fully recovered in time for the start of the 2006 season. Whether the 35-year-old first baseman can stay off the disabled list in 2006 is something that remains to be seen.
Thome's best days appear to be behind him, and his stock will be considerably lower in 2006. He'll likely replace Frank Thomas as Chicago's everyday DH and hit in the heart of the lineup. Paul Konerko's decision to re-sign with the White Sox will also force pitchers to throw strikes to Thome. The shift from Citizens Bank Park to U.S. Cellular Field is an offensive a drop-off, though the South Side isn't exactly a pitcher's haven. Pay close attention to him in Spring Training. If he returns to full form, Thome could hit in the neighborhood of 30 homers in the AL Central. Projections aside, he's likely to be a bargain on draft day.
Citizens Bank Park should have a positive effect on Aaron Rowand. The 28-year-old center fielder didn't quite match his 2004 performance in 2005, slugging only .407 with a .270 average, 13 homers and 16 steals. Rowand displayed terrible plate patience, whiffing 116 times with only 32 walks, and that will need to be remedied regardless of where he plays. But if Rowand can learn to take a pitch or two, he could approach 20-20 in Philadelphia. Otherwise, 2004 will be viewed as his career year.
Daniel Haigwood is a 24-year-old pitching prospect who went 14-3 and fanned 160 with 64 walks in 143 2/3 IP between Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A this past season. The lefty has a fair amount of upside and has a shot at securing a roster spot at some point in 2006.
Gio Gonzalez, 20, was selected 38th overall out of High School in the 2004 draft. The young lefty showed promise in 2005, and has the upside to become one of the better starting pitchers in the Phillies system. Gonzalez could start the season at Double-A and with continued development, may arrive in the Majors by 2007.
The deal also opens up a few roster spots for each team. With Thome gone, NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard now has first base all to himself and has a chance to put up monster power numbers in 2006. Expect at least 35 homers.
The White Sox are likely to look internally for a replacement to Rowand. The early favorite may be be 23-year-old prospect Brian N. Anderson, who hit .295 with 16 homers and 115 strikeouts in Triple-A. Stay tuned.
The Mets and Marlins reached a deal, sending Carlos Delgado to New York in exchange for pitching prospect Yusmeiro Petit, 25-year-old first baseman Mike Jacobs and Class A infielder Grant Psomas.
Delgado gives the Mets the bona fide run producer in the middle of the order that they've desired since pursuing him as a free agent last offseason. The 33-year-old left-handed hitter has shown no signs of slowing down, hitting .301 with 33 homers and 115 RBIs in 2005. Dolphins Stadium and Shea Stadium are both pitchers' parks, so his production likely wouldn't be affected by the change in scenery. The Mets lineup also offers a stronger supporting cast of hitters, with Carlos Beltran, Cliff Floyd and rising youngsters David Wright and Jose Reyes. Delgado should cross home more often than the 81 times he scored last year.
Petit is the more talented player headed to Florida. Petit, who turned 21 on Nov. 22, doesn't throw exceptionally hard (low 90s fastball) but features a deceptive delivery that allowed him to strike out 130 Double-A hitters over 117 2/3 innings, with an impressively low 19 walks, in 2005. A strikeout-to-walk ratio over seven is a great indication that Petit is a polished pitcher that could make an impact sooner rather than later once he reaches the pros. He'll likely begin the season gaining more experience in Triple-A and may be called up later in the year if the Marlins need help in the rotation. If Petit continues to fool hitters in Triple-A, be ready to pounce once he is called up to the Majors.
Jacobs gives the Marlins a replacement for Delgado at first. Jacobs had a .323 average with 25 homers in 434 Double-A at-bats in 2005. The bad news is that he was 24, an age where batters are either already in the Majors or in Triple-A. He raised some eyebrows when he went 4-for-5 with two homers in just his fourth game in the Majors, and managed to slug 11 homers in just 100 Major League at-bats. Regardless, Jacobs still struggles with swinging at balls outside of the strike zone, a flaw that could be exposed over a full season in the NL if it isn't corrected. If he plays every day, look for Jacobs to go through his share of ups and downs in his rookie season.
Josh Beckett will follow in the footsteps of his boyhood idol Roger Clemens when he puts on a Red Sox cap in 2006. A season after going a career-best 15-8 for the Marlins, the Texas-born right-hander has a decent chance at eclipsing that win total if he can stay healthy in Boston. However, that's a big 'if' considering that Beckett has had blister problems in each of the last four years and has never pitched 200 innings in a single season.
In context, Beckett is only 25 years old and already has 609 innings under his belt while most pitchers his age are getting their feet wet at that age. He has averaged about a strikeout an inning for his career, possessing a power-pitching arsenal that makes him difficult to hit in any league. Beckett will face the challenge of moving from Dolphins Stadium, a good pitchers' park in the NL, to the battle-tested AL East and the cozier confines of Fenway. But Beckett is not your average pitcher, and is entering into the prime years of his career. Last season, the 6-foot-5 starter had a 3.37 ERA with 166 strikeouts and 58 walks. If he can straighten out his blister problems and reach 200-plus innings, look for Beckett to be a Cy Young candidate in 2006.
Mike Lowell had a rough season in 2005, hitting .236 with eight homers in 500 at-bats. Nevertheless, facing the Green Monster with a solid supporting cast could be a big boost. After experiencing the worst season of his career, look for the 31-year-old third baseman to belt at least 20 dingers and rebound with the Red Sox.
Guillermo Mota got beat up in 2005. He began the season as the Marlins closer, went on the DL, and struggled for the rest of the year in a middle relief role. After limiting opponents to a 2.14 ERA just a year earlier, Mota finished with a 4.70 ERA. Ultimately, Mota is not a bad pitcher. He had a similar walk rate, home run rate, and more strikeouts than in 2004. Mota's problems were due to hitters slugging .445 off him and most likely, a general frustration with losing his role as fireman on a team that failed to meet expectations. While the shift from Dolphins Stadium to Fenway Park is a negative one, expect Mota to perfom somewhere in between his 2004 and 2005 seasons, as a middle reliever in Beantown.
Scouts have coveted the five-tool 22-year-old shortstop Hanley Ramirez for years. A season after hitting .310 with a .512 slugging percentage and 12 steals in Double-A, Ramirez regressed in 2005, with an OPS of .720 in the same league. If the Marlins decide against bringing back Alex Gonzalez, Ramirez has a shot at winning the starting shortstop spot out of Spring Training. If he does, don't expect superstar numbers in his rookie season, but his speed and potential power make him a player worth taking a flyer on in the reserve rounds.
Anibal Sanchez is one of the best Red Sox pitching prospects in a farm system full of gems. He projects as a future No. 1 or 2 starting pitcher, but probably won't arrive in the Majors until at least 2007.
With the signing of catcher Kenji Johjima, the Mariners will look to duplicate the success they had in importing another Japanese star, Ichiro Suzuki. The 29-year-old Johjima was a terrific hitter in Japan, belting 36 homers with a .330 average last season. Then again, Kaz Matsui hit 36 dingers in 2002, playing for the Seibu Lions. So, will Johjima's numbers in Japan translate to Major League production or is he destined for the same path as Matsui?
The difference between the Mets middle infielder and Johjima comes down to plate discipline. The season before Matsui came to the Majors, he walked 55 times while striking out in 124 instances. Johjima, on the other hand, had 49 walks with only 45 whiffs. The ability to take pitches and be selective at the plate in Japan has proven to be one of the better indicators for offensive success in the Majors. Ichiro and Hideki Matsui are among the hitters who had more free passes than strikeouts before coming to the States, so it bodes well for Johjima.
While 30 homers seems like a long shot in Safeco Field, Jojima projects to be in the Ramon Hernandez/Benjie Molina mold with the upside to become one of the better offensive catchers in the AL. Consider Jojima a No. 2 fantasy catcher with sleeper potential.
The signing effectively forces 27-year-old Yorvit Torrealba into a backup role.
Scott Eyre was one of the best southpaw relievers in the game in 2005. The 33-year-old pitcher tossed 68 1/3 innings and struck out 65 batters with a 2.63 ERA. Eyre also limited left-handed hitters to a .182 average and surrendered only three homers.
However, Wrigley Field is not SBC Park. While San Francisco plays host to one of the most generous home fields for pitchers, Eyre may not be as fortunate in the Windy City if he gives up more flies than grounders, as he did in 2005 (0.79 groundball-to-flyball ratio). Eyre may still be successful as a left-handed specialist in a Major League bullpen, but unless your fantasy league counts holds, he probably shouldn't be on your radar in 2006.
After a year in which Mike Cameron struggled with injuries, played out of position in right field and was the subject of numerous trade rumors, returning to his natural position in sunny San Diego allows the outfielder to put more focus on his offensive game. That said, there are a few factors working against him.
He'll move to one of the worst hitters' fields in baseball. He turns 33, an age at which players tend to decline, in January. And his season-ending collision with Carlos Beltran, which required facial surgery, forces one to wonder how often he'll want to slide head-first. In 308 at-bats last season, Cameron hit .273, stole 13 bases in 14 attempts and slugged .477 with 12 homers. Assuming he's healthy, Cameron should hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 dingers, with 10-15 swipes becoming his new annual average. If reports are positive out of Spring Training, Cameron should again be a respectable fourth outfielder.
Xavier Nady never quite became the full-time outfielder that many scouts envisioned. When Phil Nevin was dealt to the Rangers last season, he was given an opportunity at first base. But he was unimpressive, hitting only two second-half homers. Although he hit .261 with 13 dingers in 326 at-bats on the year, most of his work came against lefties (.323 AVG, .452 SLG). He continued to be stifled by right-handers (.223 AVG, 45 K, 9 BB). Nady recently turned 27, and he is going to an organization that offers little opportunity for an everyday spot. Unless there are more moves on the horizon, it's logical to assume Nady in a platoon with 25-year-old Mike Jacobs at first base. As it stands, Nady's fantasy value remains limited on the Mets.
Perhaps the biggest winner of the trade is 23-year-old outfielder Victor Diaz. With Cameron leaving the Big Apple, Diaz may be given the opportunity to play right field on a daily basis. Diaz hit .257 with 12 homers and a .468 slugging percentage in 280 Major League at-bats, and he earned a .894 OPS in his stay at Triple-A. In a full-time role, Diaz could be a sleeper.
Contributors: Alex Cushing, Gregg Klayman
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