Offseason moves: Free agency
Each season, fans lament the grandiose turnover that occurs on the roster of the home team.
While fans appreciate the free agency process, they’re not too keen on having to play a guessing game about the identity of the player wearing No. 24 in a given season. For some fans, that doesn’t become an issue except during the September call-up process. Others watch as their team’s general manager churns and burns through signings, callups and trades to tinker with the winning formula.
Fantasy owners have to act in the same fashion. You’re never contending down the stretch with the roster that you drafted in March.
I celebrate the free-agency process by giving a snapshot of many of this offseason’s biggest movers.
Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia (from Texas)
The baseball world expected the Yankees to swoop in with a massive offer and bring the 6-foot-3 lefty from Arkansas into the fold. Instead, Lee spurned their offer and rejoined the Phillies, for whom he pitched 12 games in 2009. He joins one of the most intriguing rotations in decades and looks to finally settle down after frequent moves.
Javier Vazquez, SP, Florida (from New York Yankees)
Following another dismal turn in New York, Vazquez returns to the National League and a fantastic pitchers’ park. He pitched to a fabulous 2.87 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP in 2009 for the Braves. I don’t necessarily anticipate a duplication of those efforts, but he shan’t blow up as he did with the Yankees last season. Vazquez represents a tremendous value as a low-end SP3 early this draft season.
Brandon Webb, SP, Texas (from Arizona)
The former NL Cy Young Award winner looks to rebuild his career in Texas. Owner Nolan Ryan wouldn’t put a timetable on Webb’s availability when I talked to him during Super Bowl week. But Webb told a Dallas radio station that he expects to go full-tilt in spring training. He’d pitched at least 180 2/3 innings in six consecutive seasons prior to his injury in 2009. If sound, Webb represents a tremendous value play in the final rounds of fantasy drafts.
Hisanori Takahashi, SP/RP, Los Angeles Angels (from New York Mets)
Takahashi struck out nearly one batter per inning while surrendering less than one hit per inning in his introduction to Major League Baseball. He did allow 13 home runs in his 122 innings of work, so his propensity to keep the ball high is problematic.
Jeff Francis, SP, Kansas City (from Colorado)
Perhaps a departure from Colorado will allow Francis to rediscover the form that made him a 17-game winner in 2007. He was hardly dominant that season, pitching to a 4.22 ERA and a bloated 1.38 WHIP. But he worked deep into games behind a strong offense. Francis is clearly not a power option; he registers only 6.1 strikeouts per nine innings. I’m just curious to see how he operates away from mighty Coors Field.
Jon Garland, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers (from San Diego)
Garland doesn’t dominate, but he logs innings and piles up numbers. He’s won at least 10 games in nine consecutive seasons, though he pitched to an ERA lower than 4.01 in only two of those nine campaigns. Garland earned an ERA of 2.72 in six starts for the Dodgers in 2009.
Brad Penny, SP, Detroit (from St. Louis)
Penny doesn’t produce big strikeout numbers, but when he’s on his game, he induces enough groundballs to register a decent ERA total (has a 4.11 career mark). He doesn’t miss enough bats, so his WHIP hovers in the mid-1.30s. Penny will win games behind the rebuilt Detroit lineup and will serve as a solid, albeit unspectacular, fifth starter.
Chris Young, SP, New York Mets (from San Diego)
Young has not completed a season since his breakthrough 2007 campaign (of 3.12 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and nearly one strikeout per inning pitched). In the past three years, Young has appeared in only 36 games (with 198 1/3 IP). He heads to another pitchers’ park in Citi Field following his five-year run in San Diego.
Aaron Harang, SP, SD (from Cincinnati)
Harang had a nice two-year run in which he won 16 games in back-to-back years. He’s struggled terribly in three consecutive seasons, posting a miserable 18-38 record with a composite 4.71 ERA. Perhaps his movement to a far friendlier home park will turn things around. Harang does allow a high number of flyballs, but lazy flyballs stop in the large power caverns in San Diego.
Octavio Dotel, RP, Toronto (from Colorado)
Dotel was in line to battle for the closer role in Toronto until the Blue Jays acquired Frank Francisco from the Rangers. Now, he’ll return to his familiar setup role. It’s a role that has served fantasy owners well in the past. Dotel will generate a strong strikeout number and log a high innings count (with 62 1/3 or more in three consecutive seasons).
Kyle Farnsworth, RP, Tampa Bay (from Atlanta)
Farnsworth continues to post a sizable strikeout count while limiting his walks. The longtime setup man has the first opportunity in the closer role following the departure of Rafael Soriano.
Kevin Gregg, RP, Baltimore (from Toronto)
The former Toronto and Chicago closer assumes the role for the overhauled Orioles. He’s always closed games fairly well, but his high walk rate (markedly worse as a closer than a setup man) makes you sweat each appearance. Koji Uehara is there to displace Gregg if he struggles.
Brian Fuentes, RP, Oakland (from Minnesota)
The longtime Colorado and Los Angeles Angels closer moves to Oakland following a brief layover in Minnesota. Fuentes readily acknowledged Andrew Bailey’s hold on the closer role and stands prepared to serve as the setup man. Fantasy owners need to be ready to pounce given Bailey’s injury history.
He pitched 9 2/3 innings of scoreless baseball for the Twins last season. I’ll be curious to see him work at a better pitchers’ park for 2011. Fuentes has generated a sub-1.20 WHIP in four of the past five seasons and possesses a stellar career strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.6).
Bobby Jenks, RP, Boston (from Chicago White Sox)
White Sox fans won’t be white-knuckled while watching Jenks in 2011. He joins the Boston bullpen to help bridge the gap to Jonathan Papelbon. He usually gets the job done, but he’ll make things interesting. Jenks is first in line for save opportunities if Papelbon falters.
J.J. Putz, RP, Arizona (from Chicago White Sox)
Putz performed brilliantly in his lone season with the White Sox. He struck out more than four batters per walk allowed, and generated a 2.83 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Following a two-year run in middle relief, Putz returns to the closer role that he dominated with the Mariners. If healthy, this fire-baller will produce four-category brilliance for fantasy owners in 2011.
Russell Martin, C, New York Yankees (from Los Angeles Dodgers):
Martin’s knee is still a question mark as we ready ourselves for the start of camp. Injuries have contributed to a precipitous decline in production in the past several seasons. He’ll look to make a new start in New York, although super prospect Jesus Montero is waiting in the wings.
Victor Martinez, C, Detroit (from Boston)
Following a brief tenure in Boston, Martinez heads to Detroit to form a potent duo with Miguel Cabrera. He’s hit 20 or more home runs in five of his seven complete major league seasons, a run that includes three 100-RBI campaigns. Martinez is a career .300 batter who will decimate AL Central pitching at Comerica.
Miguel Olivo, C, Seattle (from Colorado)
The well-traveled veteran returns to Seattle following a four-year absence. He remains a solid power producer, having posted a double-digit home run total in five consecutive seasons. Olivo will swipe a few bases and hit for a batting average in the .240-.250 range.
Adam Dunn, 1B, Chicago White Sox (from Washington)
I’m not going to belabor the point. You bring Dunn to your town to do one thing. You let him mash. Dunn has hit at least 38 home runs with 92 RBI in seven consecutive seasons. He’s going to strike out a ton and hit for a meager batting average (has a .250 lifetime mark). Fans will celebrate ample fireworks displays in U.S. Cellular Field.
Derrek Lee, 1B, Baltimore (from Chicago Cubs)
Lee isn’t a Triple Crown contender any longer, but he still generates solid four-category production. He batted .260 with 19 home runs and 80 RBI last season between Chicago and Atlanta. That’s your baseline for 2011 in the rebuilt Baltimore lineup.
Carlos Pena, 1B, Chicago Cubs (from Tampa Bay)
Pena is going to hit home runs, and he will strike out a ton. There isn’t a whole lot else to say. Cubs fans will be excited when Pena’s going right, and they’ll be cursing him when he isn’t. He isn’t going to suddenly become a .280 batter in Wrigley Field, but he won’t hit below .200 again.
Adam LaRoche, 1B, Washington (from Arizona)
LaRoche has been a consistent producer for years with little recognition. He’s hit 20 or more home runs in six consecutive seasons (has four seasons with at least 25 home runs) while averaging 87.3 RBI.
Juan Uribe, 2B/3B/SS, Los Angeles Dodgers (from San Francisco)
Uribe offers multi-positional eligibility and a mighty bat. He’s not going to hit for a high average (with a .256 career mark), but has hit 16 or more home runs in six of the past seven years (including a career-high 24 in 2010).
Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas (from Boston)
Beltre acclimated quickly to Fenway Park and posted another monster season in a walk year. He batted .321 with 28 home runs, 49 doubles and 102 RBI. It was only the second 100-RBI season of his career (the other came in his ridiculous 2004 exit from the Angels). Beltre may not match last year’s brilliance, but a return to 25 home runs, 85 RBI and a .275 batting average that’s in line with his Seattle marks would be a welcome addition in Arlington. His arrival, and that of catcher Mike Napoli, paves the way for Michael Young’s exit.
Melvin Mora, 3B, Arizona (from Colorado)
Mora’s power output has declined markedly in the past two seasons. He’d hit 14 or more home runs in seven consecutive seasons. Mora has hit a total of 15 home runs in the past two years combined.
He’ll hit for a decent batting average (.278 career), but a return to the power heights of the past is unlikely.
Miguel Tejada, SS, San Francisco (from San Diego)
Tejada isn’t the powerhouse that he was during his glorious run with the A’s, but he’s still a solid contributor. He hit 15 home runs with 26 doubles and a .269 batting average between Baltimore and San Diego. I suspect that Tejada’s final stat line for 2011 looks very similar.
Lance Berkman, OF, St. Louis (from New York Yankees)
Berkman’s stay in New York was a short one, as expected. He looks to establish a new home in St. Louis following a fantastic decade in Houston (had 10 straight seasons with at least 21 home runs and six 100-RBI campaigns). Berkman’s health is a concern, but there’s power potential in the heart of the St. Louis lineup if ready.
Carl Crawford, OF, Boston (from Tampa Bay)
Crawford batted .307 and established a new career high with 19 home runs for the Rays last season. He also stole 47 bases, his seventh season with at least 46 thefts in the past eight years. I can’t wait to see him operate with the short porch in right field and running for days on balls hit in the deep power alley to right-center.
Johnny Damon, OF, Tampa Bay (from Detroit)
Everything played out as normal for Damon in his lone season with the Tigers. That is, his stat line was fairly similar except for the fact that he hit one-third as many home runs as he did in 2009 with the Yankees. He still batted .271 and logged a double-digit stolen base total for the 15th straight season. Damon won’t rebound to his power heights, but 15 home runs, 15 stolen bases and a .280 batting average is a respectable level of performance for a fourth outfielder.
Bill Hall, OF, Houston (from Boston)
The versatile veteran infielder/outfielder offers two things to fantasy owners. Hall is going to generate solid power numbers, and he’s going to strike out a bunch while producing a weak batting average (.250 career mark).
Brad Hawpe, OF, San Diego (from Tampa Bay)
Following a long tenure in Colorado, Hawpe made a brief stop in Tampa Bay in 2010. He’ll look to rediscover his power stroke in San Diego, hardly a small task. Hawpe had hit 22 or more home runs in four consecutive seasons prior to last year’s output.
Jayson Werth, OF, Washington (from Philadelphia)
Werth leaves the comfort of the Philadelphia lineup for a new seven-year start in Washington. He averaged 29 home runs and 83.7 RBI with a total of 53 stolen bases in three seasons as a full-time player for the Phillies. We can’t help but to expect a moderate regression in his power numbers upon leaving Washington, although the Nationals actively sought to build protection within the lineup.
Manny Ramirez, OF, Tampa Bay (from Chicago White Sox)
Ramirez seeks to rebuild his career in Tampa following a miserable close to the 2010 season in Chicago (had two extra-base hits in 69 at-bats). To be fair, Ramirez did smash 25 extra-base hits in 265 total at-bats (including nine home runs), which isn’t exactly an atrocious rate. He’s worthy of a look-see in the final rounds as a reclamation project with a solid batting average and power upside.
Vladimir Guerrero, DH, Baltimore (from Texas)
Guerrero dominated in his lone season in Texas as part of the juggernaut Rangers lineup and now joins the revamped Baltimore squad. He’s batted .295 or better in 14 consecutive seasons with at least 25 home runs and 79 RBI in 13 of those campaigns. Guerrero may not be the all-around monster when the Orioles made their bid for him previously, but he’s still a four-category beast.