In his latest Diamond Exchange, Rob Leibowitz covers the signings of Vladimir Guerrero, Brett Myers, Aroldis Chapman, Aubrey Huff, and much more.
The state of Texas made some recent noise world of baseball transactions. The Rangers made two dips into the free agent market signing both Vladimir Guerrero and Khalil Greene while the Astros announced the signing of Brett Myers.
The first thing fantasy owners have to remember – Vlad will no longer be outfield eligible for the first time in his career on draft day and it is the desire of the Rangers that he spend most of 2010 at the DH position as well given his age (35 on opening day) and the injuries he suffered through over the course of the 2009 campaign. Guerrero will benefit from playing in Arlington which has long been a park that helps hitters, though possibly not quite as much as one might think. Both parks help right-handed hitters in terms of home runs. Over the past three years, however, according to the Bill James 2010 Handbook, Arlington only helps by 3% more than Anaheim. Where Arlington may help more is Anaheim plays neutrally for batting average, whereas Arlington has helped improve it by 7% over the past three seasons.
As for Vlad’s skills, he still makes consistent contact, but both made less contact and walked less than typical for his career. For two straight seasons he has made contact under 86% of the time which when combined with his power can still allow him to generate around a .300 batting average. His speed, however, faded away four seasons ago and his infield hit rates, which helped boost his batting average a bit, have tailed off to sub 4% and 3% of the time. He still hits plenty of fly-balls and once recovered from the pectoral injury, he managed a HR/FB rate of over 16%, comparable to his career marks, giving some hope for a stronger 2010. Guerrero has not been the top guy to draft for a few seasons with the decline of his speed, game, but given plate appearances alone, he could easily return to the mid-twenties in home runs while still producing a good batting average. Keep your max upside for 2010 as his 2008 performance and you won’t be disappointed.
Khalil Greene’s days as a starter appear over. The lineup in front of him pretty much precludes an opportunity for consistent playing time regardless unless there are injuries. Simply put, Greene has never really grown as a hitter – walking 5 to 8% of the time while striking out 20% or more of the time. Despite that he is not as a bad a player as he was last season. You can thank a .217 BABIP for that. Additionally Greene is a fly ball hitter to an extreme, doing so over 50% of the time in attempt to hit for power. The problem is – he just does not have that much. He is a career 9.5% HR/FB hitter and he cannot escape it managing just an 8.6% HR/FB in 2009. In other words, Greene needs to rework his swing and come up with a new approach that gets him to realize that he is not the power hitter he thinks he is. The 2007 season stands out as a fluke when compared in terms of raw power (ISO) and HR/FB and driven by far the most plate appearances of his career. While having him play in Texas is interesting in of itself, he should still be of marginal interest overall and is only draft-worthy in AL only league play.
Brett Myers signed a one-year deal with the Astros pending a physical. He is coming back from hip surgery and will have to prove he is healthy. That aside, Myers continued to prove he has good control, posting a 2.9 BB/9 and a 2.2 K/BB ratio last season despite the injury problems. The note of concern deals with his strikeout rates and his velocity. Myers had lost almost 3 mph off his fastball from 2007 to 2009, so it will be interesting to see how he is throwing from that perspective in spring training. Myers also posted one of the lowest K/0 of his career at 6.4. The one item, however, that continues to be his Achilles heel are his HR/FB rates which consistently have been over 10% - 15.5% for his career and an astounding 23.4% last year. Only through a .273 BABIP and a LOB% over 80% was he able to keep his ERA under 5.00. One point in his favor is that Minute Maid Field is not quite as home run friendly as Citizens Bank Park, particularly with respect to left-handers where Minute Maid plays more neutrally, but an overriding factor is perhaps this - Myers has throughout his career been more effective against lefties than righties .741 OPS vs. lefties and .802 against righties. Myers is still only 29, but owns a career ERA of 4.40. If healthy, his stuff and skills are that of an upper end of the rotation starter, but given his history and the mediocre Houston bullpen he may continue to have trouble producing a sub 4.00 ERA.
Aubrey Huff signed a one-year deal with the San Francisco Giants. This move will make Pablo Sandoval owners happier as he will now stay at third base and get at least one more years eligibility there while Huff mans first base. Mark DeRosa, originally signed to play third, will tap into his position flexibility and shift into left field, though it is likely he will continue to see action at a number of positions this season too. Juan Uribe will be the real loser here as his playing time is likely to be even further diminished to the point of being a clear-back role/late-inning defensive replacement. After seeming to resurrect his career in 2008, Huff came way back down to earth in 2009, continuing to frustrate fantasy owners everywhere. Moving to AT&T Park will not help his home run out put either, not that Commerica was particularly helpful with respect to that either. That said, Huff’s 2008 season in terms of fly balls stands out as his only season as a pure fly ball hitter and the only time he has ever hit fly balls more than 40% of the time. Otherwise Huff’s career mark of 36.5% is a more appropriate expectation (36.4% in 2009). The one area that does not stand out as a fluke with respect to Huff’s power was his HR/FB. With the exception of his 2007 season, even when Huff was hitting fly balls only in the mid-thirty percent range, he could still be counted on to produce HR/FB in the low to mid-teens. In 2009 he converted just 9.1% of his fly balls into home runs after converting nearly 15% of them the season before – so one must be concerned whether or not the 33-year old is suffering a real decline in total or raw power. On the positive side Huff still makes good contact, doing so around 84% of the time last season. So as much as the 2008 power output may have been a fluke, I believe his 2009 batting average to be a fluke based on a .263 BABIP. AT&T Park does help left-handed hitters’ batting averages and that combined with his career tendencies, a rebound at least from a batting average perspective is possible.
The Reds made the big splash by signing Aroldis Chapman, 21, to a six-year deal. There is absolutely no statistical record here from which to judge him and given his age and the investment it is quite possible he could start 2010 in the minors and spend significant time there. Given the way his contract is back-loaded, the Reds have set themselves up with that in mind. What we do know from a variety of scouting reports is that he has two plus, if not plus-plus pitches in his fastball and slider with reports of him touching the upper nineties and even as high as triple-digits. It is much more likely that he works in the mid-nineties as a starter. It is unclear how good his command and control of his pitches are though he has struggled in that respect in international competition. It is also unclear are his fly ball/ground ball tendencies. It is also notable that his repertoire does not include an off-speed pitch which raises a red flag as far as I am concerned about staying as a starter. Whether you want to acquire him or not will definitely be a factor of league-specific hype or lack risk-adverseness. I certainly could not see paying into the teens to acquire him in NL only leagues at just this moment, though that could change if new information comes to light in spring training.
Scott Podsednik was signed to a one-year deal by the Kansas City Royals. I recently completed an in-depth profile of Podsednik over at Rotowire in their Rotosynthesis blog. You can get the full analysis of results of this signing by clicking here.
Adrian Beltre signed a one-year deal with a team option for 2011 with the Red Sox, pushing them to move Casey Kotchman to Seattle. It also pushes Mike Lowell to a back-up role until the Red Sox find a way to move him too. Beltre, meanwhile, is coming back from a season lost to injuries, so the standard draft-day/injury risk discount may apply here. The Red Sox signed him to upgrade their defense with the hope that his bat resurrects as well. Beltre’s issues last season relate to a decline in plate patience – 4.1% BB rate compared to 7.1% for his career and most notably the sapping of his power with his ISO dropping precipitously from .197 to .114 plus his HR/FB dropped from over 13% to just 5.6% without significant change in the number of fly balls he has been hitting. The HR/FB looks like an outlier when compared to his career norms and likely was highly impacted by the torn ligament in his left-thumb. Meanwhile, his BABIP and contact making skills, however, remained consistent with that of his career norms. If his thumb heals, there is a chance for a rebound.
Jack Cust, who turns 31 on Saturday, re-signed with the A’s where they expect him to be their primary DH and not get much in the way of outfield playing time this season with the signing of Coco Crisp and recently acquired Michael Taylor likely to push his way into a starting role this season too. What you get with Cust is what you see – lots of walks, power (career 25% HR/FB hitter) and lots of strikeouts that will mitigate the likelihood that he hits much over .240. Just keep in mind that he may also receive playing time challenges from the likes of Jake Fox who could end up platooning with him given that Cust managed a .221 .321 .300 line against them last season. In the past, Cust has not had much of a platoon split, simply hitting for low average against all pitches, but still being able to maintain a very high OBP and SLG. Keep an eye on that trend.
Ryan Church agreed to a one-year deal with the Pirates who figure to use him as a part-time player in all three outfield positions, though primarily in right field, possibly platooning with Garrett Jones. If Brandon Moss wins a side of the platoon, then Church will be limited to more of a back-up role. The 31-year old hit .290 .350 .405 against righties in 2009 and mustered just a paltry .213 .297 .313 against lefties. While those numbers against lefties are worse than his career numbers against them, his OBP of .321 and sub .400 SLG against them warrants his use as a part-time player. Also keep in mind that he dealt with back problems last season which were a likely culprit in his decline in HR/FB from over 16% to 4% as compared to his 11.7% mark for his careers. Back problems have a high rate of recurrence, so caution is warranted here. Recommended for NL only league play only.