The postseason has been done just a few days and teams have not wasted any time moving on to prepare for 2012. We already have seen a flurry of options declined and picked up as well as our first trade.
The Derek Lowe trade made sense for both involved parties. The Braves end up paying about two-thirds of the right-hander's contract, but when you consider that even without Derek Lowe, they have more MLB ready starters than rotation spots and that those pitchers combined are making quite a bit less than Lowe (possibly even with Tommy Hanson arbitration eligible for the first time), a move had to be made. For now, the Braves will likely go with a rotation of Tim Hudson, Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor with Randall Delgado and Julio Teheran on the outside looking in. Fantasy players, however, have to remember that Kris Medlen will be coming back from Tommy John surgery and could fight for a spot too. In other words, the Braves may not yet be done moving starting pitching this offseason.
On the Indians side of the equation, they are acquiring a veteran innings-eater. Tommy John surgery for both Hector Rondon early last year and Carlos Carrasco late this year and the lack of higher-level arms in their organization made the Indians buyers. But why Lowe and can he come back from a sub-par season at age 38? His 5.05 ERA last year is certainly discouraging, but his peripheral numbers actually remain rather in line with his career norms, producing a 6.5 K/9 and low 3’s BB/9. The ground-baller continues to earn the moniker quite well with a 59% ground-ball rate. Instead, a 66% left-on base rate, a .329 batting average on balls in play are the real culprits behind his late-season disaster. Lowe continues to be durable, making no fewer than 32 starts per season since 2002. So for $5 million, his durability and skills still make him a worthwhile commodity. But because of his age and that ugly ERA and a move to the American League, he will very likely go for under $5, if not $1 in most AL-only leagues next year. Not a bad end-game move in my opinion.
Sizemore Moves On
The Lowe deal was not the only notable move the Indians made this past week. After several injury-plagued seasons, they declined Grady Sizemore’s option and will let him explore free agency which does not necessarily preclude a return to the Indians at an albeit lower price point. Sizemore is now 29 years old and has not played a full season since 2009. When he has played, his plate discipline of the past has been nowhere to be seen, rarely walking and striking out far more often than before. On the postivie side, his power did return somewhat in 2011 as he posted a .198 isolated power and a near 13% HR/FB rate. What has not been apparent has been his speed. Post knee surgery, his stolen base skills have disappeared as he went from 38 steals in 2009 to zero last season. Right now, it is both a mystery and a gamble as to how Grady Sizemore will perform in the future. Whether he is worth that gamble or not is a league context sensitive question. Unless he shows something in spring training, it will be hard to justify chasing him at over $10 and possibly tough at over $5 too.
The Cubs are bringing back Aramis Ramirez for one more year. This is a wise move given a lack of organizational depth at this position. The 33-year old is still very much to be feared. His power/contact skills continue to make him a perennial .300+ threat. His 2010 batting average performance looks fluky given an out of career-context low amount of line drives and extremely high amount of ground-balls. 2011 represented a return to career norms.
The Twins, in a minor move, claimed Matt Maloney off waivers from the Reds. Maloney was unable to crack the Reds’ rotation despite his minor league success and his translation of his key skills to the Majors over his cups of coffee with the team. Maloney is a lefty known for his well above average control and command. He produced a sub 2.0 BB/9 in Triple-A this past year. He is far from a hard thrower and uses his fastball to set up his plus change and breaking pitches. His major weakness: fly-balls. A soft-tosser who gives up as many fly-balls as he does could be in trouble in the Majors. He will need to translate his strikeout skills to the Majors to be more effective. He is somewhere between Triple-A roster filler and a sleeper-candidate as a fifth starter.
The Pirates' catching situation for 2012 got interesting too. Both Ryan Doumit and Chris Snyder had their options declined. That leaves mid-season acquisition Mike McKenry and Jason Jaramillo as the veterans on the roster. Tony Sanchez is still at least a year away. In Double-A he managed just a .241/.340/.318 line, but did show good contact and overall plate discipline skills. His other hitting skills unfortunately have not emerged as of yet and it is now very reasonable to be skeptical of his ability to eventually be an impact player, let alone an everyday player.