If you need a break from baseball, accept my apology.
The injury bug that has hit the pitchers the last few years has naturally affected the fantasy world. As a result, some people have padded their bench with more hurlers than in the past. Some others have relied on the inevitable turnover to pick up players from the waiver wire during the season. Both strategies worked well.
Then came 2015. Looking around at various leagues, including the “expert” ones, it became apparent that most fantasy teams that did well this year have started the season with a solid pitching staff. Their draft strategy did not rely on picking up free agents during the season. Specifically, the winning teams did not start the season with one or two pitchers picked up in the last rounds of the snake draft or purchased for $1 at the end of the auction.
Bad pitchers may ruin your ERA and WHIP. To win, one must do well in these two categories.
Having to rely on one or two free agents is of course unavoidable. However, no new pitcher promoted during the 2015 season either matched a Jose Fernandez of 2014 or in any way shined to the point of carrying a team to the crown. Chris Heston was good for a few weeks at the beginning of the season. Mike Montgomery did well for a couple of months in the middle of the season and Luis Severino was a good late-season pick-up. Other highly regarded prospects who were promoted to the Majors in 2015 (Taylor Jungmann, Andrew Heaney, Jon Gray, Aaron Nola, John Lamb, Matt Wisler, Steven Matz and Cody Anderson) all had their ups and downs. That said, it is my expectation that after having acquired the major league experience, most of these players will do well in 2016.
One pitcher who missed the beginning of the season and performed very well was Jaime Garcia, but Garcia is not a prospect.
2016 will likely be no different. Consequently, it may be reasonable to get four pitchers in the first ten rounds of snake drafts or spend between $90 and $100 on pitching in an auction. This amount is a bit more than what the current wisdom tells us about the hitters/pitchers ratio.
This auction dollar amount includes closers. How to draft closers is a perennial question. One valid option is to punt the category. Punting either Saves or Stolen Bases is the easiest way to dedicate auction dollars or early-round picks to other areas. Picking up a top-tier closer and two additional ones at the end of the draft or for $1 at the auction is another valid alternative. There are plenty of turnovers in this position and new closers will pop up on the waiver wire.
However, I found that the best draft strategy is to pick up three mid-tier relievers, at $10 to $12 each, who have solid job security at the beginning of the season. By the time one is replaced by his Major League team, which is quite likely, your team will have accumulated more saves than most.
My first auction for 2016 is coming up less than a month from today at the Arizona First Pitch in Phoenix. The crowd at the AFP is well informed. I will report on how this group approaches the 2016 pitching. It is never too soon to think about next season.
This year I once again had the joy of participating in Tout Wars, marking my 15th season in the league. Last season I came in (a somewhat distant) second place. After years of going with a heavy hitting approach, I have opted for a more balanced approach, this season utilizing just 72% of my budget allocation on hitting whereas in years past I easily hit the 80% mark or a $200/$60 or more split.
Tools: I used to develop my own elaborate, visual basic heavy spreadsheet but in recent years, especially with Tout Wars now posting the draft on the fly on the Internet, I focus on very few items and avoid tracking other people'Âs teams. Now I only use 1) Grid with player values and 2) A single excel sheet that tracks:
My budget by roster slot
My roster and spending
By far the most important function is the budgeting function which I split into two columns, hitting and pitching. First, I assign a total dollar target to be spent on each column, then I assign possible dollar targets to each roster slot. The budget automatically updates to show me how much I have left to spend against that budget and most of all, it allows me the flexibility to amend the budget throughout the auction as opportunities (good values) present themselves and I can reroute budgeting to other roster slots on the fly.
1. Spread the risk, especially in the hitting department with my highest purchase being a $29 Jacoby Ellsbury. Also, I tried to focus my key purchases on players with good histories of durability: Zobrist, Seager, Aybar, Perez, etc.
3. Pitching: Draft one closer and set a foundation with a high-teens price and mid-teens priced starting pitching options. I was pleased with the combination of Sonny Gray ($19), Jose Quintana ($13), Drew Smyly ($11) and Glen Perkins ($16). I had also wanted to focus on some of the mid to high single digits starting pitching which the AL is deep in as targets, but instead ended up spending money on Kennys Vargas when he fell at a good price.
4. Risks can win you the league, but don'Ât pay full value for potential, especially with rookies. See Vargas, Pillar, etc.
Catcher: Salvador Perez $15 and Blake Swihart $1
While Perez is not the best OBP catcher, I like his durability and power. Swihart was one of my last players. Rather than chase a back-up catcher I might have to pay $2 for, I waited until every other team had their catcher slot filled so no one would outbid me and nominated the Red Sox top prospect for $1. He has only stop-gap type players ahead of him on Boston'Âs depth chart and could be up quickly. That has only further accelerated given the injury to Christian Vazquez. I was also pleasantly surprised Caleb Joseph fell to the reserve round, especially given that Matt Wieters' ability to stay healthy the entire season is rather questionable.
First Base: Adam LaRoche $21
LaRoche was my pre-draft target for first base and I had him valued right at $21. Considering how far above their projected price I believe other first basemen went, I was pleased to get LaRoche right at value, especially with his move to homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.
Second Base: Ben Zobrist $20
Pre-draft I had budgeted about $22 for this slot and figured it would go to a Jason Kipnis or Ian Kinsler type, though I did have Zobrist projected right around their value and joined the bidding late to get him at what I consider a $2 profit and while he does not have either of the other's stolen base potential, Zobrist at least offers quite a bit of position flexibility.
Third Base: Kyle Seager $24
I originally had this slot focused on a mid-teens tier 3B, but given the players already taken and the timing of the auction, I opted to reroute my funding to third base and purchased Seager, who has proven to be a durable, productive contributor. A three-year growth trend in the home run department in his early prime years provides reason for optimism too.
Shortstop: Erick Aybar $15
A pure consistency/durability of skills and health selection.
Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury $29, Melky Cabrera $18, Matt Joyce $10, Josh Reddick $9
I took more durability risks here in the outfield, though I believe much of Ellsbury'Âs injury history is often of the freak accident variety and was willing to purchase him at a very slight profit to set up the foundation of my team'Âs stolen base game. Originally I had intended to obtain two $20+ outfielders, but rerouted from here to spend more at 3B. I was willing to purchase Melky Cabrera at full value, considering he was shown essentially the identical skills that he displayed in 2011/1012 regardless of alternative substances and the move to Chicago could help him in the homer department. Joyce is a decent OBP play with some power and the Angels have very limited in-house options to upstage his projected playing time. Reddick is the greatest wild card of the group but was at least a possible bargain at $9 vs. my $13 projected price. It is mostly health holding him back now. In recent seasons, Reddick has become a more disciplined hitter, making more regular contact while still showing solid power. Anything he produces over $9 is a bonus as far as I'm concerned.
SWG/UT: Kevin Pillar $1, Kennys Vargas $5
Pillar was purely an end-game speculative play. The righty has nothing left to prove in the Minors, having shown plus speed and contact-making skills. I am not expecting much from him, but if the skills finally translate to the Majors, there is room for substantial profit. As for Vargas, he is a high-risk/high-reward type who I jumped on at $5 with the idea that it was a level of risk I was quite willing to take. In the Minors, he has shown solid OBP/power skills but has limited experience above Double-A and must now prove it over the entire season. It is these types of picks that can make a season. The lesson with taking chances on players at low prices is to not get married to them. If they fail, you can reserve or release them without much regret and move on as soon as possible to try and make corrections to stay competitive. Waiting for expensive players to turn things around, while prudent, is what can really sink a season.
As stated, I was targeting a mid to high-teens pitcher as my anchor and had Gray in mind in particular, followed by Quintana to stabilize the rotation. I bought both at or close to full value but felt I may have acquired Smyly at a minor profit depending upon how soon he gets back in April and if he can stay healthy for the remainder of the season. These three give my team a nice solid foundation in innings, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. As for Gallardo, I am hoping Texas does not have too great an impact on his performance given his solid ground ball tendencies. The three-year decline in strikeouts is a bit alarming, but at the same time he's had a three-year improvement in throwing strikes. Worth a shot at $6. Darren O'Day is Zach Britton's primary setup man and has been a consistent high single-digit to low-teens dollar earner for the last three seasons. I selected Guthrie and Straily along with Oberholtzer in the reserve round as streaming options, though I may switch to more relievers to avoid the negative ERA/WHIP impacts they'Âll likely create. Matt Moore is a wild card who could be back in June.
Reserves: Caleb Joseph, Christian Walker, Brett Oberholtzer, Matt Moore
I have only not mentioned Christian Walker from this bunch. Should Chris Davis fail to hit again, Walker could be the next option for the Orioles. The righty had a break through minor league season in 2014, showing improved power, and he has in the past been known for his above average plate discipline skills. He's a dark horse impact player for 2015.
I believe this will be a competitive team. It is not necessarily or remotely perfect at this point, so I'Âll be watching the FAAB market and pushing for trades when necessary too. I hope some of my strategy here can help you in your upcoming auctions the remainder of this preseason!
Rob Leibowitz is a 25-year veteran of fantasy baseball and is entering his fifteenth season in Tout Wars. He finished in 2nd place in AL Tout Wars in 2014. His regular series, the Prospector, will return next week with a look at pitching for 2015 and beyond.
Heading into Monday, it seemed a lock that Nate Jones would be the White Sox’s opening day closer. Spring training had done nothing to dispel this notion as Jones appeared in eight games, striking out eight batters, giving up two runs and walking just three. Nevertheless, manager Robin Ventura named veteran Matt Lindstrom as the closer to begin the season. Lindstrom had appeared in just three games this spring, and while the 33-year-old had been effective over that extremely small sample size, he had done nothing to distinguish himself either.
So where do we go from here?
Well, the former Rockie, Astro, Diamondback, Oriole, Marlin and Met went out and got an opportunity right away and received credit for a save on opening day. AL only-league owners are already lining up now to chase Lindstrom with some serious FAAB on the off-chance he somehow holds the job down all season. It is not completely out of the question. Lindstrom was originally groomed to be a closer and did in fact pitch in that role, albeit poorly, in 2009 and 2010.
The 6’3” 220 pounder is actually coming off one of the best years of his career, obtaining his career high games pitched of 76 while posting a 6.8 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9. Lindstrom still throws plenty hard too. His fastball is regularly in the mid-nineties and combines that with a solid slider. However, the righty has never been a truly dominant strikeout artist.He's not bad at it, he's just not great at it. Instead Lindstrom has gotten the job done by keeping the ball on the ground (over 50% of the time each of the past two years), a good skill to have in a home run hitter friendly park.
Lindstrom’s nemesis, however, is the left-handed batter. In 2013, they batted .313/.400/.378 against him and quite similarly have a .280/.357/.394 line against him for his career. In other words, absent a new weapon to combat left-handers, it would appear likely that this career trend will be exposed over time and a return to a more specialized middle relief or setup role is more in keeping with his skills.
Still, it must be noted that Lindstrom does indeed have opportunity, and while your expectations and bids should be tempered, a weak bid will not obtain his services.
First off, there is of course Jones himself. No Jones owner, barring those in the more shallow mixed leagues, should by any means consider dropping him. The 28-year-old may have struggled with his left-on-base percentage (63%) and BABIP (.330) last year, but was otherwise lights out as he produced a 10.3 K/9 and .30 BB/9 while generating a 51% ground ball rate. In contrast to Lindstrom, Jones did not show a significant split last year and in fact was more effective against lefties than righties.
The reason Jones is not the guy is due to inexperience as a major league closer. The last save Jones recorded was in Double-A. Jones has the high voltage (97 mph fastball) stuff and the ability to control it, but still needs to refine his command within the zone more and perhaps show he can be relied upon in high leverage situations with some consistency. The opportunities should come, but patience is needed.
Lefty Scott Downs has been considered a closer candidate at times, but he has really settled into a lefty specialist role over the past eight seasons and has never recorded more than nine saves in a single season. A career .213 opponent batting average against lefties will keep him in that role.
That brings us to former Dodger Ronald Belisario. Like Lindstrom, Belisario pitched in a career-high number of games in 2013 (77) and was non-tendered for those efforts. Also like the current closer, Belisario throws consistently around 94 mph, but generates even a higher rate of ground balls (over 60% each of the past two seasons). The righty has acceptable, though far from pinpoint control and misses a fairly low amount of bats for a reliever (6.4 K/9). Barring a bounce back to an out of career context 8.8 K/9 of 2012, middle relief is Belisario’s most likely role.
That brings us to our last viable option, Daniel Webb, who is something of a mild sleeper/dark horse candidate who has just nine games of prior big league experience. A former Blue Jay, the 24-year-old Webb has been in the White Sox organization since 2012 and was very quickly converted to full- time relief after his acquisition from the Jays. Webb is primarily a fastball/slider guy who tosses in an occasional changeup from his days as a starter, though that pitch did earn average and even plus reviews back in those days, so it is possible he’ll throw it more frequently once he’s in the Majors for a longer time period. Webb averages around 95 mph, but has reached as high as triple digits. The one issue with Webb will be his command. In Double-A last year, he produced a 2.2 BB/9 only to fall apart in Triple-A, where he posted a 5.6 BB/9. So do not be surprised if he needs some time transitioning to the Majors. With the exception of that one short stay, Webb’s control and command have been fairly solid over his past few minor league seasons, so there is cause for optimism.
Right now, Lindstrom is the guy, Jones is someone to hold and Webb is someone to stash in deeper leagues.
This past Sunday, I once again had the pleasure of participating in AL Tout Wars, marking the beginning of my 14th year in the league. As always, the event is great fun and an opportunity to catch up with this group who aren’t merely colleagues or fellow members of the industry, but old friends.
This year, Tout made the move to OBP, giving the due respect and, for our purposes, more proper value to players who contribute in the best way possible – creating opportunities to score as many runs as possible.
For years, I’ve used a heavy-hitter focus with budgets that were regularly at 80% or higher devoted to their acquisition. This worked for a long time but not as much in recent years, so I decided that a more balanced budget approach might be in order, so I opted for a slightly more conservative $185/$75 or essentially a 71% split. In the end, this ended up being a $186/$74 or 72% hitting budget, but not significantly different from my expectations.
Heading into the draft, I had budgeted on the pitching side around $25 for an ace starter, $18 for a closer, teens for multiple backup starters, and for low-priced, upside types in the end game. On the hitting side, I budgeted for three hitters in the mid or higher twenties, mid-teens for one catcher and high single-digits for my second while spreading the risk elsewhere.
However, my main tool during any auction over the last several seasons has been a roster-slot/budget calculator where I can just reassign dollars on the fly based on where I am finding value. Finding value and acquiring my needs will always trump my pre-draft position/$ slotting.
So who did I get and why?
C: A.J. Pierzynski $11 – Throughout the draft, I felt catchers were going over value. However, I had targeted Pierzynski from the start. Despite his age, the righty has shown excellent ability to stay healthy and in recent seasons some pop. Many projections this off-season showed less playing time and slightly less than usual value. My value comes from a more typical Pierzynski playing time projection.
C: Dioner Navarro $8 – Came back from the dead and had a great season over a small sample, so of course he is going to regress. On the other hand, Navarro has no competition with J.P. Arencibia and Travis d’Arnaud now gone. The 30-year-old has a pretty good history for plate discipline, contact-making, and mid-teens pop potential. He could be a bust given his history, but $8 is not a significant risk and there is a lot of potential for profit.
1B: Originally budgeted $22 at 1B. Abreu and Pujols both eclipsed that mark and couldn’t bring myself to go all in on Mark Teixeira. Instead, I played it safe and went for Adam Lind at $14. Lind and Pierzynski fit well with my “boring is best” philosophy, as fairly reliable bets to perform at a solid, not necessarily dynamic, but useful-stat adding way.
2B: Howie Kendrick $12 – I had $15 budgeted at 2B and think I got a bargain here. Kendrick is a consistently high batting average threat who actually maintains an acceptable OBP despite an aggressive approach, plus some pop to boot.
3B: Targeted low to mid-twenties at 3B on Longoria, Donaldson or Beltre. Felt Longoria and Beltre went over value, so was happy to get Donaldson at $25. I drafted him a year too early in 2012 as one of my sleepers, but it was nice to see him fully translate that 20-HR/good plate discipline skills to the Majors. Now that they’ve been established in the Majors, I think his production is quite sustainable with perhaps the .300-plus batting average being the exception to that.
SS: Maicer Izturis $1 – Drafted Xander Bogaerts to corner with the knowledge that I can shift him to short shortly after the season starts. I can’t see Ryan Goins holding down second base for the Jays for very long, plus there is Jose Reyes’ injury history, so Izturis should get plenty of opportunities to play if he can keep himself healthy as part of the bargain.
CI: Xander Bogaerts $15 – Bogaerts has interesting long-term potential as a possible .300 hitter with 20-plus HR power. Right now, at age 21, I think he’s capable of producing at a similar level to Jhonny Peralta and therefore I nominated him at a typical Peralta price of $15 with the intent being that I might freeze everyone else out. It worked, so I’m left to wonder how much more cheaply I could have gotten him had I not done the freeze bid, but I can’t complain too much since it worked. Now Bogaerts has to complete his end of the bargain.
MI: Omar Infante $9: Dependable, boring veteran good for a little pop and speed.
OF/SW/UT: Jacoby Ellsbury $29 – Felt this was a bargain even with the minor calf injury. Ellsbury’s injuries have been more of the fluke than the Jose Reyes recurrent type, so I am comfortable with him being my most expensive player. It will be interesting to see what impact the short porch has on his game too.
OF: Welcome to my AARP outfield of Nelson Cruz $18, Josh Willingham $13, Torii Hunter $15, Adam Dunn $15, Marc Krauss $1. I passed on quite a few players I felt were going overpriced earlier in the auction to find that there was not much left in value above the $20 range, but plenty available in the mid-range of talent to be had and decided to act aggressively in my pursuit. I suffered through a season of Josh Reddick and passed up the potential to get him at a $14 bargain and instead bought Nelson Cruz at full price. Krauss, Dunnm and Willingham at least all came at discounts and combined could be a double-digit profit. Still, again – this is a definite boring is best crew that will compile stats, though I am notably coming up a bit short on steals after making Ellsbury my first purchase and will have to work to correct this via FAAB or trades.
Pitching: Intended to go after Chris Sale or David Price. Ended up with Jered Weaver at $19. Velocity drop-off is a concern, but the skills are still there, so I'm hoping this ends up a bargain after having him valued in the low twenties. I nominated David Robertson to test the closer market and ended up taking him at $19, hopefully as a potential $4 bargain. I usually go solo-closer and planned to do that again, but liked Tommy Hunter enough not to let him get taken off the board at $9 and bought him at $10.
Other pitchers: Erik Johnson – Potential middle of the rotation type with upside. Nominated and bought at $3. I felt Mark Buehrle was a $5 or so dollar profit for innings eating purposes, similarly with a $1 Vargas and $6 Griffin, who should return to the rotation by mid to late-April. Purchased Dan Straily at $14 as my #2. He has good skills and can miss bats, but he may have pitched a bit over his head from a BABIP perspective. As always, the free agent market is where I typically craft my pitching staff from and I'm not afraid to drop underperformers.
Reserve Rounds: Maicer Izturis is my only non-regular hitter, so I took Francisco Lindor should the Tribe opt to move free-agent-to-be Asdrubal Cabrera. The Tigers have few options in their outfield, so Dirks could reclaim at least a platoon job in left field by mid-season or slightly earlier. Henry Urrutia was selected with the similar idea in mind as a player close to the Majors with David Lough and my other selection Nolan Reimold in his way. Having two out of the three players likely to see the most left field at-bats for the Orioles this season may pay dividends too.
Overall this team will certainly compete on offense and has enough pitching contend, albeit with some question marks, but that's why we play the season out.
The second base situation for the Royals had been a revolving door for several seasons with no one single player receiving over 500 plate appearances since Alberto Callaspo in 2009. In fact, since that time only two other players have even received over 400 plate appearances. The signing of Omar Infante should end this trend. Infante, who turns 32 on December 26th, has been a consistent hitter offering few surprises to his game as good, but aggressive, contact hitter with gap power. He once had slightly above-average speed, but that now appears to be in some decline and a return to double-digits steals will be more a factor of manager tendencies. Jim Leyland was one of the least aggressive managers on the base paths, so it is indeed possible that Infante could steal more in 2014 even if his raw speed is in decline. For now, Infante’s game is pretty stable as .270s or better with high single digits HR/SB potential, worth $10 to $12 in AL-only formats.
The Robinson Cano move has been quite well digested by now and the consequence of Nick Franklin becoming a principle trade chip is also old news by now. Instead, the Mariners’ moves to acquire both Corey Hart and Logan Morrison as a free agent and Carter Capps via trade is a bit more interesting, as both players’ level of production in 2014 is far from a sure thing when contrasted against the Mariners' $240 M man.
Hart signed a $6 M base salary deal with no option to share time with Morrison between DH and the OF, thus likely ruling out the return of Raul Ibanez. Hart missed all of 2013 due to a knee injury. Prior to last season, Hart had hit no fewer than 26 HRs in any of his three previous seasons. With the exception of his 2012 campaign, Hart has been a fair contact-hitter for a right-handed power hitter. In his last season with the Brewers, Hart struck out nearly a quarter of the time while hitting 30 HRs and saw his batting average drop to .270. Other than that one chink, Hart’s game has been fairly stable career-long and even at age 32, he could enjoy a full rebound given a healthy knee.
Morrison is the more frustrating of the two players. Here we have a player with an above average approach at the plate and the raw power to hit 25 HRs, yet he has a career-high of 23 accomplished in 2011 and a career .249/.337/.427 line. To be fair, Morrison has been limited by knee injuries and that has sapped his power on at least a temporary basis. But even in his 23-homer season, Morrison was a ground-ball hitter. The lefty owns a GB% of 46% and is coming off a 32% FB rate 2013. This combination makes it somewhat difficult to project a 20-plus HR season in 2014, regardless of his pedigree and potential. For now, it is difficult to recommend bidding beyond single digits in AL-only formats for Morrison’s services.
Small Spending Spree
The Mets were active after a long layoff in the free agent market, signing both Curtis Granderson and Bartolo Colon. The Mets head into 2014 with a rotation of Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee, Zack Wheeler, Colon and a fifth starter to be named from the ranks of their system (Jenrry Mejia, Rafael Montero or Jake deGrom) or from free agency. Colon, 40, now averages in the high eighties on his fastball and has turned into a pinpoint control artist, throwing primarily either his two-seam or four-seam fastball (86% of the time on those two) while mixing in the rare slider or changeup. Colon is coming off a season as a pitch to contact pitcher who posted an 80% left on base rate while producing a second straight sub .300 BABIP and 6% HR/FB in a very pitcher-friendly park. A rise in ERA of at least a full point should be expected.
After having signed Chris Young to man right field, the Mets are continuing that theme with adding Granderson to man left. What they have done is significantly upgrade the defense of their outfield, now manned by three players who have been everyday CFs at points in their career. Granderson and Young are both noted for their patience at the plate and their power/speed profiles, but their high strikeout rates as well. Ideally, Granderson and Young would platoon, but given the size and scope of Granderson’s contract, that is unlikely. Instead, the Mets now have a 32-year-old left-handed hitting OF whose on-base percentage should be nearly 100 points higher than his batting average. The shift from Yankee Stadium to Citi Field will impact Granderson’s home run output for sure, but there should still be enough left in this two-time 40-homer hitter to at least top 20.
First Base Solution
Rather than go the trade route, the Rays decided what they already had in 2013 was better than the other remaining options (free agent or trade) and gave James Loney a three-year deal. The move shifts Ben Zobrist back to where his bat plays best: second base. Loney had a nice bounce back season, hitting .299 with 13 HRs. While this level of production has value as a corner infielder in AL-only leagues, it must be noted that this level of play is Loney’s ceiling. The lefty is a line-drive and ground-ball hitter who has hit less than 30% of his balls in play in the air. In order to hit .299, however, it has to be noted that Loney produced a by far career-high 30% line-drive rate and .326 BABIP. In other words, as a fairly slow runner with a career .308 BABIP, it is more probable that Loney is more likely to be a .270s to .280s hitter in 2014.
Given the way last week went, one would be led to believe that the annual Baseball Winter Meetings had already begun. Well, as we all know, they haven’t. Sunday was a bit of a respite from transaction mania as team officials made their way to Orlando for the start of the meetings, so it’s a good time to recap what has been accomplished thus far and to discuss where some of the teams will go from here.
So far the Orioles have dealt away their closer of the past two years and added a few starting second base candidates in the forms of Jemile Weeks and Cord Phelps to battle Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty. It would not be surprising to see the team further address second base with a free agent signing and to address some power needs by adding a veteran to be their designated hitter.
Tommy Hunter is slated to close after his first entire season in relief. It was also his first with a 6-plus K/9 (7.1), but he pounded the strike zone with a 1.5 BB/9. They might just stick with him and spend their money elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, the Red Sox let Jacoby Ellsbury walk with the intention of installing Jackie Bradley in his place. Bradley has above average tools and a solid approach at the plate. He projects as a potential 10 to 15 HR/20-plus SB type player who could potentially hit for average and a good OBP.
More surprisingly, the Sox opted to retain Mike Napoli. When a hitter produces a .367 BABIP to hit .259, there’s a high regression risk (see 2012). The Red Sox went stop-gap with A.J. Pierzynski. Not noted for his OBP (Napoli hitting .220 will have a higher OBP), but even at age 37, a player with his contact skills and solid pop for his position are still worth $10-plus on AL-only draft day. Note, however, that the change in venue could push his HR power perhaps to the lower teens.
Xander Bogaerts will be taking over at SS with Drew departing, but they do remain interested in upgrading at 3B after Will Middlebrooks’ lost season. The right-hander’s undisciplined plate approach caught up with him and could have him back in the Minors full-time in 2014.
With a rotation that automatically places the Sox as challengers for the title, they focused on the bullpen by signing Eduardo Mujica to set up and as a backup plan for Koji Uehara. The 29-year-old is a strike-throwing, pitch to contact/ground-ball pitcher and has found success doing so for the past five straight seasons. Yet keep in mind he left over 86% of runners on base and still only produced a 2.78 ERA. For more traditional closers, this would have been closer to 2.0 if not under.
The Yankees would not cave to Robinson Cano’s demands and instead signed both Jacoby Ellsbury and Brian McCann while also bringing in Carlos Beltran and Kelly Johnson. Beltran, once the best centerfielder in the game, has become more of a liability due to his decreased range, and not surprisingly, he has not been a stolen base threat of any note since 2008. At 37, he’s a mid-twenties or better HR threat in Yankee Stadium.
Hiroki Kuroda has returned for another season while Phil Hughes has moved to Minnesota. Kuroda, notably, has essentially produced one of the most consistent five-year stretches of any pitcher around with K/9’s hovering around 7, walk rates around 2.0, BABIPs in the .280s, and ERAs around the 3.3 mark. It is hard to suggest much else different will occur. It is notable, though that his K/.9 has decreased each of the past four seasons (though to be fair so has his BB/9). Still a mid-teens AL-only buy at age 39 in 2014.
The upshot of all this activity is that the Yankees may still be one of the more active teams going forward. In the outfield, they have Brett Gardner/Ellsbury/Beltran with Alfonso Soriano at DH while Ichiro Suzuki and Vernon Wells both sit on the bench. Gardner, 30, is arbitration eligible, but is coming off of a $2.85 M salary and is the most attractive trade candidate. Both Johnson and Eduardo Nunez are currently penciled in as starters, but are both more suited to bench roles, so these are the likely areas the Yanks will explore in the trade and free agent market. Nick Franklin of the Mariners, who was displaced by Cano, actually makes a lot of sense. Michael Pineda was never healthy enough to pitch in the Majors in 2013, so it is also possible the Yankees will add another arm to fill the fifth starter’s slot at some point this offseason.
The Rays have exercised contract options on Ben Zobrist and Yunel Escobar, re-signed David DeJesus and Jose Molina for two more years and more notably, acquired both Ryan Hanigan and Heath Bell via trade. Hanigan, 33, is coming off of a .198/.306/.261 campaign. At best, he’s an end-game catcher who might hit .260 to .270 for you over 300 or so plate appearances. Heath Bell comes into Tampa as the favorite to close on Opening Day. He regained his strikeout skils in Arizona as well as his control, but developed an acute case of gopheritis and has had back-to-back seasons of BABIPs around .340.
Zobrist is actually a fair candidate for a power bounce-back season in 2014 given almost no change in batting approach or where he hit the ball, just a fluctuation on HR/FB. A return to the upper teens or low twenties is quite possible. Yunel Escobar displays good contact and OBP skills and a bit of pop, but paltry fly-ball rate and high ground-ball rates continue to hold him back from the performances of his Atlanta days. A two-year deal, let alone a one-year non-minor league contract to a post-prime David DeJesus is a bit astonishing. The lefty has never had a standout tool and his ability to hit for average and get on base vanished after 2010.
The big elephant in the room is what, if anything, the Rays will do with David Price and what level of haul they might receive in return. The move would certainly have an impact on the Opening Day rotation (insert Odorizzi) but could also have substantial impacts on the starting lineup too as the Rays would benefit from shifting Zobrist back to 2B and adding a 1B and moving DeJesus out of the starting outfield. This could be the most interesting move of the week, so keep an eye out.
The Blue Jays are no strangers to making a big splash after revamping their entire roster last year only to suffer critical injuries and ineffectiveness. For now, the starting lineup is largely the same as last season with Adam Lind’s option exercised while J.P. Arencibia was non-tendered (now with Texas) and Dioner Navarro signed to replace him. Navarro, nearly 30, has always been a fairly disciplined hitter who made good contact, but never saw his power develop until last year with the Cubs when he hit .300/.365/.492 while making contact nearly 87% of the time. It should be noted that Navarro had to hit line drives a quarter of the time to hit .300 and is generally more of a ground-ball hitter than a fly-ball hitter, so while Navarro may be a solid start for the Jays in 2013, expect him to come back to earth especially as he receives more consistent exposure to MLB pitching.
Josh Johnson was allowed to depart, and now the Jays will apparently let pitchers such as Kyle Drabek (returning from TJS) audition for the fifth spot. With much of their prospect depth utilized last off-season and the roster pretty much intact and actually still having quite a bit of potential to push for a playoff spot, it would be surprising to see the Jays extremely active other than in small moves the rest of the off-season.
While it had been noted that the Twins were interested in Ricky Nolasco, it was surprising when they actually opened their pocketbooks wider than ever before to land the righty. Prior to acquiring Nolasco, Josh Willingham had been essentially the only outside multi-year signing of significance in quite some time. Yes, the Twins have given multi-year contracts to players already on their roster fairly frequently over the past decade, but this signing may signal a change in the way the Twins conduct business. Well, to perhaps prove a point they went out and signed Phil Hughes to a three-year pact while I was putting together this piece.
Nolasco will headline a rotation that currently includes Phil Hughes, Kevin Correia, Samuel Deduno, and a battle between Kyle Gibson, Vance Worley, Scott Diamond, Liam Hendriks and Andrew Albers for the fifth spot. It’s still possible the Twins will sign a third pitcher to try and add more stability.
As for Nolasco, who will turn 31 later this month, he is coming of a solid season of once again displaying above average control, matching his career mark in walks allowed (2.1 BB/9) while bouncing back in the swing and misses department with a 7.5 K/9. When going through Nolasco’s velocity and typical pitch selection, there is barely a difference between his 2013 performance and his 2012 (and the rest of his career), which helps to make his 2012 5.9 K/9 fortunately look like an outlier.
In recent seasons, Nolasco has done a better job of keeping the ball on the ground and has been particularly adept at keeping it in the park too, not having posted a 10% or higher HR/FB since 2010. Regardless, Nolasco’s ERA has indeed fluctuated quite a bit over the years with 2013 being the first time he’s posted a sub-4.00 ERA since 2008. That was only the second time the former Marlin has accomplished that feat over his career despite consistently showing superior skills that would suggest he should be producing at a higher level with a consistently sub-4.00 ERA. Perhaps moving to a more competitive environment will help?
For now, Nolasco’s record suggests he is a #2 starter at best and better as an innings-eater number three, yet he will serve in the “ace” role for the Twins, going head to head with the top pitchers in other organizations while having to face the DH on a regular basis. So overall, while I want to say his 2013 level of play is sustainable, especially with better bullpen support than he had in most of his Marlin years, it would be overly optimistic to pay for a sub-4.00 ERA given his history and the changes he will be facing.
Phil Hughes, once considered perhaps the best pitching prospect in all of baseball, found himself a free agent at age 27. The righty had a similar season to 2012 with respect to maintaining a solid K/9 (7.5) while throwing strikes (2.6 BB/9), but once again dealt with long-ball issues (11% of the time) as well as an elevated BABIP of .324. On Hughes' side are his youth, reasonable health and base skills, but that really doesn't tell the whole story. A move to a smaller market/lower scrutiny situation could help, but that’s purely subjective. What Hughes needs to do to produce results that not only make him viable for fantasy purposes, but keep him in the Twins’ rotation, is to reduce the number of long balls. Target Field will aid Hughes a little bit in that respect, but mostly it will be on Hughes and his ability to improve his secondary pitches. He scrapped his curve in favor of a sub-standard slider last year and really has never had much of a changeup. For now, Hughes has not shown any signs of a breakthrough and is more likely to produce a 5-plus ERA than a sub-4.00 ERA in 2014 barring suddenly throwing a fastball with some movement, developing his changeup and/or finding a true out pitch. For now, he slots in as the Twins' number two starter, but Kevin Correia and perhaps in time, Kyle Gibson, should both be ahead of him.
After a very middling season, Dan Haren re-upped with the Nationals for a single season, perhaps in an attempt to rebound and profit it off to a larger degree as a free agent in 2015. From a numbers perspective, Haren was pretty much his usual self, posting an 8+ K/9 and sub 2.0 BB/9. Still, the righty has posted two straight seasons of 4-plus ERAs, including his 2013 4.60 mark, thanks in part to giving up homers at a high rate. Haren has now given up home runs around 13% of the time on fly balls allowed each of the past two seasons. To add to the misery, Haren also posted by far his highest fly ball rate of his career in 2013 at 42% contrasted against his 37% career mark!
A few things may be going on here. First and foremost, Haren has indeed lost velocity over the years. The former Diamondback was around 91 to 92 earlier in his career and decreased to around 90 mph later on, but now has averaged under 89 mph on his fastball each of the last two years. In other words, Haren continues to pound the zone, throwing strikes, but does it with a slower fastball and perhaps not as sharp in-the-zone command, which leads to the long ball.
Haren has now failed to top 200 innings since 2011 and is now 33 years of age. While some improvement on an elevated HR/FB% rate could help lower his ERA a bit, unless he is somehow fully healthy and increases his arm strength, it seems unlikely that he will experience a dramatic rebound and should be treated more as a middle to latter half of the rotation starter for now. Bids in excess of $10 in NL formats probably should be avoided.
Earlier this week, my thoughts were, well the hot stove league is picking up. Then things really did kick into gear with the Ian Kinsler/Prince Fielder deal. Breaking the deal down from a fantasy perspective, let’s first tackle the internal roster impacts for both organizations.
For the Tigers, the shift is simple and makes a great deal of sense considering Miguel Cabrera’s defensive deficiencies. Miggy was struggling even prior to even playing through injuries this season and the swap allows the AL MVP to move across the diamond to the less demanding first base slot. Top prospect Nick Castellanos will move over to his original position of third base where the job will be his to lose in spring training. It should be noted that Castellanos’ bat plays much better at third rather than left field. As a potential .280/20-plus HR hitter, he moves from being a mediocre/average regular outfielder to one of the better third basemen in a rather thin talent pool. Kinsler fills the void created by Omar Infante’s free agency while Andy Dirks will stay in left field provided the Tigers are done tinkering with their lineup.
Over in Texas, much like Castellanos, Jurickson Profar will take over the vacated position of second base while Fielder will primarily DH and receive occasional starts at 1B. The Rangers, unlike the Tigers, still look like a team that needs to make a few moves as they are still without a primary catcher or left fielder with the departure of David Murphy and free agency of A.J. Pierzynski.
On the performance side of things, as has been well documented, Fielder moves to a park that heavily favors left-handed power hitters. At first glance, Fielder appears to have been in a three-year power decline, managing just 25 homers in 2013. The change is not really in the amount of fly balls Fielder is hitting, but certainly in the amount of fly balls turning into homers, dropping almost 8% over those three seasons. Fielder is still a disciplined hitter who makes remarkable contact for a power hitter, and at 29 years of age, it seems a bit early to call him washed up.
Ian Kinsler‘s recent performance raises a few more red flags. Yes, Kinsler should be one of the more valuable second basemen heading into 2014 as a good hitter with some pop, speed and very good plate discipline skills, but his overall package has shown some notable signs of decline. Kinsler's power production was not all that different from his 2012 campaign in which he received 100 more plate appearances, but he appears to have now transitioned to a teens HR hitter rather than the 20, if not 30-HR threat he once was. The shift from Texas to Detroit will not make a rebound any easier. The other issue is a decline in overall speed and increasing caught-stealing rates. Whilenew skipper Brad Ausmus, a smart base runner known to steal a few bags during his own career, is likely to encourage his players to run, Kinsler will not get the green light if he cannot do better than a 58% success rate.
In a more surprising fashion than the Ian Kinsler trade, the Royals signed Jason Vargas to a four-year deal. It is not surprising that Vargas got a multi-year deal: just the length of it. The move fills the void created by the likely departure of Ervin Santana via free agency and shifts Wade Davis back to the bullpen, giving rotation opportunities to Danny Duffy and Yordano Ventura. Davis proved in 2012 that he could be a dominant bullpen arm and showed signs of it again last year when he was moved out of the rotation.
Over the past several seasons, Vargas has been fairly reliable showing his trademark control. A soft-tosser, Vargas somehow improved his strikeout rates above the 6-plus threshold in 2013 despite throwing softer and showing no real change in pitch selection or skill. It has the stink of an outlier and regression should be expected. It should also be noted that Vargas has been a fly-ball pitcher throughout his career and had been shielded for the last several years by playing in the cozy confines of Safeco Field, not to mention Angel Stadium, which has been even more home run friendly for pitchers. Vargas fills a void in the Royals rotation, but does so beside Jeremy Guthrie as a capable, but unspectacular innings eater. Keep you ERA expectations in the mid 4’s for Vargas and you might earn a profit should you decide to draft him.
Murphy to Cleveland
David Murphy, 32, signed a two-year pact with the Tribe, where he is penciled in as their right fielder. Murphy frustrated many a fantasy owner and Ranger fan alike last year with his dismal performance. That said, the skills he showed were not all that different from years past as Murphy once again hit the low to mid-double digits in home runs while demonstrating a disciplined approach at the plate. A .227 BABIP contrasted against his .302 career mark was a significant culprit for that line and a rebound is quite possible, though of course Murphy has never been a particularly high ceiling player anyway and is now moving into the latter stages of his career.
It should be noted that Murphy has had some fairly wide platoon splits with respect to lefties and should not be expected to top the 500 plate appearance mark like he did with Texas in 2012. Even though he has been technically listed as the starting right fielder, it is more likely that he platoons with the right-handed Ryan Raburn. For now, expect 450 to 470 plate appearances with a .270/.335 line along with 12 to 15 home runs. In recent seasons, Murphy had been good for 10-plus steals, but he has not been a high percentage stealer since 2010 and was successful in only 1 of 4 attempts in 2013. That part of Murphy’s game may have dried up and any steals can be seen as a bonus. I would not be surprised to see Murphy reduced to more of a fourth outfielder capacity in the second year of this deal as the Indians look to upgrade their offense.
The middle infield free agent crop has a strong feel of Robinson Cano, and then everyone else. Well when you hit no fewer than 25 homers along with a .310 average, and slug over .500 for four straight seasons there is a reason. Earlier in his career, Cano’s OBP was much more directly tied to his ability to hit for average given an overly aggressive approach. What makes Cano more attractive now is that he has indeed, three out of the past four seasons shown much more discipline which have has allowed him to post OBPs around the .380 range, making his long-term viability as a starter strong. An impressive part of Cano’s game has been despite career-long fairly low fly ball rates (31%) and 40%-plus ground ball rates, Cano has been regularly been able to turn a significant percentage of those few fly balls into home runs. With other players this is often an area of concern and is something to be monitored closely as Cano enters his mid-thirties.
Stephen Drew received his most plate appearances since 2010 and given a good glove and a fair amount of pop for his position, will draw significant amount of interest. Once a fairly strong contact hitter who could hit for average, Drew’s strikeout rates have become more pronounced in recent seasons. That coupled with significant struggles (sub .200 in 2013) against left-handed pitching may continue to keep Drew’s batting average south of .260. On the up side though, if Drew can remain healthy and increase his at-ats, 20 home runs is a possibility.
Despite the 50-game suspension, Jhonny Peralta is still one of the most desirable shortstops on the market. Defensively Peralta has long been thought to be better off at the hot corner, but he can play shortstop adequately enough. The 31-year old is a fair bet for mid-teens home run production and from that skills should derive most of his interest in fantasy play. Batting average for Peralta has been a crap shoot given wild fluctuations in his BABIP. For example, Peralta’s .303 batting average this season was driven by a career high .374 BABIP. Meanwhile in 2012, a .275 BABIP suppressed Peralta to a .239 batting average. Purchases of Peralta should be paying for the pop from shortstop and viewing a .270-plus batting average as gravy with a note of caution that Peralta did produce his highest strikeout rate in 5 seasons in 2013.
Mark Ellis served as the Dodgers’ primary second basemen for each of the past two seasons, but has been sent on to greener pastures in favor of Alexander Guerrero. Ellis, a solid defender at the keystone, really has not been all that worthy of note for fantasy purposes since 2007. A disciplined, contact hitter, Ellis suprises once in a while and still manages to hit for average, but his pop has diminished over time. It is unlikely that he’ll get another chance to start at age 36, but could still be valuable in a utility role.
Omar Infante has been a cost effective option for fantasy players as a good contact batter who has proven to be a .270s hitter at minimum and occasional .300 hitter, good for double-digits pop and a few stolen bases. A .333 BABIP is a bit over his head even though he makes contact more than 90% when contrasted against his career mark, so a slight batting average regression is likely, but otherwise the soon to be 32-year old likely has another good year or two left in him given the steadiness of his other skills and tendencies.
Kelly Johnson, who will be 32 at the start of the 2014 season has, established a fairly strong track record as a second basemen with good power skills, some speed, and an ability to draw walks. The issue, however, has been over each of the past three seasons Johnson has gone from a fair contact hitter who could hit in the .270s or higher to someone who has struck out around a quarter of the time over the past three seasons and has become a .220s hitter as a result. To add to Johnson’s misery, the lefty suddenly struggled mightily against righties rather and posted wide platoon splits. In recent seasons, Johnson was simply unable to hit pitching regardless of handedness. It is unclear, as it was with Ellis, whether Johnson will even be given an opportunity to play regularly in 2014, though unlike Ellis, Johnson still has fairly good offensive tools which offer a little ray of hope.
For years Brian Roberts was one of the top tier second basemen in the American League. He was also a model of consistency and durability. It is shocking to realize that the last time one could say that about him was 2009. At 36 it is unclear whether the Orioles or some other team will bring him back in any capacity other than backup. It does not help that he does not have much positional flexibility beyond second base. In Roberts’ favor, he did show some pop and occasional speed, and an approach close to his career norms, so there’s a small chance there’s something left in the tank.
Others Free Agent Middle Infielders: Robert Andino, Willie Bloomquist, Clint Barmes, Jamey Carroll, Alexi Casilla, Luis Cruz, Alberto Gonzalez, Alex Gonzalez, Cesar Izturis, Munenori Kawasaki, John McDonald, Nick Punto, Brendan Ryan, Ramon Santiago, Skip Schumaker, Chris Valaika, Josh Wilson,
As we begin our look at the potential first base free agent pool, it is notable that perhaps the best one has already been signed. Jose Abreu signed a six-year deal with the White Sox. The Cuban is 26 years old, is defensively limited to first base and is said to have plus-power. It remains to be seen how his plate discipline and power will translate to the American game. The White Sox had considerable success with Cuban players Jose Contreras, Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo. Then when you consider the success of other recent Cuban position players like Kendrys Morales, Yoenis Cespedes and Yasiel Puig, the likelihood Abreu is a legitimate MLB everyday player is pretty high. While each player has their own individual skills and talents, there have been some commonalities amongst this group in terms of plate approach. Generally speaking, they are fairly aggressive hitters who walk less than 10% of the time. While not OBP machines, these Cuban hitters have not been strikeout machines either. Even the least successful of this group – Dayan Viciedo, has a career 21.5% strikeout rate, which is not an egregious mark and has made him a career .264 hitter. As of right now, I would utilize Cespedes (minus the speed) and Morales as my baseline for valuing Abreu for next year, though I will also note that he has a swing and power potential that has been compared to current MLB studs like Miguel Cabrera. I would suspect bidding for him ends up being somewhat risk adverse and will probably peter out in the high teens to low-twenties in AL-only leagues. That would put him at around the value range of Morales albeit with higher upside.
Speaking of Morales, Kendrys produced the following lines:
2012: 22 HR 61 R 73 RBI 0 SB
2013: 23 HR 64 R 80 RBI 0 SB
Looks like a model of consistency, right? Well, not quite. 2013 was accomplished over 22 more games and 135 more plate appearances. Still, Morales was actually a better hitter in 2013, making more contact and getting on base more frequently, setting the stage for a solid 2014 follow-up as a 30-year- old. Power production remains a concern though. The knee-jerk reaction would be to say park factors caused the power outage and while this may be somewhat true, the difference between Anaheim and Safeco in 2013 in home runs had them both almost on par. In fact, Morales' HR/FB numbers varied only by 0.3% and in favor of at home. The switch-hitter has hit fly balls 32.5% or less each of the past three seasons, making a return to the 25-plus HR level far less likely. So although Morales still has some productivity left within his skill set, he should not be viewed as an upper echelon first baseman.
Corey Hart missed all of the 2013 season due to a knee injury. Odds are the soon to be 32-year-old will re-up with the Brewers, but a player who hit no fewer than 26 home runs in any of his three previous seasons is likely to draw interest. Hart has done a good job of making contact for most of his career, allowing him to hit for decent average despite wielding a right-handed bat. His 2012 campaign, despite the 30 HR output, did raise some red flags as Hart produced the most extreme strikeout rate of his career. If the plate approach does not return towards career norms and his wheels are not fully recovered from surgery, it may be difficult for Hart to keep his batting average around his career .276 mark.
Mike Napoli, who turned 32 yesterday, almost didn’t sign with the Red Sox due to contract issues and was instead forced to sign a $5M incentive-laden deal. In the end, he wound up earning most of, if not all of those incentives, proving he was indeed quite healthy. Napoli is what he is: an all or nothing hitter who walks often and strikes out about a third of the time. His .259 batting average was spurred by a .367 BABIP. In other words, keep 2012 and 2010 in your memory as that level of regression is quite possible. Draft for his power with the expectation of having to make up for his batting average elsewhere and you won’t be disappointed.
Adam Lind bounced back nicely from a lost 2012 season with a very similar season to his 2011 and 2010 campaigns. The lefty has a $7M option with a $2M buyout and at that price is likely to be brought back for one more year as a 1B/DH. However, his difficulties against lefties (.219/.261/.342 for his career will continue to limit his playing time.
Paul Konerko could return to the White Sox for one more year, but the Jose Abreu signing casts a cloud over that. Entering 2013, Konerko’s skills and power remained rock steady until he suffered a back injury which robbed him of his power and ruined his season. Konerko’s plate approach actually remained intact and a rebound is a possibility, but given the tendency of back injuries to recur and the fact that Konerko will turn 38 before the start of the season makes him both a risky selection and a potential bargain.
Justin Morneau, 32, has not produced as a top tier first baseman since 2010 and arguably not since 2009 from a power perspective. The lefty did manage to recover from post-concussion syndrome but is now more of a mid-tier sub-$20, if not sub-$15 purchase in single-league formats. Morneau still makes fairly good contact but has not been reliable in the batting average department unless his power is functioning at a higher level. Morneau’s power, even before the concussion, had been trending downwards and has done so for four straight seasons. That leaves him as a .260s to .270s hitter at best with mid to high-teens per season HR power, in other words a corner infielder possibility. It will be interesting to see if Morneau is even given offers as an everyday player this offseason.
The Rays found an effective, but low-cost option in James Loney to be their 2013 starting first baseman. The 29-year-old, however, has long since peaked as a good contact hitter with gap power. Sadly, Loney is more likely to regress than improve after posting a career high 30% line-drive rate without any other changes to his game.
Other First Basemen on the Market, but unlikely to receive everyday jobs: Lyle Overbay (failed to compile even a .300 OBP. More of a bat off the bench now), Carlos Pena, Mark Reynolds (actually is not all that different from Mike Napoli, but has not hit above .221 since 2009) and Lance Berkman (may retire).
Only two teams remain in the postseason, which leaves the fans of the other 28 teams mostly looking towards the Hot Stove League. With that in mind, it is time to peek at the free agent market with a look at the backstops.
The big name here is Brian McCann. The 30-year-old is also one of the youngest potential free agent catchers with only Jarrod Saltalamacchia coming in under 30. McCann was limited due to injuries and struggled to hit for average for the second consecutive season but actually managed to show more power per plate appearance than ever, posting the highest HR/FB ratio of his career (16.3%). Given the context of his career and absent a move to a better home run hitter’s park, this will probably regress. Otherwise, McCann is generally an unchanged player possessing above average plate discipline skills. McCann has noticeably lost speed and given little change in where he hits the ball (a 22% line drive rate to boot), that may be the main culprit in the decline of his batting average. McCann now owns a career .289 BABIP. A slight rise from his .261 BABIP performance back towards career norms could once again make him a .270s hitter
Moving on, we come back to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. This season, Salty received the most playing time of his career and responded with his highest ever batting average. While not the power peak of 2012 in which he hit 25 homers, this could well be a career year given the fluky-looking .372 BABIP and nearly 30% line drive rate. That combination most assuredly will result in a regression given Saltalamacchia’s penchant for striking out nearly one-third of the time. The .240 batting average range should be expected, and given his history it could be even worse. By the same token, Salty is capable of an uptick in power but that won’t offset the loss in batting average. Don’t get caught paying for his 2013 performance next year.
Former top prospect Dioner Navarro came back from the dead with the Cubs, hitting .300 and mashing 13 homers in 266 plate appearances. Navarro has frustrated many in the past due to his lack of results despite good plate discipline and modest power potential. Like many catchers, Navarro is not the fastest of runners, so a repeat .300-plus batting average may be a difficult feat. It should be noted that Navarro’s 25% line drive rate and nearly 19% HR/FB rates are fairly deviant from the rest of his career and should regress, though it will be interesting to see what will happen over a larger sample. Unlike many other catchers here, Navarro is unlikely to be a bargain as some owners will undoubtedly chase into his potential value by extrapolating what the righty could have accomplished with more plate apperances. While admittedly it is tempting to chase that potential, it is playing with fire given no prior precedent for such an offensive outburst.
A.J. Pierzynski will turn 37 before the year ends and even though he had a .297 OBP this year, he may be one of the better free agent options. The lefty remains an aggressive contact hitter with mid-teens or better home run power. Pierzynski continues to show off his remarkable durability, compiling his highest plate appearance total since 2009 with 529 in 2013. Provided a starting job, Pierzynski is still a $10 to $15 player in single league formats for 2014 and may not command as much given his age and a possible move away from Arlington, so he could be a bargain.
It feels like yesterday that I was writing a prospect profile of Carlos Ruiz, but he’ll be 35 prior to opening day. Ruiz missed time due to suspension this year as well as a hand injury. The now not so surprising power displayed in 2012 evaporated. Ruiz also was not the disciplined hitter he had been in the past, playing a bit like A.J. Pierzynski minus the power. It remains to be seen what capacity Ruiz will play in next year, but if given the opportunity to start, he has the skills to hit in the .260 to .270 range or better with mid to high single-digit HR power. Keep your expectations low and you may get a bargain.
John Buck was the buzz of the early season with his hot streak. The 33-year-old will continue to gain employment but will likely increasingly be used as a backup as he enters the latter years of his career. The book on Buck is well known as a hitter with legitimate 20-homer power, but because of his aggressiveness is very prone to peak and death valley streaks. Buck does not have much of a career platoon split. He simply struggles to hit for average against all pitching and is a career .230s hitter against lefties and righties alike. The best type of job he can hope for is as a stop-gap much the same to the one he fulfilled with the Mets, but his power and occasional hot streaks keep him on the fantasy radar as a second catcher in deeper leagues.
Not too long ago, I would have expected Kurt Suzuki to be right behind Brian McCann on this list. Instead, he is a catcher with an expensive option that will likely be bought out. The righty enjoyed promising campaigns in 2008 and 2009 and continued to be a very durable starter for the A’s through 2011, but despite maintaining mid-teens home run power and a contact- oriented approach, Suzuki’s ability to hit for average and get on base fell to unacceptable levels and he's now endured three straight seasons of hitting in the .230s while seeing his OBP fall to .309 for his career. The result has him back on a back-up career path and potentially even less playing time than in 2013 (316 plate appearances), especially since his power has dried up. The first season of a .245 BABIP contrasted against his career suggested a rebound, but now Suzuki has produced .240s BABIPs in three of the past four years. A rebound, barring a resurgence of power, seems unlikely even though age is on his side.
Of the remaining catchers, Brayan Pena is worth mentioning as an aggressive contact hitter who has value as a $1 catcher when he hits for average. In order to do that, his BABIP has to be above .300, which is a difficult feat for a slow-running singles hitter. A return to the .250 range is a distinct possibility.