Pronk Lands in the Bronx PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ryan Carey   
Thursday, 07 February 2013 12:58

The Yankees quietly signed Travis Hafner last week to a one-year $2 million dollar deal to become their primary designated hitter against right-handers for the upcoming season. So what does the signing mean for Hafner and the Yankees? Well, any discussion about the former All-Star begins with the obvious questions about his ability to stay healthy. The last time he played a full season was way back in 2007, which also was the year the Indians signed him to the now infamous $57 million contract extension. Since then, here are his games played totals for the next five years: 57, 94, 118, 94 and 66 last year. So it came as no surprise to anyone that the Indians walked away from his $13 million option this year, paying him $2.75 million to officially close the book on a contract that has hamstrung the franchise in recent years.

Last season, the Yankees waited until the end of Spring Training before signing Raul Ibanez at the bargain basement price of $1.1 million. There was a reasonable expectation that after his post-season heroics and a season that saw him fill in admirably in LF after Brett Gardner went down that the Yankees would bring the fan favorite back to town. Well, it didn’t happen. The Yankees have been forced to take a harder stance this year with their impending free agents, and as such Ibanez followed Nick Swisher and Russell Martin out of the Bronx, and the Yankees set their sights on finding a replacement. The recent news swirling around Alex Rodriguez, including another hip surgery and connection to the latest PED scandal brewing in Miami, put even more emphasis on the Yankees trying to bring in someone who could provide some power from the DH spot. I haven’t seen it talked about much, but the Bombers are slated to start the year with Ichiro Suzuki in RF and Brett Gardner in LF. While both bring a lot to the table, they don’t provide very much pop.

Hafner, for all his injury concerns, can still do one thing pretty well and that is hit righties. Since 2008, almost 75% of his home runs have come against RHP. He also likes to pull the ball, which makes his move to Yankee Stadium a positive, as he should enjoy taking aim at the short porch, much the way Ibanez did last year. This is in a lot of ways a perfect marriage of team, player and ballpark. It’s a low-risk signing for the Yankees, who at the very least hope that Hafner can fill the void until a potential return of A-Rod around mid-season. The best case scenario is that Hafner thrives in a part-time roll, mashes RHP and puts up his first 20-homer season in six years.

So what does it all mean to you the fantasy player? Well, the downside to Hafner is he is a man without a position, and unlike David Ortiz, he can’t be counted on to play every day even if he somehow manages to stay healthy. It’s hard enough to burn a roster spot on a UT-only eligible player, but even less attractive when the guy can’t be counted on to provide regular AB’s. As such, I can’t really recommend Hafner in anything but the deepest of mixed leagues for the upcoming season. In AL-only leagues, he will have a little more value as an endgame pick because he should still be able to deliver some power and production until he breaks down yet again.

 Follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanpcarey

Last Updated on Thursday, 07 February 2013 14:05
Breaking Down the Upton Deal PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Friday, 25 January 2013 16:11

The motivation for the Braves is the easy part. They now have three outfielders 28 years of age or younger, each with 25-plus if not 30-plus home run power potential. Both Justin Upton and Jason Heyward are under contract through the end of 2015 while B.J. is signed through 2017. So this could be or quite frankly already is a dynamic outfield that will make the Braves a force in the NL East for several years to come.

Justin Upton still managed to hit .280 with 17 HRs in a down year.  The change in power production appears to be the result of a thumb injury. Upton experienced a 9% drop off in fly balls whereas his actual HR/FB production dropped only 3%. In other words, there is nothing in the numbers that indicates that the regression in power production will become a long-term trend. At 25 years of age, there is plenty of room for optimism regarding a rebound.

The Braves also received third baseman Chris Johnson as part of the deal. The righty is coming off of possibly a career year that saw him produce 15 homers and bat .281. However, the result looks rather BABIP inflated given his still rather aggressive (strikes out a quarter of the time) approach. It looks like the Braves may utilize Johnson in a platoon with ultra-aggressive left-handed power hitter Juan Francisco. That could be an ideal situation for both of these players.

In return, the Diamondbacks received Martin Prado, Randall Delgado, Zeke Spruill, Nick Ahmed, and Brandon Dury.

Prado slots in as Chris Johnson’s replacement at third base. The 29-year-old remains a modest ceiling player that controls the strike zone with low double-digits home run power. As long as the lefty continues to make contact and hit line drives, he’ll continue to be a .300 hitting threat.

The Braves have a deep minor league system with respect to pitching, so Randall Delgado was not hard to part with, nor was Zeke Spruill. The nearly 23-year-old Delgado is a hard thrower with multiple plus-pitch potential. Control and effective command of his secondary pitches is the issue and the Diamondbacks are deep enough in the rotation to send him back to Triple-A for more seasoning. For a 22-year-old in the Majors last year, he held his own fairly well and his future is still quite encouraging.

Zeke Spruill will be joining Delgado in Triple-A. The righty does not have Delgado’s upside and is a control, pitch-to-contact, groundball type who was unable to strike out even 6 batters per inning in the Minors in 2012. Think fourth or fifth starter tops.

Nick Ahmed is a shortstop noted primarily for his glove work and throwing arm, so at a minimum Ahmed should make the Majors as a utility guy. The former second-round pick is not a complete slouch with the bat though, possessing gap power, above average speed (stole 40 bags in A+ ball) and a reasonable understanding of the strike zone. The drop off in contact at A+ ball is a trend that will need some reversing though. He’ll start 2013 in Double-A.

Finally, Brandon Drury is a 20-year-old third baseman and 2010 13th round draft pick. The righty plays good enough defense to stick at third and makes consistent contact but is a very aggressive hitter who has yet to tap into the power projected of him. Time is on his side, but at the moment it is tough to say whether he’ll end up organizational filler or a MLB player.

Last Updated on Saturday, 26 January 2013 22:31
Slow Draft Saves Sleepers PDF Print E-mail
Written by Ryan Carey   
Tuesday, 22 January 2013 14:55

The NFBC Draft Champions (DC) format is one of the more innovative developments to hit the fantasy world in the past year. This style of play was created to provide a unique challenge for draft-hungry players, while making it easier to manage the extra teams by making these leagues 50 Round drafts with no in season pickups. What you draft is what you have to work with all season long.

These leagues continue to grow in popularity this season, and many of the Mastersball staff has a few of these leagues on the books for 2013. One of the keys to success in these leagues is making good use of your late round picks. One category owners always try to mine at this point will be closers-in-waiting, since in DC leagues there will be no FAAB to use to grab emerging saves. You need to speculate at the draft table on who may emerge, and that means looking at who has the skills and situation best suited to potentially providing saves at bargain rate prices. Last year for instance, I used this approach and was able to snag Tom Wihelmsen in the 47th Round in my DC league.

So, as you look to the 2013 Drafts, here are three guys I drafted late in my recent Draft Champions league:

A.J. Ramos, MIA – Ramos is a 26 year-old reliever who has spent the last three years working as a closer in the Marlins system, moving up each year to AA last season.  His numbers in the minors are impressive, with 288 strikeouts in 211 innings, to go along with 83 saves over those three seasons. He got a late cup of coffee in the majors last year and racked up another 13 punch-outs in his 9 innings of work.  The Marlins are a team in transition, and as such have one of the more unsettled bullpens this draft season. Steve Cishek is the favorite to open the year as the closer, but after him there is no real clear successor.  Mike Dunn is a lefty; Ryan Webb and Jose Ceda have been injury prone and ineffective. All this uncertainty points to Ramos getting a chance to work himself into the mix for saves at some point this season, and as such he is one of my favorite sleeper saves targets in Draft Champions leagues this year.

J.J. Hoover, CIN – Hoover came over from the Braves last season in the trade for Juan Francisco. He appeared in 28 games, totaling 31 strikeouts in his 30 innings pitched. With the proposed move of last year’s closer Ardolis Chapman moving everyone else in the Red’s pen up a notch, Hoover now only finds himself behind Jonathon Broxton and Sean Marshall for save opportunities. Broxton will open the year as the closer, but he could have a shorter leash than normal on a contending team. If Broxton falters then Hoover could find himself in a committee with Marshall for saves. I drafted Broxton in my DC league and scooped up Hoover in Round 45. Another name to have on the radar is Tony Cingrani, but I like Hoover a little more for this season.

Pedro Strop, BALJim Johnson was one of the best surprises last year for fantasy owners, as his league-leading 51 saves came at bargain basement prices. What made the achievement even more impressive was that he did it with a rather pedestrian 5.37 K/9 rate and only 41 strikeouts in 68.2 innings pitched. He was able to do this with a 62.3 GB%. It isn’t that big of a stretch that Johnson is one of this year’s prime candidates for some regression simply with some more bad luck on all those ground balls and the fact that it is unlikely the Orioles will be able to provide as many opportunities as they did in last year’s charmed campaign. Add in some recent trade rumors that have the O’s possibly shipping their incumbent closer to the Tigers and you have all the reasons you need to take a chance on Strop when looking for this year’s version of, yeah that’s right, Jim Johnson.  Strop has the fastball that most managers like coming out of the bullpen in the ninth inning, and actually saw an increase last year with an average of 96.4. He actually had a better GB% than Johnson last year at 64.3%. If I had to pick one name today with the best chance to be this year’s Wihelmsen for your DC team, Strop would be that guy.

Do you have your own late round saves sleepers for this year? Please feel free to share in the comments section.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 January 2013 22:07
No Pain, No Gain PDF Print E-mail
Written by Lawr Michaels   
Wednesday, 12 December 2012 00:00

Negotiations are a tricky thing. If you doubt this, just take a look at Congress.

Furthermore, as a Strat-O-Matic owner in the 70's, I played with the Royals, something I did for five years, giving me an irrational attachment to the Kansas City squad in much the same way I am inexorably tied to the Oakland Raiders. Just being born in Oakland, however, did that to me, as a eight-year old in 1961.

So, I was enjoying, somewhat vicariously, watching the Royals assemble a gaggle of prospects that potentially remind us of those great teams of the late 70's. Kind of like the Raiders were great in at the same time, but over the past 25 years neither franchise has produced more whispers than screams.

Which brings us to the Royals/Rays trade that gave Grantland's Rany Jazayerli fits, as he logically noted in his piece A Royal Blunder. And, though Rany lays out a solid case, I am not so sure.

For though I think it was tough for the Royals to give up their #1 prospect, and the 2012 Minor League Player of the year in Wil Myers, I think they made a move to try and progress, and even win in the best possible manner under the circumstances.

What they got for Myers was James Shields and Wade Davis, two pitchers who help change the complexion of the Kansas City rotation previously "anchored" by Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie, and potentially supported by Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar, and Luis Mendoza.

Surely Shields atop that group improves the visibility a lot, and though, as Jazayerli notes, Shields is not an ace, he has functioned as a #1 starter, and has delivered the goods.

Since Tampa has David Price, Matt Moore, and Jeremy Hellickson atop their rotation, along with Chris ArcherJeff Niemann and Alex Cobb, the team could spare Shields, much like they could spare Matt Garza. In the interim, the Rays now can fill the slot vacated by the departed B.J. Upton, possibly as soon as 2013.

In addition the Rays got pitcher Jake Odorizzi and Mike Montgomery, either of whom could help in the near future, while the Royals have added a stable force atop their rotation (Shields averaged 14-11, 3.89 over 227 innings since joining the Rays rotation in 2006). Further, Shields has been on a contending team for the past five years, and though Santana could claim the same, the former Angel's mean since joining the Anaheim rotation, also in 2006, is not that far off from Shields with 14-12, 4.33 numbers over 214 averaged innings.

The deal is as we all know, that you have to give up something to get something, and whatever else be said, Shields is a bona fide major league starter, something no one else included in the trade has proved to be.

True, Myers could prove to be good. Maybe as good as Upton has been over the past six years with Tampa, however, should the new Ray perform like that, it would likely be a disappointment.

In the mean time the Royals took a step towards establishing themselves with a team that got a little older in the clubhouse and on the field, for with Salvador Perez, Johnny Giavotella, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alex Gordon, where exactly was that to come from? If your answer is Billy Butler, no question he can hit, but as a DH, his influence is limited largely to the plate. Meaning yet another rookie presence is probably not the answer in KC this year, just like it was not in Washington last year, or even Tampa just as Shields began to come into his own.

Meaning Shields brings an attitude and expectation of winning that I think will benefit the young Royals, a lot more than adding more promising but still uproven prospects..

The reality to me is a trade is a good trade when each side gives up something of value, gets something of value in return, and then both walk away from the table with both hope and regret.

I think that is what we got. So did the Royals and Jays.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 December 2012 15:58
Revere to Phillies PDF Print E-mail
Written by Rob Leibowitz   
Thursday, 06 December 2012 15:46

The Phillies, having lost both Juan Pierre and Shane Victorino to free agency were hell bent on acquiring a new centerfielder. Earlier in the day they chose Ender Inciarte, but the acquisition of Ben Revere from the Twins supplants that move and increases the odds Inciarte will be returned to the Diamondbacks or traded.

Like Pierre, Revere is a player who fully understands the limits of his talents and plays to maximize them. Completely devoid of power, Revere knows that all too well and consciously pounds the ball into the ground, doing so nearly 70% of the time. Of course, Revere is blessed both with good hand-eye coordination and speed, so that combination allows for a 90+% contact rate and heavy rate of infield and bunt hits. In fact this accounts for about 45% of Revere’s hits last year.

The approach to make contact and utilize speed, however, requires an aggressive approach and reduces Revere’s value as a top of the order hitter. In order to post a worthwhile top of the order OBP, Revere has to hit above .300 (possibly above .310 to post around a .350 OBP meaning the lefty is best left for the 8th slot in the batting order.

For now, the 24-year old is quite capable of being a worthwhile fantasy investment, hitting for average and 40+ steals in contrast to less worthwhile real/sim-league baseball skills.

On the Twins side, they acquire two young pitchers in Vance Worley and Trevor May. Worley, 25, has produced two rather solid back to back seasons for Revere. A former third-round pick, Worley is known for solid command and control (back to back seasons of 3.1 and 3.2 BB/9) while showing an ability to miss bats (8.1 and 7.2 K/9). A .340 batting average on balls in play, however, sabotaged what might have been a possible second sub-4.00 ERA for the righty in 2012. Worley is primarily a ground-ball pitcher who averages around 90 mph on his fastball and mixes a cut-fastball, throwing a curve, slider, and change quite sparingly. There are no readily apparent chinks in the armor at the moment other than the fact that Worley threw just 133 innings last year and will be asked to substantially increase that workload and will need to show durability. Fortunately, Worley’s injury is related to bone chips and is a form of surgery that is typically one that has little or no lasting effect. When the season opens, Worley will have had almost 7 months of recovery time, so all systems should be go.

Trevor  May is a former fourth round pick who is likely to start the season at Triple-A. At 6’5”, 220 pounds, May throws plenty hard and flashes multiple potential plus pitches. However, the righty continues to have issues throwing them with a consistent release and throwing strikes. While May maintains consistently high strikeout rates in the minors, walk rates well into the 4’s continue to derail him. For now May will continue to work as a starter, but may be better suited for a relief role.

Last Updated on Friday, 07 December 2012 07:26
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