Just like the last two years, there were three big name players who everyone wanted, but few could afford. In 2009, it was the New York Yankees gobbling up all three when they landed C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira. In 2010, the Big Three went three different directions with Jason Bay going to the New York Mets, Matt Holliday to the St. Louis Cardinals, and John Lackey to the Boston Red Sox.
The three big-time free agents this year also went to three different teams. Cliff Lee returned to the Philadelphia Phillies, Jayson Werth signed with the Washington Nationals, and Carl Crawford landed in Boston.
This offseason saw a large number of free agents sign with new teams. Some teams were trying to fill holes while others were trying to take their team to the next level. Whatever the reason, a lot of quality players found new homes and here are the ones with the most interesting fantasy implications.
Prime Time Players
Jayson Werth stayed in the N.L. East, but his new team is the lowly Nationals. He has been a great hitter the last two seasons while playing full time and surrounded by a powerful Phillies lineup that plays home games in a band box. Can he continue putting up those numbers in a much weaker offense? The consensus fantasy opinion is no way, no how.
Both Werth and the Nats should have done better than simply joining forces, but they kind of needed each other despite the fact that this marriage will likely end up poorly. When a $129M contract lands in your lap, you sign it immediately and worry about the likelihood of you succeeding in that place another day. Washington was looking for a splash and is hoping this will generate ticket sales and positive attention from future free agents. Werth is still a fine player, but fantasy owners and baseball pundits are certainly right to expect a drop off from his 2010 numbers. If your fellow drafters discount him too much though, take advantage. Otherwise avoid.
Carl Crawford also changed teams within his old division, but this time he plays for a team that doesn’t mind spending cash, and has a bevy of talented bats around him. The Red Sox threw a lot of money at Crawford who is a much better offensive and defensive outfielder than all the guys the Sox ran out to left field in 2010. In a better offense, Crawford should slightly improve on his 2010.
Cliff Lee is returning to Philadelphia, the place where he spent a half a season and helped the Phillies to their second straight N.L. title in 2009. He was the best pitcher on the free agent market and found himself signing to be a part of arguably the best rotation in baseball history. The offense in Philadelphia is very strong and Lee will benefit. Bid confidently, but don’t overpay for him.
Adam Dunn finally found a position worthy of his defensive prowess: designated hitter. The Chicago White Sox needed another power bat and Dunn was willing to accept their $56M. This looks like a good fit as Dunn has been incredibly consistent, slugging 38 or more homers in each of the last seven seasons. Expect more of the same on the South Side.
Victor Martinez will hit almost every day in Detroit’s lineup. V-Mart will catch and play first base occasionally, but will be the regular designated hitter in the Tigers lineup. This is great news if you can draft V-Mart as you will get well over 500 at-bats from your catcher and some serious power to go with it.
Ted Lilly re-signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers after a short stint with the team to finish the 2010 season. Lilly isn’t great, but he’ll provide very solid ratios, especially pitching at Chavez Ravine.
The Baltimore Orioles added Derrek Lee to play first base. Lee has fallen out of favor with fantasy players. His stats are sliding a bit from his glory days with the Chicago Cubs, but if you can snag Lee in the early-teen rounds you will love the results. Lee is healthy again and is determined to prove that he hasn’t lost it. If you have the faith in Lee, he will pay off handsomely.
Joining Lee in Baltimore is Vladimir Guerrero to become the Orioles DH and get the occasional start in the outfield. His legs are shot, but the power should remain, especially in Baltimore’s bandbox of a stadium. He’s good for your team overall, but certainly don’t expect his speed to return. That ship has sailed.
Hideki Matsui left the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as he headed north to join the Oakland Athletics. Godzilla’s not fit for playing the outfield any longer, but his bat is still strong. He’ll be the A’s DH and is worth a roster spot on your squad.
Russell Martin has received no love since his breakout season of 2007. Since his game has slumped at the plate in the last few years, he has earned what he has received, but look for a revival in the Bronx. Hitting in the Yankees order can do wonders for anyone’s game and Martin should be rejuvenated with 2007-esque numbers. The steals might not break 20 like his big season, but look for the average and power to return. A mid-teen draft pick should net you a very solid catcher.
If there is one player that you should stay away from, it’s Adrian Beltre. He has shown us a pattern of playing hard only when his next contract is on the line. In a contract season, he is a monster. He averaged .310/28/89 in his three contract seasons. Compare that to his non-contract season average of .264/18/67. Why the Texas Rangers would back up the armored car for this slacker, no one knows. Make sure you don’t do it, even in a hitter friendly ballpark, unless you want to be disappointed.
Rafael Soriano signed on with the Yankees. This is great news if you are a Yankee fan as he will provide even more bullpen depth. If you are a Soriano owner however, you are in big trouble as he is no longer a closer and just lost a great deal of value to become a setup man. He’ll still give you great ratios and strikeouts, but the saves will become non-existent as Mariano Rivera will still get all the save opportunities. If your league uses holds as a category, this Soriano may be a great find.
Juan Uribe arrived in the majors with a lot of hype about a big bat at a thin position. He played enough SS last season for the San Francisco Giants to still qualify at the position and found that spark in his bat to be a legitimate threat again. He’s been very inconsistent throughout his career and playing home games in Dodger Stadium won’t help his bat, but a guy who qualifies at both middle infield positions and the hot corner is well worth finding a roster spot for. Just make sure you have a legitimate backup ready to go if Uribe has another one of his down seasons.
After hitting 20 bombs last year for Toronto, John Buck signed a fat contract to be the Florida Marlins’ catcher. Too many players hit too many homeruns last season in Toronto to not raise a few eyebrows. Buck will not bust 20 this season, but he is worth owning as a middle round catcher.
Oakland brought Rich Harden back. Harden is the ultimate high risk, high reward guy. When he’s healthy, he’s a dominant pitcher. But he’s often not healthy and can’t be counted on and will usually spend some time on the disabled list most every season.
Chicago Cubs’ new first baseman Carlos Pena is a big swinger. He misses a lot, but he also crushes a lot of pitches. If you are willing to trade batting average for a lot of power, Pena is your man. He should benefit from a move to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. That batting average is ugly though. It declined over 20 points each of the last two seasons, last year falling from .227 to .196.
Arizona Diamondbacks signed J.J. Putz to be their closer. Putz hasn’t closed in over two years, but he is going to a very low pressure situation with a team not expected to win. He is in the perfect situation for saves, a good pitching rotation and a mediocre offense. Consider him a potential buy-low target.
Jhonny Peralta re-signed with the Tigers to continue as their shortstop. After playing most of 2010 at third base for the Cleveland Indians, he was traded to Detroit and changed positions to bring offense at the expense of solid defense. Since you don’t care about his defense, you should benefit from a solid performance for a mid-round draft pick and the flexibility of two infield positions.
Lance Berkman is heading to St. Louis to play primarily the outfield for the first time since 2004. He has had some great hitting seasons, but has fallen off in recent years. St. Louis seems to be a fountain of youth in recent years for players like Matt Holliday, Larry Walker, Tino Martinez and Mark McGwire. All were found to have dwindling skills, but were rejuvenated and excelled for a year or more after landing in St. Louis. Don’t expect another 10 great years from Berkman in a Cards uni, but hitting in the St. Louis offense could be a good fit for this season.
The Florida Marlins gave Javier Vazquez a one-year contract and a rotation spot. This guy has a history of being a great pitcher when not wearing Yankee pinstripes. Vazquez is back in the National League, where the majority of his success happened, is as close to his homeland of Puerto Rico as any major league team, and is playing in the Hispanic city of Miami. It is easy to see Vazquez returning to form, or at least being an above average pitcher.
Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez signed with the Tampa Rays as a package deal. It is believed that Damon received a much higher salary because his duties also include being Manny’s babysitter when the oft-disgruntled slugger gets bent out of shape. They are both likely to get a lot of playing time for Tampa, but they are both in their late 30s and in decline. Neither will embarrass himself, but neither will likely break 20 homers or 70 ribbies.
Brandon Webb was one of the most feared pitchers in baseball just a few years ago. He won at least 14 games for four straight seasons, culminating with 22 wins in 2008. A shoulder injury derailed his 2009 and 2010 seasons and led to the Diamondbacks giving him the heave-ho. He signed in Texas, where the hot summer seems to make the ball jump out of the park. Webb does not have a history of giving up gopherballs, so this shouldn’t be a problem. With a good offense backing him, Webb could be a decent pickup in the mid rounds.
Adam LaRoche will wear his fifth different uniform in the last three seasons, now joining the Nationals. He is a very solid first baseman with the glove and stick, but he isn’t about to be confused with Albert Pujols. He makes a great backup first baseman, but this probably isn’t the guy you want as your starter.
Baltimore signed Kevin Gregg to be their closer. His ERA wasn’t awful last year but don’t expect it to last pitching in the toughest division in baseball (although this isn’t a change for him, coming from the Toronto Blue Jays). He’s got a history of blown saves and he’s likely to keep that trend going. Gregg is not an answer to saves unless you are truly desperate.
Orlando Hudson signed with the San Diego Padres. The team signed O-Dog because they see Hudson’s defense as an upgrade. Unfortunately, he is getting slower with age and his offense was never his strength. He’ll be a great backup, but you don’t want Slow-Dog (as he is starting to be known) as your starter, unless you are in the deepest of leagues.
Orlando Cabrera is very solid. You get pretty much the same thing from him every year, regardless of which team he plays for. This year he joins Cleveland after a year with the Cincinnati Reds. If you want a slightly above average guy, O-Cab is your guy. If you strive for something better than that, look elsewhere. He does bring the added value of a new position to his resume, second base.
The Dodgers brought Jon Garland in to provide stability at the back end of the rotation. He’ll thrive in Los Angeles’ huge stadium, but is likely to be mediocre in most every pitching category.
Filling Garland’s slot in San Diego is Aaron Harang. The San Diego native was a stud in Cincinnati in 2006 and 2007, when he won 16 games and struck out over 200 hitters each season. Though San Diego is a great pitchers park, he won’t return to those lofty numbers. Look for solid ratios, but the strikeouts and wins should be tempered.