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Friday, July 31, 2009
Beware V-Mart in Boston; LaRoche wins in Atlanta


It's not surprising that Victor Martinez was traded by the Cleveland Indians to the Boston Red Sox, as it was being talked about much of this week, but Clay Buchholz was not included in the deal. Fantasy owners were looking for assurance that Buchholz would remain in some team's rotation the rest of 2009. Sorry, folks, we can't guarantee it. The Red Sox dealt pitchers Justin Masterson and a pair of minor leaguers to get Martinez, but they still have incredible rotation depth. The Martinez addition gives the Red Sox help at catcher and first base from a power-hitting switch-hitter who initially was having a really good season.

Victor Martinez
Victor Martinez probably will split time between catcher and first base, but will the wear and tear of the season catch up to him?

Then again, the Red Sox probably aren't concerned about Martinez's hitting trends this season, but fantasy owners should not overlook this. Martinez has seen his batting average drop each month this season, from .386 in April to .321 in May, .240 in June and .175 so far in July. I don't think that's a coincidence. He missed much of 2008 with multiple injuries, and hey, he's a catcher. Players at that position tend to get tired faster and at a far more noticeable level than other position players. Of course, Martinez is an upgrade over the older Jason Varitek, but most catchers see their numbers drop in the second half. It's generally not a good idea in fantasy to trade for any catcher after the All-Star break for this reason. Do I view Martinez any differently for fantasy now that he's in Boston? Not really. It's a deeper lineup and the people at the top get on base at a higher clip, but he already was playing every day and already was owned in every league, and while he was trending downward, he's still a top-three backstop in fantasy.

Varitek is the No. 13 catcher on ESPN's Player Rater -- Martinez is second, incidentally -- but you can forget about him keeping up his production with Martinez stealing playing time. I expect Martinez to play pretty much every day somewhere, giving Varitek, Mike Lowell and possibly David Ortiz days off. Varitek hit 10 home runs the first two months of the season, and since June 1, he has hit three. Is he tired, or did he just have a very good unsustainable start to 2009? How about both? Adding Martinez actually helps Varitek owners, in a way, since now they'll think about dropping the Red Sox captain; most people who own Varitek might not have been paying attention to his downward power trend. Ultimately, Varitek and Lowell lose value and probably aren't ownable in standard leagues, but neither was in much demand. This move also puts pressure on Ortiz, who has hit .220 in July. With off-field pressure adding to what has been a disappointing season, it's possible Ortiz could end up in a lefty-righty platoon with Lowell.

As for the Cleveland angle, the versatile Masterson has a terrific arm, and that's what the Indians really need. He could start and at this point be the team's ace by default, or he could fit into the bullpen. In two seasons in the majors, Masterson made 15 starts with the Red Sox, going 6-5 with a 4.03 ERA and 1.33 WHIP. Walks were a problem, and Masterson hit 11 batters in 89 1/3 innings. He was better as a reliever, posting a 3.42 ERA and superior strikeout rate. We don't know how the Indians will use him, but if he's in the rotation, he'll be a borderline add in 10-team leagues. That's what Masterson was groomed to be, and while he might not be a fantasy ace immediately, he is only 24 and would interest me more for 2010.

Nick Hagadone is a 23-year-old lefty who had Tommy John surgery a little more than a year ago, so he won't be making any fantasy impact this season and probably not next season, either. Like Masterson, the Indians have to make a decision on what role Hagadone will have, but there's little debate about his upside. It's huge. Peter Gammons has compared him to David Price. Red Sox officials felt Hagadone had ace potential, more so than Masterson, and Baseball America named him the organization's No. 3 prospect before the season. The Red Sox still have plenty of depth in their rotation for future seasons, so they could afford to deal Masterson and Hagadone. The Indians get a 6-foot-6 strikeout option who could anchor their staff by 2011.

Bryan Price is another hard thrower, a former first-round pick who is 22 years old and was getting hit around as a starting pitcher in Class-A ball. There's upside here, and the Indians have three young arms who all could make significant impacts in future years.

Adam LaRoche
Adam LaRoche will be happy to be wearing an Atlanta Braves uniform again after a very brief stint in Boston.

As for who is going to knock in runs for the Indians the rest of this season and in 2010, well, they certainly didn't get anyone from Boston to help with that. Andy Marte was called up from the minors recently to play first base, and while most fantasy owners remain skeptical he'll ever hit enough to play a corner infield spot, he did alter his swing this season and hit .327 with 18 home runs at Triple-A Columbus. Give Marte a shot in AL-only leagues now that Ryan Garko and Martinez are gone. He's going to play. Matt LaPorta is still in the minors, by the way, but should be in left field relatively soon. He's a potential middle-of-the-order bat. As far as catcher goes, Kelly Shoppach becomes the full-timer for now, but his .207 batting average outweighs any power potential he offers. Lou Marson was picked up in the Cliff Lee deal and sent to Triple-A. Expect him to be with the Indians by September and to get a long look.

The reason Lowell's value doesn't change much in Boston is that Adam LaRoche already was taking playing time from him, as Kevin Youkilis moved over to third base. The Red Sox traded LaRoche to the Atlanta Braves for Casey Kotchman, but Kotchman doesn't hit enough to warrant regular playing time. He is a terrific fielder but fits better off the bench than LaRoche did. Don't expect Kotchman to play very much.

LaRoche becomes -- again -- the everyday first baseman for Atlanta, where he hit 65 home runs in his first three major league seasons, ending in 2006. If you lost him in NL-only leagues a few weeks ago, it's time to get him back. He is a noted second-half hitter and isn't really a bad player, despite the recent trades; he did hit 25 home runs in 2008 with Pittsburgh. He'll fit in nicely protecting Chipper Jones and Brian McCann in the batting order, and knock in runs. He's a big winner today.