Cockcroft: New Angel in the outfield
Leave it to the Angels to make interesting, albeit somewhat perplexing, moves this winter.
First, they dealt Gold Glove shortstop Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox, leaving a potential battle between the inexperienced Erick Aybar and Maicer Izturis at shortstop. Then on Wednesday, they added center fielder Torii Hunter, a Gold Glove winner himself each of the past seven seasons, inking him to a five-year, $90 million contract.
But here's what's so puzzling: The Angels already had a defensive-minded center fielder, Gary Matthews Jr., signed to a five-year, $50 million deal last winter. In fact, with Reggie Willits also on the roster, the Angels now have three center field-type players, leading one to wonder if more big moves would be in order.
For now, Matthews presumably slides over to left field, somewhat of a waste of his talents. His fantasy value shouldn't change much, beyond him likely elevating from a middle-of-the-order hitter to the vacant No. 2 hole, where he'd probably see a boost in runs scored. He's not a .313 hitter (as he was in 2006) or a .252 hitter (as he was in 2007), more likely fitting somewhere in the middle: a .275-hitting type with 15-20-homer power, double-digit steal speed and up to 100 runs scored if he sticks every day in the No. 2 hole.
Willits loses the most. He's more a fourth outfielder today, despite a .393 career on-base percentage in 576 plate appearances, more than worthy numbers to earn him an everyday spot in a team's outfield and in the top third of a batting order. Don't be shocked if he's a name shopped in the coming weeks, and keep him in mind as a 2008 sleeper.
Hunter shouldn't see too much of a change in fantasy value, either. As a No. 4/5 hitter in Los Angeles, and a guy earning $18 million per year, a decline in stolen bases, perhaps to 10-15, could be coming. Hunter is a fairly consistent .270-.280 hitter with 25-30-homer power, though, and despite Angel Stadium's pitching-friendly confines, should finish in those ranges yet again. He's not an elite fantasy slugger, nor a top-10 caliber outfielder, but should come somewhat in range of his No. 13 ranking on the 2007 Player Rater.
One troubling statistic regarding Hunter, though: He's a more capable batsman against left-handers, batting .314 with a .356 on-base percentage and .550 slugging percentage in 2007, .282/.339/.490 for his career, and the American League West isn't quite so rich in southpaws than the AL Central. AL West pitchers -- excluding the Angels, of course -- amassed 133 of 486 starts (27.4 percent), compared to 246 of 648 for AL Central pitchers (38.0), in 2007. Among the AL West's most notable left-handed starters: The Mariners' Jarrod Washburn, Rangers' Kason Gabbard and Athletics' Lenny DiNardo, which demonstrates how right-handed the division has become.
So much for Yorvit Torrealba as the Mets' new catcher. Just days after the free agent's deal with the Mets fell through, the team moved quickly to find an alternative, acquiring Johnny Estrada from the Brewers on Tuesday in exchange for overpaid, underperforming right-handed reliever Guillermo Mota. Accounting for the fact that Mota had a 5.76 ERA and 1.37 WHIP in 52 games in 2007, and will earn $3.2 million in 2008, it's a move that conservatively could be called a coup for the Mets.
A career .280 hitter, Estrada should slide in low in the order, perhaps seventh or eighth, putting his fantasy potential somewhere in the ballpark of his 2007. He rarely walks, either, limiting his potential in runs scored. NL-only owners, noting the lack of depth at the position, will need to consider him, but there are more exciting catchers to pick. Ramon Castro should get more starts with a guy as limited in power potential and on defense as Estrada, so think of Estrada's 2007 numbers as his 2008 ceiling.
Kendall became the Brewers' new starting catcher Wednesday, signing a one-year deal with a vesting option for 2009. Reputation-wise, he might be considered a better batsman than the man he replaces, Estrada, but the numbers suggest that, for fantasy, he's no better a choice. In fact, Estrada might remain the better pick of the two.
Consider that since July 28, 2004, Kendall has but four home runs in 486 games, and if you look at him as a useful source of batting average and stolen bases, he's a .278 hitter with 25 steals during that span. Scale those to a typical (for him) 150-game season and that's one homer, eight steals. Among players who topped one homer and eight steals in 2007, incidentally: Alfredo Amezaga, Chris Burke, Chris Duffy and Willie Harris.
Kendall should offer more real-life than fantasy value in 2008, though in all likelihood, he'll be one of the most overrated catchers in the game a fourth straight year. Again, NL-only owners will have to consider him, but my advice: Avoid him if you can.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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