Commentary

Jones could rebound in L.A.

Updated: December 6, 2007, 12:45 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

Well, it wasn't a Johan Santana trade, but nonetheless, the Dodgers' signing of Andruw Jones late Wednesday night represents a deal of some magnitude.

Coming off the worst season of his 12-year career, Jones reached a preliminary agreement on a two-year, $36.2-million contract with the Dodgers, according to the AP. That installs the 10-time Gold Glove winner as the team's starting center fielder, forcing speedster Juan Pierre to a corner, most likely left field. In adding Jones, the Dodgers took a chance on potential power they so desperately needed, but also take a hit in terms of offense in left field, as Pierre's .684 OPS was more than 100 points below the MLB average at the position (.800).

For Jones, a shift to Dodger Stadium could adversely affect his power numbers, though a case could just as easily be made that Turner Field wasn't all that friendly, either. On the Park Factor page, in fact, Dodger Stadium was actually 13th in home runs (1.052) and Turner Field 19th (0.955), in 2007. Plus, it's important to remember that power hitters hit anywhere; it's extreme fly-ball hitters or guys without the power to clear a 400-foot fence most affected by outfield dimensions. Jones has a 1.08:1 ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio for his career, so that's not as bad a park shift as you might think.

It's Jones' health, though, that has me most curious. I look back at his 2007 injury report and ask, was there any part of his body that wasn't hurting? From his back to his knee to his elbow, he ran the gamut of injuries yet played through them for 154 games, so a healthy Jones during spring training will be key to his bounce-back potential. This is a guy who could sock 40 home runs -- sorry, Andruw, you're not a 50-homer hitter -- but only if he's hitting with some authority and looking at peak form once camps open.

Until that point, Jones is probably better kept somewhere around the No. 30 range among mixed-league outfielders. He's got top-20 potential, sure, but he finished 50th on last year's Player Rater, and by no means is he a contributor in batting average, with a .263 career mark. There's 40-homer, 110-RBI upside here, but one thing we do know is that while Dodger Stadium won't totally limit his appeal, it should cap him off at that in a good year.

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Hopefully Jones' addition signals the end of Luis Gonzalez's stay in Los Angeles, incidentally. With both Andre Ethier and, more importantly, Matt Kemp hoping for regular roles in the Dodger outfield, bringing back Gonzalez would be a bad thing for fantasy. Kemp has been rumored to be included in deals for Erik Bedard or Santana in recent weeks but probably stands the best chance at playing regularly in right field as things stand today. As a final-round mixed-league type or a third/fourth NL-only outfielder, there's plenty of breakout potential in the .342 hitter of a year ago.

Royals sign Guillen

What a whirlwind past few days for Jose Guillen. On Tuesday, he agreed to a three-year, $36-million contract with the Royals, according to ESPNdeportes.com's Enrique Rojas. A day later, ESPN's Buster Olney reported that MLB officials are negotiating with the Players Association on a possible 10- to 15-day suspension for the outfielder for his reported involvement in the purchase of steroids and human growth hormone.

If the latter comes to fruition, fantasy owners should prepare for a decent chunk of missed time for Guillen, not that this should detract from his appeal in AL-only leagues. In mixed formats, however, healthy, full-time players are usually more desirable, and the questions surrounding him probably drop him to late-round status. Guillen did manage 23 homers and 99 RBIs in 2007, so it's not like we were talking about an elite outfielder to begin with.

When active, though, Guillen also shouldn't be outright discarded for fantasy, regardless of the allegations. He has topped 20 homers and 70 RBIs in four of the past five seasons, batted .290-plus three of those years and was a .311-hitting, 31-homer man once. He'll be less under the spotlight in Kansas City, and that's not a bad hitters' environment, certainly better than Seattle or Washington, where he played the past three years.

Assuming 140 games or so, Guillen should be able to approach 25 homers and 90 RBIs, hitting in the middle of an up-and-coming young lineup. That's late-round or AL-only worthy, and he's often underrated because of his reputation.

Rangers get a sleeper in Shelton

I might be in the minority, but I'm pretty excited about Chris Shelton's trade to the Rangers. According to the Tigers' official website, the 2005 sleeper sensation will be shipped to Texas in exchange for outfielder Freddy Guzman on Thursday.

Shelton won't be guaranteed anything by his new team, but consider that the Rangers have precious few proven first basemen on their roster. Since the Mark Teixeira trade last July, the Rangers have employed Frank Catalanotto, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Brad Wilkerson there, each playing out of position, and all indications are that the team prefers Saltalamacchia behind the plate, if not in the minors, in 2008. Hank Blalock had been mentioned as a possibility for a position shift, and Catalanotto is another candidate. But with both of them left-handed, Shelton could sneak onto the roster as a platoon mate, get off to a hot streak comparable to his April 2006 and perhaps grab a healthy chunk of the at-bats.

Shelton might not have been anything special for Triple-A Toledo in 2007, batting .269 with 14 homers and a .801 OPS in 139 games, but it's also important to remember he's a lifetime .311 hitter with a .910 OPS in his minor league career, .281/.825 in MLB, and he's still 27 years old. As a late-round AL-only sleeper, I bet there's some value in him.

Brewers take Riske

Perhaps looking to accumulate closer candidates in the wake of Francisco Cordero's departure, the Brewers inked David Riske to a three-year, $13-million contract Wednesday. At worst, he'll serve as the team's primary setup man to Derrick Turnbow in 2008, though a case could be made the two right-handers will duke it out for the closer duties during spring training.

Riske hasn't been a bad reliever at all the past half-decade, with ERAs no higher than 3.89 since 2002 and WHIPs of 1.30 or better in four of the past five years. That's not an elite, dominating right-hander, but it's certainly an above-average one.

The problem, though, is that in brief windows when Riske was seen as closer, in 2003-05 in Cleveland and sporadically for Kansas City last season, he seemed to lack that "closer's mentality." Statistically speaking, that's something you can't put a finger on, but I look back through his game logs of those seasons and see a good share of blown saves sprinkled in around the saves when he was clearly "in the closer's role." In the National League, Riske's chances for success improve, and perhaps he's an ERA/WHIP helper with some mild save potential for NL-only owners -- but there's a reason people say he lives up to his name. Unless he overwhelms you in the spring, don't go overboard.

Nationals acquire Dukes

OK, if the Wily Mo Pena and Lastings Milledge trades didn't already prove it, the acquisition of Elijah Dukes on Monday confirmed the Nationals' fixation on toolsy, high-upside prospects. Dukes came over from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for minor league left-hander Glen Gibson, a 20-year-old who was 4-3 with a 3.10 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 12 starts for the Nationals' Class A affiliate in Vermont in 2007.

It's a sign that the Rays were sick enough of Dukes' baggage that they'd trade a young, major league-ready player like him for a low-level prospect, albeit a respectable one. Gibson, recently ranked the Nationals' No. 8 prospect by Baseball America, profiles as a future No. 3/4 starter, though he's at least three years away. Plus, as we always say, so many things can change between now and the point he's ready to help the Rays.

With a fresh start, perhaps Dukes can get his career back on track; he was actually a .239 hitter with eight homers and an .865 OPS in a 31-game span from April 16-May 30. Scouts believe he could range into anything from perennial All-Star to outright bust, and much of that variance depends on what kind of behavior he's on with his new team. He'll battle for a reserve role in the spring, with Milledge and Pena probably better bets to earn starting jobs, but he has enough upside to warrant a late-round NL-only selection.

Braves get Ohman, Infante

In one of Tuesday's smaller deals, the Atlanta Braves acquired left-handed reliever Will Ohman, as well as utility man Omar Infante, from the Chicago Cubs in exchange for right-handed reliever Jose Ascanio, according to ESPN Radio 1000's Bruce Levine.

The move helps provide depth to the Braves' roster, with Ohman slotting in as the team's left-handed specialist, replacing free agent Ron Mahay. Left-handed hitters have lifetime .196/.294/.319 rates against Ohman, though he's only useful in that kind of limited role. Think a Jeremy Affeldt, Trever Miller or Mike Myers type, something that absolutely has value to a big-league team but has limited appeal in fantasy because of the few innings such a pitcher accumulates. At best, Ohman would be an ERA/WHIP specialist for NL-only owners -- and keep in mind, his lifetime ERA is 4.33, which speaks volumes.

Infante is the interesting name in the deal, as a backup for the Braves at multiple positions but also a potential platoon mate for left-handed hitting second baseman Kelly Johnson. Infante batted .281/.343/.453 against lefties in 2007, so NL-only owners in daily leagues might be able to use him as a spot-in type when the matchup calls.

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.

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