- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Not 10 days after trading Brian Schneider to the Mets, the Nationals on Monday found his replacement, Paul Lo Duca, the very man Schneider replaced in New York. Lo Duca signed a one-year, $5-million contract with the Nationals, according to the Washington Post.
Given the choice, I think I'd have rather had Schneider.
The deal does make a bit of sense from a pure baseball perspective, though. Dealing Schneider did land the Nationals an interesting prospect in Lastings Milledge, and it's not like Schneider was entirely irreplaceable. And with the comparably-priced Lo Duca now on hand, the Nationals won't be forced to press Jesus Flores, a 23-year-old former Mets prospect acquired in last year's Rule 5 draft, into regular duty behind the plate. Flores can either tutor behind Lo Duca or return to Triple-A for seasoning before perhaps taking over full-time in 2009. Plus, if Flores somehow shows he's ready to take over sooner, it's not like Lo Duca's contract will prevent the Nationals from trading or benching him.
For fantasy, Lo Duca shouldn't warrant much more than NL-only consideration as a No. 2 catcher. He's coming off his worst season as a regular, batting .272 with a .689 OPS, and he'll turn 36 shortly after Opening Day. Granted, the Nationals' new ballpark, scheduled to open by Opening Day, can't possibly hurt his numbers as much as RFK Stadium might have or Shea Stadium did, but this isn't a player likely to be helped by ballpark dimensions, either. At best, Lo Duca is probably about the same hitter his career numbers indicate; he's a lifetime .288 hitter who averages 11 homers per 500 at-bats. Remember: At best.
As a side note, if you're the unfortunate individual saddled with Lo Duca, make sure you jump ship by the All-Star break; he's a lifetime .269 hitter with a .705 OPS after it, compared to .303/.790 before it, for his career.
Rangers sign Bradley
One must wonder, will Milton Bradley ever stay focused and avoid the disabled list long enough to realize what scouts for years have called All-Star potential? The brittle, often troubled outfielder on Sunday inked a one-year contract with the Rangers worth approximately $5 million, according to the team's Web site.
Since 2003, when healthy, Bradley has been a pretty respectable fantasy outfielder. Scale his numbers over the past five years to a 150-game season and he'd be a .289 hitter with 22 home runs, 79 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and 86 runs scored. The problem, though, is asking complete health -- as well as an avoidance of behavioral issues -- is usually asking too much from him. During that five-year span, Bradley has averaged 95 games played per season, made 10 trips to the DL and been suspended once.
In other words, we're talking a high-risk player, albeit one in a good situation to succeed for fantasy when healthy. Bradley should stand a better chance at being useful in his healthy games in Texas, though to be fair, ballpark factors probably don't change his statistical potential much. After all, he was a .313 hitter with 11 homers in 42 games for the Padres late in 2007, and he's not a big-power type affected by park dimensions.
Keep in mind Bradley might not be ready for Opening Day, coming off knee surgery that resulted from his run-in with an umpire last Sept. 23. Don't count on more than 100 games, if that many, from Bradley in 2008, but the ones he offers should be of use. Players like this, though, are often better left as free agents in mixed formats, being scooped up whenever they're healthy enough to help you. Still, in leagues with unlimited DL spots, Bradley isn't a bad final-round mixed pick or third/fourth AL-only outfielder.
Brewers sign Gagne
Looking to fill their closer void created when Francisco Cordero departed for greener pastures in Cincinnati, the Brewers on Monday signed Eric Gagne, the one-time Dodgers and Rangers closer, to a one-year, $10-million contract.
Gagne provides the Brewers a safer ninth-inning option than alternatives Derrick Turnbow or David Riske, though like Turnbow or Riske, Gagne brings with him some risk. While Turnbow's command can escape him at times and Riske's fortitude in the ninth inning has often been questioned, Gagne's health is his primary question mark. He stayed reasonably injury-free in 2007, appearing in 54 games, yet did make two trips to the disabled list in April and also missed 14 games in September with a sore shoulder. From 2005-07 combined, he made six trips to the DL and pitched in only 70 games.
Still, Gagne has been fairly effective when healthy, saving 16 games with a 2.16 ERA and 1.05 WHIP in 34 games for the Rangers in 2007 before his trade to Boston midseason, and, back in the National League, his chances at a solid year improve. The NL Central isn't overly threatening in terms of offense, so with a little luck in the health department, Gagne could be a 30-plus save option who strikes out a batter per frame with good ERA/WHIP numbers. He's the ultimate high-risk, high-reward closer, probably a second-tier type in terms of mixed-league draft status, though if you pick him in the middle rounds, handcuffing him to Turnbow will likely be a draft-day priority.
Yankees sign Hawkins
Yup, folks, this is how rough the market has gotten in terms of teams finding viable middle-relief options: The Yankees signed LaTroy Hawkins, reaching a preliminary agreement on a one-year, $3.75-million contract Sunday, according to Newsday.
We all know about Hawkins' foibles in the ninth inning throughout the years, which is why landing in New York might not be that bad for him; he has no shot at being a ninth-inning pitcher, barring something disastrous happening to Mariano Rivera. Even then, this isn't a handcuff saves type for Rivera owners, more an ERA/WHIP option in AL-only leagues.
I'd caution against expecting Hawkins to be much in terms of ERA/WHIP help, though. Under the spotlight in New York, he'll be more apt to melt down than in a lesser-pressure environment, and the Yankees do play 18 games apiece against what are some of the game's more potent offenses in Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto. Hawkins hasn't had an ERA below 3.42 or a WHIP under 1.23 since 2004, so don't get your hopes up.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.