Brewers sign Cameron
It might not seem like a significant transaction, but Mike Cameron's arrival in Milwaukee could wind up one of the more underrated moves of the winter. He signed a one-year, $7 million contract on Friday, pending a physical, according to the team's official Web site.
Cameron's career .251 batting average and .786 OPS might not classify him as a fantasy standout, but remember that most of his numbers have been accrued in extreme pitchers' parks, like Seattle's Safeco Field, New York's Shea Stadium and San Diego's Petco Park. The 2008 season will mark his first since 1999 in which he'll play in a park designated even a neutral park. Milwaukee's Miller Park ranked 16th in runs scored (1.011) and 10th in home runs (1.119) on the Park Factor page in 2007. By comparison, Petco, Cameron's home in 2007, ranked 30th (0.755) and 29th (0.685), respectively.
That means Cameron's road rates warrant more attention than your typical team-changing free agent; he was a .261 hitter with a .817 OPS in his road games the past five seasons combined, compared to .243/.773 at home. He's also a .343 hitter with four homers, 12 RBIs and a 1.158 OPS in 10 career games at Miller, so he's clearly comfortable hitting there. Don't count on All-Star numbers from Cameron, but a bump up to near his career-best .268 batting average, with perhaps 25-plus homers and 20 steals, is within his reach. That's third/fourth outfielder material for mixed leagues, incidentally.
Most importantly for the Brewers, though, is the impact of Cameron's arrival on the team's defense. He'll take over the center field duties, bumping Bill Hall to third base and Ryan Braun to left field. Braun, incidentally, was the game's worst defensive player (in terms of 2007 fielding percentage), so getting him off third base can only help the team's pitching staff. Meanwhile, Cameron, despite showing a slight decline in range the past couple of years, is considered one of the game's better defensive center fielders.
Braun's owners -- especially those in keeper leagues -- might not be thrilled when he's strictly an outfielder heading into 2009, but for now, enjoy the slight benefit Brewers pitchers will experience in ERA and WHIP.
For Rolen, 2007 was one of the worst years of his career; he batted .265 with a .729 OPS, rates lower than the ones he posted in any season other than 2005, when he was limited to 56 games. He's the more accomplished defender of the two, though, and should benefit from being separated from Tony La Russa, with whom he reportedly had a falling out last season. If Rolen seems healthy in the spring, a return to his traditional .280-20-80 ways isn't impossible in a more hitting-friendly ballpark in Toronto, though it should also be noted that the Rogers Centre is a turf stadium, increasing the chances he'll get hurt again. Remember, Rolen himself admits many of his health issues are a result of having played all those years on turf in Philadelphia, so there's definite risk in him.
For as poorly as Andruw Jones played for the Braves in 2007, it has to be considered a letdown that Mark Kotsay will be his apparent replacement in center field in 2008. According to ESPN's Buster Olney, the Braves reached a preliminary agreement on a deal with the Athletics on Saturday, swapping relief pitching prospect Joey Devine for Kotsay, a .214 hitter with a .575 OPS in limited action last season.
Persistent back problems could have been the cause for Kotsay's terrible season, though his lifetime .282/.752 rates indicate there's not a lot of upside in him. He should hit in the bottom third of the order, where runs and RBIs won't be plentiful, and might offer no better than a .280 batting average with barely double-digit power. In fact, Kotsay might merely bridge the gap until top prospect Jordan Schafer is ready. NL-only owners might have to count on Kotsay as a fourth or fifth outfielder, but in mixed leagues, try to steer clear.
As for Devine, expect him to compete for a set-up role, with the possibility that in a couple of years, he'll get back on track as the "closer of the future" he seemed to be in the past in Atlanta. At best, he'll be an ERA/WHIP helper for AL-only owners, though I wouldn't count on it. He'd need a standout spring to warrant even a $1 bid.
By trading Kotsay, the Athletics unloaded an overpaid, underperforming outfielder. On Friday, unfortunately, they added another, signing Emil Brown to a one-year contract.
Not that Brown entirely lacks real-world value; he mashed left-handers to the tune of a .289 batting average and .841 OPS in his three years in Kansas City, and he'll serve as valuable insurance on a young, inexperienced team. As an everyday outfielder, though, Brown doesn't seem to fit. He's frequently overmatched by right-handers and doesn't bring much to the table defensively. Fantasy owners should be looking at him as more of a spot-start type, not a guy to draft, though like Kotsay, Brown might have to be owned as a fourth/fifth outfielder in AL-only formats if he wins a starting role in the spring.
Fortunately, the other difference between Giles' 2007 and 2008 situations is a positive one; he's in a much better circumstance for a comeback. As fantasy owners well know, Coors Field is one of the game's most hitter-friendly environments. In addition, the Rockies lack a truly viable alternative at second base, with Jeff Baker, Ian Stewart, Omar Quintanilla and Jayson Nix his competition. Each one brings with him a significant question mark.
Mixed-league owners won't want to gamble on Giles unless he wows us in the spring. Remember, he's not even guaranteed to make the team. NL-only owners, though, could do a lot worse as a late-round sleeper. After all, Giles is but three years removed from a .291-15-63 season in which he swiped 16 bags, so there's some upside yet in him.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
FANTASY TOP HEADLINES
- Cockcroft: Updated top 250 rankings
- Karabell: Impact of all the big trades
- McCormick: Can you rely on Zac Stacy as a high pick?
- Harris: Don't worry too much about Cam Newton