Hot Stove: Feliz to Philly
Call it a hunch, but my bet is that come Opening Day, the Phillies will sport their fourth different third baseman in the lineup in as many seasons. The question, though: Is Pedro Feliz, signed to a two-year, $8.5 million contract on Monday, according to the team's official Web site, really any more the solution than the past three?
In 2007, for instance, the team's three-headed third base monster -- Abraham Nunez, Wes Helms and Greg Dobbs, listed in order of innings played at the position -- managed a combined .255 batting average and .688, good (or it is bad?) for ninth- and fourth-worst in baseball. Since 2005, Phillies third basemen, amazingly, have registered the exact same rates, .255 and .688. MLB's averages during that span, by comparison, are .273/.788, which demonstrates how much the team has underperformed at the hot corner.
Feliz, by the way, has .249/.711 rates the past three years combined, which means for the slight gain in OPS -- all driven by modest power -- the Phillies lose a bit in batting average. Still, to be fair, Feliz called pitching-friendly AT&T Park his home the past eight years. Interestingly enough, his lifetime numbers at home (.263/.726) aren't much different than those on the road (.241/.715), though a closer look shows he did hit 19 more homers away from AT&T. Getting out of there will help, but it's clear it won't help significantly, either.
Getting into Citizens Bank Park does take Feliz to the opposite extreme, so while Feliz was a 20- to 22-homer man each of the past four years, perhaps he's a 25- to 30-homer man in Philly. Maybe that's worth the extra buck, but a guy with a lifetime .252 batting average, which you can't necessarily blame on his ballpark, isn't suddenly going to become a fantasy standout at age 33 (which he'll turn on April 27). Make no mistake: Feliz is probably a Phillie today because of his defense, not his bat. Among qualified third basemen, he led MLB in zone rating (.852) and was second in fielding percentage (.973).
NL-only owners will need to trust Feliz as a corner infielder, but there's not a ton of upside from there. Perhaps he's a strong mixed-league matchups type, but don't call him a regular.
Most frustrating as a result of Feliz's arrival: Dobbs returns to his little-used pinch-hitting/bench role. As a .277/.808 hitter against right-handers who calls Citizens Bank his home, Dobbs might have had matchups appeal in a platoon third base role.
Paul Lo Duca underwent surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee, suffered while working out at a gym in New York, and is expected to need four to six weeks' rehabilitation. But if you're wondering how much of a concern his health actually is, the fact that the Nationals signed Johnny Estrada to a one-year, $1.25 million contract on Tuesday, according to the team's official Web site, should tell you all you need to know.
At the originally quoted timetable, Lo Duca would be ready to resume spring training activities sometime around March 1, leaving plenty of time for him to prepare for Opening Day. Adding Estrada, though, isn't a bad insurance policy, though it's perhaps too good. He had the better batting average (.278 to Lo Duca's .272) and OPS (.699 to .689) of the two in 2007, after all, and is four years younger. Neither one brings much power or on-base ability to the table, and neither is especially adept at throwing out base stealers. Estrada has nailed 24.5 percent the past three seasons combined, Lo Duca 24.1. In other words, two traits separate the two: age and Estrada's switch-hitting ability.
Maybe that means a spring battle is in order, or perhaps it's the makings of a platoon situation, Estrada battling most right-handers and Lo Duca getting the lefties and the weaker righties. Or, perhaps it's a sign Lo Duca is set to begin the season on the disabled list. Estrada would probably be the better fantasy bet if we knew he'd play regularly, but with Lo Duca set to make $3.5 million more than him in 2008, chances are it's his role to lose if healthy. Whatever the outcome, we're talking some sort of share of the workload, the kind of thing that drops both to, at best, No. 2 catcher status in NL-only leagues.
We're also talking a likely minor league ticket for Jesus Flores, though that might be for the best. The Nationals' catcher of the future, Flores, 23, could stand some Triple-A seasoning. He was a long shot to be fantasy-worthy in 2008 even as Lo Duca's backup.
Just when Jeremy Affeldt had established himself as a perfectly reliable set-up reliever, he had to hit free agency, didn't he? Suddenly, the man who registered a 3.51 ERA, 1.36 WHIP and .226 BAA in 75 relief appearances for the Rockies in 2007, including 1.74/1.03/.160 rates at Coors Field, was out on the open market, looking for a brand new gig.
Well, Affeldt got one, signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Reds, where he'll return to the rotation, a role in which he proved mediocre at best the first five years of his career. In 42 career starts, the left-hander is 8-17 with 5.41/1.63/.298 rates; compare that to his 4.21/1.41/.244 numbers in 244 relief appearances and it's clear in which role he's more suited. He'll be in the mix for a rotation spot in Cincinnati nonetheless, greatly diminishing his chances at a useful fantasy campaign, even in NL-only formats.
Sure, Affeldt might have some appeal as a spot-start candidate, but he'll call a hitting-friendly environment his home, and to succeed as a starter, he'd need to re-establish his changeup, the weakness that caused him to underperform in the past in that role. It might be better if he misses the rotation cut, yet even then, he probably won't help you.
Here's one of the more puzzling plot twists of the winter: One year after Rod Barajas jilted the Blue Jays -- the sports equivalent of "left them at the altar," if you will -- he inked a one-year, $1.2 million deal with them. Apparently the Jays saw no need to hold grudges, though it's Barajas' loss; he'd have inherited a starting role for 2007 and 2008 in the originally proposed deal, but the contract he signed Thursday locks him into a backup role.
Not that that's a bad thing for the Blue Jays. Barajas, a career .239 hitter with a .696 OPS, isn't nearly the batsman he might have appeared to be in his days in Texas, serving more as a modest defensive-minded backup. He's better with the glove, and the arm, in fact, than likely starter Gregg Zaun. Unfortunately, as was the case a year ago, limited at-bats for Barajas will mean little to no fantasy value, even as a No. 2 AL-only catcher.
The big loser here: Curtis Thigpen, considered the team's future behind the plate. He'll need a strong spring to unseat either Barajas or Zaun, and might spend more time in Triple-A as a result. AL-only owners seeking sleepers as No. 2 options, keep that in mind.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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