- Tristan H. Cockcroft, Fantasy
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Apparently, the Mariners grew tired of waiting. Only days after the team was rumored to sign Brad Wilkerson contingent on them trading right fielder Adam Jones to the Orioles in the Erik Bedard deal, they decided to proceed regardless. Wilkerson hopped aboard, Jones or not, for a one-year, $3 million contract.
Whether this means there's hope the Bedard deal will be concluded in the next several days is unclear, but consider Wilkerson's addition a promising sign. Even if talks fall through, though, and Jones remains in Seattle, Wilkerson can provide adequate insurance against the team's somewhat questionable alternatives at designated hitter and/or first base.
For one, both Jones and the man behind him on the depth chart, rookie Wladimir Balentien, are unproven commodities, not locks to hold down an everyday job at the big league level for an entire season. Jones, after all, is a 22-year-old with 43 strikeouts in 139 career at-bats at this level. Balentien, meanwhile, is 23, averaged a strikeout per 3.47 at-bats himself for his minor league career and is two years removed from a disappointing season in which he batted .230 with a .772 OPS in Double-A. Jones should be up to the task of holding down right field in the event he remains in Seattle, but it's no guarantee. Balentien, if Jones departs, would be well-served splitting time with Wilkerson.
In addition, neither Richie Sexson nor Jose Vidro, slated to share the first base/DH duties, is on the right side of the curve as career paths go. In 2007 alone, Sexson was a .195/.675 hitter against right-handers. It can be argued he should never start against a righty, and by the way, Wilkerson is a left-handed hitter. He'll get his time at those positions, as well as some time in left field when Raul Ibanez serves as the DH.
Ultimately, Wilkerson should get somewhere in the ballpark of the 389 plate appearances he received in Texas last season, or more if Jones lands in Baltimore. That's not enough for him to be mixed-league worthy, but as an AL-only fourth/fifth outfielder, he'll be adequate. Interestingly enough, he's not exactly a platoon candidate, hitting lefties (.265/.819) better than righties (.245/.800) for his career, so don't call him an ideal matchups type.
Marlins add Gonzalez, McPherson
With the Marlins yet again undertaking a youth movement, experienced, low-priced veterans will be at a premium as they look to round out their final roster spots as spring training dawns. Such is the case with Luis Gonzalez, signed to a one-year, $2 million contract with $1 million in incentives, according to the team's Web site.
Unfortunately, fantasy owners can't be pleased with the news, because two of the team's more interesting hitters play the two positions at which Gonzalez can be of some use: left and right field. Granted, left fielder Josh Willingham battled a herniated disc in September 2007, while right fielder Jeremy Hermida, before his astonishing .340/.956 second half in 2007, batted .248 with a .740 OPS in his first 173 career big league games. That makes Gonzalez a useful insurance policy, but the trouble with players with his track record is that managers often have a tough time treating them as such, instead giving them semi-regular at-bats.
Keep tabs on the Marlins' outfield plans once spring camps open, particularly Willingham's health. If both he and Hermida are hitting well, Gonzalez might not have a place on the team. If he does make the squad, though, expect him to cut into both corner outfielders' values. There's a scenario here in which none of the three is mixed-league worthy, and that's especially frustrating regarding Hermida, coming off such a strong finish last season.
The Marlins also signed Dallas McPherson to a one-year contract Thursday, adding him to the competition to replace the departed Miguel Cabrera at third base. Jose Castillo and Jorge Cantu represent his primary competition, so it's no tall task for the powerful McPherson to land the Opening Day role. Monitor his health closely once camps open in a little more than a week. He's coming off back surgery that cost him all of 2007, and back problems tend to hurt a hitter most in the power department.
McPherson, once a blue-chip fantasy prospect, has since inherited the label of "frustrating youngster" -- like fellow third baseman Andy Marte -- but he'll be worth watching given such a golden comeback opportunity as this one. Don't rush to add him as more than a late-round NL-only sleeper, but a standout March could mean better.
Ensberg joins Yankees
Could there have been a worse team for which Morgan Ensberg chose to sign than the Yankees, who have some guy named Alex Rodriguez at the hot corner? Such has been the free-agent market late this winter, as Ensberg, apparently not seeing any chances at regular at-bats elsewhere, agreed to a minor league contract with the team Thursday.
It's a smart move for the Yankees, a team loaded with left-handed hitting, and as things stand today, Ensberg, despite having played all but two of his 620 career games in the field at third base, should be on the team's Opening Day roster. He has historically mashed left-handed pitching, batting .284 with a .936 OPS against them for his career, meaning he could sneak in about two starts per week between first base and designated hitter, or perhaps even at third on days Rodriguez gets a "day off" and is slotted in at DH.
That won't amount to anything more than a matchups role for Ensberg, and one for which you'll readily find him on the free-agent list in your league all season. But it's not one that should be dismissed, either. Shelley Duncan is the team's only other true "lefty killer" in the first base/DH mix, and Ensberg brings both experience and reliability to the role. If he adapts quickly to a part-time role, AL-only owners should find a little value in him.
Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.
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