Offseason notebook: More movement
Fantasy impact of Uggla, Buck, Davis, Kurdoa, Westbrook moves
Let's take a quick look at some notable news items from the past week:
Eric Karabell did an excellent analysis of the Dan Uggla trade between the Florida Marlins and Atlanta Braves, and if there can be only one takeaway from the move, let it be this: Uggla needs to be taken completely seriously as a top-five -- and perhaps even No. 3 -- fantasy second baseman now that he's out of Sun Life Stadium. After all, he was a .247/.360/.478 hitter in that pitchers' park the past three seasons combined, but .280/.363/.509 on the road, and maybe that contributed to what feels like years of back-of-the-top-10-status (among second basemen only, of course) in his average draft position?
Two facts that show how underrated Uggla is: He's the only second baseman in history with four 30-homer campaigns and, since 2006, he has more home runs than any other right-handed National League hitter besides Albert Pujols.
Florida Marlins sign John Buck, trade for Omar Infante
Turning to the Marlins' end of the deal -- second-half fantasy standout Infante and left-handed reliever Mike Dunn, who came over from the New York Yankees in last winter's Javier Vazquez trade -- it's understandable if you've got some questions as to the team's direction. The Marlins effectively added Infante, who will earn $2.5 million before being eligible for free agency next winter, and spent $18 million over the next three years on Buck, who rarely ever walks and is coming off a career year, yet weren't willing to go beyond four years and $48 million to keep Uggla. Reports that they might target a $10 million-per-year starting pitcher also makes it look like their offense is complete, in which case it'll look something like this: Chris Coghlan 3B (or CF), Infante 2B, Hanley Ramirez SS, Mike Stanton RF, Gaby Sanchez 1B, Logan Morrison LF, John Buck C, Matt Dominguez 3B/Emilio Bonifacio 3B or CF.
Two notes about that: Manager Edwin Rodriguez reportedly told the Palm Beach Post that his top three hitters will be Coghlan, Infante and Ramirez, meaning that Morrison, who batted in the top third in each of the Marlins' final 41 games and 62 of their final 63, will bat anywhere from fourth to seventh. If true, don't expect Morrison to come close to his 43-runs-in-62-games pace, especially not with noted out-makers Buck and Bonifacio hitting behind him. Also, Buck might earn a top-15 ADP at his position, but he shouldn't. His .335 BABIP was substantially higher than his .289 career number and high for a noted fly-baller with a career 16.8 percent line-drive rate. He's also a bit of a pull hitter, and Sun Life Stadium, with its high left- and left-center-field fences, makes his odds of another 20-homer campaign poor.
So the Blue Jays have a bona fide, elite base stealer! Their acquisition of Davis from the Oakland Athletics in exchange for minor league right-handers Daniel Farquhar and Trystan Magnuson is out of character, being that since Billy Beane disciple J.P. Ricciardi came over from Oakland to serve as general manager in the winter of 2001-02, only one Blue Jays player has swiped as many as 20 bases (Alex Rios, 32 in 2008). Here's how averse they've been to steals: Baseball-Reference.com tracks what it calls "Stolen Base Opportunities," which it defines as "plate appearances through which a runner was on first or second with the next base open." Since 2002, the Blue Jays haven't had a player attempt a steal in more than 17 percent of said opportunities (Rios, again, 16.8 percent in 2008).
Of course, the Blue Jays haven't exactly had a base stealer of Davis' caliber during that span, with Rios, Vernon Wells and Shannon Stewart their most viable candidates, but it's still a concern for Davis, being that he has attempted steals on 33.2 percent of his career opportunities. Was it that the Blue Jays were steals-averse, or was it that they didn't have the right base stealer on the roster? We're about to find out, but in Davis' defense, he just came from an Athletics team that employs Beane himself, but he was never reined in on the base paths there; he's joining a Blue Jays team that now has Alex Anthopoulos as general manager and John Farrell as manager, so the "new-era" argument is valid; and Davis' strengths are his speed and defense, so it'd be foolish to quell one of his best assets.
Davis is leaving a team that slugged .378 for one that slugged an American League-best .454 last season, so if he can get on base any more frequently than his .330 career on-base percentage, he might see a substantial improvement in runs scored, particularly if he bats leadoff like he did many times in Oakland. Keep close tabs on those Blue Jays lineups during spring training!
Re-signings: Hiroki Kuroda, Jake Westbrook
Fantasy owners tend to like pitchers re-signing with former teams, because at least then there's concrete evidence to support their fantasy prospects for the following season. So in the cases of Kuroda, who signed a one-year, $12 million contract to remain with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Jake Westbrook, who returned to the St. Louis Cardinals on a two-year, $16.5 million deal, who could be happier? Both pitchers return to pitching-friendly venues, and Kuroda in particular has a 3.49 ERA and 1.14 WHIP in his career (3.10 and 1.13 in 2010) at Dodger Stadium. Kuroda's problem has always been health; he was the No. 31 starting pitcher on our Player Rater but is a smarter choice if he's drafted about 10 spots lower.
Westbrook, meanwhile, gets to extend his tutelage with pitching guru Dave Duncan, who helped the right-hander to a 3.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and nine quality starts in 12 appearances after coming over in a midseason trade. That Westbrook won only four games with the Cardinals might have fantasy owners doubting his skills, as might his No. 91 ranking among starting pitchers on the 2010 Player Rater. He could have top-50 starter potential with the Cardinals, however, being that Duncan has transformed several equal or lesser arms into assets at least that valuable in the past.
Clint Barmes-Felipe Paulino trade
In a trade that immediately raised eyebrows, the Houston Astros acquired Barmes from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for Paulino, and perhaps the reason some felt the Rockies got the better end of the deal is the fantasy owners' gut reaction that Barmes has everything to lose leaving Coors Field. He does; he has .224/.266/.352 career road rates, and has never slugged higher than .380 on the road in any of his five years of 100-plus plate appearances. Minute Maid Park isn't exactly a pitchers' paradise, and that all eight of Barmes' home runs were pulled to left field, the area of Houston's park that plays best for power, makes him a decent bet to maintain a similar home-run rate. He'll probably hit low in the order in what's a weak offense, however, and as a probable starter at shortstop -- or perhaps second base -- he might give his owners tons of .250-hitting at-bats with little to speak of in runs or RBIs. That, by the way, is not a good thing.
Paulino, meanwhile, is an interesting pickup for the Rockies, a pitcher who possesses swing-and-miss stuff but brings lots of questions in the health column. You might remember him more recently for ending the 2010 season on the disabled list with a rotator-cuff injury than for the eight-start streak he had in June/July during which he had a 3.19 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 8.89 K's-per-nine ratio. He might be in the mix for a rotation spot if healthy in the spring, but could be ticketed for relief. In some ways, considering Paulino's lefty-righty split, it wouldn't be unthinkable if he develops into a right-handed version of Franklin Morales.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.
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