Commentary

Rizzo, Cashner have upside after trade

Updated: January 6, 2012, 7:51 PM ET
By Tristan H. Cockcroft | ESPN.com

The Chicago Cubs finally have their first baseman of the future, and it's neither Albert Pujols nor Prince Fielder.

[+] EnlargeAnthony Rizzo
Denis Poroy/Getty ImagesPlaying home games at Wrigley Field could revive Anthony Rizzo's value after a disappointing 2011 campaign.

It's Anthony Rizzo, whom new Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein selected in the sixth round of the 2007 amateur draft, when he was general manager of the Boston Red Sox, and new Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer acquired in last winter's Adrian Gonzalez trade, when he served in the same position for the San Diego Padres. Rizzo, along with minor league right-hander Zach Cates, were acquired by the Cubs from the Padres on Friday in exchange for right-hander Andrew Cashner and minor league outfielder Kyung-Min Na.

Clearly both Epstein and Hoyer hold Rizzo in high regard, having been rumored in trade pursuit of the 22-year-old prospect since the Padres acquired their likely Opening Day first baseman, Yonder Alonso, in December. There's little question that was their intent in acquiring him. Whether Rizzo's future begins now or at some distant point, however, is one significant question, and whether Rizzo's future is indeed bright is another.

According to Hoyer, the Cubs' plan at the onset of spring training will be to have Bryan LaHair at first base and Rizzo ticketed for more seasoning in Triple-A. It's a move that makes sense; Rizzo batted .141/.281/.242 and struck out in 35.9 percent of his at-bats in a 49-game stint for the Padres last season, plus batted .288 and struck out 26.3 percent of the time after being returned to Triple-A midseason (compared to .365 and 24.0 during his season-opening stint at that level).

LaHair, meanwhile, has seven years of age and 576 games' experience at the Triple-A and major league levels on Rizzo, meaning he's a more-than-adequate stand-in until the team deems Rizzo ready. LaHair has .297/.368/.528 career rates in Triple-A, is coming off his best year at that level -- .331/.405/.664 in 129 games as a 28-year-old -- and managed .288/.377/.508 numbers in a 20-game stint for the Cubs late last year. The dilemma, of course, is that fantasy owners in redraft leagues might not get a full season out of either; LaHair might handle the job for the first couple months before being supplanted by Rizzo midseason.

National League-only owners shouldn't consider either a prime pick, only targeting them in the later rounds. Rizzo has the greater upside and LaHair more polish, and since Rizzo could win the job outright during spring training, it's difficult to make that call today. Rizzo's upside probably gives him a slight edge.

In keeper leagues, however, don't underrate Rizzo, whose value might be at one of its lower points. He was, after all, still regarded the Padres' No. 1 prospect by Baseball America at the time of the trade, after ranking second on their list a winter ago, and he'll stand a better chance of big power numbers in Chicago's Wrigley Field than he did in San Diego's Petco Park. Rizzo could be a 30-homer source during his prime, even if only a .270-.280 hitter, but that's still easily a top-10 first baseman.

Cashner, meanwhile, apparently is ticketed for the Padres' bullpen, putting him on the list of interesting saves sleepers considering the injury track record of their current closer, Huston Street. Though Cashner's long-term future might be that of a starting pitcher, a bullpen assignment for 2012 makes sense after he logged 15 1/3 innings combined between the majors and minors last season due to missed time with a strained right rotator cuff.

Petco should be a plus for Cashner, who tends to struggle against lefties (.272/.368/.446 career, compared to .221/.326/.356 against righties), and that might put him on the fast track for the eighth-inning role, health willing. A possible scenario: Cashner quickly grabs the gig, putting himself into the primary handcuff role behind Street, who could just as easily miss time himself as be traded midsummer. NL-only owners going the cheap-saves route might want to take a chance on the right-hander, especially if he has a solid spring.

Padres acquire Carlos Quentin

Speaking of the Padres, who have been active on the trade market this offseason, they rang in the new year with the acquisition of their new left fielder and cleanup hitter Quentin, picked up from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for minor league pitchers Simon Castro and Pedro Hernandez on Dec. 31.

[+] EnlargeCarlos Quentin
Jesse Johnson/US PresswireCarlos Quentin's fantasy value should take a hit moving to pitcher-friendly Petco Park.

It's hardly good news for fantasy owners on several fronts, however. Besides the fact that it continues to clog the Padres' corner infield and outfield spots -- they now have Yonder Alonso, Jesus Guzman and Kyle Blanks at first base, and Blanks, Chris Denorfia and Will Venable vying for at-bats at the corner outfield spots -- it also is a significant hit to Quentin's own fantasy value.

At-bats should be plentiful for Quentin, and while batting cleanup during his healthy games should result in decent enough runs/RBI numbers -- Padres cleanup hitters did manage 81 RBIs combined in 2011 -- his power might suffer significantly. After all, every one of his previous six big-league seasons was played in a hitter-friendly home ballpark, and in 246 career games at U.S. Cellular Field he managed 59 home runs, .258 isolated power and an average of one home run per 14.5 at-bats. In 370 games played everywhere else, Quentin has hit 62 homers, managed .224 isolated power and averaged a homer per 20.0 at-bats.

In addition, 52.3 percent of Quentin's balls in play the past three seasons combined were fly balls, and his average home run distance was 398 feet. He also hit 55 of his 71 homers to left field, and that's significant, being that the distances to left field and left-center field in U.S. Cellular are 330 and 375 feet, while in Petco they range from 334 (left-field line) to 367 (left field) to 401 (left field alley). There's a good chance that Quentin, who might have had 30-homer power in Chicago, could struggle to get much past 20 in San Diego. Couple that with the two disabled-list stints he made for a total of 77 days the past three seasons combined and Quentin might not even get to 20 homers due to a somewhat limited number of at-bats.

Once the No. 181 player overall and No. 53 outfielder in my initial offseason rankings, Quentin's value has since plummeted, to 211th and 57th.

Prospective Blanks and Guzman owners in NL-only formats will also be disappointed; Quentin's arrival means fewer at-bats for either. Between Quentin's injury history and Alonso's inexperience, the prospect for a half-season's worth of at-bats is decent for either, but count on a bench role for either initially.

Carlos Zambrano heads way south

[+] EnlargeZambrano
Mike Zarrilli/Getty ImagesCarlos Zambrano went 9-7 with a 4.82 ERA last season for the Cubs.

Once one of the better fantasy starters out there, then an underrated one due to the increasingly growing number of sabermetric "haters" -- myself included -- out there, Carlos Zambrano finally has a fresh opportunity with a new team: He's now a member of the Miami Marlins, acquired on Thursday in exchange for Chris Volstad.

Though Zambrano struggled through easily the worst season of his 11-year career in 2011, don't be so quick to dismiss him as a fantasy bargain, particularly in NL-only leagues, in 2012. He's now managed by friend Ozzie Guillen, which could help increase his comfort level besides grant him a fresh opportunity, and has a whole new set of teammates, ones who weren't there for his outbursts in Chicago.

Skills-wise, however, Zambrano brings questions, and at any point he could suffer more of the injuries that have plagued him in recent years or revert to the distraction that he was during his final days in Chicago. His 6.24 strikeouts-per-nine innings ratio last season was the second-worst of his career and his 1.17 homers-per-nine ratio a career worst, and in each of the past two seasons his average fastball velocity was beneath 90 mph (89.9 in 2011).

There's a good chance that Zambrano is a mere matchups candidate in fantasy at this stage of his career, and that there exists no data on how the Marlins' new ballpark will play puts him in high-risk territory. But if you're a meticulous manager of an NL-only roster, he bears watching during spring training and selecting late in the draft, in the hopes you can squeeze some value from him.

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.