- AJ Mass, Rumor Central
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Each and every year, major league baseball looks more and more like its fantasy doppelganger. Free-agent signings and trades make it nearly impossible to recognize some team rosters from one season to the next, and for every front page headline announcing a move like the Roy Halladay trade, there are hundreds of other transactions that seem to fall through the hot stove cracks.
Fear not, intrepid baseball fan. We've compiled a list of the players who find themselves in new clubhouses for 2010 and given you a brief synopsis of what that might mean to their playing status for the upcoming season -- as well as what that might mean to any directly affected teammates -- in this handy offseason movement chart.
Meanwhile, for those moves that made the most waves -- and perhaps a few that should have made bigger ones -- we'll go into a little more detail on what you need to know while preparing for your fantasy draft. After all, in fantasy sports, just as in real estate, a crucial mantra to keep in the forefront of your mind is, "Location, location, location."
The 10 biggest offseason moves
1. Roy Halladay, SP, traded to Phillies: If Halladay had an ERA of 2.79 and a WHIP of 1.12 in the American League, how much better will he fare when not having to face a designated hitter on a regular basis? While with Toronto, in 16 interleague appearances on the road, his career ERA was 2.65, so we're expecting him to give Tim Lincecum a run for the National League Cy Young Award.
2. Cliff Lee, SP, traded to Mariners: Lee was 5-0 against the AL West in his breakout 2008 campaign, so he's more than comfortable performing in these ballparks. Plus, with him following an ace like Felix Hernandez in the rotation, opposing lineups will have an even tougher time adjusting to his mound repertoire than they have in past seasons.
3. Jason Bay, OF, signed with Mets: The big concern with the Mets this past season was the lack of power, and Bay should step right in and provide a healthy share of home runs. He's a strict pull hitter, and yes, the left-field wall's height was bandied about as an issue for David Wright, but let's be honest -- can a guy moving to Citi Field from Fenway Park truly be intimidated by the height of the wall in Flushing?
4. Curtis Granderson, OF, traded to Yankees: Certainly Granderson will play every day, most likely in center field, but if he doesn't improve his .210 career batting average against left-handed pitching, it won't matter one bit how appealing the right-field porch in Yankee Stadium might be. Having said that, New York once again has an embarrassment of hitting riches, with 30-home run potential from both its No. 7 hitter (Granderson) and the eight hole (Nick Swisher).
5. Chone Figgins, 3B, signed with Mariners: Figgins hit .318 this past season with men on base, and batting behind Ichiro Suzuki for the Mariners, he should find himself in that scenario more often than not. Maybe he won't score as many runs in 2010 without Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter there to drive him in, but if Milton Bradley can somehow finally find happiness, this Seattle lineup could be quite potent.
6. Javier Vazquez, P, signed with Yankees: If Vazquez keeps his fly ball rate to just less than 35 percent, as he did in 2009, while keeping up his sensational 9.77 strikeout-per-nine rate, he's bound to be the most effective No. 4 starter in all of baseball. After all, he won 15 games for Atlanta this past season with far less run support than he's bound to get from the Yankees, who led the majors in runs scored with 915.
7. Jose Valverde, RP, signed with Tigers: Jim Leyland wasn't likely to survive another season with Fernando Rodney and his 4.9 walks-per-nine attempting to close out games. Enter Valverde, who had a 2.33 ERA this past season after leading the NL in saves the prior two campaigns. Additionally, he provides a veteran presence that could go a long way in helping mentor young relievers like Ryan Perry and Daniel Schlereth.
8. Ben Sheets, P, signed with Athletics: He's coming back from surgery on his pitching elbow, and he missed all of last season, so we know the risk is huge. However, he has a career WHIP of 1.20 and his reputation is such that he not only got $10 million to pitch this season, but he moves right to the head of the Oakland rotation. The upside might well be worth the gamble.
9. Adrian Beltre, 3B, signed with Red Sox: Defensively, there are few who can hold a candle to Beltre, and his offensive production should be helped by the friendly dimensions of Fenway Park, but there's no guarantee. After all, he's hit only .179 at Boston for his career, and there's still the spectre of Mike Lowell lurking in the background after a trade to Texas was nixed in the offseason. Things could get uncomfortably hot at the hot corner this spring.
10. Randy Wolf, SP, signed with Brewers: The man the Brewers signed to take over the No. 2 spot in the rotation (following Yovani Gallardo) always has been a far better pitcher than the obvious numbers would indicate. In fact, 10 of his no-decisions this past season and three of his seven losses for the Dodgers were quality starts, and although Wolf himself was only 11-7, Los Angeles was 22-12 in games in which he took the mound.
The 10 most interesting under-the-radar moves
1. Placido Polanco, 2B, signed with Phillies: Lost in all the Halladay hoopla was the return of Polanco to Philadelphia. One of the toughest hitters in the game to strikeout, he's second among all active players with a career AB/K rate of 14.09. That makes him a perfect No. 2 hitter and allows Charlie Manuel to move Shane Victorino down in the order, where he should flourish with the opportunity to swing earlier in the count.
2. Willy Taveras, OF, traded to (then waived by) Athletics: Talk about addition by subtraction! When the Reds unloaded Taveras and his hefty contract to Oakland, it wasn't about who they got in return; it was about the hole it opened up in center field. Say hello to Cincinnati's new leadoff hitter, Drew Stubbs, who hit eight homers and stole 10 bases in just 180 at-bats in 2009. (As for Taveras, he was summarily designated for assignment by the A's -- who really wanted only utility man Adam Rosales in the deal -- and ultimately invited to spring training by the Nationals.)
3. Marlon Byrd, OF, signed with Cubs: After five ho-hum seasons in the NL, Byrd improved his batting average by 32 points and his OPS by 119 points in three seasons in Texas under the tutelage of hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo. Guess whom the Cubs just hired as their 2010 hitting coach? Byrd should be more than at home in Chicago, batting fifth and manning center field.
4. Mark Teahen, 3B, and Chris Getz, 2B, traded in White Sox/Royals deal : It's not that Teahen, who will take over third base for the White Sox, is anything special from a fantasy perspective. However, this deal is big because it moves Gordon Beckham -- who played all of his 102 games at third base in 2009 -- to the second-base position vacated by Getz for 2010. That extra flexibility, which eventually will allow you to play Beckham at either corner or middle infield, increases his value all the more.
5. Adam LaRoche, 1B, signed with Diamondbacks: With LaRoche batting cleanup in Arizona and Mark Reynolds protecting him in the lineup, we would not be surprised to see him swat 30 homers this season. Additionally, Conor Jackson, recovered from his bout with Valley Fever, can now move back to the outfield, where he seems far more relaxed than when he plays first base. First baseman of the future Brandon Allen should now get a full year of seasoning at Triple-A.
6. Jake Fox, 3B/OF, traded to Athletics: Where will Fox play? That's the big question for fantasy owners, as the answer will affect the fantasy values of Jack Cust, Daric Barton and Ryan Sweeney, among others. The acquisition of Kevin Kouzmanoff probably removes third base from the equation, but the A's certainly need to find a spot somewhere for a hitter with obvious 25-home run potential, don't they?
7. Carlos Gomez, OF, traded to Brewers: When the Brewers traded J.J. Hardy away for Gomez, they opened up the shortstop position for Alcides Escobar. Now the big question comes with which one hits second in this lineup and which one gets relegated to eighth. Both players have plenty of speed, but the one batting with Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder behind him, instead of the pitcher slot, is the one who'll likely score 100 runs.
8. Ryan Garko, 1B, signed with Mariners: Garko is a career .313 hitter against left-handed hitting, something that should come in handy in a division loaded with southpaw starters like Scott Kazmir, Joe Saunders, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, Josh Outman, Gio Gonzalez and Derek Holland. Could be a nice sleeper selection, and at the very least, hurts the value of Casey Kotchman.
9. Brandon Morrow, SP, traded to Blue Jays: Halladay's departure leaves the Blue Jays' rotation wide open, and Morrow should slot in nicely as one of the five to get the call in 2010. The problem with Morrow in Seattle was that the Mariners never seemed willing to commit to his being either a starter or a potential closer, and all that bouncing between the two roles stunted his growth. Morrow and his career 8.1 K/9 as a starter should flourish in Southern Ontario.
10. Jim Thome, DH, Twins: Back in the AL, with the ability to DH, Thome once again has some real fantasy value. Because he is a left-handed hitter, though, it's not clear how much his presence will affect Jason Kubel's playing time. If the Twins want both bats in the lineup against right-handed pitching, then either Delmon Young or Michael Cuddyer needs to sit. Somebody's stats have to suffer, so be careful which Twins outfielders you draft.
AJ Mass looks at 10 of the biggest and 10 of the most intriguing offseason moves in baseball as they pertain to fantasy.