Reviewing top 2010-11 offseason moves
Comedian Jerry Seinfeld observed that loyal sports fans are all essentially just rooting for clothes: "Fans will be so in love with a player, but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt! They hate him now! Boo! Different shirt! Boo!"
It can be the same way in fantasy baseball. Over the offseason, hundreds of players change zip codes and exchange their old uniforms for new ones with different logos and color schemes, and our opinions of those players can change depending on where they sign or go via trade. Think about it. How many times have you liked a player more or less based on his new league, new home ballpark or new lineup around him?
With this in mind, let's break down the offseason's 10 biggest moves -- as well as 10 other interesting moves that didn't make as many headlines -- and determine how each player's fantasy value is affected by changing teams ... even if, technically speaking, they're just the same human beings wearing different shirts.
(If you want a roundup of all the offseason moves, large and small, we have that too.)
10 Biggest Offseason Moves
1. Carl Crawford, OF, signs with Boston Red Sox: Crawford's seven-year, $142 million deal was the biggest free-agent contract of the offseason. He'll bat second or third in a lineup that scored the second-most runs in baseball last year and added slugger Adrian Gonzalez to the middle of the order. A career .333 hitter (25-for-75) at Fenway Park, Crawford would've been a top-10 pick wherever he signed, but Boston is a particularly strong fit for this five-category star.
2. Cliff Lee, SP, signs with Philadelphia Phillies: Is it even fair for Lee to move to the National League? The lefty's 10.3 K/BB ratio last year wasn't just the best mark in baseball; it was the second best mark in baseball history (Bret Saberhagen posted a 11.0 K/BB in the strike-shortened 1994 season). Citizens Bank Park favors hitters, but Lee has pitched well there in his career (2.52 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 10.1 K/9 in five starts) and will receive plenty of run support from Ryan Howard and Co. There's no reason Lee won't approach 20 wins this year.
3. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, traded to Boston Red Sox: Few ballparks suppress power numbers like Petco Park in San Diego, so moving to Fenway Park, not to mention the Red Sox's lineup, is a huge positive for Gonzalez. He averaged an impressive .282-34-105 line the past four seasons despite his cavernous home park. What's more important is that over those four years he hit .259-47-163 in 319 games at Petco, compared to .309-90-315 in 324 road games. For those keeping score at home, that's 43 more home runs and 152 more RBIs in just five more road games. Hitting behind Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Dustin Pedroia instead of Will Venable, David Eckstein and Miguel Tejada won't hurt, either.
4. Jayson Werth, OF, signs with Washington Nationals: Werth is coming off a season that saw him hit significantly better at Citizens Bank Park (.320-18-51) than on the road (.270-9-34), and he's moving to an inferior lineup in Washington and a new home park that isn't particularly hitter-friendly. It's also worth noting that he'll now have to face the Phillies and their devastating rotation 18 times this season instead of the Nationals, a team he hit .368 against in 2010. Werth remains a legitimate five-category producer in fantasy, but Washington wasn't an ideal landing spot.
5. Adam Dunn, 1B, signs with Chicago White Sox: With seven straight seasons of least 38 home runs despite playing in three different home parks, it's evident that Dunn's power will translate anywhere. The good news, though, is that U.S. Cellular Field ranked as the No. 1 venue for home runs in 2010, according to ESPN's Park Factors page, meaning he could hit more than 40 dingers for the first time since 2004. Left-handed pitchers did create problems for Dunn last season (.199 batting average), but the American League Central isn't exactly stocked with imposing southpaws.
6. Zack Greinke, SP, traded to Milwaukee Brewers: It's hard to find a single negative about Greinke being shipped to the Brewers. He'll face pitchers instead of designated hitters. He should get consistent run support from a lineup anchored by Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. And by being on a competitive team, he should get a renewed sense of motivation after requesting a trade from the Kansas City Royals.
7. Adrian Beltre, 3B, signs with Texas Rangers: Beltre hasn't hit better than .276 in a non-contract year since 2000, and he has never had 100 RBIs in a non-contract season, but it helps that Park Factors ranked Rangers Ballpark seventh in home runs and fourth in hits last year (Fenway ranked 21st and ninth, respectively). Beltre will start at third base for the Rangers, pushing Michael Young to DH. As things stand now, Mike Napoli will eat into Young's at-bats, but Young has requested a trade and likely will be dealt prior to Opening Day.
8. Dan Uggla, 2B, traded to Atlanta Braves: Uggla's move to Atlanta isn't all that significant from a fantasy perspective. Sun Life Stadium and Turner Field are comparable parks for right-handed power hitters, and while the Braves probably have a slightly better lineup, the difference is negligible. The main thing owners need to know is that Uggla is just the second second baseman in history to produce four straight 30-homer seasons, making his power a unique and valuable asset.
9. Victor Martinez, C, signs with Detroit Tigers: One of baseball's most stable producers behind the plate, V-Mart is expected to be the Tigers' primary DH. He could still draw a start or two per week at catcher, but keeper-league owners should monitor the situation to ensure he maintains catcher eligibility for 2012. On the bright side, more time at DH means more at-bats than a typical catcher receives. Martinez might miss Fenway Park, where he hit .335 last season, but Park Factors ranked Comerica Park and Fenway comparably in home runs and hits last year.
10. Matt Garza, sP, traded to Chicago Cubs: Moving to the National League is always good for a pitcher, but everything isn't necessarily hunky-dory for Garza in the Windy City. His fly-ball tendencies make him a poor fit for Wrigley Field, and his fly-ball rate has actually increased every season since 2007, culminating in a 0.58 G/F mark in 2010. In addition, last season's 6.6 K/9 rate was down considerably from 2009's 8.4 mark, which is another red flag. In short, Garza will remain a fine fantasy option, but don't expect a Cy Young-type season just because he's now in the NL.
10 Most Intriguing Offseason Moves
1. Javier Vazquez, SP, signs with Florida Marlins: Who thought a second stint with the New York Yankees was a good idea? That's like expecting "The Last Airbender" to somehow get better with a second viewing. Vazquez's return to the Bronx was a disaster, as his 5.32 ERA and 1.40 WHIP show. There are other concerns here, as well, such as his fastball velocity dropping to 88.7 mph (91.1 mph in 2009) and the fact that he posted the highest walk rate (3.7) of his career, so it's not as simple as projecting a full rebound now that he's left the Bronx. However, getting back to the National League, where he posted a 2.87 ERA and 5.4 K/BB ratio in 2009, should put him back on fantasy radars.
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2. Aaron Harang, SP, signs with San Diego Padres: Harang has spent time on the disabled list each of the past three years and hasn't posted fantasy-relevant numbers since 2007. There's reason for optimism, however. A fly-ball pitcher, Harang will be greatly aided by the pitcher-friendly Petco Park, and his BABIP marks from 2009 and 2010 (.331 and .338, respectively) indicate he didn't pitch as poorly as the numbers show. He'll likely never return to his 2006-07 form, but he could be an under-the-radar commodity in NL-only leagues if he stays healthy.
3. John Buck, C, signs with Florida Marlins: The notable part of Buck signing with the Marlins is what he left back in Toronto. With Buck gone, J.P. Arencibia has a clear path to the Blue Jays' starting catcher job. In just 104 games at Triple-A Las Vegas last season, Arencibia hit .301 with a .359 OBP, 32 home runs and 85 RBIs. He may struggle to hit for average in the short term, but his power should have him contributing in fantasy leagues immediately.
4. Brandon Webb, SP, signs with Texas Rangers: We don't know if Webb's shoulder will hold up this season after a failed attempt to return from shoulder surgery last year, and it's unclear whether his velocity will ever return to previous levels even once he's healthy. Still, we can't simply ignore his track record of success prior to surgery. He'll have a strong lineup behind him in Texas (the Rangers' .276 batting average in 2010 led baseball), and his groundball-inducing ways suit him well to the hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark. A late-round flyer is a low price to pay on draft day.
5. Bobby Jenks, RP, signs with Boston Red Sox: After five straight seasons with at least 27 saves, Jenks heads to Boston, where he'll be a middle reliever in front of closer Jonathan Papelbon. The Red Sox are open to dealing Papelbon, and even then, the team may opt to go with the younger Daniel Bard in the ninth inning. The real news here, though, is that with Jenks out of the picture, Matt Thornton, who owned a 12.0 K/9 rate last year, is the favorite to close games for the White Sox. He's never saved more than eight games in a season, but he has the skills to be a top-tier fantasy closer.
6. Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B, signs with Minnesota Twins: A shortstop in Japan, Nishioka, 26, is expected to man second base for the Twins, with Alexi Casilla starting at short. The switch-hitting Nishioka won the Pacific League batting title last year with a .346 clip and hit 11 home runs with 56 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. He won't compete for a batting title in the big leagues, but he should be able to handle himself at the plate and steal enough bases to be fantasy relevant.
7. Lance Berkman, 1B, signs with St. Louis Cardinals: Some think Berkman's down 2010 season was the beginning of the end. They may be right, but it's also possible that he still has something left. He lost 20 pounds over the offseason, hopefully helping him overcome the knee injuries that plagued him last year, and he'll have plenty of RBI opportunities hitting behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday. Even if Berkman sits regularly against lefties in 2011 -- which would benefit his batting average -- you shouldn't give up on him just yet.
8. Justin Duchscherer, SP, signs with Baltimore Orioles: The bad news here is that the Orioles' defense is significantly worse than what he had behind him in Oakland, which is particularly worrisome for a pitcher such as Duchscherer, who doesn't miss many bats. The good news is that the Orioles' new-look lineup should provide more run support than last year's model that scored the second fewest runs in the AL. Can Duchscherer stay healthy after hip and elbow problems limited him to just five starts the last two seasons? That's anyone's guess. What we do know, however, is that he holds a 2.60 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in his last 27 starts dating back to 2008, and that alone makes him a worthy low-risk gamble.
9. J.J. Putz, RP, signs with Arizona Diamondbacks: Putz had minimal fantasy value the past two seasons in middle relief and setup roles, and he is no sure thing to avoid the disabled list again in 2011 after DL stints in 2008 and 2009. However, the Diamondbacks signed him to hold down the closer role, and his 10.8 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 marks last year aren't far off from when he was considered one of the premier closers in the league with the Seattle Mariners in 2006 and 2007.
10. Jeff Francis, SP, signs with Kansas City Royals: Francis missed the entire 2009 season due to shoulder surgery and was largely unimpressive in 20 games (19 starts) last year, holding a 5.00 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. That said, the southpaw's 2.0 BB/9 rate last season was the best mark of his career, and his average fastball velocity of 87.2 mph was actually higher than his pre-surgery average, a good sign he's back at full strength and capable of returning to his previous level of performance. As usual, wins will be hard to come by in Kansas City, but Kauffman Stadium will be much more forgiving than Coors Field.
Mike Sheets is a veteran fantasy baseball analyst.
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