Fantasy Baseball: 11 Offseason Acquisitions with Big Values Entering 2014

Andrew Gould@AndrewGould4Featured ColumnistJanuary 22, 2014

Fantasy Baseball: 11 Offseason Acquisitions with Big Values Entering 2014

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    Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the New York Yankees' many acquisitions who will enjoy batting in Yankee Stadium.
    Jacoby Ellsbury is one of the New York Yankees' many acquisitions who will enjoy batting in Yankee Stadium.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Change is always scary, but certain MLB players will revitalize their fantasy baseball stock this season with new surroundings.

    Although individuals are less reliant on their co-workers than other professional athletes who play team sports, their utility is altered by the architects who created the league's ballparks. Each stadium is constructed with distinct dimensions, which means the locale matters.

    Some newcomers also stumble upon enhanced playing time, while others can just use a fresh start. 

    I'm not covering all the big names, as many of their values either remained steady or took a slight stumble. Shin-Soo Choo holds considerable value with the Texas Rangers, but he simply swapped small stadiums and loaded lineups.

    Instead, these guys all benefit from ditching Point A for Point B. Even if some of these players at best warrant a late look, they deserve some recognition after changing uniforms this offseason.

    Remember these names as you begin prepping for 2014 drafts.

    Note: Advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

Honorable Mentions

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    Moving to the Texas Rangers boosts Prince Fielder's value but not enough to vault him into the first round.
    Moving to the Texas Rangers boosts Prince Fielder's value but not enough to vault him into the first round.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas Rangers

    While Fielder's outlook is brighter in Texas, everyone else knows that, so drafters might have to overpay for him. FantasyPros' early aggregate rankings have him slated at No. 11 overall, which is far too high for a power hitter whose slugging percentage reached a career low last year.

    John Axford, RP, Cleveland Indians

    Axford is in line to get saves in Cleveland, so by the rules of fantasy baseball, we must give him the time of day. My money is still on Cody Allen, who recorded a 2.43 ERA and 11.26 K/9 ratio last season, seizing the job by May.

    Corey Hart, OF, Seattle Mariners

    Seattle is a lousy place for a right-handed power hitter to land, but the returning Hart could still hit 20 homers in his return to action. After missing all of 2013 and landing in an unfavorable spot, he'll probably cost next to nothing.

    Tyler Skaggs, SP, Los Angeles Angels

    The highly regarded young lefty is unlikely to make a huge impact in 2014, but at least Skaggs has a rotation spot in a better pitcher's park. He could be worth a late-round flier. 

Phil Hughes, SP, Minnesota Twins

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    Leaving the New York Yankees will help enable Phil Hughes' ugly fly-ball habit.
    Leaving the New York Yankees will help enable Phil Hughes' ugly fly-ball habit.Mike Stobe/Getty Images

    Nobody is expecting Phil Hughes to compete for the Cy Young award after escaping the deadly confines of Yankee Stadium. What the move does, however, is convert a starting pitcher who was not worth our attention into an interesting late-round option.

    Hughes enjoyed Yankee Stadium about as much as Ron Swanson likes salad. Pitting a right-handed pitcher with a career 46 percent fly-ball rate against a short porch that barely features a fence in right field led to disaster.

    Throughout his career, he has surrendered 76 long balls at home compared to 36 on the road. Last season, he sported a dastardly 6.32 ERA at home while allowing a home run for every game he pitched (17).

    I'm no expert on the human mind, but getting drowned in a sea of boos by the tough Bronx crowd probably didn't help his self-esteem.

    Now he gets a fresh start at another new stadium, except this one was designed too much in the pitcher's favor. Target Field rated 27th on ESPN's Park Factors in terms of home runs yielded, while Yankee Stadium finished ninth. 

    Pitchers who allow a huge chunk of fly balls struggle to thrive regardless of the locale, but plotting Hughes in an advantageous destination at least makes him a possible post-hype sleeper worth streaming in his new home. 

David Murphy, OF, Cleveland Indians

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    David Murphy should have a better year in 2014.
    David Murphy should have a better year in 2014.Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

    David Murphy did himself no favors during a contract season.

    Squandering all the steam gained from his breakthrough 2012 campaign when he hit .304/.380/.479, he followed by amassing a dreadful .220/.282/.374 slash line in 2013.

    After accruing double-digit steals in each of the last three seasons, he swiped just one bag in 2013, making him an unownable outfielder in all fantasy formats. He probably won't get drafted in standard mixed leagues, which is understandable.

    Despite his terrible year, managers in deeper leagues should target Murphy, who is primed to erase the sour taste of a disastrous fluke season.

    A career .275 hitter with a .302 BABIP, he instead hit .220 with a .227 BABIP. When batters experience such a steep drop in BABIP, some disturbing trends usually hide behind the result. In Murphy's case, there's not much there.

    Besides a slightly higher rate of pop-ups, his batted balls tendencies remained in check with his career numbers. While some lucky bounces helped him out in 2012, his fortune swung in the opposite direction last year.

    Murphy is useless against lefties, but a .275 hitter who can offer 15 homers and 10 steals could help deep-league owners, especially those who can employ a platoon.

Josh Johnson, SP, San Diego Padres

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    Josh Johnson is moving from an American League bandbox to a spacious National League home.
    Josh Johnson is moving from an American League bandbox to a spacious National League home.Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

    Let's begin this endorsement with a major caveat: Josh Johnson is probably going to get hurt.

    That's kind of what he does. He has started at least 30 games in just two seasons and only once surpassed 200 innings pitched. If you can get 160 innings out of him, consider that a victory.

    In the past, his uncertainty was a risk that drafters would readily take, as he delivered top-notch production when on the mound. In 2010, he construed a 2.30 ERA in 183.2 innings pitched. The following year, he held a 1.64 ERA through nine starts before a shoulder injury cost him the rest of the season.

    Last year, however, Johnson was abysmal during his brief time on the mound. At least, that's what a quick look at his surface numbers would lead researchers to believe. 

    He lasted just 81.1 innings and posted a catastrophic 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, so a lot of scorn drafters have probably sworn off Johnson forever. That's a poor move, as he suffered from dreadful fortune with a .356 BABIP, 18.5 HR/FB ratio and 63.3 percent strand rate—all way worse than his career norms.

    Looking at his 9.18 K/9 ratio, 3.32 walk rate and 3.58 xFIP, a serviceable pitcher was lurking in the shadows. If there's a place that could uncover that value, it's Petco Park. 

    Per ESPN's Park Factors, the Padres' home field suppressed runs more than any other stadium. Its cavernous dimensions should also curtail Johnson's nasty fly-ball problem that plagued him with the Toronto Blue Jays, which could turn him into a useful starter (and tremendous matchup play at home) if healthy.

    Before letting the health risk scare you off, embrace his flaws, as it will give him a microscopic price tag in 2014 drafts.

Justin Morneau, 1B, Colorado Rockies

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    Justin Morneau found the perfect landing spot in the Colorado Rockies.
    Justin Morneau found the perfect landing spot in the Colorado Rockies.Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Formerly an MVP, Justin Morneau has deteriorated into an average first baseman who is worth little for fantasy purposes. Moving to Colorado could challenge that sentiment.

    You're excused for still not wanting a veteran who plays a deep position and slugged .411 last season. I'm not even so sure anymore after typing that sentence. First basemen are easy to find.

    OK, so counting on Morneau to relive his glory days is foolish, but playing half of his games in Coors Field should pad his power numbers. For goodness sake, the place turned Michael Cuddyer into a superstar last season.

    Morneau suffered a grave power outage when the Minnesota Twins dealt him to the Pittsburgh Pirates in August, hitting no homers in 25 games. Before you panic, PNC Park was one of three parks that were less conducive to homers than Target Field in 2013.

    Coors Field can propel Morneau to blast 20-25 homers, and his new friends on the Rockies will help him compile his counting numbers. In deeper leagues, he deserves a closer look.

Dan Haren, SP, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    Dan Haren powered toward the finish line last year after a slow start.
    Dan Haren powered toward the finish line last year after a slow start.Jonathan Ernst/Getty Images

    In all fairness, everything I'm about to type about Dan Haren could have doubled as feasible analysis last preseason.

    Although he struggled in 2012, he received a clean slate with the Washington Nationals. Pitching in a spacious park for a National League team expected to dominate the competition? Sweet.

    Unfortunately, Haren again dished up 28 homers, which caused his ERA to soar to a career-worst 4.67. The offense did not match the lofty expectations, so he claimed just 10 victories. His troubles can't be blamed on bad luck, as he yielded a 21.9 percent line-drive rate. Meanwhile, his velocity has faded over the past two years. 

    With all that said, I still can't give up on Haren. Despite his flaws, he displays exceptional control. He has walked less than two batters per inning in each of the past three years.

    Outside the elite aces, most hurlers with that accuracy come attached with a discouraging strikeout rate. Haren, on the other hand, notched a sturdy 8.01 K/9 rate last year. That gave him an 4.81 K/BB rate that ranked sixth among qualified starters.

    The other names occupying the top 10? Cliff Lee, Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey, David Price, Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Hisashi Iwakuma and Max Scherzer.

    After returning from a "dead arm" (translation: He had a case of the awfuls) that sidelined him for two weeks, Haren posted a 3.29 ERA during the final three months. Now he'll look to parlay that success over to the Los Angeles Dodgers, another potential juggernaut playing in a friendly NL ballpark. 

    If he can follow Ricky Nolasco's path to limiting his homers in Los Angeles, Haren can revive his fantasy usefulness with the Dodgers.

Adam Eaton, OF, Chicago White Sox

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    Adam Eaton gets a second chance to win drafters' hearts with the Chicago White Sox.
    Adam Eaton gets a second chance to win drafters' hearts with the Chicago White Sox.Denis Poroy/Getty Images

    Remember Adam Eaton?

    This time last year, every fantasy baseball analyst was doodling hearts in his or her notebook while scribbling Mr. or Mrs. Eaton in bubbly letters. Nobody could get enough of the popular sleeper who suddenly morphed into the furthest thing from an under-the-radar choice.

    A left elbow UCL sprain quickly derailed the Eaton locomotive, and he fizzled in limited action upon returning. Through 66 games, he hit .252/.314/.360 with three homers and five steals—hardly anything to get exciting about.

    But now that a three-team trade gives him a starting job with the Chicago White Sox, it's time to remember why everyone adored Eaton in the first place. 

    In 2012, he stole 46 bases, 38 of which came during 119 games down in Triple-A. He demonstrated terrific plate discipline throughout the minors, walking in 11.54 percent of his plate appearances. While he displayed that keen eye during a brief MLB stint in 2012, he drew just 17 walks in 277 plate appearances last season.

    The sample size is not large enough to jump to conclusions, so don't write off the speedster just yet. Eaton still possesses the skills to swipe 30 bags and hit 10 homers, possibly at the top of the White Sox's batting order. 

Joe Veras, RP, Chicago Cubs

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    After signing with the Chicago Cubs, Jose Veras will return to working in the ninth inning.
    After signing with the Chicago Cubs, Jose Veras will return to working in the ninth inning.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Getting a chance to close is alone enough to pique drafters' attention. Jose Veras is solid enough to keep them interested in investing during the later rounds.

    Even though he struggled with his control before joining the Houston Astros, he became their closer by default. While his velocity and strikeouts waned, the sacrifice resulted in a workable 3.16 BB/9 ratio.

    He tallied a 3.02 ERA, 1.07 WHIP and 60 strikeouts through 62.2 innings, which are numbers that fantasy owners would gladly sign up for again. Considering his .241 BABIP and 3.62 FIP, expect some regression but not a significant amount to make him irrelevant.

    The 33-year-old reliever signed a one-year deal with the Chicago Cubs, who are bereft of competitors for the closing gig. He's not a flashy name, so Veras will fall late enough in the draft where having a firm grasp of save opportunities stands out from the pack.

    Although the notion that closers can't record saves on bad teams usually holds no credence, pitching for a squad as bad as the Astros before getting reassigned to a set-up role with the Detroit Tigers limited his total. The Cubs, who led the mediocre Kevin Gregg to 33 saves last season, are fine enough to afford Veras more chances.

Scott Kazmir, SP, Oakland Athletics

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    Scott Kazmir quietly delivered a bounce-back campaign.
    Scott Kazmir quietly delivered a bounce-back campaign.Jason Miller/Getty Images

    No, you didn't fall asleep in a time machine and wake up in 2008. Scott Kazmir is relevant again.

    The oft-injured lefty returned after nearly two years of inactivity with surprisingly effective results. No longer a human disaster like in 2010, he registered a 3.51 FIP, 9.23 strikeouts and 2.68 walks per nine innings. 

    Since he recorded a less impressive 4.04 ERA and 1.32 WHIP, he won't generate much attention in drafts. He also hasn't logged 160 innings or more in a season since 2007, so he joins Josh Johnson in the injury risk department.

    That's all the more reason to spend a low-risk, high-reward selection on Kazmir, who touted more control than ever without losing his power. In fact, his average fastball velocity jumped to 92.5 miles per hour, his highest clip since 2005.

    Cleveland's Progressive Field is a fairly neutral stadium, but Kazmir will now relocate to the Oakland Athletics. The Coliseum can keep a few fly balls in the outfield, which will help him improve his ERA.

    He's no sure thing, but sure-thing pitchers are a bigger fantasy than unicorns and elves spreading seasonal joy with the Easter bunny. That goes double deep in the draft, where Kazmir will be waiting.

Mark Trumbo, 1B/OF, Arizona Diamondbacks

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    Steady sources of power are a dying breed, so don't overlook Mark Trumbo.
    Steady sources of power are a dying breed, so don't overlook Mark Trumbo.Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Despite all his flaws, fantasy owners should show deeper gratitude for Mark Trumbo.

    As a real-life player, he is a one-dimensional slugger with a .299 on-base percentage and below-average defense. For fantasy purposes, he's a rare source of homers that justifies the batting average detriment.

    Legit power threats are harder to find as pitchers enjoy more and more success in the big leagues. Since Trumbo entered the pros in 2011, only Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, Jose Bautista and Jay Bruce have hit more homers than him (97).

    That impressive assortment of homers was obtained in a tame environment for hitters. Now Trumbo will play half his games in Chase Field, a better place to cultivate power. 

    Even though he hit a career-low .234 despite setting a personal best with 34 homers, he upped his walk rate to 8 percent while slashing more line drives than ever before. His average should at least rise back to .250, which is manageable if 35 long balls and 90-100 RBI are coming along for the party.

    Bruce has etched out a place in the early rounds for his ability to consistently provide 30 homers despite an unappetizing average. Trumbo is a lesser model, but he won't fall too far down the rankings as a member of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 'New' New York Yankees Offense

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    Brian McCann saved his draft stock by signing with the Yankees.
    Brian McCann saved his draft stock by signing with the Yankees.Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

    Devoting multiple slides to several different New York Yankees would have been overkill, so let's deal with them in one fell swoop.

    A particularly forceful bunt could clear Yankee Stadium's right-field fence on a breezy day, so the Yankees astutely loaded up on left-handed hitters who can capitalize on the short porch. This new lineup should engineer some exciting fantasy outputs.

    Had he signed with the Seattle Mariners—which seemed possible before they poached Robinson Cano from the Bronx Bombers—Jacoby Ellsbury would have entered drafts with a warning label. Owners want to harness the most power possible in the early rounds and find cheaper speed later.

    But as a Yankee, he could work his way into some first-round selections. His 32-homer aberration from 2011 still won't happen again, but 15 is now a possible goal if he can dart some liners out of Yankee Stadium. Combine that with a good average, plenty of runs and 40-50 steals, and you have a fantasy star.

    A power catcher who annually belts at least 20 homers, Brian McCann could produce 25-30 in his new home. The moves saves his status as a top-10 fantasy catcher with top-five capability.

    The usually patient Carlos Beltran only registering a 6.3 percent walk rate raises some concerns, but his power remains alive. Although his vanishing speed saps him of greater value, his smooth swing and 19.9 line-drive rate are tailored perfectly for his new venue.

    Even Kelly Johnson is an interesting option for bargain shoppers. Those who can live with an ugly average might procure an extremely cheap source of 20 homers and 10 steals.

    Now that they've made one more gigantic signing, let's break that one down in its own section.

Masahiro Tanaka, SP, New York Yankees

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    Masahiro Tanaka will make his MLB debut with the New York Yankees this year.
    Masahiro Tanaka will make his MLB debut with the New York Yankees this year.Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

    The Yankees have spent the offseason altering a decaying lineup, but they turned their sights to the rotation by landing Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka for a seven-year, $155 million deal. Now that we finally know where Tanaka will play, we can move on to figuring out his fantasy value in 2014.

    As evidenced by touting every offensive player that gets the privilege to swing the bat in Yankee Stadium, it’s not the ideal destination for a pitcher. And while the offense has improved, it’s no longer a dynamo that secures every starter 15 or more victories.

    Tanaka logged 1,315 innings in Japan, way more than any MLB pitcher would throw before turning 25. His K/9 rate dropping to 7.8 in 2013 is concerning, but that came attached to a 1.27 ERA.

    He enters the United States as a highly regarded pitcher, but most scouts stop short of comparing him to fellow Japanese ace Yu Darvish. In a Sports Illustrated article written by Albert Chen, however, Japanese baseball writer Jim Allen dared to take that leap.

    I think he's a better pitcher than Darvish. He's the best pitcher that's been in Japan, not in terms of stuff -- there were other pitchers who were probably as good -- but in terms of athleticism, physical build, and mental makeup, there's never been such a complete package.

    Allen added that he "wouldn't be surprised if his first season is a serious disappointment because of the adjustments he has to make," so let's not go overboard in trusting Tanaka to anchor a fantasy rotation.

    He won't collect 200 punchouts, but his tremendous control and mysterious upside leave him ranked around No. 30 among starting pitchers.

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