MLB Spring Training 2011: The All-Change-Of-Scenery Fantasy Roster
As spring training gets underway in Florida and Arizona, we take one last look at the recent Major League Baseball offseason and how the various trades and acquisitions will affect the fantasy landscape for 2011.
While there was much more movement than the players listed below, this is a fantasy roster comprised of the most notable players per position that will be wearing different uniforms from Opening Day 2010 and should be on radars come draft time 2011. Not all players in this article are necessarily top-tier options, but each carries some value all the way through the mid-to-late rounds if you have a position of need during your draft.
Catcher No. 1: Mike Napoli (Texas Rangers)
After getting traded to his third team this offseason, Napoli wound up in Texas, one of the most fantasy-friendly environments imaginable for a power-hitting catcher. However, the move may inevitably cost him overall playing time.
With the Rangers having also signed veteran Yorvit Torrealba, Napoli will not only have a capable backup, he’ll lose DH at bats with Michael Young forced to move to designated hitter after the Adrian Beltre signing.
Although it looks unlikely at this stage, Napoli’s value inches up along with his plate appearances if Young gets moved.
Catcher No. 2: Russell Martin (New York Yankees)
Similarly to Napoli, Martin left the west coast and now calls a hitter’s park home and a loaded Yankee lineup family. Although he enjoyed a promising start to his career in Los Angeles in 2006, Martin’s statistical production tailed off across the board each season since his All-Star campaign in 2007.
He dealt with a hip injury last season that is still lingering into spring training, but Martin should be fine by the time April rolls around and could be an under-the-radar acquisition with loads of RBI opportunities since the aging Jorge Posada has transitioned to a full-time DH role in the Bronx.
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez (Boston Red Sox)
Although the Red Sox mortgaged a chunk of their future to trade for the stud first baseman, Gonzalez provides a critical presence as the new lynchpin in Boston’s offense. The former Friar had been a fantasy second-round pick in San Diego, but now that he’ll play his home games in the Fenway bandbox as opposed to spacious Petco, Adrian’s home run, RBI totals as well as his OPS may spike in Beantown in 2011.
Gonzalez is recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, but is expected to be fine in time for Opening Day and should provide mid-to-late first-round value. Don’t let him fall to the second round, as he could be a top-three fantasy first baseman by season’s end.
Second Base: Dan Uggla (Atlanta Braves)
Uggla might miss hitting behind Hanley Ramirez, but he won’t miss desolate Sun Life Stadium, where the Florida ranked 28th in home attendance in 2010. Playing in the Sunshine State has limited Uggla’s overall exposure, and he deserves far more credibility outside of fantasy circles for his body of work.
Second basemen who average 32 HRs over four seasons in an era of declining longball totals come few and far between. With the former Marlin’s arrival in Atlanta, All-Star Martin Prado will move from 2B to left field, so Uggla will have an improved lineup around him and may finally get his due as more than just a “poor man’s Chase Utley.”
Shortstop: Jason Bartlett (San Diego Padres)
The former Ray moves from the toughest division in baseball to what is widely considered the weakest. Petco Park may be a pitcher’s paradise, but Bartlett is more of a gap line-drive hitter who could actually benefit from the spacious dimensions of his new home stadium.
In spite of a statistically disappointing 2010, the Padres will give their offseason acquisition every opportunity to succeed, as disappointing backup Everth Cabrera may begin the season in the minors. Furthermore, San Diego maintains an aggressive philosophy on the basepaths and ranked sixth in stolen bases last year.
Hence, Bartlett will be given the green light often once he gets on.
Third Base: Adrian Beltre (Texas Rangers)
Beltre is nothing if not opportunistic. The only two seasons in which he collected at least 100 RBI and a .300 batting average happened to occur during contract years in 2004 and 2010. Although we’d normally advise buyer beware, Beltre is now situated in the middle of a powerful Rangers’ lineup that rivals the 2010 Rangers in terms of potency.
It seems like Beltre has been in the league forever, but the 13-year veteran turns just 32 in April and could post a 30-100-90-.290 clip in Arlington given his familiarity with the AL West after toiling for five years in Seattle. Even if he doesn’t get traded, DH Michael Young shouldn’t pose a threat to Beltre’s job security, as the latter is far superior at handling the hot corner than Young.
Middle Infielder (2B/SS): Bill Hall (Houston Astros)
After hitting an impressive 18 home runs in just 344 at bats off the Red Sox bench, Hall was given another shot at regular playing time with Houston. Although he’ll don his fourth different jersey in four years when he joins the Astros in camp, Hall deserves a look as a late-round second baseman that can hit for powerand it should be noted that he dramatically improved his base stealing percentage last year.
Hall’s problem has always been getting on base and avoiding strikeouts, but he presents enough upside to be a late-round asset in deep mixed leagues with his move to a full-time role at hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park.
Corner Infielder (1B/3B): Carlos Pena (Chicago Cubs)
Similarly to Hall, Pena has a lot of holes in his swing, but his power is immense. The move to The Friendly Confines can only help his power numbers, as Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field ranked dead last in Park Factor in 2010 as opposed to Wrigley Field, which ranked third.
Pena won’t go from batting .196 to competing for the batting title in the National League and he’ll always be a strikeout waiting to happen. But the 32-year-old brings 40-homer potential to the middle rounds of your draft and can offer good value if you draft enough .300 hitters to offset his lackluster average.
Outfielder No. 1: Carl Crawford (Boston Red Sox)
In an era of declining power numbers and more overall focus on speed and defense, Crawford has the skill set to be worth every cent of his $142 million contract. The former Ray posted a career high with 90 RBI in 2010 and may have an even better season batting towards the top of a top-heavy lineup in Fenway Park, a ballpark much more conducive to scoring than the Trop.
The 29-year-old didn’t get enough credit for being the preeminent five-tool player in baseball, but now that he has a fat contract playing in the spotlight of Boston, he’ll get more publicity than ever. Crawford didn’t always cost you a first-round pick, but he may now.
Outfield No. 2: Lance Berkman (St. Louis Cardinals)
Berkman may not carry quite the same amount of pop as he did 5-10 years ago, but his down year in 2010 where he hit a career-low .248 for a listless Houston team was dismissed as a fluke. Expect a rebound from the career .296 hitter, as the 15-20 pounds he lost during the offseason in preparation for a full-time role in right field should help him to avoid late-season fatigue.
The former Astro should also have plenty of opportunities for run production hitting fifth behind Albert Pujols and Matt Holiday and will enjoy playing for a contender again.
Outfield No. 3: Jayson Werth (Washington Nationals)
Credit to the Nationals’ front office for at least showing their fans they’re willing to open their wallets to land a pricey free agent bat during the offseason, but this is ridiculous Barry Zito money here.
Werth, who is under contract for $126 million until he’s just shy of 40 years old, will probably not approach the 36 home runs he hit in 2009 in any of the next seven years he’s under contract in the nation’s capital and his career K/BB rate of over 2:1 suggests that he’ll never be confused for Wade Boggs from a hitting standpoint.
Surprisingly, Nationals Park ranked 18th in Park Factor, just behind Citizens Bank Park (16th) in 2010, so Werth could deliver a 25-90-80-15-.275 line if he stays healthy.
Outfield No. 4: Cody Ross (San Francisco Giants)
Considering the 2010 postseason drew some of the worst television ratings in baseball history, NLCS MVP Ross might still qualify as a 2011 sleeper. The midseason trade that brought him over from Florida made him a local legend in San Francisco last October.
While his fly-ball rate dropped from 46 percent in 2009 to 33 last year, resulting in a 55-point drop in slugging percentage, an uptick in the power department isn’t out of the question for the 30-year-old in 2011.
Outfield No. 5: Rajai Davis (Toronto Blue Jays)
Davis’ skill set will be sorely needed in Toronto considering the Blue Jays ranked 28th in stolen bases (58) and last in steal attempts (78) in 2010. With 91 swipes against just a 148/54 K/BB ratio the last two years, Davis certainly has the wheels to strike fear into pitchers while on base, but needs to work on his approach at the plate to improve as a leadoff hitter and a run scorer.
In spite of mediocre power, he’s a skilled enough hitter given his .281 lifetime average. But when factoring in his elite speed, his 2010 .320 OBP was borderline atrocious. For fantasy purposes, the 30-year-old should make a fine outfield speed option (think Juan Pierre with a little more pop) assuming he gets consistent green lights in Toronto.
Designated Hitter: Adam Dunn (Chicago White Sox)
Dunn is the safest bet in baseball for around 40 home runs, 100 RBI, a .250 average, and zero trips to the DL. Helping the 6’6”/287 lb. behemoth to reduce risk of injury is his transition to the American League, where he’ll be expected to serve as the everyday designated hitter for the White Sox.
Considering Dunn’s consistent track record coupled with the fact that he’ll only occasionally back up Paul Konerko at first base, we think the 31-year-old could provide even more production on Chicago’s South Side in a ballpark that ranked fourth in Park Factor last season while retaining 1B eligibility.
One caveat: Dunn had been reluctant to move to a DH role earlier in his career despite the fact that he grows roots playing the outfield, so his sole hurdle to success as a designated hitter may be psychological.
Starting Pitcher No. 1: Cliff Lee (Philadelphia Phillies)
If Philadelphia’s starting rotation was merely exceptional headed into the 2011 offseason, it now comes into spring training as the best in decades with the 2008 AL Cy Young award winner now in town after signing a five-year, $120 million contract. Although one shouldn’t be surprised to see a slight bump in his ERA due to the cozy dimensions at Citizens Bank Park, Lee’s impeccable control is what keeps him in the elite tier of hurlers.
He may not be exceptionally dominant, but the best No. 2 starter in baseball is a pitcher’s pitcher who surrenders few walks, will get ample run support from the Phils’ powerful lineup, and should be an ace on just about any other pitching staff without Roy Halladay.
Starting Pitcher No. 2: Zack Greinke (Milwaukee Brewers)
Greinke became a prime candidate for a bounce-back season when he was traded from Kansas City to Milwaukee during the offseason. The 2009 AL Cy Young award winner regressed in 2010, but that was partly because the Royals were one of the worst teams in baseball. With a much-improved offense scoring him runs, a switch to the lighter-hitting National League, and 47 combined games against the lowly Cubs, Pirates and Astros on tap for the Brew Crew, all signs are pointing up for a return to form for Greinke in 2011.
Starting Pitcher No. 3: Matt Garza (Chicago Cubs)
Like Greinke, Garza was traded to a National League Central team, and faces an improved situation in the Windy City. Although the Cubbies were a sorry fifth-place team in the NL Central in 2010, they added some offensive firepower to their roster, and play in a much weaker division than the AL East, where Garza had averaged an impressive 1.25 WHIP from 2008-10.
If the former Ray can statistically flourish despite facing the Yankees and Red Sox regularly, imagine how he’ll perform in a league where pitchers bat, the overall hitting is weaker, and the Pirates and Astros appear on the schedule 31 combined times.
Starting Pitcher No. 4: Shaun Marcum (Milwaukee Brewers)
In case you haven’t detected a trend yet, Marcum also gets a respite from the daunting challenges of pitching in the AL East when he was traded from Toronto. After missing all of 2009 with Tommy John surgery, the righty was edged out by Francisco Liriano for American League Comeback Player of the Year, but could still improve with the switch to the Senior Circuit, with an improved offense and bullpen behind him.
Marcum’s career K/BB rate of 2.6:1 will help to ensure a reasonable WHIP, and the aforementioned cupcakes in the NL Central should keep his win totals respectable, making him a solid SP3/SP4 in mixed leagues in 2011.
Starting Pitcher No. 5 Jake Westbrook (St. Louis Cardinals)
Westbrook, like Marcum, also underwent Tommy John surgery and missed the 2009 season. After an uninspired start to his comeback in Cleveland the following year, he was traded to St. Louis mid-season, and enjoyed dramatic improvement after sipping from the Elixir of (Cards pitching coach Dave) Duncan.
As a member of the Redbirds in the second half of 2010, Westbrook’s K/BB, as well as his K/9 IP ratios were amongst his career best under Duncan’s tutelage. With a full spring training to work with the revered pitching guru in addition to a full season in the middle of an impressive rotation and a potent run-scoring offense behind him, Westbrook might be in for a career year with the Cardinals, who are widely expected to usurp the NL Central crown back from the Cincinnati Reds.
Starting Pitcher No. 6: John Garland (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The former Padre allowed less than 200 hits in a season for the first time since 2003, but allowed a career-high 87 walks in 2010. The 31-year-old seems to have altered his pitching strategy so as not to “give in” to hitters a la Tom Glavine during his career.
Although it would be easy to attribute Garland’s improved ERA and WHIP to simply playing half his games in Petco Park, his pitching BABIP (batting average against on balls in play) was unusually low, as was his rate of stranded runners.
The safe money would be on Garland’s stats regressing to the mean, indicating a down year may be in store. However, the right-hander is a durable innings-eater playing home games in a pitcher’s park, he pitched very well in six starts for the Dodgers in 2009, and might be good for 13-15 wins in 2011.
Relief Pitcher No. 1: J.J. Putz (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Putz had dealt with elbow issues for parts of the 2008-09 seasons, but regained his dominant stuff in a setup role for the White Sox last season. Signed to a multi-year deal, Putz has already been named the closer in Arizona, and looks like he should bounce back to the pre-injury form he displayed as Seattle’s fireman five years ago.
Since Arizona had arguably the worst bullpen in the National League last year, Putz can only serve as an improvement, and will likely enter the season with some margin for error, assuming the soon-to-be-34-year old stays healthy.
Relief Pitcher No. 2: Kevin Gregg (Baltimore Orioles)
Joining his fourth clubhouse in four years, one might think the journeyman reliever isn’t a coveted talent in the late innings. Gregg has made a career of rising up bullpen depth charts in Anaheim, Florida, Chicago, Toronto, and will look to repeat this feat in Baltimore in 2011. The Orioles finished 2010 with Koji Uehara piling up 13 saves, 27 strikeouts and zero walks in a month-long stint as the closer.
But the acquisition of Gregg leads us to believe O’s manager Buck Showalter isn’t entirely confident that the 35-year-old Japanese import can withstand the rigorous 162-game schedule without incident. Since Gregg is more of a prototypical stopper with a more dominant repertoire than the injury-prone Uehara, it seems like only a matter of time until the well-traveled 32-year-old gets yet another shot to close.
Relief Pitcher No. 3:Octavio Dotel/Jon Rauch/Frank Francisco (Toronto Blue Jays)
The departure of Kevin Gregg and Scott Downs (Angels) left a void at the back of the Toronto bullpen, so Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos went out and got three talented arms to vie for ninth-inning duties. Dotel has the most closing experience, but hasn’t been as dominant since he came back from 2005 Tommy John surgery, and has been passed around the majors like a Sunday collection plate ever since.
The 6'11" Rauch had a career year filling in for an injured Joe Nathan during the first half of last season in Minnesota, but was pushed back into a setup role after the Twins traded for Matt Capps. Francisco pitched well as Texas’ closer in 2009, but would surrender closer duties to AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz after struggling out of the gate in 2010.
Each candidate has closer’s stuff to go along with some chinks in the armor, so check to see how this position battle in Dunedin, Florida shakes out before deciding on whom to draft.