Fantasy Baseball: 2010 Impact Free Agents, Pt. 1

Collin HagerSenior Writer IOctober 13, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07:  Matt Holliday #15 of the St. Louis Cardinals reacts after striking out in the seventh inning of Game One of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on October 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

Over the course of the off-season, this space is going to look at various free agents whose moves would have an impact on their fantasy statistics and draft position. This is often over-looked, but it has proven to be a difference maker in the past.

While not all players will move, the point here will be to look at potential destinations (rumored or pure speculation) and the resulting shifts.

This is not meant to be looked at from a pure mathematical sense. There will be plenty of others who spend their time evaluating the ballpark factors or resulting moves that happen from the first domino to fall. Here, the goal is strictly on potential overall impact. At the end of the day, these are all estimates. Looking at trends of the player, their age, and their ability, the picture should come more clearly in to focus.

Overall, the crop of fantasy outfielders is thinner than one might think. While there will be some big names available, the majority of players will be found to fill roles as much as anything. Certainly interest will be abundant for Jason Bay and Matt Holliday.

These two are going to be the elite of the class, at least among those that do not have an option tied to their contract, and will be the focus in this installment.

Holliday was a prime example as to how a new uniform can really change your opinion about a guy. To say his start in Oakland was atrocious is likely being kind, and there will be many that will argue that he should stay out of the American League entirely as a result. Hold back on that. Holliday was in an Oakland lineup that was at the bottom of the league in terms of production.

April was ugly, and his .240 average shows that. Still, he began to turn a corner in May by hitting .291 with five home runs, followed by a .280 showing in June. Even prior to his trade from Oakland in July, he had raised his average 11 points on the month by going 23-for-68 (.338) in 18 games.

The power numbers were not there in the way they were once he landed in St. Louis, but he was slowly proving that he could hit even in that lineup.

This is brought up because it is very likely that Holliday will have some big-name suitors. There should be little doubt that with Johnny Damon headed for free agency and Xavier Nady there as well that the Yankees could be a player.

The Red Sox will be dealing with Bay, but are likely to at least kick the tires here as well. The dollar demand will likely rule many teams out, but the Rangers could be players as well.

Should he not re-sign in the National League, temper early projections slightly, but know that in a decent lineup that he should see better production than the early months in Oakland.

Bay is a horse of a different color. Many expected Bay to produce in the power categories in line with where he did this season. Bay proved between 2008 and 2009 that he can perform when the lights are the brightest and under the greatest of scrutiny.

These are pieces that cannot be taught, but can certainly be translated across teams. It is why regardless as to where he ends up, he should be looked at as a steady draft pick. Still, owners should have concern over certain areas of his game.

The outfielder struggled dramatically in June and July, posting .230 and .192 averages respectively. Certainly, average is only part of the equation with Bay, but he did only have one home run in 78 July at-bats to go with only five RBI. He drove in 20 runs in June, but hit a home run only once every 25 at-bats for the month. Not the type of production you would want to get out of an early-round selection.

Granted, much of the Boston lineup struggled in July, but Bay was not able to provide any sort of relief. Additionally, his strikeout numbers were way up this season. Bay’s strikeouts as a percent of at-bats increased 33 percent in 2009 over 2008. They were up 18 percent against his 2007 numbers.

His walks were up as well, and his plate discipline improved. Still, owners would need to be cognizant of the number if they get penalized for strikeouts.

Just as alarming and noteworthy, though, are Bay’s contact numbers. He made contact 10 percent less often than in most other seasons. He dropped about 5 percent on making contact with pitches in the zone. Does that suggest a rebound? Certainly, but mainly because of historical consistency in these numbers. This past season could have simply been a function of contract-year pressure.

From a drafting perspective, owners should drop Holliday from the end of round one to the middle portion of round two and early round three if he signs with an American League team. Should he stay in the National League, expect him to produce first-round worthy numbers.

Owners that get him near pick 15 would be served well. Bay is likely a third or fourth round selection depending on the league. His future team should have little bearing on his draft position.

Outside of these two major names, it is possible that Manny Ramirez finds himself on the market. Ramirez has a player option for $20 million, and would again be a premier free agent. Still, he will be closing in on 40 and did not produce as effectively even after being re-instated. He hit just 10 home runs after the All-Star break while hitting only .255.

Ramirez could see a rebound in production, but there is a greater chance that we have seen his best days. After being a second-round pick this past season, owners need to drop him much further back. With plenty of players being able to produce north of 25 home runs with higher averages, Ramirez will not provide the same bang for the buck.

With what has transpired this season regarding his suspension as well as his production, Ramirez would be wise to exercise the option to stay with the Dodgers. If he does, he remains in a division filled with what certainly appear to be parks that favor pitchers. Unless there is a return to life in the playoffs, your league will need to count OBP in order for him to have a return to being a cornerstone outfielder.

The final major building block-type outfielder is Carl Crawford. Crawford’s contract calls for a club option, and it is a near certainty that Tampa will put it into effect. His impact in moving to another club is, therefore, moot.

Crawford remains in the team’s plans at this point, and the trade of Scott Kazmir likely signals the desire Tampa has to get him under a long-term contract. Given the fall-off in production from B.J. Upton and Crawford’s value to the team overall, he will remain in Tampa.

Collin Hager writes The Elmhurst Pub fantasy blog. You can get your questions answered by sending an e-mail to elmhurstpubroundtable@yahoo.com. He's also on Twitter @TheRoundtable.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.