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The Wheelhouse: Player Movement -- AL to NL

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Through free agency and trades, 43 players moved from the AL to the NL this offseason. Tracking this movement is beneficial to owners in NL-only keeper formats where new players added to the pool can be valuable draft-day targets, but owners in mixed leagues should also be able to find value in this list as well.

Last year, we removed some of the fringe guys to compile one article for players changing leagues in either direction. This time around, we've kept those players for those in deeper formats where they might be relevant.

As we approach spring training, only 25 players have moved from the NL to the AL, so the next version of this article will be significantly shorter. You'll notice that the quality of the pitchers moving into the NL is significantly greater than what the AL is getting back through player movement.

Here's a look at the movers thus far and how their new league (or team) may impact their performance:

PITCHERS

Cliff Lee, SP, PHI
It was supposed to be the Yankees or a long-term deal with the Rangers, but Lee surprised many by returning to the Phillies with a five-year, $120 million deal in December. He'll be 37 in the final season of the deal (2015), but you don't need to worry about that right now. Lee's 8.36 K/9IP over 12 starts with the Phillies in 2009 was the best strikeout rate of his career, so returning to the NL should lead to a rebound in his strikeout rate after that mark dipped just below 8.00 K/9IP last season with the Mariners and Rangers. Even in a hitter-friendly home park, Lee has proven capable of delivering good ratios thanks to his excellent control (he walked 18 batters in 212.1 innings last season) and ability to limit the damage of the long ball.

Zack Greinke, SP, MIL
You don't even need fingers to count the number of meaningful games Greinke was a part of during the last four seasons with the Royals. That should change with the Brewers clearly in win-now mode before Prince Fielder departs as a free agent next winter. At 26, Greinke failed to live up to the expectations surrounding him following the 2009 AL Cy Young campaign, but his walk rate was still good (2.25 BB/9IP), and he's never been one to succumb to gopheritis (career 0.91 HR/9IP). Don't be surprised if he strikes out something closer to a batter per inning (we've projected 8.71 K/9IP), while the improving bullpen behind him and more consistent run support could lead to a career high in wins as well.

Matt Garza, SP, CHC
With a January trade to the Cubs, Garza is joining his third organization in five seasons. Still just 27, the league change should treat him well after he lost some of his strikeouts (from 8.38 K/9IP in 2009 to 6.60 last season). Fortunately, there was no accompanying loss in velocity, so there's a good chance his missing strikeouts were a byproduct of pitch selection rather than a diminishing arsenal. He's been very consistent the last three seasons, but the flyball tendencies could make him occasionally vulnerable to the long ball depending on the winds at Wrigley Field. All things considered, he's a good bet to keep his ERA below 4.00, and Garza's three-year averages are about as consistent as you'll find in a starting pitcher (ERA between 3.70 and 3.95, WHIP between 1.240 and 1.261).

Shaun Marcum, SP, MIL
Prior to the blockbuster deal for Greinke, the Brewers flipped top prospect Brett Lawrie to the Jays for Marcum. He lost his entire 2009 season to Tommy John surgery but proved healthy and effective in his return last season despite an average fastball velocity of 86.9 mph. Location and pitch selection are the driving factors behind his success (for more details on this, check out Albert Lu's pitch analysis of Marcum at Fangraphs), and while he'll give up his fair share of long balls (24 in 195.1 IP), those home runs are generally less damaging with fewer runners on base (1.98 BB/9IP). At the very least, the league change should help him repeat his 2010 campaign (165:43 K:BB, 3.64 ERA), but it remains to be seen if he'll have any lingering effects (Verducci Rule) after logging so many innings immediately following the lost season. Considering that he'll come off the board several rounds after the other quality arms moving to the NL, Marcum should be a nice value on draft day.

Javier Vazquez, SP, FLA
At this point, maybe he's just a rubber armed starter no longer capable of missing bats the way he did earlier in his career. With 13 MLB seasons and 2,647.1 innings on his right arm, it wouldn't really be that much of a surprise, and the well-documented diminishing velocity of his fastball has been the focal point of most explanations regarding Vazquez's disappointing 2010 with the Yankees. He's had issues pitching in New York twice now, so getting a chance in the NL again will be a great test to see if he's got anything left in the tank. The Baseball-Reference comp through age 34 is Livan Hernandez more because of his workload than their actual career arcs, especially when you consider that Hernandez never struck out hitters at the rate Vazquez has. Our 2011 projection splits the difference between his last two seasons 3.80 ERA, 177 strikeouts and seems like a reasonably optimistic outlook assuming that he's more comfortable in South Florida than he was in the Bronx and that he's able to shave his bloated walk (3.72 BB/9IP) and home-run (1.83 HR/9IP) rates this season.

Casey Kelly, SP, SD
Don't expect a 2011 impact in the big leagues because his debut is at least a full season away, but this is definitely a good development for those in NL-only keeper leagues. Petco for a home park, plus the fact that Kelly didn't even begin to pitch full time until last season after being drafted out of high school by the Red Sox in 2008, gives him pleny of upside. He's still in need of polish between Double- and Triple-A, but the pieces are there for Kelly to ultimately join Mat Latos near the top of the Padres' rotation.

Ryan Rowland-Smith, SP, HOU
There's no guarantee that Rowland-Smith will start for the Astros, who enter spring training with four of five spots already locked up (Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, J.A. Happ, Bud Norris) and RRS battling Nelson Figueroa and Aneury Rodriguez (see below) for the final job. His success as a reliever with the Mariners preceded a three-year disaster as part of the rotation mix in Seattle. As a starter, his secondary stuff is exposed and his strikeout rate falls considerably. As a reliever, he's posted a career 3.68 ERA over 93 innings (68 appearances), which could give the Houston bullpen a nice option from the left side capable of missing bats at a good clip (8.61 K/9IP) if he's used properly.

Brian Tallet, SP, STL
Dave Duncan magic? Probably not. Tallet is already 33, but his transition from reliever to starter wasn't a complete disaster in 2009. Injuries derailed him last season, and the Jays' collection of young arms made him expendable this winter. At the very least, he'll get left-handers out and have some value as a reliever in St. Louis, but there's just not much to get excited about.

Aneury Rodriguez, SP, HOU
Selected by the Astros in the Rule 5 Draft, he goes from an organization with a surplus of young arms to one in Houston that gives him an outside shot of making the Opening Day rotation. Even if he's not in the Astros' short-term plans as a starter, it would hardly be surprising to see him earn a 25-man roster spot and have a chance to become a part of their future. The 23-year-old had a 94:49 K:BB in 113.2 innings with Triple-A Durham last season and followed that campaign with a nice showing in the Dominican Winter League. In a perfect world, he'll wrestle the No. 5 starter job away from Ryan Rowland-Smith and Nelson Figueroa during spring training.

Dustin Moseley, SP, SD
If the 6.06 FIP doesn't scare you away, maybe the 4.85 K/9IP will. Getting out of Yankee Stadium and into Petco Park should help, and maybe facing National League lineups will help get his strikeout rate above 6.0 again, but he's a speculative $1 endgame type in deep NL-only leagues at best. His career numbers as a starter 9-8, 96:57 K:BB, 5.57 ERA and 1.608 WHIP in 161.2 IP (32 starts) suggest bullpen duty is probably the best bet for him at age 29, and even that will likely be of the low leverage variety.

Armando Galarraga, SP, ARI
His strikeout rate has tumbled in each of the last two seasons (4.61 K/9IP in 2010), and an FIP north of 5.00 in each of the last two season suggests that changing leagues won't be enough to bring him back. It doesn't help his cause that he's a flyball pitcher lacking good stuff, since Chase Field is a good hitter's park. He might be a better option than Barry Enright or Aaron Heilman to take the ball every fifth day, but Galarraga will be in danger of getting bumped from the rotation once top prospect Jarrod Parker is ready for the big leagues.

J.J. Putz, RP, ARI
Putz was healthy and effective last season after a disappointing run with the Mets in 2009. In addition to pushing his K/9IP rate north of 10.0 last season, Putz survived U.S. Cellular Field by rediscovering his groundball rate (1.47 G/F) and cutting down on the free passes (5.44 BB/9IP in 2008 and 5.83 BB/9IP in 2009 before a 2.50 mark last season). With a two-year, $10 million deal in Arizona, he figures to close for the D-Backs and could regain his status as an elite ninth-inning option now that he's healthy again.

Kerry Wood, RP, CHC
Thanks to an unsustainable 96.8-percent strand rate, Wood had a 0.69 ERA in 26 innings with the Yankees last season after he was acquired from Cleveland. He returned to the Cubs with a one-year, $1.5 million deal in December, where he projects to work as the setup man for closer Carlos Marmol. Considering his ability to miss bats and Marmol's volatility with such a high walk rate, Wood is a nice insurance policy for those investing in the Cubs' ninth-inning options on draft day.

Chad Qualls, RP, SD
To say that nothing went Qualls' way last season would be an understatement. Opposing hitters had a .434 BABIP against him before the D-Backs traded him to the Rays, while his walk rate swelled to 3.55 BB/9IP before the midseason deal. Further, the runners on base scored at an abnormally high rate as he stranded just 57.7 percent of his baserunners with Arizona and just 60.7 percent with Tampa Bay. His FIP marks (4.34 with Arizona, 3.90 with Tampa Bay) are a better indicator of where he should have been, but instead he damaged fantasy owners' ERAs with a 8.29/5.57 split between his two teams. His experience as a closer with the D-Backs could make him interesting if the Padres deal Heath Bell, but Luke Gregerson might be firmly entrenched as the closer-in-waiting in San Diego, and it's unlikely that you'll want to use Qualls as more than a staff-filler or sim league bullpen option.

David Hernandez, RP, ARI
Part of the return in the Mark Reynolds deal, Hernandez fit well in the Orioles bullpen last season after rising through the Baltimore system as a starter (3.46 K/BB as a reliever). The D-Backs could have a future closer on their hands, but the signing of J.J. Putz will put at least a temporary hold on those plans he is under club control through the 2015 season, however. Look for Hernandez to work in a setup role as part of the bridge to Putz this season, while he could become an intriguing option to step into the ninth inning if Putz is injured or traded at any point during his two-year contract with Arizona.

Kam Mickolio, RP, ARI
The other piece of the Mark Reynolds deal, Mickolio has a big arm and the demeanor teams look for in ninth-inning options. Unfortunately for his fantasy value, J.J. Putz will get the save chances in Arizona for at least this season (he's under a two-year deal), and David Hernandez looks like a pretty good bet to close at some point down the road as well.

Scott Linebrink, RP, ATL
He's not the same low-ERA, low-WHIP reliever you could plug into your staff during his days in San Diego. Fortunately, he still misses bats at a good clip (three-year average of 8.29 K/9IP) and could still be a useful bridge to the ninth inning with the Braves. Considering that home runs have been his biggest downfalls (28 allowed in 159.2 IP), getting out of U.S. Cellular Field should help his cause a bit.

Henry Rodriguez, RP, WAS
Rodriguez throws hard with average fastball velocities of 99.1 and 98.7 in the last two seasons. His slider is often described with words like "filthy" and "devastating," which leads you to believe he's got a very bright future if the control ever comes around (career 10.52 K/9IP, rate, 14.12 at Triple-A). Rodriguez split his 2010 season between Sacramento and Oakland, showing an improved walk rate (3.84 BB/9IP at Triple-A, 4.23 in MLB) at both stops. The Nats acquired him as part of the Josh Willingham deal during the offseason, and as insurance policies for Drew Storen go, Rodriguez actually has a much higher ceiling than Tyler Clippard if he ever gets save chances.

Matt Guerrier, RP, LAD
The world needs ditch diggers too. Guerrier is a grinder, with 70-plus appearances in each of the last four seasons with the Twins. His strikeout rate has been sliding in each of the last two campaigns, however, and a move to the NL won't be enough to make him a viable staff filler since he's far from getting a look as a closer.

Randy Choate, RP, FLA
He's good at getting groundballs and getting lefties out. Beyond that, you're dreaming if you think he's an option to receive more than the occasional situational save opportunity.

HITTERS

Carlos Pena, 1B, CHC
The take here remains the same as it was when analyzing Pena's signing with the Cubs in December. He'll be reunited with his former hitting coach, Rudy Jaramillo, which can only help as Pena tries to adjust his approach and counter against the heavy shift that infield defenses have employed against him in recent seasons. Even if he's a batting average liability, there's still plenty of home run and RBI potential here given that he'll likely be in the middle of the Cubs lineup following the loss of Derrek Lee. In addition to lower BABIP and on-base percentages the last three seasons, Pena has lost as much as six percent from his contact rate since the MVP-caliber 2007 season with Tampa Bay.

Lance Berkman, 1B, STL
Maybe the Cards are trying to make the Marlins' decision to play Chris Coghlan in center field look less ridiculous by installing Berkman as their everyday left fielder. He'll turn 35 as spring training begins and while you can suggest that coming back from knee surgery last April didn't help his numbers with the Astros before he was traded to the Yankees, Berkman's slugging percentage has been fading in each of the last two seasons. A meager 2.7 percent HR/FB mark suggests that some of the lost home runs are likely recoverable, but he's much more likely to top out in the 20-25 homer range than 30-plus at this stage of his career, and concerns about how his knees will hold up chasing down flyballs in left field are warranted.

Juan Miranda, 1B, ARI
Miranda draws walks, has good pop (D-Backs general manager Kevin Towers suggests 70 on the 20-80 scale) and is no longer blocked by Mark Teixeira after the Yankees traded him to Arizona in November. Thanks to a .224 BABIP anchor, Miranda had a .219/.296/.422 line in limited chances last season, but he's shown consistency at Triple-A the last three seasons career .287/.374/.481, HR in every 27.4 at-bats. Keep an eye on the D-Backs' position battle at first base this spring, as there's a nice amount of sleeper potential here if Miranda secures the job.

Lyle Overbay, 1B, PIT
No longer the doubles machine that he was earlier in his career with the Brewers and during his first campaign with Toronto, Overbay is a consistent and unspectacular option at first base in deeper formats. His three-year average of .258, 17 HR and 66 RBI falls right in line with what you should expect from him in Pittsburgh, especially since his contact rate has gone through a four-year slide (down to 75 percent last season) and makes it difficult for him to hit for a good average.

Brad Hawpe, OF, SD
He won't be exclusively in the outfield with the Padres, occasionally keeping the seat warm, along with Jorge Cantu, at first base for prospect Anthony Rizzo, but it was surprising to learn while writing about him for the 2011 RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide that Hawpe's power during his time in Colorado wasn't a byproduct of his home park. He still walked a at good rate last season and was making contact at a similar rate to his peak years before the Rays picked him up. Some form of a bounce back can be expected, even though Petco is kryptonite for left-handed power hitters and will probably keep him closer to 15 homers this season than 25 even as a lineup fixture in San Diego.

Garrett Atkins, 1B, PIT
Atkins failed to stick in Baltimore last season, hitting just .214/.276/.286 in 44 games before he was let go in July. There were no takers on the open market at midseason, but he'll get a look as an NRI with the Pirates during spring training. A look at his five-year OPS trend (.965, .853, .780, .650, .562) shows that he followed the same career arc as the yodeling mountain man from the "Price is Right."

Anthony Rizzo, 1B, SD
The other key piece in the Adrian Gonzalez deal, Rizzo will eventually take over as the everyday first baseman in San Diego. It will likely happen in 2012, so those NL-only keeper leagues (or mixed formats where he wasn't owned because he was seemingly blocked in Boston) should start investing immediately. As a 20-year-old for most of 2010 at Double-A, he showed very good power with 20 homers in just 414 at-bats.

Jose Lopez, 3B, COL
How much can you really blame Safeco Field for Lopez's terrible 2010? Compounded with the Mariners' decision to move him to third base, nothing really went his way last season, but his .651 OPS on the road doesn't exactly scream bounce-back candidate. The move to Coors Field (and back to second base) is interesting, but Lopez's value hinges on whether he can regain his power stroke. At age 27, it's possible that he swats 20 homers for the Rockies, but we'll bet against it. Lopez makes a ton of contact, but doesn't draw walks. He's an extreme pull hitter, a skill set that tends to benefit greatly from that park, but there are a lot of red flags here.

Ty Wigginton, 1B/2B/3B, COL
Versatility is always nice in the lineup when injuries strike, but Wigginton isn't a good bet to receive 581 at-bats again in 2011. He's in a very crowded infield now, making a 350-400 at-bats workload more likely. That could actually help his batting average and make him a more valuable rotisserie commodity, especially when you consider the chances of getting 15-20 homers even with the scaled down playing time.

Bill Hall, OF/2B, HOU
The Astros are expected to make Hall their regular second baseman and his pull-hitting tendencies will benefit from the Crawford Boxes at Minute Maid Park. Hall hasn't been in a position to collect 500 at-bats in a few seasons now, but last time he went over that threshold he hit 35 homers for the Brewers in 2006. That won't repeat in 2011, but if you're panning in the late round for a surprising source of power, you may not be disappointed. Keep in mind, however, that Hall may drag down your average as he's toting a .225 mark over the last three seasons. All things being equal, if eight to 10 of his flyouts to left field turn into homers, it may not be quite that bad.

Orlando Hudson, 2B, SD
Injuries have been a drag on Hudson's production the last three seasons, but he's still a very good defender at second base and the opportunity to play every day should translate to plenty of runs scored if he's at or near the top of the Padres lineup. He used to be a double-digit homers and steals guy, but don't expect that type of power now that he's playing half of his games at Petco.

Kevin Frandsen, INF, SD
Versatile with the glove, Frandsen is more valuable to major league teams for his defense and ability to make contact at a good clip (career 91 percent contact rate) than he is to rotisserie players in need of help across the five standard categories.

Yuniesky Betancourt, SS, MIL
If the Brewers had other options, Betancourt may be a bench player in Kansas City this season. Instead, he was included in the Zack Greinke deal and is on track to replace Alcides Escobar at shortstop. He rarely walks (career three percent walk rate) and is a drain in OBP leagues, but Betancourt doesn't strike out often and is coming off a career-high 16-homer season with the Royals. The Brewers will bat him in the bottom third of their order, but 2010 will almost certainly go down as the best campaign of his career.

Jason Bartlett, SS, SD
Part of the Padres' rebuilt middle infield, Bartlett will try to pick up the pieces in San Diego after he fell apart with the Rays last season. We were surprised by the 14-homer outburst in 2009 and having his home games at Petco Park will go a long way toward ensuring that doesn't happen again. Still, he draws walks at a decent clip and could be a rebound candidate if you're looking for a potential 20-25 steals option at a very thin position.

Nick Punto, SS/3B, STL
Now that he's in St. Louis, Punto is expected to settle into a utility role, which could evolve into decent playing time if Skip Schumaker or David Freese run into a prolonged slump at any point. Unfortunately, we're talking about a player with a .644 career OPS as a big leaguer and one that has never stolen more than 17 bags in a season.

Dioner Navarro, C, LAD
Navarro punched his own ticket out of Tampa Bay, and now at 27 he heads back to the organization that he initially broke into the majors with. Rod Barajas is expected to be the primary catcher for the Dodgers this season, but Navarro should wrestle away the backup job from A.J. Ellis. Unfortunately, he's spit out an OPS less than .600 at the big league level the last two seasons, so there's really not as much of a ceiling here as there once appeared.

Gerald Laird, C, STL
Backing up Yadier Molina, Laird may see a start or two per week, but outside of very deep two-catcher leagues, he's not worth considering. His greatest gift to rotisserie players comes from the fact that his departure from the Tigers has left more playing time for Alex Avila in Motown.

Jose Morales, C, COL
In addition to having Joe Mauer ahead of him on the depth chart in Minnesota, concerns about Morales' defense limited his opportunities to make an impact with the Twins. While Chris Iannetta will be a better bet to share some playing time, Morales' bat leaves plenty to be desired as he's hit for minimal power throughout his time in the minors. Further, the Rockies have two younger more intriguing catchers on the rise at the upper levels in Wilin Rosario and Jordan Pacheco.

Fred Lewis, OF, CIN
The Reds outfield is crowded, and Lewis' addition to that picture doesn't really settle much of anything. Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce are firmly entrenched in their respective spots, leaving backup opportunities behind them and a battle royal for at-bats in left during spring training. Look for Lewis to sit against lefties (career .244/.324/.326 line) and top out around 400 at-bats again, where 10-15 homers and 15-20 steals are still a possibility.

Marcus Thames, OF, LAD
Entering spring training, Thames and Jay Gibbons (brother of the protagonist in "Office Space") will platoon in left field for the Dodgers. He's historically been a player who mashes left-handed pitching and folds against righties, but Thames fared well in very limited run against them last season (.268/.347/.549 in 82 at-bats). We'll chalk that up to a small sample size, however, and it's unlikely that you'll squeeze more than 15 homers out of him without seeing the batting average dip as a result of being overexposed.

Fernando Perez, OF, CHC
Perez was coming back from surgery to repair a torn labrum in 2010, so his disappointing .579 OPS may be somewhat attributed to the injury. Even with that dismal line, he continued to show a prowess on the basepaths (24-for-31 on stolen base chances) and could emerge as a cheap source of speed with a clearer path to playing time in Chicago. He'll need injuries or trades to clear up playing time for him, however, as Kosuke Fukudome is in the final year of his deal, and the Cubs will be adamant about finding at-bats for Tyler Colvin after his 2010 breakout.

Jeremy Hermida, OF, CIN
What ever happened to the 23-year-old who posted an .870 OPS with the Marlins in 2007? Now that he's 27 and part of the aforementioned crowded Cincinnati outfield, it is very difficult to get excited about him even as a $1 endgame play. Like Fred Lewis, Hermida struggles against lefties, but he offers less defensive versatility and speed. It easy to see a scenario where the former first-round pick is looking for work again in March.

Eric Patterson, OF, SD
He's versatile, but turning 28 in April, Patterson is nearing the Quad-A label at this point. If a path to semi-regular playing is cleared for him in San Diego, cheap steals are going to be his greatest contribution. Patterson is 27-for-30 on stolen base attempts in 179 career big league games, but he's also a career .224 hitter, and his days of getting looks from big league clubs could be approaching an end.

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