RotoWire Partners

The Wheelhouse: Player Movement -- NL to AL

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, 29 players moved from the NL to the AL this offseason. Tracking this movement is beneficial to owners in AL-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.

You can view my last article regarding the players moving from the AL to the NL here.

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

Hitters

Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, BOS – It doesn't take much to see why Gonzalez has vaulted into the first round of most drafts with his move to the American League. In addition to being in a more potent lineup with the likelihood of having plenty of RBI opportunities with many runners on base, Gonzalez no longer has to play his home games in the worst park in baseball for left-handed power hitters. The Bill James Handbook annually maintains park indices normalized to determine which parks (not the players who play there, but stats for home/away teams in that particular park compared against what they do elsewhere) are the best and worst for hitters in both average and power. The scale is calibrated where 100 is a league average or neutral park and for a frame of reference, Yankee Stadium in its first two seasons has checked in at a league-high 141 for left-handed power. By these metrics, it's 41% “easier” for a left-handed hitter to hit home runs at Yankee Stadium than it is at say Rogers Centre, which graded out at an even 100.

Fenway Park has graded out at an 88 for left-handed power hitters over the last three seasons. We don't think Gonzalez is going to complain, however, as Petco has been an astonishing 59 during that same span. In short, the same way Yankee Stadium inflates power numbers for left-handed hitters, Petco has the inverse effect in suppressing it. As long as there are no unfavorable reports about his recovery from shoulder surgery during spring training, there's plenty of reason to believe that Gonzalez is on track for a career year.

Adam Dunn, 1B, CHW - He'll likely spend most of his days DH'ing for the White Sox while occasionally spelling Paul Konerko at first base. U.S. Cellular Field could be enough to push Dunn over the 40-homer mark for the first time since 2004. RBI opportunities should be plentiful as well with a more talented group of hitters surrounding him in Chicago, and the only real drawback as far as his fantasy value is concerned will be batting average (three-year average - .254). In leagues that count OBP instead, Dunn shortens the gap between his value and the first basemen ahead of him. The greatest concern here in keeper leagues is that Dunn may cut it close with his position eligibility in 2012 for leagues that require 20 games at first base.

Derrek Lee, 1B, BAL – Lee's .287/.384/.465 line during his 39-game stretch with the Braves is much more in line with the numbers he posted in 2008 with the Cubs. At 35, that's probably a better baseline as far as what we can expect from him. The projection here is .281/.365/.471 with 22 homers and 87 RBI. Long gone are the days where he could steal double-digit bags, but that's not what the Orioles signed him for. He's coming back from a torn thumb ligament that resulted in surgery back in November, but Lee should be at or near 100 percent when spring training begins and he has the potential to remain a viable corner-infield plugin even in more shallow formats despite a contact rate that has slipped in each of the last two seasons (including additional regression following the aforementioned trade to the Braves down the stretch). All things considered, Lee's increased power potential at Camden Yards will likely be offset by the diminishing skill set and facing a lot of unfamiliar American League pitchers this season.

Mark Reynolds, 3B, BAL – Reynolds could benefit more from his move to Camden Yards than Lee, but there's significant concern here about his ability to make contact and keep his average above the Mendoza Line. There are few players who boast as much raw power as Reynolds, however, and it's worth noting that he played through a number of injuries last season including quad, hand and wrist ailments as well as a concussion. Even with a dismal 58 percent contact rate, Reynolds is capable of some recovery there (think low 60's) and he's the type of hitter who always maintained a higher than usual BABIP prior to last season's .262 mark. Third base is very thin this year, and few outside of the top eight players at the position have as much upside the 27-year-old Reynolds.

Alcides Escobar, SS, KAN – It may take a few years before the Royals can be fairly judged for their return in the Zack Greinke deal. Escobar wasn't exactly put in a position to succeed by former Brewers manager Ken Macha last season, as Macha was notoriously conservative in the running game (Escobar's greatest roto asset) and he often used the rookie shortstop in the No. 8 spot in the lineup. The Royals will probably give him a look in a more favorable spot and if he continues to put balls in play at a good clip (86 percent contact rate last season) while improving his walk rate, we might be looking at a future leadoff man. Defensively, he's going to be one of the premier players at his position and the Royals have little reason to sit him down, so Escobar has the pieces to be a nice post-hype sleeper with his new club (think Elvis Andrus type numbers at a much lower price on draft day).

Brendan Ryan, SS, SEA – Ryan is a very good defensive player, but that won't help you much unless you're in a sim or Score Sheet league. Fortunately, he's not a power hitter (Safeco is death for right-handed power) and he's got the injury prone Jack Wilson ahead of him on the depth chart at short once Dustin Ackley is called up (likely in June) to become the everyday second baseman.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka, 2B, MIN – (No, he's not from the NL) Double-digit home runs in Japan generally mean a handful at best in MLB, but Nishioka is a pretty good contact hitter who may be able to increase his success rate on the basepaths with ample coaching. At 26, the Twins are planning on making him their everyday second baseman with Alexi Casilla at shortstop, and the most favorable comp you'll find (SI's Joe Sheehan) will link Nishioka to Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts. If he were to deliver Roberts' 2008 numbers (.296, 9 HR, 57 RBI, 107 R and 40 SB), the Twins' front office will be doing backflips. Let's keep the average and give him two-thirds of those counting stats for a more conservative and realistic outlook.

Brett Lawrie, 2B, TOR – The Brewers didn't get away from the Shaun Marcum deal cheaply, as Lawrie is one of the best hitters in the minor leagues heading into the 2011 season. He'll likely enjoy some time at Triple-A Las Vegas while the Jays determine where on the diamond they'd like to play him (right field seems to be the fallback if the light doesn't turn on at second base), but most scouts – including our own Bernie Pleskoff – believe that he's going to hit enough to handle the offensive demands affixed to any position. If he's somehow available in your keeper league, realize that he's in a much better position to claim at-bats now that he's in the AL than he was with a crowded outfield and Rickie Weeks blocking him at the keystone in Milwaukee.

Adam Kennedy, INF, SEA – It's a bit unclear if Kennedy will even make the Mariners' Opening Day roster, but it's worth noting that he posted double-digit power and speed totals in 2009 with Oakland. There may be a little something left in the tank, but everyday at-bats are unlikely barring a couple of injuries ahead of him on the depth chart and Kennedy is best left as a low-cost middle-infield plugin for those in AL-only formats.

Russell Martin, C, NYY – The early reports on Martin heading into spring training are favorable and with the team's plans to DH Jorge Posada more often and wait to break in Jesus Montero at the big league level, the Yankees are hopeful that Martin can rebound from a pair of disappointing seasons in Los Angeles. The upgrade in home parks, and a fresh start after former Dodgers manager Joe Torre leaned very heavily on him over the last three seasons can't hurt. It's just a question as to whether his lost power (.354 SLG from 2008-10) will ever really come back as he'll turn 28 in February.

Miguel Olivo, C, SEA – Following in the footsteps of the Rockies, who used Olivo to squash the fantasy value of Chris Iannetta last season, the Mariners gave Olivo a two-year deal in December to be their primary catcher. As a right-handed hitter, his power will be significantly sapped by Safeco Field it would be prudent to stay away from him when possible, as former catcher of the future Adam Moore is still in the picture as well. Even if he's able to hit 12-14 homers this season, Olivo's average is a huge potential risk.

Josh Willingham, OF, OAK – McAfee Coliseum is far from an upgrade for Willingham, who has carried an .842 OPS over the last three seasons. If he were ever healthy for a full season, we'd be talking about a 30-homer threat capable of driving in 90-plus runs. Unfortunately, he's averaged just 116 games during that span and he's unlikely to ever play 150 games in a season unless the A's decide that giving him time in the DH spot and getting Hideki Matsui some time in left field is a good way to keep him healthy.

Lorenzo Cain, OF, KAN – Considering that he went 33-for-37 on stolen base attempts between three levels – including 43 games with the Brewers – Cain should be receiving more consideration as a cheap source of speed entering the 2011 season. Maybe there's some concern as far as his playing time goes, although the Royals must be pretty high on him after his inclusion as a big part of the Zack Greinke deal with the Brewers. In any case, we're talking about more of a gap hitter with a good enough batting eye to draw walks and use his speed, so as long as you're not expecting a five-category contributor, Cain just might surprise.

Melky Cabrera, OF, KAN – The truth is, Cabrera is better suited to be a fourth outfielder than an everyday player. Somehow, you have to think the Royals will find a way to make sure that he gets more playing time than Alex Gordon or Lorenzo Cain. At the end of the day, are you really interested in deploying an outfielder with a three-year average slash line of .259/.317/.365? Probably not.

Jody Gerut, OF, SEA – Politely, let's just say the Mariners haven't had a very good offseason. Gerut's path to playing time would likely require significant failure from Michael Saunders in left field. Even then, it's no guarantee that he's the only player who would be in position to collect the extra playing time. If you're looking for positives, Gerut had an .845 OPS with the Padres in 2008. Unfortunately, he hasn't cracked .675 in the two seasons since and it's also worth noting that his good numbers with the Padres included a split with 10 of his 14 homers coming away from Petco Park.

Pitchers

Brandon Webb, SP, TEX – The Rangers are in a bad way as they try to recover from the loss of Cliff Lee to the Phillies in free agency. Webb has made just one start over the last two seasons, so he's a wild card to even be healthy enough to take the ball every fifth day. Fortunately, Webb is going to be 18 months removed from surgery in February and follow-up tests performed since the operation have never revealed further damage. That is, his missing velocity during side sessions late last season seemed to be the byproduct of mental blocks rather than physical ones. The list of pitchers to return from two lost seasons with any arm injury is short, but there's just the slightest bit of optimism that Webb could join Chris Carpenter (Tommy John + nerve transposition surgery) in that small group.

Brad Penny, SP, DET – Penny was pitching well before a strained lat ultimately limited him to just nine starts for the Cards last season. Moving back to the AL won't help his strikeout rate (5.66 K/9IP last season), but if he finds a way to maintain the improved control he showed in St. Louis, the Tigers may have the 2011 version of Carl Pavano on their hands. Pavano had a nice 2010 in Minnesota, but do you really want the more injury-prone version of that arm on your 12-team mixed league staff?

Jeff Francis, SP, KAN - Getting out of Coors Field will help, but the Royals are going to struggle to score runs at least until Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Wil Meyers are raking in the AL Central. Francis gets by with good control and by inducing outs on the ground, but his lack of strikeouts makes him volatile in 5 x 5 formats. With a best-case scenario outcome, Francis might crack double-digit wins, post an ERA around 4.00, and carry a 6.00 K/9IP mark. That upside probably won't light a fire for those in 12-team mixed leagues, but he could earn a few dollars in deeper (AL-only) formats.

Chris Archer, SP, TAM – He'll need time to iron out his control issues in the minors, but Archer was considered the Cubs' top pitching prospect prior to the Matt Garza deal. Look for him to start the year at Double-A Montgomery while the Rays' historical tendency to ease along their prospects (see: Hellickson, Jeremy) suggests that we won't be seeing him in Tampa Bay until at least 2012. Eventually, Archer could fit as the team's No. 3 starter behind Hellickson and David Price, so you'll want to make him a part of your keeper league plans.

Octavio Dotel, RP, TOR – Yet again, Dotel may be in position to collect saves for three-to-four months before he's traded into a situation where he would once again become a setup man for a contender. The Jays aren't making it easy, however, as Dotel is joined by Frank Francisco, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor as potential ninth-inning candidates north of the border. He was terrible against lefties last season (.301 BAA, 19:18 K:BB), so the Jays would be wise to take note of that by keeping him out of unique situations where he'd see more than one of them in a high-leverage opportunity.

Arthur Rhodes, RP, TEX – If Rhodes could join forces with Dotel (Octavio Rhodes? Arthur Dotel?), we might have the best reliever in baseball on our hands. Rhodes continues to mow down lefties (26:1 K:BB against them last season), and he fared well in his exposure to right-handed hitters (.182 BAA) if you look past his 24:17 K:BB against them. Considering that he's picked up just two saves over the last three seasons, he doesn't seem likely to get anything more than a situational chance or two in the ninth inning with the Rangers even if Neftali Feliz moves back into the rotation.

Adam Russell, RP, TAM – It was a small sample size, but Russell's strikeout and walk rates improved when he was promoted to San Diego last season. The Rays acquired him in the Jason Bartlett deal, and they really don't have a sure thing for the ninth inning yet. Russell has the velocity (average 94.8 mph fastball) that could make him a force if given the opportunity. With just 54 big league innings under his belt, he may have to wait his turn for a chance to close, but Russell is an interesting name to file away while monitoring the bullpen battle in Tampa Bay this spring.

Kyle Farnsworth, RP, TAM – He gets a bad rap for poor control, but Farnsworth has a 2.99 BB/9IP over the last three seasons and an 8.98 K/9IP during that span. Like Russell, Farnsworth has the stuff to close (94.9 mph avg fastball last season), but he's never been given a long look in the ninth inning beyond his 16-save 2005 between Atlanta and Detroit. If “done the job before” breaks the tie, it's conceivable that Farnsworth could be getting more save chances than anyone would have expected this season.

Joel Peralta, RP, TAM – How did the Nats let this guy go? Something seemed to click for him last season (career-high 9.00 K/9IP and career-low 1.65 BB/9IP) and he pitched very well between Triple-A Syracuse and Washington. Sure, he'll turn 35 in March, but Peralta's 2010 success is no more fluky than that of Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey. As for red flags, Peralta did have a fortunate .219 BABIP in Washington, which stands out in his FIP (3.10) being more than a run above his ERA (2.02).

Carlos Villanueva, RP, TOR – His strikeout rate (11.45 K/9IP) was a career-high in his first full season in the bullpen. We'd love to see him dial down the walks and the long balls a touch, but the Jays actually have one of the deeper relief corps in the American League and the 27-year-old should be a nice staff filler for those in simulation leagues where building a stable of relievers with a high strikeout rate and few save opportunities can be part of the equation.

Pedro Feliciano, RP, NYY - Two years and $8 million for a guy who gets lefties out seems like a pretty steep price to pay. Feliciano kept the ball in the yard for the Mets last season, but still struggled with his control at times and was pounded by right-handed hitters at a .336 clip. Eventually, making a ton of appearances seems likely to catch up with him (three-year average of 88), but Feliciano is inducing outs on the ground at a good rate and missing bats consistently as well. It's a skill set that is clearly more valuable to the Yankees than it will ever be to your pitch categories.

Hisanori Takahashi, RP, LAA – Takahashi was much better out of the bullpen (2.04 ERA) than he was as a starter (5.01 ERA) for the Mets last season, but a clause in his contract allowed him to become a free agent during the winter. Now with the Angels, he'll likely remain in the bullpen permanently, with the possibility of making an occasional spot start if needed. He's not high enough on the list of potential closers to merit a late-round flyer in most formats.

Jeremy Jeffress, P, KAN – Joakim Soria has as much job security as any closer you'll find, so Jeffress' fantasy value is very much up in the air – as is his role – following the trade to Kansas City in December. The Brewers probably had the right idea by making him a reliever (improving his day-to-day focus in the process), and Jeffress' triple-digit heat does play very well in the late-inning setup role. Improved control could make him a dominant force, but the blocked path to the ninth inning will almost certainly curb your interest in his services, at least in the short term.

Nate Robertson, P, SEA – Even on a Mariners roster with a rotation that has spaces up for grabs, Robertson projects as a reliever, if he makes the team this spring. Perhaps a permanent shift to the bullpen would lead to a Mark Hendrickson-type career from here on out. For Robertson, it would be a nice way to earn a living. For you, it's just reason to stay away regardless of your format.

Mark Prior, P, NYY – There's not much left to say here about the once-promising phenom, so let's re-hash the commentary from his signing with the Yankees in December.

Hopefully this wasn't New York's Plan B after failing to land Cliff Lee. In all seriousness, Prior hasn't pitched in the majors since 2006 and threw just one inning for the Rangers' Triple-A affiliate last year after pitching 11 relief innings in the independent Golden Baseball League during August. Given his well-documented injury history, he's probably a long shot to ever pitch in the majors again.

It will make for a great story if Prior makes it back to the big leagues after throwing his last pitch with the Cubs in 2006, but you'll need a very good pair of beer goggles to see it happening.