It seems early, but there have already been some major deals involving some intriguing arms. I don't know about you, but I love this time of year because a change of scenery can be a huge boost to the value of a pitcher struggling to survive in his old haunts. Yes, it's true, a deal can also be a ticket to oblivion, but those instances are usually just as noteworthy in the fantasy scheme of things. Interestingly, going from a contender to a rebuilding team isn't always a bad thing, and going from a disaster to the penthouse in the division standings while normally a good thing, can be problematic as well. Who went where, what does it mean and where possible to sneak a peak, who might be next? We have a lot of ground to cover the next few weeks, but I'll provide some point to ponder. Let's see how changes in latitudes might impact the arms involved:
Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel to Oakland; Dan Straily to Chicago (NL):
While the Cubs collected a couple of blue-chip position prospects in Addison Russell and Billy McKinney, the A's hope they picked up the pieces they need to collect World Series rings at the end of this season. Yes, it might be early, but this deal could be the biggest we see. How big? If you ask Oakland fans, the last time something this exciting happened on the west coast some lucky devil found some shiny rocks in a stream near Sutter's Mill. Fantasy owners of Jeff Samardzija will probably agree, well, at least those in anything but an NL-only league
He's already made one start for the A's, he pitched a solid game and picked up a win. Samardzija now has more wins for Oakland (one) than he had for the Cubs after 11 starts this season - and that was with Cy Young-worthy peripherals. So what is a transfer from perennially one of the worst teams in the game to the team with the best record in baseball this season worth? If you are in an AL-only and you are talking FAAB dollars, the answer is "how much do you have?" Bid it all. An infinitely better team, and working half of your games in one of the most pitcher-friendly parks rather than in the often not-so-friendly confines of Wrigley Field. There are no guarantees - there never are, no matter how bright the future might look - but everything is in place for a huge boost in value for one of the most talented arms on the mound today. Preseason 2015, Samardzija could very easily squeeze into the top 10-20 pitcher tier.
Oh yeah. There were two other pitchers included in the blockbuster deal. The A's netted Jason Hammel and the Cubs picked up Dan Straily. The move will almost certainly be a boost for Hammel. He's a fairly reliable journeyman who can give them (and fantasy owners) some quality innings. He's not a big strikeout pitcher, but he should be able to keep the base runners down in his new ballpark and post a decent WHIP and ERA. Straily, on the other other hand, takes a hit in future value. He's had several chances without ever really breaking through with the A's and his numbers at Triple-A haven't created any new buzz. He may get some opportunities with a Cubs team that now finds itself woefully short on proven arms, but if I had to own a newer Cubs pitcher (not named Jake Arrieta) I'd be more inclined to reluctantly try someone like Tsuyoshi Wada.
Vidal Nuno to Arizona; Brandon McCarthy to New York (AL):
This one doesn't have the star quality of the Samardzija deal, but it could have an impact on the teams involved. The Diamondbacks are in rebuilding mode so letting McCarthy go made some sense. Whether the left-handed Nuno is a piece of the future puzzle is another question. He enjoyed some success in the minor leagues and did respectable work for the Yankees in 2013. However, his marginal stuff (his fastball only averages in the upper 80s) has frequently been exposed this season (2-5, 5.42 ERA). He's too hittable and serves up too many home runs while having just mediocre command. At age 27 those things aren't likely to see major improvement. Probably the best of it will be the move out of the AL East to a less volatile NL West. McCarthy is not a huge prize so the return wasn't likely to be significant, but you would think Arizona could have done better. Nuno (a 48th-round draft choice already into his prime years) is simply not an especially high quality prospect.
That leaves McCarthy. His biggest drawback has been chronic fragility. He's on pace to toss about 200 innings this season, but if he makes it, it will be the first time in his career - and he's 31 years old. There are some very encouraging signs to perhaps allow you to look beyond his statistical record so far in 2014 (3-10, 5.01 ERA). He's been taking a regular turn without any signs of injury, his fastball is up about two ticks to almost 93 mph (a career high), and he has experienced some pretty significant bad luck (his FIP is a much more appealing 3.88). The analysis of his value equation is a mixed bag. He'll be in front of a better team, but he'll be pitching in an even more dangerous home park, and he'll spend a lot more innings facing the explosive lineups in the AL East. There is likely to be a slight uptick in his value given his somewhat inflated peripherals - even against tougher lineups in the AL his ERA could drop - and there it's reasonable to expect more wins so he might be someone worth pursuing. Just don't overpay. Buy him based on that 5.01 ERA and his ever-present injury risk, not on what might be. Best-case scenario, he's a back-of-the-rotation candidate for most fantasy teams and that assumes he can avoid his annual trip or two to the disabled list.
Keeping vigil while teams begin to test the trade waters:
It's still pretty early so the rumors have been discreet, and no one seems to be focusing in on certain arms just yet. The Phillies are said to be quietly checking for potential trade partners, and Cole Hamels is likely available. Another pitcher they might be dangling is closer Jonathan Papelbon. Given the state of late-inning bullpens around baseball, it wouldn't be surprising to see several teams attempt to bring in someone who could reliably close.
Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:
• If you are looking for a quiet pickup that could make an impact the next couple months, consider James Paxton of the Mariners. I loved what I saw from him (albeit briefly) before he went on the disabled list, and if he comes back with anything similar he could be a gem. Expect him back later this month.
• And, I'll throw one out there for you NL players too. He wasn't as eye-catching as Paxton, but Joe Kelly looked a bit better than I expected when the season got under way. He doesn't have the overpowering stuff, but he can keep hitters off balance and he is in line to start this Friday.
• I watched the Padres' Odrisamer Despaigne for the second time last Saturday. After three starts he is 2-0 with a 0.92 ERA, but buyer beware. He delivers it overhand, underhand, sidearm, and he throws anything up to and including his shoes and socks. Fun to watch, but just average stuff unless he spots it all.
• I'll be honest, I don't know where to go with Clay Buchholz. I've seen him look like a world-beater, and I've seen him look like an egg beater. Early last year he mesmerized hitters and then he hurt his neck and shoulder. He hasn't been right since. He's probably stash material only for those with a stout heart.
• As mentioned, the Cubs rotation is officially a crapshoot. Tsuyoshi Wada did well when he took his turn, and Kyle Hendricks, while not a great prospect, has enough command to be useful until hitters get a book on him. Dallas Beeler doesn't excite me at all. Wada may be the best of a motley crew.
• After a couple of less than dominating performances - at least by his standards - the Yankees put Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list (elbow) and sent him back to New York for an MRI. They are calling it precautionary, but the Yankees and his fantasy owners being nervous would certainly be understandable.
Aroldis Chapman was held out of a save opportunity last weekend with a "tweaked" hamstring. Tweaked is no big deal, but worse would be worrisome. Monitor this one and
Next week we'll have a look at the pitchers who participate in this year's Futures Game. That game is always a highlight of my season.