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Bats and Balls: An Offseason Review

David Regan

David Regan is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, including the 2015 Baseball Article of the Year.

Welcome to the debut of my new column, ďBats and BallsĒ. After several years writing exclusively about pitching via ďMound MusingsĒ and the Pitching Value Meter, it was time for something different. Change is a good thing, and while I will frequently turn my attention to the bump in this space, it also allows me more latitude in sharing what is on my mind during a given week. The overarching goal as always will be to provide you the best possible analysis, frequently using both advanced metrics as well as my personal observations. I hope you enjoy, and as always, I welcome your comments.

As we begin to approach our fantasy drafts, Iíll use this column to highlight potential sleepers and busts, provide some of my thoughts on how I approach creating my cheat sheets, and Iíll tackle advanced metrics such as xFIP, SwStr%, HR/FB rate, and contact rate. This week however, weíll take a look at some of the big offseason stories and dig into the associated fantasy impact.

OF Josh Hamilton signs with the Angels

Like the Albert Pujols signing the year prior, this is a deal that came out of left field for most of us. Now the big question facing Mike Scioscia is how to structure his lineup. The ideal scenario would be to watch Peter Bourjos hit well enough this spring to nail down the leadoff slot. Scioscia could then slot one of the deadlier trios in recent history 2-3-4 with Mike Trout-Pujols-Hamilton. Bourjos though has a .301 big league OBP in over 900 PAís, so thatís unlikely, at least initially. Expect Trout to lead off again and approach 150 runs scored with 25 homers and 50 stolen bases.

Fantasy impact: The big question here for me is who will hit second in this lineup. With Trout likely slated for leadoff duties, whomever hits here is going to see a ton of pitches to hit. The candidates probably start with Erick Aybar, but donít rule out Howie Kendrick, Alberto Callaspo, and perhaps even Mark Trumbo.

The Dodgers put the McCourt era firmly in the rearview mirror

Much has been written about the Dodgersí spending spree since the Guggenheim group took over, so instead of a rehash, Iíll focus on one of the areas worth monitoring:

The bullpen: Over the past two seasons, Kenley Jansen struck out a whopping 41.5% of the batters he faced, a mark second only to Craig Kimbrel (45.3%) among relievers. Naturally, the Dodgers elected to hand Brandon League $22.5 million and the closerís job. League of course lost his closer job to Tom Wilhelmsen in Seattle before coming to LA and posting a 2.30 ERA in 28 appearances. League certainly isnít a bad reliever, but you can easily consider Jansen and Ronald Belisario better closer options given Leagueís time in LA also came with a 4.6 BB/9 and low .253 BABIP. It seems likely Jansen will take over as closer at some point, and in your drafts he should be at the top of your non-closer relievers, perhaps even slotting ahead of projected closers such as Houstonís Jose Veras.

Loria being Loria

Itís safe to say that most fans would take having their team win a pair of World Series titles over the last 16 years, but owner Jeffrey Loria and his actions over the past year have left a bad taste in most Marlins fansí mouths. Since the middle of last season, gone are Hanley Ramirez, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, Mark Buehrle, and Jose Reyes, among others. In are a bunch of guys who have promise but arenít considered elite prospects. It still amazes me that the Mets were able to get two elite guys in Travis díArnaud and Noah Syndergaard for a 38 year-old knuckleballer in the last year of his deal while the Marlins basically gut their team and leave an alarming lack of talent around Giancarlo Stanton.

Fantasy Impact: The roster purge at least results in a big opportunity for a handful of promising young players to make short-term and long-term impacts. For 2013, a couple key guys to watch for me are:

SS Adeiny Hechavarria Ė Known more for his glove at this point, Hechavarria hit .312/.363/.424 in Triple-A last year. Heís stolen as many as 19 bases in the minor leagues, and given his pedigree as a highly-touted Cuban worthy of a $10 million contract, itís not out of the realm of possibility that Hechavarriaís bat could make strides this year.

C Rob Brantly Ė It was only 100 at-bats, but Brantly hit .290 with three homers for the Marlins last year. He hasnít hit for a ton of power in the minors, but Brantly has shown good contact ability (84% CT% rate for the Marlins) and if he can pop 10 homers while hitting in the .280s, youíll have a very good No. 2 catcher.

Upton brothers reunitedÖand it feels so good

Fantasy Impact: For the Braves: Gone are Martin Prado (Arizona) and Michael Bourn (Cleveland) and in are B.J. Upton and Justin Upton, both of whom in theory should be an overall upgrade for the Atlanta outfield. Prado and Bourn, however, compiled 2012 OBPs of .359 and .348 respectively, while B.J. and Justin sat at .298 and .355. Certainly there will be more home runs with the Uptons aboard, but there may be fewer RBI opportunities for guys like Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman. If Andrelton Simmons can get on base 34% of the time and lock down the leadoff spot and if Jason Heyward slots into the #2 spot as expected, Justin could have a monster RBI year hitting third. Right now I would expect an Opening Day lineup of Simmons-Heyward-J. Upton-Freeman-B.J. Upton-McCann-Uggla-Johnson-P. Thatís a crazy amount of power, though hitting fifth could impact B.J. Uptonís SB opportunities.

For the Indians and Diamondbacks Ė I donít see Prado and Bourn shifting to new teams as having much in the way of impact on their respective fantasy values. Bourn has a very good lineup behind him, and he should run enough to approach 50 stolen bases while Prado could see a slight uptick in home runs in Arizona.

Indians spend their revenue sharing dollarsÖ.and the Astros donít

I donít know whether the Indians have done enough to compete with the Tigers in the AL Central, but I love the move to acquire Trevor Bauer (and Matt Albers), even at the cost of Shin-Soo Choo. Further, free agents Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn will bolster a lineup that ranks second in the division to Detroitís. The rotation is still a huge question mark, as Iím far from optimistic that Ubaldo Jimenez can find a consistent release point and return to form, and projected No. 1 starter Justin Masterson is probably a No. 4-caliber starter on a contender.

Baseball is inherently unpredictable, but if youíre taking anything other than the under on Vegasí line of 59 Astros wins, youíre likely tossing your money down the drain. Bud Norris is your No. 1 starter unless heís traded this spring (very possible), and the bullpen is as ugly as Iíve ever seen.

Fantasy impact: For the Indians, look for Carlos Santana to rebound and push for top-five fantasy catcher status. Heíll have a better lineup around him, and though 2012 was an off-year, Santana did hit .296/.388/.531 in September. He should be healthy this year after dealing with a variety of injuries in 2012.

For the Astros? Other than Jose Altuve and possibly projected closer Jose Veras, the only other guy Iím that interested in is 1B/LF/DH Chris Carter, recently of the Aís. Carter hit 16 homers in just 218 at-bats for the Aís last year, and though itís dangerous to put too much stock in that sort of sample, that is a rate that projects to 40 homers over 550 at-bats. Carterís ceiling average-wise is probably .260 this year, but that could come with 30 home runs. Projected starting CF Justin Maxwell has similar contact issues, but he could be good for 20 homers and 15-20 steals given adequate playing time.

The Rangers whiff on top free agents

The conventional wisdom in Texas was that if OF Josh Hamilton went elsewhere, that his money would be re-directed towards a strong pursuit of RHP Zack Greinke. With both guys signing elsewhere, this shakes things up considerably and opens up a number of potential scenarios that fantasy owners need to monitor closely.

The rotation: Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, and Matt Harrison are locks. Alexi Ogando will work as a starter this spring, and given his talent (97 mph average fastball in relief last year), he seems likely to open as the No. 4 starter. With Colby Lewis (forearm) sidelined until June, not signing Greinke leaves the No. 5 job wide open. As of now, the competitors appear to be Martin Perez, Robbie Ross, Randy Wells, and the options become far less desirable from there. Ross had a 2.22 ERA in relief for Texas last year, but his fastball averaged less than 92 mph and his peripherals were far from stellar. Wells couldnít strike me out, so this is likely a Perez v. Ross battle. Perez turns 22 in April, and while the results havenít matched the expectations, he has the talent to take a big step forward. Itís only February, but expect Perez to win this job.

The lineup: I love Jurickson Profar, and while he could have a huge spring and force the issue, I fully expect him to open the season in Triple-A and work himself up by July. This would leave an infield of Mitch Moreland, Ian Kinsler, Elvis Andrus, and Adrian Beltre. The outfield would be David Murphy, a combination of Leonys Martin and Craig Gentry in center, and assuming he doesnít get suspended (more on that in a minute), Nelson Cruz. Lance Berkman will DH. This also leaves 1B/3B Mike Olt slated for Triple-A, but like Profar, he is at camp now trying to win a job.

The question marks:

Moreland Ė He does have talent, but a .789 OPS for a corner infielder playing half his games in Texas just wonít cut it over a full season. Look for Morelandís leash to be short. If Olt is mashing in Triple-A and Moreland is putting up last yearís numbers, the Rangers seem likely to make a change. Alternatively, they could move Kinsler to first base and install Profar at second, but two big defensive changes might be one too many.

Martin Ė Martin hit .359 in Triple-A last year before struggling in the big leagues, and while his numbers might not be too spectacular right away, he appears to be the favorite to grab most of the CF at-bats. Gentry is interesting for fantasy owners given his SB ability, but he doesnít hit for power and thereís a reason he only has 400-plus big league at-bats at age 29. Julio Borbon is looking at a reserve OF job at best and isnít worth considering right now. If neither Martin nor Gentry step up this spring, Texas could move Kinsler to left field and go with Profar at second base.

Welcome to 1993 (a.k.a. The Remaking of the Toronto Blue Jays)

The Blue Jays have turned over 60% of their rotation, adding a 2012 Cy Young winner in R.A. Dickey, an ďif heís healthyÖĒ Cy Young candidate in Josh Johnson, and a reliable innings eater in Mark Buehrle. They also boast an exciting shortstop in Jose Reyes, who played in 160 games last year for the first time since 2007, and they have huge power bats Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. OF Melky Cabrera seems likely to bat second between Reyes and Bautista and could have a huge year in that slot if he doesnít get popped again for PEDs.

Fantasy impact: The impact of the Toronto roster-shuffling can be found all over the roster. I really like Cabrera this year, but donít sleep on Ricky Romero either. Romero was awful in 2012 (5.77 ERA, 5.2 BB/9), but he also had elbow surgery this offseason as well as injections into his knees, both ailments that could easily have contributed significantly to his poor 2012. Heíll slot in as the No. 5 starter in 2013 and though a 2.92 ERA (2011) is unlikely again, donít be surprised if Romero turns things around significantly this year. Another fallout from the Dickey trade is that with Travis díArnaud in New York, this gives J.P. Arencibia another change at establishing himself as the catcher of the future. Arencibia should be good for 20 homers, but his 5% walk rate and 60% contact rate will have to improve significantly in what is his third full big league season.

Biogenesis: The Potential Fallout

First, the names:

Ryan Braun
Melky Cabrera
Yasmani Grandal
Alex Rodriguez
Nelson Cruz
Gio Gonzalez
Bartolo Colon

Braun is clearly the big name here for fantasy owners, as heís going with the top pick in a lot of leagues and is in a clear top-three group with Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera. For me, given Braun has already successfully dodged one suspension, I fully expect him to avoid one in this case as well. In non-keeper formats, heís a clear No. 1 overall for meÖThe surprising name for me on this list was Gonzalez. Though not all steroid regimens result in one puffing up like Barry Bonds, Gonzalezís lean body type doesnít exactly cause us to suspect him of using. Gonzalez finished third in the 2012 Cy Young race, but these are troubling allegations and probably will result in me dropping him in the 20ish range in terms of starting pitchers instead of say top 15.

The rest of the group is a mix of guys who have been popped before and some lesser names worth ignoring anyway (Francisco Cervelli, Danny Valencia, and Cesar Carrillo). A Cruz suspension would have very important ramifications, as itís likely a spot would then be available for either Jurickson Profar or Mike Olt. I canít write anything about A-Rod that hasnít been written elsewhere, so Iíll just say that I do think he returns this summer and with the Yankees, unless that is, the Yankees can somehow dupe the Dodgers into taking a significant portion of his $114 million contract off their hands. Even for the Dodgers, thatís a stretch.
Good luck in your drafts this year. See you next week, when weíll begin to cover my positional rankings. Expect to disagree with how I value more than one player, but isnít that the beauty of making lists?

Article first published 2/20/13.