This is not shaping up as a good off-season for my fantasy teams. Matt Holliday (OF, OAK) was a big part of my 13 team NL-only league. Holliday, of course, was dealt to the American League dwelling Oakland Athletics. That same team included Chase Utley (2B, PHI), about to have surgery on his hip. The best-case scenario for Utley seems to be the shaving of a few bone spurs and a rehab process that would keep him inactive for most of Sprint Training. The worst case would involve serious repairs and a prayer for a return in July. In addition, as you have probably guessed, that same NL-only squad features Chad Billingsley (RHP, LAD), who slipped on some ice and broke his fibula on Friday. Billingsley should be ready for the start of Spring Training but my plans to trade him are crumbling. I hope that your off-season is going better than mine is.
Hot Stove Report
The Braves Claim a LOOGY
The Atlanta Braves claimed Eric O'Flaherty (LHP, ATL) off waivers from the Seattle Mariners. O'Flaherty has some potential as a bullpen lefty. He is a groundball specialist who has shown strikeout potential in the minors but has fooled no one in his brief stints in the majors. He will not be in the closer mix so his fantasy value is zero (if not less than that).
The Phillies Trade Tools for Power
The Phillies traded their most advanced outfield prospect, Greg Golson (OF, PHI), for John Mayberry Jr. (OF, TEX), the Rangers power hitting prospect. Golson has all of the baseball tools. Unfortunately, he has demonstrated few of the baseball skills the Phillies expected their former first round pick to develop, especially plate discipline. It is worth noting that the Rangers have shown a remarkable ability to turn disappointing outfield prospects into productive major leaguers the last few years. Golson's ability to play center field gives him a chance to make the Rangers as a reserve if they trade Marlon Byrd (OF, TEX) as rumored. Golson should be watched carefully in Spring Training.
John Mayberry has gone backwards as a prospect. He has traded walks for a more aggressive approach at the plate, which has resulted in more homeruns but not much else of value. The Phillies do need a power hitting left fielder if Pat Burrell (OF, FA) leaves via free agency. This is a situation worth watching. If the Phillies are unable to sign a big name outfielder Mayberry could become a serious option.
The Red Sox Strengthen their Bullpen
The Red Sox traded Coco Crisp (OF, KC) to the Royals for Ramon Ramirez (RHP, BOS). Ramirez is a good relief pitcher. If Ramirez improved his walk-rate (3.89 in 2008) he could be a potential closer. He has held opponents to a .235 batting average in his career and just .220 in 2008. He also collects about a strikeout per inning. The seventh and eight innings were a problem at times for the Red Sox last season, Ramirez shores that up nicely. Unfortunately, for fantasy owners, Ramirez is probably third or fourth in line for saves behind Jon Papelbon (RHP, BOS).
The Royals Acquire Coco Crisp
Coco Crisp had some horrible luck while in Boston. He broke his wrist, suffered a separate hand injury amid a series of other minor but aggravating maladies, and lost his job to a much-hyped prospect. Here is an early Big Fat Claim: Coco Crisp will regain all of the power he seemed to lose as a Red Sox with the Royals. Barring any bad news, he will be coming into this season completely healthy, with a full time job for the first time in three years.
Billy Beane Signs a Reliever
The Oakland Athletics signed Chris Schroder (RHP, OAK) formerly of the Washington Nationals to a one-year contract. Schroder has little chance of making the major league team but Billy Beane sees something in him so this transaction is worth noting. What Beane sees is a mystery to me. He does not get groundballs, he walks too many batters, and he allows too many homeruns. Gasp! Perhaps Billy Beane signed a player based on his scouting report rather than his stats. Schroder was once considered a future closer by the Expos/Nationals. Nah, it couldn't be that.
The Cardinals Steal Some F.A.T.
The St. Louis Cardinals signed free agent Ian Ostland (LHP, StL) to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training. Ostland had some fantastic indicators in the Tigers' minor league system. Because of his age, Ostland is not a prospect but his numbers are too good to ignore. Players like this become quality cheap relievers for smart teams. In 2008 is K/BB ratio was an impressive 4.53. His .319 BABIP indicates he was probably unlucky last season. The Cardinals are a great team for a guy like this. The Cards have a ton of uncertainty in their bullpen (including the closer role), LaDuncan has made a habit of turning older players and failed prospects into valuable parts and based on stats Ostland is as good as any of them. Owners in deep leagues must pay attention this spring.
The Cubs Re-Sign Ryan Dempster
The Chicago Cubs re-signed starter Ryan Dempster (RHP, CHC) to a four-year, $52 million contract. Dempster may have gotten a little lucky in 2008 but there are no glaring flukes in his stats. He is a groundball pitcher that gets a little less than a strikeout per inning, which is the formula for a great starter. If his walk-rate goes back to normal and his HR/FB (which was a very low 7.7 percent) returns to his career average of 11.1 percent, we could see some regression but not enough to rob him of all his value. If I owned him, I would be holding him.
The Orioles Sign Some Spare Parts
The Baltimore Orioles signed Brad Hennessey (RHP, BAL) and Donnie Murphy (INF, BAL) to minor league contracts and invited them to Spring Training. Hennessey is a terrible pitcher. His pathetic K/9 is only slightly higher than his bloated walk-rate. In 2008, he even reversed his GB/FB trends and allowed significantly more fly balls than grounders. He allows too many homers. He is also moving to a far worse park and league for pitchers. Hennessey should not be a fantasy consideration.
Donnie Murphy is a linedrive hitter considered a top prospect at times in his career. Unfortunately, he has never put together a season worthy of such a designation. His biggest problem is making good contact. He struck out almost 37 percent of the time during the 2008 season. His power is good but he does not hit enough flyballs to be a big homerun hitter. For the Orioles, Murphy is only an option as a utility player unless we see Brian Roberts (2B, BAL) traded.
The Giants Get Some Relief
The San Francisco Giants signed Jeremy Affeldt (LHP, SF) to a two-year $8 million contract. Affeldt was a top prospect of the Kansas City Royals who failed as a starting pitcher. He seemed to be failing as a reliever too until something seemed to click for him last season with the Cincinnati Reds. His fastball velocity made a significant jump and his strikeout rate made a corresponding leap. His walk rate also improved significantly. Affeldt has always been an extreme groundball pitcher and was even more so in 2008. Now Affeldt is moving from the hitters' haven of Cincinnati to one of the league's better pitcher's parks in San Francisco. It also does not hurt that the Giants have been obsessed with defense the last few years. If Affeldt's improvements are real (and there is little to say they are not) he should excel for the San Francisco Giants in 2009. Fantasy owners in deep leagues should be paying very close attention.
Washington Adds options at First Base
The Washington Nationals signed 1B/3B Matt Whitney (formerly of the Cleveland Indians) to a minor league contract and invited him to Spring Training. The Nationals selected Whitney in the Rule V draft in 2007 but had to return him to the Indians after a poor Spring Training, so they obviously like him.
Whitney was a top batting prospect until he suffered a major leg injury in 2003. This cost him the next three seasons of his career so he lacks the at-bats you might expect a 25-year old minor leaguer to have collected after six years in the minors. In an attempt to take more walks and improve his on-base percentage, Whitney robbed himself of some power last season. However, he was successful at improving his walk-rate (11.3 percent) and if he can keep his gains and regain his power stroke he could be a stud in the making. The Nationals have some of the best talent evaluators in the game, and they believe he can do it. Whitney is someone to watch this spring.