The Boston Red Sox surprised the baseball world over the weekend by trading shortstop Marco Scutaro to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitcher Clayton Mortensen. It’s less confusing than it first seemed thanks to WEEI’s Alex Speier who pointed out the move was made to get the Red Sox under the luxury tax. Smart teams, especially smart and rich teams, don’t dump salary without reason. No matter the reasoning, the move has a pretty large affect on a number of players in the fantasy world.
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It’s no fun when a hitter leaves Colorado. Not for the fantasy owner and, I’m sure, not for the player himself. Seriously, hitting in Coors’ Field has to be the most fun you can have as a hitter. Just ask Vinny Castilla or Dante Bichette. Unfortunately for Seth Smith he’ll no longer have that luxury as he’s now a member of the Oakland A’s.
Like my ’92 Toyota Camry that ran for three years despite, or in spite of, me not changing the oil, Nick Markakis just goes and goes. Yet, for the first time in his career he runs the risk of missing time due to injury. Ok, technically I’m wrong. He’s missed four games due to injury in his entire six year career, and just one since 2006. That streak may be in jeopardy thanks to the abdominal surgery he underwent last Thursday. He first injured the area sliding into a base in early September but played through the pain for the remainder of the season.
It’s incredibly difficult to be worse than Alex Gonzalez was in 2011. I mean, I bet you could. Yeah, you. I know I could. We don’t get paid to play baseball, though. Somehow, Alex Gonzalez did last season and showed his gratitude by hitting .241/.270/.372 in 593 plate appearances. He did hit 16 home runs. His lone redeeming quality. As a whole Braves shortstops combined to hit .237/.267/.357 with 16 homers, 57 RBI, 63 runs and two steals for a team that won 89 games and narrowly missed the playoffs. Gonzalez is gone so things should improve…right?
Years of bad decisions by former ownership and upper management have left the Houston Astros as the worst franchise in the game. Their 56 wins were seven less than any other team. Thankfully for Astros fans Christmas came a bit early this year. Jim Crane bought the team from long time owner Drayton McLane and promptly fired General Manager, and serial screw up, Ed Wade, replacing him with Cardinals’ vice president Jeff Luhnow.
One of Luhnow’s first moves was trading reliever Mark Melancon to the Red Sox for shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland. The last thing a rebuilding team needs is relief pitching, so flipping Melancon for one, maybe two, useful pieces is smart. Getting Lowrie is smart considering the black hole the Astros had at shortstop. Last season two players, Clint Barmes and Angel Sanchez, saw time at short for Houston, with the former getting the bulk. Neither hit particularly well, Barmes’ double digit home runs the only saving grace. With Barmes gone to the Pirates the door was left open for an acquisition such as this. Lowrie is far from a sure thing, though.
The first thing that comes to mind when hearing, or reading, Lowrie’s name is ‘injury’. Here are the games missed due to injury by the soon to be 28-year-old over the past three seasons: 56, 94, 108. The number is getting smaller each season so maybe he’ll miss zero games in 2012…ok, maybe not. When he’s been on the field his production has been sporadic. Never playing more than 88 games in any of his four seasons, his wOBA totals are thus: .326, .212, .393, .297. If fully healthy he has double digit home run power and possesses a higher than average contact rate. His lack of steals hurt his value – he has only three in 256 games. He was a sleeper pick in last year’s drafts after ending 2010 with a .936 OPS over the last two months of the season. He continued that hot hitting into the beginning of 2011 with a .962 OPS in April, but fell off a cliff for the rest of the season, never finishing another month with an OPS above .700.
There’s little doubt, if healthy, he’ll emerge from spring training as the starting shortstop. If he manages to stay on the field for 120 or more games he’ll have a good chance at being an above average bat for the position. He’s not worth much of a look come draft day in standard mixed leagues, but in deeper formats, especially N.L. only leagues, a late round flyer should get the job done.
As you all are aware by now, us Rotographers held a very early mock draft this past Sunday. The team has done a great job breaking down and analyzing the selections at the respective positions they cover. Now, it’s my turn to take a look at the shortstop selections. I’m not going to talk about every player picked, only the ones I found interesting.
R1 P1: Troy Tulowitzki
R1 P11: Hanley Ramirez
R2 P7: Jose Reyes
It wasn’t the resigning the team, or fans, had hoped for last week, but Rafael Furcal’s return to the Cardinals is an important one.
It’s important for the Cardinals because they’re going to contend for a division title despite the loss of Albert Pujols, and Furcal is better than nearly every alternative currently on the market. It’s important for the fantasy owner because now the Cardinals may actually have a viable fantasy option at shortstop. It’s a position that is among the weakest in baseball and no team knows that better than St. Louis. Last season Ryan Theriot played 91 games at short before the addition of Furcal pushed him aside, hitting .267/.313/.323 with one home run – his only all season. The 2010 season saw Brendan Ryan come to the plate a remarkable 482 times while playing shortstop. I say remarkable because he hit .223/.279/.294, good for a .573 OPS, third lowest in baseball. Not even his stellar glove should have kept him in the lineup that often.
The Marlins’ addition of Jose Reyes not only affects the 29-year-old shortstop, but also has a great impact on two other Miami players.
In October I penned a piece about Jose Reyes’ outlook for the 2012 season, focusing on a few factors that could be a burden or boon to his overall performance, specifically his health and the location of his new team. The health issue should be the biggest concern to fantasy owners and has been well documented so I’ll be brief. From 2005-2008 he averaged 158 games played. He hasn’t topped 133 the last three seasons. Unless his hamstrings magically heal over the offseason it’s nearly a guarantee that he’ll miss time. When healthy he’s a constant source of steals, runs and batting average from the thinnest position on the diamond. That’s first round talent.
We’ve seen many catchers already changing teams this off-season. Most of the moves have been of little consequence to the fantasy owner, as backstops John Jaso, Gerald Laird, Jose Molina, Rod Barajas and Taylor Teagarden are not men of great social or political import. The Angels and Rockies set out to change that this past Wednesday.
New Angels General Manager Jerry DiPoto, obviously not a fan of the “offense” Jeff Mathis had been providing the team, dealt starting pitcher Tyler Chatwood to Colorado for Chris Iannetta. He never seemed to have the backing of the Rockies’ front office – his name always swirled in trade rumors – or manager Jim Tracy. His low contact rates will keep him from hitting for a good average but the 15-20 home run power and excellent plate discipline more than make up for it. The 28-year-old hit .238/.370/.414 with 14 home runs, 55 runs batted in and even added six steals in 426 plate appearances last season.
To compare, the Angels trio of catchers combined to hit .190/.253/.301 with 10 home runs, 49 runs batted in and one steal in 605 plate appearances. You almost have to try to be that bad. Iannetta has benefited from playing in Colorado where his career .869 OPS is excellent, but his road total of .707 is still good relative to his position. His power numbers may dip a bit in pitcher friendly Anaheim but given ~400 plate appearances he should continue to be among the top half of fantasy catchers next season.
To replace Iannetta the Rockies signed veteran Ramon Hernandez. The soon to be 36-year-old hasn’t collected more than 352 plate appearances since 2008 – catching is hard, ya know? – but has hit well in the time he’s been allotted. Over the past two seasons Hernandez’s .790 OPS ranks 10th among all catchers with at least 650 plate appearances. He doesn’t hit for the power he once did but his contact rate has remained steady over the years. I mentioned that Iannetta had been helped by his home park but he pales in comparison to Hernandez. Playing in Cincinnati’s bandbox the past three seasons Hernandez had an average OPS of .854 compared to .680 on the road. He certainly made a smart decision moving to Coors Field.
The main drawback with Hernandez is his age. He turns 36 in May, and after a hot start to last season that saw him hit .322/.377/.539 with 10 home runs before the all-star break he tumbled down hill the rest of the way hitting just .220/.287/.305. His skills are declining, maybe not as much as his second half would indicate but declining nonetheless. Playing in Coors should mask some of his inabilities, and he’ll likely get more playing time than young Wilin Rosario, but don’t set your expectations too high for 2012.
It wasn’t a trade that garnered a lot of attention, but Seattle’s acquisition of 28-year-old catcher John Jaso from Tampa Bay carries an impact that will be felt in both cities.
In Jaso the Mariners get a selective left handed bat, the polar opposite of incumbent catcher Miguel Olivo. Calling Jaso selective may be an insult to the word. Of the players with a least 650 plate appearances over the last two seasons, only two, Brett Gardner and Bobby Abreu, have a lower swing percentage than than Jaso’s 34.8%. The man’s more passive than Gandhi. This can be both good and bad. The good is that he’s not at the plate hacking like Olivo, who had the fifth highest swing percentage from ’10-’11. The bad is that pitchers can get ahead of you easier when you’re swinging at the first pitch just 18 percent of the time when league average is close to 30. If a pitcher tries going after the easy strike too many times Jaso has to make him pay, and that’s something he failed to do in 2011. Looking at his .224/.298/.354 line from last season isn’t quite fair. Dave Cameron had a nice write up of the trade yesterday at USSMariner.com, concluding with this paragraph
As long as Jaso is able to maintain his contact rates and the level of power he’s shown to date, history suggests that he’s going to be something close to a league average hitter going forward. His 2011 performance is the absolute floor for a player with his skills, and given some natural bounce in his BABIP, he should easily be expected to be a positive offensive contributor next year.
If that’s the case then Olivo should have a platoon partner next season. Olivo is the type of player who’s far, far more valuable in fantasy than he is to his actual team. Most leagues don’t use on base percentage, so his career mark of .279 is of little consequence. He has 15-20 home run power, which is important considering the dearth of quality offensive catchers. Over the last three seasons Olivo has hit the third most home runs (56) and has the fifth most RBI (185) among catchers. Over the past three seasons he hasn’t had a noticeable platoon split either. Jaso obviously has less of a sample size to work with, but his OPS of .720 against right handed pitchers is .115 points higher than it is verses southpaws.
Seattle manager Eric Wedge is fond of Olivo. I don’t expect to see a straight platoon out of these players. Unless Olivo completely hits rock bottom he should continue getting a majority of the starts. Maybe not the 130 games he played last season, but thanks to Jaso’s horrid defense he should maintain his value going forward. Unless you’re in an A.L. only or some other very deep league Jaso has no place being selected on draft day.
With the departure of Jaso, and the unlikelihood of Kelly Shoppach returning, the Rays are going to have a whole new catching tandem in 2012. Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton, or as R.J. Anderson dubbed them last night, Dos-e, form an unlikely duo. First off, neither has much fantasy value. The right handed hitting Molina had a career season in 2011, hitting .281/.342/.415 in 55 games which was mostly fueled by a .363 batting average on balls in play. He’ll be splitting time with the switch-hitting Lobaton, he of 56 career big league plate appearances. He never hit for a very good average in the minors, constantly in the .240-.260 range with 5-10 home run power, but did post a walk rate north of 10 percent in all but one stop. Unless Robinson Chirinos has an amazing spring and Lobaton goes down in flames expect Dos-e to be the options in Tampa Bay, which is not a good thing for fantasy owners.