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July 25, 2011

Fantasy Beat

The Future of Luke Scott

by Jason Collette

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If you ever doubted the existence of karma, look no further than Luke Scott. Scott was coming off a career year age 32 in Baltimore in which his slash line was .284/.368/.535 with a WARP over 3.2. He was nearly traded during the trade deadline last season, but the Orioles kept him and retained him during the off-season for $6.4M to avoid arbitration, settling halfway between the club's tendering offer and the Scott camp’s offer to the arbiter. That contract was the good news in an off-season in which Scott gained a lot of press with his rather infamous interview with Yahoo's Dave Brown at the Winter Meetings at Walt Disney World. I was at those meetings and watched the interview happen and could see Brown reacting to some of the comments that were made by Scott, though at the time I couldn’t hear what they were. When Brown walked by our table and we asked him how the interview went, he said it was “alright; didn't get much.”  Lesson learned—do not play poker with Dave Brown.

Scott's career season was followed up by a nightmare 2011 season that finally ended this weekend when he was unable to make it through his first game back off the disabled list; the pain in his right shoulder—the result of a labrum tear he’d been playing through—simply became too much to bear. The Injury History section of Scott’s player page shows 17 different records since the start of the 2005 season including this, his third stint on the disabled list.  Having turned 33 a few weeks ago, his health is not likely to improve. This could not be worse timing for the designated hitter and sometimes outfielder as he enters free agency.  With a fragile health history to begin with, it’s likely Scott will now be coming off a major shoulder surgery as well.

Heading into 2011, Scott’s fantasy value was trending upward as his final roto value improved each season from 2007 to 2010. His faults are clear: he is no help in the stolen base department and, normally, his batting average is a drag on your team (though he did hit .284 last season without an obvious aid from the luck dragons from the land of BABIP). Baltimore has played him in left field at times, but his FRAA efforts in left have been in a four year decline, and the pending surgery on his throwing shoulder will likely limit his market appeal this off-season to whichever American League teams are looking for a new DH unless a team is willing to take the punishment in the field and hope that Scott’s bat is good enough to off-set it. Assuming that Scott is limited to a DH capacity for 2012 employment, these are the potential spots for him next season and how they would affect his fantasy value.

Los Angeles Angels: The team holds a $9M option on Bobby Abreu with a $1M buyout they are almost certain to exercise. Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter, Mike Trout, and Peter Bourjous give the Angels enough outfielders not to have to consider putting Scott anywhere near a glove, but the expected return of Kendrys Morales at first base means the team would need to find a spot for Mark Trumbo to play next year, which could count the Angels out of the DH market.

Oakland Athletics: The A’s will have the money to entice a DH with Hideki Matsui departing in free agency and Josh Willingham doing the same—if both are not traded first. Obviously, this would not be a terribly desirable location for his fantasy value since Oakland has a pitcher’s ballpark, but Scott would be able to get all of the playing time he and his shoulder can handle in Oakland.

Toronto Blue Jays: The team has a $3.5M option on Edwin Encarnacion they can exercise, and Encarnacion’s play over the past two months may indeed make that decision a bit easier to make. If they let Encarnacion walk and Scott is willing to take a discount to sign with Toronto, this would be an ideal fit for Scott’s power and allow him the comfort of playing in the division he has been in for the past three seasons.

Seattle Mariners: The same arguments that applied to the Athletics apply here, but Safeco is not as bad for left-handed power as it for right-handed power hitters. Seattle has a lot of payroll flexibility for next season to acquire a DH, and their offensive struggles these past few seasons have as much to do with the lack of talent on the field as it does the ballpark.

Tampa Bay Rays: Johnny Damon has given the Rays their first respectable DH seemingly since Jose Canseco was stretching out the ugly Devil Rays jerseys, but people overlook what Cliff Floyd did in 2008 in limited time. Enter Scott, who the team was reportedly very interested in at the 2010 trade deadline when Baltimore decided not to trade him. Damon has quickly become a local favorite and could re-sign with the Rays, but the Rays lack of power in 2011 has hurt them as much as anything else in their struggling effort to defend their 2010 AL East title.

Minnesota Twins: Jim Thome cannot continue to play forever, and Jason Kubel is a free agent after this season, which opens up an opportunity for Scott to assume the full-time DH role on a team with more offensive talent than a place like Seattle or Oakland.

Landing in Toronto or Los Angeles would be ideal for Scott’s fantasy value due to the park factors and the surrounding talent in those situations, but he is going to have a tough time getting a fair deal coming off major surgery (assuming he goes through with it).  Scott’s best play might be signing a one-year deal with either of those teams, recovering his statistical performance, proving he’s healthy, and then revisiting the free agent market after the 2012 season.

Jason Collette is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here

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