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December 12, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Winter Meetings Effects

by Matthew Kleine

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While the winter meetings started off slowly for most teams, by the end of our stay in Orlando, teams had committed $433 million to players over the four-day span. The meetings did more than move hundreds of millions around and reposition teams in pennant races; they affected the fantasy value of players as well. Arranged in order of expected significance, here's a recap of the most important moves made at Disney World and what you can expect from the players who will be dancing with a new partner in 2007.

Jason Schmidt signs with the Dodgers. Look for a big 2007 season out of Schmidt, as pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium should be good for his numbers. While health is an issue, he should be able to eclipse the 200-inning threshold for the fourth time in the past five years. If the Dodgers can continue to score runs like they did in 2006, (which will be difficult with the loss of J.D. Drew) look for Schmidt to notch 16 wins or more. His value is slightly diminished in keeper leagues due to the fact that he will be 34 at the beginning of the season and no one knows for sure what the Dodgers lineup will produce in the next few years. If you can pick him up in the fifth or sixth round of your draft, you will have made a good pick.

Freddy Garcia to the Phillies for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez. The more I contemplate this move, the less I like it for Garcia. Although he goes over to the NL, he will have to pitch roughly half his games in hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, watering down any significant improvement in his numbers from the league switch. While I've always liked Garcia as a #2 or #3 fantasy starter, I wouldn't pencil him in for anything more than a #3 in 2007. He's good for another 200-inning season in which we can expect 13 or 14 wins with an ERA of 4.00 and a WHIP of 1.40. A nice K/BB ratio heightens his value slightly, but I'm still uneasy about his transition to Philadelphia. Don't pick him up until at least the 10th round of your draft.

Barring Kenny Williams trading another one of his starters, Floyd figures to be in the bullpen next season. He does have a nice upside and might be worth a roster spot in deep keeper leagues. In standard 12-team non-keeper leagues, don't expect him to have much value.

J.D. Drew signs with the Red Sox. The top hitter to move during the meetings, Drew should fit nicely within the Boston lineup. Although his numbers are not Top 20 outfield material, he has shown that he can stay healthy, playing in more than 140 games in two of the past three seasons. While he does a nice job of hitting to all fields, he hasn't shown a propensity for a lot of power the opposite way, meaning The Monster may not significantly boost his power numbers. If he is able to stay healthy, you can expect another 100+ RBIs to go along with a .280 average and 19 home runs. He doesn't have much value as a base-stealer anymore, so if he's on your roster you'll need to get those from someone else. Don't count on him to be anything more than your third-best outfielder, and it would be preferable to have him in your utility slot if your league has one. His keeper value is essentially equal to his value in one-year leagues, and if you can grab him sometime after the 15th round you'll be in good shape.

Andy Pettitte signs with the New York Yankees. Although this wasn't official until the day after the conclusion of the meetings, it's still worth mentioning. Well-chronicled is the idea that Houston lost out on Pettitte over a mere $2 million, but the move back to New York should do wonders for his fantasy value. He instantly becomes a sixth- or seventh-round draft pick who serves as a high-risk, high-reward type player in 2007. While it is unlikely that he will maintain the performance he delivered in the second half of 2006, the run support he will receive should put him in line to win 15 games.

Barry Bonds re-signs with the Giants. Just 21 home runs shy of tying Hank Aaron, Bonds should reach that mark sometime late this season. While he is 42 years old, the man can still flat-out hit. Look for a .280 average and 22 home runs this season (and yes, that would best Aaron's mark by 1). His fantasy value is very similar to that of J.D. Drew. Don't count on him to be anything more than your third-best outfielder, and he's really the type of player you should put in the utility slot. The potential for injury as well as the looming possibility for legal trouble diminishes his value to the point where he warrants a pick only after the 15th round in your draft. Chances are he'll be taken before that point in most leagues; just make sure it's not by you.

Joe Borowski signs with the Indians. Coming off a season in which he recorded 36 saves, Borowski has solid fantasy value. Relievers who are locked into a closer's role always bring a premium come draft time. While I don't expect him to match his 2006 total, 25-30 saves aren't out of the question. Expect him to be taken somewhere between the 12th and 15th rounds. If you can get him as your second or third closer, you will be in good shape.

Julio Lugo signs with the Red Sox. I've never been much of a Lugo fan, and those who think he is anything more than a low-level fantasy shortstop are mistaken. Much of his value comes from his ability to steal bases, but those numbers are sure to fall in Boston. I wouldn't draft him, but if you get to the later rounds of your draft and he is still available he wouldn't be a terrible pickup. Most of his value this year will be due to the fact that he can be penciled into several positions. Look for a .275 average with 10 homers, 40 RBI, 80 runs scored and 18 SBs.

Mike Piazza signs with the A's. If he weren't a catcher, he would have no fantasy value at this point in his career. However, because a .260 average with 20 home runs puts you in the top 12 catchers in the league, Piazza becomes a solid pick in the last two or three rounds of your draft.

Rafael Soriano to Atlanta for Horacio Ramirez. Ramirez has almost no fantasy value, but Soriano is a guy to keep your eye on. He will begin the season as Atlanta's primary set-up man for closer Bob Wickman (who is a free agent after 2007). Soriano has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career, with an ERA under 3.00. If Wickman falters or gets injured, look for Soriano to assume the closer's role. His value is largely speculative at this point for one-year leagues, especially given last year's injuries, but in keeper leagues he would be a solid pickup. I expect Soriano to prove to be a steal for the Braves and another feather in the cap of Braves GM John Schuerholz.

Leftovers

  • The extension Chris Carpenter got from Walt Jocketty boosts his fantasy value slightly in keeper leagues. Knowing that he will be playing alongside Pujols and Co. for the next five years means you can expect him to continue to get good run support and the wins that follow.
  • The decision of Vicente Padilla to resign with the Rangers doesn't affect his fantasy value all that much. He's nothing more than the last pitcher on your fantasy team, and I'm suspicious of his improved performance in his contract year.
  • Jose Guillen's signing with the Mariners diminishes his already-low fantasy value. Playing in spacious Safeco Field won't help his power numbers. At this point he might be worth a roster spot on your team, but I'd prefer to keep that spot for a younger player with more upside.
  • $55 million brought Gil Meche to Kansas City, but it's not enough to make him worthy of a roster spot on most fantasy teams. For those of you who are optimists, he might be worth the last spot on your pitching staff, but as I stated, I like to leave those spots open for younger players.
  • The Reds took a gamble to acquire former #1 draft pick Josh Hamilton in Thursday's Rule 5 draft. Barring a breakthrough spring training, he has no value in typical fantasy leagues. If he is able to stick on Cincinnati's roster, he would be worth a roster spot in large keeper leagues if you feel like taking a risk.
  • The NFL draft has Mr. Irrelevant. The trade sending Brian Bannister from the Mets to the Royals for Ambiorix Burgos was the winter meetings equivalent. This swap of arms carries no fantasy value for either player.

Matthew Kleine is an outfielder at DePauw University and a contributor to Baseball Prospectus Radio. He can be reached here.

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