January 12, 2011
Hot Spots: Outfield
In a seemingly upside-down world, “Next Gen” GM Alex Anthopoulos of the Blue Jays non-tendered the well-rounded but unspectacular Fred Lewis and traded for steal-happy Rajai Davis to supplant him while the Dusty-managed Reds picked Lewis off the scrap heap for a pittance ($900,000). Guys like David Dejesus get more press, but Lewis has a career TAv of .275, compared to .273 for Dejesus. Lewis is able to play center field, and is a defensive asset in a corner. He makes a nice platoon partner for hard-hitting but poor-fielding righty Jonny Gomes, as Lewis has posted an OPS 146 points higher against righty pitching in his career and showed no signs at age 29 of reducing this bias. His addition to the roster means that somewhat promising Chris Heisey is unlikely to get much playing time for the Reds (a trade has been rumored, or he'll be back in AAA or buried as the 5th outfielder), and that Jeremy Hermida will probably be auditioning for other teams during his minor-league spring invitation.
David Murphy didn't change teams, but his return to Texas warrants discussion, as the Rangers outfield and DH slots are spoken for without him. Murphy is coming off a .291/.358/.449 season and has averaged about 15 homers and 10 steals (2.6 WARP) the past three seasons, despite not playing full-time. But the defense is far stronger with Josh Hamilton in left field and Julio Borbon in center field, compared to Murphy and Hamilton covering those two positions. Murphy's presence gives manager Ron Washington another weapon off the bench, as he's a better hitter than Borbon and scoring runs is much more important than defense in games where the team falls behind. Combining that with Hamilton's health issues in his career – the most recent being a bout with pneumonia – Murphy should again see more playing time than most 4th outfielders, even with the durable Michael Young covering all the playing time at DH. While the batting average Murphy posted in 2010 might end up being his career high (he's not a great contact hitter, striking out 271 times in 1552 career PA, and doesn't homer at the rate which adds a lot of batting average to his BABIP), he has hit .282 for his career and his park and teammates will continue to aid his fantasy value. Regardless of league size, he makes more sense in leagues where there are numerous bench slots to stash him for the stretches when everyone else is healthy on the Rangers.
Sam Fuld probably seemed like a non-entity in the big Matt Garza deal, with one smart baseball observer quipping to yours truly that it's difficult to figure out the difference between him and Fernando Perez, even extending to their prestigious college pedigrees and reputations for being brainy. But Fuld is somewhat difficult to slot, despite being stuck in the minors at an advanced age. As noted in this column last spring: “Despite his age, he's risen through the minors at a good pace after making his professional debut in 2006 at high-A ball.” In 2010, he posted a promising .272/.383/.394 batting line for AAA Iowa, and the assumption here is that the Rays are going to pretend he's Desmond Jennings until June, when Jennings has had his arbitration clock sufficiently delayed. With the Rays' obvious ability to identify replacement players above typical “replacement level”, the leash will be short for Fuld, and another poor spring showing will land him right back in AAA, but don't be overly shocked if he's in the Rays regular lineup against righty pitchers for the first couple months. He has the ability to be a stolen-base asset to a fantasy team, though it's hard to envision contributions in other categories (other than holding his own in OBP, for leagues which use that category).
Delwyn Young is a great low-cost fit for the Phillies, slugging almost .400 against both lefties and righties for his career and playing outfield and both second base and third base. He's 5th on the outfield depth chart, but both Shane Victorino and Raul Ibanez are likely to miss time, and Domonic Brown hasn't established himself yet. With neither Chase Utley nor Placido Polanco being a pinnacle of health, it's easy to envision Young seeing a lot of playing time in 2011. His career WARP is below 0, so that wouldn't be great news for the Phillies, but his versatility frees up roster space for players who can contribute, a valuable trait in these days of bloated bullpens. For fantasy purposes, keep in mind that he has 17 homers in 779 career PA, playing in a couple of tougher HR parks, and his .258 batting average isn't atrocious. With 10 games at second base in 2010 (and 8 at 3B and 21 in OF), he's a useful late-roster addition in NL-only leagues.