This past week has been very active in terms of free-agent signings and trades, and now that some of the bigger names on the market are starting to go, we’re likely to see the rest follow suit rather quickly.
Josh Willingham | Minnesota Twins | OF | Signed as free agent
Willingham has remained on the outskirts of mainstream relevance for his entire career, beginning with the Marlins (before their ridiculous spending, media spotlight days), getting traded to the Nationals, then getting dealt to Oakland, and now finally signing with the Twins. For as little notoriety as he receives, he’s actually a pretty darn good player, both in the real world and fantasy. In fantasy, his biggest contribution is his power, despite playing most of his career in parks that have played toward pitchers or have been neutral. Target Field will continue that tradition, but because Willingham has been playing in similar parks, it won’t change his projections much; Oakland’s O.co Coliseum is actually slightly worse than Target.
Additionally, Minnesota will definitely be a better place for his runs and RBI, as the A’s have lost their second-, third-, and fifth-slot hitters this winter (Willingham batted fourth). If Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Denard Span are healthy, a lineup that starts with Span and Ben Revere and then slots Mauer, Morneau, and Willingham somewhere in the three-four-five spots could be very fruitful.
The guy getting hurt in all of this is Twins prospect Joe Benson, who looked to have a shot at beginning 2012 as Minnesota’s starting right fielder. He should still see big league time in 2012 with all of the team's injury risks, but there is no longer a spot for him with Willingham in the outfield and Ryan Doumit probably taking up a good chunk of the DH at-bats.
Value Change: Small Gain for Willingham; Big Loss for Joe Benson
Michael Cuddyer | Colorado Rockies | OF | Signed as free agent
While coming to Minnesota helps Willingham’s value, leaving Minnesota helps Cuddyer’s even more. Willingham’s park change was a lateral move, but there’s no denying Target Field is a pitcher’s park. Cuddyer now enters the easier league and one of the most extreme hitter’s parks in baseball in Coors Field (about a 32 percent swing in home runs per contacted ball for the average right-hander). Throw in a much better offense than Minnesota offers with far fewer question marks, and Cuddyer could be a serious force, especially in NL-only leagues.
In the interim, this move hurts the value of Seth Smith, who doesn’t have a place to play with Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler occupying the other two outfield spots (assuming the team doesn’t put Cuddyer at second or third base). Smith is a prime trade candidate now, but he’ll have a hard time finding a friendlier place than Colorado to call home.
Value Change: Gain for Michael Cuddyer; Loss for Seth Smith
Edinson Volquez | San Diego Padres | SP | Acquired from Cincinnati Reds
Volquez was one of several early Christmas presents Padres fans received this year, acquired this weekend in the Mat Latos deal. Mike Petriello, coincidentally enough, discussed Volquez on Thursday, noting that his problems at the major-league level are rooted in poor control and a few too many home runs. Swapping Great American Ballpark for PETCO Field should alleviate the home run issue (close to a 45 percent swing in home park effects!!), although PETCO is the second-worst park in baseball for walks, boosting them by five percent. Thankfully, that effect is more than offset by the 10 percent strikeout gain, and the importance of the park’s home run suppression can’t be stated enough. Allowing so many fewer home runs will do wonders for his ERA since each home run is even more damaging for a guy who puts so many runners on base. While Volquez is certainly not a sure thing to succeed, he’s in a much better position to do so in San Diego and makes for a very intriguing NL-only selection.
Value Change: Big Gain for Edinson Volquez
Mat Latos | Cincinnati Reds | SP | Acquired from San Diego Padres
For nearly all the reasons Volquez benefits from leaving Cincinnati, Latos is harmed. He doesn’t have the baserunner issue that Volquez has, but he’s still likely to lose a few strikeouts and start allowing quite a few more home runs. Latos is a very talented young pitcher, and he’ll receive small boost in defensive support, but he’s likely to see his ERA start creeping toward 4.00 in Cincy. The only real positive is that he’ll have far greater offensive support and could pick up a couple more wins as a result.
The biggest indirect loser for the Reds is Aroldis Chapman, who is being stretched out as a starter but no longer has a spot to fit into the Reds’ rotation. Between Latos, Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Homer Bailey, and Bronson Arroyo, Chapman might be doomed to return to the bullpen. You might think, “Okay, that’s fine, he’ll close and get his value that way,” but manager Dusty Baker has said that he wouldn’t trust Chapman closing because he struggles to pitch more than two days in a row. We could be looking at another year in a set-up role for the flame-throwing Cuban if the team doesn’t clear room in the rotation for him.
Value Change: Loss for Mat Latos; Huge Loss for Aroldis Chapman
- Yonder Alonso and Yasmani Grandal—two of the key pieces in the Latos deal—see a boost in value not because the change in environmental context is favorable, but because they’re no longer blocked by Joey Votto and Devin Mesoraco, respectively. You can’t have value if you don’t play, and Alonso now looks to be in line for the starting first-base role in San Diego. Grandal will begin the year at Triple-A but now figures to replace Nick Hundley either at mid-season or to begin 2013.
- The arrival of Alonso in San Diego hurts the value of Jesus Guzman and Anthony Rizzo, although Rizzo’s loss may be temporary. If the move spawns a trade, nothing would be better for his value than finding a starting job somewhere other than San Diego, since his biggest fantasy contribution will be power.
- Aramis Ramirez’s value goes up a bit in Milwaukee with a slightly more favorable park and a nice improvement in his surrounding lineup.
- Mark Melancon loses value in the trade to Boston, as he’s no longer guaranteed the closer’s role. He owns it for the time being with Jonathan Papelbon leaving via free agency and Daniel Bard moving to the rotation, but word is that the Red Sox would like Melancon to set-up a yet-to-be-acquired closer.
- So who closes in Houston? Manager Brad Mills hasn’t decided yet, probably because most of his options are stomach-churning. Former closer Brandon Lyon probably becomes the favorite, but Wilton Lopez and David Carpenter should be contenders as well. Carpenter is the youngest and most exciting option, but Lyon has the experience factor working in his favor. This will be an interesting situation to watch during the spring. Whoever comes out of spring training with the job becomes a good bet for at least 25 saves.
- Kyle Weiland—part of the Melancon return—isn’t going to be more than an NL-only selection this year, but he’ll compete for a spot in Houston’s rotation, and almost any time a pitcher moves from the American League to the National League, he should expect to trim at least a half-point off his ERA.
- I’ve never believed Jed Lowrie was going to be more than an average regular, but as long as he stays healthy, he’ll have the chance to prove he can be that in Houston. The league change is nice, Minute Maid’s short porch in left field should be friendlier than the Green Monster (and right field should be the same for the switch-hitter), and there’s no Marco Scutaro to take playing time away. Value gain for Lowrie.
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