It seemed like a pretty innocuous deal went down this week: Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco. But it actually drops some fairly significant dominoes for us fantasy folks.
1. Vladimir Guerrero could be less likely to re-sign with Texas, a place that rejuvenated him as an impact slugger.
2. Texas, which still plans to stretch out young flamethrower Neftali Feliz to start, has one less option to close.
3. Slugging catcher prospect J.P. Arencibia looks like he will be the odds-on favorite to start for the Blue Jays again.
4. Texas' Mitch Moreland might be relegated to less than the anticipated full-time role at first base.
5. Yorvit Torrealba and Taylor Teagarden are unlikely to be real options in standard mixed leagues.
And to think Napoli for Francisco was a ho-hum deal.
Vladdy remains the most significant free agent on the market this winter. Once the Angels decided to deal for defense with Vernon Wells, it looked like a return to Texas was possible, if not likely.
It would have been the best for his fantasy numbers and draft value. He hit .300 with 29 homers and 115 RBI last season, despite fading some down the stretch and in the postseason. Those are turn of the century Vlad numbers.
He is now entertaining an offer from Baltimore, which is a decent hitter's park but nowhere near the destination Texas is. With the O's, he would more DH Luke Scott into a left field time-share with Felix Pie and Nolan Reimold. That would significantly drop Scott in the DH rankings.
Both Vlad and Scott just fail to qualify at a position in fantasy leagues where the eligibility standard is 20 games played last year. Vlad had 18 games in the outfield, while Scott played 19 at first and 14 in the outfield.
Here are the initial DH rankings for 2011. It is a tough position to draft, since it tends to limit your in-draft flexibility. If these guys don't qualify at a position in your league, you have to lower them on your boards a touch below your stats expectations for them. Flexibility is key when drafting your fantasy team, because you want to maximize the talent you can get at all positions.
1 David Ortiz BOS
You can make a case for Vlad being No. 1 if he were to re-sign in Texas to be a full-time DH. You should move Scott below Matsui and maybe even Thome if Vlad winds up in Baltimore.
It would seem the acquisition of Napoli to catch, play first and DH would limit the Rangers' interest in Vlad, but it still looks like he could fit if they move Young to another team or merely make him the full-time first baseman over Mitch Moreland.
A capsule look at the state of the Rangers:
1 Ian Kinsler 2B
R David Murphy OF
1 C.J. Wilson LH
CL Neftali Feliz RH
Dealing off Francisco makes it far more difficult for Feliz to be considered seriously for a rotation spot. The Rangers have some back-end depth to work with in Holland, Feldman, Harrison, Mike Kirkman, Eric Hurley coming off Tommy John surgery and elite prospects Martin Perez and Tanner Scheppers.
The latter of those could serve the Feliz-like apprenticeship as a late-inning reliever. He has the knockout triple-digit arm and nasty demeanor for it. Unlike Feliz last year, though, the Rangers are become more of a team that is a contender that shouldn't trust such a significant role like closer to a raw prospects with little pro experience.
The Rangers remain convicted Feliz will be a starter long term and they are still planning to stretch him out this spring to start, but the GM said this week, the Francisco deal makes it more likely he will have to wow them to serve as a starter instead of a closer.
That is good news for Feliz's fantasy value. He isn't 200-innings capable at this stage of his career, but his top-five closer status will get him drafted among baseball's 200-inning aces. A move to the rotation would drop Feliz down to a late-round pick in a standard mixed league.
If Feliz does happen to wow them and start out of spring training, the Rangers would turn to the likes of Mark Lowe, coming off injury, or Alexi Ogando as late-inning replacements. Scheppers perhaps in that mix, too. O'Day, Rhodes and Oliver are more proven big-leaguer setup men, but a contender like the Rangers really need to keep them in their earlier roles if they truly want to compete.
When the Rangers signed Vlad away from the Angels last winter, it changed the balance of power in the division. There is another team that sorely needs pop here, but Vladdy isn't good enough to make a contender out of the Mariners -- no matter how good you believe King Felix, reigning AL Cy Young award winner will be.
Let's try to make sense of the Mariners:
1 Ichiro Suzuki RF
R Milton Bradley OF
1 Felix Hernandez RH
CL Brandon League RH
(Aardsma likely won't be ready until mid-April coming off hip surgery, so League will open the season as the closer and might keep that role indefinitely. He is the better talent.)
Vladdy signing here could move Cust to a part-time role among the outfielders, where he actually belongs. Remember, Cust didn't even make the opening day roster for the A's last spring.
The Mariners do have too big-time prospects with big-time opportunities this season, Pineda and Ackley. They could compete with each other for AL Rookie of the Year honors.
Pineda is being given a chance to win a rotation spot this spring after a year that opened eyes around farm systems in 2010. He has a big-time arm and could be King Felix good in a couple of years. The Mariners' offense makes him merely a .500 pitcher and a late-round pick, but the talent and potential to surprise is there.
Ackley, the second-overall pick out of North Carolina in '09, added almost 10 pounds of muscle to his already-athletic frame, a good sign for the future elite fantasy second sacker. He was a bit disappointing in his first full pro season last year, but he made it all the way to Triple-A. He is going to be giving the second base job to lose in Arizona, needing to beat out only glove-man Brendan Ryan at second base.
After the year Lopez stunk up with, you hardly care, but he is in Colorado now and will compete with Eric Young and fellow offseason acquisition Ty Wigginton for at-bats at second base. Because of the ballpark and supporting cast, the winner of this position battle could prove to be a late-round steal.
Young is a potential leadoff man and 50-base-stealer. Wigginton is one of the most versatile players in fantasy, with pop to boot (a great thing for Colorado). Lopez once looked capable of being a perennial 25-homer, 100-RBI man and he is still just 27.
Wait?! Twenty-friggin'-seven, you say? That tends to be the breakout year for baseball players (a baseball preview column to come on that topic).
Let's try to tap the Rockies.
1 Eric Young 2B
R Ty Wigginton UTL
1 Ubaldo Jimenez RH
CL Huston Street RH
In Gonzalez and Tulowitzki, the Rockies (maybe surprisingly) are the only team in baseball with two projected top-10 picks in fantasy. Heck, we will have both in our top six and many will have them among the top five.
Despite the humidor, it is still high times hitting in mile-high air. The left field and second base battles are potential sleeper locales for us. Smith, 28, and perhaps Spilborghs could be surprise breakthroughs, too.