Time again to pontificate on Hot Stove happenings going down around baseball.
Johan Santana has been the 6th-8th pitcher selected in mock drafts that I've participated in this offseason. Things should change since he took his first step toward Opening Day by throwing a pain-free bullpen session last Tuesday. While it's reasonable for fantasy owners to be concerned about a pitcher coming off elbow surgery, Santana turns 30 in March. Remember, in the five years prior to 2009, Santana averaged 229 innings with a 2.82 earned run average, a 1.02 WHIP, and 9.3 K/9. The Mets are a comical bunch when it comes to their misfortune, but Santana's talent is no laughing matter. With his track record and favorable home park, he should at least be among the top four starting pitchers selected on draft day. In fact, don't be surprised if he finishes the season with the top SP numbers in fantasy.
While the media paid plenty of attention to Santana last week, no one seemed to care about a teammate who had his own impressive throwing session. The player? Oliver Perez. You're probably thinking, "Why are we even talking about a guy who had a 6.82 ERA and 1.92 WHIP last year?" how about 2004? That's why. In that magical season, Perez was a dominant 22-year old who posted ridiculous numbers: 12-10, 196 IP, 2.98 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 239 Ks. He's been Daniel Cabrera since then with a 4.96 ERA and 1.53 WHIP in 652.2 innings. As bad as he's looked, Perez has some good things going for him heading into this season:
1) Perez claims he's "really happy" since he no longer feels any pain in his right knee, following a September procedure that removed scar tissue.
2) At the Mets request, Perez underwent intensive training in Arizona in order to be ready for 2010.
3) Pitching coach Dan Warthen is having Perez tweak his mechanics. The emphasis is on him putting more weight on his landing leg in order to avoid the goofy movements he makes at the end of his delivery.
Now keep in mind, the only way he's ending up on a roster of mine is if he's the very last pick. He's burned this bridge too many times, leaving it held up by toothpicks and glue at this point. That being said, lefties can take a ridiculously long time to find themselves as pitchers, so it wouldn't be completely out of the ordinary if Perez were to turn his career around at age 28. Besides, if Perez gets crushed for six runs in two innings in his first start, it will be easy to cut him since you would have drafted him so late.
The Orioles have brought back Miguel Tejada on a one-year pact. The veteran infielder sees a nice boost in value with this move. Tejada owns terrific career numbers in Camden Yards (.321 batting average/.370 on-base percentage/.535 slugging percentage), and the Orioles lineup is filled with burgeoning talent. While it seems we've been waiting forever for Tejada's decline, he actually posted career-best marks in balls in-play percentage (86.0 IP%) and strikeout rate (7.1 K%) last year. Though his walk percentage (BB%) fell to a career-worst 2.8% mark, he was never known for taking walks anyway (6.3% for his career). Because his offensive skills are showing few signs of erosion, it's safe to draft Tejada as a starting SS or 3B in 12-team mixed leagues.
It took an $11.5 million pay cut, but Jim Thome has finally signed. Though the brawny DH will not be a full-time starter in Minnesota, manager Ron Gardenhire stated that Thome is, "not going to just come off the bench." Thome will likely get most of his starts against right-handed pitching, while Delmon Young sits and Jason Kubel moves to the outfield. Significantly, if Thome proves to be a capable bopper, the Twins should have no problem finding him more at-bats. If Young was a superb defensive fielder, then one could rationalize that Thome would sit often as the Twins play small-ball. However, Young's -16.4 ultimate zone rating (UZR) in left field is worse than Kubel's mark (-0.4). It seems all Thome will need to do is produce in order to get into the everyday lineup, which is a possibility, even at age 39. Last season, Thome posted a .232 isolated power (ISO) mark while also taking his fair share of bases (15.9 BB%). His lack of position eligibility in fantasy is a turn-off, but Thome could prove to be a shrewd UTIL option if he finds his groove in Minnesota.
The benefit of playing in Petco Park cannot be denied, but can Jon Garland put up respectable numbers in San Diego? Don't bank on it. While many random pitchers have gone to Petco Park and found success (see: Kevin Correia), no one should assume that a guy with a career 4.42 ERA and 1.39 WHIP will show up and perform like a fourth fantasy SP just because he's playing in a pitcher's paradise. If Garland starts the season off on fire, feel free to pick him up and enjoy the ride. On draft day, however, it makes more sense to target pitchers with better strikeout potential (4.7 K/9 for his career) and higher upside.
The Yankees signed Randy Winn to a $2 million dollar deal, effectively closing the door on the Johnny Damon era. Fantasy owners tend to overvalue players who land on "name-brand" teams, but the newest Yankee is not worth the investment. Winn is a 35-year-old outfielder who posted a .671 on-base plus slugging in 2009. New York has stockpiled outfielders this off-season and they may have a competition for roster spots. While Winn is the most logical choice to be an everyday player out of a pool that features Brett Gardner, Jamie Hoffmann, and Greg Golson, he's a lock to hit near the bottom of the lineup. One look at his splits against lefties last season (.158 BA/.184 OBP/.200 SLG in 125 plate appearances) and it becomes apparent that Winn may find himself in a platoon. Considering that the outfield position is so deep, fantasy owners are better off avoiding Winn altogether.