February 25, 2010

It was one of the most active offseasons in recent memory, and plenty of players will get big boosts from the moves. Here are the once-under-the-radar (to an extent) guys who stand to benefit the most with their new teams ...

Remember that Simpsons episode, when Homer reaches into the kitchen cabinet and pulls out: "Nuts And Gum: Together At Last!"? Well, that product is a better idea than mixing Milton Bradley and Lou Piniella was. It was a marriage that had no chance to work, and it predictably ended in Bradley's worst year since his last in Cleveland, 2002. Bradley obviously carries a ton of risk with his off-the-field baggage, but a return to the West Coast, the American League and a small media market should do him good. And the Mariners will have to massage his ego just a little bit since, quite frankly, they desperately need him to provide some power. Bradley should play every day in left, hit fourth or fifth in the lineup, and (if healthy, of course) should hit around .300 with 20 homers and 90 RBIs.

Johnson's return to the Yankees might be getting a little too much hype. Rather than hitting somewhere in the 2 through 5 range in the order, there's a good chance he'll be hitting seventh, right in front of Nick Swisher and Randy Winn/Brett Gardner. That means fewer at-bats and fewer runs scored. And the cozy Bronx Bandbox should be a slight drag on the batting average of lefties like Johnson because there's so little space to cover in the outfield.

But the excitement is warranted for two reasons. One, he'll be DHing, which should go a long way to keeping him healthy. And two, his moderate power is going to play a lot better in the Bronx Bandbox. Don't believe for a second that the right field porch is the same that it was in the old Yankee Stadium just because they painted the old stadium's numbers on the wall. It doesn't take a genius to see that the right field scoreboard doesn't curve like a regular outfield wall, making it about 10 feet closer in the power alley, and the fences are shorter, to boot. That means Johnson's 15-home run power becomes, oh, 75-home run power. OK, maybe not, but a healthy Johnson should hit 20-plus homers and will get enough RBI opportunities to drive in 90-plus.

Kennedy still has a ways to go, but the move to the desert at least puts him back on the fantasy radar. Last was a wash because of an aneurysm in his right arm (while 2008 was a wash because of overall cruminess). But Kennedy will be back at full strength and looked sharp in limited action late last year (25-to-7 K-to-BB ratio in 22.2 innings for Scranton Wilkes-Barre) and in Arizona Fall League (28-to-5 in 29.2 IP). The move from New York gets him to the N.L. and their inferior lineups, gets him out of the fish bowl and gets him out of cozy Yankee Stadium, where his flyball tendencies would have made him a nightmarish fit. Kennedy's lack of an overpowering arsenal limits his upside, but his control (and improving cutter) should keep his ERA and WHIP from getting too bloated. Assuming he makes the rotation this spring, double-digit wins and 140-plus Ks is a reasonable expectation on a Diamondbacks team that will be much improved over last season.

Three years ago, no one outside of his immediate family was going to have Lewis on their fantasy roster (and even his mom must have been tempted to drop him in favor of a middle reliever). Thems the breaks when you post a 6-plus ERA in each of your three big league seasons with 30-plus innings pitched. But upon returning from a two-year stint in Japan, Lewis has some shiny new upside for 2010. He headed to the Pacific Rim, tweaked his mechanics, added a fairly nasty cutter and made the decision that he'd attack the strikezone. The results over 55 starts for the Hiroshima Carp: 2.82 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 369 strikeouts and just 46 walks in 354.1 innings. Japanese Central League lineups are approximately the equivalent of Triple-A (or at least that's what I gather from scouting the Tom Selleck vehicle Mr. Baseball), so buyer beware. But the Rangers saw enough to give Lewis a two-year deal and a guaranteed rotation spot. Go ahead and take a flier on Lewis.

Here's all you need to know about Penny in 2010: He'll be learning under pitching coach Dave Duncan. And here's all you need to see from Duncan's résumé: Chris Carpenter (4.83 pre-Duncan ERA, 2.91 since), Darryl Kile (6.61 ERA with Colorado in 1999, 3.91 under Duncan a year later), Joel Pineiro (5-plus ERA from 2005-07, 3.49 last year), Kyle Lohse (4.82 ERA from 2000-07, 3.78 in first year under Duncan in '08), Woody Williams (3.53 ERA under Duncan, 4.42 with all other teams), Kent (Freaking) Bottenfield (21-11, 4.01 ERA in 48 starts for St. Louis, 24-36, 4.75 ERA for every other team). So Duncan has done much more with less talent than the 31-year-old Penny (yes, 31, it only seems like he's been in the league since the Carter administration). He posted a 4.52 FIP last year, which is right around where his ERA would be with an average defensive team like the Cards. Duncan should bring that ERA down into the low 4s, he'll strike out around 125 and his WHIP won't kill you. With some run support, Penny could win 12-to-15 games and be a nice fantasy asset.

Pierre's fantasy value couldn't have had a better offseason. Ozzie Guillen was the third base coach during Pierre's heyday with the Marlins, when "productive outs" took Miami by storm. Despite his mediocre on-base skills and complete lack of power, Pierre is penciled into the leadoff spot and will be on a long leash. Guillen should turn him loose on the basepaths, so 40-plus steals seems likely. He's a .301 career hitter who's hit below .280 just once in his career, so he'll help in batting average, and with a little luck he'll score 100 runs (though he's not a lock with an on-base percentage that will likely hover in the .340s).

You don't have to be a scientician to realize that a set-up man who becomes a closer is getting a big boost in value. And the two that will make the biggest leap in 2010 are a couple of former closers. Despite joining bottom-feeding teams, Dotel and Gonzalez could end up being top-12 fantasy closers. Both are capable of 90-plus strikeouts. And in Dotel's case, since the Pirates win so few games in blowout fashion, he'll have a save opp in just about every one of their wins (even if there are only 60 of them).

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