The Marlins will be unwrapping their offseason shopping gifts this week as they open their new stadium Wednesday. But all of the new trinkets -- Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Mark Buehrle and Carlos Zambrano -- pales in comparison to the spring Hanley Ramirez has put together.
Coming off the worst season of his career and shoulder surgery, Ramirez is playing like his hair is on fire, and from the looks of his recent orange dye job with fellow Dominican Reyes, it is.
He opened spring training as a question mark and an injury-risk, maybe even a sleeper, if you will. He comes out of it a meteorically-rising fantasy pick and an NL MVP candidate. In Tout Wars two weekends ago, he was the eighth-most expensive player. In MockDraftCentral.com drafts since, he has gone as high as sixth overall.
"It's a big year for him," hitting coach Eduardo Perez told MLB.com on March 19. "I think he's going to be again one of the top players in the league, and maybe the top player in the league. Health is huge. Environment is great, and he's being put into a situation to succeed.
"We got three key free agents everybody talks about," Perez said. "My other free agent is Hanley. We got a top-notch free-agent third baseman. He's MVP material."
Ramirez also tops this week's stock report as the No. 1 gainer in fantasy value this spring, if only because he has regained his status as an elite option.
Lawrie didn't need a hot spring to be a highly-sought commodity in drafts. No matter; he has added to the surging hype by hitting .538 (21-for-37) in 15 games. Those are slow-pitch softball numbers. Lawrie has gone as high as the second round in drafts. That is some seriously high-rising mercury. It has made him a tough breakout to get. He might even be at risk of being a bust at that high cost.
"The one thing that he showed in the 150 at-bats he had with us last year was pitch recognition," Blue Jays manager John Farrell told MLB.com. "When he stays with his strike zone and doesn't chase out of the strike zone, that's when he can be a hitter with some impact in the game. That's why I think at the age he is, and with his production even in a short glimpse, he's got a chance to be pretty special."
Most of the time spring training bears only bad news on the injury front. All of the players who prove healthy were already expected to be. Morales, who was a fantasy enigma last spring, is a rare pleasant surprise. The Angels viewed everything he could give them this season as gravy, particularly with Albert Pujols now entrenched at first and Mark Trumbo healthy enough to serve as the team's slugging DH.
"Last year, I didn't feel so good," he Morales told MLB.com. "My ankle wasn't responding the way I would've wanted it to. One day I could play, then there was four or five days when I couldn't play. Not this year. This year was totally different. From the time I got to spring training, I just kept feeling better and better each day."
With Trumbo proving more and more capable to play third base, Morales might very well be a near full-time DH. The .300-30-100-100 potential is immense for where he is getting picked.
Few figured Wainwright would have little difficulty proving healthy this spring. Wainwright has come back from Tommy John surgery beautifully. It is good for the Cardinals, too, because Chris Carpenter went the other way with his neck/nerve/shoulder woes. Wainwright has posted a 1.45 ERA in 18 2/3 innings, but the first 14 of those were scoreless. Only 12 pitchers went for more than Wainwright in Tout Wars.
"We got the news that he was going to have to have Tommy John, and I remember somebody at that point saying, 'Well, it sets up really good. He's going to be ready to go right from the start next year,'" manager Mike Matheny told MLB.com. "And I'm thinking, 'Man, that's just kind of a bizarre way to think.' But I certainly understand it now."
Ryan Madson's loss is Marshall and Chapman's gain. Chapman doesn't have the command Marshall has, but he does have the lightning arm. Only 10 relievers went for more than Marshall in Tout Wars, while Chapman went for a bargain $1. A healthy and straightened-out Chapman is the Reds' closer, but Marshall has risen quickly for the short term after the loss of Madson to season-ending Tommy John surgery. Clearly, though, the Reds are not sold on Marshall as the closer, so beware this might be a temporary rise. Stash Chapman wherever possible.
"We have good alternatives we can turn to," Walt Jocketty said. "Other clubs have done it in the past. I did it in St. Louis. When Izzy (Jason Isringhausen) went down, (Adam) Wainwright stepped in and we won the World Series."
Pineda went from being a potential young ace of an elite contender, to out of the rotation, perhaps in the minors, but then on the 15-day DL to start the season. He told the Yankees nothing about shoulder soreness as he tried to pitch through it to help get his velocity up to that high-90s it was sitting at in the first half of his rookie season last year. He now might not start for the Yankees until the second half, and maybe not because of health.
The Yankees appear set on having a rotation of CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda, Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia entering the season. Then, spring signee Andy Pettitte should be ready to start games come May. Pineda is easily the seventh choice when he finally will prove healthy enough to pitch. Unless the rest somehow heals what ails his shoulder and low-90s velocity, Pineda is headed for a disappointing first half, if not whole year.
Chronic knee issues look like they might be claiming a great fantasy second baseman's career. Utley was given plenty of rest this spring and he never improved, forcing him to start the season on the DL with no return imminent.
"I honestly believed we still had Chase Utley playing for us Opening Day up until he said, 'I've got to go see another specialist because I'm not feeling well enough,'" Ruben Amaro said.
"I had no reason to think after he played so much at the end of the year and basically got through it, he would have told me, 'Ruben, I'm not doing so good.' He never indicated that. He felt confident that he was going to be fine."
So, now Utley looks like a wasted pick without health or promise to be the player he used to be.
One man enters (Wainwright), one man leaves (Carpenter). A nerve issue related to his neck never allowed his shoulder to strengthen like it should. The team is "optimistic" he can build up and be ready to return in May, but pitchers without a strong wing are a bad buy in fantasy. Carpenter went from being a potential fantasy ace to being a late-round flier -- and maybe not even a good one. Stash him on the cheap -- that's about the best thing that can be said about him in fantasy right now.
When Howard needed surgery to repair his torn Achilles' tendon, it was believed he would be out until June. Upon reporting to spring training, there was talk and hope he could be ready by May. A setback related to the healing of the wound has his timetable back to June. It actually has made Howard a real value in fantasy drafts, if you can wait two months. So, while his value slipped considerably, his value as a sleeper/stashee is raised. This is a good news/bad news item.
He had a decent spring out of the gate and the talk Davy Johnson really wanted him to win a job was filling our fantasy hopes for the arrival of the teen phenom. But a nagging injury slowed him and his numbers suffered, particularly in the area of strikeouts. He looked like a man-child, growing a lot in the past year, and displayed speed he might not have exactly been touted for. Instead, he is back in the minors to feed the hype machine for the first couple months of the season. He will still get a look this season, but hopes for a .280-20-80 rookie year have gone by the wayside.