Fantasy baseball's biggest AL offseason winners and losers
Last week, we looked at the winners and losers, from a fantasy standpoint, for each team in the National League. This week, we turn our eyes to the junior circuit.
• Winner: Jim Johnson, RP -- Gone are the imposing offenses and bandboxes of the AL East. In are the weaker offenses and pitcher-friendly parks, including Johnson's new home, of the AL West. In all honesty, Johnson didn't pitch that much worse in 2013 than he did in 2012. He allowed more walks and homers, but he also struck out more batters per nine innings. In fact, his xFIP was nearly three-tenths of a run lower. Still, trading coasts can't hurt, especially when the move lands him in one of baseball's most forgiving parks for pitchers.
• Loser: Tommy Milone, SP -- Milone made 57 starts for the A's in the last two seasons, posting a combined 4 WAR. Despite being a reliable cog in the rotation for back-to-back division championship teams, Milone looks like Oakland's long man out of the bullpen this year. The A's brought in Scott Kazmir, and Sonny Gray appears ready to claim a spot in the rotation right at the start of the season. They join holdovers Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin and Dan Straily in a strong rotation.
• Winner: Prince Fielder, 1B -- The Rangers don't have a shortage of candidates (Shin-Soo Choo, Jurickson Profar and Alex Rios all qualify), but Fielder wins out thanks to his move to Texas from Detroit. Fielder is going to love hitting in the Texas heat in the middle of the summer. The chances of him putting up another season with fewer than 30 homers are very slim. Given the high-OBP guys like Choo and Adrian Beltre in front of him, he could set a career high in RBI, as well.
• Loser: J.P. Arencibia, C -- Arencibia got nearly 500 plate appearances with the Blue Jays last year. He had a dreadful season in 2013, hitting .194/.227/.365, so he probably wouldn't have been on your radar anyway. Now that he's Geovany Soto's backup in Texas, he'll get about one-third that number of trips to the plate.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
• Winner: Kole Calhoun, OF -- Calhoun played well in limited duty last year, hitting .282/.347/.462 with eight homers and 32 RBI in 222 plate appearances. An eighth-round pick of the Angels' in 2010, Calhoun forced his way to the majors by hitting .354/.431/.617 with 12 homers at Triple-A Salt Lake last season. Now the team's Opening Day right fielder, he'll have every chance to prove last year was no fluke.
• Loser: David Freese, 3B -- Last year, Freese was hitting in the middle of one of the best lineups in the majors. After a terrible season in which he hit .262/.340/.381, the Cardinals shipped him West for Peter Bourjos. The Angels may have the best baseball player on the planet, as well as a legitimate sleeper in Calhoun, but most of the rest of the team is old and on the downslope. That change in context is enough to call Freese the Angels' biggest offseason loser.
• Winner: Taijuan Walker, SP -- The time has finally arrived. Walker, the No. 6 prospect in all of baseball according to MLB.com, will start the year in Seattle's rotation. He throws a fastball in the mid-90s and is a traditional four-pitch power pitcher. It may sound trite, but the sky truly is the limit for the 21-year-old. You may have to reach to get him on your team, but you will not be sorry.
• Loser: Robinson Cano, 2B -- Clearly, we're confining the term "loser" to the baseball field, since no one who becomes $240 million richer with the stroke of a pen can be called much of a loser. However, Cano is going to miss that short porch in Yankee Stadium's right-center field. Seventeen of his 27 homers were to right or right-center last year, and his average true distance of 403.9 feet was just 32nd in the league among batters with at least 18 homers, according to ESPN's home run tracker. The tracker also saddled him with four lucky homers, tops in the majors. Those balls won't fly out of Safeco Field.
• Winner: George Springer, OF -- We're jumping the gun here, as there isn't a guarantee that Springer will start the year in the big leagues. In fact, it would behoove the Astros to keep him in the minors for the first six weeks of the season to delay his arbitration eligibility for a year. When he does come up, however, he will be one of the biggest presences in this lineup. Springer hit .303/.411/.600 with 37 homers between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City last year. He's the No. 21 prospect according to MLB.com, with a power grade of 70. Playing half of his games at Minute Maid Park should have him laughing already.
• Loser: Dexter Fowler, OF -- Fowler had another strong campaign for the Rockies last year, hitting .263/.369/.407 with 12 homers and 19 steals in just 492 plate appearances, as he nursed knee and wrist injuries for a large part of the season. Minute Maid is a great park for hitters, but it's not Coors Field, and the Astros certainly don't provide Fowler with the team context he had in Colorado, either.
• Winner: Nick Castellanos, 3B -- The No. 15 prospect in baseball, Castellanos hit .276/.343/.450 with 18 homers at Triple-A Toledo last season. With Fielder in Texas and Miguel Cabrera back across the diamond, Castellanos figures to be Detroit's Opening Day third baseman. He has never had any trouble hitting, or impressing scouts with his bat, and the power is starting to come around, as well. He could break through in mixed leagues but should be an AL-only starter all season.
• Loser: Ian Kinsler, 2B -- If Fielder is a winner for moving south to Texas, the reverse has to be true of Kinser and his move north to Detroit. He's still one of the best fantasy second basemen in the league, and he shouldn't have any trouble scoring runs with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter hitting behind him. Still, it's hard to find a better environment for a hitter than the Ballpark in Arlington.
• Winner: Danny Salazar, SP -- Salazar was an absolute stud in 10 starts at the major league level last year, posting a 3.12 ERA, 3.16 FIP and 65 strikeouts in 52 innings. Penciled in as Cleveland's No. 3 starter, there's little question about who is the true ace of this team. We all saw the power repertoire last season. Salazar's average fastball was 96.2 mph, and he throws his slider and change with equal efficacy and potency. He could jump into the pool of elite starters this season.
• Loser: Carlos Carrasco, SP -- This team doesn't have a true loser, so Carrasco gets saddled with the moniker because of the one move the Indians made during the offseason. While he still has a great chance to be the fifth starter, he likely would have the job all but sewn up had the team not signed Shaun Marcum to a low-risk deal. No matter if it's Carrasco or Marcum capping off this rotation, you probably won't see them on many mixed-league rosters.
Kansas City Royals
• Winner: Eric Hosmer, 1B -- The only substantive change to the everyday roster is Norichika Aoki, and it's hard to see the move to Kansas City from Milwaukee as anything but parallel. Instead, let's celebrate Hosmer's second half from last year and give him a boost heading into this season. He finally appeared to put it together, hitting .323/.379/.473 with eight homers and 39 RBI after the All-Star break. He's the No. 8 first baseman on my board.
• Loser: Yordano Ventura, SP/RP -- Again, without any major changes, it's hard to label someone a true loser, here. We'll go with the 22-year-old Ventura, given that he's unlikely to make the rotation out of spring training. In fact, there remains a debate as to whether he's better suited to be a starter or reliever. While he has the repertoire to be a dominant closer, it would be seen as a demotion given that he has always been a starter.
• Winner: Oswaldo Arcia, OF -- Arcia earned a call to the majors after hitting .313/.426/.594 with 10 homers in 155 plate appearances at Triple-A Rochester last year. He struggled in the majors, though he hit 14 home runs. The power isn't a mirage, but there might not be a whole lot else for fantasy owners here. With a chance to show what he can do for a full season in the majors, however, he's this team's biggest winner of the offseason.
• Loser: Joe Mauer, 1B -- Mauer cannot be happy with what he sees around him in Minnesota. Josh Willingham is easily the best bat in the lineup besides him. Alex Presley? Trevor Plouffe? Kurt Suzuki? Pedro Florimon? It could be an ugly year in the Great White North, and that will take its toll on Mauer, even if he's no longer catching.
Chicago White Sox
• Winner: Adam Eaton, OF -- Eaton played only 66 games for the Diamondbacks last year because of an elbow injury and hit just .252/.314/.360. Still, the 25-year-old is two seasons removed from a .381/.456/.539 season at Triple-A Reno in which he also stole 38 bases. The White Sox felt so good about him that they parted with Hector Santiago, an underrated starting pitcher. Eaton will hit leadoff and man center field for the White Sox, and could be a major threat on the base paths for his fantasy owners.
• Loser: Paul Konerko, 1B/DH -- The soon-to-be 37-year-old Konerko has a great relationship with owner Jerry Reinsdorf and the entire front office in Chicago, which likely played a role in his return. However, with Jose Abreu at first base and Adam Dunn holding down DH duties, Konerko is not going to get his usual complement of at-bats. Furthermore, he hit just .244/.313/.355 last season. He's worth a late-round pick in AL-only leagues and nothing more.
Boston Red Sox
• Winner: Xander Bogaerts, SS -- OK, Bogarets. Time to show the world what you can do. MLB.com's No. 2 prospect will be the Red Sox' Opening Day shortstop after earning the call late last year. He had just 50 plate appearances in the regular season with the Red Sox but hit .284/.369/.453 with nine homers in 256 plate appearances with Triple-A Pawtucket last season. Bogaerts has been on the fast track to the majors ever since the Red Sox signed him out of Aruba in 2009; they hope he takes over the most important position on the infield and holds it down for the next 15 years.
• Loser: Felix Doubront, SP/RP -- With the team holding on to all its starting pitchers from last year, Doubront looks like the odd man out of the rotation. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz and Jake Peavy are locks, with Doubront and Ryan Dempster slugging it out for the fifth spot. The bet here is that Dempster gets the nod.
Tampa Bay Rays
• Winner: Alex Cobb, SP -- I considered Jake Odorizzi given that he is likely to start the year in the rotation after Jeremy Hellickson had to have arthroscopic surgery on his throwing elbow, but Cobb's near-limitless ceiling makes him the pick. In 22 starts last year, he went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA, 3.36 FIP and 134 strikeouts in 143.1 innings. Assuming he makes 30-plus starts this year, he could push up near 180 strikeouts with double-digit wins. Wil Myers is a winner, too, given that he'll get a full season in the majors, but Cobb may already be the best pitcher on a team that includes David Price.
• Loser: Jeremy Hellickson, SP -- It's a bit unfair to call Hellickson a loser simply because he suffered an injury, but the fact remains that it's never good for a pitcher to be dealing with elbow troubles. He had a down year in 2013, posting a 5.17 ERA and 4.22 FIP; Odorizzi, who had a 3.33 ERA nearly a strikeout per inning at Triple-A Durham last year, could shine during the first six weeks of the season. That would make this a crowded rotation.
New York Yankees
• Winner: Jacoby Ellsbury, OF -- As with the Rangers, there are a lot of potential winners here. Ellsbury gets the honor for the same reason that Robinson Cano is an offseason loser. While his 32-homer season in 2011 may have been an anomaly, it's hard to imagine him hitting single-digit homers with half his games in Yankee Stadium. He hit .452/.500/.833 with four homers in the Bronx in '11, and .350/.381/.500 last year. I think he's going to like his new home a lot.
• Loser: Ichiro Suzuki, OF -- With Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran joining Brett Gardner in the Yankee outfield, Suzuki will be no more than a fourth outfielder. Alfonso Soriano is locked in as the team's DH, so Suzuki won't be able to pick up a ton of at-bats in that way, either. He might be worth going after late in your AL-only draft, but that's it.
• Winner: Manny Machado, 3B -- I could have gone with "closer to be named" now that Jim Johnson is in Oakland, but instead let's cheer the fact that Machado is far ahead of schedule as he rehabs a knee injury. The Orioles believe he could be ready for Opening Day, and that's a win for baseball fans everywhere. He hit .283/.314/.432 with 14 homers while playing Gold Glove defense in his first full year in the majors last year.
• Loser: Matt Wieters, C -- After two straight down seasons, it's time to downgrade Wieters' fantasy status. Catcher is deeper than usual this year, and I have Wieters 14th at the position. Give me players such as Wilson Ramos and Evan Gattis ahead of the Orioles' backstop. He's not quite a starter in traditional mixed leagues in my book.
Toronto Blue Jays
• Winner: Dioner Navarro, C -- Navarro quietly had a great year for the Cubs in 2013, hitting .300/.365/.492 with 13 homers and 34 RBI, all while backing up Welington Castillo. It would be foolish to expect him to keep up such rates this year with starter's at-bats, but he can certainly build on those counting stats. At the very least, he'll be a mainstay in AL-only leagues
• Loser: Moises Sierra, OF/DH -- Sierra hit .290/.369/.458 in 122 plate appearances last year, but he's blocked by Jose Bautista in the outfield and Adam Lind at DH. Unless he impresses in spring training, it's hard to see him getting a ton of at-bats without someone suffering an injury. Of course, he could force his way into the lineup and make Adam Lind expendable, or the Blue Jays could look to trade Bautista if they fall out of the playoff race early.