With the 2012 Winter Meetings now officially in the books, I figured I’d take this opportunity to look at the biggest free agent signings and trades from the past few weeks and, from a fantasy perspective, try to make sense of it all. There’s plenty to get to, so let’s not waste any more time!
Mike Napoli signs with Red Sox for 3 yrs/$39 million
24 homers in 108 games is nothing to complain about but the bottom line is that Napoli owners did not get what they paid for last year. No one expected him to bat .320 again, but .227? Come on! Napoli was taken at 3.12 in the recent mock draft of which Lawr refers to in his latest Bed Goes Up, Bed Goes Down, so early indications are that he might not be available at much of a discount on draft day. On the whole, I don’t see his fantasy value changing much with the move to Beantown. Maybe the Green Monster will slightly eat away at home runs while raising both his doubles total and batting average. I tend to shy away from drafting catchers early, opting instead to load up on as many power/speed guys as possible, but there’s no denying that a backstop who is a lock for 20-plus homers carries plenty of appeal.
Shane Victorino signs with Red Sox for 3 yrs/$39 million
The Flyin’ Hawaiian is coming off the least productive full season of his career and is getting up there in age, so I’m surprised that the Red Sox gave him this contract. By Year Three--and maybe even sooner--I seriously doubt that Boston will be getting a positive return on their investment. Really, what can be expected for 2013? 30 steals, double-digit homers, a strong runs total and a mediocre AVG? The Flyin' Hawaiian went in the 10th round in our mock, and that’s just about where he belongs. But I do think that he has the potential to be taken too early in many drafts, mostly due to name recognition.
B.J. Upton signs with Braves for 5 yrs/$75.25 million
By now, we should accept Upton for who he is: a good player but not a star player. While his home run total has seen a steady uptick in recent years, his stolen base total has seen a steady decline. And, the last time he batted above .246 was in 2008. A 20/30 campaign is a reasonable expectation for 2013, but remember that batting average is a category! If anything, I think that B.J.’s fantasy value takes a hit here. Tropicana Field is a far better hitter’s park than Turner Field and the difficulty that some players have adjusting to a new league should not be overlooked.
Dan Haren signs with Nationals for 1 yr/$13 million
I can safely say that Haren will be on at least one of my teams next year. I love this signing and love the fact that he will be pitching with the extra motivation of both proving that he’s healthy and proving that he’s worthy of a new lucrative contract. The injury questions will significantly lower his draft day price tag but the skills are still there. Note that Haren pitched extremely well down the stretch last year, posting a 3.07 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in September. The Nats are a talented, young team that should once again be in the thick of the postseason picture and the NL East is a pitcher-friendly division. I won’t hesitate to draft Haren as my No. 2 starter in a 12-team mixed league and if I really go cheap on pitching, there are few better ace-upside gambles.
Mariano Rivera re-signs with Yankees for 1 yr/$10 million
For the first time in his career, there are legitimate questions concerning Rivera as we head into a new season. Will he be the same Rivera, the greatest closer of all time? Who knows, but I’m fairly certain that he’ll once again be a top-tier fantasy stopper. Mariano fell to the 14th round of our mock draft, and if I wasn’t looking to address other positions at that point, I would’ve gladly scooped him up before then. I usually don’t go out of my way to draft players who are returning from significant injuries, but usually it’s all about the price, and 14th round sounds good to me!
Now this is an interesting one. Hanson’s numbers have steadily regressed since his sensational ’09 rookie campaign. Last year, his career path hit a new low as he allowed more than a hit per inning while serving up a whopping 27 homers in just 174 2/3 innings. Not to mention that he’s dealt with shoulder issues of late. That said, I would not be afraid to take a risk and draft him as my No. 4 or No. 5 starter in a 12-team mixed league if the price is reasonable. And I think there will be enough skeptics out there that the price will be very reasonable. As for Walden, his days of closing games are obviously over but he could very well emerge as the Braves’ lockdown eighth inning man. Walden struggled out of the gate last year and quickly lost the Angels’ closer job, but take a look at his end of season stat line. It’s pretty good. For fantasy purposes though, he’s strictly an NL-only option, primarily as injury insurance for Craig Kimbrel owners.
Ryan Madson signs with Angels for 1 yr/$3.5 million
Madson will look to re-establish himself as one of the game’s elite relief pitchers after missing the entire 2012 campaign due to Tommy John surgery. He overcame his closer demons in 2011 as he saved 32 games for the Phillies and has recorded a sub-3.00 ERA and better than a strikeout per inning in each of his last two seasons. I expect him to do just fine as the Angels’ new stopper and view him as a high-end No. 2 mixed league closer who could easily perform like a No. 1. The only risk with drafting Madson is that there’s a slight chance he won’t be ready for Opening Day, but it sounds like he’ll be good to go as long as he avoids any setbacks.
Jonathan Broxton re-signs with Reds for 3 yrs/$21 million
Broxton bounced back nicely last year following a nightmarish 2011 season, though his 6.98 K/9 rate represented a significant drop from his career mark. Still, it seems like he has learned to compensate for his declining velocity and the Reds were clearly pleased enough with his performance to offer him this new contract. Broxton’s return to Cincinnati’s bullpen will allow the club to move Aroldis Chapman into their starting rotation, an idea that sounds great but could backfire. Keep in mind that Chapman has yet to make a single big league start, so it’s not like he’s a guaranteed top of the rotation starter. Should Broxton struggle, the Reds will wish that they had left Chapman in the closer role, and don’t rule out the possibility that we’ll see Chapman saving games again at some point. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. To me, Broxton is no better than a low-end No. 2 mixed league closer.