I wasn’t all that giddy about the Jacoby Ellsbury signing when it happened, and I’m still not thrilled. Come on, Ellsbury’s injury history combined with his reliance on elite-level speed could lead to disaster towards the back end of that seven-year contract. But, with the Rangers signing Shin-Soo Choo, who is a year older than Jacoby, for the same length of time and just slightly less money, I do feel a little better about the decision by the Bombers to go hard after Ellsbury. Other than being less durable, Ellsbury is the better all-around player, and Choo’s dreadful numbers vs. lefties (.215 AVG, .612 OPS in ‘13) is a big reason why.
But enough about the free agents who have already signed. As we head into the final full week of 2013, let’s take a fantasy-angled look at the top players still on the board.
The Rangers are out on Cruz after the Choo signing, and it now sounds like the Mariners and Orioles are the two most likely landing spots for the PED-tainted outfielder. On-field consistency hasn’t been an issue for Cruz, as he’s launched at least 22 homers while driving in at least 76 runs in each of the last five seasons. That said, in addition to his 50-game suspension last year, health woes limited him to an average of 120 games per season from 2009 through 2011. This combined with the fact that he turns 34 in July makes it hard to imagine that Cruz will be able to secure the five-year deal he’s looking for. I’m thinking more like three years and $45 million, maybe with a fourth year option. For fantasy purposes, the cozy confines of Camden Yards would be a much more friendly landing spot than Safeco Field. Draft Cruz as your No. 3 OF in a mixed league and you’ll be fine.
Drew is a perfect example of a player who is far more valuable in real baseball than in fantasy baseball. His defensive ability is top-notch, and while he’s a decent hitter, his offensive game is nothing special. Oh yeah, and he’s been extremely injury-prone (96 games per season over the past three years). The only scenario where I can see myself drafting Drew this spring is as an MI in a deep mixed league, that is if I’m desperate. He won’t be a target by any means.
I’ve always been a Garza fan thanks to his routinely stellar K/BB ratios and solid track record, especially while pitching in a tough AL East division during his time with the Rays. Staying healthy has been a challenge for him of late (42 combined starts over the past two seasons) and he struggled somewhat following his trade to the Rangers last July, but all that will do is lower his price tag to the point where he could be a strong mid-round value pick, especially if he returns to the Senior Circuit.
The fact that Santana is seeking a deal in excess of 100 million dollars goes to show just how out of control the contracts have been this winter. Santana has been the model of inconsistency throughout his big league career. Check out the stats if you don’t believe me. Fortunately, he’s coming off one of his better years, so he should cash in nicely. But 100 million bucks? Forget about it. Santana is nothing more than a back end of the rotation starter in mixed leagues.
Speaking of inconsistency, this guy takes the cake. If not for his exceptional second half last season (1.82 ERA, 1.14 WHIP), Ubaldo would be lucky to secure a multi-year contract. Instead, he will probably land a three-year deal in the 36-42 million dollar range, and I really feel bad for the team that decides to throw that kind of money his way. The high walk rate has always been a major problem, and it’s still a major problem. I don’t like those types of pitchers, and I won’t be drafting Ubaldo in any format.
Morales has sneaked under the radar this Hot Stove season, and if I were a GM in need of a quality first baseman (I’m looking at you, Sandy Alderson!), I’d strongly consider signing him. Kendrys is a safe bet for a batting average in the .275 to .285 range to go along with 20-plus homers, and a move to a more hitter-friendly park than Safeco Field could result in a return to the 30-homer plateau. His asking price is a bit too high at the moment, but that will change in a few weeks time. Actually, being that his agent is Scott Boras, it might take longer than a few weeks, but the wait will be worth it for whichever team ultimately signs him. I drafted Morales for 11 bucks to serve as my starting CI in Mixed Tout this past year, and I’d be more than willing to repeat that purchase in 2014.
Balfour was supposed to be Baltimore’s new closer this season but concerns over his physical led the Orioles to nix his two-year pact. This could be good news for clubs with a closer vacancy since the odds that Balfour is now forced to settle for a one-year contract are pretty high. Being that he’s coming off a phenomenal season as the A’s closer and has not had any recent injury issues, there’s plenty of profit potential here for a team like the Rays, who are reportedly interested in a reunion. As long as Balfour continues to pitch in the ninth inning, his fantasy value as a strong No. 2 mixed league closer remains unchanged.