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Friday 22nd Sep 2017

Elijah Dukes in a surprise move today was cut by the Nationals after being widely considered the front-runner for the everyday right-field job.  The move puts the Nationals in perhaps an even weaker position and are considering two different platoon arrangements – Willie Harris with Justin Maxwell or the former with Mike Morse per this article.

Dukes will turn 26 this season and has yet to ever top 400 at-bats, let alone 500. Injuries and his indiscretions have cost him time. And when he has been on the field, he has failed to show consistency and only hinted at his potential which includes good patience at the plate (13.3 percent career walk percentage) and power (career 12.3% HR/FB percentage). On the other hand he has also shown some ground ball tendencies (44% for his career) which could potentially temper his once thought 30-HR potential and his 20-20 potential seems to be drying up after producing a 23% stolen base success rate last year. After results like that it is hard to imagine him getting the green light too often unless it was injuries that only temporarily curtailed that aspect of his game. At this point for Dukes it is all about opportunity. In the right situation, and quite frankly that was supposed to have been right where he was, he might get the plate appearances to earn into the double digits, if not the twenties’ in value. However, in even mixed-league 15-team leagues he is nothing more than a reserve pick at best now.

Getting back to the Nationals other options, Willie Harris is going to be the main beneficiary as the left-handed hitting option. Harris is a patient hitter who teens/season power and speed, but has never been noted for his ability to hit for average due primarily to a .290 career BABIP and a .202 batting average against lefties. Still he has managed just .256 against righties. Last year he was held back by a huge percentage of balls in play becoming fly-balls (47%) despite his limited power skills. In other words – lots of easy fly ball outs. Some regression to career norms in line drives and fly-balls and strict platoon usage will benefit him, but keep your upside expectations at his 2008 numbers with perhaps topping 400 at-bats.

Justin Maxwell has excellent tools and has become a patient hitter. He is capable of 30+ steals and close to 20 HR given full-time play, but he is noted for having a long swing which has created high strikeout rates of over 30% even in the minors. He is a career .286 hitter in limited play against righties and .227 against lefties, but certainly has the most upside of all their current right-field candidates. However, he is now 25 and his window of opportunity, much like the departed Dukes’s, is closing rapidly.

Mike Morse was once a top prospect with Seattle, but his days of being an infielder are well past. He is not noted for his patience, but has shown some signs of improving his contact making skills, making contact 83% of the time in each of his two triple-A stops last year. The near 28-year old is a career .324 hitter against lefties in the majors. His draw-back – a 60% ground ball rate in the majors in each of his past two trials – limits his power.  He has never been noted as a base stealer. Given these three options it strikes me that it may not be long before the Nationals go outside seeking another option altogether to solve their right field issues.

Kris Benson signed a minor league deal with the Diamondbacks. The thirty-five year old is competing for the last spot in the rotation. but it is more likely he will start the season in the minors/extended spring training. Benson appeared very briefly and in horrific fashion for the Rangers last year posting a sub 1:1 K/BB ratio while allowing over 50% fly balls and 6 home runs in 22.1 innings. The velocity on his fastball has dropped from over 92 mph in 2002 to around 88 mph last season while his slider has lost about 3 mph as well.  Sadly, Benson has not been worthy of recommendation for fantasy use since his 2000 season. Unless he shows some sort of massive renaissance, avoid him.

Aaron Crow was a notable prospect reassigned recently. He will start the season in double-A Arkansas. Note that Crow has yet to pitch an entire minor league season after sitting out 2008 and being drafted a second time in 2009. He is noted for a plus fastball/slider combination and solid command. AL only keeper leaguers should be noting him as a potential call-up for later this season and a target for their minor league draft lists.

Hank Blalock signed a minor league deal today with the Tampa Bay Rays. This is good news for those, including myself, who wanted to see Gaby Sanchez get a shot at playing time before the Logan Morrison show begins in Miami. Blalock, meanwhile, is a man without a starting position despite hitting twenty-five home runs. Instead he will back up at first base and perhaps see action at DH, costing Pat Burrell some at-bats vs. tough right-handed pitchers. He will not likely see much action at his original position of third base because of some guy named Longoria as well as Willy Aybar, a superior defensive player over Blalock.

It should also be noted that Blalock’s contract contains an “out clause” which would make him a free agent before the end of spring training should he not make the MLB club.  He is just 29-years of age, but other than power, his took a complete step backwards – showing less patience at the plate (5.3% compared to 8% for his career) and striking out more than ever at 23% of the time compared to his 20% career mark.  On the positive side, Blalock posted a .249 BABIP compared to his career .296 mark, so his batting average is likely to improve, but as long as he sticks with the approach he showed last season, he will not be much more than a .250’s hitter. As of right now, Blalock is only recommended as a speculative play in AL only leagues for $1 in hope that he works his way into some playing time. Quite frankly that is more likely to occur if the Rays release him or someone gets injured.

Edwar Ramirez was traded today by the Yankees to the Texas Rangers in exchange for cash. The nearly 29-year old appeared in just 20 games for the Yankees in 2009, striking out 22 in 22 innings. Unfortunately over that same period he also walked 18 and allowed 25 hits. In triple-A however he pitched much better posting a 10.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 – more in line with his career minor league performances. So generally speaking he should do better, but keep your expectations low as Ramirez is a soft-tossing right-handed pitcher who averages under 90 mph who relies more on his plus changeup which he is known to throw about 40% of the time. Ramirez is also an extreme fly-ball pitcher (50%) of the time and last season allowed nearly 19% of them to turn into home runs. While this should regress, he will be moving to Texas, a park known for not being so friendly to fly ball pitchers.  Pass.

With player profiles in the rear view mirror (and being released tomorrow!), it is time to get back to blogging and discuss a few key moves that occurred recently.

One of the most notable recent moves was the Cardinals signing of free agent Felipe Lopez. The move is somewhat odd considering the Cardinals already had Julio Lugo under contract with a supersub type of role in mind for him. It is also odd for Lopez considering he is coming off the second highest total plate appearances of his career that he would have to settle for a situation where he may not play full time.  The move also clouds Julio Lugo’s playing time quite a bit as Lopez will now slot into a supersub role leaving Lugo in the lurch as a true back-up.  Lopez is not noted for his glove, one of the main reasons he is being forced to settle for less playing time, so Lugo is the likely back-up at short with Lopez platooning at second base. The real key to full time play for Lopez will be the third base situation – whether David Freese can hit enough to hold the job down or not.

From an offensive perspective, Lopez has made a lot of progress in developing his plate discipline skills – walking over 10% of the time last season and making contact over 83% of the time. While the .310 batting average is not likely sustainable considering it is coupled with the highest line drive rate of his career and a .356 batting average on balls in play, the skills he has shown should enable him to hit at least in the .280s or .290s. While the twenty-three home run season in 2005 stands out like a sore thumb, he is still a good gap hitter who can hit doubles and is good for the high single digits in home runs. Just, given his increasing ground-ball tendencies, do not expect much more than that. Lastly, Lopez no longer appears to be a speed threat. Over the past two seasons his stolen base success rate has been 50% with 14 steals in 28 attempts. It is possible with the change in organizations he may be given more of a green light, but given his lack of success, I would not recommend paying for him with the idea that he was going to return to the 10-plus, let alone the 20-plus, stolen base levels. Consider any steals you get above 5 from him as gravy.

Chan Ho Park was signed by the Yankees to pitch in a role similar to last season – long reliever and spot starter. Park’s K/9 and BB/9 remained fairly strong at 7+ and mid 3’s each of the past two season, but a .328 BABIP and sub 68.7% LOB rate contributed to a mid 4’s ERA. On the other hand, his HR/FB of 6.3% looks like an outlier compared to the rest of his career – 11%. In other words even if he improves in the other two areas, they are likely to be offset by losses in HR/FB especially when you consider that his pitch selection and GB/FB/LD tendencies have not changed significantly over the years. I see him as a $1 end-game guy in AL only leagues at best.

This may be a bit old, but no reason not to analyze it as we are still in the pre-season  -Johnny Damon finally signed on February 22nd with a team – the Detroit Tigers. He will be the everyday left fielder allowing Carlos Guillen to move to DH where he can concentrate on staying healthy and just hitting. The move will have the greatest impact on Ryan Raburn who will be reduce to a back-up role unless rookies Austin Jackson and/or Scott Sizemore prove not to be ready for the Majors.

Damon, 36, is coming off the best power-producing season of his career that saw him hit 24 home runs and 36 doubles. To accomplish t his feat he hit by far the most fly balls he has ever hit in a single season at 42.3% compared to his career 35% mark. In no prior season had he ever hit fly balls more than 40% of the time. To go along with t hat he also posted the highest HR/FB percentage of his career at 12.6% compared to his career 9.4% mark. So it is quite clear here that trying to hit home runs was a conscious effort on Damon’s part. Even his walk and strikeout rates point towards a player more focused on power as he posted the highest walk rate and strikeout rates of his career. The question is – will he continue to do so now that he is moving to the much more pitcher-friendly park in Detroit?  Statistics and his career context tell us to regress to the mean. The result could actually be a higher batting average in 2010 if he focuses on making more contact and the fact that he posted the lowest line-drive rate of his career. I also do not think he is done as a stolen base threat either. Keep in mind that he was 12 for 12 in stolen base opportunities and his focus on hitting fly-balls. If he changes his approach to match the majority of his career, an increase in line drives and ground balls in more singles (he hit the fewest singles of any full season of his career in 2009), it will increase the number of stolen base opportunities.

Jonny Gomes hit 20 home runs in 314 plate appearances for the Reds in 2009. That is essentially the one thing he does well. He is a defensive liability best suited to playing DH which makes it difficult to get him on the field on a regular basis. He is also is a platoon player from the wrong side of the plate who has hit just .224 against righties with a .311 OBP and .488 SLG. Against left-handed pitching he is a .274 .369 .517 line.  Concentrating on the good, he is a true fly-ball hitter who has consistently posted HR/FB in the mid to low teens. In 2009 he had by far a career high – 22% HR/FB rate. Even though he was in a very good home run hitter’s park, it is still likely it will regress considering he was around the 13% to 14% mark in each of the three prior seasons. His playing time is uncertain with Jay Bruce healthy and Drew Stubbs installed full time in centerfield leaving just left field open to competition. Gomes’ primary competition will be fellow right-hand power hitter Wladimir Balentien and Laynce Nix. Chris Dickerson is the sole left-handed hitter of this group and has the edge for most playing time. However, this whole group is just keeping the seat warm while Chris Heisey gets a little more playing time in triple-A before he gets a shot at claiming the left field job.

Guillermo Mota signed a minor league deal with the Giants and has a chance to crack their opening day bullpen. While he produced a 3.44 ERA and had a solid 3.3 BB/9 over 61 games for the Dodgers in 2009, his normally above average strikeout rates was down to a 5.4 K/9 when it had not been below seven since 2001. Looking at the pitches he threw his fastball nearly 10% more often than his career average and threw his slider 10% less often than he did in 2008, so it is possible that this change in approach may be more responsible for the decline in K/9 than anything else. One other note of caution with Mota – he remains a high percentage fly-ball pitcher, but allowed just 6.5% of them to turn into home runs compared to his career 9% mark and over 11% marks he posted each of the three prior seasons. And finally, his BABIP was at .244 for 2009. Expect a correction upwards in the ERA/WHIP department. It is unlikely that he will see any save opportunities with the Giants.

Two former starting players and two speedsters at that, both signed minor league contracts yesterday. Willy Taveras signed with the Washington Nationals and Endy Chavez with the Texas Rangers. Both players have made their living by pounding the ball into the ground as has Chien-Ming Wang who the Nationals have only just signed.

The New York Mets were active on the minor league contract front today signing Japanese left-handed starter Hisanori (Hisa) Takahashi and former Met Mike Jacobs. Takahashi stands a very good chance of making the club with the Mets fifth starter spot wide open.

As we rapidly approach the start of spring training a few moves are still trickling in.

The Diamond Exchange was on a brief illness induced hiatus. Now that the Leibowitz household is getting back to fighting strength it is time to catch up some of the transactions that have occurred recently!

Yorvit Torrealba signed a one-year deal with the Padres and based on reports it appears he will be slated for back-up or part-time duty behind Nick Hundley. Both are right-handed hitters so there is no platoon opportunity here. Torrealba is a ground ball hitting catcher doing so over 55% for his career and as such will remain a single-digits home run hitter. He makes contact more than 80% of the time, but given the foot speed you would expect of a catcher and where he is hitting the ball over 50% off the time the result is a lot of outs. Nick Hundley is no earth-shattering offensive juggernaut himself, though he has more potential in the power department, so it is possible Torrealba will get back to the 300 plate appearance plateau, but that actually makes it even more advisable not to draft him.

Adam Kennedy signed a one-year deal with the Washington Nationals in what appears to be a stopgap move that will send Ian Desmond back to triple-A and Cristian Guzman back over to shortstop. Which player will be phased out between Kennedy and Guzman will be up in the air and performance based as both players are free agents at the end of 2010, though Kennedy’s contract includes an option for 2011. After two straight seasons as a part-timer with the Cardinals Kennedy signed with the right team last year to get serious playing time and ended up with 587 plate appearances, the second highest total of his entire career. The result was actually a vintage Adam Kennedy season as she showed 10 HR 20 SB skills without any change in his plate discipline and contact-making skills. Though he is now thirty-four, there is no marked decline in skills so a solid follow-up season is quite possible for him. The only thing that he will be hard-pressed to match are the plate appearances which will certainly have an impact on his overall counting stats, so a return to 11 HR and 20 steals may be difficult from that perspective.

Melvin Mora signed a one-year deal with the Rockies likely signaling the end of his days as an everyday player. It is quite possible that the Rockies will try to get him in the lineup at a variety of positions on a frequent basis spelling Ian Stewart and Helton. He did also come up to the Majors as a middle infielder and could see some time in the middle infield too. Mora is still a good contact hitter doing so around 86% of the time, but saw his power completely vanish last season as he had no change in his fly-ball tendencies, but simply in his HR/FB% from 14% of the time to 5.4% as compared to his 11% career mark.  There also were no reports of any injuries that would hamper his power production. So, while he will be playing in good park conditions to expect much of a rebound at 38-years of age with inconsistent playing time, is foolish.

The Twins won the Orlando Hudson bidding wars meaning the days of trotting out Alexi Casilla and Nick Punto, two players better suited to the utility roles they will have, are over, well at least at second base. Brendan Harris is penciled in as the third basemen but Punto and Casilla could factor into that equation too and it is still possible the Twins could add s veteran third basemen too. Getting back to the man of the hour  - Hudson proved he was recovered enough from his injuries to  return to the 600+ plate appearance plateau, a plateau the Twins would not mind him staying at. One might think his wrist was not fully healed as hit by far the most ground balls of his career at 56% of the time, but while his HR/FB was the second lowest of his career, it was only 0.3 off 2008 and only 0.4 off 2007 and so on, so the injury appears to have had negligible effect on his power game.  Another .280 to .290’s high single-digit home run season with 550 or more at-bats is still extremely reasonable, but there is not any reason to think there is upside beyond it.

Other moves occurred during my brief hiatus. If you would like me to offer some comments on them, please post a comment below and I’ll be sure to blog on them!

Brad Ausmus re-signed a one-year deal with the Dodgers and will serve as the back-up to Russell Martin. Ausmus’s plate appearances have been on a tumble the last four seasons. Not surprising for someone who was once a starter and will turn 41 just after opening day. He is in the majors still for his defense and ability to handle pitchers. It really has been since the 2000 season that he was really of any value for fantasy players when he still had some gap power, could steal more than 10 bases and his contact-making skills resulted in a reasonable batting average.

Ronnie Belliard also re-signed with the Dodgers to a one-year deal and in theory could be in store for increased playing time if he can beat out Blake DeWitt for the starting second base job. Though nearly thirty-five, Belliard has added some power over the past two seasons converting over 13% of his fly balls into home runs. However he has done so at the expense of making less contact, striking out around 20% of the time each of the past two seasons making his ability to repeat his batting average a bit less reliable, though he has done fairly well the past two seasons as a result of two of the highest line drive rates of his career at over 20%.  It will be interesting to see how  the power holds up and whether his performances regresses more to his career norms f exposed to more regular playing time or if a striking decline occurs. For now he is a decent towards end-game play in NL only leagues for teams looking to fill that MI or UT spot and the risk of his repeating his performance more palatable at under $10, if not under $5.

Jim Thome signed a one-year deal with the Minnesota Twins. His addition brings OBP and left-handed hitting power and it is a likely scenario that if they are facing a right-handed pitcher, he will be in the lineup and Jason Kubel will see time in left field at the expense of Demon Young. Even if the Twins at this time state they are still committed to Young long-term, it will be hard to justify keeping Thome’s offensive skills out of the lineup.  The result I believe will end up in truncated plate-appearances for both players, limiting their value, as the Twins try to commit to Young, but end up utilizing Thome more than they envisioned, but less than fantasy players would like to see. That said – Thome’s skills are well known – strikeout over 30% of the time, walk more than 15% of the time, convert HR/FB around 25% of the time, and hit in the .240’s. Just some notes of caution – three straights seasons of declining ISO, plus one of the lowest fly-ball rates of his career at 36% combined with being forty years old means little upside.

Ben Sheets signed a one-year deal with the A’s. He has four 30+ start seasons of his career, but only one in the past five seasons. He has always had the talent and the skills (career 7.6 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9) with his plus fastball/curveball combination. The only that really can be said as far as a projection would be to think of him in terms of Rich Harden in that even if he is 100% healthy and pitches on a regular basis throughout the season there is a good possibility that he may hit a wall in late August or early September which could result in his being shut down. After all, this is a pitcher who has not thrown a single professional inning since late 2008. It takes time to be able to handle that type of workload, if ever. All of this of course should keep his price low in most leagues and you will have to decide your personal tolerance for risk. My advice: pay for 15 to 20 starts which I believe is slightly less than our projection has him at – about 25 starts and 161 IP and $15 or $16 in AL only leagues.

Xavier Nady signed a one-year deal with the Cubs under the premise that he will be utilized as a fourth outfielder.  This is another situation that I find hard to believe, provided Nady shows a healthy throwing arm after undergoing his second Tommy John surgery, when you consider Kosuke Fukudome is the only player ahead of him on the right field depth charts. While Fukudome has the OBP skill and defensive edge advantages, Nady’s power and ability to hit for average, even if he hits .300 and has a lower OBP than Fukudome, may intrigue them more. When at the plate, Nady is a fairly consistent hitter known for low walk-rates and a contact rate at around 80%. Despite the lack of discipline, his swing has allowed him to hit for average with a career line-drive rate of 21%. The one thing to note is that he does have a power ceiling. 2007 was the only time in his career that he hit fly balls 40% or more of the time. Otherwise he has averaged 35%, so even if a situation arose where he would achieve more than 500 plate appearances, to expect much more than the low-twenties in home runs would be wishful thinking without a return to that 40% fly-ball or better mark. The raw power is there given a career 13.6% HR/FB rate, but the swing does not support it. For now I would expect more on the order of 300 to 400 plate appearances and to see Fukudome’s plate appearances to decline as well  - depending on whether with the exception of the 2009 season, the typically durable Alfonso Soriano, stays healthy, in which case both players would play full time.

Jon Garland signed a one-year deal with the Padres where he will slot into the middle of the rotation and creates a more fierce competition for the final two spots amongst Matt Latos, Clayton Richard, Tim Stauffer, and Wade LeBlanc. While Latos has the most upside of this group, perhaps anyone in the rotation for that matter, this also gives the Padres an opportunity to give him more time in triple-A considering he was jumped from double-A last season and only turned 22 after the season ended.  As for Garland, pitcher-speaking, he is fairly easy to peg down – good control and command, not going to miss bats, but will induce more than 40% ground-balls and managed close to 50% of the time last season. The Padres are not doing him a favor by having dealt away Kouzmanoff and putting Headley is his place, but overall the park conditions, even for a pitcher like Garland who isn’t a fly-ball pitcher, should still help him as it has negative impacts on both left and right-handed hitters’ batting averages.  It is possible he could post a sub 4.00 ERA here, but given his history, pay for a low to mid 4’s ERA and 1.40 WHIP.

In a couple of pinch-hitting moves the Colorado Rockies signed Jason Giambi while the Padres signed fellow former Oakland Athletic Matt Stairs. Both players are best suited to DH roles and as long as they are on their respective clubs, it will be difficult to imagine them receiving much more than 200 plate appearances unless there are injuries or they are moved back to the AL to a team that needs them to start.  Both players still can draw walks 16% or more of the time, but are likely to strike out more than a quarter of the time. Giambi hit just .201 while Stairs hit .194 which speaks strongly towards both players inconsistent playing times last season. In other words – players like Giambi and Stairs, because of their approaches, are both subject to streakiness and when placed in a situation where they are not getting consistent repetitions, it is extremely difficult to expect any consistency in their performance. Both players at 40+ are still capable of hitting more than 10% of their FB into home runs, but at this point they are short-term NL Only pick-ups during interleague play only.

Will Rich Hill be Dave Duncan’s latest success? The Cardinals signed the one-year wonder to a minor league contract and has a legitimate chance to win the fifth starter’s job in an open competition against Jamie Garcia, Mitchell Boggs, and others. Once upon a time Hill had excellent peripheral stats that included an 8+ K/9 and sub 3.0 BB/9. The lefty however still tops out in the high eighties and relies heavily on his plus curveball. His once above average command, however, has disappeared at both the minor league and major league level posting a 6+ BB/9 wherever he pitched last season. He is someone to watch in spring training and perhaps take a flier on if he wins the fifth spot.

Chad Tracy signed a minor league deal with the Cubs and will compete for a back-up spot at first and third base. He has never been particularly noted for his defensive skills, so his bat will have to do a lot of the talking to make the team. Despite a .237 batting average last season, Tracy walked 9% of the time and made contact 85% of the time. His issues were a 18% line-drive rate (3% below his career average) and a .251 BABIP compared to his career .301 mark, so there is some hope here that at 29 years of age he could regress towards his career tendencies. One thing that might hold him back is that he has always been a fly-ball hitter but is also someone who only converts fly balls into homeruns only 9% of the time, so the days of those 20+ HR seasons look a bit far-fetched. As stated there are no guarantees Tracy will even make the club and his career as a major leaguer is in question. Like many players in today’s entry his best chance at getting any substantial playing time will only occur if there is an injury and in his case he would still likely end up behind Xavier Nady if it was Derrek Lee who missed time.

The Yankees got tired of waiting for Johnny Damon and instead went after a different aging speedster in Randy Winn whose signing will almost certainly push Brett Gardner into a reduced bench-role. Winn, 35, had one of the least impressive seasons of his career batting just .262 while watching his ISO dip under .100 for the first time since the 2000 season. He also had his lowest contact rate since 2003. A switch hitter for throughout his career, he has never been labeled a platoon player and is in fact a .280’s hitter from either side. However, he hit just 182 against lefties last year and .292 against righties, though he did hit .282 the year before. The worst case scenario would have him repeating a similar split, but not the kind of platoon split Brett Gardner would want to see in order to get more playing time. On the positive side, Winn actually has not shown decline in terms of his speed and in fact has seen his speed score rise each of the past three seasons while completing a 89% stolen base success rate in 18 attempts, so it’s possible he could once again top the 20+ mark given the green light. The only thing that we really cannot count on returning is his power as his HR/FB rate dropped to just 1.4% compared to his career 7.8% mark given that his fly ball rates were relatively unchanged compared to the rest of his career.


Miguel Tejada has reportedly rejoined the Orioles after spending several seasons with the Houston Astros. The move clearly signals that Michael Aubrey’s chances of becoming the everyday first basemen are almost zero though there is an outside chance he could platoon with Ty Wigginton and Garrett Atkins the contenders for that position. As an aside the latter signing makes even less sense than it did given that both Wigginton and Atkins are right-handed hitters.  Tejada has not hit over 20 home runs since 2006 and is not likely to do so again as someone who hits ground balls close to, if not over, 50% of the time. What he does do well now is make contact as he posted a 93% contact rate last season and has been right around 90% each of the two seasons prior to it. He keeps his batting average respectable through an ability to hit line drives around or better than 20% of the time on a consistent basis with the outlier seasons of 2007 the one exception. Just keep in mind that Tejada is not particularly fast, will turn 36 in May and his .300+ batting average was supported by a .323 BABIP compared to a just over .300 the two seasons prior, so a .280’s to .290’s  batting average is more likely. At this point in his career it is difficult to justify spending higher than the low to mid teens to acquire his skills, though he will end up with multiple position eligibility given his time at short and that he is moving to third this season.

Doug Davis rejoined the Brewers after a three-season hiatus. The signing ultimately creates more competition for the fifth rotation spot between Manny Parra, who self-destructed last season, and the obscenely frustrating David Bush. Davis gives the Brewers some peace of mind as an inning eater who will not necessarily dominate, but in general stays healthy (comes after treatment for thyroid cancer to boot) and keeps his team in the game. That said, Davis is now 34-years old. While his K/9 was solid at a 6.5 last year, it does mark four straight seasons of decline. He has also never been the best of control and his BB/9 declined from a 4.0 to a 4.6, though that is comparable to both his 2006 and 2007 performances. However, if you are not going to strike as many batters as you once did and rely more on your defense and you are moving to a club not noted for its defense, you have be a bit wary. Davis’s .294 BABIP and 76% LOB% helped keep his ERA at a 4.12 and his HR/FB% was actually high for his career at  11.6%. Expect him to continue to produce another low to mid 4’s ERA and 1.5ish WHIP or perhaps $5 to $6 in NL only leagues.

Merkin Valdez was traded by the Giants to the Blue Jays for cash on Wednesday. Valdez was once a top starting prospect and then a relief prospect who has struggled with injuries for much of his career.  He has spent the last several seasons in full-time relief and stayed in the majors for much of last season, throwing 49.1 innings and a 6.9 K/9 while averaging over 95 mph on his fastball and combing that with a slider and split-finger fastball. Stuff has never been in question and in the past control has not been either, but he still posted a 5.1 BB/9 in his rookie season, so there is room here for significant improvement. While Jason Frasor is the Blue Jays closer entering spring training and is also on the roster, any pitcher with a good arm is worthy of note considering the volatility of the Blue Jays’ closer position in recent seasons.

Brandon Jones was claimed off waivers from the Braves by the Pirates after he had been designated for assignment. It was not that long ago that Jones was considered the Braves potential left fielder of the future, but instead the 26-year old has struggled to make the big club and now looks more like a platoon player or a tweener back-up. His minor league numbers suggest a platoon player. Take for example 2009 in which he hit a very respectable .291,.378,.444 against righties, but struggled to hit for average and failed to SLG over .400 against lefties. He doesdo  certain things well – draw walks (over 11% of the time the past two seasons in triple-A), has mid to high-teens home run power, and above average speed (though he is not a great SB% at just 65% for his minor league career).  Right now the Pirates roster is actually somewhat deep with outfielders that include starters Andrew McCutchen in center with Lastings Milledge in left and Garrett Jones in right with Ryan Church, Brandon Moss, and Rule-5 pick John Raynor, and Steve Pearce all in camp too. The odds of Brandon Jones making the roster seem slim.

Colby Lewis signed a two-year contract with Texas, his original club, after two very solid seasons of pitching in Japan. The 30-year old posted a 9.3 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9 in 2008 in Japan over 26 starts and 178 innings and followed up strongly in 2009 and lead the Central League in strikeouts. He gave an indication of this level of skill spending 2007 mostly in triple-A with the A’s where he posted 4.2 K/BB ratio, 9.1 K/9, and 2.2 BB/9. While the translation back to the Majors may not necessarily go as smoothly as his transition from the states to Japan, it is difficult to ignore three seasons straight of high skills and his maturation from thrower to pitcher who now has weapons to battle lefties and righties alike. He’s an interesting $1 or $2 flier in AL only leagues. The Rangers intend to place him in the middle of their rotation alongside Rich Harden, Derek Holland, and Scott Feldman while Brandon McCarthy, Tommy Hunter, and Matt Harrison compete for the fifth spot.

As widely rumored, Octavio Dotel has finally officially signed with the Pirates and is being slated to be their closer to the start the 2010 season. Dotel has pitched in at least 62 games each of the past two seasons and has posted K/9 of 12.4 and 10.8. He is still a fastball/slider pitcher, though he no longer consistently throws in the mid-nineties and averages around 92 to 93 mph on his fastball. 2008 was encouraging due to a 3.9 BB/9 post Tommy John surgery, but 2009 raises a red flag with a 5.9 BB/9. Dotel has also always been a fly-ball pitcher and has been subject to wide swings of his HR/9 and HR/FB% in the past, though his career averages are where they should regress to be at – a respectable at 1.2 and 10.4%. Pitching in Pittsburgh should help with the home runs allowed to boot.  He still has closer-worthy skills, but bidding with caution is advised and taking Brendan Donnelly or Joel Hanrahan is advised.

Rick Ankiel signed a one-year deal with an option with the Royals. The power-hitter is likely to be used as a platoon partner with either Josh Fields or Jose Guillen at DH or in right field. Ankiel is a fly-ball hitter (45% of the time each of the past two seasons) who strikes out roughly a quarter of the time. What has held him back from benig a more complete hitter has been a lack of discipline, walking less than 6.5% of the time last year, and swinging at pitches out of the strike zone more than a third of the time. The result was a .231 batting average and .285 OBP and sub .400 SLG. Interestingly he did not have much of a platoon split last year, he just failed to hit anyone, batting in the .230’s against lefties and righties alike, though in 2008 he did have a dramatic platoon split in which he performed well against righties to the tune of .279,.362,.529. As of right now he has to prove he can even be a platoon player and should be considered for drafting in AL only formats, but as a last or second to last outfield option at best.

In perhaps an odd personal move Bengie Molina opted to return to San Francisco for one more season rather than take a similar offer from the Mets. Perhaps it was the bad blood from the Mets contract negotiation, but going to the latter team offered him the opportunity to be their starting catcher for the entire season. In San Francisco he is a stop-gap who could be sent to the bench or dealt and find himself in another shared or lesser playing time situation once Buster Posey is ready to claim an everyday job.  A lot of that will have also to do with how competitive the Giants are this season. Regardless, the one thing one could really count on from Molina previously – his playing time, is now questionable, particularly in the second half. That said – Molina is generally far more valuable in fantasy baseball than in real baseball and in simulation and strat leagues given generally good number of plate appearances, mid-teens or better home run power and a career 90% contact rate that has generally resulted in favorable batting averages. Never mind that his defense has declined or that he has a .308 batting average. Note though that the good batting average is not necessarily the case given his lowest batting average since 2002, coupled with the highest strikeout rates and highest fly-ball rates of his career. Molina has become increasingly a fly-ball hitter each of the past four seasons in an effort to produce more power – not surprising considering the Giants relied on him to be their number four hitter at times.  While he will bat lower in the batting order this season, he still remains one of the Giants few power-hitting threats, so expect a continuance of his fly-ball tendencies, and bid for a .270’s batting average, not a .290’s to be safe.

Jose Arredondo signed a minor league deal with the Cincinnati Reds. This is just a footnote for you to remember as Arredondo underwent Tommy John surgery and will only be at the 12-month recovery mark by next January and could easily still be pitching his way back into shape in the minors to start 2011.

For analysis of the Joel Pineiro signing and Gary Matthews/Brian Stokes trade please my check out my latest entry on the Rotosynthesis blog.

In his lastest Diamond Exchange, Rob Leibowitz discusses the implications of a second Hairston in San Diego, the signing of Brendan Donnelly, and a minor deal between the Pirates and Indians.

Soon after the completion of the Kevin Kouzmanoff/Scott Hairston trade the Padres signed Jerry Hairston Jr. to a one-year deal. Another right-handed bat, it is quite possible that both Hairston brothers are in the outfield at the same time, platooning with both Tony Gwynn Jr. and Will Venable. Kyle Blanks may feel lonely out there being the only one whose father wasn’t a major leaguer.

Jerry Hairston Jr. has also played shortstop, third, and second base, but is best suited for second and the outfield. Given a possible platoon situation, plus given the mediocrity of David Eckstein and the slow offensive development of Chase Headley. So a second straight season of 400 or more plate appearances is a good possibility. Hairston is a nice fill-in or middle infield choice in NL only leagues given he has decent power for a middle infielder and still has decent speed and may get more opportunities moving to San Diego. His one drawback is the inconsistency of his batting average. To hit for the power he does, Hairston is a fly-ball hitter. While he is capable of low to mid-teens/home runs per season, he more often generates a lot of easy fly-ball outs and owns just a 4.1% HR/FB percentage for his career. Thus a career .286 BABIP is a strong sign of someone not taking proper advantage of his speed, as well as his good contact-making skills (around 87% of the time for his career). Considering though that he is a consistent 20% plus line drive hitter, a regression upwards towards his career .259 batting average or better is possible too. To sum up, your expectations should be – similar plate appearances, less power, more BA, and possibly more stolen bases depending on where he is hitting in the lineup and whether or not the manager gives him the green light.

Brendan Donnelly signed a one-year deal with the Pirates. Finally healthy, with the exception of a calf injury, after Tommy John Surgery, he pitched well in Triple-A and in the majors, posting a sub 2.00 ERA at both stops. The 38-year old may yet hold value in both NL only and mixed league play as the closer situation in Pittsburgh has yet to be determined, though it is apparent the Pirates are also close to brining on another reliever with an injury history in Octavio Dotel who would likely trump Donnelly, and Joel Hanrahan as well, in the pecking order. Donnelly still throws around mph with his fastball and uses a slider as his primary pitches, but mixes in a change and split-finger fastball as his off-speed pitches. Most notably produced a 3.2 BB/9 – a strong sign of elbow health after Tommy John and combined that with an 8.8 K/9. Someone to watch in the volatile world of save opportunities.

In a minor move designed to clear up space to add Brendan Donnelly to the 40-man roster the Pirates dealt Brian Bixler to the Indians for Jesus Brito. Bixler’s value comes solely from his defensive versatility skills.  He has some speed and high-single digit home run power, but strikes out over 30% of the time and has managed to hit for average in the minors only through posting rather absurdly high BABIPs. It is unlikely he will make the opening day roster with the tribe.  Given that it is somewhat astonishing they got anything in exchange for him. Jesus Brito played in rookie-ball and low-A as a 21-year old and dominated showing very good plate discipline – walking often and striking out less than 20% of the time, hitting .366, and showing gap power. He was converted from the outfield to playing third base, but it remains to be seen whether that will stick or not and how he will hit at the upper levels of the minors.

In his latest Diamond Exchange, Rob Leibowitz breaks down the Oakland A's trade for Kevin Kouzmanoff and Eric Sogar in exchange for Scott Hairston and Aaron Cunningham.

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