Baltimore Orioles: With an improving offense coming to Baltimore, one player who should take full advantage is CF Luis Matos. Matos, 25, is expected to bat second and hit in front of Rafael Palmeiro and Vladamir Guerreo. In that position, he should see a steady diet of fastballs, and don't be surprised if he hits around .300 with 25HR's, not to mention accumulating plenty of stolen bases with his speed. The Orioles' are high on this guy, and many within the organization believe this is his breakout year. He could be a steal in mid to late rounds of your drafts, so be sure to keep tab on him.
Mark Bellhorn and Pokey Reese this off season in an attempt to fill that hole. Neither of these two will be fantasy studs, but which ever one wins out will be the ninth hitter in a very potent lineup. Reese appears to be the favorite right now with his superior defensive skills and speed. If he plays well, he could post very good numbers at the second base position as he will no doubt get a lot of chances to knock in runs and as well as get driven in. Do not count Bellhorn out, however. If he returns to his form of two years ago with the Cubs when he hit 27 homers, he could become a fantasy force.
Chicago White Sox: The former Cubs first round pick Jon Garland continued to put up decent numbers, while not overly impressive ones, for the White Sox in 2003. He was 12-13 with a 4.51 ERA in 2003, while amassing 108 strikeouts with 74 walks. Garland has been continually mediocre as a starter, but never ineffective enough to merit firing him or moving him from his starting role. He has been good for a 4 or 5 starter, but has not lived up to his expectations as a first round pick. A good goal for Jon Garland in 2004 would be to have his first winning record of his career. He has consistently been around .500 in his career, and going over that mark would be a large confidence boost for the 25 year old. The best news for Garland is that he is still just 25 years of age, and that certainly puts the ball in his court. If he can turn his record around, and walk less batters, then Garland could become a top pitcher. Garland could be a sleeper pick for your fantasy team in 2004, but don't be too shocked if he just continues to be average. However, he will not cost much, and the benefits could be very large for your 2004.
Cleveland Indians: If Bob Wickman, Cleveland's projected closer, struggles early on and can't make a comeback from elbow surgery, there are a bunch of guys in the Tribe's pen that could fill that role. Aside from Jose Jimenez to a one-year deal. Jimenez has 102 saves over the past four seasons, which he compiled as a Rockie. He saved 41 games in 2002. Should an injury hit Wickman, Jimenez could be next in line.
Eric Munson came out of USC as a highly-heralded hitter, and his bat proved to be what the Tigers expected. However, Munson's fielding was suspect and he bounced around from Catcher to First Base to a brief outfield stint, before the Tigers decided to try him at the hot corner. This move was met with much skepticism, but Munson held his own defensively and had a solid year at the plate (could have warranted Rookie of the Year consideration if not for an injury that took him out of the last six weeks of the season). With a stronger lineup offering more protection and more RBI opportunities, Munson could thrive, significantly increasing his Home Run and RBI totals from last season.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals made a huge move this week by signing OF Juan Gonzalez to a one-year deal. Gonzalez was hurt for a good deal of last season, but he's always a top player when healthy. The move to Kauffman Stadium shouldn't hurt his numbers at all and, in fact, could even help him. He's a career .331 hitter in KC's park, with 22 homers in only 245 at bats. With Mike Sweeney protecting him in the lineup and Angel Berroa in front of him, Gonzalez could make a great comeback in 2004.
New York Yankees: The only hole left to fill on the Yankees is the role of backup first baseman. All signs point to the Yankees signing former Tiger Tony Clark. As it stands now, Clark isn't a factor in fantasy leagues, but he's only an injury away from being a regular contributor. Expect the switch-hitting Clark to play primarily against left-handed pitching, but keep in mind that he swatted 16 homeruns in just 254 at bats last season.
Ramon Santiago and a minor leaguer. The M's hope that Aurilia can return to the form he showed as a 30-year-old in 2001, when he hit .324 with 37 homers and 97 RBI. Aurilia will likely bat somewhere between 6-8 in the batting order, and figures to put up numbers in the .280, 15 HR, 70 RBI range. The 24-year-old Santiago, a starter at shortstop in each of the last two years in Detroit, has 20-steal capability but won't help you in any other fantasy categories.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: After supposedly being in the hunt for a front line closer, the D'Rays appear to have settled on Danys Baez. The former Indian got a two-year 6.5 million dollar deal from Tampa Bay. In his major league career with Cleveland, Baez converted 31 of 44 save opportunities (70%) which isn't exactly stellar. The plan is for Lance Carter to move back into a setup role, but keep an eye on the situation. Unless Baez improves on his save percentage, Carter may be back in the driver's seat when games are on the line for Tampa Bay. If you're looking for a closer, Baez isn't likely to be the best you can find.
Texas Rangers: Brian Jordan hit just 6 homeruns for the Dodgers in 2003. Don't let that fool you. Basically, Jordan was either playing in pain or out of commission after knee surgery in July. By the time spring training gets here, Jordan will be fully recovered and his numbers could improve dramatically. It's not out of the question that Jordan could wind up with 25-30 homeruns if he stays healthy. He's not an early draft pick, but may be a late round sleeper. Playing in the American League will also give Jordan a chance to DH from time to time, saving his knees from any further damage.
Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays made a definite improvement in their bullpen by signing Terry Adams to replace Cliff Politte. Adams is one of the more under-rated setup men in baseball and he will give the Jays a lot of help late in games. Adams doesn't fit well as a closer and his attempt at becoming a starter failed miserably a couple of years ago, so the Jays will keep him in the setup role that he's most suited for handling. If your league counts holds as a stat, Terry Adams may be a pretty good addition for you.
Roberto Alomar for a cool $1 million. Given this character's production for the last few years, a million is still too much. Did I mention his sunny personality, too? Don't waste your time or a roster spot on your fantasy squad by hooking on to this clubhouse cancer. The team did tender a contract to arbitration eligible 3B Shea Hillenbrand. Expect the team and the third baseman to hammer out a deal before the January 19th arbitration deadline. Regarding his off-season rehab, OF Luis Gonzalez recently stated, "I still have plenty of time to test it. I'm not going to rush it." Expect him to be fine once players report to Spring Training.
Kerry Wood has always been one of the most sensational hurlers in the major leagues. In 2003, Wood started to change from a hurler to a pitcher. Wood showed that he didn't have to use the strikeout with every batter he faced, however despite this new found way of pitching, he still led the majors in strikeouts. Wood had a great ERA of 3.20, as well as a career high 266 strikeouts. Perhaps the most important thing for Wood was an injury free season, the second in a row for the young pitcher. However, poor hitting performances and bad luck were problems for Wood this year, as he ended up with a 14-11 record. He pitched much better than that record, but the Cubs just couldn't hit for him. He did have a very good 1.194 WHIP, which was very good for Wood. If he can cut down on his walks, then he will become one of the best pitchers in the league, and a perennial twenty game winner. Wood looks great for fantasy teams, because you know that you will get a ton of strikeouts, and good number of wins, aside from that, he can swing the bat too. Age will help Wood, and 2004 could be his best season yet.
Cincinnati Reds: Does Aaron Myette have anything left? After injuries derailed what most thought would be a pretty good major league career, Myette resurfaced with Cleveland in 2003, but pitched just 2 2/3 innings (allowing 7 runs) before the tribe sent him back to the minors. From there, he went to the Phillies where he went 5-4, 4.27 at AAA Scranton Wilkes-Barre. While the Indians were looking at Myette as a reliever, he pitched primarily as a starter in the Phillies organization. Watch what happens with Myette this spring. If he rebounds, he may be worth a late draft pick up.
Colorado Rockies: Denny Neagle will not be back with the Rox until late in the 2004 season, if at all. Neagle is recovering from Tommy John ligament transfer surgery. At 35, injured, and his contract unmovable, he is not even a player you could hide, in leagues that have this option, on injured reserve for the season because his value is limited even upon his return. In simpler words, look in another direction for a starter.
Florida Marlins: Who takes over for Ivan Rodriguez? Ramon Castro hit 5-8-.283 in just 53 at bats last season with the Marlins, but may have the edge. Mike Redmond hit 0-11-.240 in 125 at bats. The question of who will get the most playing time will likely be settled in spring training. The Marlins may be tempted to try to keep Castro in the lineup as much as possible to add what little offense he can give, while Redmond is more of a defensive minded catcher. Either way, neither one is likely to be a great addition unless you miss out on the top catchers. Another scenario has the Marlins re-signing Rodriguez after May 1st if he doesn't sign elsewhere by then.
Houston Astros: Wade Miller took a step backwards for the Houston Astros in 2003, his ERA raised nearly a point to 4.13, as he went 14-13. A setback from his 15-4 2002 season. Miller pitched 187.1 innings this year, and raised his strikeout total to 161 while walking 77 batters. Miller is still considered one of the Astros top young stars, and they certainly will not give up on him in 2004. He should again be in an order that has some of the best hitting protection in the league. The bad part for fantasy owners is that Miller plays in the Juice Box, where the ball is known to fly out on a pop up. This could account for Millers numbers being up from last year when he was hurt. The 27 year old still has a lot of talent, and has the potential to be a top pitcher in the national league. If he can get his pitches together and lower his walk total, then he will have a positive 2004. Don't overspend for Miller, but he could be a solid starter for any fantasy team.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Edwin Jackon. The question is not whether not he will make the team but when. I think the offseason will have a lot to do with it. If the Dodgers trade away a pitcher for a hitter, there is a good chance he could make the team out of spring training. If he does not, he will likely get the first call once their is an injury. Another guy who could get a shot if there is an injury, especially if Jackson makes the rotation out of spring training is Joel Hanrahan. He had a great season in AA last year and will start the year in AAA. Jason Frasor is a candidate for a bullpen job. He had a great showing in the AFL and with a good spring could make the club. Also keep an eye on the Lo Duca trade rumors, if he gets traded Koyie Hill could get called up to backup David Ross. Though no longer a prospect, David Ross has the most to gain if Lo Duca does get traded as he would take over the starting job. Definitely keep an eye on the situation.
Milwaukee Brewers: Junior Spivey smacked 13 homer last season for Arizona, 10 of which came at home. He also hit .294 at home and just .205 on the road. Luckily, he is leaving the NL West where he hit just .149 in away from Bank One. As a second baseman, Spivey has value. Expect his numbers to rise in 2004 despite the ugly numbers previously posted. A 20 homer, 30 double, 70 RBI season is well within reach for a man who played in just 105 games in 2003.
Montreal Expos: Joey Eischen may become a little more attractive out of the bullpen. With the trade of Scott Stewart to Cleveland, Eischen will be the primary right-hander out of the pen. Financial concerns meant that one of the two arbitration eligible lefties had to go and Stewart became the one to exit. Javier Vazquez deal with the Yankees, will likely be the Expos other left-hander, but is more suited to being a situational guy who faces primarily just a batter or two. Eischen, who went 2-2, 3.06 with 1 save in 2003, could become the primary setup man.
Mike Piazza makes the slow transition from behind the plate. Last season Phillips hit .298 with 11 homers, 25 doubles, and 58 RBIs in 403 at bats, showing he can be a productive fantasy option. He hit .322 in the month of June and followed that up with a scorching .391 clip in July. Keep your eye on the twenty-seven-year-old, he can hit and will have the chance to drive in runs with the team's recent additions.
Placido Polanco could take over at third base with Utley getting the starting job at second base.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jason Kendall is still a Pirate. Despite constant rumors about his dismissal from Pittsburgh, the catcher remains in town. How is his psyche? Will he regress with the constant talk of his exit? Likely, it will be just the opposite. The catcher is an on-base machine. He is a career .304 hitter and boasts a career .385 OBP. Look for similar numbers this year as he works his craft to get out of town by the trade deadline. He does not have homer power, but will knock in 60-70 on a terrible Pittsburgh team and score close to 90 runs while stealing 10-15 bases. If he is traded to a contender, all of his numbers will see a significant boost. He should be among the top catchers taken in any fantasy league.
San Diego Padres: David Wells was signed this week to take over the number one spot in the rotation. In New York, he was the number three starter on a team full of All-Stars. The lineup in Friar-Land should be formidable and score plenty of runs. Last season he had 19 quality starts, games in which he allowed three earned runs or fewer in 6+ innings. His WHIP was an AL impressive 1.23 and should get better in the NL. As long as Wells is healthy, another 15+ win season is well within reach, despite facing the number one's from other teams. Keep in mind that he won't strike out many, averaging one every two innings. But we won't walk many either, averaging one every ten innings.
San Francisco Giants: No Vlad. The team is expected to draw more than 3 million fans to the newly named SBC Ballpark for the fourth year in a row… and no Barry Bonds can still hit.
St. Louis Cardinals: During his major league career, journeyman Julian Tavarez has been with 6 teams, and that's in 8 years, however, the Cardinals just signed Tavarez to either be a long reliever, or another starter for their staff. Tavarez had his best year in a long time in 2003, with an ERA of 3.66 out of a strictly reliever role. He only managed 39 strikeouts, but also only gave up 27 walks. The Cardinals will use him to try and bolster a pitching program that is their weak spot. Tavarez will not dazzle any fantasy leagues, but he could be a positive add for the Cardinals. The Cardinals did overpay for him however, just make sure you don't in your fantasy league.