Baltimore Orioles: When the Orioles declined Deivi Cruz's option for 2004, they opened a hole at shortstop that will most likely be filled by Brian Roberts, with Jerry Hairston moving to second base. Both Roberts and Hairston are players than can seriously help a team in the steals category. Roberts stole 23 in just 112 games last season and Hairston swiped 14 in only 58 games. Neither player brings much else besides the steals, but depending where they hit in the order, some runs could be a nice bonus for otherwise one-dimensional players. But hey, if Dave Roberts can get onto fantasy teams, so can these guys.
Boston Red Sox: For those Nomar Garciaparra owners in AL only leagues, you must keep an eye on the negotiations. Nomar, who will be a free agent after the 2004 season, has been rumored to want to return to his native Southern California. Of all the scenarios facing the Red Sox and Nomar from this point forward, the most likely scenario has Nomar being traded during the season at the trade deadline if the two sides can not come up with happy medium. Reportedly the two sides are $3-4 million apart per season. Stay tuned.
Cleveland Indians: Don't forget about Milton Bradley on draft day. Bradley missed the last six weeks of 2003 with an injury, causing many owners to let him fall off their radar. But Bradley was one of the best all around fantasy players before he got hurt. 20 homeruns, 25-30 steals and a .300+ batting average are good numbers for anyone.
Detroit Tigers: Outfielder Craig Monroe hit the quietest 23 homeruns of anyone, possibly ever, and in just 128 games. He also somehow managed to drive in 70 RBI on a pathetic Tigers team. The Tigers can't possibly be as bad in '04 as they were in '03, so perhaps those numbers can stay around the same. Monroe won't hit for average and he can only steal the occasional base, but in very deep leagues, take a look.
New York Yankees: Jason Giambi didn't earn his first-round draft pick status this season. He knocked 41 homeruns, but that .250 average killed some teams. Giambi just had his knee scoped and all appears to be well for the super slugger. Look for a return to form from him, and if some owners shy away, don't hesitate to take Giambi in the third or fourth round.
Oakland Athletics: Due to the likely departure of SS Miguel Tejada, the A's will look to add some offensive punch in the OF as well as a leadoff hitter. Pending the "ok" from doctors outside the organization, the team will complete a deal with San Diego on Friday that will send OF Terrence Long and C Ramon Hernandez to the Padres for OF Mark Kotsay. GM Billy Beane also acquired OF Bobby Kielty from Toronto in exchange for left-handed starter, Ted Lilly. Bobby Crosby is the likely replacement for Tejada, but the A's could move Mark Ellis back to his natural position and sign or trade for a 2B. Now that Lilly has been dealt, Justin Duchscherer will likely slide in and take over the fifth spot in the rotation. Oakland is unlikely to go after high-priced free agents but Beane always finds a way to field a competitive 25-man roster.
Seattle Mariners: The M's have holes to fill, questions to answer, and decisions to make. GM Bill Bavasi and co. has a lot of work to do to improve the offense of a 93-win team, without weakening its strength in the bullpen and starting rotation. The arbitration process will be a big factor for Seattle with several key players eligible. On the free agent front, Seattle put themselves on the board early by signing veteran OF Raul Ibanez on Wednesday. They hope he can repeat his 2003 numbers - .294 average and 90 RBI –next season in left field. Ibanez, a left-handed bat, has the perfect line-drive swing for Safeco Field. The status of Freddy Garcia remains the team's biggest concern and the former AL ERA king could be the centerpiece of a trade that lands the M's a hitter. The most likely scenario is that the M's wait out the free agent market and try and scoop up a bargain or two, especially in obtaining a left-handed reliever, and a few key reserves. The Mariners will certainly be in the bidding for Kazuo Matsui, despite the teams' public statements that they will not get into a bidding war.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Could Paul Abbott be a sleeper? Abbott and John Halama both signed one year deals with Tampa Bay reuniting them with manager Lou Piniella who they played for in Seattle. Abbott missed much of the 2002 season with an injury and spent a chunk of last season at AAA Tucson. When Abbott was acquired by Kansas City, his numbers dropped mainly because his control was seemingly lost by the wayside somewhere between Tucson and Kansas City. The fact that Piniella knows Abbott could be a plus. Remember, that Abbott won 17 games for Piniella in 2001 when they were both members of the Mariners.
Texas Rangers: Alex Rodriguez, named 2003 AL MVP this week, is still a Ranger, though nobody seems to know for how much longer he will remain. If the Rangers were smart, they'd deal AROD to the highest bidder, even if it landed the Rangers one pitcher and 60-70% of AROD's salary relief. John Hart and Tom Hicks are obviously not that smart and seem to be leaning towards keeping the games best all-around player, and the one billion, five-hundred and forty-two million, nine-hundred and eighty-thousand pesos he is owed over the next seven seasons. Hart and Hicks need to adopt the philosophy of the Oakland A's, Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves, and most of the other 29 clubs in baseball, and start building a pitching staff from within. In the meantime, look for the Rangers to make a deal for a starting pitcher or two this winter.
Toronto Blue Jays: When Pat Hentgen left Toronto five years ago, he was a 30 year old pitcher who seemed to be showing the signs of wear and tear on his arm. Now, even though he's 35, the Blue Jays believe he's worth bringing back. Hentgen's arm problems are behind him and he says that he feels better than he has in a long time. He won't be the guy who won 20 games in a Blue Jays uniform in 1996, but he also won't be the guy who had a 5.18 ERA for the Jays in '98. Toronto is rolling the dice somewhat, but Hentgen did seem to bounce back well last year (7-8, 4.09 for Baltimore) and should be a decent addition to the starting rotation.
Arizona Diamondbacks: A lot and nothing are happening all at once with the team. Players possibly on the move via trades are 2B Junior Spivey, 1B Lyle Overbay, INF Craig Counsell, RF Danny Bautista, C Chad Moeller, P John Patterson, P Curt Schilling. One player possibly coming in is 1B Richie Sexson and his high (and much needed) power numbers. Or not. The team already has to spend $65 million on only ten players and owner Jerry Colangelo needs to trim, slash and burn payroll in order to make a player like Sexson fit. While no moves took place in the general managers meeting last week, there could very well be changes to the team that will have a significant impact on your fantasy draft. Pitchers Elmer Dessens and Brandon Webb will work on conditioning this off-season as a way to overcome the fatigue they suffered at the end of the 2003 season. LF Luis Gonzalez will be beginning strengthening exercises on his damaged right elbow (Yes, his throwing arm). Stay tuned.
Chicago Cubs: Although the Cubs are satisfied with Joe Borowski in the bullpen, don't expect GM Jim Hendry to hesitate at upgrading at the position and moving Borowski to long relief. Rumors have the Cubs interested in relievers LaTroy Hawkins and Eddie Guardado of the Minnesota Twins. But Borowski's fantasy stock should be at an all-time high heading into 2004. In his first full season as a closer, and only his second in relief, Borowski put together unimaginable numbers: 35 saves, 2.63 ERA and was easily the Cubs' most consistent bullpen arm. If given the chance, 2004 should be more of the same.
Cincinnati Reds: D'Angelo Jimenez may be one of the young, overlooked middle infielders in the game. As a Yankees prospect, Jimenez was expected to set the world on fire. Since his arrival in the majors, Jimenez hasn't lit any big fires, but there are sparks. Don't forget that Jimenez will first turn 26 in December, meaning that he is first coming into the years when many players really hit their stride. One other thing to note; Jimenez' played with the White Sox for part of 2003 and may be reunited with manager Jerry Manuel, who is in the running for the Reds job. Manuel wasn't always quite as patient with Jimenez as Reds interim manager Dave Miley was. That could make a difference. Luckily, Miley seems to be the easy frontrunner to get the job on a permanent basis.
Colorado Rockies: Shawn Chacon is most likely the only player with whom the Rockies will go to arbitration with. But he may not get there before he is traded. Chacon went 11-8 as a Rockie in just 23 starts. He started the season 11-4 and was one of a select few pitchers who was better in Colorado than away from home. Look for Chacon to stick and improve upon his win totals from last year as he reports healthy. His WHIP was a very respectable 1.33 and should stay steady while his strikeout totals should climb. As with any Rockie pitcher, his ERA is always a concern.
Houston Astros: Brad Ausmus- Ausmus just signed a 2 year, 4 million dollar contract to remain the Astros catcher for another couple of seasons. Ausmus is not known for his offensive prowess, however the Astros feel that his defense presence is enough to offset his shortcomings with the bat. He had the second best fielding percentage last year among catchers. Ausmus also handles the young Houston staff very well. He may not be best for a fantasy team, however he will certainly improve the Astros pitchers.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Since the team's ownership is in flux, GM Dan Evans has no budget for 2004. The 2003 Cy Young Award winner, P Eric Gagne, is eligible for arbitration and should see a modest raise in his salary by, oh, about $5.5 million. With his approach, though, the money won't soften his fastball whenever he's summoned to pitch. LHP Tom Martin re-signed with the team to a two-year deal and the team has expressed interest in retaining LHP Wilson Alvarez. Pitching, though, is not a problem for the Dodgers. The offense is terrible and they'll need a power bat to protect RF Shawn Green, not to mention a 1B and a LF. Trying to upgrade up the middle by replacing CF Roberts and 2B Cora wouldn't hurt either. As soon as Fox News Corp. can get the sale of the team to Frank McCourt approved by MLB, pieces should fall into place in fairly quick fashion. On the medical front, Green, LHP Darren Dreifort, and RHP Hideo Nomo are all rehabbing at this moment.
Milwaukee Brewers: Scott Podsednik continues to fly under the radar of some fantasy gurus. What they fail to realize is he is only the fourth rookie in major league history to bat at least .300 with 40 steals and 100 runs scored. Though he didn't join the starting lineup until mid-May, Podsednik batted .314 with 43 stolen bases, 100 runs scored, 175 hits, 29 doubles, eight triples, nine doubles, 58 runs batted in, 56 walks and a .379 on-base percentage. As long as the bats behind him stay around, Podsednik will continue to produce at a high level.
Montreal Expos: Brad Wilkerson would like to settle into one position. Right now, the Expos have a need for a first baseman and Wilkerson could be moved to first to fill that hole with Terrmel Sledge taking over in left field. The other option is to move Wilkerson to center to replace Endy Chavez who wasn't very impressive last season with Montreal and again, Sledge could play left. Of course, both of those scenarios fall apart if Vladimir Guerrero leaves. Guerrero's exit would mean Sledge would take over in right field and might anchor Wilkerson to left. No matter what happens, manager Frank Robinson has said that Wilkerson will be a fixture in the Expos lineup, Sledge will have to wait and see what happens and Chavez has to show that he belongs in the majors.
New York Mets: Every Alex Rodriguez rumor this offseason mentions the Mets as a possible suitor. Ask any Mets' fan or Jose Reyes owner in their fantasy leagues and they'll tell you the Mets already have their star at shortstop. Reyes was on his way to the NL Rookie of the Year award when he was batting .307 with 5 home runs, 32 RBI, and 13 stolen bases in 69 games before an injury put him on the shelf for the season. Reyes is built on speed. He stole 58 bases in 2002 in the minors and could easily approach 40 or more given a full season in the majors. For a small kid (he's just 20 years old), Reyes can hit for some power as well.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies may have inadvertently made Jim Thome an even more dangerous hitter. Construction crews at new Citizens Bank Park report that the wind is generally blowing straight out to right field. Being a left-handed power hitter, Thome will likely be able to put that breeze to good use, although he doesn't always need any extra help. Groundball pitchers like Randy Wolf may benefit too since Larry Bowa has already talked about how the Phillies can wet down the dirt and grass in front of home plate to slow the ball down. Nothing like a little home field advantage.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Craig Wilson will finally get his chance over a full season. After producing off the bench for two years, he saw more time in the outfield in 2003 and put up respectable numbers, 18 homers, 48 RBI's, a .262 batting average and a .360 OBP. This year he should have his chance at a full time gig and he is expected to take up the power numbers for the squad. His potential is hit or miss, but he will hit homers and drive in some runs no matter how many times he frustrates you with strikeouts. He projects to be a 30 home run guy capable of driving in 80+ and scoring 80+, while still hitting in the .270 area, as he continues to get chances.
San Diego Padres: Ryan Klesko was plagued by injuries in 2003 and his numbers stunk, .251/21/67, considering what was expected of him. But 2003 is considered an aberration as they mark the worst numbers of his career. With Brian Giles, a man who gets on four out of every tem times up, in front of him in the batting order, Rhino should see his numbers swell and he could easily produce 100+ RBI's to go with his usual 25-30 home runs. In fact, Petco Park is considered friendly to lefties and his home run totals could exceed his career high of 34 in 1996.
San Francisco Giants: Thanks for the memories, C Benito Santiago. Welcome young slugger, C A.J. Pierzynski. Practically stolen from the Twins (in exchange for RHP Joe Nathan and two minor leaguers), Pierzynski brings his .300+ average to the Giants who desperately need to protect the 6-time MVP bat of LF MVP Barry Bonds (if that's still possible). While negotiations haven't taken place with free agent 1B J.T. Snow, they have begun in earnest with free agent SS Rich Aurilia. Ken Rosenthal of The Sporting News also reports that the Giants may be interested in throwing their collective hat into the Richie Sexson sweepstakes. Ace pitcher Jason Schmidt and closer Robb Nen are still healing and their progress should be determined later this winter. GM Brian Sabean has not – repeat – not ruled out getting an elite bat. Such a bat may belong to free agent OF Vladimir Guerrero, OF Gary Sheffield or SS Miguel Tejada. Giants' fans and fantasy owners are salivating over the idea of Guerrero-Bonds 1-2 punch.
St. Louis Cardinals: Albert Pujols – The St. Louis slugger had another huge season for the Cards, posting near triple crown numbers. He led the league in batting at .359, also with 43 HR and 124 RBI's, Pujols could help any fantasy team. Expect similar numbers from him next year as well, because Pujols shows an amazing ability to adjust to pitchers and hides his own weaknesses. The greatest thing for fantast owners is that Pujols often plays many positions, and should be listed as at least an OF and 1B, however in 2002, he also saw time at 3B and SS. This could make him a valuable player due to his ability to fit in an order anywhere. Look for Pujols to compete for the MVP again in 2004.