Baltimore Orioles: Now that the O's struck out in the Derrek Lee sweepstakes, they're looking elsewhere for a first baseman or outfielder (with Jay Gibbons playing first regularly). The Orioles still have Marty Cordova under contract for next year, and he could fill the outfielder role. Cordova hasn't been healthy or productive for most of his time as a bird, he only played nine games last season, but he is only two years removed for a .300, 20-homer season as an Indian. That being said, Cordova isn't the answer at your outfield position unless your league is 20-deep. Stay away.
Boston Red Sox: It is becoming rapidly apparent that FA 2B Todd Walker won't be back with the Red Sox. But Walker has let possible suitors know that he is willing to try another position, perhaps third base or first base. If they can't re-sign Joe Randa, the Royals would have some interest in adding Walker as a third baseman which would mean another position Walker owners could use him at. However, Walker's value is higher at second base.
Chicago White Sox: There was some bad news for C Miguel Olivo owners this past week when the White Sox re-signed catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. to a one-year, $750,000 contract with a club option for 2005. Olivo had a slow go of it in his rookie season, hitting just .237 with 6 home runs. Olivo is one to keep in your back pocket though. He's not going to give you power, but he has tremendous speed...especially for a catcher. Olive stole 29 bases at AA-Birmingham in 2002 and stole 6 for the White Sox last season. He could be a source of cheap steals for your fantasy team in 2004.
Cleveland Indians: Former Met uberprospect Alex Escobar is finally showing some signs of life in Cleveland. The 25-year old hit five homers in just 99 at bats this season (a 26-homerun pace) and finished the season strong by hitting .290 in September. He is still a highly regarded prospect and may well be worth picking up in keeper leagues. His strikeout numbers are still alarmingly high however (33 whiffs in just those 99 at bats), and he'll have to get those down if he wants to produce consistently.
Detroit Tigers: SS Omar Infante may be becoming worthy of a roster spot in AL-only leagues. The normally light-hitting shortstop is doing well in the Venezuelan League. Through Sunday's games, Infante was leading the league with a .371 batting average, fourth with 26 RBI and second with nine stolen bases in 32 games. Infante hit just .222 last season with no homeruns, but he can run and hit .316 when he was brought back up in September.
Kansas City Royals: Keep a close on on the Royals this spring. Mike MacDougal notched 27 saves for the Royals last season but there is talk of converting the oft-injured Jeremy Affeldt to the closer. Affeldt has better "stuff" and picked up four saves at the tail end of the season when MacDougal was falthering. The Royals re-signed third baseman Joe Randa to a one-year contract with a mutual option for 2005.
Minnesota Twins: "Easy Ed", Eddie Guardado, may have some interest in joining the Angels as a setup man. Guardado saved 41 games last season and it appears he headed out of Minnesota. The likely choice to replace Guardado should he decide to leave is Latroy Hawkins. Hawkins had a brilliant 2003 campaign, accumulating 28 holds and allowing just 15 walks all season.
New York Yankees: Don't let Jon Lieber fall completely off your radar for next season's draft. The former 20-game winner and staff ace spent the entirety of 2003 either on the disabled list or in the minors rehabbing. Lieber has shown the ability to win games in the past while posting a very good WHIP and solid ERA. Lieber isn't a strikeout pitcher, so he's – at best – a third or fourth starter for your fantasy rotation. But 13-16 wins aren't out of the question, with a sub-4.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Oakland Athletics: The A's finalized the deal that sent C Ramon Hernandez and OF Terrence Long to San Diego for OF Mark Kotsay. The hold-up was due to the recent concern of Kotsay's back injury history. The A's were awaiting an MRI and seemed to be satisfied with the results. Kotsay will likely play CF in Oakland unless Billy Beane is serious about free agent Mike Cameron. Closer Keith Foulke is in serious discussions with the Boston Red Sox and if the AL's leader in saves bolts for beantown, the A's could look to a fairly cheaper option in free agent Tom Gordon or go the trade route. Left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon is making progress in negotiations to stay with the team and the recent trades that aided the A's in payroll may allow the club to push for keeping 2002 AL MVP Miguel Tejada. The stance remains, however, to wait for the market to establish itself before making any offers to Tejada or free agent OF Jose Guillen.
Seattle Mariners: With the acquisition of free agent OF Raul Ibanez, the Mariners aim their attention to three remaining positions to be filled this offseason. At shortstop, the options seem to be to spend on a free agent such as Miguel Tejada or Kazuo Matsui, or retain the arbitration eligible Carlos Guillen for another year. 3B is another hole that needs to be upgraded, and the market is bare at the hot corner this winter, forcing the M's to likely lean toward prospects such as Justin Leone and Greg Dobbs. Another option in the infield could be to fill the SS spot with a one-year fix to wait for uber-prospect Jose Lopez to be ready in 2005. The Montreal Expos will field offers for SS Orlando Cabrera and likely give in to the highest bidder in attempts to cut payroll. Cabrera is arbitration eligible and could make as much as six million, cheaper than both Tejada and Matsui. The Winter Meetings in New Orleans begin in the first week of December, when many trades will be initiated.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: If you held onto Lance Carter, look out. The D'Rays - for some reason - are looking to replace him as their closer. They've been talking to Tom Gordon, who would like one last shot at closing out games. With a lot of other teams offering Gordon set up jobs, the D'Rays could entice him with the chance to close. Carter, who turns 29 in December, saved 26 games for Tampa Bay. It was the eighth best rookie save number since the stat became official in 1969, but apparently, Tampa Bay doesn't completely trust Carter. It is true that he blew 7 save opportunities last season, but considering the team and the fact that he's a rookie, Carter should be getting another chance. If you have Carter, hope that Gordon signs elsewhere and that Tampa is forced to stick with Carter.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers are having one of the quietest offseasons of anyone and they may have more work to do than any team in the AL. Alex Rodriguez rumors continue to fly, the latest being a package from Boston centered around OF Manny Ramirez. Such a deal would save the Rangers an average of $5 million per season and a total of approximately $83 million over the next several seasons. The rumor mill spits out the idea that the Sox would then turn around and trade Nomar Garciappara to the Los Angeles Dodgers for Odalis Perez or Hideo Nomo, a relief pitcher, and a prospect. Ownership still plans to cut payroll significantly, ending the Texas career of Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez. Any payroll spent in free agency is most certainly going to be aimed at pitching, both in the rotation and the bullpen.
Toronto Blue Jays: As things stand now, Josh Towers would be the fifth man in Toronto's starting rotation. Towers will face competition though. First of all, the Jays haven't given up on trying to find another starter through either trade or free agency. If Towers dodges that bullet, Mark Hendrickson and Justin Miller will be looking to steal his job in spring. Miller is especially interesting, since he missed most of last season with a shoulder injury. If he's healthy, the battle with Towers will be much closer. Hendrickson will likely be fighting for a bullpen job after an erratic season in 2003.
Arizona Diamondbacks: It's all in Curt Schilling's hands now whether he remains with the Diamondbacks. The Red Sox have made an offer to Schilling, who has until Friday 5 p.m EST to decide. However Schilling's salary is still an issue and could make this deal fall apart. Schilling would receive $12 million if he decides to stay with the Diamondbacks, but the Sox have offered him $13 million and $14 million annually, yet Schilling has another number in mind. If he does decide to take the offer, he will go to Boston in exchange for pitchers Casey Fossum, Brandon Lyon and minor leaguer outfielder Michael Goss and minor league pitcher Jorge De La Rosa. Besides all the press surrounding the Schilling deal, both the Mets and Yankees have also been rumored to be in pursuit of free agent pitcher, Miguel Bautista, who was 10-9 with a 3.54 ERA in 2003. The D-backs are looking for a first baseman and are rumored to have interest in Derek Lee and Richie Sexson. If the Schilling trade does go through, the D-backs may use the players they acquired to get Sexson.
Atlanta Braves: With the impending loss of rightfielder Gary Sheffield (most likely to the New York Yankees) the Braves are already facing drastic lineup changes for 2004. Not to mention the possibility of losing Vinny Castilla and Javy Lopez (a combined 65 homeruns in 2003). From an inter-organizational standpoint the Braves don't have much offensive Major League ready talent available aside from Ryan Langerhans and Adam LaRoche - so they may opt to make a splash and sign Vladimir Guerrero, who would fit nicely into Gary Sheffield's vacated three spot in the Braves lineup, or Jose Cruz Jr., who would make a great addition in RF both offensively and defensively. The Braves won't make any major moves at 3B with uber-prospect Andy Marte waiting in the wings and expected to make his arrival either in 2005 or 2006. A more feasible option would be to sign Oriole FA Tony Bautista, a player long coveted by Braves GM John Schuerholz.
Chicago Cubs: With the acquisition of Derrek Lee from the Florida Marlins, the Cubs get a versatile first baseman who can hit for average, power, steal bases and play exceptional defense with his bulky 6'5, 225 pound frame. Now that the 28-year-old Lee is away from the pitcher-friendly confines of Miami's Pro Player Stadium, he'll have the potential to be a 40 HR, 100 RBI guy. 20 of his 31 homeruns in 2003 came on the road, and his OPS was much higher at an astounding .979 mark. Lee will be the Cubs' opening day starter at first base next year, and on many fantasy teams as well.
Cincinnati Reds: Of all the spring training battles on the Reds, third base will likely be the most watched. Russ Branyan and Brandon Larson both went into offensive tailspins in 2003 and both had to contend with injuries during the season. Actually, both players are pretty much alike, except Branyan is a left-handed hitter and Larson bats righty. Neither has established themselves as a major league quality third baseman and both are likely to be most valuable to a team as a utility player. If for some reason, you have either one, look for help. After all, the Reds are.
Colorado Rockies: Everyone knows Todd Helton. He has been a consistent producer on every fantasy team he has been on. In the last five years his lowest RBI output has been 109. Expect the killer numbers to continue in 2004 as the Rockies will still have a solid offense and he could drive in more than the 117 he did in 2003 with table setters Juan Uribe (improving) and possibly Eric Owens at the top of the lineup. Helton is a sure fired first rounder for those drafting for the first time and a keeper… (ah, we don't have to tell you that!)
Florida Marlins: After trading Derek Lee this past week, fantasy owners of Mike Lowell, A.J. Burnett, and Luis Castillo got a bit of good news this week. The Marlins are believed to be closing in on a deal to keep free agent Luis Castillo and source close to Mike Lowell told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel that the Marlins and the third baseman have already reached agreement on a four-year contract. Burnett too is likely to stay in Florida, although he's likely out until June.
Houston Astros: With the winter meetings coming up in a couple of weeks one of the Astros' top desires is to find a taker for outfielder Richard Hidalgo. The Astros would love to move Hidalgo (and his $12 million salary for 2004) to make room for OF prospect Jason Lane. That's not going to be easy for Houston to do in the tough economic time of MLB. Lane has not had much success since clubbing 38 home runs in 2001 at Round Rock of the Texas League. Hildago owners should expect to see him back in Houston next season.
Los Angeles Dodgers: The Kansas City Royals have their eyes upon two of the Los Angeles Dodgers free agent outfielders, Brian Jordan an Robert Fick. The Dodgers have also expressed interest in the Korean slugger, Seung-Yeop Lee, who recently met with the Dodgers. Lee is a four-time most valuable player in the Korean League, hitting 56 home runs, a .301 AVG, and 144 RBIs last season. As Fred McGriff was injury-plagued last season after replacing Eric Karros, the Dodgers need a first-baseman with some pop. The Dodgers have also expressed interest in Milwaukee's first baseman Richie Sexson and Florida's Derrek Lee, and Japanese shortstop Kazuo Matsui.
Milwaukee Brewers: Danny Kolb may get overlooked this coming season. While he is on a bad team, his results for 2003 cannot be denied. Kolb was dominant as a closer, saving 21 of 23 games and posting an ERA of 1.96. His WHIP was not among the elite at 1.28, but definitely serviceable. He also averaged just less than a strikeout per inning. Next season his workload will increase and so will his save and strikeout stats. He could be a late round gem.
Montreal Expos: Luis Ayala collected 10 wins out of the Expos bullpen in 2003. He posted 19 holds, which isn't a bad number, if your league counts holds as a stat. With the arrival of Chad Cordero and the fact that 2003 closer Rocky Biddle is still in town, Ayala could be getting a lot of opportunities to set up for the closing tandem. The other scenario doesn't bode well for Ayala's fantasy numbers though; The Expos might soon establish either Cordero or Biddle as their closer with the other one being used as the main set up guy. In that case, Ayala's hold opportunities could fall. Odds are that's the way it will play out and Ayala won't be as strong of a fantasy pick up for 2004 as he was in 2003.
New York Mets: There was some good news for Mike Piazza ownwers in NL-only leagues this past week. Speaking publically for the first time since the rumors began about his desire to leave the Mets (most likely to an AL team), Mike Piazza confirmed this past week that he does not want to be traded. "I don't want to be traded," Piazza told the Newark Star-Ledger. "I signed on for seven years. I made a seven-year commitment and I plan to stick to it. I don't know where all this came from, but it didn't come from me. Piazza is willing to play first base next season. He'll probably spend the majority of the time behind the plate, but will most likely be eligible at first base in the early part of the season.
Philadelphia Phillies: If Kevin Millwood returns, you'll need to watch his numbers. In 2002, he had a terrific second half of the season after struggling through the first half. Last season was just the opposite; Millwood started very strong and fell apart late in the year. Millwood's value would be nearly through the roof if he could have combined the last half of 2002 with the first half of 2003 for one full season's worth of stats. It doesn't work that way though. Word is that Millwood is working on his conditioning which was the main blame for his late season slump in 2003. Look for off-season photos of Millwood; If he still has a little tummy hanging over his belt, beware. If he looks a little trimmer, he may have truly been serious about off-season conditioning, which will bode well for him in 2004.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Kip Wells may never post huge win totals playing for the Pirates, but he does bring a low ERA, 3.28 and 3.59 over the last two season, solid WHIP, 1.30 average over the last two years, and decent K totals over the last two years, 281 combined. Wells could be worthy of a late round flier and if he ever gets traded, his status would elevate significantly.
San Diego Padres: Jake Peavy won 12 games in 2003 and was the only Friar to have a record above .500. His biggest concern? 33 home runs against. If and when he cuts down on those he will be dominant. As his maturity rises, he is only 22, so will his win totals. His strikeout totals will improve. He is already whiffing 7.2 per nine innings pitched and his WHIP in 2003 was a steady 1.31.
San Francisco Giants: The Giants still have much work to do on their roster. Since they have signed A.J. Pierzynski, the Giants have purchased the contracts of pitcher Merkin Valdez, catcher Justin Knoedler, infielders Angel Chavez and Jamie Athas to add them to their 40-man roster. Valdez as 9-5 with a 2.25 ERA in 2003. Knoedler, hit .257 with 25 doubles, two triples, 10 home runs and 43 RBI in 101 for Single-A San Jose. Athas ended his best offensive year hitting .275 with 59 runs, 14 doubles, two triples, three home runs and 41 RBI. Chavez, another shortstop, also had a brilliant 2003 hitting .280 and 58 RBI. The Giants were rumored to have interest in signing Gary Sheffield, however it seems now that Sheffield may be on his way to the New York Yankees.
St Louis Cardinals: St. Louis left fielder Albert Pujols has now been in the top five in MVP voting in each of his first three seasons in the big leagues: 4th in 2001, 2nd in 2002, and 2nd again in 2003. At 23, Pujols has already become the 10th player to finish second in back-to-back years in the MVP balloting. In 2004, he will attempt to become only the second player to finish second three times in a row. Cardinal Hall of Famer Stan Musial is currently the only player in Major League history to hold such an accomplishment. Musial finished second in MVP voting from 1949-1951.