Baltimore Orioles: 2B Brian Roberts could be a good source of steals next season. The youngster stole 23 bags in only 112 games for the Orioles last season, but has a 162-game average of 32 swipes. Over a full season, Roberts could grab you 30 steals and post a .270-ish average, but don't look for any power. Roberts will be lucky to go over 5 or 6 homeruns, but he could score 90+ runs depending where he hits in the lineup.
Boston Red Sox: Lost in the ARod/Nomar rumors was the real beneficiary of the Curt Schilling trade: Derek Lowe! Lowe, who had a sub-par season after initial success in his first year as a starter, moves from the #2 spot in the rotation to the #3. While that may not seem like much, it could mean a world of difference to Lowe's numbers. He may not approach his 2.58 ERA of 2002, but it won't be as bad as his 4.47 ERA of 2003. Expect some middle ground with an ERA of about 3.50.
Chicago White Sox: Esteban Loaiza – P – After years of mediocrity, and four teams from where he started, Esteban Loaiza had an amazing year for the Chicago White Sox in 2003. He won 21 games for the south siders, and had an amazing 2.90 ERA, much lower than his career 4.59. He was a workhorse, throwing 226.1 innings for the year nearly 30 more than in any season previous. He had 207 K's, and only 56BB, for a great 4-1 ratio. Sometimes players just surprise you. The Sox couldn't have imagined what they got out of Loaiza coming into the season expecting Colon to be their star. Loaiza will be 32 when the season starts, and looks to have several years left in him. The Sox are hoping for a Jamie Moyer type performance where a player improves with age. Only time will tell, but look for Loaiza to trail off a little from last years numbers. With the pressure of being the ace and having to repeat something he had only done once, Loaiza's life will be harder on the mound. Aside from that, players now know what to look for from the pitcher. He could be a good pickup for a fantasy team, but don't expect him to duplicate 2003.
Cleveland Indians: The Indians decided to not offer Ellis Burks arbitration on the December 7 deadline, which does two things. First, it makes the team a lot younger by subtracting Burks' body from the lineup. Second it leaves a pretty big hole at the DH slot. While Burks was hurt last year, Travis Hafner played DH a lot while Ben Broussard manned first base. A similar situation could work next season, but an interesting name to look out for is Ryan Ludwick, who could gain some playing time. Ludwick came over from Texas midseason and posted a good slugging percentage (.485) in 39 games as an Indian. He could hit close to 20 homers with a semi-decent average with enough at bats. Not good enough for mixed leagues, but decent for AL-only.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers upgraded their infield with free agents this week, kind of. As mentioned last week, the Tigers grabbed Fernando Vina, but they also signed 3B Dean Palmer to a minor-league deal. Palmer used to be a good third baseman before injuries ruined his career. From 1998 to 2000, Palmer averaged 30 homeruns and 107 RBI. Since then, he's only played in 87 games over the last three years, but some kind of comeback isn't out of the question for the 34-year-old veteran.
Kansas City Royals: One has to wonder why the Royals gave Benito Santiago a two-year deal when he had received no other significant interest from other clubs. Nevertheless, Santiago represents a gargantuan upgrade over KC¹s catching options over the past few years. Santiago should receive regular playing time as a catcher next season, and could feasibly put up some solid numbers for the Royals next season. However, the largest beneficiary of this signing is the Royals pitching staff, who are largely impacted with positives from this move.
Minnesota Twins: Having lost Eddie Guardado to the Seattle Mariners this week, the Twins now find themselves having to create a brand new bullpen from scratch. The losses of Guardado, and LaTroy Hawkins will hurt the Twins bullpen next season, but GM Terry Ryan is believed to already be pursuing replacements, both via trade and free agency (Arthur Rhodes). In order to do this he will have to pare payroll, meaning Jacque Jones could be headed out of town following this week¹s upcoming Winter Meetings with San Diego and Atlanta believed to be the two largest suitors.
New York Yankees: With Andy Pettitte now an Astro, the Yankees have set their sites on Kevin Brown. Brown doesn't require much explanation. When healthy he's one of the best five pitchers in the game, and the switch to pinstripes will only get him a few more wins than in LA. He could win 20 for just the second time in his career, but look for closer to 18. The good news is for Jeff Weaver, who will be getting a fresh start in LA if the trade goes down as currently planned. In a pitcher's park and out of New York, Weaver could return to his former successful self, posting about 14-16 wins and a good enough ERA to make himself a decent fantasy play.
Oakland A's: GM Billy Beane decided to offer arbitration to free agent SS Miguel Tejada and gain a draft choice should the 2002 MVP sign elsewhere. Closer Keith Foulke is mulling over two offers, one from the A's, the other from the Boston Red Sox. The A's have reportedly offered four-years and $24 million, while Boston is offering a higher annual salary but one less year. Foulke is said to be leaning away from Boston's three-year $21 million offer, and could make his decision within a few days. Beane has thrown the Oakland green and gold into the Mike Cameron arena, possibly offering him a four-year deal. Seattle did not offer arbitration to the 31-year-old all-star, allowing the Athletics to sign him without surrendering draft compensation. Expect Oakland to land an outfielder and a catcher within the next week or so. Beane goes into the Winter Meetings with that very plan, and could come home with both in his hip pocket. Other possibilities are Cleveland catcher Josh Bard, Dodgers backstop Paul LoDuca, and former Marlins OF Juan Encarnacion.
Seattle Mariners: New GM Bill Bavasi has already painted his name on the SAFECO Field roof after signing outfielder Raul Ibanez, and left-handed reliever Eddie Guardado. The Guardado signing was related to the team deciding not to offer Arthur Rhodes arbitration, and the pending free agency of closer Kazuhiro Sasaki. Ibanez was given a three-year deal worth $13 million and he is slated to play LF. Guardado's deal is a one-year pact with two mutual options years, worth $13 million guaranteed and possibly up to$17 million should Guardado take over as closer in 2005. Bavasi has also joined forces with former GM Pat Gillick in bidding strongly for the services of SS Miguel Tejada. The club reportedly offered the 27-year-old former MVP a three-year contract for $24-25 million. Gillick may also have requested that Tejada and his agent contact the M's before signing any contract to give the club one last shot to persuade the all-star to migrate to the Northwest. Bavasi, Gillick, and other club officials such as Lee Pelekoudas, have changed their stance on arbitration eligibles, and signed two to multi-year deals this week. Right-hander Ryan Franklin inked a two-year contract worth $4.3 million and outfielder Randy Winn signed a three-year deal worth a guaranteed $11 million. The two signings saved the club nearly $3 million in 2004 by avoiding arbitration.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The D'Rays signed Eduardo Perez to a two-year contract and hope that he will be Mr.Flexible for them. Look for Perez to get playing time at third, first, DH and in the outfield. Perez has been thought of as a pinch-hitter type, but he hit just .216 as a pinch-hitter in 2003 and .292 when he was in the starting lineup. Look for Lou Piniella to get him as much playing time as possible. The Rangers claimed outfielder Jason Tyner off waivers from Tampa Bay. Tyner hit .278 in 46 games for the D'Rays last season and may see a little more playing time in Texas.
Texas Rangers: Rangers team officials seem to be on hold waiting to see if Alex Rodriguez is going to be the opening day SS or not. Everything else is hanging in the balance until the proposed deal for Red Sox OF Manny Ramirez is either consummated or put to rest permanently. The hold up seems to be whether Boston wants to send cash with Ramirez to Texas to further lighten the payroll constraints for GM John Hart and owner Tom Hicks. Rodriguez is due $179 million of the original $252 million on his ten year contract, over the next seven seasons unless the 27-year-old exercises his option to become a free agent after year seven, 2007. Ramirez is due $98 million of the initial deal of $160 million over eight years.. Should the trade happen, the Rangers would likely lay low in free agency and possibly focus on a trade or two for a starting pitcher and hit the market a little bit harder, and smarter, next winter. Texas decided not to offer arbitration to free agent 1B Rafael Palmerio and OF Juan Gonzalez, ending their career with the club. Texas did sign free agent 1B/DH Brad Fullmer to a one-year deal worth $1 million.
Toronto Blue Jays: Kerry Lightenberg, who went 4-2, 3.34 for Baltimore in 2003, signed with the Blue Jays to be part of their revamped bullpen corps. The addition of Lightenberg may spell trouble for Cliff Politte who started his stint in Toronto with a bang and even won their closer's job for a short time last season. After that, it was all down hill and Politte lost the closer's job and was pretty well buried in the bullpen by the end of the season thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness. Politte is eligible for arbitration and if the Jays can't get him signed to a reasonable contract, he may be non-tendered.
Arizona Diamondbacks: With the departures of Curt Schilling and Miguel Batista, three spots in the starting rotation are assured, namely Randy Johnson, Brandon Webb and Elmer Dessens. As far as a fourth or fifth starter goes, the spots are up for grabs among John Patterson, Edgar Gonzalez, Andrew Good, Casey Daigle, Phil Stockman and/or Oscar Villarreal. In short, they're players you won't necessarily be aching to have on your fantasy roster. The team also bid adieu to Raul Mondesi, Felix Jose and pitcher Mike Myers, but those guys aren't even worthy of occupying a fantasy bench. Other than Sexson, no big fantasy splashes for the snakes this week. I do have a source that says catcher Paul Lo Duca could be bound for Oakland. Juicy stuff!
Atlanta Braves: Newly acquired Brave John Thomson has the chance to be one of the more profitable value picks in your 2004 Fantasy Draft. Scouts believe that Thomson finally came into his own last season when he went 9-5 in his final 15 starts. Having pitched in hitter havens for the whole of his career (Coors and Arlington), the switch to Atlanta¹s spacey confines should be a welcome one. Thomson projects to win 10-13 games next season while posting league average ERA. He could come as a real valuable pick next season. Don¹t bid too high, however.
Chicago Cubs: Mark Prior- P- By the age of 22, most people are getting out of college and looking forward to the world. Mark Prior was vying for a Cy Young Award, and busy pitching the Cubs to their first Central Division Series ever. An 18-6 record with a 2.43 ERA may look impressive on paper, but they look like artwork on the field. Prior proved himself to be one of the greatest pitchers in the game in 2003. Prior had 245 despite missing a month of the season on the DL after a collision with Marcus Giles. Prior proved his stuff is magical, and it has finally given Cubs fans a reason to smile. You won't be disappointed with Prior on your team in 2004. His stuff will again be magnificent, and he will have a powerful offense behind him. Look for Prior to win 20 games in 2004, and compete again for the Cy Young.
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds waited until minutes before the Sunday night deadline to offer arbitration and instead worked out a one-year deal with Todd Van Poppel. Late in the season last year, Van Poppel seemed somewhat rejuvenated when the Reds put him in the starting rotation and went 2-1, 2.97 after the all-star break. Prior to the break, Van Poppel had pitched in 11 games for the Reds (only one as a starter) and had a 10.00 ERA. That shouldn't be too surprising, since in his career, Van Poppel's pre-break ERA is 5.00, while he has a 3.78 ERA after the all-star break. Something to remember come next July.
Colorado Rockies: Jay Payton batted .302 with career highs for homers (28) and RBIs (89) as the Rockies' starting left fielder in 2003, but now it appears he will not be back with the team. This will decrease his value, despite a solid off-season conditioning program he is immersed in. Any batter leaving the Rockies, where numbers are often inflated, is due for a decline. Payton did hit 15 homers away from Coors, but his average and RBI production was way down and are more reflective of what to expect if he leaves. The question is where will he go and who will replace him? It is possible he re-signs at a later time, but that appears unlikely.
Houston Astros: Jeff Bagwell- 1B- This 35 year old Astro has been a mainstay in the Houston lineup for the past twelve years, and 2004 will be no different. Bagwell is the man at first base for the Stro's, and will continue to be so. Despite falling numbers in the past 3 years, Bagwell is still a feared name in the Houston order. He hit .278 in 2003, and should look to improve closer to his career average of .300. He continued to drive in 100 RBI's with 39 HR's, and 106 R. Steady numbers throughout his career has made Bagwell one of the best players in Houston history. Age may be catching up with Bagwell, but the dimensions of the Juice Box look to offset the aging process. Bagwell will do it again for the Astros in 2004.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Goodbye Kevin Brown. Hello…. Jeff Weaver? Yuck! While the Dodgers are still in need of a middle infielder, a first baseman, an outfielder and an owner, they decided to trim some payroll by dealing Kevin Brown to the Yankees for head case Jeff Weaver. Perhaps the pressure of not having to do something as ghastly as winning might help Weaver pitch well in LA next year. (Hey, it worked when he was still in Detroit.) Don't hold your breath. It's only a matter of time before Bonds rudely welcomes him to the NL. They also re-signed third baseman Robin Ventura. He may know how to get beaten up by Nolan Ryan but he doesn't know how to post numbers that will impact your fantasy league. Pass on him. With extreme prejudice.
Milwaukee Brewers: Chad Moeller could be a bargain catcher next season. He is expected to be the full time starter with the Brewers. In 78 games last season, Moeller hit .268 with seven homers and 29 RBIs in his longest stint in the majors. Now, in a favorable hitters park, and with so few solid catchers on the market, he could prove to be valuable if you shore up other positions and snag a catcher late.
Montreal Expos: How will Nick Johnson fare against National League pitching. In his career, Johnson in a .243 (9-37) hitter against NL opponents with 2 homeruns and 11 RBI. Juan Rivera meanwhile is a .250 (15-60) hitter with no homeruns and 7 RBI. Overall, Johnson is a .256 hitter while Rivera is a .262 hitter. As for Randy Choate, the Expos better figure on him as a situational lefty. In his career, right-handers hit .247 against him, while lefties hit just .183. His control seems to abandon him against righties. He has walked 26 and struck just 16 against right-handers.
New York Mets: The Mets signed FA Japanese SS Kaz Matsui this week, sending shockwaves around the fantasy baseball world. The signing of Matsui means rookie sensation Jose Reyes will be moving to second base and instantly becomes a top three 2B in NL only leagues. While Matsui hit very well in Japan, it's difficult to translate those numbers in Major League production. Some early projectios on Matsui? How about .290-15-65-25. Matsui, who hasn't even played a Major League game yet, has to be considered one of the top choices among NL shortstops for 2004. He could put up Renteria-like numbers.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies passed on Terry Adams to sign Tim Worrell. Which is better? Over the last three seasons, if you forget Adams failed attempt as a starter, he is 6-8, 3.14. Worrell is 14-11, 2.87 with 49 saves. Worrell is probably glad he signed with the Phillies. Only the Cubs and Cardinals have given him more trouble in his career. The retirement of Dan Plesac may give Valerio De los Santos another shot at redemption. Last season with Milwaukee and Philadelphia, De los Santos had a combined ERA of 4.50, but his ERA in Philadelphia was a horrendous 9.00. De los Santos is eligible for arbitration and could be non-tendered if GM Ed Wade can find a lefty at the winter meetings.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Kris Benson should be on your short list of potential bargains. It is a virtual lock that he will be dealt by next year's trading deadline. His WHIP was extremely high last season at 1.55 but expect him to rebound this year and post better numbers as he is recovered from right shoulder tendonitis. Trading him from one of the worst teams in the league to anywhere will immediately give him value. He generally starts seasons on fire and would make a good late round pickup with plans of dropping him to the waiver wire before reacquiring him for the trade season in August.
San Diego Padres: Ben Howard is a young left-hander with starting experience in the Major Leagues. He went 1-3 with a 3.63 ERA at the age of 24 and last year had a chance to wrap up a starter's spot in the rotation. Instead the Padres head into the Winter Meetings looking for a fifth starter. In deep leagues, Howard has little value until he can prove himself. Not only is he a fifth starter for the Padres, potentially, but he surrendered 10 homers in just 34.2 innings pitched. How he kept his ERA so low is still a mystery today.
San Francisco Giants: Shown the door this week were shortstop -and clubhouse leader - Rich Aurilia (team declined arbitration), the tubby and disappointing Sidney Ponson (team declined arbitration), veteran catcher Benito Santiago (team declined arbitration; signed with KC) and 2003's emergency closer Tim Worrell (declined arbitration; signed with Philly). The Giants also re-signed first baseman J.T. Snow to a reduced salary and acquired veteran outfielder Michael Tucker via free agency. General Manager Brian Sabean says that the team can't afford the likes of Vladimir Guerrero and Miguel Tejada but the guy loves to downplay everything. He's not the executive of the year for nothing. Until Vlad and Tejada sign elsewhere and you watch the press conferences covering the signings, don't rule Sabean's craftiness out just yet.
St. Louis Cardinals: J.D. Drew- OF- Throughout his entire career, the story has seemed like a broken record for JD Drew. The kid has a ton of talent, but he's never healthy. 2003 was no different for Drew and the Cardinals, as Drew only played in 100 games with 287 AB. Despite limited play, Drew still managed decent numbers however. His average was just under .300 at .289, he had 15HR with 42 RBI's, and a .374 OBS. If he were to have played a full season, he could have easily had 30HR and 100 RBIs, however Drew has not played a full season in his entire professional career, with his highest game total being 135 in 2000 and in 2002. He has never had more than 425 AB in a single season, and just never seems to be 100%. For that reason, fantasy owners should be weary of Drew. When he is healthy, he can be a great threat, however he is not often healthy.