Baltimore Orioles: Baltimore has been quiet on the free agent front so far, but theyíve got money to burn. Theyíre most interested in Vladimir Guerrero (who will probably stay in Montreal) and Javy Lopez. Lopez had a sick season last year for any player, but itís even more sick when you factor in that heís a catcher. That being said, donít expect a repeat performance from Lopez. Heís a good player, but an upper limit of 30 homeruns is more his speed, and donít be surprised if he has trouble getting to 20. Even so, heís still a top-level catcher and should be pretty high on your depth chart there.
Boston Red Sox: Without a doubt, the main acquisition, so far, this off-season for Theo Epstein is the right-arm of Mr. Curt Schilling. Fantasy owners, assuming he stays healthy, will reap the benefits. With the Red Sox offense, many expect Schilling to have a huge season and produce a win total that just might exceed twenty. Heís made it no secret he has his eyes on the Cy Young. One concern would be the short-right field porch inside Fenway Park, but heís a power pitcher and shouldnít have any problem overcoming that obstacle. Also, keep an eye on the Keith Foulke situation, a signing in Boston could produce enormous save totals.
Chicago White Sox: The Big Hurt returned to form in 2003 hitting .267 with 42 HR and 105 RBIís. He reached the 400 homerun plateau this year, and looks to shoot for 500 by 2005. The most amazing thing about Thomasís comeback year, however, was that he drew 100 walks this year to have an amazing .390 OBP, which was much improved over his previous 2 years. Look for Thomas to try and stay in shape this off-season and prove he can put up the numbers again for the boys on the south side of town.
Cleveland Indians: Keep an eye on 1B Travis Hafner for next season and beyond, particularly in AL only leagues. Hafner has this little problem where he canít hit lefties (.190 BA in 84 at bats), but he absolutely crushes right-handers (.280 BA, .541 slugging). Hafner has serious power, but he needs more time to develop. Heís a possible keeper candidate as this young Indians team continues to grow together.
Detroit Tigers: The Tigers are terrible, but hey, at least theyíre trying. Rumor has it that theyíve offered a two-year deal to 2B Fernando Vina. Vina had a lousy season last year, and dropped off the fantasy map due to his lack of productivity and injuries. A healthy Vina could hit around .300, but donít expect anything resembling good runs scored or RBI if he becomes a Tiger.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals are believed to be on the verge of signing Raul Mondesi, Matt Stairs, and Benito Santiago - players who should act as very nice pieces to the Royals 2004 puzzle. Santiago will most likely take over duties as the full-time starter with the Royals (to be backed up by either Mike DeFelice or Brent Mayne, if the Royals so choose to resign them) and would act as a great mentor to the Royals young pitching staff. Stairs, while by himself isn't much of a fantasy asset, is the perfect platoon partner for Ken Harvey. Mondesi will take Rondell White's vacated outfield position, and will be an interesting pick next year. He could feasibly jack 20-30 homers in Kauffman Stadium, and could nab 30 bases if Tony Pena sticks to his running game philosophy.
Minnesota Twins: GM Terry Ryan did an excellent job in moving Eric Milton. Not only did he acquire an excellent backup infielder in Nick Punto, who could be quite the asset on turf with his defensive and on-base skills - but he also cleared Milton's massive $9 million contract off of his books, which probably means Eddie Guardado will be back in the Minnesota bullpen in 2004. The Milton trade also ensures Johan Santana a rotation spot to start the season, a move that in itself is almost as valuable as acquiring another starting pitcher.
New York Yankees: The Javier Vazquez trade has interesting ramifications across fantasy land. Vazquez immediately jumps in value simply because of wins. He was already a top-five player in terms of the other categories (Ks, ERA and WHIP), but now heís a legitimate 20-win candidate. Draft early and draft often. Nick Johnson and Juan Rivera also become yet more useful. Johnson was already a good sleeper in mixed leagues, but now that he has guaranteed playing time, he could put up a .300, 30 HR, 90 RBI season assuming he stays healthy. Rivera is a little less valuable in mixed leagues, but he could hit 20 homers with a .270ish batting average, which is excellent for AL only leagues. Randy Choate is a non-factor in fantasy land. He doesnít have the goods to be a closer, so donít worry about him.
Oakland A's: The Aís seem to have gotten themselves into a bidding war with the Boston Red Sox for the services of closer Keith Foulke. Oakland has offered $6 million a season for four years in attempts to retain the 2003 AL leader in saves. Boston has countered with a three-year offer for the same average annual salary. Both teams wait for Foulke and his agent to respond. GM Billy Beane has all but given up on the possibility of keeping SS Miguel Tejada and does not have any plans to make the former MVP a formal offer. Oakland could change their stance should the market fall enough for the Athletics to feel comfortable diving in. The team is also pondering offers for OF Jose Guillen and left-handed reliever Ricardo Rincon. The Aís are expected to be active after the arbitration deadline on December 7th.
Seattle Mariners: The Mís have made an offer to free agent reliever Shigetoshi Hasegawa and have received a counter-offer from the right-hander and his agent Greg Clifton. The club offered two years at about $2.25 million per season and the Shiggyís counter proposal is believed to be for three years and $2.5 million per season. Assistant GM Lee Pelekoudas is handling the negotiations. Seattle has contacted free agent closer Eddie Guardado and seem genuinely interested in bringing in the left-hander. The status of incumbent closer Kazuhiro Sasaki may has a lot to do with whether the Mís make an offer to Guardado. The teamís payroll wouldnít seemingly fit two high-priced closers into one bullpen. The December 7th deadline is as vital to the Mariners as any team in the AL. Free Agent lefty Arthur Rhodes, CF Mike Cameron and Hasegawa are top priority decisions for new GM Bill Bavasi. Seattle has made an offer to SS Miguel Tejada that is believed to be very similar to the contract given to All-Star 2B Bret Booneís three year $24 million dollar guarantee. Boone has a fourth year option at $9 million, something not currently offered by the Mís to Tejada.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Victor Zambrano and Jeremi Gonzalez could become important parts of the D'Rays rotation in 2004. Between them, the two went 18-21, 4.11 in 53 starts. Manager Lou Piniella believes both will have even better seasons in 2004 and is figuring on having both of them in the starting rotation. Both pitchers need to work on their control, but both are also young enough to learn the finer points of pitching that will put them over the top. Gonzalez is eligible for arbitration and the D'Rays are trying to sign him to a contract before heading to arbitration. It's possible that they'll try to sign him to a long-term deal.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers seem to be pinning their entire winter on whether they are able to trade SS Alex Rodriguez and his large contract. Boston remains interested but would require the Rangers to take OF Manny Ramirez as part of the return package. Texas GM John Hart will wait for the arbitration eligibles that are set free to even toss the Rangers into the free agent hat. SP Chan Ho Park has received a clean bill of health and will report to spring training on time, ready to go. If Park can rekindle any sort of form from his pre-Texas days, the Rangers could get 200 innings from him. Look for the club to seek an innings eater via free agency following December 7th.
Toronto Blue Jays: Gabe Gross could be a major leaguer by mid-season. The Blue Jays recently added Gross to their 40 man roster and figure that he will start the season at AAA Syracuse before coming to the majors before the season gets too old. Gross was the Blue Jays' in 2001 and has moved quickly through the organization. Gross hit a combined 12-74-.299 between AA New Haven and AAA Syracuse in 2003 and has a combined .274 average over three minor league seasons. If your league is heavy on prospects, don't look for too much too quick out of Gross, but he is someone to watch and might help you down the road.
Arizona Diamondbacks: What a week for this team. First, they trade ace Curt Schilling to the Boston Red Sox for pitchers Casey Fossum and Brandon Lyon and two minor leaguers, thereby paving the way for the Brandon Webb era. (P Miguel Batista still looks like heís going to depart.) Then they practically unloaded their entire team for 1B Richie Sexson. Gone are infielder Craig Counsell, second baseman Junior Spivey, first baseman Lyle Overbay, catcher Chad Moeller, and left-handed pitchers Craig Capuano, and Jorge de la Rosa. Players who could benefit from Sexsonís addition are LF Luis Gonzalez, and middle infielders Alex Cintron and Matt Kata. While Sexson delivered the power stats fantasy owners love, it remains to be seen whether this guy can do the same when it actually counts, i.e., not batting when his team is behind by 8 runs and 20 games in the standings. Either way, you grab this guy in your draft and let the chips fall where they may.
Atlanta Braves: The Braves are currently exploring several options to plug their now-gaping hole in rightfield. Among the names being bandied about are Jacque Jones (Minnesota), Juan Encarnacion (Florida), and J.D Drew (Cardinals). All of these players fit the same bill - inexpensive, quasi-productive, and more than adequate defensively. This lends further support to the theory that the Braves may spend the bulk of their money this offseason upgrading their starting pitching. Kevin Millwood and Andy Pettite are two options that the Braves are believed to currently be considering as possibilities to complete the task.
Chicago Cubs: The five tool prospect that Cubs fans had been promised for years finally came through in the form of Corey Patterson in 2003. Patterson showed that he can hit for average, hit for power, field, throw, and run before his season came to an abrupt end with a freakish knee injury on July 6th. Despite the sudden end to his year, Patterson was having a true breakout year. He was hitting .298 with 13 HR, 55 RBIís, and 16 SB when he went down with the injury in only 82 games played. It was unfortunate for Patterson and the Cubs, however, all reports say that he will be back for Spring Training in 2004. Look for Patterson to have another great year, however, he may start slow while rebounding from injury. If you pick him up on your fantasy team, have a backup for the first month of the season, and the Patterson will turn to gold.
Cincinnati Reds: Ryan Freel made the most of his playing time late in the season with the Reds. Truth be told, Freel was on the roster only because of injuries to the frontline players. Don't let his numbers get you too excited. Freel will likely come into camp without even a utility role guarantee for Cincinnati. The Reds have a glut of outfielders and barring a trade, a utility role is probably the most that Freel can hope for in 2004. Austin Kearns, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Adam Dunn would figure to have the outfield spots wrapped up. Of course, with their record of injuries, there is always room for unexpected at bats for utility guys.
Colorado Rockies:Although the team says it will be a competition at second base, expect newly acquired Aaron Miles to get the nod. Miles batted .304 with 34 doubles at Triple-A Charlotte in 2003, and in 2002 was chosen Topps/Minor League Player of the Year after he batted .322 and led the Southern League in hits (171) and doubles (39) at Double-A Birmingham. Miles also went 4-for-12, with three doubles, in eight September games with the Sox. In the Rockies lineup, this 27 year old could blossom.
Florida Marlins: Larry Beinfest may have cut payroll with the shipping of Derrek Lee to the Chicago Cubs, but he also brought in Hee Seop Choi. This first basemen has talent, possesses extreme power to all fields, knows how to draw a walk, and hits for a high average. Keep your eye on him. Luis Castillo was re-signed (3 years, for $16 million), but last season, hitting in the two hole behind Juan Pierre, he saw his steals drop off from 48 in 2002 to just 21. Hitting leadoff for teams like the Cubs or Mets could have put those totals back up into the fifties. Mike Lowell has also been kept, and with speedsters Castillo and Pierre anchoring the top of lineup, expect huge numbers. Look at what he did in 2003 -- 27 doubles, 32 homers, 105 RBIs -- and think about how he missed all of September with injury. Scary.
Houston Astros: With Biggio looking to stay in centerfield for the Astros next year, lets take a look at the numbers. Biggio continued to be effective for the Stros, despite a drop in average, he still hit .264 with 15 HR and 64 RBIís in 2003. He also had 102 runs for the Stros, continuing to be an effective man for their big guns to drive in. With only 8 stolen bases, the 38 year old has clearly slowed down, however, he can still move when he has to. Biggio will look to finish his career with the same team that he has played all his years for, and will continue to be a mainstay in the Astroís lineup. Age is beginning to become a factor, and Biggioís days may be number in Houston.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Dreams of landing sluggers 1B Derek Lee or 1B Richie Sexson were dashed when Lee signed with the Cubs and Sexson went to the Valley of the Sun in a 9 player deal. In short, decent hitting looks like it will not be seen in Chavez Ravine for another year so avoid acquiring a Dodger if you need a bat in your fantasy lineup. On the pitching front, RHP Paul Quantrill is not returning, choosing to wear Yankee pinstripes next season. Then thereís the team not so secretly shopping ace Kevin Brown to the Yankees and Red Sox, although with the Yankees acquiring Javier Vasquez from the Expos, itís unlikely that Brown will head to the Bronx. Beantown, maybe, but not New York. Hideo Nomo is rehabbing just fine and will be ready to pitch by Opening Day.
Milwaukee Brewers: Looking ahead to what could be as soon as 2005, Prince Fielder should be on your radar. Fielder led the Brewers organization in home runs and RBIs, while finishing second in batting average. He also had a .409 OBP and .526 SLG to win Midwest League MVP honors and to be named Minor League Player of the Year by USA Today. There is absolutely no question this kid will hit and drive in a ton of runs.
Montreal Expos: With Javier Vazquez gone and no starting pitcher acquired in exchange for the Expos ace, who will suck up the innings. A free agent is always a possibility. Tony Armas should be healthy enough when spring training gets here to take back his spot in the rotation. Usually though, pitchers who have undergone what Armas has generally need a little time to regain their form. The trade of Vazquez likely means that Livan Hernandez will stay and the Expos hope that his brother, El Duque, can also return from injury to contribute innings from the Expos rotation.
New York Mets: There are certainly some unanswered fantasy questions in Queens these days. First, who is going to play short stop? The Mets have made an offer to FA SS Kaz Matsui of Japan. Also being courted by the Dodgers, Angels, and Mariners, Matsui is expected to make a decision as soon as this weekend. If he heads to the Mets, Jose Reyes will be the second baseman and will be elegible at both positions in a lot of leagues. Watch the Matsui situation closely. If Matsui does sign with the Mets, New York may turn around and package some prospects (including pitcher Aaron Heilman) for an outfielder with pop...most likely to an AL team, which would have ramifications in NL-only leagues. The Mets have also made an offer to CF Mike Cameron of the Mariners. Obviously if he signs, it brings down Jeff Duncan's fantasy value (if he had any to begin with) not only for 2004, but beyond.
Philadelphia Phillies: Eric Milton has some fans in the Phillies front office. One of them is former Indians manager Charlie Manuel, who told GM Ed Wade that he thought Milton has great raw talent and is poised to become a star. Phillies scout Gordon Lakey thinks Milton is exactly the kind of guy that pitching coach Joe Kerrigan can work wonders with. Kerrigan is known for taking pitchers and turning their careers around. The likes of Rheal Cormier, Tom Gordon and none other than Pedro Martinez all credit Kerrigan with helping them to progress. With that in mind, plus the fact that he's in the final year of his contract, Milton could become a nice addition to a fantasy staff.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Who will play second base for this team after Pokey Reese was let go? Freddy Sanchez tops the list. The 25 year old was once an untouchable in the Red Sox organization. But Bobby Hill, his competition, was the same for the Cubs. Both are coming off end of the season injuries and Sanchez is the frontrunner. Since his rookie season in the minors, Sanchez has never batted below .300 in the minors. He does not steal many bases nor does he hit for power. He is simply a contact hitter.
San Diego Padres: The Padres are looking for a true leadoff hitter and have been in touch with Kenny Lofton. Until one appears, Sean Burroughs will man the top of the order. Burroughs is entering his third season and his average teetered around .300 for the season before dropping to .286 at the end. He gets on base and while not a typical third baseman he could be a late round steal that contributes runs scored, the occasional stolen base and even some RBIís from a leadoff batter. His numbers will continue to increase as he grows and matures. And his doubles power should turn into more home runs as he fills out. He is still only 23.
San Francisco Giants: Other than Bonds testifying in the Balco mess, not too much is happening. ëRoids or not, Bonds is still your ace in the whole when it comes to drafting a top tier fantasy player. Fantasy-wise, the team hasnít done anything to help shore up your fantasy line-up. Theyíve re-signed reserve OF Jeffrey Hammonds and starting pitcher Dennis Hermanson. Free agents such as 1B J.T. Snow and SS Rich Aurilia have stressed that they want to come back but nothing has progressed at the bargaining table thus far and the arbitration deadline is looming. Free agent C Benito Santiago looks like heíll be a Royal. Consider starting pitcher Sidney Ponson and Gold Glove OF Jose Cruz Jr. to be good as gone. 1B Andres Galarraga isnít ruling out returning one more year to get his career # 500 HR.
St Louis Cardinals: Rolen is arguably one of the best, if not the best third baseman in the league. His numbers simply speak for themselves. His defensive prowess earned him a gold glove in 2003, which was his fourth straight gold glove, fifth overall. He has set the bar for defensive third basemen in the National League. Unfortunately for opponents, Rolen can really hit the ball too. Rolen hit .286 with 28HR and 104RBIís in 2003. He also stole 13 bases and scored 98 runs during the course of the year, but then again, his .382 OBP was nothing to laugh at either. Rolen is clearly the cream of the crop in NL 3rd baseman, and at 28 years of age will continue to be for some time.