Baltimore Orioles: Baltmore continued to improve its lineup with the signing of free agent catcher Javy Lopez. Lopez broke the single-season record for homeruns by a catcher in 2003, but don't expect that kind of performance again. Lopez' career numbers show he has power, but not 43-homerun power. Call 2003 a fluke and look for a solid .290 average, 25 homeruns, 90 RBI and 80 runs scored.
Boston Red Sox: Replacing Todd Walker's bat in the lineup turned into a low priority for the Red Sox when they signed Pokey Reese last week. Reese is known for his glove, but he can't hit at all. Look for a platoon situation with the righty Reese and switch-hitting Mark Bellhorn (acquired from Rockies) at second base this season. The problem however, neither player is barely even worth a look in fantasy leagues. Bellhorn has some potential, but without enough playing time, we don't see it happening.
Chicago White Sox: Jose Valentin's average continued to slip in the 2003 season, however, his home runs continued to be in the 20's. He only managed a .237 average, but had 28 HR's and 74 RBI's. He did strike out 114 times, an awful lot for a short stop with average power. He was also average in the field with 20 errors in 2003, and a .969 fielding percentage. At 33, Valentin's numbers could continue to fall again, and his power is eventually going to trail off. He will have to work hard to bring his average back up to a respectable number, but until he can do that, Valentin is not in the cream of the crop for short stops in the league. His power will continue to look good to fantasy owners, but his strikeouts and average should scare most owners away.
Cleveland Indians: The Indians' Christmas present this year was 2B Ronnie Belliard. This could mean bad things for Brandon Phillips owners as the clubs shows less and less faith in the youngster. Belliard, if he plays everyday, could post decent numbers for a second baseman, but don't look for Boone/Kent/Soriano power. 8-10 homeruns, a .275 average and a few steals are all you can really look for out of Belliard, not bad for a backup, but not starter material in fantasy leagues.
Detroit Tigers: One man's trash is another man's treasure. When the Orioles non-tendered Jason Johnson, the Tigers jumped all over him, signing the 30-year-old starter to a two-year deal. Johnson has been reasonably effective throughout his career, and the move to pitcher-friendly Tiger Stadium could help his ERA. His win total will stay poor however (around 10), and his strikeouts are not impressive. Johnson could fill a hole in your rotation in deeper leagues, and could be a sleeper pick if Detroit boosts its offense with another free agent and is able to score some runs.
Kansas City Royals: Now that Javier Vazquez is in New York, Brian Anderson might just be the best pitcher that nobody's ever heard of. Anderson re-signed with the Royals and will be most likely be their ace. If the Royals are hitting, Anderson could win 15 games and post an ERA right around 3.70. His WHIP isn't too impressive however, and looks to be just a tick better than league average, and his strikeouts are pretty poor. He's still a good option for a fifth fantasy starter though.
Minnesota Twins: Some people may have been touting Shannon Stewart as an MVP candidate at the end of the 2003 season, but Stewart really isn't that good. He's a solid all-around player however, and Twins will get their money's worth out of him. One possible reason he increased his play so much after he was traded was that he loves hitting in the Metrodome. His splits there look like this: .367 BA, .451 OBP, .565 SLG. Pretty sick. Stewart's numbers will continue to look pretty good as long as he plays his home games there.
New York Yankees: The Yankees finally made the Kenny Lofton signing official last week, bringing the centerfielder back to the American League. Lofton still has speed and can hit for a decent average, but he's definitely not the top-level player he once was, and he may not even be as good as the 2003 version. His playing time is likely to suffer because of Bernie Williams and other players clogging the DH slot. Expect a .285 average and 15-25 steals, but only 10 homeruns and 60 RBI will be the upper limits. He should, however, score a ton of runs from the leadoff spot, probably around 100.
Oakland Athletics: Billy Beane revealed his new closer last week, signing left-handed reliever Arthur Rhodes to a three-year deal worth around $9 million. A key to watch is that the thirteen-year veteran has never accumulated more than four saves in a season and owns more blown saves (27) than he does career saves (17). Last year with Seattle he battled an ankle injury and saw his ERA skyrocket from 2.33 in 2002 to 4.17. With Rhodes inexperience handling the ninth inning duties, be careful. Look for Ken Macha to turn to Jim Mecir or Chad Bradford if he Arthur gets off to a slow start.
Seattle Mariners: According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Mariners have come to an agreement with shortstop Rich Aurillia on a one-year, $4 million contract that is contingent on the team being able to move Carlos Guillen. Over three teams are interested in Guillen, making it a good bet that Aurillia will become the next shortstop in Seattle. The nine-year veteran, all spent with the San Francisco Giants, hit .277 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs last season, but from 1999-2001 he knocked at least 20 homers and drove in a minimum of 75 runs. Depending on where he hits in the lineup, he could be a nice sleeper.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Brook Fordyce signed with the D'Rays, but likely won't see much action. Toby Hall caught 130 games last season and while Lou Piniella would like to cut back on that a little, it doesn't figure that Fordyce will see near enough action to look at in fantasy leagues. Hall on the other hand, isn't spectacular, but there are worse starting catchers. At least he is durable and does more than his share of catching, so you can figure on him getting the at bats.
Texas Rangers: OF Brian Jordan will be looking to make a comeback next season, and the move from Dodger Stadium to Arlington should help him a lot, so should his health. Jordan has spent most of his career playing in pitcher's parks, and the move to hitter-friendly Texas should give him a boost. If he comes back healthy, Jordan could once again be a threat to hit .300, 20+ homeruns and drive in 100 runs. Don't forget about him on draft day, but most owners will.
Toronto Blue Jays: Aquilino Lopez and Chris Speier figure to get the longest looks at closing for Toronto. Lopez converted 14 of 16 save opportunities for Toronto last year while Speier converted 9 out of 12 for Colorado. It's possible that they'll split the opportunities in 2004, unless one of them pulls ahead in the spring training competition. Of course, if both of them falter, veterans Kerry Lightenberg and Valerio de los Santos are both there to pick up the pieces. Neither Lightenberg or de los Santos have been closers for any long stretches in their careers, but Lightenberg did take over the role in 1998 for Atlanta when he saved 30 games in 41 chances. Since you can't count on any one closer getting the job, you may want to look for better options while keeping an eye on how things turn out in Toronto.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Remember when I said that the D-backs were going with youngsters to fill the spots left vacant by Schilling and Batista? Scratch that. Curiously, they signed free agent hurlers Steve Sparks and Shane Reynolds to round out the rotation that is already occupied by the Big Unit, young phenom Brandon Webb and Elmer Dessens. Reynolds was serviceable in his one-year stint in Atlanta but I wouldn't tie my hopes to this guy when it comes to having fantasy value. Slugging outfielder, Luis Gonzalez, is rehabbing and is set to start testing that surgically repaired right elbow in early 2004. Whether that means tomorrow or late January is anybody's guess.
|Gonzalez looks to get back on track in '04.|
Cincinnati Reds: The Reds believe that Cory Lidle can anchor their starting rotation. For an anchor, the Reds have a guy coming off a season where he went 12-15, 5.75. They also truly believe he's such an anchor that they only gave him a one-year deal. Actually, Lidle was a pretty good pitcher in his two seasons with Oakland, but fell apart last season. Which Cory Lidle will show up for the Reds? Probably more like the one that pitched for Oakland, but he won't have the offensive support in Cincinnati that Oakland provided him. Look for a decent season out of Lidle, but if you have him as the anchor of your pitching staff, you may want to re-evaluate things.
Colorado Rockies: The Rockies signed Jeromy Burnitz on the cheap. Last year Burnitz simply belted 31 homers, the fifth time in the past six seasons he has topped the 30 home run plateau. Now Burnitz will get the benefit of the Coors Field factor making him that much more appealing. Burnitz has never hit for average and his last two seasons have been dismal in that category, but he is worth of a mid round selection based on power projections. Burnitz could easily top 40 homers and drive in 100 runs while coming closer to his career .251 batting average in the Colorado lineup.
Florida Marlins: Without Ivan Rodriguez, the Marlins' catching situation is a mess in 2004. Ramon Castro and Mike Redmond will be handling the duties behind the dish, and neither of them are candidates to start for your fantasy team because of the split in playing time. If either of them will hit it's Castro, who hit .283 with five homeruns in just 53 at bats, but don't look for anything special from him unless he's guaranteed the starter's job.
Houston Astros: Adam Everett became the Astros full time short stop in 2003, and put up decent numbers for a first year starter. He hit for an average of .256 with 8 HR's and 51 RBI's. He showed a little bit of speed, swiping 8 stolen bases and only getting caught once. He didn't strike out too much, however, and will continue to improve for the Astros in 2004. His defense was good, with a .970 fielding percentage. Everett will only be 27 at the start of the 2004 season, and will get a lot of playing time in his second full year in the big leagues. His numbers should steadily improve as he gets to know the league better, and Everett could be a good cheap option for fantasy owners. His previous numbers will keep his price down, but the upside is very large for this young kid, and his efforts could begin to show big dividends in 2004.
Los Angeles Dodgers: Other than finalizing the transfer of ownership to would-be buyer, Frank McCourt, it's slow going in Chavez Ravine. There was some speculation that the team might pursue free agents Rich Aurilia and Vlad Guerrero, but those rumors are fizzling fast as Aurilia looks like hes headed for the Pacific Northwest and Vlad might be Baltimore bound. They did pick up Juan Encarnacion as a free agent, thanks to the emergence of Florida's rising star Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera's late summer upsurge that continued through October made Encarnacion expendable. Seems like the Dodgers are full of expendable and cast-off players, which doesn't bode well in their pursuit to overtake SF in the West or your fantasy team. Go figure.
Milwaukee Brewers: Ben Greive could be the Brewers opening day right fielder in 2004. In 1998, Grieve won Rookie of the Year honors while with Oakland. His best offensive season came in 2000, when Grieve hit .279 with 27 home runs, 104 RBIs and 92 runs. Last year he suffered a variety of strange ailments that contributed to him batting .230. Don't expect a renaissance of his 2000 season, but it Is reasonable to see Grieve hit 15-20 homers with 70 RBI's for the Brewers. Not great fantasy numbers, but definitely late round consideration.
Montreal Expos: Carl Everett and Tony Batista were signed to free agent contracts with the Expos. Everett's attitude has been a lot better over the past couple seasons and he puts up solid numbers. Other than the possibility of Everett being unhappy and letting it spoil his performance, fantasy owners don't need to worry about attitude. In other words, Everett is a decent addition if you need a little offensive help. Every year somebody says Batista won't put up the numbers that he did before, but somehow at the end of the season, the numbers are there. The interesting twist behind both Everett and Batista is how they will adjust to National League pitching.
New York Mets: The Mets are still looking for a closer for next season after not really having one at the end of the 2003 year. Possible free-agent candidates include ex-Marlins Braden Looper and Ugueth Urbina and ex-Indian Danys Baez, and there's still that possible trade with the White Sox for Billy Koch. If the Mets decide to go in-house, look for Royce Ring to get the saves. Ring was acquired in the Roberto Alomar trade and has filthy stuff. He would be the cheapest option, but our money is on them signing Looper.
Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies signed Shawn Wooten as a utility player, but keep an eye on things. David Bell may not be healthy or may at least need a number of days off for the Phillies and Wooten would seem to have first dibs on those added at bats. Unless Bell is completely out of action, it may not be enough to pick up Wooten, but Bell's health is questionable. Another rumor has the Phillies signing Doug Glanville at the expense of Chase Utley making the team. Keep that in the back of your mind if you have Utley, but realize also that the rumor doesn't seem to have much merit so you can figure on Utley being with the team and getting a lot of at bats. Again, Bell's health could play into the equation, since if he is out, Utley could make the team. It's also likely that if Utley is on the team, he'll be in the starting lineup more often than not.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Chris Stynes joined the Pirates this week as almost an afterthought. Stynes batted .255 with 11 home runs while establishing career highs in games (138), runs (71), doubles (31), RBIs (73) and walks (48) in 2003 playing for Colorado. He instantly becomes the starting third baseman for the Pirates. His true value could come as a player eligible to play 2B and 3B in fantasy leagues and a starting role should allow him to maintain his production from a year ago in Colorado. Stynes is a career .280 hitter.
San Diego Padres: The Pares lineup figures to be much better than last season. The bullpen has also been revamped and is better than last year. The number five spot in the rotation is up for grabs, with Sterling Hitchcock and Ismael Valdes the front runners. Whomever secures the spot won't likely be on your radar unless your league gets deep enough to consider a fifth starter and either way it is wise to stay away from this pair. The battle will head into spring training before it reaches a head.
San Francisco Giants: Other than re-signing relief pitcher Scott Eyre and showing shortstop Rich Aurilia the door, nothing's happening (and that makes the annually heartbroken fan base seethe). No Guerrero and probably no Maddux. It's terrifying to imagine a rotation that includes Schmidt and Maddux and a line-up that would feature a Durham-Pierzynski-Alfonzo-Guerrero 4-headed monster but Peter Magowan maintains that the team is losing money. They lead the NL in attendance (third overall), have collected postseason checks the last two years in a row and they're losing money. If you believe that, then I've got some lovely Florida real estate you might want to purchase. The presence of that guy named Barry Bonds can make for some interesting games to watch, though.
St. Louis Cardinals: Edgar Renteria had a career year in 2003, when he hit for an amazing .330 average, with 13 HR's and 100 RBI's. Renteria also won the gold glove, as if his hitting wasn't enough for the Cardinals. The best part for Renteria? He's only 28 years old, and still has a lot of good years left in him. He may not have quite the lineup surrounding him that he did last year, but Renteria will continue to put up good numbers, hitting in the .300's with a good number of RBI's, and a little power. Oh, and on top of all those stats, he decided that he would swipe 34 steals while he was at it. Renteria probably will not be able to repeat what he did last year, however, he will have another good year, as he is proving that he is one of the better short stops in the NL. He will be a good pickup, because can drive in runs and steal some bases for your fantasy teams. He won't be a cheap option.