Anaheim Angels: The Angels moved up as the odds-on favorite in the west with the surprise free agent signing of Vladimir Guerrero over the week, adding one of the top young stars in the game to the middle of their already potent lineup. Guerrero's numbers in Anaheim's hitter-friendly ballpark will likely improve, especially with names like Troy Glaus, Garrett Anderson, Tim Salmon, and Darin Erstad around him in the lineup. Guerrero's status as one of the top producing outfielders only improves with the move across the continent. The lone question surrounding the 27-year-old is his recent back troubles, which may have scared other teams away from outbidding the Angels.
Baltimore Orioles: One new addition for the Orioles that actually shouldn't be on many draft lists is Mike Dejean. Dejean, who previously pitched with the Brewers, won't have the closer's job, as it is Jorge Julio's to lose. Julio, who throws a hard fastball and slider, had an up and down season last year, showing hints of domination and also showing hints of why the the Expos traded him for Ryan Minor. Julio is young though, only 24, and with an improved offense coming to town and the addition of Sidney Ponson, he should have plenty of opportunities to get some saves.
Boston Red Sox: For those in very deep fantasy leagues or someone in desperate need of pitching, the fifth spot in the Red Sox rotation could prove to be very interesting. With the reports being that the Sox are close to agreeing to terms with Byung-Hyun Kim, it leaves him and Bronson Arroyo to battle for the fifth spot in the rotation. Kim is still a very young pitcher who still may be a couple of years away from his prime. He has all of the talent and the tools to be a solid major league starter, but it remains to be seen if he has the mental toughness to succeed in Boston. Arroyo is not going to overpower anybody by any means, but he just gets people out. He was clearly the best pitcher in the Sox farm system last season, and did not do anything to hurt his status during his time with the big club. Whoever ends up winning the battle is in a definite position to succeed. With one of the leagues best offenses and a much improved bullpen behind them, the fifth starter should be good for at least 13-15 wins.
Chicago White Sox: The White Sox exercised their club option on Jose Valentin this offseason, retaining him as their short stop for the 2004 season. Valentin continued to be an all or nothing hitter in 2003, hitting 28 homers, but only managing a .237 average. He also struck out 114 times, with 74 RBI's, and a .313 OBP. His numbers are a bit strange for a short stop, but the Sox like the production that he has despite his low average. His on base percentage slightly offsets his average, but a fantasy owner will want a short stop who produces better on a more consistent basis. His fielding was worse than it had been before, as he committed 20 errors last year, amassing a .969 fielding average. Valentin will probably not be a White Sock in 2005, and its probably not a good idea to make him part of your fantasy team in 2004.
Cleveland Indians: Since Omar Vizquel isn't going anywhere now, we might as well take a look at how he could help your fantasy team next season. The shortstop had a career year in 2002, but was awful and injured in 2003. If he's healthy (and Seattle didn't think he was), Vizquel could hit .270 with five or so homeruns and about 60 RBI. See how he performs in Spring Training before you go after him in a draft.
Detroit Tigers: Last season, the lone bright spot for the Tigers was OF/DH Dmitri Young, who hit .297 with 27 homers and 85 RBI. Young, who the Tigers traded for in the offseason before the 2002 season, came back from an injury-riddled season with a career year. But after his career season, should you expect a drop-off? One would typically expect so, except the free agent additions the Tigers have made should not only improve his RBI opportunities, but also his protection in the lineup. So, expect Young's numbers to stay pretty consistent, if not improve on last year's.
Kansas City Royals: The Royals have quietly done very well for themselves this offseason. Juan Gonzalez and Benito Santiago could both prove to be big additions to a Royals team that was already pretty good. The key is that both players are excited about playing in Kansas City, which isn't something that has happened too much over the past few years. Both players are also veteran players who can help the young guys in Kansas City develop, but neither have shown signs that they are slowing down. The addition of Gonzalez' 24 homeruns and .294 average from last season gives added power to the Royals offense. Santiago, who hit .279 with 11 homeruns and 76 RBI last season, may pay his biggest dividends in helping the Royals young pitching staff.
New York Yankees: The Yankees are pretty much finished with their offseason acquisitions, so let's look at someone already there. Jason Giambi had a miserable season in terms of batting average, but don't let him fall far on your depth chart. Giambi was injured for almost all of last season, and still managed 41 homeruns. He's healthy for 2004, and should be back to his old self. He could put up a .315 batting average and 40-45 homeruns next season. Still early-round material.
Seattle Mariners: Rich Aurilia is coming off back-to-back injury-plagued seasons, but he is back at full-strength and the Mariners feel he will return to the RBI producer that he was in 2001 with San Francisco. Aurilia is at his best when he tries to utilize the whole field rather than pulling the ball to left field, and is a good contact hitter who the M's might consider putting in the No. 2 spot in the batting order behind Ichiro. A left-handed hitter or switch-hitter like LF Raul Ibanez or CF Randy Winn that could pull the ball to right field and advance the runner might be a better option. Wherever Aurilia bats, even if it's at the bottom part of the order, expect him to produce at a rate that exceeds the previous two seasons.
Tampa Bay Devil Rays: Even the most devout D'Rays fan is going to need a program to tell the players on Tampa Bay in 2004. Mike Williams became the latest addition to the team. Williams, who recorded 25 saves with the Pirates before going to Philadelphia in a July trade, didn't seem to have much left late in the season. With the closer's role up in the air, Williams might be in the mix to win the closer's job. The best bet is to wait and see how things play out with the Tampa Bay bullpen. Williams, Danys Baez or incumbent Lance Carter figure to battling for the job throughout the spring.
Texas Rangers: The Rangers added Kenny Rogers and Jeff Nelson to their pitching staff this week, helping what would have been and still might be the worst staff in baseball in 2004. Rogers, with Minnesota last year, returns for his third stint in Texas and immediately becomes the team's ace. He'll be asked to go up against the top pitchers from opposing teams all season, which will undoubtedly hurt his stock in the fantasy world. But with a lineup consisting of Alex Rodriguez, Hank Blaylock, Michael Young and Mark Teixeira, expect Rogers to get enough run-production to post 10 wins on the season. Nelson will become the team's top middle-reliever, but is a non-factor in most all fantasy leagues.
Toronto Blue Jays: Vernon Wells finished in the top five in the American League in average (.317), RBI (117) and runs (118). Plus, he was in the top ten in slugging (.550) and homeruns (33). Don't forget about Vernon Wells when draft time comes around. If he were playing in a higher profile city, Wells would be a superstar. Since he's somewhat buried in Toronto, a place where most fans think first of Carlos Delgado, Wells doesn't get the recognition that he deserves. Wells gives you another nice bit of help; durability. In the past two seasons, he has played in all but four Blue Jays games. If you don't already have him high on your list, move him up a couple notches. The best is yet to come from Wells.
Arizona Diamondbacks: LF Luis Gonzalez finally put his right elbow to the test when he threw without pain. While not firing seeds, it was his first throwing action since the end of the regular season. Trainer Paul Lessard had the valuable D-back slugger throw at about 50 percent intensity. INF Craig Colbrunn is also set to resume his off-season BP workouts after injuring his wrist in mid-July. While GM Joe Garagiola, Jr., said, "My theory is you can never have too many future Hall of Famers on your team," I also wonder what he thinks about having one too many poison pills on his team. Pass on Alomar unless you absolutely have to fill a roster spot on your fantasy team.
Chicago Cubs: The Chicago Cubs picked up Todd Walker to assist with the infield duties this year, and picked him up at a cheap cost. Walker is capable of playing all infield positions, and has even spent some time in left field, so he will be very versatile for both the Cubs and your fantasy team. Walker played second base for the majority of the 2003 season for the Boston Red Sox. He will be splitting time there with Mark Grudzielanek in 2004, but could find other places to play whenever the Cubs need it. Walker hit .283 with 13 homers, and 85 RBI's in 2003, also scoring himself 92 times, and being a good table setter for the Sox with 48 walks. Walker may see some significant playing time in 04, due to his versatility and Moises Alou's age. If Grudzielanek struggles, he will also be the number one second baseman, and see the good majority of at bats there. Walker should have at least 300 AB's this year, and could be a good cheap pickup for any fantasy team.
Cincinnati Reds: What's a matter with Sean Casey? After hitting a total of 45 homeruns in 1999 and 2000, Casey has hit just 43 homeruns in the three years since then. His OBP has also fallen from a high of .399 in 1999 to a low of .334 in 2002. You can't figure that Casey is going to immediately bounce back. While he was once figured to be one of the best up and coming first basemen in baseball, his numbers don't add up to much in the past three seasons. With plenty of other good first basemen out there, Casey doesn't figure to be a good choice.
Colorado Rockies: Vinny Castilla is back and its a good thing. Castilla had his best years in Colorado, smacking 40 homers three times and topping 100 RBI's four times. Castilla is a little long in the tooth to duplicate those kind of numbers, but 30 homers and 90 RBI's are solid numbers for a third baseman. Expect that this year back in Rocket Field. Scared about those projections? Castilla did hit 22 homers and knock in 72 for Atlanta last year!
Florida Marlins: The Cubs were always at least a little reluctant to just give the first base job to Hee Seop Choi. The Marlins will likely just put him at first base and let him play. So, how good can Choi be? Since he has just 21 major league at bats against lefties, it's hard to tell if he'll struggle playing full-time. Those 21 at bats haven't been impressive. Choi has hit just .048 and has struck out 11 times against left-handers. He has enough talent to become a better everyday player, but it may take a little time to settle in. While he'll be the Marlins everyday first baseman, don't be surprised to see him "rested" against tougher left-handers.
Houston Astros: Roger Clemens shocked the baseball world this winter when he came out of a brief two month retirement to play one more year, this time for the Houston Astros. He had another solid season for the Yankees last year, posting a 17-9 record, with a 3.91 ERA. He started 33 games on the year, and posted 211.2 innings, giving up 24HR's, and 190K's. He showed that he wasn't quite done yet due to his good stats, but insisted that he has accomplished everything he wanted to. That is until the Astros offered him a job near his home. The Astros have said that he will pitch mostly home games for them, which is not good news for Clemens' numbers, because the Juice Box is not kind to pitchers. This and his age could be a big reason not to pick up Clemens on your fantasy team, but he will certainly improve the Astro's rotation for 2004.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RF Shawn Green should be 100% for the start of the season. No reason to expect him not to put up his usual good numbers, so he will be worth picking up. His value should drop a little this year because of last year, so he could give you a great return on your investment. Darren Dreifort is also suppossed to be healthy for the start of the season, but you're taking a major gamble there. He was effective while he was healthy last season, but he hasn't stayed healthy at all the last 3 seasons. If you're feeling lucky, you should be able to draft him late or sign him for very little and just release him when he gets hurt again if you're in a league that allows that.
Milwaukee Brewers: Put Ben Sheets on a winning team and his stats would be much better. A 1.25 WHIP and 157 strikeouts in 220.2 innings in 2003 paved the way to a 11-13 season. Unfortunately for Ben, he has never topped 11 wins. Look for him to do so this year. The lineup in Milwaukee is a tad bit more balanced after the loss of Richie Sexson. While no one will put up his kind of numbers, they will get more production out of the parts that replaced him. A concern is Ben has never had an ERA lower than 4.15.
Montreal Expos: Terrmel Sledge will be battling for a starting job with the Expos this spring. He'll also likely be battling to erase the stigma of a positive steroids test which was announced recently. Sledge's positive results won't result in sanctions from major league baseball. but is ineligible for international play. The Expos believe Sledge has a better than average shot at sticking with the big league club either as an everyday player or as a left-handed bat off the bench. Sledge isn't worth too much of a gamble in fantasy leagues though. Even if he does win a starting job, let him prove himself before you sweep in to grab him.
New York Mets: Earlier in the week the Mets had hoped their RF solution was Vladmir Guerrero and it ended up in the signing of Karim Garcia. This is one of those signings that could fall way under the radar for fantasy players. Garcia is a fine defensive outfielder that has some pop in his bat. It appears he'll likely platoon to start the year but there's a good chance he could become the everyday rightfielder, seeing as Roger Cedeno and Timo Perez aren't exactly good hitters. If that happens and he's able to accumulate 500 at-bats, Garcia could club 25 home runs or so. Watch the right field situation closely in spring training and Garcia could be a nice sleeper pick for you if he wins the job outright.
Philadelphia Phillies: Word is that David Bell is 100 percent healthy. He was cleared to swing a bat earlier in the offseason, but has purposely held off doing so and has decided instead to just start taking swings when camp opens like he usually does. A healthy David Bell would be huge for the Phillies. After injuring his back crashing into the infield fence at Veterans Stadium last April, Bell was never the player the Phillies thought he would be. He tried to play through the injury, but was done in by the hard turf at The Vet. This season, Bell will be on natural grass at new Citizens Bank Park, which should also help him health wise. Bell could be one of the sleepers of the 2004 season.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Jason Kendall will stay in Pittsburgh...for now. Kendall has a career OBP of .385 and has topped .400 three times in his career. At 29, there is concern he is on the downside of his career, but look for that to be two years away. Kendall won't hit many homers, nor will he likely drive in a lot of runs, but he will score plenty and provide ten stolen bases from the catcher position. His real value is his position which is very weak and he is among the elite. A .310 average with a .385 OBP, 60 RBI's, 85 runs and 30 doubles is well within reach. If he is traded, those numbers could all rise.
San Diego Padres: Jay Payton will patrol centerfield for the Friars after signing a two year deal. Coming from Colorado there is legitimate concern over his stats. His road average was a respectable .281 this past year and he hit righties better than lefties. Expecting a 28 homer season will likely be a bit too much as their is a possibility of some platoon work for Payton that could push his AB's down to around 500. Expect more realistic numbers of 20 homers, 70-75 RBI's. 85 runs and 5-10 stolen bases while hitting .280.
San Francisco Giants: No Vlad and no Maddux, but they got Brett Tomko! Woo hoo! Tomko throws a lot of innings but he also throws a lot of homerun balls. The front five of the Opening Day line-up looks like it will be 2B Ray Durham, 1B J.T. Snow, C A.J. Pierzynski, LF Barry Bonds and 3B Edgardo Alfonzo. Bonds may very walk every single time he's up. Not once or twice a game. Every time. The words "Pacific Bell" were removed from the stadium's signage and replaced with "SBC". While that has no fantasy value whatsoever, it may interest people who enjoy watching signs taken down and then replaced with new ones.
St. Louis Cardinals: 2003 saw an awakening for Reggie Sanders, as his average improved for the first time since 1999. The 36 year old was signed by the St. Louis Cardinals this winter to try and fill a gap that JD Drew left in their outfield. Sanders had a very good rejuvenated year last year, hitting 31 homers, with 87 RBI's, and a .285 average for the Pirates last year. St. Louis signed him to a two year contract in hopes that he will repeat his performance of last year. He also showed some good speed and patience with 15 steals and an OBP of .345. Sanders is getting old, and probably won't be able to repeat last years performance, especially since it was his best year in the last 5. He was only able to play in 130 games last year, and that number should also decrease this year, as age means more time off. Sanders could be a good pickup for cheap, but there are better, younger options out there.