Fantasy Insider 12/19

It's never too early to find some juicy nuggets of information that may propel you into your Fantasy League Championship. PinstripesPlus Members can get an early jump on fantasy baseball in this weekly article during the offseason.

Anaheim Angels: The Angels and GM Bill Stoneman have decisions to make by mid-weekend, concerning arbitration eligible players SS David Eckstein, 2B Adam Kennedy, RHP Gary Glover, LHP Jarrod Washburn, DH/C Greg Wooten and RHP Ben Weber. Wooten has taken steps during the offseason to trim down in attempts to convince team officials that he can be the No. 2 catcher. Unless the club believes he can, he is not likely to be offered a contract and will become a free agent. Infielders Eckstein and Kennedy are both candidates to be non-tendered, though the Angels have failed, thus far, to land any of the big name shortstops on the market. Either way the shortstop position will likely be filled with someone other than Eckstein, though he may be moved to 2B while the team non-tenders Kennedy. Washburn and Weber are certainly going to be offered contracts, keeping them with the team at least through 2004. Reliever Gary Glover's destiny could be up in the air as the club could use a left-hander in his spot. RF Jose Guillen signed a two-year deal with the Halos, worth $6.7 million. The acquisition of Guillen means the team can play Tim Salmon at DH full-time.

Baltimore Orioles: Hey look, Baltimore finally made an acquisition that mattered. The O's signed free-agent shortstop Miguel Tejada to a six-year deal, making him the heir to Cal Ripken for the title of franchise player. Tejada is one of the best four shortstops in the league, bringing a lot of raw power to the table. Camden Yards is a slightly better hitter's park than Oakland Coliseum, but going to the new toughest division and baseball and a very questionable lineup could hurt Tejada slightly. He could replicate last season's final numbers, but expect averages closer to his post-All Star splits. Look for a .295/28/100/80/8 season and draft accordingly.

Boston Red Sox: A move that might have gone overlooked in all the ARod/Manny/Nomar talks was the trade Boston made with the Rockies for 2B/UT player Mark Bellhorn. Just two years removed from his 27 home run season for the Cubs in just 445 at-bats, Bellhorn joins the Sox as a potential starting second baseman (note: that's far from a final decision). Keep an eye on the Red Sox second base situation closely. There is talk of Boston signing Pokey Reese. Even so, Bellhorn could fly under the ARod/Manny radar and could be a nice sleeper in your AL only leagues as Reese doesn't appear to be a regular 2B anymore.

Chicago White Sox: Joe Crede- 3B- At the age of 25, Joe Crede finally became the White Sox everyday third baseman. The Sox's number one prospect played well in his first full year in the majors, managing a .261 average with 19 homeruns, and 75 RBI's. He had a good eye in his first year in the bigs, managing a .308 OBP. He also had an adequate year in the field, with only 14 errors and a .964 fielding percentage. These were not ROY numbers, however they were promising numbers for the young third baseman. He looks to improve his numbers in 2004 season, and all indicators are that he will. This is a kid who could one day be a perennial allstar for the southsiders.

Cleveland Indians: Was the botched Omar Vizquel deal a good thing or a bad thing for the Indians? Vizquel is the team's leader, but his surgically repaired knees don't bode well for his production on the field. Vizquel missed the vast majority of the 2003 season with his knee injury, but his 2002 season was his best ever. Assuming he can stay healthy, expect numbers more in line with his career stats: .270/5/45/90/12. Definitely not a top fantasy play, but if you lose out on the big shortstops, he's no slouch.

Detroit Tigers: Detroit added some protection for Dmitri Young with the acquisitions of Fernando Vina and Rondell White. White was an All-Star last season with the Padres and he got even better after he was traded to the Royals. Staying in the AL Central could be agreeable to White, who could have another solid season. The only problem is that Tiger Stadium is a serious pitcher's park and will likely rob White of a lot of his power. A .280 average 19 homeruns and 75 RBI can be expected, good enough for a fourth outfielder.

New York Yankees: The Yankees finally completed their deal with Gary Sheffield and brought the slugger to pinstripes. Great for the Yankees, but how will it affect fantasy owners? Good as Sheffield is, you have to expect a decline from his 2003 season for several reasons. First, he enjoyed hitting in the middle of a lineup that was actually better than the Yankees in Atlanta. Second, Yankee Stadium is not too kind to right-handed power hitters, so expect a mild decline in homeruns. Third, Sheffield had a career year and is getting older, chances are he'll go through some natural decline. Reasonable numbers to expect: .310/30/120/95/15. Still a top-flight fantasy player in any situation, but don't necessarily go after him in the first round.

Oakland A's: Oakland re-signed left-hander Ricardo Rincon to a two-year contract worth $3.65 million and are said to be very close to a three-year pact with southpaw Arthur Rhodes, possibly to be the team's closer in 2004. The A's acquired lefty starter Mark Redman from the Florida Marlins for reliever Mike Neu. If Redman stays on the roster, he becomes the third southpaw in the starting rotation joining Barry Zito and Mark Mulder. The Athletics must make arbitration decisions on a few key players by Saturday night's deadline. Right-hander Chad Bradford, DH Eurubiel Durazo, 2B Frank Menechino, and Redman, are all eligible. Beane finished a busy week by trading a player to be named later for Expos C Mike Barrett and then the following day he dealt Barrett to the Chicago Cubs for another player to be named later. It's possible that the player to be named could be current Cubs catcher Damian Miller. Rumors are still stirring about a possible deal where the A's would acquire Paul Loduca from Los Angeles in return for Jermaine Dye, with finances being the hang-up.

Seattle Mariners: The Mariners reached a four-year deal with Ichiro Suzuki early Thursday, avoiding arbitration with the 30-year-old. Terms of the deal have yet to be disclosed. Seattle lost out on Miguel Tejada, who signed a six-year $72 million deal in Baltimore, and is now focusing their attention to other players to fill the voids on the left side of the infield. GM Bill Bavasi went shopping in his old neighborhood, signing former Angels Scott Spiezio to a three-year $9.15 million deal to mainly play third base for the M's. The Mariners sent IF/DH Greg Colbrunn and cash to the Arizona Diamondbacks for reserve outfielder Quinton McCracken, to fill the fourth outfielder role. The M's had a deal in place to acquire SS Omar Vizquel from the Cleveland Indians for infielder Carlos Guillen, but Vizquel, coming off of two knee surgeries, failed the team's physical. The club is now leaning toward either trading for White Sox SS Jose Valentin, or starting the season with Guillen back at short. The team has several arbitration decisions to make yet, with C Ben Davis and right-handers Gil Meche, Joel Pineiro, and Freddy Garcia still unsigned for 2004. Garcia is the biggest question mark as Bavasi continues to try and trade the 27-year-old. The two-time all-star could make as much as $9 million in arbitration, if it goes that far, and the team is trying to avoid the same result as last season when Garcia won his arbitration case.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays: The D'Rays signed Jose Cruz, Jr as a free agent. It's always interesting to see how players do when they change leagues. Remember though, that Cruz started in the American League, so he has an idea of what he's getting himself into. In 2003, Cruz hit 4 homeruns and drove in 8 runs while hitting .298 against AL teams. He hit .250 with 20 homeruns overall, so his numbers in inter-league play were pretty good. Keep in mind too, that Tampa Bay was looking to sign a closer, but still haven't been able to get a big name reliever to commit. That could mean that Lance Carter will return to the closer's role in 2004.

Texas Rangers: The Rangers entire franchise remains on hold as they await the result of the possible trade off S Alex Rodriguez for outfielder Manny Ramirez. 2B Michael Young and closer Francisco Cordero are the club's only two arbitration eligible players. Young is rumored to possibly move to shortstop if AROD is traded, making way for GM John Hart to sign free agent 2B Todd Walker. Nothing is going to happen until the Rodriguez deal is resolved. Nothing.

Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays may have found a closer in Justin Speier. The Jays got Speier from Colorado as part of a three-team trade. Speier was 3-1, 4.05 with the Rockies, which isn't bad considering that he pitched more than half of his innings at Coors Field, where his ERA was more than one run higher than on the road. When away from Coors, Speier was 2-1, 3.38. In save situations, Speier converted 9 out of 12 opportunities, but in his career, he has converted just 10 out of 19 saves. Also, don't overlook Miguel Batista when you're looking for pitching. He signed as a free agent with Toronto and they got a bargain. Batista could be set to be one of the better pitchers in the majors before too long.

Arizona Diamondbacks: The D-backs continue to not dazzle fantasy owners with the acquisitions of free agent catcher Brent Mayne (via free agency) and infielder Craig Colbrunn (in exchange for outfielder Quinton McCracken). So far, the only dependable snake players you can find to bolster your line-ups are the Unit and Webb for your pitchers and Luis Gonzalez and new first baseman Richie Sexson for your batsmen. Beyond those four, avoid a Diamondback player if you can help it.

Chicago Cubs: Kyle Farnsworth- P- Farnsworth rebounded in 2003 to have an excellent season as the setup man for the Chicago Cubs. In 77 games, Farnsworth had a 3.30 ERA and 92 strikeouts. He was able to get his head on straight, partially thanks to Dusty Baker, and throw strikes on the mound. He only gave up 36 walks, showing much better control than before. If Farnsworth can continue to concentrate on baseball, and keep his pitches in the zone, then he will be one of the better setup men in baseball next year. His flaming fastball make him one of the toughest right handed pitchers to hit out of the bullpen.

Cincinnati Reds: With the number of injuries that Reds outfielders have suffered, it's important to look at who might fill in if injuries hit again. Wily Mo Pena, Reggie Taylor and Ruben Mateo are all out of options. They're competing with Ryan Freel and Stephen Smitherman for reserve jobs. One other issue is the fact that Mateo is eligible for arbitration, so the Reds have to make a decision on him. Taylor is also injury prone, so Wily Mo Pena looks like a good bet to make the team. Another arbitration eligible member of the Reds is catcher Jason LaRue. It's unlikely that he would be non-tendered, but the Reds might still try to trade him and bring in a cheaper catcher.

Colorado Rockies: In 2003, the Rockies finished 74-88 and lost 40 games by one or two runs. That has prompted them to move their best starter, Shawn Chacon, into the closer's role. Chacon has the potential to save 35-40 games with the team and his strikeouts per inning will go up. One concern is his WHIP. He does not have what is considered a closer's WHIP such as a John Smoltz or Eric Gagne and will probably hover in the 1.30 area. He did, however, pitch better with runners on than he did with no one on base. Obviously, his win total will also drop, but his value for the year is just as good if not better than 2004.

Houston Astros: Andy Pettitte- P - The Houston Astros made a huge improvement for their team this off season when they acquired Andy Pettitte via free agency. Pettitte took a home town discount to join the Stros, even though the Yankees offered him a lot more money. He was a twenty game winner in 2003, finishing 21-8 with a 4.02 ERA. This goes along with his career, having a slightly lower career ERA at 3.95. Pettitte is known as the Moose, because he almost always throws 200 innings in a season. He is a workhorse, and the Astros truly needed one. Pettitte had 180 strikeouts last year and 50 walks. He will do well for Houston, but must be careful of the hitter friend Juice Box. He will have the advantage of being new to the NL hitters, and should have an excellent year for the Astros.

Los Angeles Dodgers: Kevin Brown gone, Jeff Weaver in (along with a few million bucks). Giants manager, Felipe Alou, fears that the Dodgers' cost cutting could be making room for Vladimir Guerrero. Since the team doesn't have an owner yet, it may either be a while or too late to get the much sought after slugger. They were rumored to have begun pursuit of shortstop Miguel Tejada, but those hopes were dashed when he took Peter Angelos' money in Baltimore. Basically, no news (again) for the Dodgers.

Milwaukee Brewers: The talk is contract extension for Geoff Jenkins. The outfielder batted .296 in 2003 with 28 homers and 95 RBI's. The problem for Jenkins future evaluation will be if he accepts a new contract. His fantasy value for the short term will likely go down slightly as he is the only threat to drive in runs until the unbelievable Brewers farm system starts to show up. This year he may post roughly the same numbers as he slides into the cleanup spot vacated by Richie Sexson, and in two years, if he stays with the club, he could see the Milwaukee renaissance and his numbers could skyrocket. Of course, if he is traded to a contending club, his numbers will go up with better protection in the lineup.

Montreal Expos: There were rumblings that Nick Johnson failed his physical with the Expos. Montreal then said there was simply some confusion about some results and that Johnson was okay. Is he really okay? The concern centers on Johnson's wrist that has been injured more than once in his professional career. Johnson's 2003 stats were pretty consistent throughout the season, but he did fall off to a .234 average - his lowest of the season - in the month of September. Wrist injuries can be pretty tricky and long lasting. You have to figure Johnson is okay, since the Expos didn't attempt to void the trade, but be careful. Sometimes, smoke means fire.

New York Mets: The Mets were terrible in 2003, going 66-95. It doesn't appear like there would be much fantasy value on a team like this, especially on the pitching front. Jae Seo had a phenomenal rookie season for the Mets despite going 9-12. Seo walked just 46 batters in the season to keep his WHIP ratio to 1.27! The most promising statistic for Seo was his performance down the stretch. Most rookie pitchers hit a wall before season's end, but Seo actually got stronger. Seo went just 1-4 in his last six starts but allowed two or fewer runs in five of those starts to bring his final ERA down to 3.82 on the year. In fact, Seo allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight of his last ten starts! With the Mets' improved defense heading into 2004, Seo's win total should improve after allowing 14 unearned runs in 2003.

Philadelphia Phillies: Watch what happens with Kevin Millwood's arbitration decision. If he doesn't accept arbitration, odds are he won't be back in Philly. That means that Ryan Madson has a better than average shot at being the fifth starter and Madson is the real deal. He's the first of what will likely be a long wave of very good pitching prospects to hit the majors (if you don't include Brandon Duckworth) and he is many times under-rated. Madson went 12-8, 3.50 at AAA and pitched just two innings in the majors in September, but was literally unhittable, pitching two perfect innings against Atlanta. If you've got roster room and Millwood doesn't accept arbitration, Madson is worth watching.

Pittsburgh Pirates: The Pirates lost out on five prospects this week in the Rule V Draft which means the current players will get more chances. Recently signed Daryle Ward, 28, struggled last season with Los Angeles as he hit just .183 with no homers and nine RBIs in 52 games. He was sent to Triple-A Las Vegas on July 24 and batted .297 with four homers and 24 RBIs in 31 games. Expect him to rebound playing full time in the Pirates outfield next season. This is a typical Pirates move – signing a player in a down year and making him a commodity come the trading deadline. Ward could be that guy. He has power, speed, and was once thought the future in Houston. "Ward has shown some power in the past and at different times he's done some solid things at the major league level with the bat. Hopefully, he can recapture that," GM Dave Littlefield said.

San Diego Padres: Now is the time to draft two time Padres' Minor League Player of the Year Josh Barfield. Barfield heads to Double-A this season and is looking to continue his dominance of the minors. Playing second base, the recently turned 21-year old (Dec. 17) doubled almost every major hitting stat while moving up a league and in roughly the same amount of games. His doubles went from 22 to 46, triples from 3 to 6, homers from 8 to 16 and RBI's from 57 to 128. He also walked 26 more times to better his plate discipline. With Mark Loretta's contract up after 2005, look for Barfield to slide right into the starting lineup in 2006. The only question is will he remain at second or move to another position.

San Francisco Giants: Owner Peter Magowan must have a lot of Christmas shopping to do because he's not spending a red cent on decent players so far in the off-season. The team acquired outfielder Dustan Mohr from the Twins in exchange for a minor leaguer. They now have approximately 3456 reserve outfielders and no legitimate everyday player to occupy right field. Despite leading the NL and ranking third overall in attendance, raking in cash hand over fist in their ballpark and getting postseason dollars in the last two seasons, there will be no big contracts offered to a free agent like, say, Vladimir Guerrero. Rumors are heating up, however, regarding the team pursuing free agent future hall-of-famer Greg Maddux. They may or may not sign free agent pitcher Darren Oliver. If they get Maddux, get him on your team. If they get Oliver, forget him. Fast.

St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Morris- P - Morris continued to be the Cardinals ace in 2003, and at the age of 29, looks like he will continue his winning ways. He was 11-8 last year with a 3.76 ERA. He had 120K with only 39 BB, for nearly a 3:1 ratio. Morris has been steady in the last 3 years of his career, keeping his ERA under 4. He did have some injury problems though, and injuries have been a problem throughout his career. He has only thrown 200 innings three times in his career, and will have to stay healthy to continue to be the ace. If Morris can stay healthy, then he will be a good asset for the Cardinals next year, but have a backup plan, as Morris tends to get hurt in weird ways.

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