Throughout January and February, we're reviewing offseason MLB transactions that have fantasy implications, and we're going team-by-team. This isn't quite like Hot Stove Daily. The focus here is limited. We're only looking at ownable fantasy players who've found new employers.
So far, the defending American League champs have spent $405 million less than the Yankees on new talent this offseason. The combined salaries of CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and AJ Burnett might very well exceed Tampa's total team payroll in 2009. Nonetheless, the Rays have clearly improved.
Their starting rotation required very little maintenance, of course. Tampa had the third-lowest team ERA in baseball last year (3.82), and their farm system is stacked with pitching talent. John Sickels gave grades of B-minus or better to six different Rays pitching prospects in his preliminary review of the system, and 22-year-old Jacob McGee (Tommy John surgery) wasn't even among them.
Tampa strengthened the bullpen by adding Joe Nelson, but he won't have mixed league relevance unless a few dominoes fall. He's on the radar in holds leagues, however, after last year's 1.19 WHIP and 10.0 K/9. The Rays also signed OF Gabe Kapler to a one-year deal, and they traded SP Edwin Jackson to Detroit for OF Matt Joyce. Again, these aren't moves that will affect your draft board in public leagues, but they certainly mean something in AL-only formats.
The Jackson-Joyce swap was a clear win for Tampa. With David Price joining the Rays' rotation, Jackson was expendable; Joyce is a cost-controlled young player with a nice glove and legit power (25 home runs at Triple-A and MLB in '08). There's an opportunity for Joyce to be the left-handed portion of an effective outfield platoon in '09. His batting average won't help you – over the past three minor league seasons, Joyce has hit just .260 – but he offers HR/RBI potential.
The Rays have signed exactly one player who figures to be universally owned in mixed leagues. The guy hit just .071/.316/.143 against them in the World Series, but he's been a reliable (if flawed) fantasy option for several seasons...
Pat Burrell, signed for two years, $16 million
Burrell is a proven liability in batting average – he's hit somewhere in the .250s in four of the past five years – but he's been useful in the power categories. He delivered 33 homers in 2008, and he's finished with at least 20 home runs in each of the past eight seasons. There's no dramatic change in park factor to worry about, nor is there a home/away split worth discussing. Burrell could easily produce another 75-30-90 season. Expect the right-handed Burrell to DH for the Rays and hit no lower than sixth, behind Evan Longoria and Carlos Pena. You're still thinking of him as a third outfielder for fantasy purposes; his Mock Draft Central ADP is 147.6. However, if your league uses OBP in place of AVG, he gets a serious bump.
The Rays have no obligation to Burrell beyond his age-33 season, and the money here is fairly modest by MLB standards. Nice acquisition, all things considered.
Programming Note: The blog editor will be attending the FSTA/FSWA
boondoggle industry conference over the next few days, so Scott Pianowski has Hot Stove duty. We're finishing up the AL East this week.
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