It wasn't the buzziest winter in New York, but it was an effective one. General manager Brian Cashman traded for a prized young arm (Michael Pineda) and landed an affordable veteran hurler (Hiroki Kuroda), and the scapegoat of the starting rotation (Nuke LaLoosh) was shown the door.
The American League East is the big boy division, where money and intelligence meet, but the other four teams might be muttering "Damn Yankees" at the end of the season again. New York has a dynamic club on paper, and there's plenty of flexibility if and when the braintrust wants to make a major acquisition (be it before the season, or the in-season annexing that happens in July and August).
Most of the offensive pieces are the same, and that's a good thing: the Yankees ranked second, first and first in runs scored over the last three seasons. The notable newcomers are the pitchers, so let's start this thing off on the mound. Bring your own rosin bag and we'll figure it out.
Did Michael Pineda's fantasy value move up or down from the team switch?
Pineda's change of scenery goes down as a fascinating case study. He should get more support from the Yankees, in various forms - offense, bullpen, even defense - but he'll have to face harder opponents in the AL East loop, and Yankee Stadium is a bigger challenge than Safeco Field, especially on fly balls to right field.
And then there's the "second time around" concept, the sophomore jinx if you will. Who has the advantage now that Pineda is a known commodity: the hitters or the young ace?
When I put Pineda's trade through the car wash, I conclude the move will be good for him. I know a lot of roto players want to put pitcher wins in the ultimate fluke file, but I'll take my chances with a pitcher in the womb of the Yankees over a poor hurler stuck with a losing franchise. Pineda is also under less pressure on the Yanks (never hurts), and it's not like the AL West was completely devoid of bad matchups (hello, Albert, hello Arlington).
Pineda also showed the ability to make adjustments as a rookie pitcher. He showed an improved slider and changeup in the second half of 2011 and his ground-ball rate spiked as a result. The improvement of the change is paramount as Pineda looks for a way to consistently handle left-handed batters (go look at those dimensions in the Bronx again). See if you can land Pineda as your third or fourth option in a mixer; I doubt you can do it in the Tri-State area, but in other parts of the country it's a realistic goal.
What about Hiroki Kuroda? Is it a happy song for him, too?
While a lot of the Kuroda setup is similar to what I described with Pineda, above, he's got a number of things working against him. His ground-ball rate dropped almost eight percent last year in LA while his gopher rate spiked. And the difference between the NL West and the AL East is extreme, a bigger challenge than what Pineda is facing. The Giants (570 runs) and Padres (593 runs) couldn't score in a women's prison with a briefcase full of pardons.
Over in the softball league, heck, even the Orioles put up 708 runs last year. The NL is largely about pitchers bunting and flailing, double switches, the weakness at the end of a lineup. There are spots where a pitcher can cruise. In the AL, just about anyone can take you deep, 1 to 9. The hitters dig in and swing from the hels.
And then there's the age component: Kuroda just turned 37. The Yankees don't have to worry about a step backwards here - they're just asking him to be a capable pitcher in the middle of the rotation somewhere. In a standard mixed league, Kuroda is the type of pitcher who could get added and dropped several times in 2012 as owners play the matchup market, the streaming game. He'll need to ace the audition before I sign up.
Is it ever acceptable to yell "Regression!" in a crowded theatre? Let's talk Curtis Granderson.
In a general sense, Granderson is the yin to Jacoby Ellsbury's yang, a well-known and well-liked center fielder who's coming off a season so magical, roto heads don't know how to handle it for the ensuring year.
Let's just keep one thing in mind with both of these guys: regression is not a destination, it's not an answer on its own. Even if Granderson loses a notable chunk of last year's stats, he still might earn his draft-day price (or possibly return a profit). The lazy way out is to say "regression" and walk away. Instead we need to ask two questions: what might Granderson regress to, and how much is it going to cost to acquire him?
I see a few good reasons to believe in Grandy for 2012. The seeds for last year's career year were planted in the middle of 2010, when New York batting coach Kevin Long adjusted Granderson's plate mechanics and turned him into a platoon-free weapon. Granderson clobbered southpaws last year (.272/.347/.597, 16 homers) and made it clear he doesn't need a caddy.
Granderson's breakout also can't be written off as a Yankee Stadium fluke. His home and away stats were just about even in 2011: .921 OPS at home, .911 OPS on the road. Grandy cranked 21 homers in New York, 20 out of a suitcase. There's no gimmick here, no obvious fly in the ointment.
So let's go to the projections, using the same approach we used with Ellsbury last week: wisdom of crowds. I collected seven sets of projections, including Bill James (no introduction needed), Fantasy Baseball Index (well respected) and Lindy's (I wrote their outfield section and did the OF projections). To the grid:
Looking at the seven sets of projections, I was surprised at the strong consensus. No one in the group had Granderson hitting fewer than 31 homers, and all of his counting numbers were clustered in the same area. The only debate came with batting average: some went as low as .250, while others will pay into the high .270s. Otherwise, this looks like a stable four-category stud worth going after.
And there's one other piece of great news here: the price isn't ridiculous. Granderson's current ADP is a reasonable 19.19, basically a second-round pick in a mixer. The Industry Mockers aren't jumping much earlier, where his ADP sits at 18.2. This doesn't make Granderson the steal of the century, but let's boil this down to simplest terms: this is a first-round producer at a second-round cost. I'll sign off on your Grandy selection; better yet, you pass on him and I'll scoop him up in the middle of the second round.
Any snippy comments for A.J. Burnett on the way out?
As this PQ goes to press, the loony liquidation is close to completion. Burnett is expected to go to Pittsburgh as a straight salary dump, with the Bucs picking up about $13 million of the $33 million remaining on the contract. The Yankees will recoup a pair of low-level prospects; basically, they're just looking to clear the deck, move some salary off the books.
Perhaps Burnett can find a spark in the NL, toiling for a low-profile club in a roomy, pitcher-friendly ballpark. Maybe he'll hit the Javier Vazquez lottery. Burnett did strike out 173 batters last year (full disclosure: I don't remember any of them), and his xFIP checks in at a reasonable 3.86. His strikeout rate surged over eight last season and his ground-ball rate rose to 49 percent. Burnett's HR/FB rate of 17 percent is a monumental fluke; it's just about impossible for him to match that ratio of unluckiness for 2012. All I'm asking is that you keep an open mind on this one.
There should be another cleat to drop after the Burnett deal goes final: the Yankees will probably add a veteran bat to the rack, with DH candidate Raul Ibanez the likely frontrunner. Ibanez's pull-happy stroke might play nicely in The Bronx, but he slashed .211/.232/.353 against lefties last year, which hurts the mixed-league juice. I can't see how he'll be a full-time player for anyone (fantasy or reality) in 2012.