On Wednesday, astronomers announced that hundreds of black holes are roaming the galaxy, unattached to any stellar system. But don't worry, citizen. The odds that you'll encounter one are fantastically low.
The same cannot be said of the hundreds of MLB free agents who've been similarly adrift and sucking this offseason. You'll probably get mixed up with a few of those in fantasy leagues.
Excluding players who re-signed with their previous employers, this year's free agents – and the contracts associated with those free agents – have been somewhat frightening. However, this being a fantasy column, we don't really worry about contracts. Instead, we care about how a player's new surroundings might impact their 5X5 fantasy production.
We've already discussed two of the most significant offseason signings here, when we considered Kosuke Fukudome and Huroki Kuroda. Today we'll sift through various other acquisitions that affect fantasy owners. Next week – perhaps in the aftermath of a complete Orioles talent-purge – we'll look at offseason trades.
But today, we're all about free agents. The list of signings below is not comprehensive by any means. We're looking exclusively at transactions involving players who will be drafted in a majority of public leagues, and who were not re-signed by their 2007 team. If you're hoping for information on Darin Erstad and Carlos Silva, please consult their player pages. And you're pathetic.
It's worth noting that with a few of the players below, new lineups and ballparks are the least of our worries. There are much bigger questions shaping their fantasy value.
In the case of at least one player, those questions were raised by a certain report that you may have heard about …
Eric Gagne to Milwaukee
For various reasons, I'm not entirely comfortable linking to that list of names in the Mitchell report. The actual evidence against each player is not equally strong, yet they're all displayed together as though they're equally guilty.
But in Gagne's case, there's a paper trail. This trail includes a USPS delivery receipt for a shipment from Kirk Radomski to "Dodger Stadium c/o Eric Gagne," and reference to a $3,200 cashier's check. There's also an email sent by a Red Sox scout to Theo Epstein discussing Gagne's suspected steroid use: "Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue. Has had a checkered medical past throughout career including minor leagues … Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk … "
And that's enough red flags for me.
You can't assign value to Gagne without considering the possibility that his peak years had something to do with performance enhancers. If they did, then you don't want to own a PED-less Eric Gagne in a fantasy league. It's also possible that a suspension awaits him in the months ahead. That delivery receipt was dated August 9, 2004, which is after MLB introduced penalties related to steroid testing.
Oh, and another thing: Gagne was atrocious after the All-Star break last season. He posted a 6.57 ERA, a 1.78 WHIP and a .324 BAA.
You shouldn't exclude any uninjured player from your pre-draft rankings, especially a closer. But there are several middle relievers I'll rank ahead of Gagne. In fact, there are too many of them to list. It would not be a surprise to see Derrick Turnbow – who actually has a PED past of his own – lead the Brewers in saves in 2008.
Andruw Jones to the L.A. Dodgers
It seems ridiculous to ask what the impact of a move to Dodger Stadium will be for Jones. The bigger questions are A) can he still hit, and B) is he even worth owning in a mixed league?
In 2007, the answers were A) he couldn't and B) no, he wasn't. Jones was unrelentingly bad last season – against everyone, and in all situations. He hit .225 against left-handers and .221 against righties. He hit .186 in day games and .236 at night. He hit .196 at home and .247 on the road. Was he any better after the All-Star break? Sure, his OPS soared all the way from .720 to .728.
In a 5X5 fantasy league, there's just no owning a player who hits .222 over 560-plus at bats. The 26 home runs aren't worth it; that's really only seven or eight more HR than the average owned hitter will produce in a public league. In a 12-team mixed configuration, there will be lots of undrafted players who out-produce Jones' 2007 line: 83 R, 26 HR, 94 RBI, 5 SB, .222 AVG.
But this is a new season. Prior to 2007, Jones was an oddly consistent 100-35-100-5-.265 sort of player. That's well above league-average in three categories, and not disastrously below-average in the other two.
In my first experts mock draft of the season, Jones was selected with the first pick of the 10th round. That's reasonable. Dodger Stadium has actually been more HR-friendly than Turner Field over the past three years, and considering that Jones has a two-year $36.2 million deal, you can assume that he – not James Loney, not Matt Kemp – will begin the season batting clean-up for LA. Yet if Jones spends the first month of the 2008 season in the .190-.210 range again, fantasy owners shouldn't be as patient as they were in 2007.
Aaron Rowand to San Francisco
Unless they pull off an astonishing and unforeseen trade, the Giants won't score any runs next year. They were second-to-last in the National League in runs in 2007, and they haven't improved. Here's their depth chart. Just try to turn that into a productive lineup.
Rowand figures to bat squarely in the heart of all that non-scoring in San Francisco. He's spent the past three seasons in home parks that have been exceedingly HR-friendly, and now he's moving to a park that is not. If he remains healthy, you can expect an almost perfectly league-average season: 80 R, 18 HR, 85 RBI, 10 SB, .285. (When we say "league-average," we mean the average production for an active player in a public league). Despite his reputation for reckless self-sacrifice, Rowand has actually played 157 or more games in two of the past three years. He's not inclined to walk, so he's far less interesting in leagues that use on-base percentage.
Kazuo Matsui to Houston
Entering his fifth Major League season, Matsui has yet to play more than 114 games in any year. That's a worry. But he was finally productive in at least one fantasy category last season, stealing 32 bases in 36 attempts. The switch-hitting Matsui was significantly better against righties than lefties last year (.757 OPS vs. RHP, .697 vs. LHP), but over his career that split isn't as severe. The more troubling fact is that he was completely useless away from Coors Field in 2007. He hit .330/.381/.482 at home and .249/.304/.333 on the road.
Still, assuming Matsui hits near the top of the Astros batting order next year – and that's not to suggest that he should hit there, just that he will – you should expect more steals and runs than the average owned player. He'll likely bat immediately ahead of Miguel Tejada, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence. He's not a top-12 fantasy second baseman, but he's someone to own in a league that starts three middle infielders.
Francisco Cordero to Cincinnati
OK, so we said that we don't worry about contracts in fantasy. Thus, the four-year, $46 million deal that the 32-year-old Cordero received from Cincinnati isn't really relevant. It might seem like an odd way for a 72-win team with the league's highest ERA to spend $46 million, but whatever. That's the Reds' business. They signed Cordero, and he's been a very useful relief pitcher over the past five seasons. Last year he posted the best WHIP (1.11) and lowest BAA (.218) that he's had in any season with 60 or more innings pitched.
His ERA would have looked better if it weren't for this game at the end of Milwaukee's season, too.
In that recent experts draft, Cordero was selected in the middle of the eighth round during a nine-closer run that began with J.J. Putz and ended with Bobby Jenks. (Funny thing about experts drafts: no one ever wants to take the first closer. It's like being the first dude to wear a lavender shirt to the office. But once Papelbon goes, it's on). It's worth noting that Great American has been one of the three most home run-friendly ballparks in each of the past three seasons, and that the Reds can't be expected to win as often as the Brewers. That shouldn't be enough to affect Cordero too dramatically in your rankings, though. He's a top-10 fantasy closer … which is another way of saying that he's the ninth or tenth ranked closer.
Torii Hunter to the L.A. Angels
Again, we're not here to judge. The Angels already seemed to have the poor man's Torii Hunter in Gary Matthews Jr. (That is, if the poor man was willing to spend $10 million per year for a centerfielder). It's entirely possible that Matthews will, in fact, be part of a deal to land another slugger. The Angels were 27th in MLB in home runs last season.
We can safely assume that Mike Scioscia will wring every last stolen base out of the 32-year-old Hunter. The Angels led MLB in steals from 2004 through 2006, and they were third last season. He doesn't steal at a particularly good rate – he has 126 career SB and 60 CS – but he will run. This helps his 5X5 value. Hunter doesn't have a significant home/away split, so leaving Minnesota isn't a huge worry, fantasy-wise. The Angels also scored 104 more runs than the Twins last year. Hunter will be drafted way too early in leagues that use on-base percentage – his career OBP is .324 – but in a public league, he'll go somewhere in picks 50 to 60, in the neighborhood of the other Hunter (Pence), Nick Markakis and Corey Hart.
It should be noted that these players were deliberately excluded, since they really shouldn't be drafted in public leagues: Mark Prior (San Diego), Tadahito Iguchi (San Diego), Troy Percival (Tampa Bay), Miguel Olivo (Kansas City), Milton Bradley (Texas), Paul Lo Duca (Washington), David Eckstein (Toronto), Geoff Jenkins (Philadelphia), Matt Clement (St. Louis), Marcus Giles (Colorado), Tom Glavine (Atlanta). You're free to do as you please, but I'm not recommending them.