In a public league, there's a very good chance that four of the 12 players selected in the first round of your draft will be third basemen. None of those four will be Scott Rolen or Troy Glaus. Instead, they'll be Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun, probably in that order.
Then Aramis Ramirez, Garrett Atkins and Chone Figgins will be taken sometime before the end of Round 5. Chipper Jones, Ryan Zimmerman, Adrian Beltre and Mike Lowell will be gone by the end of Round 10.
And at that point, 11 third basemen will be off the board in your 12-team league.
Then in the later rounds, a handful of relatively young third basemen will be selected – guys like Edwin Encarnacion, Evan Longoria, Josh Fields, Alex Gordon and Kevin Kouzmanoff – and your draft will end.
There's a very good chance that Rolen and Glaus will both begin the season as free agents in your league. This means that the recent St. Louis-Toronto trade involving these guys did not exactly have significant fantasy implications, at least not in public leagues.
I've participated in two experts mock drafts so far, each with 12 teams and 23 roster spots, and I still haven't seen anyone take Scott Rolen. Glaus went in the 18th round in one draft and the 14th in another, but these formats use a corner infield position. He was the 18th third baseman selected in my first draft and the 17th in the next.
These are two players recovering from injuries – they both had season-ending surgeries in September – who are clearly declining. Rolen will be 33 at the end of this season, and Glaus will be 32. It should be noted that Glaus has apparently purchased a few things from anti-aging clinics, so maybe he's functionally younger.
There was a time when Scott Rolen was universally considered the superior defensive third baseman, but that time wasn't 2007. While UZR greatly preferred Rolen to Glaus, other ambitious defensive metrics did not reveal much of a difference between them. (Here's one example, and here's another. Those links are both worth your time). If you were thinking that Toronto pitchers were the big winners in this deal, well … don't overreact. The Blue Jays also added David Eckstein this offseason, and I'm not aware of any serious defensive analysis that liked his performance in 2007.
Toronto was a significantly more HR-friendly environment than St. Louis last year, which would seem to give Rolen a slight edge. Or it will just bring both third basemen closer to league-average. Still, it seems ridiculous to discuss park effects with two players who failed to reach 400 at bats last year. The dominant issue with both Rolen and Glaus is durability. Neither player inspires confidence right now, which is why they'll go undrafted in many fantasy leagues, and why they'll be ranked between 15-20 at their position.
The only obvious winner in this trade is Tony La Russa. He no longer has to deal with a player who caused him more trouble in 2007 than that pesky L-M-N-O section of the alphabet.
As threatened previously, today we're looking at offseason deals and their impact on fantasy leagues. I'd hoped that we'd be able to discuss Johan Santana's move east or Erik Bedard's move west, but no such luck. Instead, we're left with these deals …
Nick Swisher to the White Sox
Was it last offseason that Swisher trained with lumberjacks and ate bears to get ready for the season? Or was that two years ago? Or did he train with bears and eat the lumberjacks?
The details are murky, but Swisher once did something in the woods that made us all excited to draft him. It seems like it happened last year … and then he hit only .262 with 22 HR, which didn't really help you much at all in a 5X5 league. His .381 on-base percentage made him plenty valuable in real life and in thousands of custom leagues, though.
Moving to Chicago clearly enhances Swisher's fantasy value. In each of the last five seasons, US Cellular Field has been either the best or the second-best park in the American League in which to hit home runs. Oakland has been a terrible HR environment. It would be no surprise to see Swisher put up a line similar to his 2006 season: 106 R, 35 HR, 95 RBI, .254/.372/.493. In my early rankings, he'll be just above the pileup of .240-hitting outfielders that includes Vernon Wells and Andruw Jones.
The prospects moving to Oakland in this trade – SP Gio Gonzalez, SP Fautino De Los Santos, OF Ryan Sweeney – all have a chance to achieve fantasy relevance at some point, but Gonzalez is the closest. In 150 innings at Double-A last season, the left-hander struck out 185 batters and managed a 3.18 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He led all minor league pitchers in Ks.
Josh Hamilton to the Rangers
If Hamilton had managed even 400 at bats last season, he'd have hit 25 HR with a .920-something OPS. He would not be considered a mid- to late-round outfielder in fantasy drafts; instead, he'd be much closer to Hunter Pence (think Round 6 or 7) than to Austin Kearns (Round 18 or 19). But if he hadn't been limited to 298 at bats due to various strains and odd gastrointestinal issues, maybe the 26-year-old wouldn't have been dealt for Edinson Volquez.
Nothing against Volquez, who seems likely to be the Reds fourth or fifth starter this season, and a decent speculative pick in NL-only leagues. He struck out 166 batters in 144.2 minor league innings last year, but he also walked 60, and that K/BB ratio worsened when Volquez reached Texas.
Hamilton is the guy you want in mixed leagues. He had a tragic R/L split last season, batting .314/.391/.637 against righties and only .222/.296/.292 against lefties. But again, we're not talking about a large number of at bats. If he's healthier – which, of course, is a substantial "if" – and hitting in a power-friendly park, Hamilton could massively outperform his ADP. He was selected in the 13th round of one my drafts, and the 17th round in another.
Dan Haren to the Diamondbacks
At the moment, Haren is 10th among all starting pitchers in ADP (58.8) at Mock Draft Central. He's just ahead of Justin Verlander, which seems wrong, but it's only mid-January. Tenth is the right neighborhood. Haren moves from a pitcher-friendly park to a decidedly hitter-friendly home, but he's also moving from a DH league to the NL West, where he'll see plenty of the Padres and Giants. His days as a great value pick are clearly over.
The troubling thing with Haren is that in each of the last two seasons, he's been much worse after the All-Star break. Last year he was brilliant before the break, posting a 2.30 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and .205 BAA; in the second half, his ERA leapt to 4.15, his WHIP to 1.50 and opposing batters hit .298. In 2006, the split was less severe, but it was still there: 3.52 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .240 BAA pre-break; 4.91 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .280 BAA post-break.
It's an issue. If you draft him, you have to think of him as a mid-summer trade chip.
The A's received a mound of prospects in the Haren trade, and the best of them figure to be OF Carlos Gonzalez and SP Brett Anderson. Gonzalez hit .288/.336/.478 with 38 doubles and 17 HR in 500 Double-A and Triple-A at bats last season. He's closer to achieving fantasy relevance than the 19-year-old Anderson. First base prospect Chris Carter was also dealt to Oakland in the Haren trade; he hit .291/.383/.522 with 25 HR as a 20-year-old at Single-A last season. None of these guys should be drafted just yet in standard AL-only leagues.
Delmon Young to the Twins
There are other pieces to this trade, of course, but the most interesting is the 22-year-old Young. As a 19-year-old at Double-A, Young hit 20 HR and stole 25 bases in just 330 at bats, while posting an OPS of .968. But we've been hearing about him forever, so it might seem like he's already a confirmed disappointment. In 645 major league at bats last season, he hit only 13 HR and stole 10 bases.
Once again, however, he's only 22. That's two years younger than Hunter Pence and Ryan Braun. Young was better than league-average in RBI (93) and AVG (.288) last season in a typical public league and his line-drive percentage was 21.1, which was 11th in the AL among qualifiers. I've selected Young in both of those experts drafts, in Rounds 7 and 8, and it's possible that I'm just irrationally high on him. But in a 12-team public league – and remember, that's the sort of format where guys like Scott Rolen will be free agents – you have to take chances on players who can be great, not merely good. That's Young.
The other players in this deal who might be useful in 2008 are Matt Garza and Jason Bartlett, who move to the Rays, and Brendan Harris, who moves to the Twins (and who seems to get traded every six months or so). The 24-year-old Garza – amazingly, he started at least five games at every level between Single-A and MLB in 2006 – is still just a fantasy spot-starter for now, a guy you add in head-to-head leagues when you need Ks. (This game was particularly awesome last season). Bartlett and Harris will probably open the fantasy year as something like the seventh and eighth best free agent options at their position in your mixed league.
The Rays also added hard-throwing 21-year-old RP Eduardo Morlan in the trade. He saved 18 games and struck out 92 batters in only 65.2 Single-A innings.
Jose Valverde to the Astros
Valverde was a great value pick last year, but he's going to be drafted just a little too high for me in 2008. Nothing against him, really. He was fantastic last season, leading the NL in saves with 47 and posting a 1.12 WHIP. But he's on an oddly Farnsworthian career path – great season, bad season, great, bad, great – and he'll usually be off the board before I start drafting saves. His 2007 season is Exhibit A in the case for waiting on closers.
Valverde isn't really the interesting part of this deal, though. The players he was dealt for – Chad Qualls, Chris Burke and Juan Gutierrez – aren't especially interesting either, at least not for 2008 fantasy purposes. The big open question is this: Who closes for Arizona? The contenders are Brandon Lyon, who's done it before, and Tony Pena, who has the better K-rate and fewer durability issues. If we're drafting today, Pena's the pick, although it can be argued that he's more useful to the Diamondbacks as a seventh or eighth inning, runners-on, no-margin-for-error sort of reliever.
Take a quick look at the Astros depth chart. If Valverde is either injured or ineffective, it's tough to identify a replacement.
Miguel Tejada to the Astros
Before the FBI began investigating Tejada, he'd already slipped to seventh at his position in ADP (72.2) at Mock Draft Central. He's going 37 picks after Derek Jeter, 24 picks after Troy Tulowitzki, and 20 picks after Carlos Guillen. That's a little surprising since Tejada hasn't really had a bad fantasy year since 1998, and he's basically been an elite, four-category, 162-game-per-season shortstop ever since.
But he's about to turn 32, he's facing profound legal problems, and last year he suffered an injury that ended one of the more impressive consecutive-game streaks in MLB history. So there you go: pick 72.2.
If he's allowed to re-enter the country and actually play, then spending a sixth or seventh round pick on Miguel Tejada isn't much of a risk. He was terrific after returning from the fractured wrist last season, hitting .300/.374/.609 in August with 10 HR and 24 RBI. The change in home parks isn't significant, and the Astros lineup will clearly produce a few runs – the heart of the order figures to be Tejada, Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, and Pence.
It's really a good thing you're not drafting for another two months, though, because the Tejada legal and biochemical situations need clarity.
Houston dealt quantity for him, not necessarily quality. There were a few familiar names in the package – notably Luke Scott, who may have some draft day value in AL-only leagues, and Matt Albers, who likely will not – but arguably the best prospect was 22-year-old lefthander Troy Patton. He was effective in 151.1 innings in the high minors last season, though not dominant. He struck out 93 and walked 44. In a public league, none of these new O's are worth considering.
Orlando Cabrera to the White Sox
If you miss out on the Round 1 shortstops – Hanley Ramirez, Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins – it's not unreasonable to just bypass that whole Guillen-Tejada-Young mess and draft Cabrera in the 11th or 12th round. He's moving to a friendlier environment for hitters, and he was already very good in three categories last year (101 R, 20 SB, .301 AVG), respectable in one (86 RBI), and tolerable in another (8 HR).
Cabrera was dealt for Jon Garland, who you should absolutely want on your real-life team, but not your fantasy team. He's an innings machine who rarely strikes anyone out (98 K in 208.1 IP last season). He also gives you an ERA well over 4.00 and a WHIP well over 1.30. Those things will ruin you in a public roto league with an innings limit.
Brad Lidge to the Phillies
After much fretting about Lidge's physical and psychological well-being, he ended up having a useful fantasy year: 19 saves, 88 K, 3.36 ERA, 1.25 WHIP. He moves to one of the more homer-friendly parks in baseball, which is an obvious concern. Lidge has allowed 19 HR over the past two seasons. In the early experts drafts, he's been selected in the Capps-Isringhausen-Street tier, in the 12th and 13th rounds. In a draft with normal humans – who aren't so determined to prove that they too eschew closers in the early rounds – Lidge will probably go a bit earlier, though still in the middle of a similar run.
This trade seems like an overwhelming success for Philadelphia, since it allows Brett Myers to return to the starting rotation, where he was terrific in 2005 and 2006 (and a wreck in April 2007). Hopefully Myers will recover from last season's usage. Just check his 2007 game log. That guy pretty much pitched an inning every day in September, and sometimes two.
Michael Bourn is the other interesting piece to this deal. He stole 45 bases in 50 attempts at Double-A and Triple-A in 2006, and he swiped 18 in 19 attempts for the Phillies last season. You can expect a useful one-category season from Bourn in Houston. Don't worry about whether he leads off; in fact, he probably shouldn't. If he's an everyday player, he's going to run-frequently and successfully. He'll also bat .270 and triple a lot more often than he homers. Obviously you'd prefer to get your stolen bases from players who can assist in other categories, but not every fantasy owner has that luxury.