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Tuesday, January 17, 2012
V-Mart tears ACL, out for 2012

By Tristan H. Cockcroft
ESPN.com

The catcher position, already one of the thinnest in fantasy baseball, suffered a significant hit on Tuesday.

Victor Martinez
Victor Martinez ranked highest among catcher-eligible players on the 2011 Player Rater.

To put the dearth of talent at catcher into perspective, only 10 cracked the top 250 overall on our 2011 Player Rater, two ranked among the top 100 and the highest-ranking backstop placed 55th. That highest-ranking catcher, Victor Martinez, is now likely out for the entire 2012 season, after the Detroit Tigers announced on Tuesday that he suffered a torn ACL during his offseason training.

Martinez will be re-evaluated in a week's time, providing a slim chance at a late-2012 return if he can avoid surgery, but his keeper and prospective redraft owners should proceed under the assumption he won't be of help this season.

With Martinez sidelined, premium catchers become scarcer. Though he was the oldest catcher in my top 10 -- he's 33 years old -- his reputation more than justified his place as one of the three best in the game, and arguably the best. Since 2000, on only six occasions did any player manage at least 20 home runs and 100 RBIs while playing at least half his games at catcher; Martinez had three of them, and in two of them he batted better than .300.

That boosts -- albeit slightly -- the stock of the remaining elite backstops: Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana, whose 30 and 27 home runs ranked first and second among catchers; Brian McCann, whose 131 home runs since 2006 lead all catchers; Matt Wieters, whose 14 second-half homers were second-best among catchers; and Joe Mauer, whose .323 lifetime batting average is the highest of any player with at least 1,500 plate appearances who played at least half his games at catcher. Each gets a couple-spot bump in my rankings as a result.

As for the Tigers, with spring training approaching they're now left without a primary designated hitter, and remember, their second most common DH from 2012, Magglio Ordonez, is a free agent. The obvious move would be for the team to shift Delmon Young, a poor defender in left field, to DH, while targeting a free-agent outfielder like Yoenis Cespedes. Among available DH candidates are Johnny Damon, Vladimir Guerrero, Hideki Matsui and Carlos Pena. Apparently, Prince Fielder is not an option; he'd prefer to remain at first base, but the Tigers have Miguel Cabrera.

Speaking of Cabrera, should the Tigers fail to land an impact bat to fill Martinez's spot behind him in the order, his fantasy stats could suffer slightly. After all, it's worth pointing out that Cabrera paced the American League with 32 intentional walks and saw fastballs 52.3 percent of the time in 2010, before Martinez's arrival, but saw his intentional-walk number drop to 22 and his fastball percentage rise to 53.8 last season. Granted, Cabrera actually finished higher on the 2010 Player Rater, fifth overall, than in 2011, when he placed seventh, but the chances he'll be pitched around with more regularity are now greater. That could be enough to drop him from a top-three pick overall to somewhere lower in the top 10.

Oakland Athletics acquire Seth Smith

Fantasy owners are typically displeased whenever a Colorado Rockies hitter departs for greener … um, any other pastures, and they're certain to share that opinion upon learning that Seth Smith is the latest ex-Rockie. On Monday, the Oakland Athletics acquired Smith from the Rockies in exchange for right-hander Guillermo Moscoso and left-hander Josh Outman.

Unfortunately, Smith's statistics during his three seasons as a regular (2009-11) show a clear "Coors bump"; he had a .302/.367/.568 triple-slash line in his Coors Field games, compared with .248/.326/.410 on the road. In addition, while once a capable batsman against lefties -- his .868 OPS against left-handers in 2009 ranked 14th among lefties with 50 or more plate appearances -- Smith's performance against his weaker side has regressed considerably the past two seasons; he was a .194/.241/.271 hitter against lefties in 2010-11 combined. That could be a problem, considering the Athletics also have right-handers Collin Cowgill and Michael Taylor who could be candidates to steal starts against lefties.

Originally my No. 188 player overall, Smith the Athletic drops out of my top 250, and he's now 70th among outfielders.

As with hitters departing Coors, fantasy owners also tend to shy from pitchers moving to Coors, and they should do so with noted fly-baller, low-strikeout arms like Moscoso and Outman. Moscoso's 55.6 percent fly-ball rate in 2011, in fact, was the highest of any pitcher who threw at least as many as his 128 innings, and his 5.20 K's-per-nine ratio was 25th out of 145 pitchers with 100-plus innings. Outman, meanwhile, had a 39.8 percent fly-ball rate, nearly 4 percent higher than the major league average of 35.9, and his 5.40 K's-per-nine ratio ranked 57th out of 325 pitchers with 50-plus innings.

Should either pitcher make the Rockies' rotation out of spring training -- and Moscoso has a good shot at it -- don't count on him lasting in the role. Matchup-seekers could pick and choose their useful matchups, but don't count on many; mathematically, only 16-17 of a pitcher's 33 full-season starts would come at home.

Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.