Sometimes the food at the cocktail hour beats that of the main course.
Such was the case with this year's MLB winter meetings. The weeks preceding the annual event brought us big news surrounding big fantasy baseball names, most notably Robinson Cano, Jacoby Ellsbury and Prince Fielder, three of the top 15 players overall in my early 2014 rankings. The meetings themselves, by comparison, saw no players ranked within my top 190 overall changing teams.
That's not to characterize the week as entirely forgettable. This was a week of lower-tier talent changing hands, a respite, if you will, before a dessert of bigger news. Remember that Shin-Soo Choo, Matt Garza, Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana, Nelson Cruz and a slew of closers remain unsigned, and there's always the possibility of a David Price trade upcoming.
And, even if this was the baked-chicken-breast-with-side-of-rice-pilaf of winter meeting meals, it was still a tasty, albeit plain, dish. One that is especially relevant to those seeking value on the lower-rankings tiers.
Let's examine the week's happenings, going in order of fantasy relevance:
In a three-team trade, the Arizona Diamondbacks acquired Mark Trumbo and two players to be named later, the Chicago White Sox acquired Adam Eaton and the Los Angeles Angels acquired Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago
It's the rare trade more exciting in fantasy than for the on-field terms, though Diamondbacks fans might insist they're every bit as excited, being that they received a player who, in the past three seasons combined, has hit six fewer home runs (95) than the players the Diamondbacks surrendered have played major league games (101). Whatever your take on Trumbo -- and most critics will cite his questionable left-field defense and his low on-base percentage -- the case can be made that every player in this trade improved in fantasy value.
Trumbo improved most, primarily because the deal meant departing a pitching-friendly park for a hitting-friendly venue, even if the 2013 statistics at Angel Stadium and Chase Field had them close, and both middling-to-pitcher-friendly. He'll benefit thanks to more homer-friendly, left-field dimensions, as Chase Field had the seventh highest home run/fly ball percentage to left (16.2 percent) with Angel Stadium 22nd (12.1 percent). Keep in mind that he has hit 63 of his 95 homers to left field, 41 of those to "far left" (20 percent of the field working from the left-field line to the right). Normally a first-half performer -- 60 of those 95 homers have been hit before the All-Star break -- Trumbo might enjoy a quick start despite the league switch, earning himself a bump to 103rd in my overall rankings (14th among first base-eligibles), but there's little question that such a hot start would make him an ideal midseason trade candidate.
Eaton's gain is from both a playing time and base-stealing potential perspective, as all indications are that he'll be the starting center fielder for the White Sox, with Alejandro De Aza either being traded or utilized in a platoon arrangement. Eaton rarely ran in 2013; he attempted steals on only 7.4 percent of his opportunities (as judged by Baseball-Reference.com), ranking 104th among players with 50 or more opportunities. Under Robin Ventura, whose teams attempted the 11th- and ninth-most steals during his first two seasons as manager, Eaton might go back to being more of an on-base/base-stealing threat, and while the move didn't improve his rank, he's still a draftable player, checking in at 217th.
The Angels, meanwhile, picked up two left-handers who will become instant rotation candidates, both of whom have greater odds of fantasy success escaping homer-friendly ballparks for the more spacious confines of Angel Stadium. Skaggs' prospect stock has dropped along with his velocity -- or at least the reports are that his velocity is down, as detailed minor league velocity readings are difficult to acquire -- but as he's a pitcher still honing his changeup to help against right-handers, a larger left field at least increases his odds of fantasy matchup appeal (more so in AL-only formats). Santiago, meanwhile, will experience a similar boost, as a fly baller with sketchy control who will be a stronger fit in Angel Stadium than the homer haven that is U.S. Cellular Field. As his WHIP is questionable, his ceiling is lower than Skaggs', but at least he's now a more attractive home-game matchups candidate in his new digs.
Morrison's move from Miami might have been the most intriguing transaction of the winter meetings, as the prospect of his playing almost anywhere else has been an exciting possibility for some time. The stats support it: He was a .228 hitter with five home runs at Marlins Park -- compared to .245 with 12 dingers on the road -- in his two seasons for the Marlins since the venue opened. His home run/fly ball percentage was a whopping 11 percent higher on the road than at home. Morrison does come with questions: Knee problems have plagued him for much of the past two seasons, and his .183/.266/.225 slash line against lefties gives him the look of a platoon man. A fresh start in a ballpark that, while not one of the best for left-handed power, is an improvement, should make him one of the more interesting late-round picks, even in mixed leagues. He's now my No. 209 player overall (No. 21 first baseman) based on his upside potential.
Unfortunately for save-seekers, Capps joins a Marlins bullpen that has as many as four stronger options: Incumbent closer Steve Cishek, plus A.J. Ramos, Mike Dunn and Arquimedes Caminero. Once a closer-in-waiting in Seattle, Capps would need a lights-out spring to warrant even NL-only consideration.
The Jones deal spawned the Morrison trade, but the Hart deal was a more puzzling development, considering Morrison's arrival in Seattle on the same day. A clear platoon man -- he batted .265/.324/.486 against right-handers, but only .160/.205/.270 against left-handers, the past three seasons combined -- Jones shouldn't suffer as much in terms of his power potential in Miami as you might think. Sure, Marlins Park had the majors' second-worst home run/fly ball percentage to right field -- where Jones hit 42 of his 58 homers from 2011-13 -- last season (7.5 percent), but Pittsburgh's PNC Park ranked only one spot higher (8.7) and has historically been one of the worst parks in baseball for left-handed power. So long as he's used right, never starting against lefties, Jones' fantasy prospects should be to spin his 2013 wheels.
Hart, however, has much to prove come spring training. Microfracture surgeries on both knees -- his right in January, his left in July -- shelved him for 2013, and it's unclear how healthy he'll be to begin the year. His speed will almost assuredly disappear, but don't forget that he hit the 18th most homers in baseball from 2010-12 (87), and while Safeco Field will depress that potential, he might be a smart late-round pick if he looks good in March.
Before you leap to say "Big Fat Bartolo Colon" (royalties now due colleague Matthew Berry), should that not actually read "Ageless Bartolo Colon"? Colon's 2.65 ERA last season was the sixth best among ERA qualifiers in an age-40 season or later since World War II, and despite being almost entirely a fastball pitcher -- and one whose average fastball clocked just 89.9 mph in 2013 -- he was one of the most pleasant surprises in fantasy. Now he'll switch to the better pitchers' league and one of the National League's more favorable pitching environments; however, be forewarned that Oakland's O.co Coliseum might actually have been more favorable than Citi Field, thanks to its massive foul territory. Colon's 2014 fantasy stock is a complete and total guess, as injuries will be a persistent question for the remainder of his career because of past history, his advanced age and physique, but he's still a draft-worthy player even in mixed leagues. He's my No. 196 player overall and No. 60 starting pitcher.
Perhaps Davis' fantasy appeal won't be any greater in Detroit than it was in Toronto -- he finished 119th on the 2013 Player Rater -- and his prospects of regular at-bats might actually be worse there, but there's a good chance his skills will be maximized by his new team. He's one of the quickest players in the game, ranking second in stolen bases the past five seasons combined (216), and he's an obvious left-field platoon man for Andy Dirks, having batted .297 with an 8.4 percent walk rate against lefties compared with .232 and 4.1 percent against righties the past three seasons combined. By using him almost entirely against left-handers, then using him as a pinch runner on other days, his batting average might actually improve, and at no expense to his steals total. The same could be said in terms of batting average for Dirks; he batted .234/.306/.325 against lefties in 2013 and might fare better sitting more often against them. Consider both slightly stronger late-round, AL-only selections as a result.
Ruggiano at least has a better chance of regular at-bats in Chicago than he did in Miami, and he possesses that rare power-speed combination that fantasy owners love. As a back-end, NL-only outfielder, it might be worth absorbing his low batting average in exchange for a possible 15/15 campaign, especially since 24 of his 31 homers the past two seasons combined came away from Marlins Park. Be forewarned, however, that he will hit for a low average because of all the holes in his swing, especially against off-speed stuff. Bogusevic, meanwhile, is backup outfielder material, scarcely even warranting NL-only mention.
Morse is coming off an awful, injury-plagued year, and it's unfair to blame Safeco Field for his power struggles, as he didn't hit anywhere; he batted .218/.265/.394 with only eight home runs in 54 games in other ballparks in 2013. AT&T Park is a more favorable -- and effectively league-average -- environment for right-handed power, but it's not one that will fix his free-swinging, high-strikeout/low-walk ways.
He might cede at-bats against right-handers, and late-inning at-bats due to defensive concerns, to Gregor Blanco, so Morse belongs squarely in the NL-only bin, more of a third or fourth outfielder in those formats.
Let's be clear: Before you race to declare Volquez the 2014 version of Ray Searage reclamation project Francisco Liriano, keep in mind that Volquez's stuff isn't Liriano's, nor does he even match Liriano's control (which in itself has been inconsistent in his career). Volquez's arrival in Pittsburgh is an intriguing one, however, from a "track this guy's spring" angle. He was once a prominent strikeout artist, and one who could generate ground ball rates of 50 percent or higher. He's late-round, NL-only flier material for now, but he's a must-watch once camps get underway in February.
Fantasy owners might've been rooting for Anderson to escape the crowded Athletics rotation this winter, but landing in Coors Field might've been the worst possible destination for him. Though he's an extreme ground-baller, he's a pitcher reliant upon his breaking pitches (curveball and slider), which won't be quite so effective in Coors as they were in O.co Coliseum because of the impact of the higher altitude on the spin of the ball. Anderson is one of the riskiest commodities in fantasy and has been for several years now, and his 2014 stock is somewhat predictable: He's fair game anytime he starts on the road, but I'm not sure I'd ever start him in a single one of his Coors assignments. Pomeranz, meanwhile, becomes depth for the Athletics' full rotation.