Reviewing top offseason moves
Larry David, the neurotic (and bald) creator and star of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," once told Rolling Stone magazine, "Sometimes I have these fantasies of just moving to a foreign country and coming back with a full head of hair. Or not even come back! Make a new life there with hair. Change my name. Just see what happens."
Indeed, sometimes the prospect of moving to a new place and getting a fresh start (or a new head of hair) can be alluring. The same can be said for baseball players, hundreds of whom will relocate to new cities over the offseason. After all, a new city brings a new lineup for hitters, a new defense for pitchers and new home ballpark dimensions and managerial tendencies to get accustomed to. Whether these changes actually benefit each player's on-field production, well, that's what we're here to talk about.
Let's start with the 10 most notable names that changed teams over the winter.
10 Biggest offseason moves
See the full list of offseason free-agent movement, including those players who haven't signed yet, by clicking here.
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See the full list of offseason free-agent movement, including those players who haven't signed yet, by clicking here.
1. Justin Upton, OF, traded to Atlanta Braves: At first glance, it seems Upton will miss the rolling deserts and cactus gardens in Arizona. The former Diamondback is a career .307/.389/.548 hitter at Chase Field compared to .250/.325/.406 on the road, and the hitter-friendly Chase Field ranked sixth in home runs last year, according to our Park Factors page. Meanwhile, Turner Field ranked just 22nd. That said, Upton's power can play anywhere. In fact, according to ESPN's Home Run Tracker, all 48 of Upton's home runs over the past two years would also have left Turner Field (this calculation assumes 70-degree weather and no wind). Not only that, but he's a career .305 hitter in 400-plus at-bats against the rest of the NL East. As a member of the Braves, Upton, still just 25, could very well match his production from 2011, when he finished as a top-12 hitter, and there still might be untapped upside here.
Back in Arizona, Upton's departure opens up regular at-bats for 24-year-old Adam Eaton. The lefty-hitting prospect offers little in the power department, but he batted .355 over 319 minor league games, including .380/.455/.539 at Triple-A, and has the speed to swipe 30 bases. He's definitely a name to consider in the later rounds.
2. Josh Hamilton, OF, signed with Los Angeles Angels: Like Upton, Hamilton leaves one of the game's most slugger-friendly venues in exchange for one that's not so friendly (only five parks were less favorable in terms of home runs last year than Angel Stadium). Then again, it's hard to be too critical of the outfielder's new home, considering Mike Trout will be setting the tables in the Angels lineup and Albert Pujols will be hitting in front of him. Plus, Hamilton's home/road splits last year (.289/.358/.579 at home versus 280/.349/.574 on the road) were nearly identical anyway. At 31 years old, Hamilton does have some red flags. His 71 percent contact rate last year was a career worst, and his production fell off greatly after the All-Star break (.259/.323/.510). But the real question is whether he can stay healthy enough to register 500-plus at-bats in back-to-back seasons for the first time in his career. That's still the main factor that will determine his draft-day value.
3. Jose Reyes, SS, traded to Toronto Blue Jays: The Blue Jays acquired Reyes from the Marlins in the offseason's largest trade, a 12-player salary-dump deal that also netted them Josh Johnson, Mark Buehrle and Emilio Bonifacio. The 29-year-old Reyes, who finished last season as fantasy's No. 1 shortstop (according to the ESPN Player Rater), will bat atop a Toronto lineup that scored 107 more runs and hit 61 more homers than the Marlins did last year. He also moves to Rogers Centre, a much more hitter-friendly environment than Marlins Park, which ranked in the bottom 10 in doubles and bottom five in homers last year. Some players take some time to adjust to a new league, and Reyes might experience a learning curve this season. But as long as he stays healthy -- last year was the first time since 2008 he played more than 133 games -- there's little not to like about Reyes' new situation.
4. Zack Greinke, SP, signed with Los Angeles Dodgers: The six-year, $147 million pact Greinke signed with the Dodgers is the third-largest contract ever for a pitcher. While moving back to the National League after a two-month stint with the Angels last year is good news, moving to Dodger Stadium, a much more pitcher-friendly environment than Milwaukee's Miller Park, which was the No. 1 park for home runs in 2012, is even better news. While he'll likely miss the run support he received in Milwaukee and Anaheim -- both offenses ranked in the top five in runs scored -- the Dodgers shouldn't have trouble scoring runs with full seasons from Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez, and hopefully a return to form from Carl Crawford if he can successfully return from Tommy John surgery. Greinke's 6.00 ERA in 13 career games (12 starts) against his new NL West rivals might give owners some pause, though it's safe to chalk that up to small sample size. Statheads know that Greinke's production often falls short of what the underlying numbers hint he's capable of, but he's a borderline top-10 starter in his new digs regardless.
5. B.J. Upton, OF, signed with the Braves: Upton's five-year, $75.25 million contract is the largest in Braves history, and it's safe to say we have a pretty good idea of what Atlanta will get from its investment, at least in the short term. For all of his flaws (batting below .250 each of the past four years being one of them), Upton has swiped 30-plus bags in three straight seasons, has posted 20-homer/20-steal seasons three times in his career and came just two home runs shy of going 30/30 last year. His career home/road splits are virtually identical, and while neither Tropicana Field nor Turner Field is particularly favorable to hitters, Turner grades out as slightly more friendly. In short, the move to Atlanta should do nothing to hinder the center fielder's value, and the 28-year-old, now playing side by side with his brother Justin in the outfield, could even take a small step forward.
6. Michael Bourn, OF, signed with Cleveland Indians: One of the last impact free agents to sign (still waiting on you, Kyle Lohse), Bourn inked a four-year, $48 million contract with Cleveland in mid-February. Given that Bourn's value is tied to his speed and not his power (granted, he did hit a career-high nine homers last year, and Progressive Field ranks slightly better than Turner Field in terms of home runs), changing home parks doesn't impact his outlook the way it might a power hitter. His game is getting on base, swiping bags and scoring runs, and that won't change in Cleveland, where Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds and Drew Stubbs were also added to the Indians' revamped lineup. Bourn's arrival in Cleveland moves Stubbs to right field and Michael Brantley to left.
7. R.A. Dickey, SP, traded to the Blue Jays: We never like seeing pitchers move from the National League to the American League, much less to a hitter-friendly home ballpark in the AL East, where three 90-win teams resided in 2012. While Toronto isn't necessarily the ideal landing spot, Dickey will get more run support than he did with the Mets. Granted, he did win 20 games with a Mets lineup that scored the fourth-fewest runs in the NL last year, but that win total shouldn't see as much regression in Toronto. If anything, elite pitchers can succeed in most any environment, and Dickey has proved the past few years that he belongs in that class. In fact, while the sample size is small, the knuckleballer fired shutouts in two of his three starts against AL East teams last year and holds a 1.71 ERA and 0.74 WHIP in six starts against the AL East the past three seasons. He should handle himself just fine.
8. Shin-Soo Choo, OF, traded to Cincinnati Reds: Choo enters a contract year in what should be a favorable situation in Cincinnati. He'll bat leadoff in front of Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto in a very good Reds lineup, and he's exchanging Progressive Field for Great American Ball Park, which has ranked in the top three in home runs each of the past two seasons, according to Park Factors. There are some warning signs with the 30-year-old Choo, as his fly ball rate last year was its lowest since 2007, and he struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers (.199 batting average against; .327 against right-handers) last year for the first time in his career. Still, his move to Cincinnati is a positive, even if it's a slight one, and he's a good bet to produce his third 20/20 season.
9. James Shields, SP, traded to Kansas City Royals: The Royals got plenty of flak for parting with arguably the top hitting prospect in the game to acquire Shields' services, but that's beside the point. What does the trade do for Shields' fantasy value? Well, as you might expect, going from the Rays, who have topped 90 wins each of the past three seasons, to the Royals, who have averaged 70 wins the past three seasons, isn't a positive. Not to mention the fact that he'll miss pitching at Tropicana Field, where he has posted a 2.78 ERA the past two years (3.50 on the road). On the other hand, Shields is one of the most durable pitchers in baseball, having logged 200-plus innings in six straight seasons, and gets to ditch the AL East -- he holds a combined 5.35 ERA in 18 career starts in Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park -- for a much more forgiving division. Moving to K.C. doesn't help Shields' value, but he's still a top-25 starter.
10. Martin Prado, 3B/OF, traded to Arizona Diamondbacks: While the Diamondbacks probably didn't get enough back in return for Justin Upton, Prado is still a darned good player. He has hit at least .300 in four of the past five seasons (not even Albert Pujols has done that), he has registered double-digit homers in four straight years, and he swiped a career-best 17 bases in 2012 (his previous career high was five). All told, given the level of consistency we've seen from Prado the past few years, the move to Arizona won't significantly affect Prado's value either way. Then again, moving to the more hitter-friendly Chase Field, where's he's a career .319 hitter, certainly doesn't hurt.
10 Most intriguing offseason moves
1. Wil Myers, OF, traded to Tampa Bay Rays: In trading for the 22-year-old Myers, who batted .314 with a .387 OBP, 37 home runs and 109 RBIs last year between Double-A and Triple-A, the Rays got one of the most highly regarded prospects in baseball. It remains to be seen whether the youngster will crack the Opening Day roster or start the season in the minors (manager Joe Maddon has said he prefers calling up young players during the season). That said, Myers should spend most of this season in the majors regardless. After what Mike Trout and Bryce Harper did as rookies last year, expectations will be incredibly high for Myers. Caution is warranted in re-draft leagues, however, as he's unlikely to meet those lofty expectations right out of the gate. His power should play right away, but it could be a couple of years before he's worth a significant draft-day investment.
2. Jonathan Broxton, RP, signed with the Reds: This space is normally reserved for players who changed teams over the offseason, but Broxton's re-signing with the Reds, who acquired him from Kansas City at last year's trade deadline, is significant for multiple reasons. After working in a setup role with the Reds last year (aside from a short stint in the closer role last September when Aroldis Chapman was sidelined with shoulder fatigue), Broxton, who has 111 career saves, will now be handed the reins to the ninth inning. With Broxton handling the closer duties, Chapman will be transitioned to the starting rotation. Chapman will be on an innings limit and won't maintain the same level of dominance as a starter, but it's easy to get excited about his potential after he posted a 1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 15.3 K/9 rate in 68 relief appearances last year.
3. Lance Berkman, 1B, signed with Texas Rangers: Berkman made this list two years ago when he signed with the Cardinals after a down 2010 season split between the Astros and Yankees. Now he's on the list after inking a one-year deal with Texas following a campaign in which two separate knee operations limited him to only 32 games. Can he bounce back a second time? Health is obviously the biggest factor in the Big Puma's fantasy value, but there's reason for optimism. He enters a great hitting environment in Texas, he'll hit third in one of the game's most dangerous lineups, and his role as the primary DH should help him stay healthy. He has the look of a potential value play.
4. Joel Hanrahan, RP, traded to Red Sox: Acquired by the Red Sox in a six-player deal in December, Hanrahan will slide into the closer role in Boston after saving a combined 76 games the past two years for the Pirates. Last year's 5.4 BB/9 rate (compared to 2.1 in 2011) is worrisome, and the oft-injured Andrew Bailey is still in the picture, but Hanrahan is still a solid bet to finish the year as a top-10 closer. What's most intriguing about this deal, though, is what's left behind in Pittsburgh, where Jason Grilli is expected to step into the vacated closer role. The 36-year-old has only five career saves to his name, but he appears to have the tools for the job. He showed improved fastball velocity last year, and his 13.8 K/9 rate was the fourth-best mark in baseball. Grilli could be one of this year's best closer values.
5. Dan Haren, SP, signed with Washington Nationals: Haren's stock is somewhat deflated after a down 2012 season that was hampered by hip and back injuries. Heading into 2013, last year's dip in average fastball velocity (88.5 mph, compared with 90.5 mph in 2011) is still a concern, and we have no idea whether he'll be back to full health. That said, Washington is a great place for the right-hander as he attempts to get back on track. Not only will moving to the DH-less National League likely help in the ERA and strikeout departments, but he joins a team that boasts arguably the best bullpen in baseball, with Tyler Clippard, Drew Storen and new addition Rafael Soriano holding down the late innings. Run support won't be a problem either, as the Nats were a top-five offense in the NL last year, and Bryce Harper is only getting better. While a full bounce-back is far from guaranteed, the fact that Haren will be available at a discount in many drafts helps offset the risk.
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6. Trevor Bauer, SP, traded to Cleveland Indians: The Indians landed Bauer in a three-team swap with the Diamondbacks and Reds in December. Despite his poor showing during his limited time in the big leagues last year, he's still regarded as one of the top pitching prospects in the game, so the hope is that a fresh start in Cleveland will do him good after he reportedly was at odds with D-backs management regarding his pitching plan and between-start preparation. Bauer could still begin the 2012 season at Triple-A, but his chances of cracking the big league rotation early in the season are better in Cleveland than they would've been in Arizona. Expectations should be tempered in the meantime, as his inability to hit the strike zone consistently (4.2 BB/9 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2012; 7.2 BB/9 in four big league starts) indicates more speed bumps are ahead. Still, he misses plenty of bats (10.8 K/9 in the minors and 9.4 K/9 in the majors), and his long-term upside is still that of a No. 1 or 2 starter.
7. Kendrys Morales, 1B/OF, traded to Seattle Mariners: Morales might have a more clear path to regular at-bats in Seattle than he would've had with the Angels, but in terms of fantasy value, the trade doesn't move the needle much. While the fences at Safeco Field have been moved in, the section from the right-field power alley to the right-field foul pole, where Morales pulls most of his home runs when batting left-handed, remains unchanged. Peter Bourjos, meanwhile, receives a nice boost in value as a result of this deal. The 25-year-old was the odd man out in the Angels' outfield for most of last year, receiving just 168 at-bats, but he steps in as the full-time center fielder following the trade. Bourjos hit 12 homers and stole 22 steals with regular playing time for the Angels in 2011, and he could have more stolen base upside, as he has swiped 30-plus bags three times as a professional.
8. Chris Carter, 1B, traded to Houston Astros: Acquired from the A's in a package for Jed Lowrie, Carter will get regular playing time with the Astros, either at DH, first base or left field. The pros and cons with the 26-year-old are clearly evident. He has tremendous power -- he hit 16 bombs in just 218 at-bats with the A's last year -- and he swings and misses a lot. He struck out nearly 32 percent of the time in 2012. As a reference point, Adam Dunn, whose 222 strikeouts last year led the majors, whiffed 34 percent of the time. In other words, a high batting average isn't part of the package with Carter. In addition to a clear path to playing time in Houston, Carter also gets a more favorable offensive ballpark to call home. Minute Maid Park actually graded out as fairly neutral in terms of home runs last year, but it's still more favorable than O.co Coliseum, and as a right-handed swinger, he can take advantage of the Crawford Boxes in left field. If you can stomach his low batting average, Carter should be a cheap source of power in the late rounds.
9. Shaun Marcum, SP, signed with New York Mets: On the one hand, Marcum will miss the National League's highest-scoring offense hitting behind him in Milwaukee. On the other hand, his fly ball tendencies were a poor fit for Miller Park, which ranked as the No. 1 ballpark for home runs last year, according to Park Factors. In fact, during his two seasons in Milwaukee, Marcum's home ERA (4.69) was two full runs worse than his road mark (2.67). The spacious Citi Field should be much more to the right-hander's liking. If he doesn't encounter any more of the elbow issues that limited him to 21 starts last year -- which, admittedly, is a big if -- he could be an undervalued commodity in 2013.
10. A.J. Pierzynski, C, signed with the Rangers: Regression is certainly coming for Pierzynski, who hit a career-high 27 homers last year as a 35-year-old. After all, he hit 30 homers in 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined. He did, however, do himself a favor by signing with Texas. Rangers Ballpark offers hitter-friendly conditions similar to those at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, and Pierzynski will slot into a lineup that scored the most runs in baseball in 2012. More interesting, though, is that Pierzynski's absence leaves Tyler Flowers poised to take over the bulk of the at-bats behind the plate for the White Sox. Flowers has his flaws -- a 61 percent contact rate in the big leagues is one of them -- but what he does have is power. With consistent playing time, Flowers could top 20 homers, which is enough to garner attention in AL-only leagues and deeper formats.
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