Fantasy Baseball News and Notes

Damon and Ramirez reunite as teammates in Tampa

Spring Training is quickly approaching and GMs are starting to make more moves in preparation of the upcoming season. It is important to pay attention to where certain players land. This could affect their fantasy value and what type of production to expect. For example, it is expected Jorge Cantu will sign with the Padres. This will have a serious impact on his home run totals, playing half his games at Petco Park. Mike Napoli was traded twice in the past week. First to the Blue Jays in the Vernon Wells trade and then he was shipped off to Texas for relieve pitcher for Frank Francisco. Now it may be tough for Napoli to find regular at-bats given the Rangers lineup. However, given an opportunity, he could have big year playing in the much more hitter friendly Ballpark in Arlington.

Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez sign with the Tampa Bay Rays

This past week both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez signed one year deals with the Rays. The Rays have had a tough off-season as they have lost a lot of notable players like Carl Crawford who signed with the Boston Red Soxs and they traded Matt Garza to the Chicago Cubs. Unfortunately for the Rays and fantasy baseball owners, I don’t know how much Manny and Johnny have left in the tank to contribute.

Last year, Johnny Damon batted .271 with 8 HRs and 51 RBIs for the Detroit Tigers, playing primarily left field. This was a big drop from 2009 when he played for the Yankees, where he hit .282 with 24 HRs and 82 RBIs. Some may attribute the drop to the fact he left a hitter friendly park like Yankee Stadium for Comerica Park, which is a tougher ballpark for hitters. This may be true but I also think age has finally caught up to Damon, who will be 37 at the start of the 2011 season. With all the players the Rays lost this season and these two signings being the only notable ones, I would not be surprised to see Johnny Damon get regular playing time at left field this coming season. Even with regular playing time, I just don’t see Damon having much impact this season.

I think Manny Ramirez on the other hand could have a bounce back year. He should feel much more at home being back in the AL East. Manny will primarily DH for the Rays this season. This could help him regain some of his strength and keep it through a whole season. Last year between the Dodgers and White Sox he hit .298 with 9 HRs and 42 RBIs in 90 games. He did have some trouble with injuries but has been given a clean bill of health. Playing DH could significantly cut down on his chances to get hurt. He will be 38 at the start of the season. Looking at his career stats over the past few years, his batting average has stayed around .300. This means he is making contact with the ball and getting hits but he has lost some strength to turn those hits into home runs. By moving to DH and not having to play the field he may be able to stay stronger throughout the season and get more HRs.

Vernon Wells traded to the Angels for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli; Mike Napoli traded to the Rangers for Frank Francisco

The Blue Jays were very active this past week in trading the so called “untradeable” contract of Vernon Wells for Juan Rivera and Mike Napoli. Vernon Wells had a great year many from a fantasy owners perspective, hitting .273 with 31 HRs and 88 RBIs. In 2009 he only hit .260 with 15 HRs and 66 RBIs, so there was big improvement in 2010 for Wells. He is now heading to the Angels who did struggle to score runs at times last year and have been looking for a power bat to step into the middle of the lineup.

However, it is tough to say which Wells will show up next year. The Angels do not have a great lineup and other than Torii Hunter there really isn’t much power. Pitchers may be more cautious pitching to Wells next year and he may struggle getting good pitches to hit out. I think Wells is in store for a down year and I would not recommend using a top draft pick on him this coming season.

Juan Rivera was sent to Toronto in the Wells trade, who is coming off a disappointing 2010 season when he hit .252 with 15 HRs and 52 RBIs. A significant drop from his 2009 season. I expect that Rivera will be the starting left fielder for the Blue Jays on Opening Day and if this is the case, Rivera may be worth a late round gamble. He is entering a lineup that is much better than the Angels with a surrounding cast including Jose Bautista, Aaron Hill, Yunel Escobar, and Travis Snider. Pitchers may not key on Rivera as much and he may be able to return to his 2009 numbers when he hit 25 HRs and 88 RBIs.

The Jays also made a trade for relieve pitcher Frank Francisco, sending newly acquired Mike Napoli to the Rangers. Mike Napoli is also entering a better situation as he goes to a powerful Ranger’s lineup and a hitter friendly ball park. The concern with Napoli is whether he will be able to get enough regular at bats to make noise in fantasy baseball this year. Last year, Napoli did have a low batting average at .238 but he did hit 26 HRs and 68 RBIs. These power numbers are hard to find at the catcher position. If Napoli is able to get the starting catcher position for the Rangers he should be considered a top 10 catcher next season.

Frank Francisco is also entering a great situation going to the Blue Jays because he will most likely be the starting closer for the Blue Jays this season. Francisco lost his starting closer job last year to the 2010 AL Rookie of the Year Neftali Feliz. Although, he did have 15 holds, with a 3.27 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 52.2 innings of work from the bullpen. In 2009, Francisco had 25 saves so he does have the talent to be a top closer. I think he could be a sleeper to target at the end of the draft as he should be able to have a bounce back year in 2011 in Toronto.

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