Hoyer Loves Him Some Rizzo

Jed Hoyer’s stay in San Diego as their General Manager was short (hired by the Padres in October 2009), but far from uneventful.  The most notable move made in Hoyer’s era as the GM of the Padres was dealing Adrian Gonzalez to the Red Sox in December 2010 for a package of prospects that included first baseman Anthony Rizzo.  Just a few short months after being hired by Theo Epstein to man the same position with the Cubs, he found himself needing some Rizzo in the Windy City.  The prize get for the Padres is right-handed pitcher Andrew Cashner.  From a fantasy perspective, this deal is a win for both players involved.

Rizzo had a monstrous season in the Triple-A Pacicfic Coast League in 2011 hitting .331/.404/.652 with 26 home runs in 413 plate appearances.  He walked at a healthy 10.4 percent rate, and had an acceptable for a slugger 21.5 percent strikeout rate.  With such a successful season in Triple-A, one couldn’t be faulted for immediately assuming he helped his value as a trade chip or future buidling block. 

Alas, that isn’t entirely accurate, partly for reasons in his control, and partly for those out of his hands.  For all the good Rizzo did in the minors, it is to a certain extent overshadowed by massive struggles in 153 plate appearances at the major league level.  With the Padres, his power disappeared hitting only one home run, and barely cracking a .100 ISO (.102).  He hit just .141/.281/.242 and saw his strikeout rate balloon to an unacceptable 30.1 percent rate.  Beyond his poor major league debut, his stock was also adversely affected by the addition of Yonder Alonso through a trade sending Mat Latos to the Reds. 

Being dealt from cavernous PETCO Park to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field is just about the best thing that could happen for a left-handed power hitter.  PETCO Park is hell on left-handers, ranking as the fourth most difficult ballpark to hit home runs in for lefties last year (trailing AT&T Park, Kauffman Stadium and the Oakland Coliseum), and ranking as the most difficult ballpark over the last three years.  Conversely, Wrigley Field has a neutral or positive home run park index for left-handers according to Bill James Park Indices.  Of course, the ball can’t leave the yard for Rizzo if doesn’t make contact with it (if he doesn’t believe that, he can ask Chris Davis or Mark Reynolds for confirmation).

Part of Rizzo’s contact struggles can probably be blamed on adopting a pull-conscious approach, according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus.  Reverting back to an all fields approach would serve the young first baseman well, and with some minor tweaking, is certainly attainable.  I don’t expect him to break camp with the Cubs, and think he’ll instead head to Triple-A Iowa with Bryan LaHair keeping the position warm at the big league level.  When Rizzo is ready, possibly over the summer, the position is likely to be his for the taking.  He’s got a fair amount of upside, and should be owned in all dynasty and large keeper leagues.  In re-draft leagues with bench flexibility, he is a worthwhile stash option.

Cashner is referred to as a right-handed pitcher above because there are questions surrounding how he’ll be used.  He was drafted in the first round of the 2007 amateur draft as a college closer out of Texas Christian University.  After entering the professional ranks, the Cubs opted to develop him as a starter in the minors.  They had good reason to do so, as he wasn’t your typical two pitch power reliever.  Cashner throws a big heater that can reach the high-90s, a slider, and a change-up. 

He struggled with his control initially, but was able to turn it around in his second pro season in 2009.  His strikeout rate wasn’t overly impressive, but made a big leap when he repeated Double-A to begin the 2010 season.  After six tremendous starts at that level, the Cubs promoted him to Triple-A, where his strikeout rate dropped, but his walk rate was dental floss thin in three starts and two relief appearances.  He finished the season with the Cubs throwing 54.1 innings.

Here is the catcher, all of his pitching appearances with the Cubs came out of the bullpen (53 in total).  In many ways, 2011 was a lost season.  After making his first start for the Cubs on April 5, he hit the disabled list with a mild strain of his rotator cuff.  He didn’t throw again until late in August, and didn’t throw more than one inning in any of his appearances to finish the year.  Cashner followed up the regular season with nine games pitched in the Arizona Fall League.  He got knocked around pretty hard in the AFL, but reports are positive about his health, and that’s the most important thing.

My best guess is that the Padres will attempt to use him as a starter, as his value is significantly greater in the rotation than in the bullpen.  PETCO Park has a funny way of aiding pitchers, and immediately makes  Cashner and end game or dollar days option in fantasy drafts.  Should he falter as a starter, he has a repertoire that lends itself to a high leverage late innings role.  Huston Street is entrenched as the closer for 2012, but Cashner could find himself battling Brad Boxberger for the closer in waiting gig should he end up back in the pen.