Hooking the biggest fish left in the free agent pond will gives a substantial jolt to a Tigers lineup that recently lost Victor Martinez for the season with a torn ACL. The biggest fantasy impact could be felt by incumbent first baseman, Miguel Cabrera, who will no longer be calling first base his primary position. Speculation on MLB network and around the web is that he’ll get reps at third base in spring training. Adding third base eligibility would increase his value, which is already that of a mid first rounder. It’s also possible he’ll get some time in the corner outfield. In all likelihood, in my opinion, most of his time will come at designated hitter. Even in the event Cabrera proves to be a train wreck in the field at third base or the outfield in spring training, he’ll need to play somewhere during interleague contests played at National League ballparks. Regardless of where he plays, Cabrera will get a boost by adding eligibility, and his already gaudy counting stats could get a bump from the presence of another top flight heart of the order bat.
Cabrera isn’t the only player in the lineup that is in line to see their value increase. Starting at the top of the order, leadoff hitter Austin Jackson is now hitting in front of two superstars. If he’s able to improve his on-base percentage in one way or another, his run scored total will be eye popping. The most obvious way for him to improve his OBP would be by reducing his awful strikeout rate (27.1 percent in 2011), and seeing an increase in batting average. He would also be aided by reverting back to the hitter that stung the ball with a 24.2 percent line drive rate in 2010, from the one that had a modest 16.8 percent line drive rate in 2011. Jackson has been an incredibly efficient base stealer in two major league seasons, 49 stolen bases with 11 caught stealing for an 81.7 percent success rate, so I don’t expect Leyland to put the brakes on him and force him to play station-to-station baseball with the boppers behind him.
The other bats that stand to see their stock rise are Delmon Young, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila. All three are projected to hit behind Cabrera and Fielder, two batters that ranked in the top five (Cabrera was first) in OBP. As good as V-Mart was, his .380 OBP was good for 17th best amongst qualifying players, and 35 points lower than Fielder’s .415 OBP. Fielder has been a consistent OBP machine, besting the .400 mark in each of the last three seasons, including his down 2010 season where he hit just .261. More ducks on the pond makes for more RBI chances for Young, Peralta, and Avila.
Moving on to Fielder, he swaps Ryan Braun for Cabrera as a middle of the order mate. Life must be so tough for Prince. Joking aside, the opportunity for Fielder to continue on the course of racking up juicy counting stats is great. The lone fly in the ointment is swapping Miller Park for Comerica Park. Fantasy owners almost certainly had to be hoping Fielder would be calling Texas home. Instead, he’ll be moving from a ballpark that, according to Bill James Ballpark Index, boosted left-handed home run production by 16 percent from 2009-2011, to one that reduced it by 11 percent in the same time frame. That said, Fielder has gargantuan power that makes him as good a bet as any to eclipse 35 home runs annually. He remains an elite first base option, and is a back end of the first round talent.
The less sexy first base signing took place in Tampa Bay, where Pena returns to a club he played for from 2007-2010. It had been rumored that he’d agreed to a deal before today, but it became official this afternoon. Pena fills a need for the Rays, and will be replacing Casey Kotchman at first. A polar opposite player from Kotchman, Pena’s game is predicated on drawing walks and hitting for power. A player cut from the cloth Pena is always runs the risk of single handily destroying team batting averages if the BABIP Gods are unkind (see his .196 average in 2010 that came as a result of his .222 BABIP). Even when his BABIP falls in line with reasonable expectations, Pena isn’t much more than a .225-.235 hitter. Don’t be fooled by his .282 average from five years ago. It took a perfect storm of events that included his lowest single season strikeout rate, a BABIP almost 20 points higher than his career rate, and a HR/FB rate almost nine percent higher than his career mark, to create that batting average. In daily roster change leagues, owners might be able to mitigate his batting average damage, and maximize his overall value, by sitting him against southpaws. The left-handed slugger has struggled mightily against his same handed counterparts. Three of the last four years Pena’s batting average against left-handed pitching has failed to get above the Mendoza-line, and in the one year it did, 2009, it was just .211 (coincidentally that .211 average matches his career mark against them).
Since most of Pena’s fantasy value is tied to his home run production, it would be wise to look at how changing venues could impact him. According to Bill James Park Index, Tropicana Field enhanced home run hitting to left-handed batters more so than Wrigley Field did in 2011. Increasing the scope to three years shows Wrigley Field to be more favorable to left-handed power than Tropicana Field. Because I prefer a larger sample than a single season, I’ll say the move is a slight downgrade at worst, but not one fantasy gamers should be overly concerned about. Pena should hit between 25-30 home runs in 2012.
The final signing today that had Twitter a buzz was that of Francisco Cordero with the Blue Jays. Cordero will setup another offseason acquisition, Sergio Santos. In a non-closing role, Cordero’s value is just a hair greater than zero in anything but the deepest of mixed leagues or AL-only formats. He may be the beneficiary of a handful of vulture saves, but that’s about it. Don’t be fooled by the shiny ERA and WHIP he compiled in 2011, Cordero is a player on the decline. Cordero’s strikeout rate has been steadily declining since posting a career best 12.22 K/9 in 2007. He has not had a double digit K/9 season since. In fact, it has been under 8.0 K/9 each of the last three years, and finished at a career worst 5.43 K/9 last season. In fairness, he did make big gains in control and to his groundball rate. However, those changes aren’t enough to warrant earning an endorsement for his ownership in fantasy leagues. He looks a lot more like a low-4s ERA reliever than one capable of finishing under the 2.50 ERA threshold again. As the primary setup option north of the border, Cordero has an chance to help fantasy owners in non-traditional scoring leagues that use holds.