Fantasy baseball's biggest NL offseason winners and losers
Baseball is a sport of individual accomplishments that masquerades as a team sport. In return, what is good for a player's team could potentially be bad for him individually, or vice versa. When one player emerges, another gets sent to the bench. When one player gets traded or walks in free agency, a guy he left behind loses his best source of RBI. Each move has the ability to create winners and losers at the most granular level -- the individual player.
Let's take a look at the winners and losers for each team in the National League, based on what has transpired this offseason. Teams are listed in order of finish from last year.
Los Angeles Dodgers
• Winner: Yasiel Puig, OF -- There's a logjam in the Dodgers' outfield, but it's safe to say that Puig will not be a casualty of the overcrowding. He took the league by storm as a rookie, hitting .319/.391/.534 with 19 homers in 432 plate appearances. While he was prone to mental lapses from time to time, there isn't any doubt that the Dodgers are better with him in the lineup. Count on that happening 150-plus times this year.
• Loser: Andre Ethier/Carl Crawford, OF -- It's likely that Matt Kemp gets back on track and reclaims his role as the Dodgers' starting center fielder, leaving Ethier and Crawford fighting for at-bats in left field. Unfortunately, there is not a natural platoon here. Both hit quite well against righties (.294/.394/.460 for Ethier, .308/.351/.445 for Crawford), but are black holes against lefties (.221/.275/.338 for Ethier, .206/.261/.290 for Crawford). From a fantasy standpoint, they would both benefit from a trade, but until that happens it's hard to trust either in mixed leagues.
• Winner: Mark Trumbo, OF -- The Diamondbacks acquired Trumbo in a three-team trade with the Angels and White Sox. Trumbo will no doubt be happy to leave Angel Stadium behind, as it suppressed homers by five percent; Chase field, his new home park, inflated them by three percent.
• Loser: Brad Ziegler, RP -- Prior to Arizona's acquisition of Addison Reed, Ziegler had the inside track to be the Diamondbacks' closer this year. Now that the former White Sox closer, who has saved 69 games in the last two seasons combined, is in the desert, Ziegler will be back in his familiar role as a setup man.
San Francisco Giants
• Winner: Brandon Belt, 1B -- Belt had the best year of his young career in 2013, hitting .289/.360/.481 with 17 homers and 67 RBI. He did have a .351 BABIP, but it was the second-straight year he reached that exact number thanks to a high line-drive rate. In each of the last two seasons, one-quarter of the balls he has put in play has been of the line-drive variety. Now entering his age-26 season, Belt has a great chance to reach the 20-homer plateau for the first time in his career.
• Loser: Yusmeiro Petit, SP/RP -- Petit pitched quite well in limited duty for the Giants last year. He made seven starts and posted a 3.56 ERA, 2.86 FIP, 1.19 WHIP and 47 strikeouts in 48 innings. At the start of the offseason, it appeared he had a shot to be the team's fifth starter in 2014. The signing of Tim Hudson, however, likely relegates Petit to a long role in the bullpen. The Giants now have a rock-solid five-man rotation of Madison Bumgarner, Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Hudson and Ryan Vogelsong.
San Diego Padres
• Winner: Josh Johnson, SP -- The 2013 season was an unmitigated disaster for Johnson. In his one year in Toronto, he went 2-8 with a 6.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP in 81.1 innings. If he can manage to stay healthy this year, however, he can take advantage of Petco Park. He's a decent late-round flier for fantasy owners, but you still shouldn't expect much.
• Loser: Nick Hundley, C -- Hundley could begin the year as the Padres' starter, but he'll likely lose his grip on the job once Yasmani Grandal returns from a torn ACL. He did enough last year to merit attention in NL-only leagues if he were going to be the starter all season, but with Grandal likely to take over once he's back, Hundley is a serious risk no matter your format.
• Winner: Nolan Arenado, 3B -- The defensive whiz improved at the plate as he got more major league plate appearances under his belt. After hitting .244/.283/.395 in the first half, he slashed 298/.323/.419 after the All-Star break. Now that he'll be the starter on Opening Day, he'll have a chance to make an impact in mixed leagues. At the very least, he'll be a factor in NL-only leagues.
• Loser: Brett Anderson, SP -- On one hand, Anderson is a winner. The talented-yet-frequently-injured lefty is finally healthy at the beginning of a season. On the other hand, he left behind the comfy environs of the O.co Coliseum in Oakland for Coors Field, still one of the league's most hitter-friendly parks. Anderson fanned 46 batters in 44.2 innings last year, but also posted a 6.04 ERA and 1.61 WHIP, allowing five homers and 21 walks. Similar rates could undo him in Colorado.
St. Louis Cardinals
• Winner: Matt Adams, 1B -- With Carlos Beltran now in Yankee pinstripes, Allen Craig will move to right field, thus opening up first base for Adams. In 319 plate appearances last year, Adams hit .284/.335/.503 with 17 homers and 51 RBI. That number of PAs represents approximately half of a full season. While we can't simply double Adams' counting stats, he certainly has the ability to hit 30 homers and drive in 100 runs, especially with high-OBP guys like Matt Carpenter, Matt Holliday and Craig hitting in front of him.
• Loser: Daniel Descalso, 2B/3B/SS -- Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter and Jhonny Peralta are entrenched at second, third and shortstop, respectively. While Descalso will be the primary backup at all three positions, he likely won't log enough at-bats to really move the needle in fantasy leagues. Given that he is a marginal offensive player to begin with -- his career slash is .243/.310/.346 -- he does not even deserve the attention of NL-only leaguers.
• Winner: Gerrit Cole, SP -- Cole had a great rookie year in 2013, going 10-7 with a 3.22 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 1.17 WHIP and 100 strikeouts in 117.1 innings. His average fastball came in at a blazing 96.1 mph, and he could already be the Pirates' ace. Assuming he gets somewhere in the neighborhood of 33 starts this year, he could strike out 200 batters with rates of a 3.00 ERA and 1.15 WHIP -- making him one of fantasy's best starting pitchers.
• Loser: Mark Melancon, RP -- No matter what role in which Clint Hurdle deployed Melancon last year, his power righty excelled. After Jason Grilli went down with a forearm strain, Melancon starred as the team's closer, saving 16 games. He finished the season with a 1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 70 strikeouts in 71 innings. With Grilli healthy, though, Melancon will set up for the lefty. He may retain value in NL-only leagues and mixed leagues that use holds, but those are the only spots in which he will be fantasy relevant unless he becomes the closer again.
• Winner: Billy Hamilton, OF -- The Reds let Shin-Soo Choo and his .423 OBP walk to Texas to turn the starting center field job over to the speedster Hamilton. In his last two full seasons in the minors, he swiped a ridiculous 230 bags and was caught 52 times. After Hamilton got the call to the majors, the Reds deployed him as the league's most dangerous pinch runner. He stole 13 bases in 14 tries, bringing a new element to the Cincinnati offense. There are justifiable worries about his ability to get on base, as he had a .308 OBP at Triple-A Louisville last year, but he can be a two-category monster for fantasy owners this season.
• Loser: Brandon Phillips, 2B -- Phillips had a strong fantasy season last year on the strength of 103 RBI from the second-base position. However, he hit just .261/.310/.396, posting an OPS less than .800 for the fifth time in the last six years. He pushed beyond the century mark in RBI thanks primarily to Joey Votto and the aforementioned Choo having the two highest OBPs in the National League. With Choo gone, he may not have as many RBI opportunities as he did last year.
• Winner: Matt Garza, SP -- In 11 starts with the Cubs last year, Garza was having his best season in three years on the North Side of Chicago. He was 6-1 with a 3.17 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 62 strikeouts in 71 innings. After the Cubs shipped him to Texas, his season predictably took a turn for the worse. In 13 starts with the Rangers, he had a 4.38 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He allowed more homers and nearly two more hits per nine innings. Garza is back in the NL Central now after signing with the Brewers earlier this week. He'll face a lot of the same competition he did with the Cubs last year, only swapping out Milwaukee for what is likely the division's worst offense.
• Loser: Rickie Weeks, 2B -- The Brewers will likely anoint Scooter Gennett their starter, making Weeks a regular backup for the first time in his career. Gennett acquitted himself well last season, hitting .324/.356/.479 with six homers in 230 plate appearances. Weeks, meanwhile, had a disastrous season, slashing .209/.306/.357. He's 31 and injury prone, making this decision a rather easy one for Ron Roenicke.
• Winner: Junior Lake, OF -- Lake was one of the few bright spots for the Cubs in 2013, hitting .284/.332/.428 with six homers in 254 plate appearances. The Cubs have a relatively empty outfield, and the only platoon appears to be Justin Ruggiano and Ryan Sweeney in center. Not only does that mean Lake could be in line for 140-plus starts, but also he won't face the physical demands of playing center field every day as he did half of the time last year. He desperately needs to cut down on his strikeout rate, but he's already on the fringes of deep mixed leagues.
• Loser: Pedro Strop, RP -- Strop pitched quite well for the Cubs after coming over from the Orioles, striking out 42 batters in 35 innings with a 2.83 ERA and 0.94 WHIP. He would have had a shot to be the team's closer until it signed Jose Veras during the offseason. Now he'll just be a setup man, making him worthless to almost all fantasy owners.
• Winner: Evan Gattis, C -- Gattis exploded early in the season, hitting 12 homers in the first two months playing in place of an injured Brian McCann. Once the latter returned, Gattis got semi-regular at-bats playing catcher and left field, but he still played in just 105 games. Now that McCann is in the Bronx, Gattis will be the starting catcher. He's not going to help your rates, but with a full complement of plate appearances, he could push up toward 30 jacks.
• Loser: Dan Uggla, 2B -- Consider Uggla a loser by default. Other than Gattis, no one on this team saw his status really change during the offseason. Uggla earns the collar here after having the worst season of his career, hitting .179/.309/.362 with an alarming 31.8-percent strikeout rate. Rare is the second baseman who is a near lock to hit at least 20 home runs, yet cannot be trusted in fantasy leagues. Uggla is that guy.
• Winner: Doug Fister, SP -- Fister isn't a winner simply because he's making the transtion to the National League from the American League, though that will almost always help a pitcher's stats. No pitcher was on a worse team given his skill set than Fister last year. An extreme ground-ball pitcher, Fister had a .332 BABIP thanks to an infield that included Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Jhonny Peralta. While his 3.67 ERA was nothing to sneeze at, his FIP was nearly a half-run lower. Any new team would be an upgrade for him, and the Nationals feature plus defenders up the middle in Ian Desmond and Anthony Rendon.
• Loser: Danny Espinosa, 2B/3B -- Espinosa played just 44 games last year and had a miserable go of it, hitting .158/.193/.272. The Nationals appear to have turned the page at second base, likely handing the job to Anthony Rendon. The 23-year-old hit .265/.329/.396 with seven homers in 394 plate appearances. As a utility infielder, Espinosa won't be of much value to fantasy owners.
New York Mets
• Winner: Chris Young, OF -- Young is going to hurt your rates, but he has always had a decent amount of pop. Unfortunately, the cavernous O.co Coliseum muted that pop last year. While Oakland's home stadium surrendered homers at 8 percent less than the average, Citi Field boosted them by 3 percent. Young is just three seasons removed from his second-straight 20-20 season. If he can stay healthy this year, that is again well within reach.
• Loser: Curtis Granderson, OF -- Citi Field may represent an upgrade in terms of home park for Young, but it's a serious downgrade for Granderson. He was built to play in Yankee Stadium, and it showed as he hit 41 homers in 2011 and 43 in 2012. He won't find that same inviting short porch in right-center that he took such advantage of across town.
• Winner: Cody Asche, 3B -- Asche had a strong year with Triple-A Lehigh Valley last year, hitting .295/.352/.485 with 15 homers. He earned a call to the majors and hit .235/.302/.389 in 50 games. He'll likely enter the season as the starting third baseman in Philadelphia. If the pop he showed at Triple-A last season translates to the majors, he could eventually become relevant in mixed leagues.
• Loser: Ryan Howard, 1B -- In the last two seasons, Howard has played a combined 151 games and hit just 25 homers. Once the most feared power hitter in the game, the 34-year-old is a shell of his former self. He hit .219/.295/.423 in 2012 and .266/.319/.465 last year. At one of fantasy's deepest positions, Howard is barely worth grabbing as a lottery ticket in mixed leagues.
• Winner: Christian Yelich, OF -- Yelich forced his way to the majors after hitting .280/.365/.518 and Double-A Jacksonville last year. In 273 plate appearances with the Marlins, he hit .288/.370/.396 with 10 stolen bases. He should hit toward the top of the order, benefitting all season long from the presence of Giancarlo Stanton behind him in the lineup. He could easily steal 20-plus bags while scoring 80-plus runs and posting strong rates.
• Loser: Garrett Jones, 1B -- Pittsburgh may not have been a great spot for power hitters last year, but it was at least better than Miami. In fact, Marlins Park was the least friendly in terms of allowing home runs last season. That's bad news for a marginal fantasy player whose one real skill is slightly above-average power. Jones shouldn't be on your mixed-league radar.