Mariners sign starter Jeff Weaver to a one-year contract
Losers: Jeff Weaver, Ryan Feierabend, Chae Seung Baek
Weaver was a lost cause for most of the 2006 season, but he pulled himself together just in time to spearhead the Cardinals' unlikely run to World Series glory. The move back to the more offensive-friendly American League, though, doesnt bode well for a pitcher who produced a 6.29 ERA over 16 starts with the Angels last season. Even with the spacious dimensions of Safeco Field behind him, Weaver is looking like a risky investment in mixed-league play.
With Weaver in the fold, both Feierabend and Baek are no longer in the running for the No. 5 spot in Seattle's rotation.
Red Sox sign outfielder J.D. Drew to a five-year deal
Winner: J.D. Drew
Assuming he's healthy (the most commonly heard disclaimer atop a Drew analysis), the left-handed-hitting right fielder stands a good chance to improve his across-the-board production in Boston. Protected by the intimidating David Ortiz, he'll be featured in the best lineup of his career in a far better hitters' park than Dodger Stadium.
Although Drew probably provides more value in real baseball than in fantasy, given his propensity for drawing loads of walks and roping a healthy share of doubles, he has strong enough on-base skills to post 100-plus runs scored with the Red Sox. At 31, he'll likely never exceed his career year of 2004 but warrants consideration as a No. 3 outfielder in mixed-league play -- assuming he's healthy, of course.
Losers: Wily Mo Pena, Eric Hinske
Unless the Red Sox decide to pull the trigger on a Manny Ramirez trade, the arrival of Drew means Pena will likely return to his role as an extra outfielder, occasionally spelling Drew and providing insurance in center should Coco Crisp get out of the gate slowly. Hinske, too, gets pushed down the Red Sox depth chart.
Indians ink outfielder Trot Nixon to a one-year pact
Neutral: Trot Nixon
Gone are the underrated years when Nixon posted slugging percentages of .500 and drove in 80-plus runs. Several trips to the disabled list have limited him to fewer than 500 plate appearances in each of the last three years and robbed him of his power stroke. Tabbed by the Indians, the 32-year-old will play only when right-handers are on the mound, against whom he owns a career .893 OPS, compared to a meager .634 OPS against southpaws. Despite his diminishing pop, Nixon still possesses one of the game's strictest batting eyes, generating a .373 on-base percentage last year with the Red Sox. He should receive enough starts in Cleveland's crowded outfield to garner 300-350 at-bats.
Loser: Shin-Soo Choo
Nixon figures to cut into the playing of talented 24-year-old Choo, who came into his own last July when the Indians acquired him from the Mariners, posting a .846 OPS. Both left-handed hitters experience their share of difficulties against southpaws, so one of them will have to emerge as the clear-cut right fielder when right-handers are on the mound.
Braves trade first baseman Adam LaRoche to the Pirates for reliever Mike Gonzalez
Winners: Salomon Torres, Scott Thorman, Adam LaRoche
The Pirates' decision to trade Gonzalez, the team's primary closer in 2006, opens the door for Torres to step into his shoes. The veteran right-hander got his first whiff of regular fireman duty late last year, when Gonzalez suffered left elbow tendinitis, and he adapted quickly to the upgrade, converting 11 of 12 saves in September. His strong final month served as a microcosm for what was an uncommon season from the 34-year-old, who established career highs with 94 appearances -- which led the Majors -- and a 6.94 K/9 rate. Continuing to laugh in the face of age won't be as easy for Torres in 2007, considering his average career peripherals (3.77 BB/9, 1.48 K/BB ratio). Still, he's now on a short list of pitchers in line for saves, a factor which alone makes him worthy of a mid-round draft pickup.
Although LaRoche, 27, loses the protection and RBI opportunities he enjoyed in Atlanta, playing his home games in hitter-friendly PNC Park is a big bonus. Plus, he'll likely bat cleanup behind a rising stud in Jason Bay -- hardly a punishment. Bearing in mind that LaRoche boasted an outstanding .621 slugging percentage away from the pitcher-protecting Turner Field last year, 40 homers wouldn't come as a shock.
One of the biggest reasons why the Braves deemed LaRoche expendable was the presence of 25-year-old Thorman waiting in the wings. He'll take over as the team's everyday first baseman, a promotion that adds a jolt of life to his fantasy value. After recording a .508 slugging percentage in Triple-A Richmond last year with improved selectivity at the dish (31/48 BB/K ratio), Thorman, who also qualifies as an outfielder, should be good for around 15 homers and 75 RBIs in his first full big-league season. He'll need to learn how hit lefties (.189 batting average-against last year) before moving into LaRoche's class, though.
Loser: Mike Gonzalez
Coming off a 2006 season that saw him convert all 24 of the save opportunities he received, with a 2.17 ERA to boot, Gonzalez goes to a Braves bullpen where he's likely to play second fiddle to closer Bob Wickman. Quite a shame, really, when you consider that the 28-year-old left-hander struck out 64 in 54 innings, yielding just one homer. At 38, Wickman is far from a sure-fire closer. Then again, it's better than a backup closer.
Rangers, outfielder Sammy Sosa agree on Minor League deal
Neutral: Sammy Sosa, Nelson Cruz, Jason Botts
It's unclear in what capacity Sosa will serve with his new team or whether his 38-year-old body will hold up after a hiatus in 2006. Of course, we last saw Sosa in 2005, when he put up a paltry .671 OPS. He'll likely compete against the younger Jason Botts and Nelson Cruz in Spring Training for at-bats at designated hitter.
Rockies acquire starter Rodrigo Lopez from the Orioles for Minor League right-handers Jim Miller and Jason Burch
Winner: Rodrigo Lopez
Lopez, who led the Majors with 18 losses last year, benefits from leaving the hard-hitting American League East for the National League West. His strikeouts are likely to rise as a result, making the 31-year-old right-hander worth a late-round flier in NL-only play, especially if he can build upon his relatively respectable second half (4.66 ERA, 7.80 K/9 IP). After all, it can't get much worse than his 2006 output.
Losers: Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz
With Aaron Cook, Jeff Francis, Byung-Hyun Kim and Josh Fogg all returning to the Rockies rotation, Lopez's arrival spells danger for young right-handers Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz, both of whom the team acquired in the Jason Jennings deal. The former Astros arms may begin the 2007 season in the Minors, further honing their pitch accuracy, rather than in Colorado's rotation.
Yankees trade starter Randy Johnson and cash considerations to the Diamondbacks for reliever Luis Vizcaino and Minor Leaguers Ross Ohlendorf, Steven Jackson and Alberto Gonzalez
Winner: Randy Johnson
Coming off a season that saw his ERA skyrocket to a career-worst 5.00 mark, the 43-year-old Johnson, who had back surgery in October, obviously isn't the Big Unit of old anymore. Returning to the offensively weaker National League West division, however, he doesn't need to be. A silver lining in Johnson's otherwise disappointing 2006 output were his relatively low 60 walks in 205 innings, an indication that the southpaw can still throw strikes, albeit with fewer strikeouts. Barring injury, a return to the NL, where he's likely to give up fewer homers, makes Johnson into a prime comeback candidate in 2007, with a sub-4.00 ERA and 200 strikeouts within sight.
Neutral: Luis Vizcaino
One of the NL's finest setup men, Vizcaino likely becomes the Yankees' backup closer to Mariano Rivera, a job that may allow him to vulture a few saves but also pose a risk just by the very nature of pitching in the imposing American League East.
Rockies ink catcher Javy Lopez to a one-year pact
Losers: Chris Iannetta, Javy Lopez, Yorvit Torrealba
The likely addition of Lopez puts a damper on the 2007 outlook for top catching prospect Chris Iannetta, who slugged .510 last season at Triple-A Colorado Springs. Though Iannetta figures to see the majority of starts behind the plate for the Rockies next season, the 36-year-old Lopez would nonetheless eat away at his playing time. The signing also figures to reduce Yorvit Torrealba to third-catcher status at best.
Astros ink second baseman Mark Loretta to a one-year pact
Loser: Mark Loretta
A starting second baseman throughout most of his 12-year career, the 35-year-old Loretta will be demoted to a utility role with the Astros, which essentially crushes his fantasy appeal beyond deep NL-only leagues. He'll be hard-pressed to garner any more than 350 at-bats.
Orioles sign Aubrey Huff to a three-year deal
Winner: Aubrey Huff
While sluggers like Carlos Lee received tons of attention this offseason, the underappreciated Huff -- he of the solid .819 career OPS -- was widely glossed over. Playing his home games at Camden Yards, which features a short right-field porch, the left-handed-hitting 30-year-old is a good bet to reach 30 homers and possibly even return to a .300 batting average if he can rediscover his stroke against southpaws. Likely hitting behind Miguel Tejada in the O's lineup, Huff will be one of the better draft-day bargains, especially while he still qualifies at third base.
Marlins ink corner infielder Aaron Boone to a one-year deal
Neutral: Mike Jacobs
Jacobs, a left-handed hitting first baseman, batted just .182 against southpaws in his first full big-league season in 2006. He'll continue to start predominately against right-handers, with Boone receiving the lion's share of at-bats vs. lefties.
Loser: Aaron Boone
Boone, 33, essentially takes over the role vacated by Wes Helms, who signed with the Phillies this offseason. Though he'll offer depth at third base behind All-Star Miguel Cabrera, Boone will serve primarily as the right-handed half of a platoon at first base with Mike Jacobs. As a result, Boone's fantasy value plummets to that of a fringe infielder in deep NL-only play, considering he'll be lucky to see 300 at-bats.
Giants sign starter Barry Zito to a seven-year deal
Winner: Barry Zito
Defying overwhelming speculation that he'd end up with the Mets, Zito's move across the bridge to San Francisco is probably the second-best destination fantasy owners could have hoped for. Although he won't receive nearly as much run support with the Giants as he would have in New York or Texas, which dampens his win potential, pitching his home games at the vast confines of AT&T Park makes sustaining his sub-4.00 career ERA that much easier. And while Zito's new defense doesn't boast the same efficiency as that to which he became accustomed with the A's, the switch to the offensively inferior NL West gives the durable 28-year-old left-hander a legitimate shot at 180-190 strikeouts in his first season with the Giants.
Angels sign infielder Shea Hillenbrand to a one-year deal with a club option for 2008
Losers: Shea Hillenbrand, Kendry Morales, Casey Kotchman
Hillenbrand joins a team with which his at-bats won't necessarily be as secure as they were with Toronto and San Francisco last season. In order to reach 500-plus at-bats for the sixth consecutive year, the 31-year-old corner infielder will have to fight off younger alternatives in fellow first basemen Casey Kotchman and Kendry Morales and outfielder/designated hitter Juan Rivera, whenever he returns from his broken leg. Add in the fact that he'll be playing his home games at pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium, and another 21 homers appears unlikely. Still, as long as Hillenbrand continues to qualify at third base, where he played 25 games in 2006, he'll be worthy of a bench spot in mixed-league play in 2007.
Brewers ink starter Jeff Suppan to a four-year deal with a club option for 2011
Losers: Jeff Suppan, Carlos Villanueva
Despite his favorable 5-0 record and 1.76 ERA in seven career starts at Miller Park, Suppan will no longer be blessed with the support of the above-average Cardinals defense, a unit that's been far better than that of the Brewers in recent years. The difference could be huge for a starter who fans just five batters per nine innings and relies heavily on his infield to bail him out of jams. To his credit, the 31-year-old right-hander has thrown no fewer than 188 innings since 1998, so there isn't a great amount of risk of him landing on the disabled list. Still, with a vastly inferior offense and defense backing Suppan up, don't be shocked if he ends up with an ERA closer to 5.00 than 4.00.
Suppan joins a Milwaukee rotation that includes Ben Sheets, Chris Capuano, Dave Bush and Claudio Vargas, crushing the hopes of talented 23-year-old Carlos Villanueva landing a starting spot out of Spring Training.
White Sox trade starter Brandon McCarthy to the Rangers for Minor League pitchers John Danks, Nick Masset and Jacob Rasner
Winners: Gavin Floyd, Chuck Haeger
Brandon McCarthy's exit again provides an opening in the White Sox rotation, a spot that's likely to be filled internally. The two most obvious choices -- given their experience in the high Minors -- are Haeger, a knuckleballer, and Floyd, a right-hander whom the club acquired from the Phillies during the 2006 Winter Meetings. Expect the two 23-year-olds to compete for the No. 5 slot in Spring Training, with the loser likely to be relegated to spot-starter status.
Neutral: Brandon McCarthy, John Danks, Nick Masset
The 2006 offseason has been nothing short of a roller coaster ride for McCarthy. The 23-year-old right-hander ended the regular season as a White Sox long reliever but secured a rotation spot following the club's decision to trade Freddy Garcia to Philadelphia only to be dealt to Texas, where he'll slot in as a No. 3 starter behind Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla. Throwing half his games in a notorious hitters' park makes his 2007 prospects slightly less encouraging, though it'll still be an upgrade relative his frustrating days of taking out the garbage in long relief. Consider grabbing McCarthy once the top 50-60 starters are off the board, as the 6-foot-7 hurler has yet to tap into the vast potential he showed as a Minor League ace.
Danks, whom Baseball America recently touted as the Rangers' top overall prospect, joins a relatively crowded cast of White Sox pitchers. Though Danks posted a 154/56 K/BB ratio with Double-A Frisco and Triple-A Oklahoma during a solid 2006 Minor League campaign, the trade will likely slow the 21-year-old left-hander's path to the Majors. Danks will probably be slated to refine his accuracy in the Minors rather than compete for a rotation spot out of Spring Training.
Masset, 24, is expected to receive a shot at winning a role in a revamped White Sox bullpen, though his fantasy upside is fairly limited.
Padres sign second baseman Marcus Giles to a one-year deal
Neutral: Marcus Giles
Many will look back at Giles' disappointing .262/.341/.387 campaign last season and pass on drafting him in 2007. Yes, it was an off year, but it's important to take into account that Giles was hampered by a bruised left hand and finger injuries for the majority of the season. And at 28, Giles is still in the prime of his career, just one season removed from 2005, when he batted .291 with 15 homers, 16 steals and 104 runs.
Joining the Padres is a double-edge sword. On one hand, Giles will be hard pressed to approach 20 homers while playing his home games in the spacious confines of PETCO Park. On the other hand, uniting with his older brother, Brian, in their hometown of San Diego provides a perfect change in scenery for a player who's coming off a down year. A potential draft-day bargain in a scarce second base field, the younger Giles is a good bet to bounce back in 2007.
Yankees sign Japanese starter Kei Igawa to a five-year deal
Neutral: Kei Igawa
With right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka attracting the vast majority of international media attention, Igawa hopes to show that the gap between the two isn't as wide as the roughly $24 million posting-fee difference would seem to indicate. Featuring a 88-91 mph fastball, the 27-year-old Igawa doesn't quite match Matsuzaka's velocity or movement but won Japan's Central League strikeout title in 2002 and 2004 as well as the league's MVP Award in 2003 by routinely changing speeds to keep hitters off-balance. He'll have to add some movement to his relatively straight heater to have similar success in the Majors, according to several scouting reports. The impressive 2.97 K/BB ratio he posted during an eight-year tenure with the Hanshin Tigers actually bests Matsuzaka's ratio of 2.70, which at the very least shows that the left-hander possesses above-average pitch control. What separates the two, however, is Igawa's vulnerability to the long ball, as his fly-ball tendencies led to a mediocre 1.15 home runs allowed per nine innings from 2004-05 -- a big concern as he heads into the heavy-hitting American League East.
One National League Central scout compared Igawa to Seattle's Jarrod Washburn, both of whom throw a decent slider, curve and changeup but get battered around when their average fastballs wander too high in the strike zone. Unlike Washburn, though, Igawa will have the fierce Yankees offense supporting him, which alone could lead to double-digit wins. Although Igawa doesn't belong in the same tier as Matsuzaka, his win and strikeout potential make him worthy of a reserve-round flier.
Loser: Carl Pavano
With the Igawa signing, the Yankees aren't exactly showing confidence in the injury-plagued Pavano, who'll likely be the odd man out whenever both he and Randy Johnson, who's recovering from offseason back surgery, return to form.
Mariners acquire second baseman Jose Vidro from the Nationals for outfielder Chris Snelling and reliever Emiliano Fruto
Winners: Jose Vidro, Chris Snelling
With Jose Lopez entrenched as the Mariners' everyday second baseman, Vidro is slated to become the team's regular designated hitter. Staying off the field should help the 32-year-old Vidro, who suffered from knee and chest ailments in an injury-plagued 2006 season. While moving from RFK Stadium to the equally pitcher-protecting Safeco Field is unlikely to boost Vidro's downward-trending power numbers, the switch-hitter still possesses above-average plate coverage, evidenced by his mere 48 strikeouts in 511 plate appearances this past season, with the ability to bat over .300. A change in scenery increases Vidro odds of rebounding in 2007.
Once considered a top prospect, the 25-year-old Snelling has faded in recent years due to various injuries. However, given the mediocrity of the Nationals outfield, a cast dealing with the departures of Alfonso Soriano and Jose Guillen, Snelling has a shot at stealing some at-bats next season.
Neutral: Emiliano Fruto
Fruto, 22, went 2-2 with 5.50 ERA in 36 innings during his rookie year in 2006, despite possessing what many scouts view as above-average stuff. Not considered a top-flight prospect, Fruto shouldn't be on your fantasy radar during his growing pains.
Loser: Ben Broussard
Acquiring Vidro reduces Broussard, who became the Mariners' regular DH after a trade brought him from Cleveland last July, into a bench role.
Devil Rays sign Japanese third baseman Akinori Iwamura to a three-year deal with a club option for 2010
Neutral: Akinori Iwamura
The 27-year-old Iwamura, who earned five Gold Gloves as a third baseman in Japan, has batted at least .300 with 30-plus homers in each of the last three seasons for the Yakult Swallows, but his high strikeout total begets a strong degree of doubt as to whether he can match that output in the Majors. Devil Rays general manager Andrew Friedman recently conceded the point, saying, "We don't expect that his power will translate quite as well as it did in Japan, but we think he will hit for more extra-base hits." There's also some uncertainty as to whether he or fading prospect B.J. Upton will earn the everyday job at third. Either way, expect between 10 and 20 jacks from Iwamura, who could qualify all over the diamond in several formats given his versatility. Consider the left-handed-hitting slugger worthy of a late-round flier, but follow his job status in Spring Training.
Loser: B.J. Upton
Upton can't buy a break. Though he's totaled 90 stolen bases over the last two seasons at Triple-A Durham, the 21-year-old speedster has struggled mightily on defense. After trading away Aubrey Huff in July, the Rays moved Upton from shortstop to third base with little success. The Iwamura signing further diminishes the chances of Upton cementing himself as a full-timer in Tampa.
Red Sox acquire Donnelly from Angels
Neutral: Brendan Donnelly, Phil Seibel
If fantasy managers think the 35-year-old Brendan Donnelly will take over Boston's closer duties in 2007, consider the negatives. No longer will the veteran right-hander benefit from throwing his home games at the relatively pitcher-friendly Angel Stadium, where he owns an impeccable 2.14 career ERA and away from which he sported a nightmarish 6.52 ERA last season. Donnelly's increasing struggles against left-handed hitters, who batted .290 off him in 2006, suggest that he's better suited to remain a middle reliever. Unless the Red Sox come up completely empty-handed in their quest for a new closer, expect Donnelly to be used in Boston as he was with the Angels.
A 27-year-old Minor Leaguer, Seibel has little to no fantasy value, especially on a crowded Angels pitching staff.
Red Sox sign starter Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year deal
Winner: Daisuke Matsuzaka
With Matsuzaka finally inked to become the highest-paid Japanese import in big-league history, the baseball universe can now shift its attention to the next stage of debate and speculation: Is the 5-foot-11, 180 pound right-hander prepared to live up to the $51.1 million hype? Or might he follow in the disappointing footsteps of another highly advertised Japanese pitcher, Hideki Irabu?
Armed with a mid-90s heater, a plus curveball and a devastating changeup, the 26-year-old Matsuzaka delivers all of his pitches with excellent movement and outstanding location. His most prominent pitch (and undoubtedly the most mystifying), however, is what many have dubbed the "gyroball," due to its radical counterclockwise spin and unorthodox, late-sinking movement. During Japan's championship run in the inaugural World Series Baseball Classic, opponents found the pitch to be practically unhittable. Matsuzaka emerged as the tournament MVP with a 3-0 record, including the clinching win over Cuba.
Over his last four years with the Seibu Lions, "D-Mat" dominated the competition with mouthwatering numbers, boasting a 2.51 ERA, more strikeouts than innings pitched and a 4.08 K/BB ratio. But does that mean he can do the same against the imposing sluggers of the American League East?
According to Baseball Prospectus' Clay Davenport -- who's enjoyed great success translating Japanese stats to the Majors, having accurately predicted the rise and fall of Ichiro Suzuki and Kaz Matsui, respectively -- Matsuzaka compares most favorably to Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, two of the game's top starters.
The biggest question, of course, is how a starter who's asked to pitch every sixth day in Japan will fare with one less day of rest in the U.S.? Working in his favor, Matsuzaka once threw an astonishing 250 pitches in a high school game, takes pride in his good physical conditioning and now has the calming influence of Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek on which to fall back.
What does it all add up to? Backed by Boston's solid offense and defense, Mastuzaka can be expected to muster 15-18 wins, an ERA between 3.50-4.00 and 160-180 strikeouts in 2007 -- enough to warrant top 25 starter status.
Mariners ink starter Miguel Batista to a three-year pact
Neutral: Miguel Batista
A prototypical innings eater, the 35-year-old Batista fared respectably in his return to the rotation last year with Arizona, going 11-8 with a 4.58 ERA. While his eroding dominance (4.80 K/9 IP in 2006) and erratic control (3.66 BB/9 IP) are certainly causes for concern, especially in the American League, Batista has a decent shot at keeping his ERA below 5.00 as long as he continues to sport a 50 percent ground-ball rate. Leaving homer-friendly Chase Field, where the right-hander was roughed up to the tune of a 5.38 ERA, for the spacious grounds of Safeco Field certainly won't hurt his chances, either. He'll also be helped by Seattle's stellar infield defense, which could compensate for an expected lack of run support. Consider Batista an adequate late-round option solely in AL-only play.
Astros trade starters Jason Jennings and Miguel Asencio to the Rockies for outfielder Willy Taveras and starters Jason Hirsh and Taylor Buchholz
Winners: Chris Burke
After years of serving as an understudy to fan favorite Craig Biggio at second base, Burke produced decent numbers as a utilityman this past season, cranking nine homers with 11 steals in 366 at-bats. Despite his low walk rate, Burke has gradually been working deeper into counts (3.85 pitches per plate appearances in 2006), which gives him a leg up on other first-year full-timers. The versatile 26-year-old, who'll qualify at second base and outfield to begin 2007, can be likened to a poor man's Josh Barfield -- a cheap source of double-digit jacks and swipes.
Neutral: Jason Jennings, Willy Taveras, Jason Hirsh, Taylor Buchholz, Miguel Asencio
Fresh off losing Andy Pettitte to the Yankees, the Astros dealt for a starting pitcher who owns a 10.47 ERA in Houston, albeit in 16 1/3 innings. Jennings, 28, enjoyed a breakout season in 2006, notching a career-high 142 strikeouts and posting the first sub-5.00 ERA of his career (3.78) to lower his lifetime mark to a still-unimpressive 4.74. Leaving Colorado would be a blessing in any other year, but given the humidor effect, which normalized the home run rate at Coors Field, heading to the cozy confines of Minute Maid Park may actually hurt Jennings. Throw in the fact that his 2006 strikeout rate (6.03 K/9 IP) and K/BB ratio (1.67) were pedestrian, and you're looking at a pretty average starter whose success largely depends on his defense. Jennings is likely to be overvalued in 2007.
With just four long balls in 1,224 career plate appearances, Taveras isn't likely to increase his home run rate, regardless of where he plays his home games. However, the 24-year-old center fielder, who's notched 30-plus steals in back-to-back seasons, will be given a chance to eclipse his runs total of a season ago (83) batting ahead of the likes of Matt Holliday, Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins in a superior Rockies lineup.
The 24-year-old Hirsh, who capped his Minor League career with back-to-back sub-3.00 ERA seasons, still stands a good chance to live up to his top-prospect billing in Colorado. A ground-ball pitcher, Hirsh allowed just five homers in 137 1/3 innings at Triple-A Round Rock, an indication that he's unlikely to melt down with the Rockies. Chalk up his messy 6.04 ERA in the Majors this past season to rookie inexperience. The skills, repertoire and makeup are all there, though it'll likely take a full year of growing pains before he develops his control. In the meantime, Hirsh offers the savvy fantasy owner a good bang for his buck in the later rounds.
Unlike Hirsh, Buchholz projects as more of a mid-rotation starter than a front-line guy. The talented 25-year-old was plagued by inconsistency in his first full big-league season, getting roughed up to the tune of a 5.89 ERA, including a 6.75 mark on the road. Mixed-league managers would be wise to pass on Buchholz -- that is, until he gains some more Major League experience in the Rockies rotation. Leave him to the NL-only crowd.
With a 5.12 lifetime ERA and 1.03 career K/BB ratio, the 26-year-old Asencio deserves no fantasy attention in 2007.
Loser: Cory Sullivan
Sullivan goes from being a starting center fielder to a fourth outfielder with the Rockies' addition of Taveras.
Rangers sign reliever Eric Gagne to a one-year deal
Neutral: Eric Gagne
While only three years have passed since Gagne won the National League Cy Young Award, time certainly hasn't flown for the former Dodgers closer. The 30-year-old right-hander has been limited to 16 games over the past two seasons, due to back and elbow surgeries, making him expendable to a Dodgers team that now features Takashi Saito as its closer. Despite Gagne's trips to the operating room, the Rangers have expressed confidence in his return to health after carefully reviewing his medical reports. Barring a setback, he stands a good chance at receiving the majority of Texas' save chances in 2007, though switching leagues from pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium to hitter-happy Ameriquest Field ensures that his road back to dominance won't come easy. You'll want to keep a close eye on his progress during Spring Training.
Loser: Akinori Otsuka
It remains to be seen what effect the Gagne signing will have on current Rangers fireman Otsuka, who racked up 32 saves with a whopping 2.11 ERA this past season. The club may decide to shop the Japanese right-hander, given the feverish market for pitching. Or, they may opt to demote him to setup man, which in turn would significantly shrink his fantasy value. Obviously, there are lots of question marks regarding Otsuka's chances of closing in a Rangers uniform come 2007, so steer clear until the situation shakes out.
Rangers sign outfielder Kenny Lofton to a one-year deal
Neutral: Kenny Lofton
Just when Lofton appeared ready to slow down, he turned on the jets as a 39-year-old in 2006. Hitting over .300 for the second straight season (.301), the speedy center fielder collected his highest stolen base total (32) since 1998, thanks in large part to Dodgers manager Grady Little's willingness to give him the green light. Lofton is unlikely to match last year's swipe output in Texas, though, especially with first-year skipper Ron Washington -- a product of Oakland's conservative station-to-station offense -- at the helm. If he's to replace Gary Matthews' production in center and avoid falling into a part-time role, he'll need to bolster his meager .214 batting average against lefties.
Batting atop the Rangers offense -- which features more run producers than that of the 2006 Dodgers -- figures to give Lofton another shot at scoring 80-plus runs. Mix in a .290 batting average, around 20 steals and a half-dozen homers, and owners are once again looking at a serviceable, mid- to late-round source of steals.
Orioles and outfielder Jay Payton agree on a two-year deal
Neutral: Jay Payton
It feels like only yesterday when Payton was a highly touted Mets prospect. At 34, the athletic right-handed hitter has never quite lived up to his five-category billing but has still managed to develop into a respectable third or fourth big-league outfielder, hitting .284 with a .768 OPS over his nine-year career. His lack of patience -- shown clearly in 2006, when he averaged just 3.12 pitches per plate appearance -- has prevented him taking the next step forward and limits his power upside to 15-20 homers. On the other hand, Payton's downside is offset by his quick bat speed (52 Ks in 557 at-bats last season).
A better hitter at home than on the road throughout his career, Payton stands a good chance to improve upon last year's long ball total of 10 as Baltimore's starting left fielder, given the cozy confines of Camden Yards. Just don't expect him to stray too far from his career norms.
Cubs sign Jason Marquis to a three-year deal
Neutral: Jason Marquis
Most pitchers in their 20s gradually improve. The 28-year-old Marquis, on the other hand, has pitched worse in each of the last two seasons, as his ERA, K/BB ratio and home run rate have all deteriorated. His ground-ball rate, which rose from 43 percent in 2005 to 49 percent this past season, offers a glimmer of hope for 2007. Then again, the Cubs defense isn't as strong as that of the Cardinals. Disregard the 14 wins Marquis posted in 2006, as his 6.02 ERA suggests that he's waiver-wire material in all formats until he proves otherwise.
Losers: Angel Guzman, Sean Marshall, Carlos Marmol, Juan Mateo
Whenever Mark Prior returns to the rotation, the Cubs will feature five set starters in Carlos Zambrano, the newly signed Ted Lilly, Rich Hill and Marquis, which leaves their younger, less prominent arms fighting for scraps.
Padres ink starter Greg Maddux to a one-year deal with a mutual option for 2008
Neutral: Greg Maddux
At 40, Maddux has given owners little reason to doubt his craftiness on the mound, compensating for his low strikeout rate (5.01 K/9 IP this past season) with excellent control (1.59 BB/9 IP) and the ability to induce gobs of ground balls (51 percent rate). Going to pitcher-friendly PETCO Park only helps his cause, as the veteran right-hander slots in behind Jake Peavy and Chris Young as the club's No. 3 pitcher. Then again, although Maddux's solid ERA and WHIP are likely to remain relatively unharmed, the jury is out on whether he can rack up another 15 wins, unless, of course, the Padres can improve upon last year's substandard offense.
Tigers sign reliever Jose Mesa to a one-year contract
Loser: Jose Mesa
Sporting a 3.86 ERA, a .422 slugging percentage against and a highly suspect 39/36 K/BB ratio over a career-high 79 games with the Rockies in 2006, the 40-year-old Mesa managed to grind out another workmanlike performance. With Fernando Rodney, Joel Zumaya and Todd Jones set to handle the late-inning duties for the Tigers, though, Mesa is a long shot to match the 19 holds he posted in 2006. And though he'll make roughly half his appearances at pitcher-friendly Comerica Park, given his age, his diminishing velocity, his waning pitch control and the offensive prominence of his new league, Mesa is a good bet to take a hit in the ERA department as well. Expect 2007 to mark Mesa's sharp decline.
Yankees sign starter Andy Pettitte to a one-year contract with an option for 2008
Neutral: Andy Pettitte
For all the money being spent on mid-rotation arms this offseason, Pettitte is among the most proven of the bunch. The fact that he's maintained pinpoint accuracy in the National League, posting a spiffy 3.16 K/BB ratio over his three-year tenure with the Astros, makes it less likely he'll get roughed up in his return to the mighty American League. And while he likely won't match the 178 strikeouts he delivered in 2006, Pettitte will induce plenty of ground balls, receive tons of run support and make half of his starts at Yankee Stadium, where he owns a 81-30 career record and a 3.46 lifetime ERA. Health permitting, expect the 34-year-old lefty to notch between 15-18 wins, 150 strikeouts and a respectable ERA -- enough to classify him as a solid No. 2 or 3 fantasy starter.
Loser: Kei Igawa or Carl Pavano
With the acquisition of Pettitte, the Yankees may decide to pass on signing Igawa, the Japanese lefty for whom the club won the bidding rights in late November. But if they don't, might the oft-injured Pavano be converted into a reliever, or even shipped out of the Bronx?
Royals ink reliever Octavio Dotel
Winner: Octavio Dotel
The Royals hope to have cured their ninth-inning anxieties in acquiring Dotel, who'll be given every chance to claim the closer role in 2007. With 71 career saves in 99 chances, Dotel certainly has late-inning experience, but he hasn't closed consistently since early 2005 with the A's, before Tommy John surgery sidelined him for more than a year. True, modern medicine has enabled a growing number of pitchers to recover more speedily from such a severe procedure, especially in the second year back. Still, there's a lot of uncertainty here. Though returning to a ninth-inning role will give the power-pitching right-hander a shot a reclaiming his pre-Tommy John value, risk-averse owners will want to look elsewhere for saves.
Loser: Joe Nelson
So much for the Joe Nelson experiment in Kansas City. After young Ambiorix Burgos proved to be too erratic to handle the ninth-inning duties in 2006, the late-blossoming 32-year-old was handed the closer job, converting nine of his 10 save opportunities and finishing the season with a 4.43 ERA. The right-handed Nelson will back up Dotel as a setup man, a role that betters suits his pitching repertoire.
Royals sign starter Gil Meche
Loser: Gil Meche
Although Meche posted a career-high 156 strikeouts in 2006, there are reasons to be skeptical about his 2007 outlook in Kansas City. For starters, he's struggled mightily away from Seattle's pitcher-protecting Safeco Field, posting an alarmingly high 5.37 career ERA on the road and a 3.91 lifetime mark at home. And while Kauffman Stadium isn't as hitter friendly as it used to be, it won't bail him out of any jams, either.
Another cause for concern is Meche's durability, as various injuries have prevented the 28-year-old right-hander from ever reaching 190 innings in any one of his six big-league seasons. With the uninspiring Royals offense backing him up, it wouldn't at all come as a shock to see Meche win fewer than 10 games. If you plan on buying Meche for the Ks, keep in mind that they'll come at a significant risk.
Braves dish starter Horacio Ramirez to the Mariners for reliever Rafael Soriano
Winner: Rafael Soriano
In moving to the National League, Soriano, who'll turn 27 on Dec. 19, takes a few steps closer to attaining a fireman role, which is currently being occupied by the aging Bob Wickman in Atlanta. The sky is the limit for Soriano, as evidenced by the impressive 2.25 ERA and overpowering 9.75 K/9 IP he sported in 2006. Fully realizing his vast potential is simply a matter of avoiding the disabled list, which hasn't been easy for him over the last few years.
Neutral: Horacio Ramirez
The left-handed Ramirez, 27, wasn't able to turn his ground-ball-inducing style into substance with Atlanta, so perhaps a move to Seattle's rotation will do the trick. Either way, his lifetime 4.28 K/9 IP keeps his upside at a minimum and renders him worthy of nothing more than late-round flier in AL-only play.
Dodgers sign outfielder Luis Gonzalez to a one-year pact
Losers: Luis Gonzalez, James Loney, Matt Kemp
With Gonzalez set to start in left field, the likelihood of a Manny Ramirez-to-Los Angeles trade has further waned. Gonzalez's once impeccable plate skills, though stellar, have been on the decline, as his walk rate, his strikeout rate and even his OPS have been trending in the wrong direction over the last two seasons. At 39, Gonzalez isn't getting any younger, either, so his transition from homer-friendly Chase Field to Dodger Stadium doesn't bode well for a reversal of fortune. Fantasy owners should have no delusions about the left-handed-hitting veteran, who's clearly in the twilight of his career. Batting in the heart of a substandard Dodgers offense, Gonzalez will be a fifth outfielder at best in 2007 mixed-league play.
It had been speculated that the Dodgers would shift the talented Loney -- a first baseman -- to right field after re-signing Nomar Garciaparra, but that was before Gonzalez was thrown into the mix. The acquisition of Gonzalez is likely to push Ethier, a 2006 National League Rookie of the Year candidate, to right field and Loney to the bench. Kemp, another blue-chip prospect, will also become a backup outfielder.
White Sox trade starter Freddy Garcia to the Phillies for right-hander Gavin Floyd and pitching prospect Gio Gonzalez
Winners: Brandon McCarthy, Freddy Garcia
The right-handed McCarthy, who this offseason expressed his dissatisfaction with pitching in relief, will gleefully fill the vacant rotation spot left by Garcia. McCarthy hasn't been a full-time starter since 2005, when he sported a filthy 130/32 K/BB ratio in 119 1/3 innings as a 21-year-old at Triple-A, demonstrating maturity and composure on the hill. After paying his dues as a big-league reliever, McCarthy will be energized by the opportunity to start behind one of baseball's best defenses. Learn his name, because McCarthy could be the next White Sox ace before long.
With new life in the National League, the once-authoritative Garcia, who sported a career-worst 4.53 ERA this past season, stands a good chance to reverse his sliding fortunes. Sure, he'll have to do so pitching his home games at homer-happy Citizens Bank Park, but NL lineups could make this 30-year-old horse look like the borderline ace he was in his early Mariners years, especially if he's able to keep the ball down in his first go-round in the league. The right-handed Garcia has excelled in new surroundings, performing best in his first few seasons in both Seattle and Chicago. Bet on a rebound from Garcia, who's likely to approach 180 Ks with a serviceable ERA.
Neutral: Gavin Floyd, Gio Gonzalez
Floyd, on the other hand, goes from being a fading 23-year-old prospect in Philadelphia to just another arm on a crowded White Sox staff. Unless he's given an opportunity to make the rotation, pass.
The 21-year-old Gonzalez, whom the White Sox dealt to the Phillies last offseason as part of the Jim Thome trade, racked up 166 strikeouts with a 7-12 record and a 4.66 ERA at Double-A Reading this past season. Still, the 81 walks the power-pitching lefty issued suggests that he'll need to hone his control to make a significant impact at the big-league level.
Loser: Jon Lieber
With Garcia in tow, the Phillies have six established starters on their roster -- not a bad problem to have. And based on the Lieber-to-Milwaukee rumblings at the Winter Meetings, don't be surprised to see another deal in short order.
Cubs ink starter Ted Lilly to a four-year contract
Neutral: Ted Lilly
With Mark Prior's health an annual question mark and Kerry Wood set to become the Cubs closer, the 30-year-old Lilly becomes the likely No. 2 starter on a suddenly inexperienced rotation. Like Prior and Wood, though, Lilly is no stranger to nagging injuries, as the veteran southpaw has yet to reach 200 innings in any of his five full big-league seasons. There's an outside chance that Lilly could establish a career high in strikeouts in the offensively inferior National League, but judging from his inconsistency, fantasy owners shouldn't necessarily bet the house on it.
A's sign catcher Mike Piazza to a one-year deal
Winners: Mike Piazza
After playing 15 seasons as a full-time catcher, Piazza will move into the designated hitter role for the A's, a switch that should help the 38-year-old place less focus on his worn-out knees and pay closer attention to his offensive production. Health permitting, Piazza can be expected to see more at-bats and -- as a result -- drive in more runs than he did last season (68), while providing a key right-handed bat in the heart of Oakland's young lineup. Leaving San Diego's gigantic PETCO Park, where the veteran slugger batted a paltry .223 this past season, doesn't hurt his prospects, either. And what kind of fantasy value does a catcher with a .280 average, 20-plus homers and 80-plus RBIs provide? Clearly, you'd be wise to snag Piazza once the powerhouse backstop trio of Joe Mauer, Victor Martinez and Brian McCann is off the board.
Dodgers ink starter Jason Schmidt to a three-year deal
Neutral: Jason Schmidt
At 33, Schmidt isn't the same top five starter who overpowered hitters with 251 strikeouts in 2004, but leaving the Giants for the arch-rival Dodgers doesn't necessarily mean that his performance will decline, either. Going from AT&T Park to the equally pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium is unlikely to damage his ERA or WHIP marks. And while Los Angeles' current offense isn't exactly the second coming of the 1956 team, which boasted Duke Snider, Gil Hodges and Jackie Robinson, last year's club still managed to score more runs than the unimposing Giants lineup. Expect the power-pitching right-hander to rack up numbers in line with his two-year averages -- 10-15 wins, a mid-3.00s ERA and roughly 180 Ks.
Loser: Hong-Chih Kuo, Mark Hendrickson
The Dodgers now boast one of the National League's fiercest rotations with the presumptive ace Schmidt, Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Randy Wolf, and blue-chip prospect Chad Billingsley, who's likely to push lefties Hendrickson and Kuo into long relief.
Giants sign catcher Bengie Molina to a three-year contract
Losers: Bengie Molina, Eliezer Alfonzo
Molina, 32, joins quite possibly the least intimidating lineup of his career, especially if the Giants elect to part ways with Barry Bonds. While he'll receive the overwhelming majority of starts behind the plate, the Puerto Rico native isn't a good bet to match the career-high 19 homers he delivered this past season, considering his spacious new home grounds at AT&T Park, which have a well-earned reputation for preventing long balls. Simply put, look for a dip in Molina's power production, RBIs and runs totals.
After notching 286 at-bats this past season, due in large part to regular backstop Mike Matheny's injury woes, Alfonzo will be relegated to backup duties with Molina taking the reins as the full-time catcher.
Dodgers sign Mike Lieberthal to a one-year deal
Neutral: Russell Martin
Martin isn't likely to be affected by the signing, as the 23-year-old backstop will still see the majority of starts behind the plate.
Loser: Mike Lieberthal
After many years of starting on an everyday basis for Philadelphia, the 34-year-old Lieberthal will see a significant reduction in at-bats slotting in as Russell Martin's backup. As a result, he's worth considering strictly in deep NL-only play.
A's ink reliever Alan Embree to a two-year contract
Winner: Joe Kennedy
The addition of Embree suggests that the club is prepared to put Kennedy, who was last featured as a starter with the Rockies, back in the rotation. Assuming Barry Zito leaves via free agency, Kennedy will likely fill the vacant rotation spot.
Neutral: Alan Embree
Embree, who's limited left-handed hitters to a .239 batting average over his 13-year big-league career, will slot in primarily as Oakland's lefty specialist.
Indians ink reliever Joe Borowski to a one-year deal with a club option for 2008
Losers: Joe Borowski, Thomas Mastny, Rafael Betancourt
Although Borowski, 35, is likely to remain a closer in Cleveland, his switch to the offensively superior American League doesn't bode well for a repeat of the 36 saves and 3.75 ERA he posted with the Marlins last season. He'll no longer have the luxury of pitching his home games at pitcher-friendly Dolphin Stadium, where he enjoyed far more success than he did on the road this past season. In fact, Borowski's suspect 2006 road ERA of 4.71 is probably more in line with what should be expected of him at Jacobs Field. This move spells trouble.
At least for the moment, the Borowski acquisition effectively quashes the chances of either Mastny or Betancourt -- both of whom nabbed a few vulture saves this past season -- returning to the closer role in Cleveland.
Royals trade reliever Ambiorix Burgos to the Mets for starter Brian Bannister
Winners: Ambiorix Burgos, Brian Bannister
Both young right-handers figure to benefit from a change of scenery. Burgos, 22, was thrust into the Royals closer role by default last season and delivered mixed results, converting just 18 of his 30 save chances with a spotty 5.52 ERA. Still, he fanned about a batter per inning, thanks to a high-90s fastball, and is far from a finished product. Though he's unlikely to close in New York anytime soon, moving to the National League in a middle-relief role will likely help him reach his considerable potential.
The 25-year-old Bannister, who spent most of last season sidelined with a severely strained right hamstring, has a better chance of making a big-league rotation as a member of the lackluster Royals staff. At best, the soft-tossing control pitcher projects as a No. 4 starter in the Majors.
Red Sox sign infielder Julio Lugo to a four-year deal
Winner: Julio Lugo
This past year proved to be a tale of two seasons for the talented Lugo, whose All-Star-caliber run in Tampa (.308 batting average, 12 homers, 18 steals) was interrupted by a midseason trade to the Dodgers. His disappointing second half was marred by a mystifying disappearance in production (.219, 0 HR, 6 SB), due in large part to his dutiful willingness to play all over the diamond, or in some cases, come off the bench and pinch-hit for one of the club's many infielders.
Assuming the deal is finalized, expect more of the former Lugo than the latter in 2007, as the 31-year-old Dominican will return to his cozy everyday spot at short. After enduring four years atop the harmless Devil Rays offense, the speedy Lugo joins the most productive lineup of his seven-year big-league career, which may very well enable him to score 100 runs for the first time. All in all, expect Lugo to generate double-digit homers, 25-plus steals and approach career highs in RBIs and runs -- enough to establish himself as a top 10 fantasy shortstop.
Loser: Alex Cora
Cora, who became the default shortstop when Alex Gonzalez left Boston to sign with the Reds in November, returns to his role as an all-purpose defensive infielder with the arrival of Lugo.
Giants sign infielder Rich Aurilia to a two-year contract
Losers: Rich Aurilia, Lance Niekro
After playing all four infield positions with the Reds in 2006, Aurilia becomes the likely full-time solution at first base in his return to San Francisco, where he played from 1998-2003. The versatile 35-year-old is coming off a surprisingly strong 2006 season, in which he batted .300 with 23 homers and 70 RBIs in just 440 at-bats.
Still, temper your enthusiasm, as Aurilia goes from playing his home games within the cozy confines of Great American Ball Park -- where he belted 24 of his 37 homers over the last two years -- to roomy AT&T Park. And with more at-bats comes greater responsibility for Aurilia, who'll be batting in the unimposing Giants lineup. Consider selecting Aurilia only as a mid-tier shortstop or second baseman in 2007, as he can be expected to produce fewer homers and a lower batting average than he did in 2006.
Aurilia's return to the Bay Area crushes Niekro's hopes of reclaiming the Giants' starting first base job.
Mariners sign outfielder Jose Guillen to a one-year deal with an option for 2008
Neutral: Jose Guillen
Guillen, 30, struggled with the Nationals this past season, batting .216 with a .398 slugging percentage over 241 at-bats before undergoing season-ending right elbow surgery in late July. A notorious free swinger, Guillen takes little stock in the fundamental adages "wait for your pitch" and "don't swing for the fences," having posted a paltry five percent walk rate over his 10-year big-league career. Acknowledging Seattle's pitcher-friendly digs at Safeco Field, Guillen told ESPNdeportes.com, "A lot of players don't like to play in Seattle because of the stadium, but I only need health, and I trust that my numbers will be there at the end of the season." With a few years left until his bat speed slows, the mercurial Guillen is a good bet to rebound and deliver numbers in line with his lifetime averages in 2007.
Losers: Adam Jones, Chris Snelling
With the acquisition of Guillen, a right fielder, the Mariners appear intent on shifting Ichiro Suzuki to center and being patient with the 21-year-old Jones, who's likely to return to the Minors or assume a backup role with the big-league club. The deal also damages the prospect of a full-time gig for the 25-year-old Snelling, who -- after years of being plagued by numerous injuries -- seems destined to become a fourth outfielder unless he proves he can stay healthy.
Giants sign outfielder Dave Roberts to a three-year deal
Neutral: Dave Roberts
Even though Roberts is a one-trick pony, few speedsters operated with more efficiency on the basepaths than the 34-year-old outfielder in 2006. Caught stealing just six times in 55 attempts, Roberts enjoyed a whopping 89.1 percent success rate that ranked him fifth in the National League -- ahead of fellow base thieves Juan Pierre and Jose Reyes. Coming off career highs across the board, Roberts will bat in an unsettled and thin Giants lineup, which has already lost Moises Alou to the Mets and may be on the brink of losing free agent Barry Bonds. Though Roberts will likely score fewer runs than he did this past season, you could still do a lot worse than drafting the left-handed leadoff hitter in the middle rounds after other owners are done scampering for younger options such as Pierre.
Indians sign reliever Roberto Hernandez to a one-year pact
Neutral: Roberto Hernandez
With Cleveland having yet to find a closer after trading Bob Wickman to Atlanta last July, the 42-year-old Hernandez provides the team with a fall-back option should its quest for an ace reliever -- either externally or from within -- come up empty. In the offensively superior American League, Hernandez isn't likely to post a 3.11 ERA as he did in the National League this past season, but he might nab a few vulture saves in an otherwise inexperienced 'pen.
Red Sox sign Japanese reliever Hideki Okajima
Neutral: Hideki Okajima
Okajima, 30, has been regarded as one of the best lefty setup men in Japan over the last three years, having registered more strikeouts than innings with a commanding 172/53 K/BB ratio. Still, he'll be utilized as more of a specialist than a late reliever with the Red Sox, which limits his value to deep AL-only play.
Blue Jays ink shortstop Royce Clayton to a one-year contract
Neutral: Royce Clayton, Aaron Hill
Clayton, 36, will become Toronto's starting shortstop, and 24-year-old Aaron Hill will remain the starter at second base. In 454 at-bats over 137 games with the Nationals and Reds this past season, the defensively gifted Clayton hit a career-high .258 with two home runs, 40 RBIs, 14 steals and a .651 OPS. As the numbers clearly show, he won't do much with the bat but will provide owners in deep AL-only leagues with a handful of steals in 2007.
Losers: John McDonald, Russ Adams
The team plans to re-sign the arbitration-eligible McDonald, who would serve as the backup at both positions up the middle. In 2006, McDonald became the starter at short after Adams was moved to second base due to defensive issues. Adams will likely begin the upcoming season at Triple-A. Barring an injury to either Clayton or Hill, neither of these players deserves fantasy consideration.
Brewers sign infielder Craig Counsell to a two-year deal with a club option for 2009
Neutral: Craig Counsell
Following the signing, general manager Doug Melvin indicated that the 36-year-old Counsell is unlikely to assume a full-time spot in the Brewers infield. "His ability to play all infield positions will be extremely valuable," Melvin said. Counsell is a good bet to collect double-digit steals, hit about .250 and earn 300-plus at-bats in 2007, making him relevant solely in NL-only competition.
Loser: Corey Koskie
With Counsell scouring for starts and blue-chip third-base prospect Ryan Braun on the way, Koskie figures to see a reduction in playing time at third, which may lower the already good chance of another disabled-list stint in 2007.
Cardinals sign second baseman Adam Kennedy to a three-year pact
Winner: Adam Kennedy
In leaving the Angels for the Cardinals, the 30-year-old Kennedy slides into a more productive lineup, which bodes well for a return to the days of 60-plus runs. However, Kennedy is less likely to approach the .300 batting average he posted during his peak years, unless of course the Cardinals opt to sit him against southpaw pitchers, against whom he batted just .193 this past season. He'll man second base on an everyday basis and likely hit in the lower half of the Cards batting order.
Cardinals ink starter Kip Wells
Winner: Kip Wells
Given the proven ability of Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan to help "exiled pitchers" reclaim their careers (see Chris Carpenter), Wells stands a good chance to rebound in the St. Louis rotation. At the very least, the 29-year-old right-hander is a good bet to lower his sky-high 6.50 ERA of 2006 in his return to the National League. He'll also be supported by one of best infield defenses of his career, which will likely enable him to rely on his sharp slider and keep him from throwing gobs of pitches, as he did with the Rangers in 2006 (17.55 per inning). Take a late-round flier on Wells in NL-only formats; with better health, he could prove to be a decent bang for the buck.
O's land reliever Chad Bradford
Neutral: Chad Bradford
Having already inked relievers Jamie Walker and Danys Baez this offseason, the O's further bolstered their bullpen with the addition of Bradford and effectively overhauled a unit that recorded the second-worst ERA in the Majors (5.27) this past season. The 32-year-old Bradford -- who in 2006 posted a tidy 45/13 K/BB ratio, an impressive 2.53 ERA away from pitcher-friendly Shea Stadium and just one homer allowed in 62 innings -- is worthy of owning in deep AL-only leagues for managers in need of an ERA and WHIP diet.
Indians sign outfielder David Dellucci to a three-year contract
Winner: David Dellucci
Cut from the same cloth as fellow left-handed hitter Frank Catalanotto, the 33-year-old Dellucci is among the game's top platoon players. Receiving little or no fanfare, to which most part-timers have grown accustomed, the veteran outfielder delivered another imposing OPS (.899) in 2006, underscored by 27 extra-base hits, albeit in just 301 plate appearances.
Of course, the flipside of that coin is Dellucci's inability to hit southpaws, as his career .208 batting average against lefties so plainly points out. Still, Dellucci is the epitome of an underrated professional -- plays "scrappy," hits for doubles, draws walks -- and his move to the hitter-friendly Jacobs Field will likely do little to damage his reputation. In points leagues, Dellucci is well worth a starting spot, while in most formats, he at least warrants a late-round flyer, as he'll see an uptick in at-bats as the Indians' starting left fielder.
Losers: Casey Blake, Ryan Garko
With Indians manager Eric Wedge having already expressed a preference to play Shin-Soo Choo as the club's everyday right fielder and Dellucci on board to man left, Casey Blake has become the presumptive odd man out. The versatile outfielder/corner infielder will probably split time with fellow right-handed hitter Ryan Garko at first base to start 2007 and provide spot starts all over the diamond.
Phillies sign starter Adam Eaton to a three-year pact
Neutral: Adam Eaton
The length of the deal comes as a bit of a surprise, as finger injuries have plagued Eaton over the last two seasons, during which the 29-year-old right-hander has made just 35 starts. When healthy and able to throw an effective breaking ball, though, Eaton has shown good pitch accuracy, as evidenced by his 2.50 K/BB ratio from 2003-04. While Eaton's potential remains largely untapped, his fly-ball tendencies aren't the best fit for Philadelphia's snug Citizens Bank Park. Barring another extended disabled-list stint, he's likely to improve upon his rocky 5.12 ERA from 2006.
Loser: Gavin Floyd
Should Eaton finalize his agreement with the Phillies, he'd round out the club's rotation -- which includes Brett Myers, Cole Hamels, Jon Lieber and Jamie Moyer -- and bump Floyd, a perennial pitching prospect, into long relief unless an injury creates an opening.
Dodgers ink starter Randy Wolf to a one-year deal with a club option for 2008
Winner: Randy Wolf
After spending most of the 2006 season recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery, Wolf struggled upon his return to the Phillies, posting a 5.56 ERA with 13 homers allowed in 56 2/3 innings. Still, thanks in large part to solid run support, he finished with a 4-0 record. Wolf's inconsistency wasn't surprising, as pitchers historically tend not to return to form until their second year back from such a procedure, a fact that the Dodgers must have taken into account before targeting the 30-year-old left-hander. Wolf -- a fly-ball pitcher -- will benefit from throwing his home games at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium as opposed to Philadelphia's cozy Citizens Bank Park. Consider the California native a potential late-round bargain.
Orioles sign reliever Danys Baez to a three-year contract
Neutral: Danys Baez
After enjoying three years of success as an American League closer, Baez unexpectedly struggled to find his footing with the Dodgers and Braves this past season. Prior to be dealt at the trade deadline to Atlanta, where he served as a setup man, the 29-year-old right-hander converted just nine of his 16 save opportunities and relinquished the Dodgers fireman job to rookie Takashi Saito. Though Baez lowered his walk and home-run ratios, the combination of his strikeout rate dropping for the second straight year, his fly-ball rate rising substantially and his ERA ballooning by almost two runs offers little hope for optimism as he returns to the heavy-hitting AL East. Barring injury to or inconsistency from O's closer Chris Ray, Baez's demotion to setup man appears to be permanent.
Loser: Jamie Walker
Walker, another reliever the O's acquired in November to pad their erratic bullpen, likely falls behind Baez in Baltimore's backup-closer picture.
Diamondbacks trade Johnny Estrada, Claudio Vargas and Greg Aquino to the Brewers for Doug Davis, Dana Eveland and Dave Krynzel
Winners: Miguel Montero, Chris Snyder, Dana Eveland
The Diamondbacks' decision to trade Estrada probably has less to do with their confidence in his long-term potential with than the emergence of Montero as a blue-chip catching prospect. At 23 years old, Montero has shown above-average selectivity at the plate and impressive pop (.515 slugging percentage at Triple-A Tucson) as he's advanced through the farm system. Though he'll likely begin 2007 in a platoon with the 25-year-old Snyder, Montero is a good bet to receive the majority of at-bats as the left-handed-hitting part of the platoon. Given the scarcity of offensive-minded catchers, Montero is well worth keeping an eye on during Spring Training.
Moving to the Diamondbacks is especially more likely to aid the 23-year-old Eveland, whose ground-ball-inducing slider and deceptive fastball will play into the hands of the Arizona's slick infield defense. Eveland has been shuffled between the rotation and the bullpen in the Minors, but the D-backs' lack of left-handed relievers ideally suits him for the 'pen.
Neutral: Doug Davis, Johnny Estrada, Claudio Vargas, Dave Krynzel, Greg Aquino
Flaunting his great plate coverage, Estrada finished 2006 ranked fourth among qualified National League catchers in batting average (.302), albeit in just 414 at-bats. His low-walk total (13) is a cause for concern, as pitchers may force the aggressive switch-hitter to swing outside of the strike zone next season. Batting in the unimposing Brewers lineup doesn't bode well for another 71 RBIs, either. If Estrada can balance his ability to make consistent contact with just a tad
more plate patience, a return to .300 is a feasible possibility.
Just when fantasy managers began trusting Davis, the soft-tossing 31-year-old disappointed in virtually every area this past season. His ERA shot up by more than a run, due in large part to a considerable drop in his strikeout rate and a ballooning walk rate (4.51 BB/9 IP). The lone bright spot heading into 2007 is that the crafty Davis won't have the pressure of getting as many outs on his own in Arizona, as the D-backs defense -- led by Gold Glover Orlando Hudson -- is far better than that of the Brewers. While a turnaround shouldn't necessarily be expected in 2007, it shouldn't come as a surprise, either.
Vargas' main problem this past season wasn't throwing strikes but rather giving up the long ball, as the 27-year-old starter yielded roughly 1.5 homers per nine innings. The good news is that leaving hitter-friendly Arizona, where he sported a 5.60 ERA in 2006, will give Vargas more freedom to throw the high heater without being consumed by "homer-phobia." The bad news? Vargas -- who tossed a career-high 167 2/3 innings this past season -- will miss the days when he could rely on his above-average defense to occasionally bail him out. All in all, expect something similar to his 2006 output in 2007.
New surroundings give the speedy Krynzel and the oft-injured, power-pitching Aquino another shot at turning talent into production, though neither is likely to play a prominent role in most fantasy leagues next year.
Astros ink outfielder Carlos Lee to a six-year contract
Neutral: Carlos Lee
All the cards seemed to fall in Lee's favor during his 2006 contract year. After cranking 26 first-half homers, he was traded to Texas, where he went on to play in one of the game's top hitters' parks and raise his batting average to an even .300. The majority of players tend to have their career year during their 20s, though, so paying for another awesome .300-37-116-19 stat line in the form of $30 at an auction or during the second round of a snake draft isn't recommended.
Still, although he heads into 2007 on the wrong side of 30, Lee is unlikely to regress too far back from this past season's production, considering he'll be protected by the mighty Lance Berkman in a home park that features a short left-field porch -- ideal for right-handed sluggers. Given his impressive strides at the plate, improved strikeout rate over the last two seasons and golden five-category production, Lee should be among the first handful of outfielders off the board next season.
Losers: Luke Scott, Chris Burke, Jason Lane
The Astros' acquisition of Lee likely marginalizes Scott and Lane into part-time right fielders and the talented Burke into a utilityman.
Astros sign starter Woody Williams to a two-year deal
Losers: Woody Williams
After posting his best ERA in four seasons this past season (3.65), Williams won't have the same margin for error in 2007. The soft-tossing 40-year-old has been aided heavily by pitching his home games in San Diego's spacious PETCO Park, where he had a 2.93 ERA in 2006. In contrast, Williams has been roughed up to the tune of a 5.26 ERA on the road over the last two years, making his arrival to the cozy confines of Minute Maid Park all the more ominous. Add in the fact that he's a fly-ball pitcher, and there's a possible recipe for disaster here. Stay away from Williams in 2007.
Angels ink outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. to a five-year contract
Losers: Gary Matthews Jr., Maicer Izturis
Matthews posted career numbers this past season, finishing with the fifth-highest OPS among center fielders (.866), ahead of fellow leadoff man Johnny Damon. Still, potential buyers would be wise to consider the following questions when evaluating the 32-year-old for 2007: What took him so long to establish himself? Just how much should much invested into a lifetime .263 who batted a career-best .313 despite not showing much improvement in his plate skills? Also, how negatively will Matthews be impacted by leaving the offensive amusement park of Ameriquest Field for Angel Stadium, where he sports a paltry .239 career batting average?
Although it's always a great feel-good story when a 30-something player busts out of nowhere with a surprise year, there's rarely a sequel. Let other owners pay for last year's output.
With the arrival of Matthews and the probability that the highly touted Howie Kendrick will man second base on an everyday basis in 2007, Chone Figgins will likely move to third base and bump Izturis into a utility role.
Dodgers sign outfielder Juan Pierre to a five-year deal
Neutral: Juan Pierre
Having launched a mere 12 career homers in his seven-year big-league career, Pierre likely won't be negatively affected by a move to spacious Dodger Stadium. If anything, its roomy confines might help the 29-year-old center fielder, whose high-contact, slap-hitting skills are strengthened by larger fields. Pierre's strongest attribute -- speed -- will be promoted by Dodgers manager Grady Little, who, like former Cubs skipper Dusty Baker, favors aggressive baserunning.
The biggest downside for Pierre will be batting atop the club's skimpy order, as the Dodgers face the tough task of replacing free-agent outfielder J.D. Drew's vital .891 OPS in the heart of their lineup. While owners should expect Pierre to make another run at 60 steals and approach his career .303 batting average, they should also expect fewer than the career-low 87 runs scored he amassed in 2006.
Losers: Jason Repko, Matt Kemp, James Loney
With Andre Ethier already set to start in left field, Pierre's arrival in center likely starts a "fight for right" among talented prospects Repko, Kemp and Loney, whose chances of starting at first base were all but squelched with the re-signing of Nomar Garciaparra.
Cubs sign Alfonso Soriano to an eight-year contract
Winners: Alfonso Soriano, Ryan Church, Alex Escobar, Nook Logan
The Cubs now possess arguably the game's most fearsome mid-order trio in Soriano, Aramis Ramirez and Derrek Lee. Given the club's recent signing of second baseman Mark DeRosa, Soriano likely will stay put as a left fielder. It remains to be seen whether the Dominican Republic native, who became the first 40-homer/40-steal/40-double player in Major League history and drew a career-high 67 walks this past season, will be able to replicate his contract-year output and newfound plate patience, but the move from pitcher-friendly RFK Stadium to Wrigley Field will only help his cause. Don't make the mistake of selecting the 30-year-old slugger ahead of Albert Pujols, but Soriano has entrenched himself as a top five pick and an all-around fantasy stud.
Soriano's departure may finally give the late-blossoming Church the chance to start in the outfield on a daily basis. With little fanfare, Church delivered a stirring .892 OPS in 196 at-bats with the Nationals in 2006. His ability to hit left-handed pitching and swipe more than his share of bags suggests that he's ready for a shot at an everyday spot. If Church is given that opportunity, consider him a late-round sleeper.
The speedy Nook Logan and the athletic Alex Escobar could also factor into the battles for center and left field in Washington, though general manager Jim Bowden may decide to go the external route.
Loser: Matt Murton
Unless the Cubs decide to mold Soriano into a center fielder, the acquisition probably spells the end of Matt Murton -- he of the .297-13-62 line in 2006 -- as the team's everyday left fielder.
Mets sign outfielder Moises Alou to a one-year contract with a club option for 2008
Winner: Moises Alou
After collecting just 345 at-bats this past season due to ankle and back injuries, the 40-year-old Alou doesn't offer the same standard of reliability as he did in his prime years. Still, his .571 slugging percentage and equally impressive 28/31 BB/K ratio this past season demonstrate that he still has considerable power left in the tank. The fact that he did most of his damage at home in pitcher-friendly AT&T Park, where he sported a 1.093 OPS, only further strengthens the point. Patrolling left field virtually on an everyday basis in one of the National League's top offenses, Alou could improve upon last year's production, with .310-25-90 being within reach -- health permitting, of course.
Losers: Ben Johnson, Endy Chavez, Lastings Milledge
Alou's arrival likely leaves fellow outfielders Milledge, Chavez and the newly acquired Johnson all fighting for roster spots.
Marlins acquire pitcher Kevin Gregg from the Angels for reliever Chris Resop
Winner: Kevin Gregg
With the cross-country swap, Gregg gets the opportunity to emerge as a key veteran reliever in an otherwise inexperienced Marlins bullpen. After posting a 3.45 ERA with a commanding 61/19 K/BB ratio in 62 2/3 relief innings for the Angels this past season, the 28-year-old Gregg may indeed find himself closing for the Marlins in the offensively inferior National League, as the team appears prepared to lose 2006 fireman Joe Borowski to free agency. Consider Gregg an early favorite for the ninth-inning spot and a solid sleeper.
Loser: Chris Resop
While Gregg moves to a shallow Marlins bullpen, the 24-year-old Resop finds himself buried within a deep Angels staff, with minimal fantasy value.
Orioles sign reliever Jamie Walker to a three-year deal
Neutral: Jamie Walker
Walker will likely serve as a left-handed specialist and setup man for incumbent closer Chris Ray. Despite having faded over the second half for the second straight season in 2006, the 35-year-old allowed the fewest walks of his career (1.50 BB/9 IP), displaying the craftiness required of a pitcher in his "declining" years.
Of greater concern, however, is what effect Walker's rising fly-ball and home-run rates will have on his home production with the move from roomy Comerica Park to hitter-friendly Camden Yards. Regardless, he'll probably begin 2007 as the backup fireman and pick up some vulture saves over the course of the year.
Reds trade catcher Jason LaRue to the Royals for a player to be named later
Winners: David Ross, Javier Valentin
With LaRue no longer "crowding the plate" in Cincinnati, Ross appears to have the inside track to the Reds' No. 1 backstop job. As solid as his teammate Valentin's .441 slugging percentage in 2006 was for a catcher, Ross' .579 mark was downright mouthwatering. Sure, his high strikeout rate makes him a risk in the batting-average department and his defense doesn't necessarily scare opposing baserunners, but the immense pop he's displayed more than compensates for his shortcomings, especially at such an offensively challenged position. Owners in mixed-league play ought to strongly consider Ross among the top 10 catchers in 2007.
Loser: Jason LaRue
LaRue goes from one time-sharing role to another in Kansas City, as the 32-year-old catcher will likely become John Buck's backup.
Rangers agree to a three-year deal with outfielder Frank Catalanotto
Neutral: Frank Catalanotto
With the reality of losing their 2006 leadoff man (Gary Matthews Jr.) to free agency, the Rangers acquired a potential replacement in the 32-year-old Catalanotto, whose seasoned strike-zone judgment seems to grow with age. The scrappy outfielder recorded his highest full-season on-base percentage (.376) and walk-to-strikeout ratio (1.41) in 2006, which should help his runs total atop the rising Rangers offense. Although Catalanotto's home runs haven't reached double digits since 2003, playing his home games at Ameriquest Field -- widely viewed as the AL's top hitters' park -- offers the opportunity for more extra-base knocks.
The biggest catch with Catalanotto, though, is his inability to consistently hit left-handed pitching, as evidenced by his paltry career .248 batting average vs. southpaws, which pales in comparison to his .303 clip vs. right-handers. Such a stark contrast inevitably limits him to part-time duty. As long as you're not relying on him for daily production, Catalanotto makes for a serviceable outfielder in AL-only formats. He ought to provide 60-plus runs, 8-12 homers and at least a .300 average as a left fielder/designated hitter with Texas in 2007.
Reds agree to a three-year deal with shortstop Alex Gonzalez
Neutral: Alex Gonzalez
In their aim to piece together a strong defensive unit, the Reds apparently didn't mind Gonzalez's offensive shortcomings. His 23-homer output with the Marlins in 2004 feels like a distant memory, as various injuries combined with a two-year decline in his fly-ball rate seem to have stripped him of his pop. At 29, he's still relatively young, and he'll be starting his home games at homer-happy Great American Ball Park. But health concerns, a career .246 batting average and substandard plate skills really put a cap on his upside. Double-digit homers aren't out of the question, but he's worth selecting only as a last resort, if most everyday shortstops are off the board. He'll partner with athletic second baseman Brandon Phillips to round out Cincinnati's middle infield.
Reds agree to a two-year contract with reliever Mike Stanton
Stanton proved to be anything but a typical 39-year-old reliever with the Nationals and Giants this past season. The southpaw somehow managed to fare better on the road than at home despite pitching in two notorious pitchers' parks, allowed fewer earned runs to left-handed bats than right-handed ones and racked up eight saves in the process. His secret? Simply keeping the ball in the park was enough, as evidenced by his two home runs allowed in 77 2/3 innings, a terrific indicator heading into the homer-friendly confines of Great American Ball Park. Still, unless the Reds become desperate, don't expect Stanton to match his save total in 2007, as last year's output was more of an environmental coincidence than a reflection of any sort of mound dominance. Look for Stanton to begin his decline as he approaches 40 years of age.
Angels ink reliever Justin Speier to a four-year deal
Neutral: Justin Speier
With already one the game's deepest bullpens (3.78 ERA in 2006), the Angels decided it wasn't enough and acquired the crafty Speier, who posted a rock-solid 3.18 ERA with 163 strikeouts and 61 walks during his three-year tenure with the Blue Jays. His home numbers have a good chance to improve with the move from hitter-friendly Rogers Centre to Angel Stadium. Slotting in behind fellow right-handed setup men Scot Shields and Brendan Donnelly, Speier will likely maintain his status as an above-average middle reliever.
Phillies ink third baseman Wes Helms to a two-year deal
Winner: Wes Helms
After playing a part-time role with the Marlins in 2006, Helms now appears ready to secure his first full-time third-base job since 2003. Once viewed as strictly a situational hitter against left-handed pitching, the 30-year-old Helms has made inroads against right-handers, having batted .323 with an eye-popping .632 slugging percentage over 133 at-bats as a Marlin this past season. Though his power production is bound to increase with the move to hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park, it may be unrealistic to expect Helms to maintain a .300 average in an everyday role, given his career .268 clip and free-swinging tendencies. Expect something similar to his 2003 stat line, somewhere in the neighborhood of .270-25-80.
Blue Jays sign designated hitter Frank Thomas to a two-year contract with a vesting option for 2009
Winner: Dan Johnson
Assuming the cost-conscious A's don't acquire a slugger at a reduced rate as they did with Frank Thomas last offseason, they'll likely call upon first baseman Dan Johnson to fill their hole at designated hitter. After posting thoroughly disappointing numbers at the big-league level in early 2006, the 27-year-old Johnson responded to a midseason demotion by punishing Triple-A pitching (.314/.424/.527) for the second straight year, which suggests that his Major League struggles could be mental. Given the opportunity, Johnson has all the necessary tools and skills to become a successful hitter at the next level.
Neutral: Frank Thomas
Named the American League Comeback Player of the Year by the MLB Players Association, Thomas enjoyed an MVP-like season for the A's in 2006, drilling 39 homers with 114 RBIs, a .381 on-base percentage and just 81 strikeouts. Can the 38-year-old actually improve
now that he's playing home games at the more hitter-favorable Rogers Centre and surrounded by a highly productive lineup? As has been the case for the last few seasons, spotty health remains The Big Hurt's only obstacle to success. And considering Thomas has amassed 500-plus plate appearances in just three of the last six seasons, owners would be wise to temper their enthusiasm.
Losers: Adam Lind, Reed Johnson
The Big Hurt's arrival could marginalize the value of the highly touted Lind, who slugged 55 extra-base hits between Triple-A Syracuse and Double-A New Hampshire in 2006, and the veteran Johnson, who batted .319 in 461 big-league at-bats this past season, as the duo could be in for left-field platoon duty in 2007.
White Sox trade reliever Neal Cotts to the White Sox for reliever David Aardsma and Minor League reliever Carlos Vasquez
Winner: Neal Cotts
After emerging as one of the game's top left-handed relievers in 2005 (4-0, 1.94 ERA), Cotts had a disappointing 2006 season for the White Sox (5.17 ERA), underscored by a woeful second half (9.87 ERA, 13/14 K/BB ratio). Leaving the South Side could help the 26-year-old get back on track, though, considering he fared far better away from U.S. Cellular Field (2.77 ERA) than at home (7.39 ERA) this past season. He'll give the Cubs another middle reliever to complement fellow lefty Scott Eyre.
Neutral: David Aardsma, Carlos Vasquez
Aardsma, 24, posted a 3-0 record with a 4.08 ERA and a solid 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings in his first full season with the Cubs in 2006. Moving to the American League Central could stifle his growth some, but Aardsma will nonetheless slot in as one of the many right-handed cogs in the White Sox bullpen.
Vasquez, 23, was signed as a non-drafted free agent by the Cubs in 2000. The left-hander's knack for inducing loads of ground outs will be his calling card whenever he's deemed ready for the Majors.
Padres trade outfielder Ben Johnson and pitcher Jon Adkins to the Mets for relievers Heath Bell and Royce Ring
Winners: Ben Johnson, Heath Bell, Royce Ring
Johnson figures to compete with Lastings Milledge for the Mets' starting left field job in 2007. The athletic 25-year-old has shown flashes of potential over the last two seasons, underscored by a .312-25-83 stat line at Triple-A Portland in 2005 and a .341 road batting average in the Majors this past season. Although his long swing makes him strikeout prone, Johnson possesses the raw tools to offer sleeper value in NL-only leagues.
The Padres nearly acquired Bell at the trade deadline in July, so their belief in his abilities is likely to result in a middle-relief role for the 29-year-old. Without much fanfare, Bell has shown impressive command throughout his professional career, highlighted this past season by an outstanding 56/8 K/BB ratio at Triple-A Norfolk and a 35/11 K/BB ratio with the Mets. Pitching his home games at pitcher-heaven PETCO Park, Bell could become a fixture in the Padres bullpen and trim ERAs and WHIPs in deep mixed-league play.
Ring, who was once viewed as a future closer, also has a good chance to secure a Padres roster spot out of Spring Training. Look for the 2002 first-round draft pick to be used as a left-handed specialist in 2007.
Neutral: Jon Adkins
Adkins, 29, hasn't demonstrated that he's capable of throwing consistent strikes in the Majors, and his low strikeout total suggests a minimal upside. Still, his three home runs allowed in 54 1/3 big-league innings doesn't go entirely unnoticed.
Losers: Lastings Milledge, Endy Chavez
Assuming the 21-year-old Milledge isn't moved this offseason, he'll have to battle Johnson for the Mets' starting left-field job in 2007. Johnson's arrival also pushes defensive guru Endy Chavez further down the depth chart.
Cubs sign utilityman Mark DeRosa to a three-year deal
Neutral: Mark DeRosa
DeRosa, 31, came out of nowhere to post career highs across the board this past season (.296/.357/.456) and play enough games to qualify at second base and outfield in most fantasy leagues. Given his previous eight years of inconsistency as a part-timer, a repeat of such a high level of offensive production in 2007 is highly unlikely. Still, DeRosa's ability to produce on the road indicates that he probably won't regress into his former self, either. Ultimately, the Cubs inked DeRosa to man second base regularly in 2007, so it's his job to lose.
Losers: Roger Cedeno, Ryan Theriot
With Cesar Izturis set to start at shortstop and DeRosa being thrown into the mix at second, both Theriot and Cedeno, who lost a starting job due to his .229 second-half batting average this past season, will be fighting for backup spots in Spring Training.
Yankees trade starter Jaret Wright and cash to the Orioles for reliever Chris Britton
Winners: Jeffrey Karstens, Philip Hughes
With Mike Mussina not yet re-signed, Randy Johnson recovering from back surgery and Carl Pavano seemingly always on the disabled list, Wright's departure leaves a void in the Yankees rotation. It's extremely early, but as it stands right now, either Jeffrey Karstens or mega-prospect Philip Hughes will likely be battling for a spot in Spring Training.
Neutral: Jaret Wright, Chris Britton
Wright's two-year stay in New York was marred by disappointment, as the 30-year-old starter went 16-12 with a 4.98 ERA, with many of his wins coming as a byproduct of the awesome Yankees offense rather than his own good pitching. Wright will be hard-pressed to receive as much run support with the Orioles as he did with the Yankees in 2006 (5.64 runs per 9 IP), so his win total could drop unless he can recapture some of his 2004 magic.
Though the deal reunites him with former Braves pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who's considered largely responsible for Wright breakout year in 2004, the offensive talent in the AL East is far greater than that of the NL East. He'll also be forced to face New York's lineup several times next year and start his home games in hitter-friendly Camden Yards -- not a promising sight. Don't bet on a comeback from Wright.
Britton, who'll turn 24 on Dec. 16, emerged as a reliable reliever in his rookie season of 2006, notching a 3.35 ERA with 41 strikeouts and 17 walks in 53 2/3 innings. At 6-foot-3, 278 pounds, his size is considered an issue by some, but by the same token, it also makes him an intimidating power pitcher on the hill. Look for him to secure a middle-relief role in pinstripes next year as he did with the O's this past season.
Tigers acquire outfielder Gary Sheffield from the Yankees for three Minor League pitchers
Winner: Melky Cabrera
Sheffield's departure may lead to Jason Giambi's return to first base, which in turn would shift Cabrera into an everyday left fielder/designated hitter, depending on Hideki Matsui's health. The Yankees have expressed a desire to acquire a better defensive first baseman than Giambi, though, so Cabrera's starting spot is hardly set in stone.
Neutral: Gary Sheffield, Humberto Sanchez
Sheffield, who'll turn 38 on Nov. 18, was limited to just 39 regular-season games in 2006 due to a wrist surgery but posted three consecutive 30-homer, 120-RBI seasons before that. Playing his home games in roomy Comerica Park doesn't bode well for a return to those levels, but his prolonged absence ought to reduce his price tag substantially.
The prize in the deal, and probably the only one of immediate fantasy relevance, may be Sanchez, regarded as one of the top prospects in the Tigers farm system and whose name repeatedly came up in trade-deadline talks in July. The 23-year-old right-hander returns home to the Bronx, where he'll hope to earn a big-league roster spot by translating his strong 2006 Minor League numbers (10-6, 2.63 ERA, 129 strikeouts, 47 walks in 123 innings). Though Sanchez is likely to begin the season at Triple-A Columbus, the general consensus among scouts is that he's a future mid-rotation Major League starter.
Loser: Marcus Thames
The acquisition likely renders Marcus Thames a situational hitter, especially given his second-half struggles this past season (.199 batting average).
Padres trade second baseman Josh Barfield to the Indians for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and reliever Andrew Brown
Winners: Kevin Kouzmanoff, Josh Barfield, Ryan Garko
The Padres front office must have thought quite highly of Kouzmanoff to dish its homegrown second baseman in Barfield, who at 23 is coming off a stellar rookie season on both ends of the field. The 25-year-old Kouzmanoff, who offers huge sleeper potential, has the inside track as the everyday third baseman in San Diego, hoping to translate the punishment he imposed upon Minor League pitching (.379/.437/.656 between Double-A and Triple-A in 2006) in the Majors. Barfield, too, has a chance to continue his rise, moving from a pitcher-friendly home park in PETCO Park, where he hit just .241 with a scant .361 slugging percentage, to one that favors hitters in Jacobs Field. Though his mere 30 walks don't inspire pitchers to throw strikes, he's young enough to hone his free-swinging ways in Cleveland and approach 20-20 within the next couple of seasons.
With Kouzmanoff sent packing, the spotlight turns to Garko as the Indians' potential everyday first baseman, assuming the role isn't filled externally. Garko posted a stellar .829 OPS over 185 Major League at-bats this past season, and his Minor League credentials also bode well for his continued success, as the 25-year-old batted .290 with a .468 slugging percentage during his career in the Indians farm system. His solid plate selectivity further boosts his chances of succeeding; 15 homers is a reasonable expectation for his first full big-league season.
Neutral: Andrew Brown
Brown, 25, has fared relatively well as a reliever in the Minors, having gone 5-4 with a 2.60 ERA and five saves at Triple-A Buffalo in 2006, but he doesn't quite belong on the fantasy radar just yet.
Losers: Hector Luna, Joe Inglett
With Barfield set to man second base, the Joe Inglett/Hector Luna platoon comes to an abrupt ending. Both infielders will essentially serve as insurance to shortstop Johnny Peralta, who's coming off a disappointing 2006 campaign that followed his 2005 emergence, and third baseman Andy Marte, who's slated to start at third base in his first full big-league season.
Contributors: Alex Cushing, Dean Chiungos, Gregg Klayman
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.