2014 Fantasy Baseball: Free Agent Impacts

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Free Agent Impacts

Shawn Childs, High Stakes Fantasy Baseball Winner and Contributor from scoutPRO.com is helping FFToolbox readers dominate their fantasy baseball leagues this season.

Robinson Cano

The Mariners blew away Cano with a 10-year, $240 million contract. Robinson has hit over .300 in his last 5 seasons. His K rate (12.5%) remains in a very good area, while his walk rate (9.5%) has shown very good growth. Last year, Cano was a plus run producer (20% RBI rate), but he had his shortest RBI chances since 2006. Furthermore, he had a great first half of the year (.302 with 21 HR's and 65 RBI) before his power faded after the All Star break (6 HR's). Cano is a career .318 hitter against RH pitching and .290 against lefties. He has hit .309 at Safeco Field with 4 HR's and 20 RBI in 163 at bats during his career. His FB rate (29.8%) has been short over the last 2 seasons, while his HR/FB rate (17.3%) has been strong over the past 3 years. The change in ballpark and team is somewhat of a concern. Cano is a rock solid .300 hitter with 25+ HR potential, but his RBI total may lack upside unless the Mariners get a solid option as a lead off hitter.

Jacoby Ellsbury

Ellsbury missed 28 games last season mostly due to a foot injury suffered in late August. He also had a slight groin injury in June, a wrist issue in July, and a thumb problem in August. Jacoby had his 3rd 50 SB season, but his power was well short of his 2011 breakthrough season. Over the past four seasons, Ellsbury has missed 264 games. New York signed him to an 8 year, $153 million contract in the offseason. His K rate (14.5%) was a career high last season, but it is still well below the league average. Jacoby's walk rate (7.4%) was also a career high, but lower than the league average. Ellsbury is a career .302 hitter against RH pitching (.328 in 2013). He did struggle a bit with lefties (.246). In his career, he has hit .285 in Yankee Stadium with 4 HR's, 17 RBI, and 13 SB's in 144 at bats (this projects to 10 HR's and 41 RBI over 81 games in NY). Last year, Jacoby's GB rate (50.8%) was his highest since 2008 (43.0% in his plus HR season). His FB rate (28.2%) has declined over the last 3 years. Ellsbury has hit 45 of his 65 HR's to the pulled side of right field, but only 27.7% of his hits are pulled. Jacoby has plus stolen base ability and his power should spike slightly in New York. If he stays healthy, I could see a .300, 100+ R, 15 HR's, 65 RBI, and 50+ SB season.

Shin-Soo Choo

Texas signed him to a 7-year, $130 million contract in December. Last year, his walk rate (15.7%) was a career high by a wide margin, while his K rate (18.7%) approached his career low (18.3% in 2010 - 20.9% during his career). Choo was very good against RH pitching (.317 with .457 OB % and .554 SLG %), hitting all 21 of his HR's against righties. Over the past 2 years, his skill set against lefties has been Judy-esque (.206 with 2 HR's and 21 RBI in 387 at bats). A fantasy player would be better off benching him against lefties. Over the past 2 years, Shin-Soo has been much more of a GB hitter (49.4%) with a short FB rate (29.4%). His HR/FB rate (16.4%) was a career high in 2013. Last year, Choo was on base 300 times (led the league in HBP - 26), which gives a player behind him a huge RBI chance. I think it makes sense to get him closer to the power bats in the middle of the lineup by hitting him 2nd. His success batting would be much improved with Andrus on first base 200+ times in front of him, plus it would increase the value of his possible HR's. Over the past 2 seasons, Choo has come to the plate with short RBI chances (650), which is 127 less than Andrus. 2014 is a great opportunity for Choo, especially if Texas gives him a better chance at driving in runs. He has a 20/20 skill set with upside, and I see 100+ runs scored with a chance at 75+ RBI. I fear the high HPB as it could result in an injury.

Brian McCann

McCann fills a gapping hole in the Yankees lineup. Last year, New York had 8 HR's and 48 RBI in 507 at bats from the catcher position. McCann missed the first 5 weeks of the season after having a slow recovery from shoulder surgery (torn labrum) the previous October. He returned to the lineup in early May and was able to hit 20 HR's for the 6th straight season (7th in his 8 year career), despite short at bats. McCann has pulled 114 of his 176 career home runs. Last year, he did most of his damage in May, June, and July (15 HR's and 41 RBI). He was battling sore knees late in the year, which led to a poor September (.170 with 1 HR and 6 RBI in 53 at bats) and postseason (no hits in 13 at bats). New York is going to be loaded with lefty pull power at the top of their lineup. Brian has 30 HR upside if he can get plus at bats at DH when he needs time off behind the plate. Based on his career resume and the change to New York, McCann should be the 2nd catcher off the board in 2014.

Carlos Beltran

Beltran was a good signing by the Yankees. He has a long resume of success in the majors. Carlos has hit over 20 HR's 9 times and has driven in 100+ runs 8 times (none since 2008). The switch to the AL gives him a chance to get more at bats by getting at bats as a DH. Last year, his power took a step back, but he had more hits. His K rate (15%) remained in line with his career path, but his walk rate (6.3%) spiked downward. Beltran's higher BA was a result of a career high LD rate (23.9%). In 2013, Carlos was a better hitter from the left side of the plate (.315 with 17 HR's and 56 RBI in 391 at bats). His speed has been a non-factor in 3 of his last 4 seasons. Beltran has pulled 55.6% of his HR's when batting left handed. His stroke is a perfect fit for Yankee Stadium. Last year, he drove in 84 runs, but only had 355 runners on base. With Ellsbury leading off and batting 3rd instead of 2nd, he has a very good chance of driving in 100 runs this year. If he plays 150 games, a 30/100 season is well within his reach in the small confines of the AL East.

A.J. Burnett

Burnett has pitched the best ball of his career over the last 2 seasons with the Pirates, tying a career low in ERA (3.30) and set a career in K's (9.8) in 2013. While his walk rate (3.2) was a step back from 2012 (2.8), it has been high during his entire career (3.5). His success has been due to throwing the most strikes of his career (65%). A.J. was electric against RH batters (.203 with 120 K's in 375 at bats), however, his step back in command was due to his lack of success against lefties (.263 with 45 of his 67 walks). In addition, he allowed 2 runs or less in 19 of his 30 starts. Burnett did miss about a month of the season with a calf injury in June. He has had an elite GB rate (56.5%) over the last 2 years, but his AFB (92.5) was near his career low (it has been about the same over the last 3 years). He threw a high % of curveballs (35.4% - career high) as his #2 pitch, followed by a show me changeup. Batters only hit .150 vs. his curveball in 1083 pitches, .283 vs. his sinker, .322 vs. his four-seam fastball, and .333 vs. his changeup. A.J. probably cost himself some money over the winter as he was contemplating retirement, which seems strange considering how much money major league baseball has been throwing around and his success last year. Burnett has a nice arm, but he only has one tough pitch to hit (curveball). If he isn't throwing strikes, his best pitch has a lot less value. He signed a 1-year, $16 million contract in February with the Phillies. His stats from the last 2 years will keep his price point high, but I see some regression.

Matt Garza

Garza ended the 2012 season with an elbow injury and developed a left lat strain in mid February that ended up costing him the first 7 weeks of the season in 2013. Other than a disaster start on June 11th (9 runs in 5 innings), Matt pitched very well when he returned with the Cubs. He allowed 2 runs or less in his 9 of his 13 starts with Chicago before getting traded to the Rangers. Garza then allowed 4 runs or more in 7 of his first 9 starts with Texas. His command (2.4) was the lowest of his career, while his K rate (7.9) has declined over the last 2 years. His skill set was the same in the NL as the AL, but he was a much better pitcher with the Cubs (3.17 ERA and 1.141 WHIP - 4.38 ERA and 1.316 WHIP with Texas). Matt had better command against lefties, but they hit .271 against him. His AFB (93.1) was his lowest since 2009. His slider is still his #2 pitcher, followed by a declining curveball and show me changeup. Garza signed a four-year deal with the Brewers for $52 million. The move back to the NL is a plus, but I'm still concerned about his elbow issue in 2012. Matt doesn't have an elite resume (3.84 ERA) and has struggled with injuries in back to back years. Decent SP3 with possible upside in K's. It's pretty bad when a fantasy player is a afraid to commit a mid teens pick on a pitcher that is making $12+ million a year. I say avoid the risk and look elsewhere for a more stable arm that has more upside.

Joe Nathan

Nathan posed his 5th sub 2.00 ERA in his 11 years as a closer in 2013. He has 35+ saves in 8 of his last 9 seasons. Nathan converted 43 of his 46 chances in 2013. His K rate (10.2) is still elite, but it is a step back from his best seasons. His command (3.1) spiked upward after setting a career low in 2012, and his AFB (92.2) was a career low. His slider continues to be his #2 pitch followed by a curveball. Nathan is a FB pitcher (44.3%), but his HR/FB rate (3.0) was a career low last year. Right-handed batters only had 2 extra base hits in 105 at bats against him in 2013. Overall, batters hit .162 against him in 2013. Last year, Detroit had 55 save chances, but they only converted 39 times. Nathan is a top closer with 40+ save upside. His fastball is declining along with his command, but he is still capable of posting an elite ERA and WHIP.

Masahiro Tanaka

The Yankees were the big winners in the Tanaka chase. Masahiro signed a 7-year, $155 million contract. He had a career 99-35 record in Japan with a 2.30 ERA with 1238 K's in 1315 innings. Tanaka has had elite command (1.3) over the last 4 seasons, but his K rate (8.5) has only been elite twice during his career (9.5 in 2007 and 9.6 in 2011). He throws a mid 90's fastball with a plus slider and plus split-finger fastball. When you compare his resume to Yu Darvish, Tanaka has better command. Both pitchers averaged over 7.5 innings per start, but Darvish was much tougher to hit (6.5 H/9 innings - Tanaka - 8.1). Masahiro will enter the majors with a declining K rate (7.8), while Darvish was coming off a career high (10.7). Tanaka has a plus arm, but his skill set may be a slight step down from Darvish. However, his strike throwing ability should lead to more success during his rookie season than Darvish. I'm going to set the bar at Jordan Zimmerman in 2013 (3.25 ERA) with a few more K's.

Nelson Cruz

Cruz continues to be a plus run producer (19% RBI rate - 17% during his career). Last year, he missed 50 games due to his connection with the Biogenesis scandal in Miami. Sensing a declining opportunity for a full time job, Nelson signed a 1-year, $8 million contract in late February with the Orioles. His K rate (23.9%) was his highest since 2007, while his walk rate (7.7%) showed more upside earlier in his career. Last year, he was on a pace for the best season of his career (.277 with 22 HR's and 69 RBI's before the All Star break), showing similar power against both RH (22 HR's and 59 RBI's in 309 at bats) and LH (5 HR's and 17 RBI's in 104 at bats) pitching. Additionally, his success was almost identical at home (.266 with 13 HR's and 35 RBI's) as it was on the road (.267 with 14 HR's and 41 RBI's). Cruz is a FB hitter (43%) with a plus HR/FB rate (21.3% in 2013 - 16.6% career). He has some injury history, but the Orioles will try to keep him healthy by playing him at DH a high % of the time. Solid 20/80 option with upside and some speed, even with less juice.

Jose Abreu

Abreu signed a 5-year, $68 million contract in October with the White Sox. He will take over at first base. Jose hit 30 HR's or more in each season from 2010 to 2012 while only playing in 263 games. Abreu has had an elite approach at the plate over his last 4 seasons in the Cuban league (276 walks - 113 intentional and only 178 K's). His walk rate was 19.5% during that stretch with a 12.9% K rate. Last year, his power took a step back (SLG % of .604). There isn't much video available on Abreu. He had massive power in short at bats in Cuba, but the ball parks are small and the pitching talent lacks depth. Cespedes and Puig have played well in the majors after their transition from Cuba. It appears Abreu is willing to go the other way, which will help him keep his contact rate in line. I'm looking forward to watching him in spring training. I'll set the bar at .275 with a 25/90 skill set until I see him in live action.

Curtis Granderson

2013 was a tough year for Granderson. He broke his right forearm in late February, which cost him the first 6 weeks of the season. Curtis was barely getting his feet wet when he was hit by a pitch that broke a finger on his left hand (required surgery). When Granderson returned in early August, he wasn't the same player as he struggled through 186 at bats (.226 with 6 HR's and 14 RBI). The Mets signed him to a 4-year, $60 million contract in December. The change in ballparks will hurt his upside in power. His K rate (28.2) has been very weak over the last 2 seasons, while his walk rate (11.0%) remains a positive. Rather than reflect over his injury plagued season, here's his write up from last season: Granderson repeated his success hitting HR's and will be one of the few players that will enter 2013 with over a 2.00 rating in the average hit category (AVH). He has hit 46 of 84 HR's at home (Yankee Stadium) over the last 2 seasons. His K rate at home was 26.7% in 2011 and 2012, which has led to a .251 batting average. His quest for HR's has led to a decline in his K rate (28.5%) over the last four seasons. While his walk rate (11.0%) has been solid for five straight seasons, it did take a nose dive during the 2nd half of 2012 (8.2% - 15.3% in 1st half). He is a career .225 hitter against LH pitching, hitting .218 against them last season. In 2011, he had a 20.5% HR/FB rate. Last year, that number rose to 24.2%. Granderson is motivated to hit HR's, which puts his batting average at risk. Last year, I shied away from him due to his batting average risk (I was right in this area), but he still delivered on three plus categories. His production will give you an edge, but it will be tough to overcome his BA. I think the pluses outweigh the negatives, but is he really a key piece when you start building your team? If your goal is to get 60+ points in the batting categories, you can still accomplish your goal by punting batting average. If you are looking to win an overall prize, he may leave you one category short of a championship. I think he is a smart enough guy where he will hit above .250 this season. Note: his ADP was 96 in 2012 and it is about 131 in 2013.

Jhonny Peralta

The 50-game suspension for Peralta didn't hurt his chances of getting a nice contract. The Cardinals signed him to a 4-year, $52 million contract in November. Jhonny has hit for a high average in 2 of his last 3 years. His K rate (21.9%) was his highest since 2007, and it has declined over the last 3 seasons. However, his walk rate (7.8%) was a just below his career average. Peralta hit .352 against LH pitching with a .560 SLG %. Jhonny isn't an elite shortstop bat, but he has hit over 20 HR's 4 times during his career (only once since 2008). His K rate is trending down and his batting average doesn't look repeatable. Low upside across the board with no speed.

Ricky Nolasco

After allowing 458 hits in 397 innings over the previous 2 seasons, Nolasco was able to lower his batting average against to .255 in 2013. Paired with his elite command (2.1), this led to his best season since 2008. Ricky threw his fastball (90.3) a career low 43.9% of the time. His slider is his #2 pitch, followed by a curveball and a split-finger fastball. Nolasco had an electric 12-game stretch with the Dodgers (8-1 with a 1.91 ERA) after a July trade. He allowed 3 runs or less in 13 straight starts (1 with Miami) to lower his ERA to 3.14 on September 9th. Unfortunately, he collapsed over his last 3 starts of the year (12.75 ERA with 28 base runners allowed in 12 innings). He allowed the same amount of runs (17) as he did in his previous 12 starts. Overall, Nolasco's improved season was probably due to more life on his pitches in the strike zone, which led to a few more K's (7.4 walk rate). Ricky signed a four-year, $49 million contract in November with the Twins. His command suggests he has upside, but his declining K rate in 2011 and 2012 paints another picture. Decent major league arm and a sure upgrade to Minnesota's staff, but his stats will most likely fall short of expectations. Downside risk in 2014.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Jimenez was dusted for 14 runs in 6 innings during his 2nd and 3rd starts of the year, which led to a 5.57 ERA at the end of May. He then allowed 2 runs or less in 16 of his last 22 starts (2.41 ERA with 141 K's in 131 innings) to save his season, pitching his best ball in September (4-0 with 1.09 ERA with 51 K's in 41.1 innings). Ubaldo was dominant against LH batters (.223 with 118 K's in 368 at bats), but his command (46 walks in 368 at bats) is still an issue against righties (.258 - BAA). His AFB (91.7) was a career low and has now declined in 3 straight years (96.1 in 2010), but it did have more value over the last 2 months of the year (92.5+ mph). His success last year was driven by the highest % of first pitch strikes (58%) and overall strikes (62%) of his career. Furthermore, his slider gained value at the expense of his curveball and changeup. His gain in K's was due to the addition of a split-finger fastball. Overall, his decline in velocity can be offset by better command. Baltimore signed him to a 4-year, $48 million contract in late February. Overall, he will be pitching in a tough division in a hitter's ballpark. His success last year will inflate his value, which will make him an easy player to avoid in 2014. I see downside risk as I don't trust his command.

Jim Johnson

Johnson has the most saves in baseball over the last 2 seasons. He signed a one-year, $10 million contract in January with the A's. His command (2.3) has declined over the last 3 seasons. While his K rate (7.2) made a nice bump, it has been short during his entire career. Last year, he didn't dominate RH (.266) or LH (.279) batters. Johnson is an extreme GB pitcher (58.0%) with a low FB rate (21.5%). His HR/FB rate (11.4%) made a high jump from his previous 2 years. Furthermore, his AFB (93.8) was his lowest since 2008 and it has declined over the last 2 seasons. His curveball is his 2nd best pitch, followed by a changeup. Johnson's resume looks good, but he did blow 9 saves last year. He isn't dominant and wasn't tough to hit in 2013. He has 40 save upside with a low K rate, but his skill set may lead to job loss if he struggles.

Grant Balfour

After being shot down by the Orioles earlier in the offseason, Balfour was able to land a 2-year, $12 million contract with Tampa. He will take over as closer. Grant converted 38 of his 41 save chances last season. Furthermore, he handled himself well against both RH (.222) and LH (.192) batters. Balfour did fade after the All Star break (4.13 ERA - 5.3 walk rate), but his AFB (93.4) was his highest since 2008. His slider also had its most value during his career. Grant also throws a show me curveball. Overall, his command (3.9) has regressed over the last 3 seasons, while his K rate (10.3) was his highest since 2008. He makes sense as a closer for Tampa for fantasy owners, but his skill set isn't ideal. There are signs of risk and downside. His low first strike % (55) isn't a great sign for a pitcher in the 9th inning. I believe he is a closer to avoid in 2014.

Shawn Childs Shawn Childs -
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Forestdale, MA
FFToolbox Fantasy Baseball Writer since 2014
Over the past decade, Ive had the liberty to compete against the best fantasy players in the world. Ive won my fair share of leagues in multiple high stakes season long games in baseball and football. My strength is fantasy baseball where Ive won five National Fantasy Baseball Championship main event titles with four of those teams finishing in the top 5 overall. My success in fantasy sports has lead me to pursue a career in the fantasy market as a content provider and product development.