Josh Willingham: Bringing his brand of 25-homer reliability to the Land of 10,000 lakes. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Are you as excited as I am about the news of Josh Willingham's big three-year deal with the Twins that takes him through his age 35 season? No? Of course you aren't, because you're probably sane. We here on the margins of societal functionality, however, have our own pet players, and Willingham has been one of my favorites ever since he was a catcher prospect (yes, catcher prospect) with the Marlins. He's been an underrated source of power ever since he broke through as a regular in 2006 and you can pretty much rely on him every year for 25 homers and an OPS in the mid-.800s. Hey, it's better than Jason Kubel. Hey, wait a minute...
If you believe this, Willingham is due for a monster year. I'm skeptical, but I will say that getting out of the Oakland Coliseum, with its batting average-smothering foul territory, should prove that the .246 average he put up last season was a fluke. The concern with Willingham is injury, as he always seems to miss a month with a back injury, and the uptick in strikeouts is alarming. Still, if you find yourself lacking in the power department, especially in AL-only leagues, pick him up. I won't be a jerk and predict 30 bombs, but a better batting average plus the usual solid home run output seems about right.
Of course, Willingham's signing wasn't the only bit of news from the past week. After the jump, a big trade, a big re-signing, and a personal fantasy trade horror story for you.
Exactly how friendly is Petco Park to pitchers? Well, Mat Latos last season posted a 3.47 ERA, and that was only good for a 102 ERA+. That strikes me as being completely insane. This matters because Latos was shipped from San Diego to the Cincinnati Reds the other day in a (somewhat shocking) multi-player deal. Ray Guilfoyle summed up the deal succinctly here, so I'll be brief. Latos's change in venue is enough to give one pause. Petco Park is a place where pitchers recline in leisure, to be fanned and fed grapes by beautiful, barely-clad women. Great American Ballpark is not like that.
The GAP is notorious for increasing home runs, and some fly ball pitchers (cough Eric Milton cough) have gone there to die. However, Latos isn't particularly homer-prone even on the road, so I don't think his ERA will suddenly balloon just because of the switch in ballparks. The GAP is hitter-friendly, but it's not Coors Field circa 1999 or anything. Plus, Latos is 24, he has a lethal arm, and he is now pitching in front of a much better lineup that could help inflate his win totals. If anything, he could be a dark horse Cy Young candidate.
--I, along with the rest of the citizens of planet Earth, have no idea why the Diamondbacks signed Jason Kubel, other than to fill their need for a one-dimensional hitter with no defensive value whatsoever. Kubel doesn't interest me, as he's a probable part-time outfielder with middling power, but he does call to mind a funny story. You see, once upon a time, in a fantasy baseball keeper league I was in, I traded Kubel away and got completely hosed, all because I believed in the promise of Elijah Dukes. As you can tell, I'm not the best judge of character.
Back before the 2009 season, I swung a deal that sent Kubel, who was a nondescript, oft-injured outfielder with the Twins, for Dukes, who was a complete lout with a rap sheet as long as my leg, but who also had all the promise in the world. When people talk five tools, they pointed to Dukes. I remember cackling to myself when this trade went through, figuring I had just traded a nobody for a future impact player. To be fair, Dukes had just come off a season where he had OPSed .864 and had shown good power and base-stealing ability. Was I wrong to believe he had finally turned a corner and grown up? Don't answer that.
So, where is Dukes now? He's out of baseball, and focusing on a budding career as a rapper named Fly Eli. That's...that's not a joke. Dukes stunk it up in 2009 and the Nationals abruptly cut him the next spring. Kubel? In 2009, he mashed to a .300/.369/.539 line, with 28 homers, in what will almost certainly go down as the best year of his career. I firmly believe the cosmos awarded Kubel with this fluke season just to stick it in my eye for so gleefully investing in a sociopathic jackass. You fleeced, dawg.
-Jimmy Rollins has suffered a bit of a precipitous fall from his monster 2007 season, when he bagged the National League MVP. That year, he was a five category behemoth who probably single-handedly led a few fantasy managers to league championships. What's really amazing is that it probably should have been evident at the time that that season was a complete fluke. Rollins was always pretty good, but not all-world. Now he's the guy you draft because all the top shortstops are gone and you take him praying that he can pull the rabbit out of the hat and channel '07 again.
That's not going to happen, but to be fair, Rollins is still solid. The Phils locked him up for another three years, meaning that maybe Rollins will be that rare modern player who spends his whole career with one team. He still makes an impact in the stolen bases category and he can give you 15-20 homers. That's nothing to sneeze at, because shortstops as a whole are pretty bad, and Rollins's power/speed combo still arguably ranks him among the top five at the position. The low batting average and lack of walks sting, but you'll take what you can get with this crop.
--In a story that I thought was a bit under-reported, former Toronto Blue Jays closer and accomplished chair-thrower Frank Francisco signed a two-year deal with the Mets, presumably to close out games for them. The departure of Francisco Rodriguez last season left the Mets with a Jason Isringhausen-shaped hole at closer.
Francisco has been pretty good throughout his career in the bullpen and can still strike people out. My question: how will a guy who is notorious for losing his cool and winging a chair into a fan's face handle pitching in the media pressure cooker that is New York? I'm no shrink, and it's obviously possible that was an isolated bit of cuckoo, but I think it's worth asking how he'll react when the boo birds reign down after a few blown saves. Draft him for the save totals and pray he isn't Armando Benitez.