Happy St. Patrick's Day to all my fellow Irishmen! Happy St. Paddy's Day, too, to those non-Irish folk who will be drinking their faces off today in celebration of a culture they only understand from offensive stereotypes involving Leprechauns and four-leaf clovers.
So before the rest of you go on your merry way to consume horrifying amounts of alcohol and sing drunken Irish chanteys, let's take a second to appreciate just one of the many awesome things the Irish are known for: luck. In the baseball world, luck plays a major role in the lives of players, managers, and even fantasy owners. From BABIP shenanigans to injuries, to unforeseen breakouts by waiver wire fodder (Jose Bautista), a fantasy owner's season can turn on just a few lucky breaks or unlucky swings of the pendulum. If we're dealing with keeper leagues, the luck ante is upped a thousandfold, because a lucky move here or there can have major ramifications for years to come.
So here, after the jump, five offseason events that should change the fortunes of keeper league managers for the better.
1. Neftali Feliz Moves to the Starting Rotation
Yes, I know. If you owned this guy in a keeper league, your initial reaction was to be pissed off. You're now down a closer and you have to go out and find another source of saves. Thanks to Rangers management, you just lost 30-35 saves. I get the anger, because I have Feliz in one keeper league, and I'm going to be entering vulture mode once the season starts, descending upon scraps of crappy bullpen denizens in search of saves wherever I can find them.
Take solace, though, Feliz owners. You shouldn't be livid, but instead be ecstatic, because you just got a free starter, one with All-Star potential, and you can't beat free. Feliz has been destined for the rotation from day one, and you should have known this when you initially acquired him. Heck, it's the reason I drafted him in the first place. Starters are more valuable than relievers in the first place, and Feliz looks primed to become a 200-K guy eventually.
Closers, meanwhile, are the most easily replaceable commodity in baseball. They tend to have short shelf lives and they are much easier to find than good starters. John Axford, for example, is now rated as a top five closer in many circles, but at this time two years ago, no one knew who the hell he was. So be happy that you now magically have a potential top-20 starter in Feliz and go to the waiver wire and find the reliever with the wackiest mustache.
2. Miguel Cabrera Pretends to Play Third Base
Detroit's insistence on playing Cabrera at third base this year is, I believe, less a move forced by Prince Fielder's acquisition than a misguided attempt to test the limits of DIPs theory. Woe be the fantasy owner who has stocked his pitching staff with Tiger pitchers. After watching the umpteenth slow ground ball leak through the left side of the infield, as Cabrera pants and collapses in a helpless heap after taking two steps, will Justin Verlander develop homicidal tendencies? Reason number one why the Tigers will be awesome to watch this season.
If you own Cabrera, however, you don't give a crap about his defensive shortcomings. You just care that he's now third base eligible, and in this capacity, he's easily the best fantasy third baseman in the league. First base is the easiest position to replace, so if you had Cabrera slotted at first base, you shouldn't have too much trouble finding a reasonable replacement for him, and your third base production likely just shot through the roof.
3. Michael Pineda Goes to the Big Apple
I loved this trade for both sides when it occurred. The Yanks needed pitching help and they got a great, very young pitcher. The Mariners needed someone who knew what to do with that long wooden object in his hands and got Jesus Montero, who has future hitting star written all over him. Montero's counting stats, though, might be squashed initially because Safeco Field is a tough park on hitters and there are very few quality Mariner hitters to set Montero up.
Pineda, however, goes from a historically awful lineup supporting him to one of the best, and his fantasy owners should now reap the benefits of a drastically increased win total. Yankee Stadium increases home run production and is tougher on pitchers than Safeco, but it isn't the bandbox some make it out to be and Pineda wasn't particularly homer-prone last season. He'll face tougher lineups in the AL East, but a similar ERA to 2011 with double the win total isn't a crazy suggestion, with further growth in coming years.
4. Vernon Wells's Continuing Assault on the Record Books of Ineptitude
Last season Vernon Wells posted an OBP of .248 in 529 plate appearances. We need to immediately launch an investigation into potential game-fixing here, because no one could possibly be that bad without trying. As of this writing, the Angels are apparently all systems go with Wells as their Opening Day left fielder once again, in some quixotic attempt to justify trading Mike Napoli for him.
Wells' continued suckitude only helps owners of Mike Trout, who have to be chomping at the bit to get major league production out of the uberprospect. Trout got a fair number of at-bats last season and did about as well as you'd expect from a 19-year-old in the major leagues. Ideally, you let a guy like this get more time in the minors before unleashing him upon the AL West, but Wells is so bad that the Angels might be forced to throw up their hands and just plug Trout into the lineup. Since Trout is an athletic freak, he could probably handle being a starter already and his fantasy owners get to reap the benefits of his talent earlier than expected.
Bryce Harper will almost certainly be starting the 2012 season in the minors, but he may not be there for long if LaRoche has another year like last season. LaRoche was alternately hurt and crappy in 2011, and he isn't even that good in the first place. He's owed $8 million plus a $1 million buyout, so the Nats might just end the charade and bring their budding superstar up to take LaRoche's place should the latter struggle again. Michael Morse easily slots at first base, with Harper taking over in the DC outfield, making the transition likely seamless. If this does happen, however, it won't be until June, after Harper's arbitration clock is sufficiently delayed. Harper has shredded the minors thus far and looks ready to play in the majors, so he'd likely be an instant shot in the arm for keeper league managers who own him.