[EDIT: SORRY RAY! This is what I get for not checking before I publish]
I hope I'm not stealing anything from Ray, who has done a TERRIFIC job of handling all of the off-season rumors, but I figured I'd tackle a little bit about the biggest baseball story of the day: Jonathan Papelbon going to the Phillies on a 4-year, $50 million contract.
This is most guaranteed money a reliever has ever gotten, and there's a $10 million 5th year that could vest and make it an ever bigger deal.
There was a time, not so long ago, that Papelbon was considered to be half-the-closer he used to be. That time was 2010, when he posted a career-high 3.90 ERA, and saw an increase in walks per 9 go from 1.04 in 2008 to 3.18 in 2009 to 3.76 in 2010. Some people thought the Red Sox should just let Papelbon go considering he was a very expensive closer in arbitration.
He responded by posting the best numbers of his career in 2011:
64.1 innings, 87 strikeouts, 10 walks, a 2.94 ERA and 31 saves. Though that was a career-low in saves, and he's posted many lower ERAs, his 1.53 FIP and 2.16 xFIP were career-bests and he was worth 3.0 WAR. Now he gets to close for three of the best pitchers in baseball.
More after the jump
The Red Sox were considered to be one of the best teams in baseball and an ideal situation for a closer, meaning lots of save opportunities for Papelbon fantasy owners. But after Josh Beckett and Jon Lester, the rotation fared very poorly.
John Lackey, Tim Wakefield, and Andrew Miller all had ERAs over 5.00 and Clay Buchholz pitched for less than half of the year. Erik Bedard and Daisuke Matsuzaka each made a handful of underwhelming starts, and the Red Sox won "only" 90 games.
Papelbon now moves from the AL East to the NL East and closes for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, and Vance Worley. The highest ERA out of that bunch was Worley's 3.01. Ryan Madson, who is a slightly less-talented closer than Papelbon, posted a 2.37 ERA with 32 saves. I think Papelbon should easily be in line for 40 saves and be one of the brightest closers in the National League. The Phillies were the winners of 102 games last season, and I think it's reasonable to assume that they'll be just as good, if not better.
One thing I find really interesting about the Phillies is how they are going to be able to keep this up. With Papelbon added, they now have roughly $100 million wrapped up in six players for 2013 already. They have not re-signed Jimmy Rollins, a free agent. Cole Hamels, Joe Blanton, and Shane Victorino all hit free agency after next season. They're probably not concerned with Blanton, and they may not be that worried about Victorino, but Hamels seems like a guy they can't afford to lose.
The average age of those six players in 2013: 33.
The Marlins have made "substantial offers" to both Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes according to Ken Rosenthal. That seems crazy, but much like the Rangers in recent years, the Marlins are coming into new money and with a new stadium, they want to put butts in seats.
Pujols is going to hit no matter where he goes, but will his fantasy numbers suffer if he goes from the champion Cardinals to the last-place Marlins? I doubt it.
The Marlins feature the best power-hitter under 25 in the majors with Mike Stanton, and maybe Pujols can light a fire under the ass of Hanley Ramirez. I also am a big Gaby Sanchez fan, the man Pujols will move off of first base. I don't know how all of the shifting will work in Florida with Sanchez, Hanley, Logan Morrison, and potentially Jose Reyes, but that's a bridge you cross after you assemble such an amazing lineup.
I'd give big upgrades to all of those players if Pujols joins the team. Not so much with Jose Reyes, who is more of a do-it-yourself kind of guy, he won't affect the numbers significantly of the other players, save for some more RBI opportunities.
And I don't buy that Pujols has lost an ounce of his talent at age 31. Since June, he was right around a 1.000 OPS again. He had similar seasons in 2002 and 2007.
The Twins are signing Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal, and that's certainly a lot more interesting to the Twins than it is to fantasy owners.
With Papelbon gone, the Red Sox will need to find a new closer. They could turn to Daniel Bard, who would immediately be one of the most upgraded relievers in the game (74 strikeouts in 73 innings) but they might not want to risk handing the job to a player with 5 career saves.
Danny Knobler of CBS Sports says they will inquire on Heath Bell, and also on the guy that Papelbon is replacing: Ryan Madson. As usual, money isn't an issue for the Sox, so they'll sign the best player they can get.
The Red Sox also opened discussions with free agent Michael Cuddyer. The man who has played for the Twins, and only the Twins, since 2001, would get a major fantasy upgrade if he moved to Boston. Cuddyer has always been somewhat of a disappointment because of his inconsistency, but he has three times hit 20 or more homers, including last season.
As a right-handed hitter in Boston, he could immediately become a 25 HR, 35 double, 100 RBI player. Or.. he could disappoint again. Either way, the Red Sox would be one of the best possible destinations for Cuddyer.
Nolan Ryan has said the Rangers will not pursue Pujols or Prince Fielder, which is great news for the AL West. If they actually replaced Mitch Moreland with one of those bats, that would be an insane lineup. Like.. 150 RBIs at the very least, maybe pushing 200 for a guy like Pujols.
My official stance on Fielder is that if he got what Ryan Howard got (5 years, $125 million) it wouldn't be nearly as egregious. Fielder is four years younger and his career has been trending upwards, not downwards like Howard. Still, that's a lot of money for a player who absolutely profiles the kind of guy that breaks down earlier in his career than most. A lot of people compare his skills to that of his dad Cecil, a guy who hit .249/.343/.458 after he turned 30.
The deal might look sweet for 2012 and 2013, but could look pretty ugly by 2014. Like how Ryan Howards contract looks ugly, and it doesn't kick in until next season.