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Fantasy Impact: Altitude-Addled Catchers

As everybody knows, the talent pool for catchers in fantasy baseball is essentially a desolated, post-apocalyptic wasteland. If you're a manager scouring this blighted landscape, pausing here and there to kill the occasional marauding demon or zombie, then you're going to generally find slim pickings. Finding a catcher who can not only produce sufficiently but also stay healthy and consistent for the entire year is one of the most dubious exercises a manager can undertake. Thus, we have to scavenge for value in any form it may take. It may seem cruel and unusual to have to carry John Jaso or Jorge Posada's corpse on your roster for half a season, but this is the world we live in, folks.

Today the Colorado Rockies signed veteran catcher Ramon Hernandez to a two-year deal to theoretically be their starting catcher. To clear room for him, the Rocks sent erstwhile receiver and stathead favorite Chris Ianetta to the Los Angeles Angels for pitching prospect Tyler Chatwood. One of these players just gained value, and the other probably saw theirs sink like a rock. After the jump, we'll take a look at which one is which, and how that information might prove useful in the Sysyphusean quest to find a halfway decent fantasy catcher.

Ramon Hernandez has had a long and spotty career from a fantasy standpoint. I should know; I've had him on my keeper league team since his second year in the league. That's not because I swear some sacred allegiance to Hernandez (though he wouldn't be the worst player to inspire an ill-conceived fan club). It's because, once again, finding a good catcher sucks. Hernandez could get your hopes up one year with a 20-homer campaign, then miss half the season with injuries and disappoint the next. His career has caused me more than one migraine over the past decade. A Hall of Famer he ain't, but even with the inconsistent seasons, he has generally been an above average catcher with decent power.

Now he's projected to get the lion's share of the playing time while playing his home games at Coors Field. Yes, Coors Field. That magical hitter's haven that once upon a time turned even the crappiest of hitters into highly-sought-after commodities. Remember back when Neifi Perez was considered a top 10 shortstop? That's what Coors Field does. It's almost scary.

Of course, Coors Field isn't the complete offensive madhouse that it used to be. Whether it be the humidor or longer infield grass or general better pitching, offense has generally gone down in Colorado over the last half of the decade. Just last season, Coors Field had a park factor of only 117. I say "only" because if you go back to the year 2000, the park factor was 125. In 1999, it was 127. I can't even fathom that. If you take the mound in that hitting environment, you aren't a pitcher, you're cannon fodder.

Even though Coors isn't raising offensive levels like it used to, it still plays very friendly to hitters. Hernandez proved he could still hit last season by OPSing .788, which ranked him eighth among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances. Hernandez has always been pretty reliable for decent power output and the move to the new ballpark should artificially augment his counting stats to make him particularly useful for fantasy purposes. Keeper leaguers will thumb their noses because of his age, but I like his potential to be a cheap, stopgap producer at a horrible position to find quality at. Hell, if Coors Field can make Miguel Olivo look semi-respectable, why can't it provide a temporary boost for Hernandez?

--The other catcher involved in today's roster shuffle was Chris Ianetta, a player with whom I've had a bizarre fascination with for a few years now. Ianetta has profiled as a take and rake guy for most of his career, the typical low-average, good-OBP slugger who tends to make stat nerds like me swoon. Unfortunately, Ianetta's managers didn't feel the same way and never really warmed up to him, and he always seemed to be stuck in a platoon with a better glove guy or, inexplicably, Miguel Olivo. Now with the move to the Angels comes a change of scenery and a chance to break out with more playing time. Um, right?

Well, I'm concerned. I've always been a big proponent of Ianetta, even in 2010 when he hit a miserable .197 and saw his power vanish into thin air. With this move, though, I'm extremely bearish about the chances that he'll live up to my unreasonable expectations.

For starters, we're looking at a guy who had a .975 OPS in Coors Field last year, compared to a piddling .587 on the road. For his career, he's OPSed .869 at Coors, and .707 everywhere else. He won't be hitting in Colorado anymore, at all. Obviously we can't just look at home/road splits and assume a guy is going to stink because he's moving teams, but this isn't exactly encouraging. Not to mention, he's moving to a relatively pitcher-friendly park, in the better league, and will be in a division with a couple of the best pitcher's parks in the majors. Eegads.

Secondly, if Mike Scioscia ran the awesomely awesome Mike Napoli out of town because he couldn't stand Napoli's walk/strikeout combo, how in blue hell is he going to be able to stand Ianetta? Ianetta is like Napoli-Lite, and he had an historic hitter's haven inflating his numbers for years. Pardon me if I don't think this is a match made in heaven. Ianetta has always been a curiosity because of his power, but even my rose-colored glasses are starting to pale over. With this move today, buyer beware.