The ultimate Christmas present for baseball dweebs, the Hot Stove season, has kicked into full gear, and the last couple of weeks have provided us with a flurry of player movement that will have some major interest for fantasy owners on draft day. While some fans are stuck stewing because their franchise player absconded to sunnier climates and olympic-size pools full of money, fantasy fans just care about how that move affects that player's value.
A lot of times, a simple change of teams can have drastic changes on a player's numbers, for better or worse, even if said player retains essentially the same skill level. This can be due to environmental factors (like park factor) as well as quality of teammates. Here is a quick list of some of the big name players who changed teams in the past couple of weeks, and a look at how, or if, they'll be affected by the change of uniform.
--Albert Pujols, Los Angeles Angels
I don't care if Pujols was slated to play half his games at Petco Park and forced to hit with one hand tied behind his back. He's still baseball's best hitter and a virtual lock to give you .300-40-100. His move to the American League should change nothing. He'll play a lot of games in the Oakland Coliseum and Safeco Field, two of the more pitcher-friendly parks, but come on. We're talking about one of the elite hitters of his generation here.
Draft him in the first round without a bit of hesitation and watch him reign fire and brimstone down on terrified AL pitchers. At the end of his ten-year deal, he probably won't be the best hitter in the league, but just the fact that we even have to ask that goes to show how amazing a player he is.
--Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins
The change of venue probably won't affect Reyes's value in any meaningful sense; his ability to stay healthy will. Reyes is as likely to be the top fantasy shortstop as he is to miss 30-40 games with injury. He's no longer going to single-handedly win you the stolen bases category, but he has skills that age well, and he should be a legitimate pick as the first shortstop to go. Just be prepared to have a decent contingency plan.
--CJ Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
I think Wilson's contract is going to be a disaster eventually, but for next year, at least, he should be fine. One of Wilson's major strengths is his stinginess with the long ball, and Angel Stadium is more forgiving for flying spherical projectiles than the Ballpark in Arlington. Secondly, Wilson's new center fielder, Peter Bourjos, is like a giant sea-faring beast that swallows up everything in its wake. If a fly ball sees a Bourjos, it's the last thing it will see. Remember what Franklin Gutierrez did for Jarrod Washburn in 2009? Sometimes having one elite defensive player can increase a pitcher's value exponentially.
Although long-term contracts for pitchers (especially pitchers without long histories of success) often don't work out, Wilson should be worthwhile for 2012. He's entering a more favorable pitching environment with an all-world defensive center fielder backing him and a good lineup bolstered by the addition of Albert Pujols. Assuming the walk bugaboo that plagued him in the playoffs doesn't decide to stick around, he should be good source of wins and strikeouts. Keeper leaguers? Sell high.
--Mark Buehrle, Miami Marlins
I love this deal for the Marlins, because at four years the length isn't crazy and Buehrle is one of the most consistent and durable starting pitchers in the game. The wild card involving any player who goes to Miami is that we don't have any clue as to how their ballpark will play. If it turns out to be homer happy, watch out. Buehrle's only had one truly bad season in the majors, back in 2006, when his ERA jumped up almost two runs because he gave up a career-high 36 home runs.
He isn't a good source of strikeouts at all, but his value lies in his predictability. You know you'll get 200-something quality innings out of him and that he'll avoid the Disabled List. The move to the non-DH league should only help him and the Fish should have a good offensive unit, so he's a safe pick for innings and wins unless Miami's (possibly ill-begotten) new stadium is a bandbox and his ERA skyrockets.
--Aramis Ramirez, Milwaukee Brewers
This three-year deal to bring Ramirez to the Land of Suds just went down this morning. Ramirez bounced back from a couple of injury-plagued seasons to reclaim his status as one of the better run producers at third base. The move to the Brewers might boost his RBI stats because he'll hit behind Ryan Braun (er...for 110 games at least), but generally the move to Miller Park from Wrigley should prove negligible.
One thing to watch: Ramirez has long been an aggressive, early count hitter reliant on bat speed. As he enters his mid-30's, his bat speed might wane, and his ability to hit for average might subsequently plummet. Since he doesn't walk much, if his batting average tanks, he could turn into an albatross in a hurry. With his recent injury history, it's something to be wary of.
--Erik Bedard, Pittsburgh Pirates
Here's a giant, furiously waving red flag if I've ever seen one. Let's see, a perennially-injured, 30-something pitcher who will now pitch for a historically crappy franchise with zero offense and a shaky defensive unit. Nothing could possibly go wrong here, right? To be fair, I see what the Pirates are doing here and I like it. They're signing a solid starter to a low-risk contract for the potential to turn him into prospects at the trading deadline. That's great and all, but you should set your fantasy phaser to ignore. Don't get caught up in nostalgic dreams of Bedard's former fantasy usefulness, which were very fleeting in the first place.
**For those of you wondering why this article is suspiciously lacking in a few high-profile closer signings, well...tune in a little later this week.