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Ricescapades: A Change of Environment, AL Edition

Most of the big offseason transactions involved big name players landing on American League teams. Here is a look at the more notable players who found new AL homes, and how the move will affect their fantasy value.


A few weeks ago, I took a look at some players who swapped teams in the offseason and landed in the National League. We laughed, we cried, we took shots at Delmon Young. It was great. Now we're going to take a look at the players who switched over to the American League. Dig in, because there were a ton of them. This is by no means a comprehensive list, since I didn't want to spend three days locked in my room wearing Kleenex boxes as shoes trying to name every player who changed to an AL locale. So here are the major names who switched to the AL, and how their fantasy value is affected. If you're offended by any omissions, let's discuss them in the comments section.

R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays

The Coolest Pitcher in Baseball takes his amped-up knuckleball to Canada to head a completely revamped Blue Jay rotation. At the very least, his shift to the AL will be interesting. Having to face the DH usually adds to a pitcher's ERA and shaves a bit off his strikeout rate, but Dickey's dancing knuckleball might be a different animal. Since he doesn't exert as much effort as your typical pitcher, he might not have to pace himself differently when facing the extra hitter.

It's a nice junk theory, anyway. His last go round in the Junior Circuit was a disaster, but as we all know, he was a completely different animal then. I'd still hedge a little and assume he's not going to match his magical 2012 numbers, but he's still a safe guy to draft. Heck, you might even be able to get him at a bargain if other owners are skeptical about how his knuckler will hold up in the AL.

For what it's worth, Dickey was 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA in three Inter-league starts last season, with 28 strikeouts in 24 innings. He did surrender five runs and a grand slam in a poor start against the Yankees, however.

Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels

Hamilton cashed in this offseason with a lucrative $125 million deal with the Angels, but there are a few reasons to be wary (and for his keeper league owners to consider selling high). First, he's leaving a homer haven for a relatively pitcher-friendly park. Second, he saw his strikeouts go through the roof last year, which is never something you want to see in a star player. Lastly, he's now on the wrong side of 30 and has an injury history to go along with his, er, checkered past. Of all the players who will go for top dollar in drafts, he's the most likely to go busto on you.

Jose Reyes, Toronto Blue Jays

The speedy Reyes shifts over to the American League and immediately becomes the Junior Circuit's top fantasy shortstop, though that's a little like proclaiming someone as the best actor in the Universal Soldier franchise. Reyes's across-the-board fantasy production shouldn't change much with the move to Canada, and if anything, he might hit more home runs in the homer-boosting Rogers Centre. Maybe he can benefit from some tips from the man in white.

Josh Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays

Johnson had a rocky season in 2012 as he recovered from an injury-riddled 2011. Reduced velocity and a drop in strikeouts might indicate that the shoulder problems he endured the previous season were showing their effects. He was better in the season's second half, but the move to the DH league won't do him any favors. The Jays think they're getting an ace, but even in his best season, when he led the NL in ERA+ in 2010, Johnson didn't reach 200 innings. He keeps the ball in the park, and that will help him survive in the AL East and in his new ballpark, but buyer still beware. Factoring in his fragility and having to face an extra guy who is competent with a bat, I'd be very surprised if he ends up being one of the top 30 fantasy pitchers.

Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays

The move back to the American League, plus the tougher division, both seem to prophesy a down year for Buehrle. At this point, though, who is going to doubt him? For years now, fantasy owners have been declaring the end for Buehrle because of his low strikeout totals and pitch-to-contact philosophy. Yet every year he just goes out there, tosses 210 or so innings, posts an ERA above the league average, wins a decent number of games, and flips his detractors the universal peace sign. The last time he failed to reach the 200 inning mark was in 2000, when he was a rookie who made three starts. He's not a sexy option by any means, but he's stable, and he's a lock for a lot of innings and a decent ERA, which is more than you can say for a lot of pitchers.

Michael Bourn, Cleveland Indians

Okay, raise your hand if you predicted that Bourn would go to the Indians on a four-year deal for less average annual value than B.J. Upton? Yeah, I thought not. Bourn's signing with the Indians was a bit shocking, but if he can get his batting average up above .300 again, he'll score a lot of runs heading what should be a strong lineup. Bourn also should be free to run wild on the AL Central, so expect the same elite stolen base totals. The only question is whether his high strikeout totals (abnormal for a leadoff hitter) are starting to hurt him. He had a miserable, hacktastic second half of last year, where he struck out 81 times in 310 plate appearances. That won't cut it for a player who relies on speed, especially now that he's hit age 30. The second half fade was likely a fluke, but bid cautiously all the same and go for a power guy before going for Bourn's steals in your outfield.

James Shields, Kansas City Royals

Before we start on his move to the Royals, did anyone notice that Shields gave up fourteen unearned runs last year? That meant that his Run Average was 4.07, which looks decidedly less appealing than the 3.52 ERA he posted. By comparison, his teammate David Price gave up three unearned runs, and the year before Shields himself surrendered only five. Since pitchers bear a not-insubstantial responsibility for their unearned runs, this is a bit concerning for those thinking Shields is an ace. He may have been an unfriendly scoring decision or two from having an ERA closer to 4.00, and do you think the Royals would have given up Wil Myers for him, then? I don't know.

Shields is now leaving one of the best defensive units in baseball for one that rated as one of the worst (both Baseball Prospectus and Fangraph's UZR had the Royals ranked pretty poorly). This doesn't mean Shields is going to tank. He limits walks, strikes out about a batter an inning, and is incredibly durable, and that combination usually trumps whatever crappy defense a pitcher has behind him. Shields might put up marginally poorer numbers due to the slightly more hostile home park and the questionable fielders behind him, but the innings and the strikeouts will still make him a top 15 AL starter.

Torii Hunter, Detroit Tigers

Remember when everyone pooh-poohed Hunter's five-year deal with the Angels, saying it was too much to pay for a 32-year-old player exiting his prime and who was losing range in center field? Yeah, nuts to them. Hunter performed as well as could be expected in those five years, and now he moseys on to Detroit to improve the Tigers' brutal corner outfield situation. He's going to be batting in the middle of a stacked Detroit lineup, so even if he regresses a little bit, his counting stats should still be pretty good. It's amazing what Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder can do for your fantasy stats. Consider Hunter a quality fantasy outfield option in his new home, even as he inches closer to 40.

Tommy Hanson, Los Angeles Angels

What happened to this guy? Just two years ago, Hanson was one of the top up-and-coming pitching stars in the league. He had filthy stuff and looked like he was going to sit atop pitcher fantasy rankings for years to come. Then, suddenly, his velocity goes bye-bye, his ERA goes through the roof, and the Braves couldn't say amscray to him fast enough. The velocity drop may have been the result of some mechanical flaws, so perhaps with some work with a new coaching staff, that could get corrected. If so, he might be one of 2013's top buy low picks.

Wil Myers, Tampa Bay Rays

Dayton Moore apologists will have you believe Myers is overhyped. Myers fan boys will have you thinking he's the second coming of Jesus. The rest of us should probably meet somewhere in the middle. Myers is going to be a stud, but asking him to immediately step in and hit like Joe Dimaggio is a bit much. In the minors last year, his power spike was paralleled by a rise in strikeouts, so maybe he isn't the high-contact, Pujols-type we wished for. Also, he's destined to start the season in AAA, so you won't be getting any fantasy value out of him until late-May. He's a Rookie of the Year fave, and he should be a good fantasy outfielder (and catcher? Damn you , Yahoo!) immediately, but we'll have to wait a bit to see him in action.

Nick Swisher, Cleveland Indians

The loquacious Swisher has long been one of my favorite players, so here's hoping his second tour of the AL Central goes a lot better than his disastrous stint in 2008 with the White Sox. The aughts version of Yankee Stadium boosted home run power tremendously, especially lefty home run power, so I'd be concerned about some of Swisher's power falling off with the move to Jacobs Field (though he pretty much had an even home run home/road split in his time with the Yanks). The change of environment won't affect his value to any large extent; the fact that he's a Three True Outcomes guy entering his mid-30's might. If I have to guess, he'll probably justify two of the four years Cleveland gave him before the bottom falls out.

Michael Morse, Seattle Mariners

Oh, man. This hurts. Perhaps no player saw their fantasy value mutilated like Morse did this offseason when he was traded to the Mariners. Morse's main asset is his power, and wouldn't you know it, Safeco Field absolutely destroys right-handed power numbers. Perhaps that might change a bit with the park's new, cozier dimensions, but Morse is a guy to avoid. Even if Safeco doesn't hurt him, he's a marginal outfield option; his 30-homer season of 2011 was one of the easier flukes to identify.

Mike Napoli, Boston Red Sox

I wrote a profile of Napoli a few months ago, so I won't be Mr. Redundant and regurgitate the whole thing here. Suffice it to say, calling Fenway Park home can only help Napoli's dragging batting average, as the Green Monster has boosted right-handed hitting numbers for years. Of course, none of that will matter if he can't get his strikeouts under control. He'll be a top catching option once again if he can get his strikeout rate down to just his 2006-2010 levels, but I'm honestly a bit skeptical that he'll have a big comeback.

Ervin Santana, Kansas City Royals

It seems like every couple of years, Santana changes magically from solid fantasy pitcher to human launching pad. That happened last year as, after two good years in 2010 and 2011, Santana surrendered a whopping 39 home runs and was one of the worst pitchers in all of fantasy. The stratospheric rise in his ERA marked the third time since 2007 that he finished a season with an ERA over 5.00. The Royals decided to gamble on this maddening pitcher, and he'll be fantasy-worthy again if he can stop giving up the long ball like he did in 2012. Whether or not you want to take that bet as a fantasy owner is an open question, though he had never been that tater-tastic before, so I'm calling fluke. He won't have the defensive support that he had with L.A., but I do like his chances of bringing his ERA back to the 3.90 range and helping you in the strikeout column again.

A.J. Pierzynski, Texas Rangers

Everyone's favorite red ass takes his act to Texas, where we'll see if his personality can fit in with his new team as it did so well in Chicago, or if he'll wear out his welcome in a fit of crotch-kicking like he did in his one year with the Giants. Pierzynski had a career power season at age 35 last year and no one on planet Earth is putting money down on a repeat. However, if he's going to defy the aging curve and swat 27 homers again, he's in the right ball park, as Arlington has traditionally increased lefty power substantially. Even if the power dips, he's a safe middle-tier catcher option due to his ability to hit for average.