Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Los Angeles appears in a fairly worrisome bind as years of inadvisable long-term deals leave them with little maneuverability in the near future. The good news is that Boston developer Frank McCourt appears ready to invest in his news team, and his first action might involve Billy Beane moving from Oakland to Los Angeles. A pending influx of prospects, including a couple of elite young pitchers, should keep Dan Evans' replacement at GM from rebuilding. While the Dodgers need to find at least one elite hitter to key the offense and need to upgrade nearly every offensive position, an improving minor league system and approaching financial flexibility should enable McCourt to lead this team back to an extended run of contention.
The departures of Brian Jordan and Andy Ashby free $17M from the payroll. Although Shawn Green, Kevin Brown, and Darren Dreifort will combine to earn $86M over the next two years, no Dodger is under contract beyond 2005. Aside from Green and maybe Brown, the only current Dodgers that appear likely to remain on the team indefinitely are Eric Gagne, Kaz Ishii, Dave Roberts, and Guillermo Mota, and only Paul Quantrill's decision to decline his player option keeps Mota in Los Angeles. The Dodgers are a team in transition, and this off-season presents them with several intriguing opportunities.
LA's biggest problem is that their offense is woefully terrible, easily the worst in the league, and I see little hope of instant improvement. Dave Roberts is an acceptable center fielder and leadoff hitter, Shawn Green should rebound to some extent after a year of hiding a power-sapping injury, and Adrian Beltre finally should emerge as a top third baseman as he approaches free agency. Paul LoDuca, Dave Ross, and Koyie Hill also give the organization perhaps baseball's best catching depth, but few prospects are ready to help at other positions. While Chin-Feng Chen deserves an outfield spot, Joe Thurston's flameout at Las Vegas means that the Dodgers need to take advantage of this winter's market to upgrade both middle infield positions.
The best solution involves paying the market rate for a top shortstop and then finding a solid second baseman, preferably Todd Walker. If they need to deal Paul Lo Duca and/or Odalis Perez to free payroll room, I see no problem with moving either player to fix the most significant weakness here, especially since Miguel Tejada or Kaz Matsui would be a great fit. Either player could hit second between Roberts and Green, and only Tejada's power gives him an obvious edge. Unlike most teams, the many question marks in Los Angeles' lineup allows them the flexibility to sign either shortstop.
With one new Dodger around which to build, finding another power hitter to bat behind Green is necessary. If he stays in the outfield, dealing for an expensive first baseman like Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson is a good idea, however if Green moves to first, LA can look to someone like Reggie Sanders as a short-term solution. A lineup of Roberts, Tejada or Matsui, Green, Sanders, Walker, Beltre, Chen, and Dave Ross suddenly looks capable of providing the necessary support for the great pitching staff.
Kevin Brown, Hideo Nomo, and Kaz Ishii should return in the rotation, and Gagne, Mota, and Paul Shuey give the Dodgers a great bullpen. Edwin Jackson merits one starting slot after his September success, and if LA deals Perez, signing a mid-level starter like Jeff Suppan or even Glendon Rusch looks like a good gamble to me. If Darren Dreifort regains his health by spring, he another impressive arm to the staff.
Losing Quantrill, Tom Martin, and Wilson Alvarez certainly hurts the bullpen, however at least Martin should stay with the Dodgers. Adding supplementary pieces won't be a difficult task given that most free agents should realize the benefits of pitching in Los Angeles after relatively unexpected comebacks of Martin and Alvarez.
While a severe injury to Brown or Nomo could leave Los Angeles struggling to finish in third place, I instead expect the Dodgers to remain competitive even if McCourt doesn't make any management changes. The Dodgers impressive financial resources should insure they remain in contention indefinitely, particularly considering that some of the worst contracts in baseball finally will disappear of the books within the next couple seasons.
Chin-Feng Chen, 26, OF-R
Leaving Chen at Las Vegas for a second straight year made no sense considering the big league's team desperate need for a solid hitter. Even if he only managed a .250/.350/.450 performance in the majors, Chen appears fully ready contribute in the majors, especially after improving his contact rate from .69 to .78 this year. I'm concerned that Los Angeles no longer views him as a viable starter considering they expected him to develop into an All-Star, however he still owns significant power potential and good plate discipline, making him a perfectly acceptable choice to start next season at either left field or first base. Of course, since the Dodgers seem relatively likely just to send him back to Vegas, make sure Chen secures a big league roster spot prior to investing in him.
One of the most underrated pitchers in the upper minors, Gulin's across-the-board skills depict a pitcher capable of succeeding almost in any big league rotation in 2004. He possesses good dominance and command, and at least could pitch effectively out of the bullpen if desired. I view him as one of the most valuable minor league free agents available as lefty starters prepared to move right into a major league rotation obviously are a scarce commodity, yet I worry that some hidden scout bias against his tools will obscure his upside. If he breaks camp in the majors, strongly consider rostering Gulin since he could approach double-digit value with a little luck.
Instead of sending him to the AFL, the Dodgers jumped Jackson to the majors when they needed an extra starter in September, a mildly questionable decision at the time since they didn't need to protect him on their 40-man roster for another season. Of course, when Jackson beat Randy Johnson on his 20th birthday in his debut start, Jackson leaped ahead of fellow prospects Joel Hanrahan and Greg Miller in the race for a permanent rotation spot. As he continued to dominant most hitters over three more appearances, I fully expect Jackson to break camp in the majors next spring. Furthermore, since he skipped high-A with no difficulty at all, he should be able to maintain most of his current skills in a full big league season. Given the obvious advantage of pitching in front of an excellent defense in one of the best pitchers' parks in the game, Jackson should challenge for Rookie of the Year and reach double-digit fantasy value as he officially embarks upon a hugely promising career with the Dodgers.
Victor Alvarez, 26, LH Swingman
Relief work obviously agrees with Alvarez as he posted his best AAA stats to date, however his struggles with the Dodgers might force him back to the minors again. I don't know why Los Angeles seems to hate Alvarez, his minor league performance suggests he merits an extended shot in the big leagues. Until some team commits to giving him that opportunity, he merits little fantasy consideration.
Colyer continually caught my eye this year whenever I checked Dodgers' minor leaguers due to his outright dominance as a lefty reliever. While his conversion to relief in 2002 didn't cure Colyer of his control problems, he improved his skills in each of the last two years despite a promotion each season. If he avoids walking many batters in spring training, he should break camp as a primary part of a loaded bullpen. Wait for him to display good command in Los Angeles before rostering him, but assuming he holds a walk rate near 3.0 or a K:BB ratio well above 2.0 after a month in the majors, feel free to roster him as roster filler or even if you just need low-risk help to lower your qualitative stats.
While his weak dominance limits Corey's upside, consistently strong control and effective pitching despite spending the last few years in the Pacifica Coast League give him decent short-term value. If he reaches the majors next year and demonstrates strong skills over a few outings, feel free to employ him as roster filler.
I suspect Farmer eventually will head to the bullpen, however his success as a starter gives the Dodgers another short-term option, if not strong trade bait. While I don't view Farmer as a viable roto option right now, he could emerge as a good FAAB candidate by the middle of 2004 if he can maintain his effectiveness at Las Vegas.
Acquired from Detroit with Tom Farmer for Hiram Bocachica in 2002, Frasor emerged as a dominant reliever upon converting to the bullpen this season. If he slightly improves his control at AAA Las Vegas next year, he should earn a spot in the Dodgers' bullpen no later than September, potentially supplanting Paul Shuey to join Guillermo Mota as a primary setup man for Eric Gagne. Frasor probably will merit at least some fantasy consideration as soon as he reaches Los Angeles.
I still see no reason Hanrahan can't develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter, however Edwin Jackson is a superior prospect in nearly all regards. Jackson's excellent September also will keep Hanrahan in the minors for most of another year, a perfectly acceptable situation given Hanrahan's struggles following his promotion this season. He remains one of the more intriguing fantasy prospects in the game as long as he remains with Los Angeles, yet if the Dodgers need to deal a pitching prospect for offensive help, Hanrahan will depart well before Jackson or Greg Miller.
While Hill struggled for Team USA and lost much of his formerly solid plate discipline this year, his solid average at Las Vegas, combined with respectable power potential, keeps him ranked among the more promising upper-level catching prospects. Hill still appears to possess more long-term upside than Paul LoDuca ad Dave Ross, and I expect him to emerge as the Dodgers' starter by 2006. The current major league depth in Los Angeles practically insures another year of seasoning for Hill, so although his future looks bright, he isn't someone to target in 2004 given his competition in the organization and Hill's need to improve his offensive skills.
Nearly every team in the 2002 draft regrets letting Miller slip to the 31st pick as he probably ranks as the best long-time pitching prospect in the game right now, particularly considering he didn't turn 19 until today. I suspect he would pitch effectively even if he opened next season in the majors, however the Dodgers would be foolish if they didn't leave him in the minors all season so they don't need to protect him on the 40-man roster next winter. Of course, Miller looks ready for AAA now, but giving him two more months at Jacksonville before a half-season at Las Vegas seems like an excellent move to insure consistent dominance for the foreseeable future. Expect him to debut with the Dodgers no later than early 2005, and he possesses the talent necessary to reach double-digit roto value as soon as he reaches the majors. While the usual caveats regarding pitching prospects and health risks apply here, Miller's upside should result in his selection high in every spring minor league draft.
Given his modicum of a success in relief in recent years and his poor dominance, the Dodgers' decision to move Mullen into the Vegas rotation appears rather questionable, particularly given their starting pitching depth. Acquiring him in the Gookie Dawkins' deal was a decent move, however Mullen gives no indication that he will contribute as more than bullpen filler for any team. While he might emerge as a useful reliever in deep NL-only leagues thanks to his consistently good control, he isn't someone worth targeting in any draft.
Despite limited power and defensive lapses, switch-hitters with decent batting skills who can field an infield position aren't a plentiful commodity in baseball. Riggs deserves a long look in spring camp since he probably offers more upside than many reserve infielders, however until he secures a regular big league job and posts decent numbers for a few weeks, Riggs doesn't merit much fantasy consideration.
Only solid plate discipline stands between Ruan and a full-time job leading off in the majors, however since he gives us no indication he'll develop any discipline in the near future, Ruan isn't a fantasy target right now. Of course, his impressive speed skills mean he could mature into someone like Tom Gordon, but until Ruan actually wins a bench job and starts accumulating steals, he deserves little roto consideration.
While Saipe received two cup-of-coffee starter with Colorado in 1998, he merits another look in the majors. Of course, he probably needs to move to the bullpen full-time given his inconsistent command as a starter, however his solid control makes him a viable big leaguer. Unfortunately, his relatively stable position as a AAAA pitcher should keep him from seeing many innings above AAA, making him a poor fantasy gamble at this time.
Perhaps the only good news here is that Thurston's walk rate jumped from .04 to .06 while his contact rate edged upward to .91, but 2003 looks like an effectively wasted season for him. A bad camp cost him the starting job essentially handed to him last winter, and then he demonstrated less power this season while posting one of the worst stolen base success rates in organized baseball. He no longer appears likely to win a starting job with the Dodgers in the near future, however you also shouldn't forget about him as a prospect since he still owns the skills needed to post a .334/.372/.506 in Las Vegas a season ago. Even if he only develops into a utility infielder, now is a good time to acquire Thurston cheaply in deeper NL-only leagues.
Don't draft Totten since he lacks the upside of most of the Dodgers' other, generally younger pitching prospects. However, he remained very effective in a full year at Jacksonville, suggesting he shouldn't experience overt difficulties at AAA Las Vegas. Expect him to reach the majors by the end of 2004, and he could debut sooner if Los Angeles doesn't protect him on the 40-man roster this winter. While Totten's ceiling may be lower than other prospects, he almost certainly should enjoy at least a few seasons in the majors, and his great command means he could succeed either at the back end of a rotation or as a long reliever. If he remains with the Dodgers, the solid team defense and good pitchers' park also will give him more fantasy value than he might earn elsewhere since those factors will limit his hit and homer rates, his only likely trouble spots as he approaches the majors.
Franklin Gutierrez, 20, OF-R
Despite questions regarding his plate discipline, Gutierrez owns career marks of a .09 walk rate and .76 contact rate, indicating he possesses the skills necessary to take advantage of his prodigious power and speed skills at higher levels. Of course, considering he demolished Southern League pitching for three weeks after an impressive performance at Vero Beach, he might spend the second half of this year at Las Vegas before receiving a September call-up. Gutierrez should need no more than two years to refine these skills into $20 roto potential almost as soon as he reaches the majors, and while I don't like him nearly as much as some prospect analysts, his skills suggest as much upside as his tools. Consider drafting Gutierrez highly in any minor league draft.
Loney spent most of the season recovering from the broken wrist that ended his 2002 season, explaining his unimpressive power totals. Of course, most 19-year-olds in their second professional season look impressive if they manage to post a .09 walk rate and .83 contact rate in the short-season A-ball, forget about the Sally League or the Florida State League in which Loney spent the year. He already appears capable of posting a respectable BA in the majors, and if he continues developing power as expected, he could dominate the game for much of the next decade. Loney is one of the brightest hitting prospects in baseball and merits a very high minor league pick in almost any league even if he requires two more full years of seasoning, although my guess is that he reaches the majors to stay no later than the summer of 2005.
I don't see significant depth in either hitting or pitching prospects here, and few decent prospects will open this season at either Dodgers' A-ball affiliate, however their upper-level prospects rank with those of almost any team in the game. Jackson probably is the NL's best pitching prospect, possessing the potential to earn $20 in 2004, and Hanrahan and Miller aren't far behind. Chen and Hill both should win starting jobs by 2005, and Colyer, Ruan, and Thurston also are close to contributing. Of course, along with these solid players, Gutierrez and Loney should form the core of Los Angeles' offense for the next decade, and both merit high picks in any draft, leaving Los Angeles a surprisingly fertile ground for minor league fantasy draft picks.
Current ranking of potentially helpful fantasy depth for teams discussed thus far in 2003, based on both the quality and quantity of players ready to contribute in the majors, as well as consideration of the trade value of minor league draft picks from the lower levels of each system:
1. Minnesota Twins(Restovich, Mauer, Crain, Balfour, Bartlett)
1. Edwin Jackson, SP
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