Your Daily Fantasy Rx
by Tim Polko
Welcome to Rotohelp's Annual Catcher Week!
Another season brings another major change to our annual off-season player reviews. We removed our two weekly minor league articles from each week of our player reviews due to the significant time commitment required to produce the brief seasonal summaries and general projections for every minor league free agent, AAA, and AA player, as well as the relative superfluousness of the articles after spending the last two months on minor leaguers. Dropping these columns from our normal rotation provides us needed additional time for the MLB player reviews that consistently rate among our most popular features.
Beginning today with catchers, I will spend the next several weeks reviewing every player who appeared in the majors during the 2005 season in ascending order from positions with the least depth, such as catcher and shortstop, to those with the most variety of talent, specifically outfielders, starting pitchers, and relief pitchers.
Quick Key to the tables:
We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.
Although I don't envision a pure breakout for the Martinez as he heads into his age-27 season next spring, posting an OPS just over .850 the last two years provides the game's best offensive catcher a superb foundation. Apparently the pressure from a five-year deal signed in April resulted in a slow start since he held decent skills all year. He owned a .193/.263/.273 line heading into May 28th before five hits in his next eleven at-bats led to a .295/.384/.516 June performance, followed by an outstanding .380/.449/.578 in the second half. The main obstacles Martinez faces looks like a ground-fly rate that drifted from .92 in 2004 to 1.46 this year, but if he adds more power to his developing batting average and patience, he could approach a .330/30/120 campaign as soon as 2006. Bid into the low $20s even in single-season leagues for this future perennial All-Star.
Continued knee and groin problems limited Mauer's effectiveness yet a solid batting average and a rather shocking thirteen steals in fourteen attempts resulted in excellent overall roto value. Of course, Mauer's 2.11 G-F still suggests minimal immediate power upside, so although he owns excellent plate discipline, nothing here indicates a reasonable chance for him to exceed this value in 2006 by any significant amount. Expect another fairly quiet year before a more dramatic jump the following summer if he avoids another massive injury.
Losing long-time back-up Doug Mirabelli shouldn't disrupt Boston's catching with John Flaherty and Kelly Shoppach supporting Varitek. While I suspect turning 34 in April poses the biggest problem for Varitek, he managed a career-best 4.15 #P/PA and remains a vital component of the club's offense. Perhaps repeated post-season exposure elevated his perceived value to an unacceptably high level, but barring an obvious bargain on a developing youngster, Varitek merits a strong bid in the low teens as only a slight hedge against an age-induced collapse.
A terrible misreading of the marketplace by agent Alan Nero current leaves no logical starting job for the Gold Glove backstop. The Diamondbacks and Mets dealt for veterans, Baltimore and Seattle signed free agents, and the Angels, Royals, Rangers, Braves, Marlins, Pirates, Rockies, and Dodgers all seem set with internal options. Only the Padres still needs a clear upgrade over Doug Mirabelli and David Ross, so I suspect Molina either will head to San Diego or maybe even Florida on a one-year deal with the goal of leading a weaker field next winter. Of course, Molina turns 31 next July and just posted the best offensive season of his career, so moving into an NL pitchers' park could send his value crashing. Barring an unexpected move to somewhere like Colorado or Texas, he doesn't deserve any bids above single digits
Advanced age apparently assaulted IRod as he registered his worst offensive season in more than a decade. His patience essentially vanished, dragging down his walk rate from .08 to .02 and resulting in an atrocious .290 OBP. A comparatively poor .276 BA also deflated his RBI total by 36 despite decent power production. With the now 34-year-old future Hall-of-Famer a thoroughly overrated player in the vast majority of leagues, he simply no longer merits much fantasy attention. I see no reason to remain in any double-digit bidding for IRod given the multitude of superior options and the low likelihood for a rebound to his previously stalwart numbers.
Departing the National League and his long-time home in Pittsburgh resulted in the worst season of Kendall's career. Fortunately he remains fairly young for a catcher, doesn't depend on significant power for his value, and at least posted a batting average above .300 in three months of the year. His presence at the top of the lineup throughout the year still hurt Oakland badly, but even a mild return to form in 2006 will help reestablish his worth as a leadoff man and push Kendall's fantasy value back towards $20. Feel free to push into the lower teens if you see bidding stalling here.
Lopez broke his right hand at the end of May, contributing to Baltimore's fall from first half surprise to total also-ran by season's end. He missed most two months of action and then watched the Orioles sign Ramon Hernandez earlier this month, effectively pushing Lopez to a DH/1B role. Although I believe he could thrive if focused on hitting, Lopez turned 35 this November and lacks the skill foundation necessary to remain productive indefinitely. Push to $15 here due to the reduced injury risk alone, but lacking any further improvement to Baltimore's offense, Lopez simply won't approach $20 again if he enters the year hitting cleanup.
Don't be shocked to see the Yankees add one more established catcher this winter, possibly even renting Ben Molina in an effort to add bench flexibility while reducing Posada's burden. The veteran backstop suffered through his worst season at the plate since securing the starting job, yet with a solid skill base and plenty of protection in a loaded lineup, Posada remains a reasonable bet to repeat this performance, remaining an especially solid investment in leagues that largely ignore batting average. Hope that New York's perceived dislike of their overpaid veteran depresses his value, securing Posada for your roster even when you stop bidding on $10.
Somehow a thirty-point surge in batting average failed to translate into more than minute offensive improvement for Hall, who seemingly lacks the plate discipline to mature into more than a superb defender registering merely marginal production at the plate. The fast-developing catching market somewhat surprisingly left him in Tampa for another season, though given his limited overall contribution to the Rays, he could head elsewhere at any time. Expect a BA reversal near his .266 career mark as his value crashes back under $5, though even bidding that much doesn't make sense in leagues where you don't keep in-season crossovers.
Continued offensive development resulted in frequent rumors regarding both Gerald Laird's imminent departure from the organization and the increasing possibility of a long-term deal for Barajas. He added a career-high 3.80 #P/PA to his .52 G-F, contributing sufficient power to the lower half of the Rangers' lineup to compensate for a .306 OBP, a weak mark that still ranks as the best of his career. Although I firmly believe Gerald Laird could exceed this level of offensive production, Barajas remains the organization favorite and near-certain starter in 2006. Any owner with a solid BA foundation should seek to add Barajas for a few bucks, ignoring his sub-par average to secure some of the best quantitative numbers from any catcher.
Locking the most famous of Chicago's post-season heroes into a three-year deal insures the White Sox remain productive at catcher, especially with Pierzynski heading towards improved quantitative production as he heads towards his thirtieth birthday next December. Yes, he already exceeded his single-season homer high by seven this year, but a slow start and generally depressed BA limited his value. I strongly suspect even Pierzynski's newfound notoriety won't lead to severe overbidding on his services. Heading into the low teens in the hope of a .280/20/70 season looks like a good bet in most leagues.
Zaun exceeded his previous season-high in at-bats by just short of a hundred as he finally managed the season his skills first suggested a decade ago. He compiled a 4.25 #P/PA, 1.27 G-F, and a .17 walk rate, along with a respectable .84 contact rate. Unfortunately, Zaun no longer possesses much power, but he at least seems certain to remain a capable big leaguer indefinitely barring further concussions. He currently seems set to return as Toronto's starter as the Jays still haven't added a respectable challenger. Of course, given Zaun's weak BA and the strong possibility of the club acquiring someone with more upside, perhaps even Ben Molina, don't risk more than a couple bucks here under any circumstance.
A multitude of minor injuries interrupted an otherwise impressive rebound for Redmond following two down years with the Marlins. He still lacks any notable power and no longer possesses solid plate discipline, but given his consistently strong contact rate, he should post positive value indefinitely. Consider Redmond one of the best targets for your second catching slot during Dollar Days, potentially even meriting two bucks in especially deep leagues.
Let's focus on the fact that Buck only turns 26 next summer, giving him plenty of time to emerge as an offensive force. He also boosted his contact rate from .67 to .77, indicating plenty of potential for further BA development. The obvious problems begin with a mild drop in walk rate, continuing to his failure to exceed his 2004 total of a dozen homers despite over 160 additional at-bats and concluding with his unacceptable .287 OBP. Thankfully Buck registered a .310/.372/.422 performance against southpaws, improved to a .258/.305/.425 line in the second half, and simply scorched the ball for a .312/.333/.545 output in September. I still see plenty of reasons to invest in the youngster even after he burned us this year, so take advantage of his off-year to snag Buck at a single-digit discount in the spring.
Please refer to our Post-2005 Prospect Review: Seattle for my comments on Rivera.
Signing with the Phillies positions the aging journeyman for a solid follow-up to this career year. The combination of a .92 G-F and a .74 contact rate should lead to continued development as Fasano's power production peaks thanks to the welcoming environment of CB Park. Although he could cede his job to Carlos Ruiz by season's end, expect a solid profit of a couple of bucks if you grab Fasano during Dollar Days.
The decision to non-tender Miguel Olivo last week absolutely shocked me after the Padres dealt Miguel Ojeda to acquire the solid defender in July. He easily looks like a better everyday option than Doug Mirabelli or similar backups until George Kottaras reaches the majors in 2007. Olivo excelled as the replacement fo the injured Ramon Hernandez, registering a .304/.341/.487 down the stretch despite awful plate discipline. While I recognize that his limited patience doesn't mesh with San Diego's offensive philosophy, Olivo's offensive upside ranks with the best two dozen catchers in baseball. He soon should sign somewhere like Toronto or Florida, a place where he might win a starting job and produce helpful numbers in your minimal investment.
Moving to the Dodgers for 2006 extends Alomar's career a shocking two seasons past his Hall of Fame brother's final year. Of course, the switch from five years in excellent hitters' parks to Dodger Stadium should destroy the remainder of his offensive value as only an acceptable BA resulted in positive value this year. Expect Alomar to finish next year with several dollars of negative value, and despite our belief that every professional baseball player can help some fantasy team under the right circumstances, I see so much downside for Alomar that he just might qualify as the first exception to that rule.
Ross was not worth Mark Loretta in trade, is not a capable starting catcher, and will not be a good option on draft day. He missed nearly a month with wrist problems and never has exceeded 230 at-bats in a season. With increasing contact problems also limiting the upside of his patience and abundant flyballs, Mirabelli easily could slip into negative value in the harsher hitting environment of Petco Park. I see little reason to risk rostering him in any league.
Consider Bengie's little brother on borrowed time on the Angels. Even the departure of both Ben and Josh Paul leaves Molina as no more than the second catcher on a club with Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli both looking set for starting jobs by 2007. While Molina still mashes left-handed pitching, he possesses little overt offensive skill and shouldn't remain on the Angels past next summer. Don't purchase Jose Molina in any fantasy league.
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