PLAYING TIME: Fielder, Pena, Scutaro find new homes

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Fielder lands in DET; whither Miguel Cabrera?

Responding to the offensive sinkhole created by the loss of Victor Martinez (DH, DET), the Tigers shocked observers by agreeing to a nine-year contract with Prince Fielder (1B, DET) this week. The bad news is that Fielder moves to a far less-friendly HR venue in Comerica Park, which deflates HR to LHBs by 11% as opposed to 16% inflation in MIL. Still, the overall hitter-friendliness of the AL and Fielder's numbers--he's averaged over 38 HR, 15% bb% and a 165 PX over the previous five seasons--make park effects almost immaterial. He may be hard-pressed to repeat his 46 HRs from '09, but Fielder looks like a near-lock for 30+ HR over the first few years of his contract, which should keep his owners and Tigers fans happy.

The most intriguing fallout from Fielder's signing is where Miguel Cabrera (1B, DET) ends up defensively. Initial reports suggest that the Tigers will try Cabrera at 3B and LF, the positions at which he broke in with FLA back in 2003-2007--and many, many pounds ago. This idea is being met with skepticism everywhere outside the Tigers front office, because simply put, Cabrera isn't a good defender, even at 1B. It could take 20 games elsewhere for DET to figure this out, but don't count on it; the most reasonable projection is that Cabrera takes over most of Martinez' vacated DH AB while time-sharing with Fielder at 1B. The other current 3B options in DET--Don Kelly (3B, DET) and Brandon Inge (3B, DET)--seemingly have little to worry about for now.

Pena re-signs with TAM

After spending a season in the NL with CHC, Carlos Pena (1B, TAM) returns to the organization with which he enjoyed his first extended MLB success. But while Pena signed a one-year $7M deal, the BPIs suggest that he could be less than full-time player.

Pena     AB  BA   vL   xBA  bb%  ct%  HR  PX   xPX  hr/f  
====    ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ===  ==  ===  ===  ====
2008    490 .247 .190 .247  16%  66%  31  180  176  19%
2009    471 .227 .211 .270  16%  65%  39  221  203  24%
2010    484 .196 .179 .242  15%  67%  28  155  149  21%
2011    493 .225 .133 .248  17%  67%  28  181  201  18%

Pena returns to a less inviting hitting venue in Tropicana Field, but his power hasn't declined one iota in his year removed from TAM. Unfortunately Pena has made zero progress in his efforts to solve LHP, against whom his chance of success reached a prohibitive low last year. With Casey Kotchman (1B, FA) officially gone, Pena takes over the 1B AB vs. RHP and will continue to be a BA-killing HR source. But against lefties, expect him to give way to right-handed hitting minor league journeyman Russ Canzler (1B, TAM), at least for now.

Red Sox create SS battle, add Ross

The salary-dump trade of Marco Scutaro to COL has created competition for SS AB in BOS; the immediate candidates are Mike Aviles (3B/SS, BOS) and Nick Punto (SS/2B, BOS). Throughout his career, the versatile Punto has been valued for his solid defense across multiple positions. But good patience aside, sub-par power and BA, and now declining speed metrics at age 34, make him a fantasy non-starter.

Aviles is not the defender that Punto is, but he's just as versatile. And he did some of his best work at SS after coming to BOS in a trade deadline deal, which clearly helped convince the Red Sox that they could survive the losses of both Jed Lowrie and Scutaro in the short-term. Excellent ct% is Aviles' only plus offensive skill, but it has helped him compile a .288 lifetime BA. After his torrid 2011 finish with BOS -- .317 BA in 101 AB--expect Aviles to get another good chunk of PT at several positions to begin 2012. Good-field, no-hit SS prospect Jose Iglesias (SS, BOS) will continue to hone his offense at AAA-Pawtucket in hopes of grabbing some SS AB later in the season.

The Red Sox used some of their Scutaro savings to sign free agent Cody Ross (OF, BOS) in an effort to shore up an OF hit by injuries, trades and free agency. Ross' 122 PX/120 xPX combo in 2011 say that his power remains intact, and should be an asset for a RHB in Fenway Park. With better h% luck, he'll rebound some from a 2011 career-low .240 BA/.241 xBA mark. But he finds himself in a difficult battle with LHBs Ryan Sweeney (OF, BOS) and Ryan Kalish (OF, BOS) in his efforts to see another 400+ AB season.

AL short takes

Pushed out of his closer role by CIN's signing of Ryan Madson, 37-year-old Francisco Cordero (RHP, TOR) agreed to a one-year deal to set up closer Sergio Santos in TOR. Cordero saved 37 games in 43 attempts with the Reds in 2011, but a four-season Dom slide--from 12.2 to 5.4--leave his fortunes resting on volatile Ctl and an unprecedented 50% GB%. A closing shot could materialize if the relatively inexperienced Santos falters, but a near-four xERA says Cordero isn't a good bet in the AL East ...

Switch-hitting utility man Wilson Betemit (DH/3B, BAL) has signed a two-year $3M deal with BAL, reportedly to serve as the Orioles' primary DH. His new contract and Betemit's 129-134 PX in 2010-11--in decidedly unfriendly KC and DET venues--should make him intriguing to owners seeking a cheap 3B qualifier in 20/5 leagues. His BPIs are volatile, but Betemit now has a decent shot at 400+ AB in a fine hitters' venue ...

In return for middle-reliever Zach Putnam (RHP, CLE), CLE picked up Kevin Slowey (RHP, CLE) from a COL team looking to cash in some of their stockpiled SP arms. Slowey could get a CLE rotation shot thanks to name-and-visa-challenged Fausto Carmona (RHP, CLE), but the move from Coors to less HR-prone Progressive Field won't work miracles. As noted by Rob Carroll in December, Slowey needs more durability and less gopheritis to be a fantasy asset again ...

SEA's signing of 37-year-old Kevin Millwood (RHP, SEA) to a minor league deal makes him at least an even bet to make the rotation out of spring training, as the Mariners wait for their kids to arrive. After pitching terribly in the minors, Millwood put up a 3.97 ERA in 9 starts with COL -- on the back of an unrepeatable 1.3 Ctl over 54 IP. But 5+ xERAs over four of the past five seasons tells you to let someone else take the shot at his encore. Even in Safeco Field ...

Fresh on the heels of trading for Seth Smith to take over LF vs. RHPs, the A's signed free-agent Jonny Gomes (OF, OAK) to be his lefty-killer platoon-mate. Gomes' 138 PX and 14 HR in 311 AB suggests that he won't have much trouble power-wise even in O.co Coliseum. But a perennial sub-70% ct% and career .225 BA vs. RHP now at age 31 cast him as a role player--and only worth rostering in ultra-deep leagues ...

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NATIONAL LEAGUE

COL tabs Scutaro for 2B

The Rockies moved to fill a big infield hole when they acquired Marco Scutaro (SS/2B, COL) from BOS to be their starting 2B. Scutaro has put up solid if not spectacular offensive numbers that should translate well enough in Coors Field.

Scutaro   AB    BA   xBA  bb%  ct%  h%   Eye    PX  Spd
=======  ===  ====  ====  ===  ===  ===  ====  ===  ===
2009     574  .282  .262  14%  87%  31%  1.20   82  100 
2010     632  .275  .258   8%  89%  30%  0.75   77  101
2011     395  .299  .279   9%  91%  31%  1.06   83   92

His BA, ct% and Eye illustrate strengths that will play up in a venue that inflates RHB BA by 15% and overall scoring by 32%. And even though Scutaro has sub-par power, his plate control helps him jack one occasionally, as noted by his 30 HR over the past three seasons. The move will qualify Scutaro at both MI positions, creating a solid 2012 earnings outlook and putting a serious crimp in the immediate PT hopes of Eric Young (OF, COL), Chris Nelson (2B/3B, COL), and Jonathan Herrera (2B, COL) -- all of whom will have to look elsewhere for AB.

NL short takes

Rebuilding HOU signed 31-year-old Chris Snyder (C, HOU) to help buy time for catcher-of-the-future Jason Castro (C, HOU). Snyder put up a typical double-digit bb% and showed atypical ct% / BA skills in 2011--but it all went for naught due to a herniated disk that ended his season after 96 AB. If healthy and his double-digit HR power returns, he's a decent #2 catcher flyer ...

Prince Fielder's deal with DET finally clears the way for Mat Gamel (1B, MIL) to get a shot as the Brewers' first baseman. A defensively-challenged 3B earlier in his career, Gamel slugged 28 HR and hit .310 in the PCL, but his MLE wasn't quite as kind--and his BPIs have been extremely volatile over the past four seasons. After struggling in limited MLB play -- .222 BA, 5 HR in 171 AB from 2008-11--it's make-or-break time for Gamel.


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