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Value of Damon, Sheets tied to their destinations

1/22/2010

Kudos to Octavio Dotel! The 36-year-old relief pitcher took his dormant fantasy baseball value and became quite relevant Thursday, signing a one-year contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Was this a big-money deal? Not really. Does he have a chance for the playoffs? Um, no. But Dotel wanted the opportunity to be a closer, and in Pittsburgh, he'll get it. I respect that. Look at the bullpens of the other 29 major league baseball teams, and you can see how he wouldn't get that chance. Of course, our fine game, fantasy baseball, had no bearing on Dotel's choice -- let's not be naive -- but now the guy certainly matters again. In terms of fantasy baseball, he really didn't matter with the Chicago White Sox.

Whether Dotel, at this stage of his career, can be an effective closer is another matter, I suppose, but that's a blog for a different day. For now, he wouldn't make my top-25 closers, but since Matt Capps was No. 25, let's just say there's not a big difference there. Here is the updated closer chart for the latest situation on each team.

Anyway, Dotel's signing got me thinking about how much a free-agent destination can affect fantasy baseball. His was the perfect example; it just happened to be the right choice for fantasy baseball owners. Let's take a look at three current free agents and how their choices could affect their fantasy baseball value.

Johnny Damon: As a Damon owner in a deep keeper league, let's just say I've been paying close attention to his situation, but ultimately I think he'll end up back with the New York Yankees. Please tell me this deal will get done eventually! Damon as an Atlanta Brave? A Detroit Tiger? Um, Damon hit 24 home runs in 2009, tying his career best -- at 35 years old. Seventeen of those home runs came in the new Yankee Stadium, the one with the short right-field porch. I will submit that we really don't know enough about this stadium to presume this crazy power trend will continue -- generally you need three or more years of a sample size to credibly evaluate ballpark factors -- but it's pretty safe to deduce that this isn't Petco Park. Where Damon ends up going is critical to his fantasy value.

If Damon returns to the Yankees, I don't see why he couldn't repeat his fine numbers, with more than 20 home runs, a nice runs scored total, a strong batting average and the occasional stolen base. It's not just his home stadium, where he slugged an unfathomable (for him) .533; hitting between Derek Jeter and the Alex Rodriguez-Mark Teixeira duo is prime territory. Damon's destination also affects Brett Gardner and Nick Johnson quite a bit. I shudder to think how few home runs Damon would hit as a Brave, or having to depend on a gimpy Chipper Jones to knock him in. As a Yankee, Damon makes my top 100. Anywhere else, he's not even a top-50 outfielder. Heck, he might be David DeJesus.

Ben Sheets: I took a chance on Sheets in an NL-only league for a buck, and can protect him at that price. If he goes to the Texas Rangers, which has been rumored for much of this offseason, I'd not only lose Sheets, I'd lose interest in him overall. It's not that good pitchers can't overcome making 15 home starts at Rangers Ballpark, but fantasy baseball owners are conditioned to look elsewhere at this point. This is a tough place for a pitcher to start half his games. With him being a Texas Rangers pitcher and facing American League lineups, that's a dealbreaker. I mean, I don't even want Rich Harden with him now in Texas (not that that would surprise any of my regular readers).

Then again, if Sheets becomes a New York Met, sign me up! Really, I'm going to take an interest in any decent starting pitcher who gets to make half his starts at Citi Field. I realize the Mets might not score many runs this season, so downgrade his win potential. New York's infield defense -- and with Jason Bay in left field, the outfield defense, too -- doesn't figure to help pitchers either, but this remains an extreme pitchers park. If Sheets heads to the Mets or Dodgers, he's a nice sleeper. If it's Texas, Baltimore, Philadelphia or Arizona, I won't like it.

Miguel Tejada: First of all, Tejada's value would get a boost if he went to a team that would play him at third base. It has become almost presumed that he can't play shortstop anymore, but don't rule out that possibility. The lure of fantasy multi-eligibility, however, would help Tejada's draft-day value. There are a few teams that either seem interested in Tejada to play third base or would appear to be decent fits, namely the St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins and Baltimore Orioles. As a fantasy baseball owner, I would and would not like to see Tejada become a Cardinal, but I like his value there. I'll explain.

I blogged about David Freese last week, and while I think the kid can hit 25 home runs right away and deserves a shot, the fact is the Cardinals might opt for a veteran presence. Tejada doesn't have that kind of power anymore, but he did hit .313 for the Houston Astros last season, with 83 runs scored and 86 RBIs. The reason I like the Cardinals as a fit for him is obvious: If Tejada bats second, that's right in front of Albert Pujols. If he hits fifth or sixth, that means Pujols and Matt Holliday will often be on base. Put Tejada on the Twins or Orioles and I don't see nearly the same lineup impact (even though the Twins have Joe Mauer), though he'd get to face presumably weaker American League pitching. You know, the NL Central isn't exactly a superstar pitching division, either. Shortstop is a weak fantasy position this season, and third base isn't so hot after the top 10. Tejada signing with the Cardinals would put him in my top 150, for sure.

I'll also be keeping an eye on other free agents, such as Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez, Russell Branyan and, of course, Paul Bako (I kid).

Have a great weekend, everyone. Only 27 days until pitchers and catchers report to spring training!