Sometimes a minor trade occurs in the final days of spring training and it gets buried because the names aren't interesting to fantasy owners. So it is that we report the Braves traded Josh Anderson to the Tigers on Monday for Rudy Darrow. Ho hum, right?
Well, while Anderson is no longer on my sleeper list because his playing time is likely to take a hit in a star-studded Detroit outfield, this is actually big news in fantasy: The Braves appear willing to let prospect Jordan Schafer start the season in center field. No Anderson, no Gregor Blanco, it's time for Schafer to get his chance, and that is very interesting for fantasy.
Schafer was someone fantasy owners started to watch a season ago, but that season went awry with a 50-game suspension for testing positive for human growth hormone. Schafer hit and ran enough after a slow start with Double-A Mississippi to stay on the fantasy radar, and this spring he's hitting .373. He's already major league-ready defensively, but how much will he help owners this season? I don't think he's on the level of Cameron Maybin just yet, maybe not even Colby Rasmus (who now might not make the Cardinals after all) for sheer cumulative numbers in home runs and steals, but Schafer is an upgrade fantasy-wise over Anderson and Blanco, a potential top-50 outfielder and borderline draftable in mixed leagues right now. And I also like this move for middle infielders Kelly Johnson and Yunel Escobar. It's assumed each will hit in the top two lineup spots now, whereas with Anderson around, one of them was in danger of hitting low in the lineup. Schafer, a lefty hitter who hasn't proven he can hit lefty pitchers, is likely to hit seventh or eighth. The Braves need outfield production in 2009, just one season after getting arguably the worst numbers from its outfield in the majors, and Schafer does have upside.
As for the Tigers, Anderson gives them a bona fide backup center fielder in case something befalls Curtis Granderson, a guy who can play all three outfield spots, a left-handed hitter and someone who can also steal a base. That said, despite moving quickly through the Houston chain before bring traded to Atlanta for Oscar Villarreal in November 2007, Anderson has never been viewed as a top prospect like Schafer was. He's merely a backup. Detroit is counting on Carlos Guillen, Granderson and Magglio Ordonez for big numbers, but Guillen is hardly durable, and current fourth outfielder Marcus Thames is an all-or-nothing power bat and not a strong fielder. The team released Gary Sheffield on Tuesday (more on that below) to make room for Anderson, but we do wonder if this means Clete Thomas, Ryan Raburn and possibly Brent Clevlen won't make the team. Anderson should end up with around 300 at-bats this season, and he could steal 15-20 bases and hit for a decent average. Consider him a decent dollar pick in AL-only formats.
As for Darrow, I'm surprised the emerging sidearmer was dealt with the Tigers' bullpen being such a mess right now. Joel Zumaya is on the DL, Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon have been ineffective this spring, and the other relievers the team is likely to keep are either unproven (Ryan Perry, Eddie Bonine) or past their prime (Scott Williamson, Juan Rincon). The Braves won't need the sinkerballer Darrow on their major league roster let alone anywhere near the back end of the bullpen, so in terms of fantasy value, Darrow probably lost an opportunity leaving an ugly bullpen for a decent one.
• As for Sheffield's release, I can't say it's a big surprise. The guy did hit only .225 a season ago, and he's 40 years old. It is stunning the Tigers would eat $14 million, though. I think some team will sign Sheffield on the cheap, but fantasy owners should note the potential for 20 homers isn't worth the bad batting average. He might be done helping mixed-league owners.
• I'm normally a cautious fantasy drafter, often eschewing hitters with low on-base percentages because I feel it limits their upside in other categories. As a result, many readers and listeners, and even those in the Bristol office, have been surprised to see me heavily touting second-year middle infielder Alexei Ramirez. He easily made my top 50, and I'm expecting big things from him in 2009. Of course, the knee injury Ramirez suffered when he slid into home plate Monday could change all that. For now, we have to hope Ramirez simply cut his knee and did no other damage, but we'll keep an eye on this.
• In other news from White Sox camp, the team released Jerry Owens. No, he's not necessarily headed to Triple-A, he's just gone. Owens entered camp as the leading contender to lead off and play center field, and that combination, along with his blazing speed, surely enticed fantasy owners. This guy could steal 50 bases even with a .300 on-base percentage. A month into spring training he still couldn't hit a lick, and manager Ozzie Guillen realized Owens wasn't his man. Look for Owens to find work elsewhere -- the Reds seem to always target players like this -- but his fantasy value is nearly gone. Dewayne Wise and Brian Anderson will platoon in center field, and neither are overly interesting in fantasy, although we should note Wise was a perfect 9-for-9 in steal chances with the big club, in only 57 games.
• The Phillies ended speculation about who will pitch Opening Night against the Braves -- remember, it's this Sunday on ESPN and ESPN Radio -- by officially ruling out Cole Hamels. Instead, the lefty will pitch the day before in an exhibition game against Tampa Bay. Phillies pitching coach Rich Dubee says he's encouraged about the progress Hamels and his elbow have made, and targets April 10 for his first start. Regardless, fantasy owners should not be concerned; very few pitchers make every single start in a season, and even last year Hamels made "only" 33. Brett Myers is expected to start Sunday. If you own Hamels, you don't want him pushed too hard. You want better numbers in 30 starts, not a chance for 34 starts and an elbow injury.
• The news on John Lackey of the Angels is worse, though. The team used the teasing word encouraged to describe the latest MRI results on Lackey's right elbow, but there remains inflammation, and the best-case scenario has the right-hander returning in late April or early May. Fantasy owners should act more cautiously with Lackey; that's a month of starts, and he had a similar injury that cost him even more time in 2008.
• The Cardinals still haven't made it official that Jason Motte is the team's closer, but now we have some closure that it won't be Chris Perez, at least not initially after he was sent to Triple-A Memphis. Perez, the team's first-round pick in 2006 and still likely the closer of the future, could still get his chance in the majors this season, but it's now Motte's job to lose, and there are no indications he's going to lose it. He's not a top-20 closer yet, but with his stuff, all he needs is experience, and he'll get there soon.
• Yes, that was me saying "I would never draft Rich Harden" on the Baseball Tonight Fantasy Special last week, and I stick by the comment. On Monday, Harden threw 4 2/3 messy innings against the Royals, allowing three home runs and five earned runs. Harden hadn't pitched in more than two weeks after suffering food poisoning. It's always something with this guy. Harden pronounced himself ready to go. We'll see him again in spring training at least once, as he's not scheduled to pitch in the regular season until April 10. I'm skeptical that he'll make 20 starts in 2009, though I'm sure they will be really good ones.
• Will Ohman finally found work Monday, waiting until the final week of spring training to sign his below-market contract with the Dodgers. Ohman has no fantasy value, but now that Joe Torre has another lefty, more of a one-out guy to work with (like Joe Beimel a year ago), it could signal Hong-Chih Kuo is the next in line for saves if Jonathan Broxton struggles. Many teams are reluctant to use their lone lefty to close games, preferring to spot them in key spots in the seventh or eighth innings. Now that Ohman can do that, Kuo is freed up for work later in games.
• I haven't seen many official lineups announced recently, but they're coming. Mets manager Jerry Manuel tipped his hand Monday, saying left fielder Danny Murphy was going to hit second in the order, between Jose Reyes and David Wright. Murphy bats left-handed and will surely see better pitches in the No. 2 spot, as opposed to the No. 8 spot, where Luis Castillo is rightfully buried. It's tough to be high on Castillo, and this move doesn't help. Murphy, however, could be a real breakout performer, a double-double guy with strong plate discipline.
• The Indians placed corner outfielder Dave Dellucci on the 15-day DL because of a strained right calf, clearing the way for prospect Trevor Crowe to make his major league debut. Crowe has slipped quite a bit in prospect rankings, as the former first-round pick hasn't hit much in the minors. But he is 6-for-6 in stolen bases this spring, and the Indians might not have the longest leash with starting corner outfielders Shin-Soo Choo and Ben Francisco.
• When an office worker gets carpal tunnel syndrome, it's certainly not fun, but they're not throwing 90-mph fastballs a thousand-plus times a season. Many fantasy owners probably have carpal tunnel syndrome, but how many major league pitchers do? Few hurlers can produce nasty pitching lines like Cincinnati's Bronson Arroyo, who managed to allow 14 hits and 10 runs in 4 2/3 innings Sunday, in a spring game! Arroyo now blames his poor spring performance on carpal tunnel, which could lead to a DL stint. Must be typing too much. Speaking of which, time for me to stop typing.