Rolen, Cameron, yay for defense
January, 15, 2008
By Eric Karabell | ESPN.com
Isn't it strange that my first thoughts when I heard about the Scott Rolen-Troy Glaus trade and the Mike Cameron signing weren't really about them at all, but about pitchers like Roy Halladay and Dave Bush? Well, if you know me, or you value defense when trying to project your favorite fantasy pitchers, it's probably not strange at all.
Good for Cameron for landing in a non-pitcher's park for the first time this decade. What a marvelous tale it can be that Rolen and Tony LaRussa are officially divorced now, and Glaus gets to go back to the National League. Really, I'm happy for all three of them. From a fantasy angle, though, none of these guys move up much in the rankings. I'll get to that in a moment.
I'm also quite intrigued by what these significant moves mean for others, namely their pitchers, but also a few Brewers players. Rarely in a transaction is just one player affected. There's the situation left behind, and there are players on the new team who must move their position or lineup spot -- or lose 'em altogether. There are always numerous things to consider in every move. In this one, it's the pitchers affected, especially the ones who don't make their living from striking hitters out. It might seem a neglible difference to you, but it exists.
While I've certainly backed off waiting for Milwaukee's Bush to become a great fantasy pitcher, I have to admit, seeing this new defense got me thinking again. Of course, I might draft Bush every year until he retires. Sure, I like Cameron about as much as the next fantasy owner, knowing that each potential 20/20 campaign comes with a .250 batting average caveat, and now that he's out of spacious Petco Park, it could get better. But it's not the offense he'll bring that makes the biggest difference to Bush. It's the Gold Glove-caliber defense and, more importantly, the other defensive changes made.
A year after leaving the infield, Bill Hall moves back to it from center field. Like Cameron, Hall has some holes in his swing, but he can contribute power and should be drafted in most leagues, especially knowing the position eligibility addition he'll get two weeks into the season. Hall will move to third base, sending arguably the worst defensive player at that position from 2007 into left field.
You were going to draft Ryan Braun anyway, and you still should. In fact, this is a positive, except maybe for those of you in keeper leagues who really enjoyed his third base eligibility. You'll get to use it in 2008 as well, but I doubt that will be the case in 2009. Braun's a fantasy monster regardless of position, though. I've seen him go as high as No. 7 overall in a draft already, and no later than mid-second round. Good for him for knowing before spring training starts that he must learn a new position. Even if he's as bad in left field as Pat Burrell or Manny Ramirez, so what, those guys don't cost their teams games out there. I did theorize on numerous occasions, however, that Braun and his sub-.900 fielding percentage at third, and weak range, were hurting Milwaukee pitchers. I don't think that was Bush's biggest problem, incidentally, but if Hall is even capable at third, and Cameron does what he's capable of in center, it sure doesn't hurt.
The Brewers are planning to send Ben Sheets, Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Suppan, Bush and probably Carlos Villanueva out there every five days, and while none of these guys are extreme groundballers, a few of them could use some help, notably the final three guys, who aren't going to strike out a ton of hitters. Suppan, for example, kept his home runs and walks in check, but was even more hittable than normal.
As for the Blue Jays, consider that they dealt an injury-prone third baseman with power and little fielding ability for another injury-prone third baseman with less power but Gold Glove skills. I like the move for both teams, but certainly Halladay and Shaun Marcum make out better here than Chris Carpenter and, well, who else is in that Cardinals rotation? Braden Looper? Joaquin Andujar?
I'd take the over on 500 plate appearances for Rolen, even when the Blue Jays have defensive vacuum John McDonald available to spell Rolen and new shortstop David Eckstein. Rolen's shoulder problems might never heal, but he did manage to play 142 games in 2006 and deliver 22 home runs and 95 RBIs. Why can't he get back to that? I think he wants to play, and he wanted so badly to play for someone other than LaRussa, now he has increased motivation. I'm not saying Rolen wouldn't or didn't play hard in Philly, but when he was happy in St. Louis, he was very productive. And even if he doesn't hit for power, he'll play a mean third base.
Glaus won't, but it's not reason to avoid the Cardinals pitchers, assuming you can name them. For the record, I think their rotation, as of now, is Adam Wainwright, Looper, Joel Pineiro, Anthony Reyes and then maybe Brad Thompson or Matt Clement, as Carpenter heals. It's probably a waste of time to debate how losing Rolen affects them, though having Cesar Izturis at short makes up for that. Really, the Cards should just be happy Albert Pujols has a legit, 35-homer guy (Glaus) protecting him in the batting order. This team needed two things: to rid itself of a festering personality conflict, and to get more offense. It did that.
In Friday's blog, I wrote extensively about Pujols and how I expect him to bounce back to his normal levels, not that 2007 was all that bad. Pujols is a top-5 player for me, maybe even a candidate to return to No. 1, and I wasn't too concerned about the lineup around him. No, it's not a good lineup, but Pujols can overcome it. Adding Glaus, health permitting, should on the surface help a bit, but I would've stuck with Pujols anyway.
I have a few more thoughts on the Cameron move. I received a few questions over the weekend asking what the Brewers will do for April while Cameron serves his 25-game suspension for testing positive to a banned stimulant. I can't imagine Hall and Braun will be doing anything but playing their new positions. Mainly Braun, who was really bad at third base. Hall is going to end up being a utility guy anyway at some point, but one would think the Brewers would use Tony Gwynn or Gabe Gross in center field for those 25 games, or maybe move Corey Hart over there and let Gabe Kapler -- yep, great news everyone, he's back! -- play some right field. The bottom line is Braun is about 99 percent likely to be an outfielder only in 2009.
The other thing is, do you not want to draft Cameron now, knowing he's missing all but a few days of the first month? In 10-team mixed leagues, I'd say to just skip Cameron altogether. He'll be on the ESPN most-added list around April 22 or so, and if you need a guy like him over one of your outfielders, go for it. I do think Cameron is going to see a slight improvement in his stats after playing two seasons in the Yosemite-like Petco Park. Cameron won't hit for average anywhere, but he did hit 30 home runs in 2004, and could do that again in Milwaukee. In deeper leagues, and especially in NL-only formats, I'd draft Cameron and make sure you have enough bench room to sit him until he plays. Overall, even with 130 or so games as his max this season -- he does tend to miss games, even when he's not suspended, you know -- I could see a 25/25 season. It is a one-year contract after all, so the guy is going to be motivated.
Summing it all up, Cameron, Rolen and Glaus all have a place in a normal fantasy draft, there's no doubt about it, and the case can be made that all three players improved their fantasy lot with these transactions. But if it comes down to the final rounds and Bush is out there, I would be a bit more willing to take a chance, for about the third straight year, that he emerges. After all, good defense is a good tiebreaker when it comes to tough choices with less-than-dominating starting pitchers.