2014 Fantasy Baseball Position Battles -- Disruptive Forces
A look at all the position battles fantasy baseball owners will see during 2014 spring training
One thing to remember, at least as an astute fantasy owner, is that not every position battle is staring you right in the face. Sometimes you have to take in the managerial comments you get from the press at the end of each day and try to interpret how what each manager said will potentially affect the playing time of his guys. Not everything the manager says will come to fruition as some ideas are best left to die a quick and painless death, but others either get implemented quickly and take off or take much longer to prove their worthlessness and die. If it’s the former, then no harm, no foul, but if it’s the latter, then you have to look at it as a row of dominos. They’re all lined up nice and pretty until a disruptive force comes in and pushes that first one over. The manager is the disruptive force and it’s now up to you to not only figure out which player is the lead domino, but which guys are lined up behind him, ready to fall down themselves.
Two such instances to look at today are both found in the AL Central. Cleveland Indians skipper Terry Francona is looking to get Carlos Santana some playing time at third while Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost is looking to give Danny Valencia a look at a few other spots. While the potential changes may help each player’s overall fantasy value, the row of dominos behind them could topple over and create headaches for owners looking to each team for help.
Last season, in an effort to keep Santana well rested while keeping his bat in the lineup, Francona had the power-hitting backstop play first base for 29 games. While fantasy owners would be silly to consider using him at first for the entire season, the ability to move him around, particularly in leagues with daily roster moves, was big. This season, Santana can continue to be used at both spots, but even more exciting for his potential owners is that Francona wants to give him some time over at third base. Again, it’s not the position you want to use him at primarily, as he is far more valuable at catcher, but the added eligibility certainly helps make things easier for you as an owner as your roster has a lot more flexibility.
But obviously, there are ramifications from the potential move, regardless of how many games Santana gets at the hot corner. Between time spent behind the plate, at first base and now at third, Santana’s presence is affecting playing time for a variety of other players. On a positive note, the extra time from out behind the plate means that Yan Gomes is headed towards an increase in playing time. Fantasy owners get another decent option at catcher, one who can maintain a solid average, strong OBP and offer up a decent amount of power. It’s difficult to say whether he will actually see more plate appearances than the 322 he saw last year, but he should still get enough to make him a solid play as your primary backstop in AL-only leagues or as a second catcher in mixed-league play.
But then there are the guys who are going to be affected negatively – most notably Lonnie Chisenhall and possibly Nick Swisher. It’s been a few years since Chisenhall has entered the majors and each year it seems that the Indians try to make him their primary third basemen but are continuously met with disappointment. Poor plate discipline, a lack of consistency, too many ground balls – all of them have been issues at some point or another. This year, the move of Santana continues to show the team’s lack of confidence in the youngster and, once again, he’s going to be limited both in reality and fantasy.
Swisher’s playing time is going to be interesting. Nine straight seasons of 20-plus home runs says he should play regularly whether his batting average fluctuates too much or not and his dual eligibility at first base and in the outfield has made him an outstanding play in fantasy. If the Tribe moves him to right field on days that Santana plays first, then he remains a safe play. The tandem of David Murphy and Ryan Raburn suffers, but they were both limited plays anyway. However, should Francona start to micro-manage and go for Murphy against certain right-handers, Swisher could see a little more bench time than we’d like.
The potential decrease in playing time doesn’t seem to be worth downgrading Swisher that much in drafts right now and Gomes should certainly be bumped up a few spots. The rest of them – Chisenhall, Raburn and Murphy – probably need to be dropped down a bit. Maybe not a huge drop, but enough of one to really hurt value in mixed leagues. AL-only, maybe not as bad, but in mixed play, you’re only going to want to use them in the deepest of leagues.
The situation in Kansas City seems like it’s going to disrupt things a bit as well. When the Royals traded for Valencia, the expectation was that he would be a right-handed bat off the bench and occasionally spell Mike Moustakas at third against tough left-handers. After all, we’re talking about a career .329 hitter (.367 OBP; .183 ISO) against southpaws. But now it’s going a step further and possibly even two steps.
The step further is the speculation that Valencia could/should be in a straight-up platoon with Moustakas and it should start as early as Opening Day. While Valencia is a machine against southpaws, Moustakas kills it, in comparison, against right-handed pitching. With the Royals needing improved hitting from the third base position, the platoon seems most practical for real-life purposes. Unfortunately though, it kills Moustakas’ potential fantasy value, if it does happen that way. Again, the platoon is strictly speculative at this point, but given how disappointing Moustakas was last season, it cannot be ruled out.
Beyond that “step further” comes Yost’s declaration that he wants Valencia to also see time this spring at both second base and left field. New Royals second baseman Omar Infante doesn’t struggle against lefties, but obviously Valencia offers more power. It’s not like Yost wants to supplant Infante over at the keystone and defensively it would be a downgrade, but if the Royals find themselves behind in the later innings, Valencia could pinch-hit and then stay in the game. The cut into at-bats for Infante might not be huge, but it’s still a cut nonetheless.
And then there’s the potential for him to play left field, where Alex Gordon has resided for the last few years. Gordon is a career .252 hitter against southpaws, walks less, strikes out more and has a lower OBP and ISO than he does against right-handers. Though it sounds like poor management and poor micro-management at that, Yost has done crazier things in his career, and could rotate Valencia around depending on which lefty is on the hill. Why he would leave Moustakas’ bat in the lineup over Gordon’s is a total head-scratcher, but again, he’s done crazier things.
You’ll have to keep an eye on some of the lineup adjustment and configurations Yost uses during spring training to figure out just how often he could be changing things around. If it’s just a potential platoon situation at third, the ramifications for fantasy owners will be limited. However, should Valencia start the season hot, it could convince Yost enough to go through with some of these other mad-cap plans.
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