Swinging in the most sinister offensive environment in the game, Gonzalez nonetheless batted .285/.387/.523 over the past three seasons, drawing a walk nearly 14% of the time with an ISO around .240. His three-year wOBA of .383 ranks 20th among qualified MLB hitters, but once you adjust for PETCO, Gonzalez’s bat has been eighth-best in the bigs over that time frame.
And now, we get to see what he’s capable of while no longer playing home dates at Yellowstone Park with two foul poles. According to StatCorner, PETCO suppresses left-handed offensive production by 10% compared to a neutral venue. PETCO’s spacious confines are where lefty homers and doubles go to die. Fenway, by contrast, boosts lefty hitting by 4%, giving a huge assist on doubles due to the Green Monster. It’s a park tailor-made for Gonzalez’s opposite-field prowess — according to our splits section, only Ryan Howard has been better going “oppo” since 2008.
How big of a difference could the shift from PETCO to Fenway make? Baseball-Reference suggests that had Gonzalez been in Boston over the ’08 to ’10 seasons, his triple-slash would have been .314/.420/.576. Assuming Gonzalez is fully recovered from offseason right-shoulder surgery, he’s in for a gargantuan season.
Kelly, Boston’s first-round pick in 2008, benefits from the swap as well, as he’ll eventually make starts in pitching nirvana instead of a hitter’s park in the AL. Giving up his shortstop aspirations to pitch full time last season, Kelly put up a 5.31 ERA at Double-A Portland. That’s misleading, though — Kelly had 7.7 K/9, 3.3 BB/9 and a 4.03 FIP. He’s just 21, and he comes equipped with low-90s velocity and a promising curveball and changeup. PETCO can make middling pitchers look good, and good pitchers appear great. Kelly’s a good keeper target, and, when he arrives in late 2011 or more likely 2012, he could quickly become a fantasy asset.
Rizzo will now have to face the same PETCO plight as Gonzalez once did, but the 6-foot-3, 220 pound lefty possesses plenty of thump. Rizzo, 21, missed nearly all of the 2008 season after being diagnosed with limited-stage classical Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but he returned to bat .297/.368/.461 between two A-Ball levels in 2009 and put up a .260/.334/.480 line at High-A Salem and Portland in 2010. With Gonzalez gone and the “Kyle Blanks, outfielder” experiment set to resume when he’s healed from Tommy John, Rizzo’s the first baseman of the future.
Fuentes, 20, is more of a long-term project. Carlos Beltran’s cousin has top-shelf speed, swiping 42 bags in 47 tries last season at Low-A Greenville while batting .270/.328/.377. His plate approach needs work and his skinny six-foot frame doesn’t portend much power. Still, Fuentes could be a source of steals and a top-of-the-order menace if he continues to develop.
The biggest fantasy implication of this trade may well be that it opens up a starting spot in Tampa’s rotation for wunderkind Jeremy Hellickson. As last year’s Major League cameo suggested (36.1 IP, 8.17 K/9, 1.98 BB/9, 3.88 FIP), he’s as big-league ready as prospects come. Armed with a sharpened two-seamer and a cutter in addition to his already stellar four-seamer, slow curveball and changeup, Hellickson misses bats, rarely misses the zone and has had his workload judiciously watched by the Rays’ organization. The only non-health-related concern with Hellickson is that he’s a fly ball-slanted pitcher, though throwing at the Trop (89 HR park factor for lefties, 94 for righties) in front of rangy defenders should help matters.
As for Garza, he gets out of the ultra-competitive AL East and lands in the softer NL Central, where he gets to bully opposing pitchers and face the Ronny Cedenos and Clint Barmeses of the world. However, he won’t get the benefit of Tampa’s stellar defense, and Wrigley isn’t very friendly to pitchers who put the ball in the air as often as Garza does (39.7% for his career). Wrigley pumps up lefty homers by 19%, and righty taters by 2%. Garza’s a good, durable starter going to the non-DH league. But, as his career 4.24 FIP suggests, he’s not an elite option.
Chicago’s top prospect prior to his inclusion in this trade, Archer has progressed from a green-as-grass fifth-rounder in the Indians’ organization to a power arm who’s starting to get a grip on the finer points of pitching. Between High-A and Double-A last season, Archer struck out 9.4 per nine innings, walked 4.1 per nine and had a 3.12 FIP. The 22-year-old’s fastball sits anywhere from 92 to upwards of 97 mph, and his slider is sharp. He could be an elite reliever, but the Rays are patient with pitching prospects and may instead choose to let him pile up innings and sharpen his control while staying on the starter’s path.
An infielder-turned-backstop, Chirinos hit .326/.416/.583 in 363 PA between Double-A and Triple-A. He’s already 26, but Chirinos has intriguing patience and pop and is more than a token catcher. Chirinos could back up John Jaso at some point in 2011, while using his experience at second, short, third and first to make some spot starts in Tampa’s infield. If Kelly Shoppach is still on the roster in April, though, Chirinos might head back to Triple-A initially.
Guyer, a fifth-round college draft choice in 2007, smacked Southern League pitching to the tune of .344/.398/.588 last year while stealing 30 bases in 33 tries. He’s got speed to capably patrol center and wreak havoc once he gets on base, while also being able to drill extra-base hits. Before you get too giddy, though, consider that he turned 25 this offseason, he benefited from a .370-plus BABIP and he walked less than 7% of the time. Guyer is a Major Leaguer and perhaps even a starter with a more patient approach, but he looks like a quality, long-term reserve in Tampa.
Lee is eons away, but the lefty-swinging South Korean shortstop put together a .282/.354/.351 line as a teenager in the Midwest League. He’s got a solid plate approach and exciting speed (32 SB, 7 CS), and he might develop at least a little power as he grows into his 6-foot-2, 170 pound frame.
Greinke didn’t repeat his 2009 Cy Young Award-winning season last year, not that such a brilliant, unprecedented performance coupled with some breaks should have been anticipated again. His ERA might have jumped two full runs, from 2.16 to 4.17, but his xFIP increase wasn’t near as dramatic, shifting from 3.15 in ’09 to 3.76. Greinke posted his lowest strikeout rate (7.4 K/9) since 2005, though he induced grounders a career-high 46% of the time.
Getting the opportunity to punch out pitchers in the NL should help that K rate climb toward eight per nine, and his rate of stranding baserunners (just 65.3% last year) should bounce back toward his 72-73% career average. His 2009 might end up being the apex of Greinke’s career, but he’s still an exceptional starter who might be had at a slight discount, given his inflated ERA.
Escobar, 24, had a highly disappointing full-season debut by batting .235/.288/.326 and, despite racking up huge stolen-base totals in the minors, nabbing just 10 bases in 14 attempts. The waifer-thin shortstop likely won’t ever be much of a power threat, his strike-zone discipline is raw (32.2 outside swing percentage in 2010, compared to the 29.3% MLB average), and he hits a lot of easy out pop-ups (14.2%; 7-8% MLB average). Still, he’s bound to post a higher BABIP than the .264 mark he managed last year. Expect Escobar’s batting average to be closer to .270 in 2011, though it will be hollow and his SB totals will remain disappointingly low if he doesn’t find a way to get to first base more often.
Conversely, Cain’s perceived value might outstrip his production. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have some positive attributes — Cain showed top-of-the-order skills between Double-A and Triple-A last year, walking in 11.8% of his plate appearances while going 26-for-29 on the base paths, and he performed well in his first taste of the majors. However, he doesn’t possess much punch (career .125 ISO in the minors), he’ll be 25 in April, and while he has had high BABIP totals in the minors, Cain’s .306/.348/.415 line in 158 big-league PA was predicated on balls in play falling for hits 37% of the time. Cain is a good speed source, won’t embarrass himself at the dish and has a hold on Kansas City’s center-field job. Just don’t get carried away thinking he’s a future star.
Jeffress enjoyed a resurgent 2010, making headlines not for suspensions but instead for his searing fastball. The 2006 first-round pick shot from the Midwest League to the Majors, compiling a 43/12 K/BB ratio at three minor-league levels and then averaging better than 95 mph with his cheddar during his MLB debut. His development has been hindered by missing big chunks of the past two seasons due to drug suspensions, and his control and secondary stuff (a high-70s curve and a rarely used hard changeup) are subsequently unrefined. Even so, the 23-year-old could become a closer or setup man who whiffs a batter per inning. Joakim Soria, under the Royals’ control through possibly 2014, poses a huge impediment to Jeffress getting save opportunities. Clearly, it would take a trade for the flamethrower to get the Mexicutioner’s gig.
Odorizzi’s big-league ETA is a few years off, but he’s a name to know in keeper leagues. Milwaukee’s ’08 first-round pick struck out 10.1 batters per nine frames in the Midwest League last year while featuring a fastball that tops out at 93 mph as well as a promising curve and changeup.
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