Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove: Ichiro Suzuki, Coco Crisp, Aubrey Huff, Brandon Belt, more

by Tim Heaney on January 4, 2012 @ 12:14:57 PDT

 


Your fantasy baseball draft isn't far off. KFFL.com's Fantasy Baseball Hot Stove surveys free agency, trades, salary arbitration and injuries that will affect your rotisserie or head-to-head baseball league. You're cleared for your MLB offseason program: The Arizona Fall League, Baseball Winter Meetings, Rule 5 draft and more will shape your fantasy baseball rankings.

Seattle Mariners OF Ichiro Suzuki felt "mental stress" in disappointing 2011

Ichiro said he has struggled to find reasons for his sharp decline last season. He should've read this beforehand. Drafters' unquestioned allegiance left many burned by his declining ability to make the most of his singles-fueled contact.

San Francisco Giants 1B Aubrey Huff
Aging Huff gets buff

He's still in good enough shape to contribute high-end steals totals, but he looks more like Juan Pierre than the legendary George Sisler-toppling sprayer. Last season the fantasy baseball world saw the painful drop of his ceiling - if not in steals, in his formerly difference-making batting average that made him worth a reach.

He works hard, so maybe he'll have a few old-school stat spurts during the year. If Seattle nets Prince Fielder, Ichiro could revisit 100 runs in his age-38 season. Still, you can't run away from time: The residual effects that come with the latter figure, especially for speed-defined players, are piling up. Some profit potential remains, but that stems from his decreasing cost, not cemented expectation of a vintage rebound.

OF Coco Crisp returning to Oakland Athletics

Billy Beane brought back a familiar face for his 2012 outfielder collection. In a 2011 A's uni, Crisp logged his highest at-bat total in a season since 2005 while simultaneously swiping a career-high 49 bags. Receiving tutelage in the latter from Rickey Henderson helped.

Stolen bases count as Crisp's most stable fantasy contribution - before last season, it was time on the disabled list. Even in a DL-free season, though, he battled lower-body injuries; sideline days are built into his price. And despite his likely place at the one- or two-hole, his upside for scoring runs, as skilled as he is on the base paths, is capped by Oakland's shaky offense.

His .284 BABIP, however, looks out of place when you consider his 24.0 line-drive rate; there's room for clip improvement. Maybe he'll be traded to a more potent offense, too. As long as you don't bank on double-digit homers and keep a handy list of injury replacements, he's still worth a shot as a fourth or fifth mixed outfielder.

San Francisco Giants 1B/OF Aubrey Huff hits the gym

Basically, the Bay men want Huff to get into the ... wait for it ... best shape of his life. They called him out after this past season for poor conditioning.

Though Huff also noted his mental struggles, he has reincorporated Pilates, which his wife teaches, into his offseason regimen. The stretching helped reinvigorate his career during his spectacular 2010, but he ditched it before 2011. He says he's now "ripped," having also spent the winter training at Arizona's Athletes' Performance Institute, a favorite destination for professional physical rededication.

Huff's flab isn't his only obstacle, unfortunately. He has a reputation of being an every-other-year player. History would say 2012 is a "buy" campaign, but can he get back into 20-homer territory at age 35 in his unfavorable home park? His batted-ball patterns don't support a dinger rebound, despite a track record of HR/FB fortune. Can his limbering exercises help him regain harder contact along with harder abs?

Mark touted 24-year-old prospect Brandon Belt and late bloomer Brett Pill, 27, as his direct competitors for playing time. Belt aims to build on his late-2011 power awakening and likely wouldn't leave the lineup if he can showcase his massive hype. The righty-hitting Pill, 27, has a smidge of potential and is chiefly a first baseman; a platoon assignment, at minimum, would complicate matters for the other two. Maybe right field will open up, depending on Nate Schierholtz's performance.

If you had to draft today, Belt would be your choice, but this situation likely will stretch into camp. If NL-only scavengers lose out on Belt, they can still grab one of the two elder statesmen, preferably Huff, on the cheap while holding mild expectations and acknowledging the looming lineup fluctuation.

RP Fernando Rodney agrees to deal with Tampa Bay Rays

Rodney, who'll turn 35 in March, reportedly was told the Rays' closer job is an open competition. The vet lost the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim stopper job early in 2011 and spent time on the DL with an upper back injury.

His 37-save 2009 seems like a distant memory, but with a few breaks he'd be in a decent position to net at least a handful of saves. Rodney's control will always induce some cringes, but it will be better than the 7.88 BB/9 that was exacerbated when he was tweaking his delivery and enduring his back malady. His top-notch ground-ball inducement has stripped away a chunk of his dominance, but if his health and form are right, he won't be the exaggerated ratio destroyer of the last few years.

He'll have to fight off Joel Peralta and possibly Jake McGee, among others, in competition with Kyle Farnsworth, but Joe Maddon might value Rodney's experience in the long run. In 2011 Farnsie waited a long time for any semblance of verbal confirmation that he was Tampa's best closer, regardless of how brilliant he was; the Rays made him a successful reclamation project, but if he falls out of favor, they could make Rodney the next one. For a single-universe buck or two, it's a serviceable wager.

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About Tim Heaney

Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.

During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.


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