Fantasy owners love it when a power hitter signs with a team in a homer-friendly ballpark. We let our imaginations run wild, anticipating bloated home-run totals.
So when we heard Thursday that Adam Dunn, who has more home runs (282) since 2004 than any other hitter except Albert Pujols (294), is the newest member of the Chicago White Sox -- according to Jerry Crasnick and Bruce Levine of ESPN.com, Dunn will sign a four-year, $56-million deal -- it's understandable when we shoot for the moon with his home-run projections: Could 50 be possible?
My advice: Don't go nuts. After all, from 2003 through Aug. 11, 2008, Dunn hit 193 home runs as a member of the Cincinnati Reds, who between those dates also played at one of the game's most homer-friendly ballparks, Great American Ball Park. In fact, at the time of my July ballpark analysis, Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field (1.302, 2nd) was only marginally better for home runs than Great American Ball Park (1.276, 3rd), meaning if there's any natural reaction to Dunn's donning the sox, it's that he should return to his Reds numbers, not experience a significant bump up from his production with the Washington Nationals.
Here's what Dunn averaged, per 162 games, between 2003 and Aug. 11, 2008: .250-.380-.536, 43 home runs, 103 RBIs, 102 runs scored.
Not to say Dunn can't hit 50 home runs in Chicago, but that's more because of the lack of pitching depth in the American League Central than the ballpark. Consider that of the top 50 starting pitchers on the 2010 Player Rater, only four hailed from the White Sox's four division rivals: Justin Verlander (10th), Francisco Liriano (32nd), Carl Pavano (35th) and Max Scherzer (36th). Pavano, incidentally, is a free agent who might not even return to the AL Central.
Keep tabs on the Paul Konerko negotiations; his return to the White Sox would give the team a loaded heart of the order, including Dunn, Konerko, Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios. It'd also plant Dunn in the designated hitter role, a position in which he seemed comfortable during occasional interleague contests (.271/.442/.593 in 77 career plate appearances). If anything, the primary impact upon Dunn's numbers in Chicago should be in terms of RBIs and runs scored; he might be a 100-run, 125-RBI man hitting cleanup in that lineup.
Dunn finished 80th on the 2010 Player Rater after being picked 69th on average in the preseason (average draft position: 74.0), and he's consistent enough to at least be worth that sixth/seventh round pick. But there's upside to get him into the top 50; he's worth a look once you approach the fifth/sixth round.
Eric Karabell provided a detailed analysis of the Victor Martinez signing in his blog, but for a quick look, there are three key takeaways of the move for fantasy owners:
• Martinez is going to be the Tigers' primary designated hitter in 2011, which comes with several pluses and minuses. Among the pluses: He'll be less susceptible to injury -- like the fractured left thumb he suffered in 2010 -- no longer having to catch, increasing his chances at 600-plus plate appearances as he had in 2005-07 and 2009. We know all about the benefits of catcher-eligibles who log the bulk of their at-bats elsewhere; as a DH Martinez could challenge for the major league lead in PAs by a catcher-eligible player while still making enough sporadic appearances behind the dish to retain 2012 eligibility there. Among the minuses: Not every player makes a seamless transition to DH, and in Martinez's case, it cannot be ignored that he's a .235/.316/.395 hitter in 136 career PAs at the position. The pluses outweigh the minuses for this soon-to-be-32-year-old (as of Dec. 23), and it means we can probably squeeze one more top-five catcher -- and probably top-three -- fantasy season out of V-Mart. But the DH move might merely be prolonging the inevitable career decline. It's coming, maybe beginning in 2012.
• Alex Avila has a clear path to the primary catcher role, despite his .228/.316/.340 rates and 24.1-percent strikeout percentage in 2010. Considering he had an OPS 174 points higher as a left-hander than right-hander, maybe Avila will take off those days against southpaws, whom Martinez hits more effectively. Avila is a potential batting-average killer, but he's got some power potential.
• Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a clear path to the primary catcher role for the Boston Red Sox, Martinez's former team, and don't be shocked if he enters spring training at least on even ground with any potential competitor. Free-agent catcher prices are high, and the Red Sox might choose to invest their money elsewhere. Saltalamacchia's problems have been a flair for streakiness and penchant for injuries; he has made three trips to the disabled list the past two seasons and has hurt his back, leg, shoulder, thumb [e] just about everything. Think of him like Avila: Both have plenty of upside, and therefore AL-only sleeper potential, but both are risky. And Saltalamacchia might be the riskier of the two.
The last time Vazquez escaped a bandbox American League ballpark for a more spacious, National League venue, fantasy owners everywhere expected big things [e] and the ones who did were dead on. (I, unfortunately, wasn't nearly enough of a believer when he joined the Atlanta Braves.) Now Vazquez is in a similar situation, leaving the New York Yankees and their homer-friendly venue to join the Florida Marlins, who pitch in one of the game's most pitching-friendly ballparks.
There's a key difference this time: Vazquez's diminished fastball velocity, a topic Rob Neyer recently discussed well in his blog. To expect his heat to return is a bit foolish, though a return to the NL might help mask his deficiencies. As a 35-year-old wearing pinstripes, Vazquez might have been a non-factor in fantasy. With the Marlins, he might yet have a chance at getting back to the 4.00-ERA range. Don't expect a return to 200 strikeouts, however. NL-only owners can speculate upon a bounce-back with a mid-to-late round pick, but there's nowhere near as much upside with this trip to the NL East as his last one.
Garland might not be a household name in fantasy, but he has been a smart man choosing his free-agent destinations the past two winters, a year ago selecting the San Diego Padres and this year signing a one-year, $5-million deal with the Dodgers. That lands him in another pitching-friendly park, Dodger Stadium, where he's 4-1 with a 2.53 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in five career starts. Remember, Garland already has a history with the Dodgers; he had a 2.72 ERA and 1.27 WHIP in six late-season starts for them in 2009, after coming over in an Aug. 31 trade. He's not a strikeout artist -- his 6.12 K's-per-nine ratio ranked 66th of 92 qualified starters in 2010 -- which keeps him beneath the cutoff for weekly plays in shallow mixed leagues, but as a Dodger he should be a safer back-of-your-staff NL-only type, and certainly a matchups candidate in most mixed formats.
Uribe, meanwhile, takes over as the Dodgers' second baseman, after the team signed him to a three-year, $21-million contract and traded Ryan Theriot to the St. Louis Cardinals for right-hander Blake Hawksworth. Uribe is coming off a career-best 24-homer, 85-RBI campaign filling in all over the infield for the San Francisco Giants, and yet again he capitalized upon his home ballpark, posting .280/.335/.479 numbers at AT&T Park, a better homer venue for right-handers than people think. Dodger Stadium, meanwhile, plays deeper to left field, and that's a minus for Uribe; he might be hard-pressed to get past 20 homers with his new team. Considering he's still a power-hitting, low-on-base type, chances are he'll be most useful to NL-only owners looking for power and position flexibility, yet probably overdrafted.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.