BJ Upton - Atlanta Braves: BJ Upton has officially replaced Michael Bourn in center field for the Atlanta Braves. Looking up and down the Braves' lineup, there's no shortage of power. There's some shortage of contact hitters - and BJ Upton strikes out his fair share, too - but there are a bunch of power hitters in Atlanta, so scoring runs shouldn't be a problem. The only problem facing Braves' Manager, Fredi Gonzalez, is where to shuffle everyone in the lineup. Chipper Jones has finally retired; Michael Bourn is no longer there to hit leadoff; and there are a bunch of hitters who will be good enough to be a #3 or #4 hitter some day, but are they good enough now?
Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman are two of the best, young players in all of baseball right now, and they're both just 22 years old. These are also the guys that Fredi Gonzalez is likely to turn to hit in the #3 through #5 spots (Maybe with Brian McCann in between them at the cleanup spot). But if one of those guys slumps, that could throw off any lineup consistency for Gonzalez. Dan Uggla could also see time in the cleanup spot if one of the other guys slumps, goes on the DL or just plain doesn't pan out. But the truth is that the jury is still out on McCann and Uggla, and the jury is always out on a 23-year-old player in terms of consistency and reliability. Aside from all this, though, BJ Upton will still be a leadoff guy, despite his statistics. Last season, Upton hit just .248, but he hit 28 HR, drove in 78 RBI and stole 31 bases. Not exactly your prototype leadoff hitter. The worst part is that his On-Base percentage was just .298, and that's definitely not what you want out of a leadoff hitter (by comparison, Michael Bourn hit .274 with an OBP of .348). All in all, we see Upton scoring 90-100 runs this year since there will be tons of protection behind him, but he's likely to frustrate Braves fans just as much - if not more so - than Michael Bourn did. The fact of the matter may be that he's a worse leadoff guy than Bourn, but a better (and healthier) cleanup hitter than anyone else on the roster. He needs protection in the lineup directly behind him to make sure he sees a steady diet of fastballs to crush, and with Freeman, Heyward or McCann protecting him, he could really blossom in a cleanup role... but we don't see that happening. Until that lineup gets shifted around, expect BJ Upton to put up the same stats as last season and be happy with anything beyond that.
Ryan Dempster - Boston Red Sox: We're not buying the hype on Ryan Dempster. Dempster was last year's coveted trade-deadline prize pitcher, but we just can't convince ourselves that he's all that great. Historically, his statistics are average at best, and he spent the peak of his career (age 28-30) as a run-of-the-mill Closer for the Cubs. His career ERA is 4.33, and at the age of 35 with 15 seasons under his belt, that's a pretty accurate sampling of one's pitching career.
Last season, Dempster was having his best season ever, posting a 2.25 ERA for the Cubs until he got traded to the Texas Rangers. While pitching for the Rangers down the stretch, his ERA ballooned to a disgusting 5.09 in 12 starts. The good news is that he went 7-3 in those starts, but it certainly wasn't because he pitched well. Here's some more bad news: his career WHIP is 1.43, and his WHIP with the Rangers last season was 1.44. So which was the real Ryan Dempster last season: the one with the 2.25 ERA and the 1.04 WHIP, or the one with the 5.09 ERA and the 1.44 WHIP? We think it'll be closer to the latter, although we think his ERA will stay just below 4.00, and his WHIP will stay around 1.25-ish. Remember, out of his 547 career pitching appearances (322 as a starter), Dempster is back in the American League, in another hitter-friendly park in Boston, and with only 12 American League starts under his belt. We're afraid to look at his stats in the early part of the 2013 season, so we recommend that, if you draft him, draft him in the middle rounds (although some hype-buying idiot in your league will probably pick him way too early) and plan on benching him for the first few weeks until you see how he handles the AL hitters and vice-versa... and if he happens to pitch well to start the season, trade him to some sucker in your league while he's hot.
Stay Tuned for more from the Fantasy Baseball Brass Blog as more free agents sign this off-season...