The hot stove season is still warming up.
We've yet to hit the Winter Meetings and bidding wars for top free agents like Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, C.J. Wilson and Jose Reyes are only just now beginning to take shape.
But any news is big news to the dedicated fantasy owner and in the column below we'll review some of the early offseason signings that may have an impact on the way guys are drafted or rated heading into the 2012 campaign.
Phillies ink Jonathan Papelbon to a four-year, $50,000,058 deal
The money is absurd and the Phillies surely could have done a little better had they waited for the free agent closer market to settle, but that's an argument for a different column. Fact is: it's mid-November (or just beyond it) and the Phils' ninth-inning role is already secure. Papelbon, 30, registered a 2.94 ERA and 87/10 K/BB ratio in 64 1/3 innings this past year for Boston, saving 31 games in 34 opportunities. He should remain just as dominant in Philly, where he'll have deception on his side against an unfamiliar batch of National League hitters. Count him among fantasy baseball's top closers again in 2012.
Rangers sign Joe Nathan to a two-year, $14.5 milllion contract
In the first half of the 2011 season, it looked as though Tommy John surgery might spell the beginning of the end of Nathan's career. But he bounced back with an impressive second half and parlayed that into a sizable free agent contract with Texas. The 36-year-old right-hander has dropped some fastball velocity, but he was still clocked regularly in the low-to-mid 90s this past year and should fare well another several months removed from his reconstructive elbow procedure. The Rangers will move Neftali Feliz to the rotation in order to free up the closer's role. Both he and Nathan get slight bumps in value.
Ryan Doumit agrees to one-year, $3 million pact with the Twins
Doumit drew interest from multiple clubs and might have scored a slightly better deal had he simply practiced patience, but Minnesota is a nice fit. He can play catcher on days when Joe Mauer needs rest and first base when Justin Morneau needs a breather. Doumit can also DH and patrol one of the corner outfield spots if need be. He has enough raw power to hit double-digit homers and his position eligibility will be a real asset for fantasy purposes. We'd consider taking a flier on the 30-year-old at the end of mixed league drafts. His value will only rise if Mauer and Morneau again run into injury issues.
Rod Barajas gets one-year, $4 million contract from the Pirates
Barajas hit just .230 with a .287 on-base percentage this past year for the Dodgers, but he tallied 16 home runs alongside a .430 slugging percentage and turned those flashes of power into a quick offseason agreement with the Bucs. He's going to start behind the plate most nights in Pittsburgh and has the ability to match or exceed his home run total from 2011 if given ample at-bats in 2012. That potential makes him valuable among fantasy catchers, but he's a .238 career hitter with a .284 career OBP and his inconsistency offensively can be draining over the course of a 162-game season.
Phillies, Jim Thome reach one-year, $1.25 million agreement
Thome, at age 41, is a far better fit for the American League, where he can DH part-time and still manage to register productive power numbers. With the Phillies, he'll be limited primarily to a pinch-hitting role. Meaning he will likely be held to under 200 at-bats. While that kills any potential fantasy value that he might have carried, the Philadelphia front office is under the belief that having a dangerous veteran presence on the bench will mean more opportunties for late-game success in 2012. Write off Thome as a fantasy contributor, but look for him to play an exciting role throughout the year.
Pirates sign Clint Barmes to a two-year, $10.5 million deal
Barmes slugged 23 home runs in 2009, eight home runs in 2010 and another 12 homers in 2011. Which is why, we're guessing, the Pirates rushed to give him a multi-year contract worth more than $5 million annually. Unfortunately, a peek at the 32-year-old's peripherals quickly tells a different tale. He's never had an OPS over .790 and he's registered a poor .242 batting average and .303 on-base percentage over his past three major league seasons. The homers are nice, but they're also a product of the ballparks he's called home. Don't buy the hype: Barmes is a glove-first infielder.