Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Fantasy Baseball Free Agent Tracker: Josh Donaldson, Gary Sanchez get change of scenery; Nelson Cruz to the NL

Didn’t we do this once already?

Yes, there was an offseason prior to the MLB lockout — and a frenzied one at that —  but it ended suddenly at the start of December with much work left to be done.

So here it is: Part 2 of the Offseason Tracker, where you’ll learn the Fantasy Baseball implications of all the remaining moves. And if you’d like to catch up on the same from that first free agent frenzy, you can check out the original Offseason Tracker.

Nelson Cruz signs with Nationals

It’s a curious move for the Nationals, who looked to be in full sell-off mode last season, and a curious move for Cruz, who’s signing with a non-contender for only a guaranteed $15 million. Maybe he just really likes the idea of playing with Juan Soto. Between those two and Josh Bell, the heart of the order is looking pretty solid, but there isn’t much to go with them. Still, it’s a win just to get Cruz out of Tampa, where he had only a .122 ISO in his two months with the Rays as compared to .283 on the road. 

Tropicana Field can be an awful place to hit, as we’ve recently learned with Willy Adames, and Cruz’s exit velocity readings would suggest the 41-year-old didn’t lose anything over the course of last season. Now that he’s signed, his ADP will likely rise from the 150 range, but he still figures to be a bargain because of his age and DH-only status.

Josh Donaldson, Isiah Kiner-Falefa traded to Yankees for Gary Sanchez, Gio Urshela

Turns out Minnesota was just a layover for Kiner-Falefa, who the Twins acquired for Mitch Garver a day earlier. Seeing as he was flipped for another catcher in this deal, you can’t help but wonder if the Twins actually prefer Sanchez to Garver, which would be … odd. True, Sanchez was once considered a rising star at catcher, having twice delivered 30-plus homers in a season, but he had fallen out of favor with the Yankees due to offensive inconsistencies and defensive lapses. A change of scenery could help, but it feels like something of a long shot.

Donaldson is the biggest name here, and while he’s past his prime at age 36 and almost certain to spend time on the IL for one reason or another, he still hits the ball incredibly hard. His average exit velocity was the fourth-highest in baseball last year, trailing Vladimir Guerrero as well new teammates Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge, and the data suggests he deserved better numbers than he actually delivered. Because the power is mostly to his pull side, the move to Yankee Stadium doesn’t change much for him, but he’s in a better lineup now. His Fantasy stock may rise a little bit just because he’ll be in the headlines more, but he remains more of a fallback option at third base due to availability concerns.

The player whose value may be impacted the most from this deal is prospect Jose Miranda, who has struggled to find a position in the minors but offers impact potential at the plate. While the Twins acquired Urshela in this deal, they also traded the entire left side of their infield. If Urshela sticks at shortstop, Miranda could break in at third base, or if Urshela moves to third base, Miranda could claim second with Jorge Polanco sliding over to short. Ultimately, it will depend on what the 23-year-old shows this spring.

Sonny Gray traded to Twins

Gray will be joining his fourth team in six seasons, and you have to think part of the reason he has moved around so much is because no one has any idea what to expect from year to year. He’s had seasons when he’s looked like a bona fide Cy Young contender (2014, 2015, 2019) and seasons when he’s looked closer to a streaming option, like last year. Getting out of Great American Ball Park can only be a good thing for a pitcher, but Gray’s outs come mostly by way of ground balls or strikeouts, giving him a profile that’s less susceptible to venue. While he did have a 4.89 ERA at home last year vs. 3.44 on the road, the splits were closer to even in his first two years with the Reds.

In other words, this move doesn’t change his Fantasy appeal as much as you might think. He’ll help make up ground in strikeouts in the middle-to-late rounds and always has the potential to surprise, but you shouldn’t think of him as a make-or-break starting pitcher. More than anything, what this deal signals to Fantasy Baseballers is that Reds prospects Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene both could join the starting rotation sooner than later.

Alex Colome signs with Rockies

Daniel Bard’s inspiring return to the closer role last year turned out to be an ill-fated one, and in the end, the Rockies were forced to rely on Carlos Estevez and his career 4.85 ERA and 1.49 WHIP. Surely, Colome is better than that. He was in and out of the role for the Twins last year but finished strong and enjoyed a steady run as a closer during the five years prior. His success has always come in spite of a low strikeout rate, sort of like Mark Melancon.

Of course, it’s fair to wonder how that skill set will play at Coors Field, where contact is particularly dangerous, but there are no viable alternatives for the Rockies as of now. Colome won’t be one of the most coveted relievers on Draft Day, but he should probably be drafted ahead of Dylan Floro and Joe Barlow.

Chris Bassitt traded to Mets

Bassitt joins a rotation headlined by Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer and exits what could be a miserable situation in Oakland with the Athletics looking to sell off pieces. For that reason alone, this trade is good news for his Fantasy value. Leaving Oakland could present other challenges, though. His success in recent years has mostly been built on suppressing hard contact and particularly home runs. RingCentral Coliseum is well suited for that skill set, and fittingly, Bassitt has a career 2.58 ERA there vs. 4.34 everywhere else. Citi Field isn’t on the opposite end of the pitcher/hitter spectrum, but it is closer to neutral. An ERA in the mid-threes is more likely than a repeat of last year’s, but with a comparatively low WHIP. Here’s betting he’ll still be well worth a mid-round pick.

Mitch Garver traded to Rangers for Isiah Kiner-Falefa

Garver’s .875 OPS last year was third-best among catchers (minimum 200 at-bats). His .995 in OPS in 2019 (to go along with 31 home runs) led the position. Sure, he was terrible in 2020, when everything was weird because of the pandemic, but he barely played because of a strained intercostal. By now, it should be clear he’s one of the best hitters the position has to offer. Playing-time concerns are the only reason he’s barely being drafted in the top 10.

This move to the Rangers won’t keep him from getting hurt, of course, but it will put him under the jurisdiction of a new manager — one who hopefully won’t force him into a 50/50 split with his backup (in this case, Jose Trevino rather than Ryan Jeffers). I’ve been high on Garver all along, believing there’s little downside to taking a shot at upside at a position like catcher but now I’m inclined to move him ahead of Tyler Stephenson.

As for Kiner-Falefa, he’s in line to take over as the Twins‘ primary shortstop, though he was already poised to play every day with the Rangers, who now have a hole to fill at third base. Kiner-Falefa’s lack of pop keeps him from being a prized commodity in Fantasy, but he’s enough of a base-stealer to factor in deeper Rotisserie leagues.

Yusei Kikuchi signs with Blue Jays

A three-year deal is a little surprising for a pitcher who has so far compiled a 5.39 ERA in his career, but Kikuchi showed everyone how good he could be with a 3.18 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in his first 15 starts last year. He had right at a strikeout per inning during that time, which is underwhelming by today’s standards, but his swinging-strike rate was nothing short of elite. He may have been a victim of the foreign substance ban, his spin rates declining as soon as it kicked in, but it’s too early to close the door on him, especially with the kind of run support he’ll get now. This signing does, however, take former prospect Nate Pearson out of the rotation conversation.

Clayton Kershaw signs with Dodgers

Kershaw will remain in Dodger blue, as the good Lord intended it, but him getting a one-year deal suggests that few clubs are confident in the future Hall of Famer’s ability to deliver ace numbers anymore. Either that or he accepted a hometown discount. Either that or he wants to leave the door open to retirement next year. Come to think of it, maybe we can’t make anything of the terms of this deal, but we can say this much: His elbow wasn’t right at the end of last season. He barely pitched in the second half, and there was talk of Tommy John surgery.

It’s worth pointing out he was as effective as usual before the elbow issue. HIs 2.87 xFIP was his best in four years and his swinging-strike rate was actually a career high. He says he’s healthy now, just a little behind in his preparation, and given his track record, you want to give him the benefit of the doubt. But the risk of his 2022 season never really getting off the ground seems fairly high. It’s why he tends to be drafted after young upstarts like Alek Manoah, Dylan Cease, Trevor Rogers and Shane McClanahan.

Carlos Rodon signs with Giants

The terms of the deal are exactly what you’d hope to see for a player who ended the 2022 season with significant question marks, his velocity lagging and his shoulder ailing. Rodon didn’t get some one-year prove-it deal but a guarantee of two years at a high average annual value ($22 million). It even includes the right to opt out after the first year. Rodon was one of the biggest breakouts at starting pitcher prior to his bout with shoulder fatigue, and if he had the innings to qualify, he would have ranked up there with Corbin Burnes in ERA (2.37) and K/9 (12.6). Even when he was gutting through the injury last September, Rodon still managed a 2.35 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 9.8 K/9 across five starts.

Clearly, the Giants are optimistic, which gives us reason to be as well, in no small part because, um, he’ll now be pitching for the Giants. Oracle Park is an enormous venue, and Rodon is a fly-ball pitcher, so if he did overachieve in terms of home run prevention last year, regression is now much less of a concern. Plus, the Giants have made bank with almost all of their veteran pitcher signings in recent years — from Kevin Gausman to Anthony DeSclafani to Alex Wood to Drew Smyly — and Rodon doesn’t need nearly as much help as they did.

I rank him right around 30th at starting pitcher, just behind other questionable cases like Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, and I’ll draft him there with renewed confidence.

Andrelton Simmons signs with Cubs

Simmons’ Fantasy stock is probably beyond redemption at this point, but he remains the premier defensive shortstop in the game. The Cubs already made the curious move to sign Marcus Stroman, a ground-ball specialist if there ever was one, and he’ll be followed in the rotation similar pitch-to-contact types Kyle Hendricks and Wade Miley. If you intend to invest in any of them in Fantasy — more likely Stroman and Hendricks than Miley — this signing is music to your ears.

Of course, it probably leaves one of Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal (more likely Hoerner) without a full-time role, but neither offers the sort of power to be a big draw in Fantasy. Both could help in batting average while making a modest contribution in stolen bases.

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