Thursday, December 7, 2023

Fantasy Baseball Free Agent Tracker: Carlos Correa to Twins a surprise; Kenley Jansen the new Braves closer

The offseason portion of our preseason ramp-up is quickly coming to an end. Among the latest to relocate are Luke Voit, Kenley Jansen, Nick Castellanos and, very late Friday night, Carlos Correa.

Here are what the latest trades and free agent signings mean for Fantasy Baseball.

Carlos Correa signs with Twins

The Twins weren’t thought to be a serious contender for Correa’s services but swooped in with a clever offer that apparently won him over. He’ll make $35.1 million over the next three years if he so chooses, or he can opt out after either of the first two and try his hand at free agency again. It’s a signing with huge real-world implications, but the Fantasy impact is fairly minimal. Target Field is a slightly worse place to hit than Minute Maid Park, but seeing as Correa underperformed his expected stats last year and is already ranked modestly among shortstops, it shouldn’t move him much, if at all. Maybe it just lowers his ceiling a bit.

Adding another infielder to the mix hinders the chances of prospect Jose Miranda making the opening day roster, but it shouldn’t be long. Neither Gio Urshela nor Miguel Sano is particularly bankable at the corners.

Nick Castellanos signs with Phillies

I originally had Castellanos as a bust for 2022, fearing he’d wind up in a much less favorable park than the one he was leaving. Citizens Bank Park, though, isn’t so far off from Great American Ball Park, where Castellanos hit .359 with 23 homers and a 1.109 OPS last year compared to .260 with 11 and a .772 OPS on the road. He crushed it in his partial season with the Cubs, too, so maybe the Tigers’ Comerica Park, with its deep right-center field, was just particularly bad for him. He’ll have plenty of support in a Phillies lineup that also includes newly-signed Kyle Schwarber as well as Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins. Given the new expectation that Castellanos will pick up where he left off last year, he’s worth targeting as a top-15 outfielder.

Kenley Jansen signs with Braves

That’s it for Will Smith, who was one of the few pitchers to occupy the closer role from start to finish last year, accumulating 37 saves. If you drafted early, you probably thought he was a secure saves source, but Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos has already confirmed that Jansen will be the closer. He didn’t need to given Jansen’s track record. The 34-year-old actually saw his velocity tick up last year after a couple years of decline and reemerged as an ace reliever as a result.

Don’t feel too bad for the Dodgers, who have another former All-Star closer, Blake Treinen, ready to step into the role. Manager Dave Roberts at least paid lip service to the idea of a committee, so you can’t rule out Daniel Hudson also making a contribution. But Treinen is the one to target in Fantasy, ahead of other undeclared closers like Giovanny Gallegos and Camilo Doval.

Michael Pineda signs with Tigers

Pineda has been a serviceable, if injury-prone, pitcher for the past three years and brings another veteran presence to a Tigers rotation that features three notable up-and-comers. There aren’t at present any health concerns, which is a welcome change of pace after his three separate IL stints last year. The 33-year-old also experienced a dip in velocity last season, which may have had some relation to the injuries, and isn’t perceived to have as much upside anymore. Still, he could be a streamable innings-eater pitching half his games in a big ballpark.

Luke Voit traded to Padres

The Yankees opted for Anthony Rizzo over Voit when the latter was sidelined by knee issues last season and then doubled down by re-signing Rizzo this offseason. But the adoption of the DH in the NL introduced more suitors for Voit, which is fortunate since he obviously deserves full-time at-bats still. Over parts of four seasons with the Yankees, he hit .271 with a .901 OPS, homering at a higher rate than Matt Olson — and that’s even with his production stymied by injuries in two of those seasons (2019 and 2021). He also led all the majors in home runs during the pandemic-shortened 2020.

With the Padres, Voit is expected to play every day, primarily as the DH (which should help keep him healthy) but also some at first base. The new playing time assurances are enough make him a borderline top-12 pick at first base with legit top-five upside.

Freddie Freeman signs with Dodgers

The rich get richer with the acquisition of the best pure hitter on the free agent market, who surprisingly didn’t return to the Braves. Freeman was already in a loaded lineup and a perfectly adequate park for his skill set, but you could argue he’s in an even better spot now. It’s fair to wonder, though, if he really has the capacity to improve given how consistently studly he already was. For more on what his ceiling could be and what his arrival does to the rest of the Dodgers lineup, check out my full-length article.

Kris Bryant signs with Rockies

The Rockies wanted Bryant bad, evidently blowing out the market with a seven-year, $182 million contract, and of course, there’s nowhere else Fantasy Baseballers wanted to see him go more. His move to the game’s most hitter-friendly venue comes right at the point when his productivity was most in doubt. I originally had him pegged as a bust because his suspect average exit velocities (which have been no better than 30th percentile dating back to 2016) seemed like exactly the sort that could fall victim to the new baseball, crushing his power production. It didn’t happen last year, but the new ball wasn’t universally applied yet. If nothing else, it seemed like his production was on a knife’s edge.

Now, though, whatever shortcomings will be papered over by the BABIP-boosting effects of Coors Field. You know how Nolan Arenado’s numbers shifted with his move from Colorado to St. Louis last year? Bryant may be in for the reverse. The two profile similarly, according to Statcast. A .300 batting average is in play for any Rockies hitter who doesn’t beat himself with strikeouts, and a 30-homer outcome seems possible for Bryant as well. It’s enough to move him ahead of Arenado in the third base rankings and just outside the top 50 overall. You won’t catch me suggesting he’s a bust anymore.

Zack Greinke signs with Royals

The 38-year-old goes back to where it all began, back to the organization where he won his lone Cy Young award in 2009, and to the extent that venue matters to a ground ball-generating control artist like him, this is clearly an upgrade. He’s coming off a down year — which, given his age, is presumed by many to be a sign of decline — but he hasn’t lost anything off his high-80s fastball. A pitcher with his skill set relies on absolute precision, and his location may have been just a little off last year.

As reliably as he’s been a top-20 SP over the years, seeing him last to the end of drafts is a bit jarring. While I would have preferred to see him sign with a contender, I’m still happy to take flier on Greinke past Pick 200, especially with the Royals on the verge of breaking in some exciting young hitters.

Eddie Rosario signs with Braves

The longtime Twin re-ups with the organization he’ll forever be most associated with after winning NLCS MVP honors last year. A slow start coupled with a lengthy absence for an abdominal strain kept his numbers on the modest side last year, but he was a differ player after returning from the injury, batting .316 with 10 homers and a .975 OPS in 48 games, postseason included. The best stretch of his career was 2017-2019 with the Twins, when he batted .284 with an .813 OPS, averaging 27.7 homers per year, and that upside would still seem to be in play based on his late-season heroics. He’s worth drafting as your fourth or fifth outfielder in a Rotisserie league in the hopes he performs more like a No. 2 or 3.

Matt Chapman traded to Blue Jays

Chapman follows in the footsteps of the last great Athletics third baseman, Josh Donaldson, who went on to become a league MVP with the Blue Jays. It’s a primo park shift that only improves Chapman’s chances of being a 40-homer man someday, and there are obvious advantages to him being in the same lineup with Vladimir Guerrero, Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez and George Springer. The real question for the 28-year-old, though, is whether he can rebound from two seasons of escalating strikeouts and declining hard-hit rates, likely related to a torn labrum in his hip, and regain the form that saw him hit 36 home runs in 2019. For more on Chapman and the prospects acquired for him, check out Chris Towers’ article.

Kyle Schwarber signs with Phillies

A powerful bat lands in a venue built for power, which is always a good thing in Fantasy Baseball. With the kind of power Schwarber showed last year, though, the venue may not matter so much. His 32 home runs came in only 119 games thanks to a lengthy absence for a hamstring strain, which puts a 40-homer outcome within reach for the 29-year-old. It’s all the more reachable now. Having worked with renowned hitting coach Kevin Long early last year to recapture the mechanics from his college and prospect days, Schwarber seems poised to take the next step and will now get to do so alongside Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins.

Seiya Suzuki signs with Cubs

Every year, it seems like a star from the Japanese or Korean league makes his way to the United States, and this year’s target is more promising than most. Not only does Suzuki have numbers befitting the hype but his swing seems well suited for our style of baseball. It’s more of the uppercut we’re used to seeing here that the flatter swings more common in the Far East, and it resulted in some long home runs in the NPB. He’ll face the usual challenges, such as adapting to higher velocity, but his exceptional plate discipline should give him a leg up there.

It doesn’t sound like he has the speed to run quite like he did in Japan, but the overall hitting profile is strong, maybe something akin to Jesse Winker only without the platoon concerns. For a more complete breakdown, including where to draft Suzuki, check out Chris Towers’ article.

Anthony Rizzo signs with Yankees

Though seemingly a match made in spray chart heaven, Rizzo’s first stint at Yankee Stadium late last year didn’t rejuvenate him as hoped. But the Yankees decided to give it another go rather than break the bank for Freddie Freeman, inking Rizzo to a two-year deal with an opt-out after the first. Statcast suggests Rizzo would have hit 32 home runs if he played every game at Yankee Stadium last year rather than the 22 he actually hit. Of course, that estimate only takes into account park dimensions and not environmental conditions, but the fact is the short porch in right field could be what salvages a left-handed hitter whose power is otherwise on the decline.

It may ultimately be a net loss for Fantasy, though, because it once again means Luke Voit has no obvious path to at-bats. The 31-year-old has hit .271 with a .901 OPS since joining the Yankees in 2018, homering at a better rate than Matt Olson during that stretch, but an injury last year opened the door to the Yankees replacing him. It’s still possible he’s dealt to an organization that needs a first baseman (or possibly a DH) more than the Yankees do, but that’s a big gamble if you’re drafting right now. Voit’s piddling ADP (225) is now completely justified.

It’s also apparent DJ LeMahieu no longer has a spot of his own after the recent acquisitions of Rizzo, Josh Donaldson and Isiah Kiner-Falefa, but he’s still expected get full-time at-bats bouncing around the Yankees infield.

Jesse Winker, Eugenio Suarez traded to Mariners

Fantasy-wise, it’s hard to see any winners here. Winker and Suarez are leaving a dream park for hitters and going to one on the opposite end of the pitcher/hitter spectrum. I’m obliged to point out that the home/away splits for each were pretty even last season, but it’s still hard to believe that such an extreme venue shift wouldn’t have an impact on their future productivity. For his career, Winker’s OPS is .937 at home compared to .842 on the road.

This trade happens at a particularly precarious point in each player’s career, too. Winker and Suarez both have something to prove. Winker finally managed to stay on the field for a long enough stretch to make it count, and the results were truly inspiring. But his season still ended (more or less) a month and half early with yet another injury (strained intercostal). He also batted just .177 with a .572 OPS against lefties, making him a playing-time risk on two fronts. Meanwhile, Suarez, who hit 49 home runs in 2019 but has batted .199 in two seasons since, offered new reason for optimism with a .370 batting average and eight home runs last September. This move to Seattle presents an unwelcome wrinkle.

There are indirect aspects of this deal worth mentioning, such as the likelihood it delays the arrival of mega prospect Julio Rodriguez. It also gives Mike Moustakas one last chance to make an impact, for whatever he has left.

Matt Olson traded to Braves

Notably, this move almost certainly ends Freddie Freeman’s tenure in Atlanta, which will be a bitter pill for Braves fans to swallow, but Olson is coming off a breakout season and now gets to play in a smaller park with a better supporting cast.

It’s hard to believe his production could actually improve from a year ago, especially when you consider that his numbers were virtually identical both home (.270/.375/.536) and away (.272/.368/.544), but this deal would seemingly improve his chances of at least sustaining that production while perhaps presenting him with a higher ceiling. The key will be for him to sustain last year’s 16.8 percent strikeout rate, which was by far a career best. He’ll remain in the same spot in the first base rankings — just behind Freeman, incidentally, but you can draft him with more confidence in Round 3.

The Athletics got a nice prospect haul in return, which includes Cristian Pache and the Braves’ top draft picks from the past two years, catcher Shea Langeliers and pitcher Ryan Cusick. Pache’s chances of making the opening day roster have improved, but it’s unclear if he’ll offer anything more than than superlative defense in center field, for all his impressive tools.

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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