Winter Meetings Recap & Takeaways (Fantasy Baseball)
The Winter Meetings are a lot like visiting your grandparents. Stick with me.
Have you ever called your grandparents up, and out of respect for your elders told them you would visit that upcoming weekend? And then the entire rest of the week, you were dreading heading over, knowing it was going to be so boring that you would have to find ways to entertain yourself for hours on end? I could be the only bad grandson around here, but maybe that resonates with you.
Much like going to grandma’s, with the foundation of last year’s Winter Meetings everyone knew that the Winter Meetings would be a slow crawl this year as well. It seems that Scott Boras and his main man, Bryce Harper, are intent to hear all teams out, and more importantly, who will give him the most money with the most opt-outs. The biggest news out of the meetings is that both Harper and Manny Machado have not yet signed, which does not help us one bit for fantasy purposes. Beat writers and national reporters were left reporting on Lance Lynn‘s three-year, $30M deal to the Rangers, and Ken Rosenthal tweeting about Homer Bailey (Homer Bailey!) of all players.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 12, 2018
While clearly acknowledging that Harper and Machado not signing is the biggest news, there were some other notable transactions and free agent signings that have altered the course of several fantasy players.
Carlos Santana traded twice in two weeks
If you thought that an Edwin Encarnacion/ Carlos Santana swap would be the biggest news out of the winter meetings, then you need to play the lottery. The Indians, Rays, and Mariners completed a three-team trade that sent Santana and Jake Bauers to the Tribe, Yandy Diaz, Cole Sulser, and a draft pick to the Rays, and Edwin to the Mariners.
Ken Rosenthal was quoted as saying Encarnacion will be a Mariner for as long as Santana was. Thus, it makes it hard to understand Edwin’s value as it was for Santana just two weeks ago.
Santana comes from a team that was rebuilding to a team that is truly a mystery right now in the Indians (see below), but his value definitely increases. Santana figures to hit second or third in a much better order top-to-bottom, sandwiched in between All-Star Francisco Lindor and MVP candidate Jose Ramirez. The Indians also ranked fifth in ESPN’s Park Factors in runs and 14th in homers last year which grades out to a better place to hit than Safeco. A 25-homer, 90-run, 90-RBI season is not out of the question for Santana.
Similar to Santana previously, we will evaluate Encarnacion as if he is going to stay with Seattle for now. Obviously, he goes to a worse hitting park and to a worse lineup. However, Edwin is known for having terrible March and Aprils, mainly because he hates the cold weather. His career March/April wRC+ is 97, whereas the lowest career month after that is 122 in May. Despite many pundits saying that Edwin is bound to fall off, he finished yet another year with 30+ homers and 100+ RBI. His walk rate decreased and his K rate increased, which is truly cause for concern. This showed up in his OBP (down 40 points from 2017). Other than that, his batted ball profile stayed consistent with his historical data. Edwin should have no problem getting to 30 homers but may see a drop in RBI simply due to the players around him.
The Tribe also reeled in Jake Bauers, a guy who will likely split his time between DH, 1B, and a corner outfield spot. This versatility makes him intriguing for fantasy purposes. That is really the only thing he had going for him in 2018, given his 27% K rate, .384 SLG, and 95 wRC+. Somehow, his soft, medium, and hard contact percentages fall exactly in line with what FanGraphs calls an “elite” hitter (15% soft, 45% medium, 40% hard). Due to this profile, both Steamer and Depth Charts project him as a slightly above-average hitter in 2019. ESPN has him as a top-175 player, and while I wouldn’t go that high (I’d rather have the likes of German Marquez, Tyler White, Carlos Martinez), if he drops past your first 200 picks, he is certainly worth an add.
Yandy Diaz is an intriguing player due to raking in the minors (164 wRC+ in 2017 and 132 wRC+ in 2018 at Triple-A). With a bunch of other guys like Ji-Man Choi and Brandon Lowe looking to get playing time, it’s difficult to forecast Diaz. He goes to a pitcher’s park, as Tropicana Stadium ranked 23rd in both homers and runs in 2018. Diaz is only worth drafting if your league rosters a DH spot.
Andrew McCutchen signs with Phillies
Cutch’s post-Pittsburg tour continues, as he comes back to the state that he loves the most for three years and $50M. McCutchen will play a corner outfield spot. This signing comes as a surprise on two fronts: 1) Would the Phillies have signed McCutchen if they really thought they could still get Harper? 2) The Phillies were one of the worst defensive teams in the league, a primary reason for why they came up short in the NL East, but they added a guy whose defense has been on the decline.
Nonetheless, McCutchen moves from one hitter’s park to another, albeit in a weaker lineup. This lineup does not lack punch, though, as he will likely hit third following Cesar Hernandez and Jean Segura, and Rhys Hoskins will probably bat cleanup. People love to dog Cutch, but he has been 20% above the league average in batting the past two seasons. Why does every only want to remember his 2016, when he was still an above average hitter (105 wRC+)? Last year, he sported a 44% medium and hard contact rate, leaving just 13.5% soft. He is still a great hitter and will be a draft-day bargain in 2019. ESPN currently has him as the 90th best player and 30th outfielder. He finished last year as the 142nd ranked player, due to his low RBI totals. After being traded to the Yankees from the hapless Giants, he was batting leadoff and adjusting to a new league. The only other years he has had lower RBI totals were his first two years in the league. Hitting in this lineup should boost him back up to 85 RBI, to go along with his 25 homers, 90 runs scored, and double-digit steals. I’d be happy to get him in the sixth or seventh round.
J.A. Happ re-signs with Yanks
J.A. Happ is happy to be back in New York given that he had a 2.62 ERA and held batters to a .215/.275/.386 triple-slash. He figures to slot in as the number four starter as the Yankees are likely to alternate lefties and righties in their rotation. Yankee Stadium is, of course, a pitcher’s park, and Happ could see negative regression this year given his 9% increase in fly ball rate (from 33% in 2017 to 42% in 2018) and 4% increase in hard contact rate. His 3.65 ERA outpaced his 3.98 FIP and 3.88 xFIP, but that’s not too drastic. His 193 Ks ad 17 wins propelled him to be a top 70 player last year. It’s hard to predict wins each year, but I would bet money that Happ doesn’t end up with 17 again. ESPN seems to notice that too, given that he is rated as the 43rd starting pitcher and doesn’t even crank the top 200. CBS has him as the 36th best pitcher. Even if he regresses with his K rate, win total, and ERA, I don’t see a steep drop happening given that he has been this good for multiple years. If you prefer consistency instead of upside, he can be drafted above names like Luis Castillo and Nick Pivetta.
Charlie Morton surprises with Tampa landing
Charlie Morton has chosen to continue his career, signing a two-year, $30M contract with the Rays. The move is a mixed bag for Morton as he gets to call Tropicana Stadium his home, which is a much better pitcher’s park than Minute Maid. However, he now has to pitch in the AL East and the rest of those hitter’s parks, and he likely will not be getting as many wins with the Rays. His numbers in 2018 are very similar to 2017s in 20+ more innings. Of course, the main concern with Morton is his health. While he did stay healthy last year, he did go on the DL once for shoulder discomfort. It appears this was a way to manage his workload, but the 35-year-old isn’t getting any younger. He is a top 150 player according to ESPN and a top 35 starting pitcher. I would rather have Happ for his consistency and floor, but Morton can be a difference-maker if he stays healthy. ESPN has Eduardo Rodriguez and Yu Darvish ahead of Morton for now, and I would prefer Morton over both those guys.
Jeurys Familia signs with Mets
Welcome home, Jeurys! It was a short detour, but he’s back in Queens for three years and $30M (same contract as Lance Lynn, and yes, I would rather have Familia for half the innings). This time around, he certainly won’t be pitching the ninth given that Edwin Diaz was 2018’s best closer. Familia had a great season in his own right, increasing his K rate to 10.38 and lowering his walk to a still-not-great 3.50. After having a few injury scares, he seems to be back to his dominating self and is one Diaz injury away from being a top-tier closer. While he leaves The Coliseum, one of the best pitcher’s parks in baseball, he comes back to familiarity and another pitcher’s park. Prior to the signing, ESPN had Familia as the 145th rated player and 17th reliever. Given that he won’t be closing, he figures to drop a couple more spots. I would be fine scooping him up earlier and definitely have him in front of guys like Corey Knebel (won’t close every opportunity), Cody Allen (poor peripherals), and Brandon Morrow (won’t be back until at least April).
Joe Kelly lands in La-La
Joe Kelly got a slightly lesser deal than Familia in terms of average annual value, but he figures to be the Dodgers’ eighth-inning setup man. Pitchers typically fare better going from the AL to the NL, but both Fenway Park and Dodger Stadium grade out to be neutral parks. Kelly’s year-over-year numbers turned out fine but expect some regression in 2019. While his K rate did increase, his walk and HR/9 rates slightly increased and his left-on-base percentage was on the unluckier side at 68 percent. Of course, he made his contract on his postseason, not allowing a run in four World Series appearances. His extended run this year could make him liable to injury in the current year. Much like Familia, Joe Kelly is one injury away from being a must-own closer. He will be a useful pitcher to pick up for his strong K rate and with expected positive regression on his left-on-base rate he figures to be a guy you can grab at the back-end of drafts.
- Billy Hamilton landed with the Royals, and now the Royals are incredibly fast (Adalberto Mondesi reminder). You know what you are getting with Hamilton, and his ranking and value doesn’t change with a change in scenery. You can expect an OBP of right around .300 with 35-50 steals. The Royals stole the fifth most bags in baseball, so Hamilton should be getting closer back to his normal range of 50. Hamilton was not a top 300 player in 2018. While ESPN has him inside the top 200 for 2019, I’m going to stay away due to the poor lineup around him, his lack of getting on-base, and being one dimensional.
- Lance Lynn signed with the Rangers, one of the worst hitters’ parks in baseball. While he fared better in the second half, he was not a pitcher you wanted to own. Being on a bad team in a bad park keeps it that way.
- Tanner Roark is on his way to the Great American Launchpad, which is not good news for his 4+ ERA over the past two years. Roark probably falls out of the top 100 fantasy starting pitchers with this move.
- Justin Bour has joined a saturated market of 1B/DH for the Angels, and it is best to stay away from his power bat until future moves are made to clear up playing time.
- Troy Tulowitzki was released by the Blue Jays, and is eligible to sign the league minimum with any team. He could be worth a last-round flyer given that he is a former All-Star that claims to be in his best shape in years.
- Ivan Nova was traded to the White Sox. Competing for the final rotation spot on a non-contender isn’t someone you want to draft.
- Not technically a part of the Winter Meetings, but Yonder Alonso was traded to the White Sox on Friday. Alonso will be Jose Abreu’s backup and likely hitting against righties in a DH platoon. ESPN has Alonso ranked as a top 20 1B and top 170 player, despite being a below-average hitter last year (97 wRC+). He’s nothing more than a backup corner infielder.
- Not technically a player transaction, but Brandon Hyde was announced as the new manager of the Orioles. There are not too many fantasy impact players on Baltimore, but it is worth noting that Hyde comes from the Cubs, who did not steal too many bases last year (ranked 24th). This could affect Jonathan Villar’s running opportunities, so listen to Hyde’s philosophies this spring before assuming Villar will steal 40+ bases.