MLB Free Agency Recap (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
In the “cold stove” world in which we live, this article is coming out right before Opening Day — a run up to the season unlike we’ve ever seen before. Yes, 2018’s offseason was brutal, but no offense to J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, or Yu Darvish, they are no Bryce Harper or Manny Machado.
Despite all the slow movement, tons of players who affect our fantasy teams have signed. When a player switches teams, there are two main aspects to consider: park factors and lineup construction. For example, when J.T. Realmuto gets traded from the Marlins to the Phillies, his home runs and counting stats are expected to significantly increase as a result of going from a pitcher’s haven to a top-five hitter’s park. On the flip side, he is slated to bat fifth with the Harper signing, meaning he may see less run-scoring opportunities than if he batted second or third for the Marlins. But that Marlins’ lineup isn’t good, so the park aspect heavily outweighs potentially hitting lower in the batting order. You can make a case that switching leagues/divisions is also a big deal, but not to the extent of the other two.
I’ll go through the fantasy-relevant players who signed with new teams this offseason and offer up quick sound bites on if their stock went up or down. If a player you are looking for is not discussed below, then he currently isn’t drafted consistently in 15-team mixed leagues.
Cody Allen (RP – LAA): No longer competing with Brad Hand for the closer job, he should have a long leash (unless Ty Buttrey is filthy, which he might be). The AL Central is a little too poor for saves — the Indians have consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league in save opportunities. He should find more chances with the Angels.
Asdrubal Cabrera (2B/3B/SS – TEX): Consistently underrated (23 bombs and 75 RBIs in 2018), Cabrera moves to one of the best ballparks in all of baseball for a hitter. Slated to hit in the middle of Texas’ order, you should aim for him at the end of drafts to balance out high-upside picks.
Nelson Cruz (UT – MIN): While you’ll see below that the Mariners’ lineup isn’t actually that bad, the Twins’ lineup is certainly better. Plus, Target Field is actually a hitter’s park now. He’s a safe bet for 35+ homers, 90 RBIs, and a solid batting average. He’s consistently underrated in drafts, so make him a target.
Brian Dozier (2B – WAS): Dozier went through a lot last year — a knee injury, a platoon (and even outright benching) with the Dodgers, and an overall down season. Dozier gets the chance to rebound and will have less pressure by hitting lower in the lineup. His expected runs will decrease from prior years, but he will be somewhat make up for it with more RBIs. You can wait for him until the double-digit rounds this year, which is worth the gamble.
Jeurys Familia (RP – NYM): As the Mets’ only truly reliable reliever besides Edwin Diaz, Familia will see tons of innings. As good as Diaz was in 2018, he was volatile in 2017. Familia’s a good stash in case the erratic Diaz returns.
Yasmani Grandal (C – MIL): His lefty power should play well in Miller Park, but Grandal will likely hit seventh in a stacked order. The power upside alone (as well as not being platooned) has his stock up.
Billy Hamilton (OF – KC): Kansas City is going to run wild, and even if Hamilton hits ninth, he will still have the green light. There’s not a ton of competition over in KC, so he should play every day and get back to 40+ steals. Formerly a fourth-round pick, you can now have him in the double-digit rounds. Sign me up.
Bryce Harper (OF – PHI): Harper moves into an amazing ballpark for lefties, is surrounded by a phenomenal lineup, and isn’t in San Francisco. He’ll start going in the first round.
Matt Harvey (SP – LAA): Going from the Great American Launchpad to Angel Stadium is an automatic tick up. Having a full-time rotation spot and still just 29 years old, Harvey is worth the latest of late-round fliers.
Jung-Ho Kang (3B – PIT): Kang makes a return to Major League Baseball after a few run-ins with the law. He has played well in spring and will likely start at third or short. He makes for a sneaky corner infielder in deep leagues.
Andrew McCutchen (OF – PHI): McCutchen finally gets to play in a hitter’s park and will bat leadoff in a stacked lineup. He’s a great OF3 target.
Mike Moustakas (3B – MIL): Named the starting second baseman, Moustakas can display his light-tower power as a lefty in hitter’s haven Miller Park.
Daniel Murphy (1B/2B – COL): Greatest stock increase — buy all the shares. Murphy is a professional hitter moving to the best hitting ballpark. It’s a dream come true.
A.J. Pollock (OF – LAD): Pollock will not be platooned and moves to a better lineup and better park. Health is still the big if here.
Drew Pomeranz (SP – SF): Not guaranteed a rotation spot in Boston, Pomeranz now pitches in Oracle Park. Worth a late-round flier. Let’s not forget his 17 wins, 9.02 K/9, and 3.32 ERA in 2017.
David Robertson (RP – NYY): Robertson will be given a chance to close, and he’s out of the AL East. Gabe Kapler, make a decision and stick with it.
Anibal Sanchez (SP – WAS): Sanchez, who caught fire with his changeup in the second half last year, now goes to a better pitcher’s park with a guaranteed rotation spot.
Jonathan Schoop (2B – MIN): After getting thrown around too much in Milwaukee, he will have the everyday second base job to himself with the Twins. Schoop should hit plenty of bombs in Target Field against subpar AL Central pitching. A great bounce-back candidate.
Joakim Soria (RP – OAK): All things equal, he has the same role as he did in Milwaukee, but gets a better pitcher’s park and a worse division. Great for holds leagues.
Troy Tulowitzki (SS – NYY): Stock is up due to being healthy and starting as the Yankees’ Opening Day shortstop. He will only be helpful through June, if he lasts until then, but worth a late-round flier.
Brad Boxberger (RP – KC): Lost the closer job in Arizona, and he is now fighting for it in Kansas City. Even if he does win it, you figure he won’t see too many opportunities.
Zach Britton (RP – NYY): Now part of the “greatest bullpen in history,” Britton won’t be saving games anymore. Even if Aroldis Chapman gets injured or falters, there are too many options in that ‘pen for him to be considered the “next man up.”
Clay Buchholz (SP – TOR): He was very good for the Diamondbacks last year (2.01 ERA), but the underlying metrics don’t support it. Buchholz should have a place to start consistently up north, but who wants to pitch in the AL East?
Eduardo Escobar (3B/SS – ARI): He faded with the Diamondbacks in the second half after leading the AL in doubles through June. Escobar will be moved around the diamond as the Snakes attempt to figure out where everybody belongs. He sports a fantastic line-drive rate but needs to improve his hard-hit rate to prove that his first half wasn’t a fluke.
Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers (SP – OAK): Nobody knows exactly what is going on with Oakland’s rotation. For now, they are banking on bounce-back seasons from two veterans. These guys aren’t worth rostering.
Kelvin Herrera (RP – CWS): He’s still injured and will likely the closer job to Alex Colome. Going from the Nationals to the White Sox also reduces his chances at holds, for those who play in that sort of league.
Adam Jones (OF – ARI): Relegated to a fourth outfielder role, the aging Jones isn’t what he used to be. Plus he’s going from Camden Yards to the humidor. Pass.
Manny Machado (SS/3B – SD): Safe floor, but a slightly better lineup is mitigated through Camden Yards being a significantly better place to hit than Petco. Even Dodger Stadium has proven a haven for power hitters. For a deeper dive, check this out.
Wilson Ramos (C – NYM): Contrary to popular belief, the oft-injured catcher is going to a worse park and lineup in the Big Apple. His career high of 131 games played in 2016 seems like an outlier.
Sergio Romo (RP – MIA): Romo is contending for a closer role on one of the worst teams in all the land rather than having the job locked down on a 90-win team.
Cory Spangenberg (2B – MIL): His days of seeing 300+ at-bats are done. A possible trade chip to monitor in 2019, Spangenberg is interesting as a full-time starter, if he ever gets the chance.
Tim Beckham (2B/SS – SEA): He has the inside track to the Mariners’ starting gig at short, and while hitting in Seattle is much tougher than Camden Yards, the Mariners’ lineup is substantially better than the Orioles’. Worth a late-round flier in deep leagues. (Remember that stretch he had in 2017?)
Justin Bour (1B – LAA): He’s going from one extreme pitcher’s park to another (we can pretend his short stint with the Phillies didn’t count since he had almost no impact). Now slated to hit fourth, Bour will have to prove he can hit lefties to significantly increase his stock.
Michael Brantley (OF – HOU): This guy will hit the same in any ballpark — that’s what professional hitters do. He may see a slight drop in runs scored by hitting lower in the lineup, but that should be offset by Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa. Will he stay healthy?
Robinson Chirinos (C – HOU): Known for his power, he leaves Globe Life Park to hit in a slightly worse hitter’s park. That gets offset by moving to a better lineup. He will cede starts to Max Stassi, but Chirinos was already doing that with Isiah Kiner-Falefa last year.
Patrick Corbin (SP – WAS): The humidor helped him last year, and Nationals Park is likely a slightly worse park for pitchers. But with the Diamondbacks gutting their squad, he could be in line to pick up a few more wins in Washington. If he continues to succeed with his slider, moving teams won’t impact his fantasy value much.
Josh Donaldson (3B – CLE): The pressure will be on Donaldson to produce after signing the largest one-year contract in free-agent history. That Braves’ lineup is certainly better than the Indians’ lineup as it stands, but Atlanta has a slightly a worse hitter’s park. He would’ve seen easier pitching, surprisingly, in the AL, but all in all, his numbers will be consistent if he stays healthy. Calves, please stay healthy.
Nathan Eovaldi (SP – BOS): Often drafted as a number five fantasy starter, that’s exactly where he should be. He’s used to the AL East and improved in the second half. The expectations for him are through the roof after the brilliant playoff run, but we can’t expect Eovaldi to stay healthy.
Avisail Garcia (OF – TB): The volatile player greatly regressed in batting average, but he sported a nice HR/FB rate. Which one is real? Hopefully it’s the average, as Tropicana is where homers go to die. Garcia is slated to hit fourth on a team that won 90 games last year.
Brett Gardner (OF – NYY): His stock will ultimately either go up or down. Gardner is one significant Aaron Hicks injury — he’s already dealing with a bothersome back — from playing every day on one of, if not the top offense in baseball. If Hicks is ready for Opening Day, Gardner will be in and out of the lineup at the bottom of the order, reducing the one thing he is good at (scoring runs).
Marwin Gonzalez (1B/2B/3B/SS/OF – MIN): It remains to be seen how Minnesota will use him, and he will bat in the bottom third of the order. If he doesn’t get back to his 2017 ways, Gonzalez won’t be worth much in fantasy regardless of team.
J.A. Happ (SP – NYY): The 34-year-old continues to impress, and he will have familiarity with the Yankees. While he’s also used to the AL East, you wonder how long he can keep up a 26% K rate with just a 10.4% swinging-strike rate.
Greg Holland (RP – ARI): For some reason, he’s still being considered a closer for the D-Backs. He ended last year with the Nationals on a high note, so maybe he still has something left in the tank.
Joe Kelly (RP – LAD): After setting up one of the best closers last year for the World Series champs, Kelly will set up one of the best closers for the NL champs. Not much has changed, besides not pitching in the AL East, which isn’t the biggest factor for a reliever.
Yusei Kikuchi (SP – SEA): Kikuchi will pitch in a favorable park and has shown confidence this spring. He will be on an innings limit, so hope for good ratios.
Jed Lowrie (2B/3B – NYM): Lowrie is banged up right now, so his Opening Day status is up in the air. If he can get on the field consistently, he moves to a better ballpark with a better lineup. The bottom could fall out of the aging vet at any time.
Jonathan Lucroy (C – LAA): Same division, similar park factors. Bleh.
Lance Lynn (SP – TEX): Awful after signing late last year, Lynn now pitches in the worst park possible.
Nick Markakis (OF – ATL): Same team, similar place in the lineup.
Andrew Miller (RP – STL): Miller will most likely play the fireman role again, so you’re counting on a high K rate and good ratios. More than anything, he has to prove he’s healthy.
Charlie Morton (SP – TB): About to ride into the sunset, he will pitch in a great ballpark, but in the AL East. A pitcher with this amount of experience shouldn’t be too impacted.
Adam Ottavino (RP – NYY): Ottavino will pitch in a similar role for a better team. The division is tough, but you’d think these band of relievers will unite in greatness together. Target in holds leagues.
Hyun-Jin Ryu (SP – LAD): Nothing has changed. Ryu will have a rotation spot until he is injured.
Hunter Strickland (RP – SEA): Although handed the closer’s role with the Mariners, Strickland has a sore back. He also gets bumped down by moving over to the AL.
Keep an eye on: Josh Harrison (2B/3B – DET), Ervin Santana (SP – CHW), C.C. Sabathia (SP – NYY), Tyson Ross (SP – DET), Bud Norris (RP – TOR), Matt Shoemaker (SP – TOR), Yangervis Solarte (2B/3B/SS – SF), Adam Wainwright (SP – STL), Neil Walker (1B/2B/3B – MIA), Justin Wilson (RP – NYM)