Fantasy Baseball Beneficiaries of Free Agent Departures
The hot stove has been cooking all offseason with eight of the top-10 free agents already inking deals with their new clubs for 2020 and beyond. It’s a much-needed breath of fresh air after the last offseason dragged on with signings lingering into February, and for some like Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel trickling into the regular season. On the not-so-bright side, MLB clubs non-tendered a record number of players this offseason. That topic will be saved for another time, but it has allowed for vacancies to be filled. For this article, I’m focusing on players who should benefit from free-agent departures. I’ll cover anyone from prospects to veterans and everything in between.
Let’s start in New York, where the loss of two prominent bats hasn’t taken away from this potent lineup.
Miguel Andujar (3B – NYY), Mike Tauchman (OF – NYY), Luke Voit (1B – NYY)
The vaunted Yankee lineup saw both Didi Gregorius and Edwin Encarnacion sign elsewhere this offseason, but their lineup still stacks up like the 1920s Murderers’ Row. Gleyber Torres shifts over to shortstop with D.J. LeMahieu slotting in as the everyday second baseman. That leaves the third base spot and the designated hitter (DH) open for business. Given Andujar’s poor defense, he should see some type of platoon between third base and DH with Urshela filling the remaining time at the hot corner. Giancarlo Stanton will likely see time at both DH and left field, which should open up time for Tauchman, who is a superior defender. Additionally, Tauchman can man center field, giving Gardner some rest a couple of games per week.
Finally, we get to Luke Voit. After netting 510 plate appearances (PA) in 2019, Voit is projected for just 399 PA in 2020 per FanGraphs Depth Charts. As of now, Tyler Wade and Miguel Andujar are the only reserve infielders on the Major League roster. I already discussed Andujar, and while he may play a handful of games at first base, Wade is not a threat to Voit’s playing time. Manager Aaron Boone is confident that Voit will be an impact player in 2020 for the Yankees. The Yankees will likely sign a backup defensive infielder to spell Torres at short, but I don’t expect it to be a big splash or to take away much time from any of these players. It’s starting to look like this trio of players should get at least 450 PA each in 2020 — and that number comes with some upside, too, given the poor health history of Stanton and Judge.
Jo Adell (OF – LAA)
You may be surprised to know that Kole Calhoun had an impressive 33 home runs in 2019 for the Angels. The inflated power environment may have hidden this fact, or maybe it was because his batting average was a deflating .232 and his strikeout rate rose for the fourth straight season. Either way, he signed a two-year deal with the Diamondbacks, opening up an opportunity in right field. As of now, Brian Goodwin is on the depth chart to fill in for Calhoun, but it’s only a matter of time before we see Jo Adell in LA. Adell has flown through the Angels’ farm system, never playing more than 60 games at any minor leagues stop. FanGraphs has slapped 70-grade raw power to his name, and he has shown well-above-average athleticism. At his peak, it’s not difficult to imagine a 35-homer, 20-steal type of season. For 2020, I think he gets the call by June, hits for power and speed, but struggles with batting average. Still, given the lack of speed in today’s game, Adell should be an impact bat once he gets the call.
Austin Riley (3B/OF – ATL)
Here’s a talented infielder who slots in at third base for the Braves with the departure of Josh Donaldson. Riley saw a decent Major League sample with 297 PA and typically manned left field. His contact rates were absolutely atrocious, and his 36.4% strikeout rate reflected his poor plate approach. Unless the Braves sign Donaldson back, Riley should have plenty of at-bats in 2020. While I believe in his power and could see a breakout from Riley, I just can’t envision it in 2020. I think Riley is going to continue to take his lumps, but I will be interested to see if he can make incremental improvements. That said, he could hit 25-plus home runs with everyday at-bats, albeit with an extremely low batting average. I prefer Riley in dynasty leagues for 2021 and beyond.
Tyler O’Neill (OF – STL)
The Cardinals let Marcell Ozuna go after the 2019 season, which has opened up a spot in the outfield. Currently, Roster Resource has Tommy Edman starting in left field, but he’s more of a Swiss Army knife who can fill in at multiple infield positions. With an aging Dexter Fowler slated to play right field, O’Neill has plenty of playing time opportunities to showcase his massive power. O’Neill is built like a brick house and regularly smashed 25-30 home runs per year throughout his minor-league career. Outside of playing time, his issues are the same as Riley’s, as both players swing and miss far too often. O’Neill has already racked up nearly 300 PA in the Majors and has posted consistent 20% SwStr rates. He’s destined for a 30%+ strikeout rate and will require an elevated BABIP to avoid being a batting-average liability. His ADP per NFBC is 445, so there are zero risks involved in taking him, and he offers .255-35 upside for 2020.
Jose Urquidy (HOU – SP), Rogelio Armenteros (HOU – SP), and Josh James (HOU – SP)
Not only did the Astros let the best pitcher in baseball walk, but a second spot opened as well with the departure of Wade Miley. Justin Verlander and Zach Greinke are the clear top two options with Lance McCullers returning from Tommy John slotted in as the number three starter. That leaves the final two spots in the rotation open. After an impressive showing in the playoffs, Urquidy would appear to be a virtual lock as either the number four or five starter in the Astros rotation. He compiled 174 strikeouts in just 144 innings across three levels in 2019, in addition to an impressive showing in the playoffs. I think his slider has a chance to be a truly elite pitch. In 2019, it allowed just a 57.7% in-zone contact rate (Z-Contact)! League average Z-Contact% on all pitches is about 84%. Given the Astros success in maximizing talent, I think Urquidy has the upside to be a top 50 arm in 2020.
I like Josh James more than Rogelio Armenteros, but Roster Resource has James in the bullpen and Armenteros in the rotation. James has ace-type stuff but needs some refinement as his control is below-average. He averages 97 mph on his fastball and has a devastating slider and a very good changeup. How good are James’ secondaries? Well, batters swung at his slider and change-up a combined 156 times and induced a swing and miss on them 80 times. That’s over 50%, friends! Among pitches that were thrown at least 200 times, there are only 15 that allowed a swing and miss rate that high, and James essentially has two of them (changeup didn’t qualify at 160 thrown). Armenteros is no bum, but he’s shown some issues with home runs and walks. I think his floor is higher than James,’ but I’ll take James’ ceiling.
Archie Bradley (RP – ARI)
I’m cheating a little bit here, but Greg Holland beat out Bradley as the Diamondbacks’ closer to start the 2019 season, compiling 17 saves through July. He was let go in August, leaving Bradley to take over, and he totaled 18 saves on the season. While Holland technically isn’t a free agent departure, he stole quite a bit of volume from Bradley last season, which makes Archie a value play going into 2020. Bradley’s walk rate skyrocketed to an ugly 11.4%, generating the highest WHIP of his career at 1.44. On the plus side, the increased usage of his curveball helped generate the best strikeout rate of his career at 27.4%. On 317 hooks thrown, he didn’t allow a single home run, and hitters struggled with just a 35 wRC+ off the pitch. Additionally, he averages 96 MPH with his fastball, and I like closers who can throw gas. Steamer projects Bradley for 33 saves and a 3.94 ERA. Those aren’t league-winning numbers, but in NFBC drafts, he’s going off the board around pick 186. At this point, there’s no threat to him, so draft with confidence.
Sean Newcomb (SP – ATL), Kyle Wright (SP – ATL), Bryse Wilson (SP – ATL), Touki Toussaint (SP – ATL), Ian Anderson (SP – ATL)
Now that Julio Teheran is gone, the options are seemingly limitless in the Braves’ farm system. They are riddled with top-tier pitching options along with youthful veteran Sean Newcomb. At this point, its anyone’s guess as to who earns the most innings out of this group in 2020. Steamer projects Newcomb as the fifth starter with 148 innings pitched for 2020 followed Wright, Wilson, and Toussaint, as bullpen arms making occasional spot starts.
I agree that Newcomb will receive the most starts and the longest leash in the rotation, but for me, Touki has the highest ceiling for 2020 if given the opportunity. He’s increased the usage of his two best putaway pitches in his curveball and split-finger while dropping the usage of his sinker. That’s a positive pitch-mix change because his sinker allowed a 184 wRC+ (100 in league average) in 2019. He still needs to work on commanding his pitches better, but if he figures it out in 2020, he could push 10-11 strikeouts per game. Also, keep an eye on Ian Anderson in the second half of 2020. He’s their top pitching prospect and projects as a future number top of the rotation arm.
Tyler Beede (SP – SFG)
It’s no surprise that the Giants parted ways with three-time World Series Champion Madison Bumgarner. Instead of trading Mad Bum away at the All-Star break last season, the Giants let him walk, showing the respect they have for him, but getting nothing in return hurts the organization. Tyler Beede should stick in the rotation even though the Giants signed Kevin Gausman and Tyler Anderson. They need to see what they have in the 26-year-old former first-round selection.
In 2019, only 2 starters had 3 pitches w/ >15% SwStr% & under 20% usage (min. 200 pitches).
CH 16.5% SwStr
SL 18.0% SwStr
CU 18.0% SwStr
CH 18.4% SwStr
CU 16.2% SwStr (w/ a 49.5% whiff/swing 👀)
SL 17.9% SwStr
— Max Freeze (@FreezeStats) December 27, 2019
Back to Beede. He’s one of the few pitchers who had three pitches with swinging strike rates over 15% in 2019. His changeup, curveball, and slider were all very good pitches at generating whiffs, and I think his changeup and curveball have a chance to be elite. Oracle Park plays very favorable for pitchers, so that should help keep his home run rate in check. I’m researching a deep dive on Beede, so keep an eye out for it, as he’s going to be one of my deep sleepers heading into 2020.
Luis Arraez (2B – MIN)
With the departure of Jonathan Schoop, Arraez assumes the full-time role at second base for the Twins. In the second half, Arraez had already taken hold of the role, outperforming Schoop with a 125 wRC+ across 92 games. He hit just four home runs and stole two bases, so most of his value is tied to batting average and runs. Batting average is difficult to get late in drafts, but it seems bankable with Arraez. He struck out just 7.9% of the time, backed by a SwStr% of just 2.8%! Had he qualified, both would rank number one in all of baseball. Additionally, only Alex Bregman had a better walk-to-strikeout ratio in 2019. He has above-average speed, and his future power grades out as league-average. He’ll be 23 years old in 2020, so expecting .310-12-10 isn’t a pipedream, it’s a realistic projection.
Isan Diaz (2B, SS – MIA) and Jon Berti (2B, 3B, SS, OF – MIA)
Starlin Castro signed with the Nationals last week, opening up second base for the Marlins. Diaz is the younger prospect with a more exciting future, but it was Berti who came out of nowhere to win fantasy championships last September. Berti stole 16 bases in the final two months, with nine of them coming in September. The speed is real with Berti, and he’s eligible at multiple positions. That’s where his value lies. I like Berti as a late-round flier in deep leagues, but given his .360 BABIP, his 25.4% strikeout rate, and his 53% ground ball rate, I can’t trust that he’ll see regular playing time going forward.
Diaz, on the other hand, is only 23 years old and is currently listed as the starting second baseman on the strong side of the platoon. He struggled in just over 200 PA in the Major Leagues last year but combined for 31 home runs between Triple-A and the Majors. He’s likely going to carry an elevated strikeout rate, but if BABIP falls his way, he could slide up the Marlins lineup in short order thanks to his advanced batting eye. He has average speed, so I wouldn’t expect more than five-to-eight steals, but his power should play immediately. He’s free in drafts, so NL-Only leagues should give him a look. Otherwise, keep him on your watch list.