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MLB Free Agency Recap & Fantasy Baseball Impact (2021)

by Michael Waterloo | @MichaelWaterloo | Featured Writer
Jan 20, 2021

D.J. LeMahieu ended up back in the Bronx where he’s enjoyed the most success of his career.

Remember the years of MLB free agency where we’d look forward to the exact time it started because it meant there would be a nonstop frenzy of signings? Yeah, me either. Well, I barely do, but that was a time of yesteryear.

Now, teams are going about their team building differently through the draft, international signings, and cheap trades instead of signing players who are on the market. You can call it smart, you can call it exploiting, or you can even call it collusion among the owners, but it is what it is at this point.

What we do have, as of Tuesday, January 19, is a group of 21 players who have either signed with a new team or re-signed with their previous team, who can be considered fantasy relevant.

We’ll sort the free agents into different tiers and take a look at if their value is up, down, or the same for fantasy purposes.

There are many big names out there who haven’t signed, headlined by Trevor Bauer, and J.T. Realmuto, so we’ll leave them off the list for now.

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12-Team Relevant

George Springer (OF – TOR)
Blue Jays fans have been waiting for their team to make a big splash, and they did so Tuesday by signing George Springer to a six-year contract. Springer is a great fit in Toronto, and if you have any fears of his numbers leaving Houston, fear not — his career splits home and away are nearly identical. It’s actually a lineup boost for him heading to Toronto, and the ballparks — Buffalo or Toronto — are both great for hitters. Stock is up.

Kirby Yates (RP – TOR)
Toronto started the day by adding reliever Yates as their closer, with Ken Giles out for the year and a free agent. Yates fills the closer’s void in Toronto but has injury concerns of his own. It’s a one-year prove-it deal for Yates, who struggled in the few innings he pitched in 2020, but he was a dominant closer in 2019 for the Padres. His fantasy stock is up, as the closer’s job is his to lose, but he should be treated as a backend RP1 with the injury concerns.

DJ LeMahieu (1B/2B/3B – NYY)
LeMahieu and the Yankees danced around a bit, but he ended up back in the Bronx for six years, where he’s enjoyed the most success of his career. His value stays the same, which is a near-MVP player.

Kyle Schwarber (OF – CHC)
The Cubs decided that they were too cheap to try for 2021, so they let Schwarber walk. While the ballpark is a downgrade, he gets a slight uptick going to a lineup with Trea Turner, Juan Soto, and Josh Bell hitting in front of him. 

James McCann (C – NYM)
The Mets got their catcher, but for some reason, his name isn’t spelled R-E-A-L-M-U-T-O. Instead, the Mets opted for McCann, who is … fine? He’ll have value since he’s a starting catcher, but you’re not reaching for him. Value is slightly up since he’s in a better lineup.

Kevin Gausman (SP – SFG)
Like former teammate Dylan Bundy, Gausman enjoyed a career year outside of Baltimore in 2020. He signed his qualifying offer with the Giants, keeping him in the best possible situation he could ask for. The value stays the same.

Marcus Stroman (SP – NYM)
Stroman skipped the 2020 season, but he, too, signed his qualifying offer, which keeps him in New York through this year. He’s always been better in points leagues where his volume rewards fantasy managers, but this year, you’ll want innings regardless of the format. He also added a new 4-seam and split-change to his repertoire too. His value is up for 2021.

Corey Kluber (SP – NYY)
The Yankees opted to sign a pitcher who hasn’t been healthy in two years over a pitcher who got hurt last year in James Paxton. He has name value, and it’s only a one-year deal. Kluber’s always done a good job at keeping the ball in the yard, but with diminishing skills and a ballpark downgrade, he’s worth avoiding in drafts. Let someone else pay for his name value. Value is down.

Charlie Morton (SP – ATL)
There were concerns that Morton would retire at the end of 2020, but he’s back, and he’s in Atlanta, where he was so many years ago. What does he have left in the tank, though, remains the question. He’s seen a decrease in velocity three straight years, with an increased fastball usage in each of those years, as well. The value is slightly down, just because of his age, but moving to the National League – if there is no DH – is a plus.

Archie Bradley (RP – PHI)
The Phillies have had bullpen issues for the past few years – especially in 2019 when everyone was injured. But Bradley is already listed as the closer on the Phillies website, making him a big winner since Arizona was always hesitant to fully commit to him in the role. Closers are a dumb concept in general, but we have to care about them in fantasy. 

Liam Hendricks (RP – CHW)
The A’s haven’t had the same closer lead the team in saves in back-to-back years since 2012. Well, that’s an old stat now, as Hendricks bucked the trend by leading the team in saves in 2019 and 2020. He takes his talents to Chicago’s south side, where he should be the top closer drafted in fantasy. His value is slightly up because the American League Central is so bad, but are they so bad that the White Sox won’t get as many save opportunities because they blow teams out?

 

15-Team Relevant

Carlos Santana (1B – KC)
As expected, that .281 average that Santana had in 2019 – a career-high – came down. And we do mean down, as he finished 2020 with a .199 average. His OBP was still great, though, so it’s not time to say that he’s finished quite yet. He gets a ballpark downgrade, but staying in the American League Central is great for him to tee-off on the bad pitching in the division (except against his own team), and the Royals lineup isn’t too bad. It’s a lateral move for him.

David Dahl (OF – TEX)
We love Dahl every year, and every year, we regret taking him. It’s mainly been because of injuries, but he also hadn’t produced as we’d hoped he would when he was healthy – especially in Colorado. Now, Dahl is in Texas, where we are still gathering data on Globe Life Field in Arlington. This is a prove-it year for Dahl, who signed a one-year contract. Value is slightly down.

Ha-seong Kim (SS/2B – SD)
Raise your hand if you weren’t acquired by the Padres this offseason? Kim was the biggest international free agent available, and while he was strongly linked to Toronto, it was San Diego who swooped down to pick him up to be their everyday starting second baseman. Kim could very well have 12-team potential, but it’s always smart to take a wait-and-see approach to see how well a player’s game translates to the MLB. The Bat has Kim projected for .248/.318/.420 with 17 home runs and 11 steals for what it’s worth. That feels light in the slash department. 

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Deep-League Relevant

Adam Eaton (OF – CHW)
The White Sox could play Eaton every day if he’s healthy while having Eloy Jiménez early on. Andrew Vaughn is waiting around the corner, though, and could cut into Eaton’s playing time if he struggles or gets hurt. He’s a perfect real-life fourth outfielder. Value is the same.

Hunter Renfroe (OF – BOS)
It’s an underrated move, as Boston acquired the heavy-hitting Renfroe. Renfroe against lefties with the Monster in left is enticing for those in deeper daily leagues.

Tyler Chatwood (SP – TOR)
It’s not the splash that Blue Jays’ fans wanted, but Chatwood has shown some flashes in recent years of being a fine pitcher. He’s a deep-league streamer to start the year.

Anthony DeSclafani (SP – SF)
He’s been a fantasy darling for his career in Cincinnati, but now he gets to go to a great pitcher’s park in San Francisco. He’s worth a late-round flyer, as his value is up.

Jon Lester (SP – WSH)
Lester said he wanted to return to the Cubs, but the Cubs didn’t want him. So sad, too bad. Now, he’ll join a staff of veterans in Washington in an attempt to extend his career. He’s a late-round streamer at this point, but someone will pay for his name earlier than that.

Mike Minor (SP – KC)
Minor’s success was all smoke and mirrors in 2019, but in deeper leagues where you need arms and innings, you could do worse. I like him more than Lester and Chatwood on this list so far.

Robbie Ray (SP – TOR)
Rookie Nate Pearson had a 6.00 ERA for the Blue Jays last year, and Ray was still worse than him. The stuff is good, but he hates the strike zone.

Drew Smyly (SP – ATL)
Fantasy analysts: “Let’s not overrate 2020!”

Also, fantasy analysts: “Why Drew Smyly is a good option for fantasy managers. My column:”

The increased velocity and spin rate are nice, but unless it’s one of your final picks in the draft, don’t invest in Smyly.

Alex Wood (SP – SFG)
DeSclafani, Gausman, and now, Alex Wood. San Francisco where former hyped-up pitchers go, I guess? It’s been years since Wood has been good for fantasy managers, and he’s only pitched 47 innings since 2018. He’s a late-round dart throw at best. 

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Michael Waterloo is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Michael, check out his archive and follow him @MichaelWaterloo.

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