Notable Team Changes and Fantasy Impact (2021 Fantasy Baseball)
Spring training is right around the corner. With last year’s shortened season and everything else going on in the world, you may not have had the closest eye on MLB offseason moves. We’re here to get you up to speed. Here’s a look at the fantasy impact of the most notable players who ended up on new teams.
Trevor Bauer (SP – LAD)
The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner was the top free agent on the board, and his signing was highly anticipated. In the end, the rich got richer, as the World Series champion Dodgers inked Bauer to a three-year deal with opt-outs. Bauer was nothing short of incredible in 2020, posting a 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and a ridiculous 36.0% strikeout rate. That has him as a top-five starter for most people in 2021, but how does moving to the Dodgers affect things?
This is a two-fold question in my eyes. The good news is that the Dodgers have one of the league’s best offenses, which pushes Bauer’s win projection upwards. The bad news is that it very well may result in him throwing fewer innings than he would have otherwise. Bauer has wanted to pitch every fourth game, and he is sixth in innings pitched over the last three seasons. Given how deep the Dodgers’ rotation is and how likely they are to clinch a playoff spot early, Bauer could make fewer starts late in the year.
These two factors mostly cancel out, making the signing fairly neutral in my eyes. There will be varying opinions on where to draft Bauer, but I don’t think signing with the Dodgers changes the conversation much.
Yu Darvish (SP – SD)
Coming off of the best season of his career, Darvish moves west to join a true contender in the Padres. He is now 34 years old, but it’s hard to care too much because the last two seasons have been amazing. Darvish posted a 2.01 ERA and 0.96 WHIP with a looney 31.3% strikeout rate and 4.7% walk rate in 76 innings last year. He put the control issues behind him in the middle of 2019 and has been a top-five pitcher ever since.
While it will be tough to repeat those 2020 numbers, moving to San Diego should make fantasy managers more interested. The ballpark move is pretty neutral, but now he gets one of the game’s best offenses behind him after having an average Cubs unit backing him up the last few years. Darvish is a legitimate SP1 in fantasy this year, and going to the Padres surely doesn’t change that.
Blake Snell (SP – SD)
Oh yeah, the Padres also added Snell to the rotation. The main concern with Snell is his health. He had issues with his shoulder and elbow last year, which is terrifying stuff, but he managed to throw 50 strong innings (3.24 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 31% K%) in the regular season. The Padres must believe he can stay healthy enough to help them win, as they give up one of their top prospects in Luis Patino to acquire the lefty from Tampa Bay.
If he can stay healthy (which is a huge if), moving to the Padres should help Snell if for no other reason than his leash gets a bit longer. The Rays managed him carefully the last two seasons. In 2020, Snell threw more than 100 pitches three times in 11 starts, failing to reach six innings even once. In 2019, he threw six innings just 10 times in 23 outings. Even while he was in the midst of a long streak of taking the mound on a regular schedule, he barely averaged 90 pitches per outing. The Padres are in full go-for-it mode, so it’s hard to imagine them not letting him throw deeper into games as long as he’s healthy.
If San Diego stretches him out, Snell could be an awesome value in fantasy drafts.
Nolan Arenado (3B – STL)
Arenado leaving Coors Field is one of the most interesting player moves for fantasy purposes I’ve ever seen.
An easy top-20 pick and one of the most consistent hitters in the game for years, Arenado had a rough 2020 season (.253/.303/.434) and now leaves baseball’s most hitter-friendly ballpark. Many fantasy managers will move him way down their lists or write him off entirely given his career .263/.322/.471 slash line away from Coors (.263/.322/.471).
However, the story is not this simple. DJ LeMahieu has certainly proved that you can still be a great hitter after leaving Colorado, and this isn’t just an anecdotal theory.
The adjustment from high altitude to normal altitude has proven to negatively affect hitters, making the Rockies perform much worse than what they would otherwise on the road. We can see this with Arenado. We saw above that he has slugged .471 in his career away from Coors. If we remove the first two games from road trips, his slugging percentage rises is .494. This is a much more reasonable expectation for Arenado moving forward.
Even if we bump him up to a .500 slugging percentage for 2021, that still would be by far the worst slugging percentage of his career (excluding his rookie year and 2020). There is no doubt Arenado still needs to be dropped down your ranks; you shouldn’t overreact to the move to St. Louis. Coors Field actually suppresses homers a bit, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him reach a new level in that category. However, he’s likely to drop substantially in batting average, on-base percentage, and probably runs and RBI since he doesn’t get to play 81 games in that run-friendly environment.
Yes, we’re moving Arenado way down the draft board. His current consensus ADP of 27.5 is probably about right, but there is a real chance he slides out of the top 40. That would probably be a mistake.
George Springer (OF – TOR)
The Astros struggled (by their standards) offensively last year, but Springer was the one guy who kept mashing. He hit 14 homers in 222 plate appearances, a homer every 15.8 plate appearances (league average is around 27). He had a ludicrous 2019 as well with 39 homers and a .292 batting average in 122 games. That gives him a .284 batting average and 53 homers in his last 173 games.
Now he goes to the Blue Jays, where he could lead off in a hitter-friendly park — depending on where they play in 2021 — with another strong lineup behind him. While he’s clearly not ever going to be a steals source again after swiping just 13 in his last 313 games, everything else looks great for Springer in 2021.
He should be an elite source of runs and homers while giving you a real shot to hit .290 again. Moving to the Blue Jays is neutral for his fantasy stock at worst, and he might even be a little more interesting if getting to play in a homer-happy ballpark.
Francisco Lindor (SS – NYM)
The most impactful player to move teams may very well be Lindor. He was a first-round pick before batting just .258 with eight homers — 33 plate appearances per homer is his worst mark since 2016 — in a disappointing 2020 season. With the career he’s had, there is no reason to take the 60-game sample too seriously. The smart money is on a full rebound from Lindor.
An offseason trade puts the 27-year-old in a much better Mets offense than Cleveland has had the last few years. If the Mets hit him third as expected, he will have two high on-base percentage guys in front of him (Brandon Nimmo and Jeff McNeil) with some big-time swingers behind him (Pete Alonso, Michael Conforto, Dominic Smith). The Mets are also aggressively going after a third baseman, so you could see Kris Bryant or Matt Chapman added to that lineup before Opening Day. This is a great time to take any discount your league will give you on Lindor.
Carlos Carrasco (SP – NYM)
Moving to the Mets bumps Carrasco up my list a few slots, but I already had him pretty high. As we just discussed, he will have a stronger offense backing him than in the last few years, but the ballpark change is pretty negligent. Carrasco looked fully healthy and dominant in 2020, and he tends to fall in drafts because of his age. This is a positive change; draft Carrasco with confidence.
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