With Josh Hader coming to terms with the Astros, Blake Snell and Cody Bellinger are the biggest free agents remaining in what’s been a slow-moving offseason. The Dodgers have so far dominated with additions like Shohei Ohtani, Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Tyler Glasnow and Teoscar Hernandez, but there are still more moves to come.
Here’s what to make of what’s happened so far …
Justin Turner signs with Blue Jays
Turner gets a one-year deal to be the Blue Jays’ primary DH after showing he had something left in the tank with the Red Sox last year, but seeing as he’s now 39, that year in Boston may prove to be a blip. For one thing, Fenway Park did him some favors, as is often true for right-handed hitters.He hit .258 with a .764 OPS on the road last year. And while playing mostly DH should help to keep him healthy, there’s no denying his injury history. A bone bruise in his heel last year had him hobbled for much of the second half. Still, those concerns about his age and health should make him fairly affordable in deeper leagues, where you’re less inclined to sell out for upside. He’ll occupy a premium spot in the heart of the Blue Jays batting order, potentially batting behind George Springer, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, and should put up useful numbers for however long he’s available. If you’re in need of a serviceable corner infield option late, don’t overlook him.
Jorge Polanco traded to Mariners
The Mariners gave up a pretty good outfield prospect in Gabriel Gonzalez, a pretty good reliever in Justin Topa, a viable starter in Anthony DeSclafani, as well as a minor-league pitcher, and all they got back is an injury-prone second baseman nearing the end of his contract. But while the real-world merits of this deal are debatable, it’s pretty clearly a win for Fantasy, if only by reducing the second base clutter for the Twins. Polanco seemed like he might have to play more of a super utility role with the emergence of Edouard Julien last year, which made full-time at-bats less of a certainty, but we know exactly what the Mariners intend to do with him. While T-Mobile Park isn’t a great place to hit, Target Field isn’t much better, and Statcast actually estimates that if Polanco had played every game at the Mariners’ home last year, he would have hit 19 home runs rather than 15.
Those 15, by the way, came in just 80 games, which would suggest that Polanco still has the 33-homer potential he showed in 2021. He won’t be drafted like it, of course, because of all the time he’s lost to back, knee and hamstring issues the past two years, but this trade gives him one less obstacle to meeting his potential and moves him up a tier in my second base rankings as a result. Meanwhile, it’s a vote of confidence for Julien, who generally had to sit against left-handers last year but is more likely to play every day now. it also hastens prospect Brooks Lee’s arrival to the majors.
Rhys Hoskins signs with Brewers
Hoskins missed all of 2023 with a torn ACL — an injury that requires a lengthy recovery but isn’t expected to hamper him as a hitter moving forward. He was a reliable mid-range slugger for the Phillies, consistently hitting about .245 with about 30 home runs, and is headed to another venue well suited for his skill set. In fact, in nine career games at American Family Field, Hoskins has hit five home runs. His new lineup isn’t as strong but shouldn’t be a major liability either and has the added benefit of actually needing him, which wasn’t necessarily true for some of his other suitors. Now that his destination is secure, he’s part of a loaded middle tier at first base and will likely be one of the top 15 players drafted at the position.
James Paxton signs with Dodgers
According to one beat writer, Andy McCullough of The Athletic, the Dodgers will functionally have a six-man rotation this year even if they don’t officially, and they’ll need extra arms to make that happen. Paxton gives them one — and with some upside to boot. The 35-year-old left-hander regained the sizzle on his fastball after a two-year recovery from Tommy John surgery and had a 2.70 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 11.0 K/9 through nine starts last year.
That’s about the time when reports of his bum knee first surfaced. His fastball lost some of its sizzle as he attempted to pitch through it before eventually shutting things down in September. So he’s no model of health, but that fits right in with Tyler Glasnow and two-time Tommy John recoveree Walker Buehler. Paxton could make a considerable Fantasy impact for the time he’s healthy, particularly with the Dodgers offense backing him, but you still shouldn’t invest more than a late-round pick in him given the durability and consistency concerns.
Joey Gallo signs with Nationals
The last time Gallo hit even .200 was 2019, and his batting average over the past two years is .168. He looked like he might have something cooking with the Twins early last season but eventually slumped his way out of the lineup. Hope springs eternal, though, with his latest deal with the Nationals, who have nothing to lose by playing him and everything to gain by redeeming his trade value. Only 30 years old, Gallo still connects with the force of an elite slugger on the rare occasion he connects, and while there’s no need to invest draft capital in him, it’s not crazy to think he could get hot enough in stretches to matter in Fantasy again. It’s probably his last chance.
Robert Stephenson signs with Angels
If you’re confused why a Fantasy Baseball analyst would be writing about Stephenson, why the Angels would offer him a three-year deal, or why there’s reason to think he’ll overtake Carlos Estevez for the closer role, prepare to be wowed.
Only two pitchers with more than 50 innings last year had better than a 20 percent swinging-strike rate. One was Felix Bautista at 20.8 percent. The other was Stephenson at an absurd 24.8 percent. And the breakthrough didn’t begin until the Rays acquired him from the Pirates at the start of June. In typical Rays fashion, they tweaked his arsenal to maximum effect, introducing a cutter that, by season’s end, he was throwing nearly 75 percent of the time. With it, Stephenson put together a 2.35 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 14.1 K/9 in his four months with the Rays. According to MLB Trade Rumors, opposing batters put the ball in play on just 49.3 percent of their swings during that time, which was best in the majors. Second-best (Aroldis Chapman) was way up at 59 percent.
So Stephenson might just be the best reliever in baseball, closer or otherwise, and seeing as the incumbent closer for the Angels, Carlos Estevez, effectively melted down in the second half, struggling to find the strike zone en route to a 6.59 ERA, a changing of the guard would seem to be in order. A little clarity would be enough to vault Stephenson into my top 20 at relief pitcher, right in between Andres Munoz and Tanner Scott, with plenty of upside from there. For now, though, we’re left to speculate about new manager Ron Washington’s plans.
Josh Hader signs with Astros
Apart from that one hiccup in the middle of the 2022 season, Hader has been as dominant as closers come since first stepping into the role in 2018, and so no matter where he signed, you had to figure the incumbent closer would be out of luck. Unfortunately, that incumbent closer is himself a good one in Ryan Pressly, who hasn’t always been a model of health but did deliver a 2.94 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 11.1 K/9 during his three-year stint in the role. This deal makes him no longer worth drafting in standard leagues.
Because Hader is the one left-hander in a trio of closer-caliber relievers (right-hander Bryan Abreu), it’s at least theoretically possible that he could enter prior to the ninth inning sometimes, which might yield a save chance for one of the other two from time to time. But the guy’s scheduled to make $95 million over the next five years. Suffice it to say it won’t happen often enough to shake up the relief pitcher rankings in a serious way. Hader remains a cinch top-three closer, alongside Edwin Diaz and former teammate Devin Williams, and is now the No. 1 choice in AL-only leagues.
Marcus Stroman signs with Yankees
It’s a good fit for the Yankees because Stroman is a right-hander who generally keeps the ball on the ground, making him less vulnerable than most to the short porch in right field. But this move doesn’t make him better in any meaningful way, and that’s really the issue for Fantasy. If you’re assessing him purely on ERA, you won’t have too many complaints (again, thanks to that ground-ball rate), but he’s a non-strikeout pitcher with durability issues, which keeps him on the fringes in most league. In fact, he’s struggled so much with workload over the years that the last time he had more than 10 wins was 2017. It doesn’t mean he’s worthless, but he’s closer to being a streamer than a must-roster and will likely go undrafted in shallower leagues.
Michael Busch traded to Cubs
For years, the Dodgers seemed content to keep Busch on ice, unwilling to trade him but also unwilling to free up a spot for him even as he lit up the minor leagues. But after another offseason spent blocking his every path, they were finally forced to admit that his talents were wasted on them, swapping him and reliever Yency Almonte for a couple lower-urgency prospects. With the Cubs, Busch figures to start at either third or first base, depending on what other moves they make, and at 26, he’s beyond ready for this opportunity.
You might presume it’s been delayed for so long because he’s not actually as good as they numbers would suggest, but as cartoonish his .323/.431/.618 slash line at Triple-A Oklahoma City last year was, it was backed up by a 91.3 mph average exit velocity. He’s always known how to take a walk, but he’s disciplined in even more significant ways than that, clocking in with an 89.5 percent zone-contact rate and 7.7 swinging-strike rate. To put it simply, he knows when to swing at and doesn’t miss when he does, which is about as comforting of a hitting profile as you’ll find. It’s possible he starts slowly and loses some at-bats due to his left-handedness, but whatever opportunities Busch gets with the Cubs will be far more than he was getting with the Dodgers. He’ll be a trendy sleeper on Draft Day, particularly in points leagues.
Shota Imanaga signs with Cubs
Imanaga isn’t the perfect pitching specimen Yoshinobu Yamamoto is and won’t generate the same sort of enthusiasm on Draft Day, but two standout attributes could elevate him beyond his traditional indicators, as more or less happened in Japan. One is a fastball with the optimal shape for the modern game, generating swings and misses at the top of the zone. It helps explain his big strikeout numbers in Japan and is the main reason why he led the World Baseball Classic in Stuff+ last year, ranking ahead of Yamamoto and anyone currently pitching in the majors.
2023 NPB: 7-5, 2.66 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 159 IP, 24 BB, 188 K
The other is his control. His 1.4 BB/9 last year would have ranked fourth among major-league starters, and his 8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio would have ranked second. He has some vulnerability to the long ball, which makes Wrigley Field not the most optimal destination, but you’re probably not drafting him until 60 pitchers or so are off the board, at which point the reward far outstrips the risk.
Teoscar Hernandez signs with Dodgers
Hernandez will take up the J.D. Martinez mantle for 2024 and doesn’t have as far to go to reclaim his Fantasy value. His past two seasons, while something of a disappointment, were good enough to make him a starter in three-outfielder leagues still. How much better can it get with the Dodgers? Well, with Mookie Betts presumably affixed to the leadoff spot, Hernandez will serve as the primary right-handed counter punch in a lineup also headlined by Freddie Freeman, Shohei Ohtani and let’s also say Max Muncy for good measure, so the RBI opportunities could be ridiculous. He’s also going to the second-best home run park for right-handed hitters, according to Statcast, which itself should go a long way toward redeeming him, especially when you consider that he hit just .217 at home last season.
A 30-something with a 30-percent strikeout rate has a pretty deep floor, but this move improves Hernandez’s ceiling to the point that we should probably think of him as a top-30 outfielder again. It was only three years ago that he hit .296 with 32 homers, 12 steals, 116 RBI and 92 runs scored, after all.
Harrison Bader signs with Mets
If there was ever a chance for Bader to shine offensively, it would be in a year split between Yankee Stadium and Great American Ball Park. In other words, it would be his 2023, and as you can see, the results left something to be desired. To be fair, he missed time with oblique, hamstring and groin injuries, among others, and his playing time after going to the Reds wasn’t the most consistent. Signing with the Mets should return him to everyday duty, with this defense likely keeping him there. He’s begun to tap into his speed more in recent years, but you can’t expect much more than double-digit home runs. Even in deeper Rotisserie leagues, it would be a stretch to call Bader a fifth outfielder on Draft Day.
Luke Raley traded to Mariners for Jose Caballero
Raley was a surprising source of both power and speed in 2023, though pretty much just against right-handers. His usefulness for Fantasy was limited both by his platoon role and a dreadful second half that saw him hit .219 with a with four homers and a .677 OPS. While it’s possible he plays more for a Mariners team that’s short on power, that wouldn’t necessarily be for the best. His 31.5 percent strikeout rate made his second-half struggles not so surprising and would likely rise with more exposure to lefties.
What’s most interesting about this deal is the Rays’ side of it — and not just Caballero, a speedy on-base threat who might be the new favorite to play shortstop. Raley’s departure frees up the DH spot for several young hitters who are even more interesting for Fantasy purposes. Chief among them is uber prospect Junior Caminero, who got a late-season look and could also share shortstop duties with Caballero even though he’s more suitable for third base, where Isaac Paredes is currently stationed. Jonathan Aranda is overdue for a major-league job after slashing .339/.449/.613 at Triple-A Durham last season — and with the exit velocity readings to match. There’s also 23-year-old Curtis Mead, another top prospect with a bat-first profile. Knowing the Rays, they won’t commit fully to any of those three, but the removal of Raley presents one fewer obstacle.
Robbie Ray traded to Giants for Mitch Haniger
The pitching-rich Mariners decided they could do without the long-term commitment to Ray, who is currently rehabbing from Tommy John surgery but was the AL Cy Young winner as recently as 2021. He can be erratic at times but is a big strikeout pitcher when healthy, and given the Giants’ history of rehabilitating veteran pitchers (and not just from injury), you have to like his chances of becoming a Fantasy asset again. Just understand that it won’t be any earlier than the middle of 2024. Meanwhile, Haniger returns to where he was at his best, homering 39 times for the Mariners in 2021, but he’s in his mid-30s now and so injury-prone that he’s hardly worth the bother in Fantasy. The Mariners also acquired Anthony DeSclafani in the deal, but given their aforementioned pitching depth, he’s likely destined for long relief.
Chris Sale traded to Braves for Vaughn Grissom
Landing a starting pitcher was the Braves’ top offseason priority, and they took a characteristically unconventional route to meeting it. Sale was on a Hall of Fame track not so long ago but saw his career derailed in Boston, where injuries have limited him to a combined 151 innings over the past four seasons. Suffice it to say, then, he’s far from a sure thing, and while the Braves should provide him with plenty of run support, what matters more than where he’s pitching is whether he can healthy.
Recent history would suggest he can’t, but most of his time lost over the past four years was due to Tommy John surgery, which is now well behind him. There was also a fractured rib cage and fractured wrist, neither of which was arm-related. The time he lost to shoulder inflammation in 2023 is more concerning, but Sale showed big strikeout potential both before and after the injury (his 11.0 K/9 would have ranked fifth among qualifiers and his 13.2 percent swinging-strike rate would have ranked ninth) and has generally pitched well for all his troubles. His stock has never been lower than right now, though this trade may renew enthusiasm to some small degree.
As for the other side of this deal, Grissom is already known to Fantasy Baseballers as a potential 2023 breakout who never really got off the ground, but while the Braves couldn’t stomach his defense at shortstop, the Red Sox have an opening at second base. He’s the big winner here for Fantasy Baseball purposes if for no other reason than because he has a job now, but Fenway Park also happens to be where he debuted with a home run in 2022 (while playing second base, fittingly enough). The Green Monster should help his modest power play up and certainly won’t diminish his natural hitting ability, which yielded a .320 batting average in the minors. A 20-homer, 20-steal outcome is more like his ceiling than his baseline, but he’s a worthy middle infield option for Rotisserie leagues even if he delivers more like 12-15 of each.
Frankie Montas signs with Reds
Montas missed almost the entire 2023 season after having surgery to repair the labrum in his right shoulder. His velocity was down about 1 mph across the board when he returned for one relief appearance in September, but then again, he threw a total of 26 pitches. The Reds clearly weren’t deterred, offering him $16 million for the chance to re-establish himself as a No. 3-type starter. He’s been even better than that at times, depending on how his splitter is working, with his 2021 season (when he went 13-9 with a 3.37 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and 10.0 K/9) standing out in particular, though a guarded approach is warranted coming off a major injury. Given his past successes, Montas is deserving of a late-round flier, particularly in points leagues where you can take advantage of his RP eligibility.
Lucas Giolito signs with Red Sox
After back-to-back years with an ERA near 4.90, Giolito’s Fantasy value is at an all-time low, and going to Fenway Park isn’t going to do anything to salvage it. In particular, he’s struggled to keep the ball in the park, with his 2.0 HR/9 rate ranking the second highest-among qualifiers in 2023, and he ended the season on the lowest possible note with a 6.96 ERA over his final 12 starts. The two-year drought has coincided with a dip in velocity, but he’s continued to record strikeouts at a nice clip, which makes him perhaps not totally a lost cause. Still, it’s hard to make the change-of-scenery case for him after a season split between three teams (White Sox, Angels and Guardians). If you’re looking to gamble late in drafts or are short on strikeouts in particular, Giolito is still a worthwhile pick, but he’s not a top priority.
Mitch Garver signs with Mariners
This move isn’t exactly a headline-grabber, but it’s actually a pretty big deal for Fantasy. If you didn’t notice, Garver was a stud catcher down the stretch, batting .283 with 14 homers and a .937 OPS from Aug. 1 on. The key was him not actually playing catcher, but DH full-time for the Rangers, and that’s apparently the Mariners’ plan for him as well.
We’ve long known he had that kind of potential — with the biggest tip-off being his 2019 in which he homered 31 times with a .995 OPS — but health and defensive concerns prevented him from delivering on it. The DH role helps to mitigate both. Of course, not every team is open to having a full-time DH, so his Fantasy value hinged on him landing with the right one. He appears to have done so. Sure, you could ask for a better venue, but ultimately, the role is more important here and likely solidifies Garver as a top-12 catcher on Draft Day.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto signs with Dodgers
2023 NPB: 17-6, 1.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 171 IP, 28 BB, 176 K
Winner of Japan’s version of the Cy Young (not to mention MVP) each of the last three years, Yamamoto will earn $325 million over the next 12 years, making it the biggest contract ever for a pitcher. So is he deserving of it? Well, during that dominant three-year period, he put together a 1.42 ERA, 0.88 WHIP and 9.5 K/9, and we have a pretty good idea how his arsenal will play based on data collected during the World Baseball Classic. I’m inclined to rank him as a top-10 starting pitcher right away. Check out my full-length article for further explanation as to why.
Yuki Matsui signs with Padres
A highly successful closer in Japan, Matsui has a chance to factor into the saves mix for the Padres, who are expected to lose Josh Hader to free agency. The scouting reports are mixed. Matsui stands only 5-feet-8, struggles with control at times and sits in the low 90s with his fastball, but judging by his 1.42 ERA and 12.7 K/9 in NPB over the past three years, there must be something here. His main secondary offering is a splitter, and the contrasting movement between it and his fastball, which plays well at the top of the zone, perhaps make up for his shortcomings.
2023 NPB: 39 SV, 1.57 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 57 1/3 IP, 13 BB, 72 K
The terms of the deal — four years, $21 million — suggest that the Padres are valuing Matsui in a high-leverage role, possibly even as closer, though it could be that he forms the left-handed component of a closing tandem with Robert Suarez, who signed a three-year, $30 million deal last offseason. As things currently stand, the 28-year-old Matsui figures to get late-round looks in leagues where saves are scarce.
Lourdes Gurriel signs with Diamondbacks
The analysis for this one is almost too easy. Gurriel is remaining with the same team to fill an obvious need. The Diamondbacks were facing the prospect of starting both Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy in the outfield with Gurriel and Tommy Pham testing the open market, but now at least one is back for 2024. Gurriel himself wasn’t a certainty to find full-time work given his right-handedness and subpar on-base skills, so by that measure, this signing is good for his Fantasy value. He also did his best work at Chase Field, batting .261 with 15 homers and an .830 OPS there compared to .262, nine and .715 on the road. He’ll make for a fine fourth or fifth outfielder in Rotisserie leagues if you’re looking for power at that stage.
Michael Wacha signs with Royals
Wacha’s ERA has defied projections each of the past two years, beating xFIP by more than half a run and xERA by more than a run, and venue probably had something to do with it. His ERA in San Diego this past year was 2.69 compared to 4.11 everywhere else. He should enjoy pitching in Kansas City just as much, but what he won’t enjoy is the lineup backing him, which is a far cry from what he had in San Diego. Asking Wacha to repeat a low-threes ERA was already a tall order, but mid-threes in this new environment is certainly possible. As with Seth Lugo, who preceded Wacha in going from San Diego to Kansas City this offseason, the reduced win potential lowers Wacha’s overall Fantasy appeal, dropping him outside my top 75 at starting pitcher.
Tyler Glasnow traded to Dodgers
The Dodgers made this deal and then immediately signed Glasnow to a five-year, $135 million deal, so they are fully bought in. Pitch for pitch, he’s as good as any starter in baseball, his 2.75 xFIP ranking first among those with at least 120 innings and his 12.2 K/9 ranking second. But there’s a reason I use 120 innings as the threshold, and that’s because the 30-year-old just set a career high with that number in 2023. Most of the time he missed last year was due to an oblique injury, but he has a history of elbow troubles, including Tommy John surgery in 2021. Pitching for the Dodgers will only further ensure he’s an ace for the time that he’s healthy — such that I’m willing to rank him in my top 10 — but it’s an upset if he makes even 25 starts.
As for the Rays, they’ve perfected the art of spinning off a soon-to-be free agent for an up-and-comer who turns out to be nearly as good, if not better. That they considered Ryan Pepiot (along with platoon bat Jonny Deluca) to be an acceptable return for a pitcher of Glasnow’s caliber speaks well of his upside. I was already fond of the right-hander, having seen him turn his biggest weakness into a genuine strength in 2023. Pepiot went from averaging 4.4 BB/9 between the majors and minors in 2022 to 1.4 BB/9 just a year later, and you see what it did for his other numbers.
Clearly, the Rays were impressed, and given their reputation for maxmizing pitcher outcomes, this trade does even more for Pepiot’s Fantasy value than Glasnow’s. His one issue during his trial last year was home runs, and Tropicana Field is better than Dodger Stadium for preventing those. More than anything, though, Pepiot is likely a rotation mainstay for the Rays while the Dodgers might have brought in other arms to compete with him. He’s RP-only in CBS Sports leagues to begin the year, but he’s worth targeting in the middle-to-late rounds of every Fantasy draft.
Jack Flaherty signs with Tigers
As Flaherty battled injuries in the years following his fourth-place Cy Young finish in 2019, when he emerged as a Fantasy ace, there was reason to hope he could return to that form if he could just hold it together long enough. Well, he basically did in 2023, and … yikes. A year of struggles split between the Cardinals and Orioles left him to sign a one-year deal with the Tigers, and while there are few better places to pitch than Detroit, venue hasn’t been Flaherty’s issue. Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press suggests that pitching coach Chris Fetter and assistant Robin Lund already have a plan to fix him — and it’s true Flaherty’s velocity has held pretty steady throughout his injuries — but I’ll need to see real results this spring before I think of investing draft capital in him.
Jung Hoo Lee signs with Giants
2023 KBO: .318 BA (330 AB), 6 HR, 6 SB, .860 OPS, 49 BB, 23 K
Among the stars coming out of East Asia this offseason, Lee ranks a distant second to Yoshinobu Yamamoto, but he’s the biggest bat even though he doesn’t meet the modern conventions of a “big bat.” By that, I mean he’s not really a power hitter, which is reassuring in a way since power doesn’t always translate from Japan and Korea. Lee is from the latter, where we haven’t seen as many success stories as from the former, but he’s a career .340 hitter with about twice as many walks as strikeouts over the past three years. The Luis Arraez path leaves little margin for error in Fantasy, meaning anything short of a .300 batting average will have limited appeal, but Lee should at least be of use in points leagues, particularly if he bats leadoff.
Seth Lugo signs with Royals
The good news is Lugo signed with a team that won’t be the least bit tempted to shift him back to the bullpen. The bad news is that team is the Royals, who won’t help him to win much. Of course, he won only eight times this past year with the Padres and was still pretty viable for Fantasy, proving that his deep arsenal of pitches (with a 3,200 rpm curveball being the highlight) could work just as well over six-inning stretches. His plus control and above-average ground-ball rate should keep his ERA respectable, particularly with where he’ll now be pitching his home games, which should ensure he’ll be slightly better than a streaming option in 12-team leagues. But this destination likely prevents him from being a trendy sleeper.
Will Smith signs with Royals
You may have thought you had seen the last of Will Smith as a closer, but you weren’t counting on him signing with the Royals, one of the few teams without a favorite to close or even a viable candidate. “Finishing games is definitely why I think Will was so attracted to us, and there’s opportunity here to do that,” GM J.J. Picollo said of the signing. Of course, Smith hasn’t actually pitched at the caliber of a closer since a two-year stint with San Francisco that ended in 2019. He’s vulnerable to the long ball and has seen his strikeouts dwindle the past couple years. He offers some clarity to a bullpen without any, but if things go too well, he’ll just get traded out of the closer role, in all likelihood. Treat him as a bottom-of-the-barrel source of saves.
Shohei Ohtani signs with Dodgers
Six years ago, Shohei Ohtani was coming to Los Angeles. Now, he’s going to … Los Angeles, this time minus the Anaheim, agreeing Saturday to a 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers. As is generally the case for the biggest free agents, the implications of this signing are greater for real life than for Fantasy. Players this good aren’t subject to a role change with a new team, and their skills would typically translate anywhere. But if we were to rank the best destinations for Ohtani’s Fantasy value, the Dodgers would have been near the top of the list. For more on his new team and what matters even more for Ohtani’s 2024 value, check out Scott White’s full-length article.
Tyler O’Neill traded to Red Sox
O’Neill showed the extent of his upside in 2021, when he hit .286 with 34 homers, 15 steals and a .912 OPS, but he’s been a bust since then. Injuries have likely played a part — he’s gone on the IL with shoulder, hamstring, back and foot injuries during that time — but that’s hardly cause for reassurance and possibly a consequence of his stout and muscular build. For as strong as he is, he hasn’t replicated the exit velocities from that 2021 season, whether we’re talking averge or max. Fenway Park can have a transformative effect on hitters, which gives O’Neill some late-round what-if appeal, but the glut of outfielders in Boston likely also gives him a short leash. Presumably, Ceddanne Rafaela begins the year in the minors now, with Wilyer Abreu getting the bulk of the playing time in right.
Jeimer Candelario signs with Reds
While this move is clearly good for Candelario’s Fantasy value, him being a prolific doubles hitter going to the majors’ most homer-friendly park, it’s a major annoyance to anyone who’s invested in the Reds’ youth movement. Their infield was already overloaded after graduating Spencer Steer, Elly De La Cruz, Matt McLain, Christian Encarnacion-Strand and Noelvi Marte to the majors last year. If you counted five names there, you counted correctly, and that’s before factoring in holdover Jonathan India. Only one, Steer, has shown the ability to play the outfield, but unless he moves there permanently, with Encarnacion-Strand becoming a full-time DH, there wasn’t a road map for playing all six every day. Add Candelario, and whew, what a mess.
Maybe a couple of those infielders become trade bait for Dylan Cease or someone else, but if not, I’d be worried about the playing time for India, Encarnacion-Strand, Steer and Marte, in that order. And even if India and Steer are traded, their power may not translate so well to another ballpark. Kind of feels like there’s another shoe yet to drop, in which case I’m reluctant to commit to any major moves in the rankings, but those four are in a precarious spot right now. As for Candelario, Statcast estimates he would have had 30 home runs if he played every game at Great American Ball Park last year. He won’t play every game there, of course, but a possible 25-homer outcome is enough for me to move him past Alec Bohm at an already loaded third base.
Eduardo Rodriguez signs with Diamondbacks
There aren’t any venues more pitcher-friendly than Comerica Park, which Rodriguez is now departing, but Chase Field is closer than you think. His home/away splits were virtually identical last year anyway. The supporting cast improves with this deal, but then again, you can’t expect him to deliver much better than the 13-9 record he had in 2023. Early in the year, it looked like something might have clicked for Rodriguez — he was throwing a bit harder and using his cutter more — but then after he missed all of June with a ruptured finger pulley, it was business as usual with a 4.24 ERA over his final 15 starts. He’ll eat some innings and pile up quality starts for the Diamondbacks, but he’s still basically a back-end starter for Fantasy — more than a streamer, but not by much.
Juan Soto traded to Yankees
It’s clear now that San Diego wasn’t a great fit for Soto. He’s a career .231 hitter with a .783 OPS there, including .240 and .827 in what was his one full season with the Padres. Of his 35 homers in 2023, 23 came on the road, where he hit a more Soto-like .307 with a 1.026 OPS. The question is how much better he’ll get at Yankee Stadium, because he will get better — the splits tell us that much. For a complete breakdown, along with what this deal means for Michael King and the Padres, check out Scott White’s full-length article.
Craig Kimbrel signs with Orioles
GM Mike Elias has already confirmed that Kimbrel will serve as the Orioles closer in 2024, calling him “one of the best closers in baseball history,” and the 35-year-old makes for a nice stopgap measure with Felix Bautista expected to spend all of 2024 recovering from Tommy John surgery. The Orioles seemed like they already had a pretty good closer alternative in Yennier Cano, but he’s not as much of a bat-misser and was pretty shaky when he stepped into the role late last August.
Cano’s Fantasy value plummets with this signing, but the Orioles would likely fall back on him if Kimbrel implodes, which isn’t an insane thought given his inconsistencies over the past few years. His stuff is still closer-caliber, but there are times when his location breaks down, and the results can be ugly, as happened in the NLCS last year. Still, given the certainty of his role, the strength of his supporting cast, and the likelihood of a big strikeout total, Kimbrel figures to be one of the top 15 relievers off the board in 2024.
Alex Verdugo traded to Yankees
This reads like the Red Sox ridding themselves of a headache since none of the three pitchers they got back is a notable name in prospect circles, but Verdugo is a player of some consequence in Fantasy. Going to Yankee Stadium is always a good thing for a left-handed hitter, but maybe less for him since he tends to hit balls more on the ground and up the middle. His xHR at Yankee Stadium the past two years is 32 vs. the 24 he actually hit, but the entire disparity is from 2022 (it was actually negative in 2023). It’s reason to hope for closer to 20 homers than 15 (not that he’s ever quite achieved that lesser mark) and puts Verdugo in consideration to be one of the top 40 outfielders drafted in 2024
Erick Fedde signs with White Sox
Fedde was a pretty good prospect back in the day, but he got enough chances for the Nationals from 2017 through 2022 that it hardly seems relevant now. What is relevant is how he lit up the Korean league in his one year there, going 20-6 with a 2.00 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 10.4 K/9 to win the league’s equivalent of both Cy Young and MVP. It’s a lesser league, of course, but it’s the same one where Merrill Kelly revitalized his career with numbers that weren’t nearly as impressive as Fedde’s.
It may be that the league was more a backdrop to showcase Fedde’s changes rather than instill them. He spent last offseason at the PUSH Performance workout facility remaking both his mechanics and arsenal, adding a sweeper and split-change that White Sox pitching advisor Brian Bannister compared to Logan Webb’s. More than anything, Webb stands out for his 62.1 percent ground-ball rate, tops among qualifiers last year. Fedde’s rate in Korea was 70 percent. It’s anybody’s guess how those changes will translate to the majors, but make no mistake: they are considerable changes. And given the precedent of pitchers like Kelly, whose time overseas was a total game-changer, I’d be surprise if Fedde lasted into the late rounds on Draft Day.
Jarred Kelenic traded to Braves
The Braves also acquired left-hander Marco Gonzales (later flipped to the Pirates) and first baseman Evan White in what was mostly a salary dump for the Mariners, who received right-hander Jackson Kowar and pitching prospect Cole Phillips in the deal. The big name here, though, is Kelenic, who was regarded as one of the top prospects in baseball just a couple years ago. His stock is obviously down after three years struggling to make contact at the big-league level, but the 2023 version was the best we’ve seen so far — one who wasn’t an automatic out against left-handers and sliders.
Joining the Braves lineup takes some pressure off, and it’s too early to say the 24-year-old is a finished product. Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos has already confirmed that the Braves plan to play Kelenic in left next year, possibly in a platoon with Vaughn Grissom. The deal may renew interest in Kelenic as a late-round flier in five-outfielder leagues, though the burnout the Mariners experienced with him is shared by many Fantasy Baseballers.
Jackson Chourio signs long-term deal
Chourio of course doesn’t change teams with his eight-year, $82 million deal with the Brewers, but it’s no less worth mentioning here for the impact it has on his 2024 value. The 19-year-old (he’ll turn 20 before opening day) is now a near shoo-in to make the team out of spring training. There are no longer any service time ramifications to consider, and if he’s not with the Brewers from the start of his rookie season, no amount of hardware he wins will score the team extra draft picks.
It’s a big leap for a player his age and likely won’t come without growing pains, but his strikeout rate dropped from 26.9 percent in 2022 to 17.8 percent in 2023 even as he ascended to the upper minors for the first time. His power/speed combo gives him superstar potential, and with outfield in a weakened state, it’s not crazy to regard Chourio as a top-20 option there right away
Luis Severino signs with Mets
Severino remained in our good graces even as he threw a combined 18 innings from 2019 through 2021, and that patience seemed to be rewarded when he delivered a 3.18 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 9.9 K/9 across 102 innings in 2022. But boy was 2023 a different story, the kind of out-and-out disaster that begs the question “why even bother?” Are the Mets the organization to change our minds? Certainly, they’re not known for performing magic tricks, but they’re willing to pay the guy $13 million for a year. And a deeper dive reveals that the characteristics of Severino’s pitches — from the velocity to the spin rate to the movement — didn’t actually change that much. He’s no more than a late-round flier at this point, but one who retains intriguing upside.
Sonny Gray signs with Cardinals
The Cardinals continue their rotation overhaul with one of the biggest prizes on the free agent market, AL Cy Young runner-up Sonny Gray. Of course, in Fantasy, Gray has long been regarded as second-tier, his occasional flashes of brilliance too often undermined by injury and inconsistency. Then again, he was pretty stable during his two-year stint with the Twins, compiling a 2.90 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 8.9 K/9. He led all qualifiers with a 2.83 FIP in 2023 and also unveiled a new sweeper that Eno Sarris of The Athletic considers a game-changer. Still, between his past fake-outs, his so-so strikeout rate, and the fact that 2023 represented his first time crossing the 180-inning threshold since 2015, you’re better off thinking of Gray as a rotation stabilizer than a true standout in Fantasy, targeting him as your No. 3 or 4 in 12-team leagues.
Kenta Maeda signs with Tigers
Maeda’s high ERA and low innings total will likely make him an afterthought in most Fantasy drafts, but there’s upside for the Tigers to dream on. His 10.9 K/9 ranked 12th among pitchers with at least 100 innings, which is a good place to start when talking upside, and his 12.8 percent swinging-strike rate ranked 23rd. His penchant for hard contract did yield some troubles with the long ball, but moving to the venue that Statcast rates dead last for home runs over the past three years should help to mitigate that. More than anything, it’s health that will determine Maeda’s fate in 2024, and with him turning 36, there will be some bumps along those lines. But for a reminder of how good it can be, he had a nine-start stretch after returning from a triceps injury last June in which he put together a 2.36 ERA, 0.95 WHIP and 11.2 K/9.
Eugenio Suarez traded to Diamondbacks
T-Mobile Park was the single worst venue for right-handed hitters last year, according to Statcast, so at first glance, this would seem to be an upgrade for the four-time 30-homer man. But his power production was better at home than on the road the past two years, and Chase Field actually rates worse for home runs specifically. No, Suarez’s issues have less to do with his surroundings than his profile. A strikeout rate over 30 percent basically condemns him to a low batting average, and his fly-ball and pull tendencies, while allowing for big home run totals at times, only make it worse. He’s best used as a corner infielder in Rotisserie leagues. His arrival at third base does close one potential path to at-bats for prospect Jordan Lawlar, but the 21-year-old’s future is likely at shortstop anyway.
Reynaldo Lopez signs with Braves
Normally, the signing of a middle reliever — even one of Lopez’s ilk — wouldn’t merit a mention here, but word is that the Braves plan to stretch him out as a starter this spring. It’s unclear whether it’s a contingency measure or Plan A for Lopez — the rest of the Braves’ offseason maneuvering may ultimately determine which — but it’s a noteworthy development for a pitcher who hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2020. The will-be 30-year-old struggled in his years as a starter before finding success in relief, gaining a couple ticks on his fastball while doing away with his changeup and curveball. The Braves must see some untapped potential here, though, and if he indeed holds down a rotation spot for them, the win potential alone would make him a potential Fantasy asset.
Lance Lynn signs with Cardinals
Lynn has had a nice career and goes back to where it all started in St. Louis. Unfortunately, he’s clearly on the downside of it now, having struggled to get his ERA below 6.00 last year. A move to the Dodgers at the trade deadline didn’t do much to improve his standing, and if they can’t straighten him out with all they’ve done to reclaim other veteran pitchers, then it’s hard to imagine the Cardinals will. Lynn can still deliver a decent strikeout total on occasion, but given how susceptible he was to blowups in 2023, you should think of him as more of a risk/reward streamer than a staple for your Fantasy staff in 2024.
Aaron Nola signs with Phillies
This seven-year deal ensures the status quo for a player who, frankly, could have done with a change. Nola is coming off his second year in three with an ERA around 4.50, and a new team might have offered more reason for optimism in 2024. Of course, there are other reasons to believe he could bounce back. A look at the game log shows no shortage of brilliant starts — the kind only accessible to aces, more or less — and he showed improvement in the postseason, apparently making a mechanical adjustment to help him locate on the edges of the plate better. We know now his home runs issues are recurring, though, which should discount him slightly on Draft Day despite his ace potential.