Injury, trade, and free agency. We haven't even made it to Spring Training and the usual in-season topics have already arrived in the preseason. It wasn't a busy news week, per se, but it was a week where ADP marks showed some slight alteration because of developments. Much to get to, so let's get to it! ...
(Reminder: Each player is followed by his current NFBC (National Fantasy Baseball Championship) ADP mark. The following two numbers are the highest that player has been selected in an NFBC draft and then, the lowest that player has been selected in an NFBC draft. Entering the midpoint of February, these NFBC numbers come from a collection of 147 drafts.)
Straining to Stay in the Top 10
The Cleveland Indians have been one of the more disappointing teams this offseason. Instead of taking full advantage of what appears to be a shrinking window on American League title contention, the Tribe have talked more about re-tooling, moving on, saving money, and letting productive players walk. All of this comes during the PRIME years of two of their franchise pillars.
Both Jose Ramirez (#3 overall, high - 2/low - 8) and Francisco Lindor (4, 3/14) have reached rarified air ... top-5 overall fantasy talents who play for the same team. It's well-deserved, too, as both produced identical 7.9 WARs in 2018. But, in the case of Lindor, all of that changed last week.
Word emerged Friday afternoon that Lindor had suffered a fairly severe calf strain while working out in preparation for spring camp. The immediate read on his time away is between 7-9 weeks. That's significant and it should adjust your thoughts on him heading into the new year.
First, the '7-to-9 weeks' ... that would take Lindor's absence right up to - and, beyond - Opening Day. Let's also remember to never treat that time frame as gospel, either. This is an initial read on the situation could change - for better or worse - as we head through March. What we do know is that Lindor will miss a lot of prep time. He'll also be sidelined for the first time in his MLB career. Since debuting in June 2015, the 25-year old has played in 574 of the Indians 585 regular season games. We have no evidence as to how this star recovers from injury nor how he handles so much time away. At the very least, it's a reasonable question.
Secondly ... because of his impressive play-all-the-time track record, it's fair to expect that Lindor will push to be in the lineup on Opening Day (March 28 in Minneapolis). That could mean he's returning from his muscle strain at slightly less than full health. And, have you realized how unforgiving the weather can be in late-March/early-April?? The Indians play 16 of their first 19 games in cold-weather, no-roof, ballparks. That doesn't shape up well for Lindor, even if he's on the field and playing. Oh, and how about running in the immediate aftermath? Remember, Lindor stole a career-best 25 bags last year. An honest assessment says matching that mark will be difficult.
In recent years, we've seen the likes of Josh Donaldson (both '17 and '18) and Daniel Murphy ('18) both start the year with injuries that were supposed to be gone by Opening Day. They weren't. Spring Training injuries are quite often more of a problem than many teams (and, us!) want to admit.
So, what's it all mean to the ADP boards?? At this point, Lindor is outside my 1st-round until we get a more concrete read on his status. Within his own position of shortstop, Lindor is now clearly behind the healthy bodies of Trea Turner (10, 3/25) and Alex Bregman (11, 5/20).
The Real Phill
One of the longest-running soap operas of the offseason finally came to a conclusion last week. No, not the Bryce Harper (17, 7/28)/Manny Machado (14, 5/25) "Race to $300 Million." Instead, the Miami Marlins finally found a prospect package to their liking and flipped J.T. Realmuto (54, 33/80) to divisional foe, Philadelphia.
As noted in this space last week, Realmuto is the top fantasy asset at the Catcher spot. It's a horrid group overall, but Realmuto has the makings of a four-category standout. A line of .280/20/75/75 is achievable in Citizens Bank Park (a yard that has ranked in the top-7 for ballpark factor home runs every year since 2013.). Realmuto used to steal (12 thefts in '16), but that marked dipped all the way to three a year ago (no doubt affected by a pre-season back injury). Additionally, Gabe Kapler's Phillies took a shot on the stolen base just 95 times (ranking in the bottom-quarter among all MLB teams in that category).
This trade is still a big plus for Realmuto. His home/road splits have been dramatic throughout his career (a career wRC+ of 87 at Marlins Park vs. a career wRC+ of 127 on the road). Just getting him to a different yard is a boost. But, alas, he's still a catcher. He's still due a maximum of 135 games played. He's still at-risk for injury/wear down. He's the best of the sorry MLB crew, but he would not be an investment for me because of my long-time catcher strategy ... why take 130 games of a good catcher when I can Gleybar Torres (55, 25/105) or George Springer (57, 37/92) at the same spot? I'll go 'blah' at the catchers' spot if it means investing instead on arms or everyday talents.
Closers Aren't What They Used to Be
Just the other day I was looking over the 9th inning situations for all 30 MLB franchises. Roughly speaking, two-thirds of them DO NOT have an end-all, be-all, every-single-time-we-have-the-lead-late-this-is-the-guy-in-the-9th-inning ... SINGULAR option. When it comes to getting the final three outs, baseball is pushing the needle to specific matchups and analytics over tradition.
The purest example of this new thinking is the on-going lack of interest in free agent superstud, Craig Kimbrel (67, 41/102). Teams would love to have the free agent, but no one is currently willing to pay over $100 million to make it happen.
To MLB front offices, I say ... Welcome to the Club!!!
For years, I have refused to pay up for the top dogs at the relief position. Continually, I've been able to find total difference-makers much, much later (last year, it was the Cy Young-worthy, Blake Treinen). We all know the extreme injury risk with these guys. Then, there is also the risk of a manager with a quick flip of opinion based off one or two struggles. Finally, a good 75% of these guys get rolling for three years or so, and then fall flat on their face.
Kimbrel is not that guy, of course. In fact, his regular season stats are VASTLY SUPERIOR to the great Mariano Rivera. Seriously, look it up. Kimbrel smokes Mo in career ERA, WHIP, K/9, and saves-per-162.
Fantasy owners have Kimbrel currently slotted as the 3rd-RP off the board. As usual, one year of big numbers (this year, it's Edwin Diaz (47, 30/64)) has them convinced that the player is the best at what he does and, thus, needs to be drafted early. Treinen (61, 42/86) is also ahead of Kimbrel. It's foolish thinking. Last season, did you see a single rankings system with Kenley Jansen not listed as the top closer?? It was an easy choice. It was, of course, the wrong choice (and, don't blame injury or bad luck ... Jansen wasn't even pitching last spring and many, many, many people chose to ignore it.). Also ... coming into last season, BOTH Diaz and Treinen were listed outside the first 15 RPs off-the-board and BOTH Diaz and Treinen weren't even certain to have a job by the time May rolled around. It's like this every year.
Kimbrel, Diaz, Treinen, and Jansen are all very good. All four of them profile as 30+ save arms. But, I'm not going to pay for it. Who will I take? Give me these high-ceiling "closers" at a much discounted price ... Jose LeClerc (118, 80/199), Corey Knebal (150, 87/255), Cody Allen (209, 84/399), David Robertson (227, 124/411), A.J. Minter (260, 143/396), and others. None of those are guarantees. But, all of them are a much better risk/reward proposition than the upper-crust at the relief spot. And, as usual, the replacement cost for a failure with them is not near as expensive.
You can hear Kyle each weeknight on 'The SiriusXM Fantasy Drive' from 8-10 ET, Sirius 210, XM 87.
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