Boston Red Sox
What kind of Fantasy value is there in the starting rotation?
Chris Sale (Tommy John) should make his way back to the mound this season but the timetable for his return is still unknown at this juncture. The Sox current rotation is full of veterans with limited upside. Nathan Eovaldi and Eduardo Rodriguez (maybe Garrett Richards) should be usable in most fantasy leagues but they aren't much to get excited about. The most intriguing player, should he make his way into the rotation, is 24-year-old Tanner Houck. The former first round draft pick got his first taste of the big leagues last season and was impressive. He won all three of his starts, striking out 21 batters, while posting a sparkling .53 ERA across 17 innings of work. His control wasn't great (4.79 BB/9) but he struckout 11.12 batters per nine and was able to keep the ball in the park (.53 HR/9). The youngster's 95.9% LOB% and .161 BABIP are unsustainable and the advanced metrics aren't bad (3.73 xFIP/4.15 SIERA), but they are certainly a far cry from that tighty .53 ERA he posted. Another worry is that he relied purely on fastballs and sliders in 2020. His fastballs (1.7 wFA and 1.4 wSI) and slider (3.9 wSL) were plus pitches but he will probably have to establish another pitch if he is going to be an effective starter at the Major League level. 97.7% of his pitches last season were either traditional fastballs or sliders--with a split-finger making up the last 2.3%. With such a small sample size of MLB experience, and so many questions, he probably isn't someone you want to concern yourself with come draft day. However, if the youngster does find his way into the rotation in 2021, he will be available in most fantasy leagues and might be worth your attention at that point.
Will they have a Second Baseman?
The Sox haven't had a true everyday second baseman since Dustin Pedroia caught the injury bug in 2017. Many utility guys have filtered through and manned the position but none ever truly made it their job. Well it looks like more of the same will be the case in 2021 as their top two candidates for the job both play a variety of positions. The two newcomers, Kiki Hernandez and Marwin Gonzalez, are both solid defensive utility guys that leave much to be desired at the plate--each have career wOBA mark of .315 (the average wOBA in the MLB last season was .320). Additionally, neither of them are really second basemen and are more suited to play basically any other position. Hernandez is slated to be the second baseman out of the gate yet his career UZR at 2B is -5.3, which is his worst UZR rating for any position. Similarly, Gonzalez's -2.3 career UZR at second base is his worst positional rating aside from shortstop. Both are plus outfielders, and will probably play out there as well, but neither are likely to stake a claim on the everyday 2B role because they are utility men that are below average at the position and they can't hit well enough to make up for that. Christian Arroyo is another player that will be in the running for the job. At just 25 years old, he is a much younger option for the Sox, though he hasn't proven to be much with the bat (career .278 wOBA with 9 HR).
Toronto Blue Jays
Change of scenery for Matz
Steven Matz pitched the first six seasons of his career in a Mets uniform. Will the move up north help him find success? Matz' turbulent career hit a new low point last season. He posted an 0-5 record and an absurdly robust 9.68 ERA. The 29-year-old was absolutely hammered by the long ball, giving up a league high 4.11 HR/9 (among pitchers with 30+ innings). His career worst HR/9 mark previously was 1.62. The good news is that his 4.15 xFIP and 4.05 SIERA in 2020 were rather respectable and on par with his career numbers (4.01 xFIP, 4.12 SIERA). A change of scenery can often jolt a player into success, and Matz is at a prime age to make a turn around, however moving to the Rogers Centre is a little worrisome. The Jays home field has the 4th highest Basic (5yr) Park Factor at 103, while the Citi Field has the second lowest at 95. Now it is unknown where exactly the Jays will be playing their home games for the majority of the season so this might not even factor in. They are set to play down in Florida to start the season with the potential to then play in Buffalo for the remainder of the season. Either way, Matz will have to make some significant improvements to make him a consideration in anything but the deepest of fantasy leagues.
Toronto's big offseason signing of George Springer means that someone who was playing regularly in the outfield last season will be seeing significantly less playing time in 2021. Springer will be playing center field so the most likely player to be relegated to a bench role is Randal Grichuk. The 29-year-old Grichuk started 48 of the Jays 60 games in center, while Lourdes Gurriel Jr. started 50 games in left and Teoscar Hernandez started 43 in the outfield (primarily in right). Of these players Grichuk was clearly the inferior offensive player during the 2020 campaign. He slashed .273/.312/.481 with 12 homers and a 109 wRC+. Gurriel Jr. slashed .308/.348/.534 with 11 homers and a 135 wRC+. Hernandez slashed .289/.340/.579 with 16 homers and a 143 wRC+. Grichuk is a more experienced defender but he is nothing special so that shouldn't factor into his playing time much, if any. Drafting any of the starting Blue Jay outfielders would behoove fantasy managers, just don't expect Grichuk to be one of them.
Be wary of Kole Calhoun
On the surface, Calhoun's first season in the desert was a successful one. His 16 homers finished tied for 3rd in the NL and his .300 ISO was the 8th best across all of baseball. The move to the hitter friendly ballpark in Arizona helped the 33-year-old post career power numbers, however, the underlying numbers suggest that this kind of output is unlikely to be replicated. He hit just .226 and posted a robust 28.6% HR/FB that is 13.4% higher than his career average. Sure the ball carries more at Chase Field than at Angels Stadium but that is a huge disparity and it's hard to trust. It makes it even more difficult to have faith when you consider that his .300 ISO in 2020 was .64 points higher than his career best and .119 points higher than his career average ISO. Calhoun did improve his eye at the plate as he posted career bests in O-Swing% (27.5%) and walk percentage (12.3%). However, those slight improvements aren't enough for me to consider drafting a guy who had a "breakout" season of sorts at age 32 while batting .226.
Was 2019 an anomaly or will Marte bounce back in 2021?
Unsurprisingly, Ketel Marte's insane 2019 season in which he slashed .329/.389/.592 and hit 32 homers, could not be replicated in last year's 60-game season. For the 2020 campaign Marte slashed .287/.323/.409 and managed to hit just a pair of dingers. Marte's contact percentages actually improved last season but he didn't come close to hitting the ball with the kind of authority he did back in 2019. His Hard% went down 9.6%, his IFFB% went up 3.0%, while his HR/FB percentage plummeted to 3.8% (15.2% lower than in 2019). Marte seemed to press a little bit at the plate and he became over aggressive. He chased 2.6% more balls out of the strike zone and as a result he walked half as much last season as he did during the 2019 campaign (3.6% compared to 8.4%). The short season certainly made it difficult for everybody and we certainly don't want to condemn the 27-year-old just yet; however, Marte's numbers last season are on par with those he posted during his first four seasons before his big breakout campaign. In 2019 Marte had 628 plate appearances and hit 32 home runs; over the other five seasons in his career he has just 24 home runs in 1,753 plate appearances. He will have to prove that he is more than a one-hit wonder before fantasy owners start trusting him. On a positive note, his versatility will be nice for fantasy rosters as he is expected to be 2B and OF eligible for the 2021 season.
Around the League
Brett Gardner, OF, NYY
The Yankees signed the 37-year-old veteran outfielder to a one year deal on Friday. Gardner is unlikely to be an everyday player unless there are injuries to the Yankees outfield, which there almost certainly will be. Over the last decade Garner has had at least 550 plate appearances for the Yankees in every season but two (last year being the 2nd). It is highly unlikely that he will reach that mark this season as he is coming off of three consecutive porous campaigns and the Yankees have a plethora of better options right now. That being said, Gardner has defied the odds his entire career, so he might just be impactful in the Bronx yet again. Though one thing is (almost) for certain: he won't be impactful on your fantasy roster.
Dinelson Lamet, SP, SD
On Friday Lamet said "I feel like I'm 100% myself." The 28-year-old has been throwing bullpen sessions and working to get his arm strength back after he was forced out late last season. He underwent a platelet-rich injection in October after he felt discomfort around his elbow and was forced to exit his final regular season start on September 25th. So he seems to be progressing in his rehabilitation, however, there is no guarantee that he will be ready for Opening Day. He still has not been cleared to throw sliders which is the pitch that causes the most stress on his elbow. With a plethora of solid starters the Padres are likely going to remain cautious with the youngster as the season gets going. If you are planning on drafting Lamet it will be imperative that you pay attention to his progression before draft day. If he does get back to full health and pitches anywhere near the way he did in 2020 he will be a steal in the draft. Last year he posted a 2.09 ERA and .86 WHIP across 69.0 innings; he finished 4th in the NL Cy Young voting.
Taijuan Walker, SP, NYM
The Mets signed Walker to a two-year, $20 million deal, according to multiple sources. The 28-year-old has a career 3.84 ERA and has been in the big leagues since 2013. After Tommy John surgery cost him most of his 2018, and 2019 seasons, Walker was healthy last season and pitched very well. He posted a 2.70 ERA across 53.1 innings for Seattle and Toronto. Walker isn't a big strikeout guy (8.17 K/9 career) and he doesn't possess great off speed pitches; so he doesn't get batters to chase (24.2% O-Swing% in '20) or swing and miss (7.8% SwStr% in '20). However, his fastball proved to be good last year; his vFA was 93.5 while his wFB was a solid 4.7. His fastball was the only pitch that came in the positive in runs above average in 2020 so don't get too optimistic about Walker here in 2021. That being said, it's now been nearly three years since his surgery, and he is pitching in one of the most pitcher friendly parks in the league. He has the makings of being a solid end of the rotation starter which means he will have some value in deeper fantasy leagues.
Stephen Strasburg, SP, WSH
Strasburg threw off a bullpen mound on Friday. When asked about the session manager Dave Martinez said, "He looked good, real good." This is great news for the 32-year-old righty who was forced to undergo carpal tunnel surgery on his throwing hand in August of last year. Assuming he doesn't suffer any setbacks, Strasburg should be good to go come the start of the regular season.
Corey Kluber, SP, NYY
Kluber pitched just one inning last season before being shut down due to a shoulder surgery. The season before that he threw just 35.2 innings before breaking his arm on a comebacker. So when the Yankees signed him to a one-year, $11 million deal this offseason it was hard to know what kind of Kluber they were going to get. He will be turning 35 in April and he has hardly pitched since 2018. He did win 20 games with a 2.89 ERA and was third in the AL Cy Young voting that year...but it's two years and two significant injuries later. All news out of the Yankees camp is that he is progressing and looking good. Kluber himself is saying he feels great and is raring to go. It's hard to see him being anything near the pitcher that he was, especially with Yankee stadium being his new home field, but if he is healthy he will probably be worth a roster spot in most fantasy formats. Personally, I would only take a flyer on him late in the draft so I won't be disappointed if he doesn't perform and I am forced to drop him.
Eddie Rosario, OF, CLE
The Indians signed Rosario to a one-year deal this offseason which tells you that Rosario wants a year to prove himself before he seeks out a multi-year deal. The 29-year-old showed flashes of brilliance over his six years with the Twins but he never really put it all together. Since 2017 Rosario has hit 96 home runs, which is the 16th most for outfielders in that stretch, so he does have some power. The problem is that Rosario is a free swinger and he gets himself out a lot. He owns a career O-Swing% of 42.8% and a walk percentage of just 4.7%. He did walk at a career high rate in 2020 (8.2%), which is a sign of improvement, but it's nothing to get too excited about. He can definitely hit the ball (career .277 avg) but if he doesn't improve on his plate discipline it's hard to see him having prolonged success. Fantasy owners will hope the change of scenery will be what he needs. He does own a career .353 average at Progressive Field (his new home venue), which is encouraging.
Luis Arraez, 2B/OF, MIN
The departures of Eddie Rosario, Marwin Gonzalez, and Ehire Adrianza gives Arraez a better chance to seize and hold an everyday gig for the Twins. Since breaking into the Bigs in 2019 the 23-year-old has shown that he can absolutely rake. However, he doesn't hit for power (4 career HR), and he isn't the greatest defensive player. Those kinds of things can be overlooked when you hit like Arraez has. He owns a career slash line of .331/.390/.429. If he can find his niche on the defensive side of the ball he could be a great table setter for a potent Twins lineup. The Twins did bring in Andreltron Simmons at shortstop and the early indication is that Jorge Polanco will move over to second. This may be an issue for Arraez's playing time, however he does have major league experience in the outfield and at third base; so he will probably end up bouncing all over the diamond as the Twins' utility man.
Nolan Arenado, 3B, STL
Arenado was an extremely consistent fantasy superstar while he played for the Rockies. From 2015 through 2019 he never hit below .287, hit less than 37 homers, or collected less than 110 RBI. Moving out of the thin air in Colorado will probably make those numbers less likely. Away from Coors Field he is a .263 career hitter, while he is a career .322 hitter at Coors. That is a stark difference, yes, but he is an accomplished hitter. He should be able to be successful in St. Louis and having a bonafide stud like Paul Goldschmidt hitting either in front, or behind him, should help. He probably isn't going to put up the prolific numbers he has the last six years, but he is still a big name, so fantasy managers will still be drafting him in the first few rounds. I would not suggest grabbing him any earlier than the 4th round (ideally the 5th or lower) of a 10-team league draft.
Buster Posey, C, SF
After opting out of the 2020 season Posey is back for what looks to be the last time. He will turn 34 in March and the rigors of playing behind the plate for his entire career has slowed him down. He had his worst statistical season in 2019. He hit .257, with 7 home runs, while posting a 84 wRC+; his first ever wRC+ under 100 in his career (besides his debut season in which he had just 17 PA). Joey Bart, who is set to be Posey's successor behind the plate, had his chance to show what he could do last season with Posey out of the picture. Saying that he did not perform offensively would be an understatement (.233/.288/.320, 0 HR) so Posey should have the opportunity to get the bulk of the playing time. Posey won't be the MVP caliber player he once was but catcher is a fickle and weak position. So if he can hit somewhere in the high .200s, and hit double digit homers, he should have a place on most fantasy rosters.
Nelson Cruz, DH, MIN
The ageless wonder re-signed a single year deal with the Twins a few weeks ago. Cruz has been fantastic for the Twins the past two seasons and will look to continue that here in 2021. The 40-year-old will certainly fall off a cliff at some point but he has given us no reason to think it will be this season. Since joining the Twins at the beginning of the 2019 season Cruz is second to only Mike Trout in wOBA (.416), wRC+ (168), OPS (1.020), and ISO (.318). Health is always a great concern as players get older. Cruz has hit the IL a few different times the past two seasons but still managed to play in 173 of the 222 available games. Drafting a player older than 40 is always going to be a risk but the upside outweighs the risk in this scenario...draft Cruz.