The Blue Jays took the top hitter off the free-agent market by signing OF George Springer to a 6-year, $150 million deal. Springer is coming off a .256/.359/.540 slash line with 14 HR in 51 GP He likely slides into the leadoff role similar to Houston. Springer's overall value will likely remain neutral due to the improved depth of the Jays lineup with the only unknown being how his home park plays. There is nothing skill-wise to be afraid of given his above-average strikeout and walk rates in combination with his power. He has also been a 5-6 SB guy the past three seasons prior to the covid shortened season which may not seem like much but every stolen base is going to be extremely valuable this year. The downstream effect this is going to have on the team is that OF Randal Grichuk is going to lose playing time. The Blue Jays OF as currently constructed is likely going to be Lourdes Gurriel Jr., George Springer, and Teoscar Hernandez. This would mean that Grichuk would need to get everyday at-bats at DH to get full playing time and that is unlikely given the presence of 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez and the need to get Vlad Guerrero Jr. rest as well. So it is looking like Grichuk could become a short side platoon player which really hurts his fantasy value.
Marcus Semien was signed to a 1-year, $18 million deal. The Blue Jays and Semien are counting on a bounce-back year given the one-year prove-it contract. Semien had a career year in 2019 with a .285 AVG, 33 HR, 123 R, 92 RBI, and 10 SB. He regressed significantly in 2020 with a .223 AVG, 7 HR, 28 R, 23 RBI, and 4 SB. It appeared that he was selling out for power because his strikeout rate increased from 14% to 21% while also increasing his flyballs from 39% to 47%. This also came with a significant drop in his hard-hit rate from 38% to 29%. Semien is going to be transitioning to 2B which will give him added eligibility (2B/SS) and there is reason to believe that he will bounce back with natural regression and a more normal season. The Blue Jays are also betting $18 million that he will bounce back as well.
Playing time Losers
The Blue Jays upgraded their offense by bringing in OF George Springer and 2B/SS Marcus Semien. The outfield situation we touched on above but the clear loser in this situation is Randal Grichuk who required regular playing time to accumulate his power numbers because AVG and SB are not part of his game. It is looking like a short side platoon situation for Grichuk which kills his fantasy value in mixed leagues. Another loser is 1B/DH Rowdy Tellez. It was looking like he would be the full-time 1B with Vlad Jr. moving to 3B but the singing of Semien made that unlikely. There are still at-bats at DH to be had but he would need to light the world on fire so that they don't use it as a way to rotate people for rest. Tellez showed major skill improvements a year ago in terms of plate discipline (9% BB, 16% K) and quality of contact (44% Hard). Watching his playing time and lineup spot is going to be important during Spring Training. The other loser is going to Cavan Biggio. It looks like he is going to slide to 3B but could also move into a utility role, playing most days. He is also likely going to move from the top of the order to the bottom which is a huge hit to his counting stats. It makes it hard to justify his current ADP (#60 Overall) given his profile (low AVG, high K%, and extreme FB%).
The Reds Rotation
The Cincinnati Reds featured one of the best rotations a year ago with Trevor Bauer, Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and the emergence of Tyler Mahle. They lost Bauer in free agency to the Dodgers but the rest of the rotation is still in town for the time being. Castillo is locked in as the Reds #1 starter and one of the best pitchers in baseball. He has proven the ability to miss bats (30% K) and post acceptable control (8% BB) with elite swinging-strike rates (15%). This is in addition to 55%+ ground ball rates. Sonny Gray is coming off an interesting shortened season. His strikeout rate remained elite with 31% K but his walk rate spiked to 11%. He also gets a ton of ground balls (51% GB) which helps pitching in a park like Great American Ballpark. The strikeouts are going to be there but his ratios are going to be dependent on his walk rate. The third fantasy-relevant starting pitcher is Tyler Mahle who made significant strides forward in 2020. His strikeout rate jumped from 23% to 30% due to increased usage of his slider which is a true outpitch. The one concern looking at his 2020 number is his walk rate (10.4% BB). This could be an area that he improves in 2021 because he has posted above-average walk rates in the minors and has above-average Command+ numbers (STATS Perform/Eno Sarris). Those three are worth targeting at their current ADPs. The back of the Reds rotation is going to feature LHP Wade Miley who only holds value in NL-only and 15-team Draft Champions formats. The wildcard is Michael Lorenzen who is going to attempt to transition from the bullpen to the rotation. He has plus velocity and a four-pitch mix which is easy to get excited about. The major concerns are a career 10% BB and 20% K. He has shown the ability to keep the ball in the park (1.01 HR/9) for his career but that has mostly been as a reliever. The transition to the rotation is not going to be easy and there are red flags but Lorenzen has enough skill to be worth a late-round buy in deeper mixed leagues.
The Reds closer situation is one to keep an eye on. The candidates for the job are LHP Amir Garrett, RHP Lucas Sims, and LHP Sean Doolittle. Realistically, Doolittle is going to need to prove that he is healthy and productive before even given a chance at closing but he does have the most experience in the role. Amir Garrett took to Twitter to declare the job as his and someone has to take it from him but that is definitely not the case. He has the skills to do the job (38% K, 18% SwStr) but there are some concerns like his career 12% BB and 1.82 HR/9. The two things that will cause you to lose the closer's role quickly are walks and home runs. Lucas Sims was dominant in the same vein as Garret in 2020 (2.45 ERA and 0.94 WHIP) with 33% K, 13% SwStr, and 11% BB. The concern with Sims is that GM Nick Krall said he would be delayed in camp due to elbow tightness. Sims has stated that he is healthy but this is something that you never want to hear about a pitcher. For that reason, if I were to invest in someone as the Reds closer it would be Amir Garrett.
The Reds currently have four outfielders for three spots. This includes Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, Nick Senzel, and Nick Castellanos. Winker and Castellanos are going to see regular playing despite being defensive liabilities. The CF job should be Senzel's given his youth and upside but he needs to stay on the field. From a draft-day value, Winker and Senzel are the best values at an ADP of pick #218 and #260 respectively. Senzel offers the most fantasy upside with five category potential. If he stays healthy and gets regular at-bats he offers 20/20 potential which would be a steal at his current ADP. Winker showed middle of the order potential last year with a .255/.388/.544 and 12 HR in 54 GP. He increased his FB% from 25- 29%. He also increased his hard-hit rate from 40-49%. Winker also showed that he could hit left-handed pitching with a .265/.390/.500. It was a small sample but he was never given a real shot at hitting lefties. He is a nice value at pick #218 because he should hit for a respectable average with power in the middle of the Reds lineup. Shogo Akiyama was a sleeper for many a year ago but he failed to live up to the hype. He did show the ability to steal bases (7 SB in 54 GP) but struggled to hit for AVG (.245) and power (0 HR). This screams fourth outfielder which makes it hard to take him in a mixed league outside of a late pick in a 50 round draft and hold type league.
Eddie Rosario signing with Cleveland is a nice move for his fantasy value. He is going to play every day and hit in the middle of Cleveland's lineup. Progressive Field also favors left-handed power which fits Rosario perfectly. He is likely going to hit 25+ HR with good counting stats and a respectable average (.260-.270). Rosario may not be a high upside player but the floor is very nice and it is a great situation for him both in real life and for fantasy.
Trevor Bauer is now a Dodger. This is a great landing spot for him personally. Being on one of the best teams in the National League is going to help Bauer retain his value as he sees some regression from his Cy Young season. It is unlikely that he pitches every fourth day like everyone has salivated over the past couple of months so his value will remain the same which is going to be late first-round early second as we get closer to the start of the season. This move really puts a damper on the value of Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin as they are on the outside looking in for a rotation spot.
The Phillies re-signed C J.T. Realmuto to a 5-year, $115.5 million deal. Realmuto is head and shoulders above the rest of the catching pool in terms of fantasy value. He is a five-category contributor at a position that is devoid of talent. His current ADP is pick #37 in 15-team NFBC leagues. This seems high for a catcher but is in line with his value. The one concern as of right is the lack of DH in the NL. He could have received "off" days via the DH but that is no longer an option. He did play a career-high 145 games in 2019 so the volume is going to be there regardless of the DH. He is worth his current draft-day price but it creates an interesting team build that you need to plan for ahead of time.
Jonathan Villar signed a 1-year, $3.55 million deal with the Mets. There were reports of him signing with the Reds which would have given him a starting role but instead he signed with the Mets where his playing time is unclear. The Mets don't seem to be sold on J.D. Davis at 3B so they could move Jeff McNeal to 3B and put Villar at 2B but none of that is guaranteed. Villar's current ADP is pick # 143 in 15-team NFBC drafts. Yes, stolen bases are extremely valuable but this is a steep price to pay for someone who doesn't have a starting role and doesn't have defensive value which makes it even more difficult for him to play full-time. Villar is worth a risk in daily moves leagues because you can play him when he is starting but any weekly lineup league is going to be hard to roster Villar given the uncertain playing time.
The Twins brought in veteran closer Alex Colome. This is significant news because Taylor Rogers was being drafted as a certified closer (ADP 128). The Twins manager, Rocco Baldelli, said in December that they were not going to name a closer and were going to mix and match based on matchups. The signing of Colome doesn't change this and decreases the amount of chances that Rogers was going to get. We could see Colome, Rogers, and Duffey receive save chances. This is how modern bullpens are starting to operate which really hurts fantasy owners when it comes to nailing down saves. It also makes it very risky to draft any of them due to the uncertainty of the role. There are other routes you could go that you could project with more confidence.
Marcell Ozuna signed a 4-year, $64 million deal with the Braves. Ozuna is coming off a brilliant shortened season in which he hit .338 with 18 HR, 38 R, 56 RBI, and 0 SB. SunTrust Park is a nice offensive home for the outfielder. It doesn't hurt that the Braves lineup is loaded at the top with Acuna, Albies, and Freeman ahead of him to drive up his counting stats. He also has superb statcast numbers (15% Barrels and 54% Hard) to go along with plus plate skills (14% BB and 23% K). This is a great deal for both the Braves and Ozuna.
Liam Hendriks-White Sox-RP
Liam Hendriks signed a 4-year, $54 million deal with the White Sox. He has been a top tier closer for the past two years. He has posted a 1.79 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 39% K over those two seasons. He is being drafted as the #2 closer behind Josh Hader but there is a case to be made for Hendriks being the top closer off the board. He doesn't have the home run issues like Hader and isn't a risk to lose saves from being used more as a fireman than a traditional closer. It is splitting hairs between Hader and Hendriks but give me the guy that is being used as a traditional closer on a good team with elite skills.
Robbie Grossman signed a two-year deal with the Tigers. This should give him an everyday role for the rebuilding Tigers. For the Athletics, he was used more as a platoon bat than an everyday player. Grossman has a good approach at the plate with a career 13% BB and 21% K. He also made adjustments to his swing a year ago and started to hit the ball harder (89 EV, 38% Hard). He also hit those balls at better angles which is shown in the improvement in his barrel rate (2% to 6%). Grossman also has double-digit steal potential which makes him a nice late-round bench bat.
Kolten Wong won't be returning to the Cardinals and instead to division rival Milwaukee. Wong is a superb defender who is going to play every day. He also gets a very nice park upgrade for left-handed hitters. Wong has been inconsistent with the bat over his career in terms of average, power, and speed. He has shown the ability to contribute in all three categories but has rarely been able to do that. The good news is that his draft price means that you don't have to pay for the upside making room for potential value if he does. Wong has the potential to hit 10 HR/20 SB with a decent average (.250-.260 AVG).
Brad Hand signed with the Nationals which makes him the closer. This hurts the value of Daniel Hudson and Tim Rainey who were viewed as potential closers. Despite declining fastball velocity, Hand has still been able to post above-average ratios with plus strikeouts. In the shortened season he had a 2.05 ERA and 0.77 WHIP with 29% K-BB. The declining fastball is going to scare a lot of people off but it is Hand's job to lose and he has a long track record of success. This makes him a nice value at closer which is becoming more difficult to figure out as the league is changing the way relief pitchers are being used.