J.T. Realmuto worth the price
Fresh off signing the largest free-agent contract ever for a catcher, Realmuto has solidified his status as the top receiver in the game. He's been incredibly consistent over the past five years, slashing .282/.336/.466 while averaging 17 homers per year. He also brings additional value with his legs, as his 36 steals over the past five years are 14 more than any other catcher during that time. Realmuto's exceptionally durable at a demanding position, leading all backstops in games played over the past five years. He's continued to blossom as a power hitter as well, increasing his ISO in each of the past four seasons and posting a career-best average exit velocity last year (90.9 mph). While this trend has corresponded with an overall decline in batting average due to increased strikeouts, Realmuto's ability to hit the ball hard to all fields gives him a relatively safe floor for batting average despite his increasing three-true-outcomes tendencies. Entering his age-30 season, Realmuto may see some minor regression if his contact skills continue to erode, but overall he's still one of the safest and best fantasy options at the position, especially given his presence in a talented Philadelphia lineup with a favorable home ballpark. He comes with a hefty price tag on draft day, but he'll likely be worth it.
Didi Gregorius still solid shortstop option
Gregorius returned to form in his first season with the Phillies last year following an injury-marred final season with the Yankees. After missing nearly half of nearly 2019 due to Tommy John surgery, a healthy and revitalized Gregorius didn't miss a single game last year. He also looked like his old self at the plate, batting a rock-solid .284/.339/.488 with 10 home runs and 40 RBIs in 60 games. Gregorius also posted the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 11.8%, and with the exception of 2019 his strikeout rate has gone down every year since 2014. The Phillies apparently liked what they saw too, bringing Gregorius back on a two-year deal. One potential concern about the 31-year-old, however, is that he wasn't hitting the ball as hard last year as he has in the past. His average exit velocity (83.7 mph) was the lowest of his career since Statcast started tracking it in 2015, and his hard hit % plummeted from 35.5% in 2019 to 26.8% last year, essentially falling in line with his career average. The rest of his peripherals look solid, however, indicating another productive season is likely in store this year.
Bryce Harper can still hack it
Harper had another excellent year at the plate in 2020, continuing what's shaping up to be a Hall-of-Fame trajectory. Fueled by an MLB-high 49 walks and career-best 20.1 BB%, his .420 OBP ranked fourth in the National League. He also cut way down on his strikeouts, posting the lowest K rate (17.6%) of his career. Harper didn't just make more contact, either; he made harder contact, posting the best average exit velocity of his career (92.3 mph) in the Statcast era. All of that bodes well for Harper, who's still squarely in his prime at 28 years old. He's proven to be more durable recently after dealing with injuries earlier in his career, missing just 10 games total over the previous three seasons combined. Harper continues to be one of the game's most reliable power hitters, as evidenced by last year's .274 ISO, and he adds value on the bases too. While he may not be the superduperstar everyone thought he'd be, a healthy Harper is still one of the top outfielders in fantasy baseball, especially in OBP formats and points leagues. With a friendly home park and a great lineup around, Harper appears poised for another monster season in 2021.
Time catching up with Miguel Cabrera
Similar to another formerly great right-handed slugger who currently plays for the Angels, Cabrera finds himself in full decline mode after more than a decade of sustained excellence. It's been awhile since the two-time AL MVP was fantasy-relevant, as he's averaged a pedestrian .267/.342/.406 over the past four seasons. Soon to be 38 and with no offensive talent around him, Cabrera doesn't seem likely to bounce back. His 22.1 K% last year was his worst since his rookie year, contributing to the second-worst average of his career (.250). While he did manage 10 home runs during the pandemic-shortened season, he only tallied four doubles and hasn't been a significant power threat since 2016. While Cabrera should still see regular playing time due to his stature, contract, and lack of better alternatives, that doesn't mean he should be a regular in your fantasy lineups.
Will Jeimer Candelario repeat?
Candelario was one of the few bright spots for Detroit last year, emerging as the club's top hitter by slashing .297/.369/.503 with 21 extra-base hits in 52 games. The question that fantasy managers need to consider is; can he do it again? Entering 2020, Candelario had batted an underwhelming .223/.318/.375 over his first 281 big-league games. He made several subtle adjustments to his batting approach last year, however, that paid massive dividends. For starters, he levelled out his swing some rather than trying to loft the ball so much, which resulted in more line drives and fewer fly balls. This change also led to fewer strikeouts and more hard contact. Candelario also stopped being so pull happy and focused more on driving the ball to centerfield, all of which improved his batting numbers significantly. The key for Candelario will be maintaining his newfound approach in his age-27 season to avoid regression, making him a player for fantasy managers to monitor during spring training and the early parts of the season. If he's still around late in your draft, he's worth taking a shot on.
Can Casey Mize break out?
Expectations have been sky high for Mize since Detroit took him with the first overall pick in the 2018 draft, especially after a promising 2019 in the minors. But with the cancellation of the minor league season last year, the Tigers decided to give Mize a shot in the rotation, and it soon became clear that the rookie was overmatched. Mize had never thrown an inning higher than Double-A ball before, and it showed, as he went 0-3 with a 6.99 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in his first seven MLB starts. As many young pitchers do, Mize struggled with his command, yielding 13 walks and seven homers in just 28 1/3 innings. He did show promise with 26 strikeouts, however, indicating that he just likely needs more experience. Mize will get another crack at the big leagues in 2021, although the Tigers may opt to start him in the minors to get him some additional seasoning before calling him back up. Either way, look for Mize to make strides this year and potentially become fantasy relevant by year's end, making him an intriguing stash candidate for fantasy GMs.
Around the League
Fernando Tatis, Jr. (SS-SP)
Tatis will be a Padre for the foreseeable future after agreeing to a massive 14-year, $340M extension with San Diego on Wednesday. The deal, which includes a full no-trade clause, is the third-largest contract extension in MLB history, trailing only the recent extensions signed by Mike Trout and Mookie Betts. That's some impressive company for Tatis, who has already emerged as one of the game's best players in his first two MLB seasons. Just 22 years old, Tatis has already tallied 39 homers, 98 RBIs, 27 steals and a .956 OPS over his first 143 career games, and he's not even close to an MLB player's usual prime years. Tatis appears poised to be a superstar for years to come, making this a sensible move for the Padres. Fantasy owners may need to be a similar price on draft day to land him as well, but his production will likely be well worth the cost.
Aaron Sanchez (SP-SF)
The Giants bolstered their pitching depth on Wednesday by inking Aaron Sanchez to a one-year deal worth $4M, which includes up to $2.5M in incentives. Sanchez, 28, missed all of 2020 recovering from right shoulder surgery, but he showed impressive velocity during preseason workouts by reaching 98 mph on the radar gun. A 2016 All-Star with the Toronto Blue Jays, Sanchez has struggled ever since, going 10-23 with a 5.29 ERA and a 1.61 WHIP in 55 starts from 2017-19. Getting out of the American League and into a more pitching-friendly ballpark should help, but fantasy GMs should wait to see if he can recapture his old form in spring training or early in the season before taking a flier on him.
Jake McGee (RP-SF)
The Giants agreed to a two-year, $7M deal with McGee on Wednesday. McGee, 34, is coming off a strong 2020 in which he went 3-1 with a 2.66 ERA, a 0.84 WHIP and a career-best 14.6 K/9 rate in 24 appearances with the Dodgers. Giants manager Gabe Kapler said he may use McGee as a closing option, which would increase his fantasy value significantly. While he hasn't closed regularly since 2016, McGee has some experience in the role with 45 career saves, including a high of 19 in 2014. While he's never served as a full-time closer, he should be in the mix for saves this year coming off his dominant 2020, making him an appealing target in later rounds of fantasy drafts.
Brandon Workman (RP-CHC)
The Cubs added to their pitching depth on Wednesday by scooping up Workman with a one-year deal that would include $1M in base salary and up to another $2M in incentives. Workman spent the first five-plus seasons of his career with the Red Sox before being dealt to the Phillies last summer, after which he struggled to the tune of a 6.92 ERA and 2.46 WHIP in 14 appearances. The 32-year-old was a reliable, if sometimes inconsistent, reliever during his time with Boston, however, compiling a 3.75 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP with a 9.5 K/9 rate over 288 career innings there. Workman also has some closing experience with 25 career saves to his name, which means he could find himself in the mix for saves again in 2021.
Pedro Strop (RP-CHC)
Strop will return to the Cubs on a Minor League deal that includes an invitation to spring training. Strop, 35, pitched for the Cubs from 2013-19 before signing with the Reds as a free agent last year. Strop proved remarkably consistent during his time with Chicago, posting an ERA in the 2's every year from 2014-18 before it ballooned to 4.97 in 2019. Strop has worked primarily as a setup man throughout his career, although he does have some closing experience with 32 career saves. While Strop will be a familiar face with the Cubs this year, it remains to be seen if he can recapture his effectiveness after appearing in just four games last year.
Brad Miller (INF-PHI)
Miller joined the Phillies on a one-year pact Wednesday in a move that helps shore up Philadelphia's infield depth. With Rhys Hoskins still mending from last fall's elbow surgery, Miller is expected to see significant time at first base in the early going. Miller, 31, enjoyed a 30-homer season back in 2016 and has remained productive over the past several years, batting .247/.343/.510 with 20 homers in 296 at-bats between 2019 and 2020. His power should play well in Philadelphia, which is notoriously kind to power hitters.
Rhys Hoskins (1B-PHI)
Hoskins, who underwent left elbow surgery last October, remains on track to return by Opening Day, Phillies manager Joe Girardi said Wednesday. Hoskins is currently participating in all on-field activities, including hitting and fielding grounders. The 27-year-old is coming off another strong, albeit injury-shortened, season at the plate in which he posted an .887 OPS and slugged 10 home runs in 41 games. Assuming Hoskins suffers no setbacks, he should be ready to for Opening Day and will be worth a considerable draft day investment.
Tony Watson (RP-PHI)
The Phillies signed Watson to a Minor League deal with an invite to Spring Training on Wednesday. Watson, 35, has been a reliable bullpen arm for a full decade now, going 40-25 with a 2.80 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP over his 10-year career. While primarily a setup man, he also picked up some closing experience with 32 saves along the way. Last year the southpaw was as effective as ever, posting a 2.50 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP in 21 appearances with the Giants. Based on his track record, Watson should be a solid addition for Philadelphia if he can ward off age for another year.
Tyler Anderson (SP-PIT)
Anderson agreed with the Pirates on Wednesday to a one-year deal. Anderson, 31, has gone 22-27 with a 4.65 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in five MLB seasons since debuting with the Rockies in 2016. He fared better with the Giants last year in his first season away from Coors Field, going 4-3 with the second-lowest ERA (4.37) and FIP (4.36) of his career. While the veteran southpaw doesn't bring much upside at this stage in his career, he should be a reliable innings-eater for a Pittsburgh rotation in desperate need of stability.
Rich Hill (SP-TB)
Hill's one-year, $2.5M deal with the Rays was made official on Wednesday. The veteran southpaw, who turns 41 in a couple weeks, will look to remain effective in his 17th MLB season. Despite battling constant injuries throughout his career, Hill has always seemed to find success with new teams, as he did last year with the Twins (3.03 ERA in eight starts). The Rays are counting on Hill to be healthy and productive this year, as they'll need him to help fill the voids in their rotation left by the departures of Blake Snell and Charlie Morton. Based on his track record, it's a high-risk, high-reward move, which is how fantasy owners should treat Hill as well.
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