Just like that, the hot stove went from being lukewarm to scorching. After the big pre-Thanksgiving Taijuan Walker and Jean Segura trade, there wasn’t really much going on besides speculation about Andrew McCutchen and Chris Sale. Once the winter meetings started, though, the movement followed.
Let’s take a look at the recent moves around the league and the Fantasy impact each will have.
Red Sox Get Their Guy
The White Sox are finally doing the smart thing by tearing things down and rebuilding. The first piece of the puzzle to go was Sale to Boston for (3B/DH) Yoan Moncada , (P) Michael Kopech, (OF) Luis Alexander Basabe and (P) Victor Diaz.
First, from Sale’s perspective, it doesn’t change too much. He’s still behind Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Madison Bumgarner and Corey Kluber in starting pitcher rankings.
Initially, I was concerned about Sale in Fenway Park, as it’s historically been unkind to left-handed pitchers for Boston, most notably David Price and Drew Pomeranz last year. But for this deal, you have to look outside park factors, and even what the surface numbers tell you.
The biggest knock on Sale last year was that he didn’t strike out as many people, as his K/9 dipped from 11.82 in 2015 to 9.25 in 2016. It was on purpose, though, as Sale said he wanted to pitch to more contact so that he could throw more innings for the White Sox. It worked, too, as he threw a career-high 226.2 innings.
But another reason that Sale didn’t have great strikeout numbers was because he pitched to some of the worst pitch-framing catchers behind the plate. In fact, I was so concerned about the White Sox’ backstops that I believed they would hamper Carlos Rodon’s development last year. Of those catchers with at least a 6,000-pitch sample, only J.T. Realmuto (-118) and Salvador Perez (-146) had worse +Calls than Dioner Navarro (-112) and worse RAA (Realmuto -15.7 and Perez -19.5) than Navarro (-15).
In 2016, Chris Sale was attacking the middle of the strike zone more to induce contact.
In turn, it resulted in 31 Barrels allowed by Sale, which tied him with Tanner Roark, Andrew Cashner, Aaron Sanchez, Matt Wisler and Dallas Keuchel. For a comparison, the most Barrels allowed in the league for qualified pitchers with at least 150 Batted Ball Events was 49 by Hector Santiago in 2016. Santiago carried a 10.2 percent Barrels per Batted Ball Event, while Sale was at 5.7 percent. He may not totally revert back to being the strikeout guy or a pitcher who doesn’t allow a lot of Barrels like, say, Kyle Hendricks (16 Barrels, 3.8 percent Barrels per BBE), but he can stop pounding the middle of the zone so much and go back to his 2015 pitching patterns.
By pounding the strike zone last year, Sale allowed a 76.9 contact rate, saw his O-Swing% dip to 33.3 percent, his swinging strike rate drop to 11.3 percent and increased his hard-hit rate from 25.1 percent in 2015 to 31.7 percent in 2016.
Fenway Park will work against Sale, but he wasn’t exactly pitching in a pitcher’s park in Chicago. I’m always concerned when a lefty moves to Fenway, but with the offensive firepower behind him and the fact that he won’t have to face the best lineup in the AL East, Sale should make the transition just fine.
On the other side, Moncada is the only player you care about this season. I doubt he’ll break camp with the White Sox, as they really have no reason to start his arbitration clock at the beginning of the rebuilding process. You should, however, see him up in July. He’s going to be a first-round Fantasy pick in 2019.
White Sox Aren’t Done
The White Sox continued to come away as the winners of the offseason, as they traded Adam Eaton to the Washington Nationals for Reynaldo Lopez, Lucas Giolito and Dane Dunning. For Fantasy purposes, Eaton’s value increases slightly, but he’s a better real-life player than Fantasy asset. You’re looking at around a 15 HR/15 SB ceiling with 100-plus runs scored as his ceiling.
For the White Sox, Giolito should break camp in the rotation as a No. 4 or No. 5 starter. I’m really looking forward to seeing Don Cooper introduce his patented cutter to Giolito, though. If the White Sox move David Robertson, I wouldn’t at all be surprised if we see Lopez take over as the closer by midseason.
Welcome To Coors, Ian
In the biggest shocker of the offseason to date, Ian Desmond signed a five-year deal with the Colorado Rockies. My first question was – where in the hell is he going to play? As of now, he’s going to be the first baseman, but that’s only if the Rockies can’t move Carlos Gonzalez or Charlie Blackmon. His Fantasy value gets a big boost, as he’s a BABIP-driven hitter, and spacious Coors is only going to help him out more. He should be looked at around the sixth or seventh round now.
Old Guys Keep It Going
Carlos Beltran is going to rake in Houston. He will be closer to what he was in Texas than New York, but with that lineup and every day at-bats, he’s in a good situation. On the flipside, Matt Holliday heads to the Big Apple to be the presumed designated hitter for the New York Yankees. The park benefits lefties more with the short porch in right field, but Matt Holliday can take advantage of it since he’s not a pure-pull hitter.
Joaquin Benoit, who will be 40 this year, is in line to be the closer for the Philadelphia Phillies. You could do a lot worse if you wait on saves in drafts. Fernando Rodney is in line to close in Arizona, too. Enjoy that one, Diamondbacks. He’s best to avoid.
Saving The Giants
Speaking of saves, the Giants have needed back-end of the bullpen help. They didn’t get Aroldis Chapman or Kenley Jansen, but they got the third-best option on the free agent market with Mark Melancon. Melancon won’t blow anyone away with an average swinging strike rate and strikeout rate, but as anti-SABR as it sounds, he just get the job done. He doesn’t give up homers, he doesn’t blow saves and he’s great at getting people to chase pitches outside the zone (35.6 percent O-Swing%) thanks to his nasty cutter (13.6 wCT value, the highest among relievers in 2016).
Reunited And It Feels So Good
There’s not much to say with players returning to their former teams. Aroldis Chapman is a Top 3 closer still with the Yankees. Yoenis Cespedes will continue to be overrated despite finishing as a high-end OF3 last year in Fantasy. Yes, it’s because he was limited in the number of games he played, but do we really see that changing this year? Speaking of limited, Rich Hill is great … when he pitches. If you project him for any more than 135 innings, you’re walking on thin ice. Try to get him at a discount. If someone wants him by Round 9 or Round 10, fade him and move on.
One For One
The Chicago Cubs inquired about Wade Davis at the trade deadline last year. The price was Kyle Schwarber. They just got him this week for Jorge Soler. See how much the price goes up in July? Davis is a great replacement for Chapman, but his decline the past two years as the season wore down leaves me slightly concerned. As for Soler, it’ll be nice to see him get his first true shot as an everyday player.
Under The Radar Moves?
We know how great Fenway Park is for righties, but it isn’t as good for lefties. Travis Shaw could be a sneaky sleeper in Milwaukee. Jaime Garcia isn’t great by any means, but he should be stream-able in Atlanta. Steve Pearce rakes against lefties, but he’s been OK against righties, too. He may see a 70/30 split in Toronto.