The Winter Meetings of Major League Baseball’s general managers and executives that will begin next week are generally viewed as the time and place where the groundwork of trades and free agent signings is laid. Typically, there isn’t much action in the trade and free agent market prior to the Winter Meetings, and until now that has pretty much held true. Oh, there have been a few trades involving some major players; don’t get me wrong. Craig Kimbrel was traded to the Red Sox for a boatload of prospects, and Jed Lowrie was traded to the Oakland A’s for pitching prospect Brendan McCurry. Without a doubt, it was the Detroit Tigers who fanned the hot stove fires with their signing of starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann to a five-year $110 million dollar deal, which was really the first major free agent signing of the 2015-16 offseason. But yesterday the Red Sox did something to trump them all.
Red Sox General Manager Dave Dombrowski put his stamp on the future of the franchise by signing free agent starting pitcher David Price to a seven-year, $217 million dollar deal. Dombrowski had identified three immediate needs for the Red Sox upon his arrival just a few months ago, and in the span of just a few short weeks he’s addressed all three. First, he traded four relatively low level prospects to the San Diego Padres for closer Craig Kimbrel to address the Red Sox bullpen, which was dreadful in 2015. Only one AL bullpen (Detroit) allowed more runs per game than the Red Sox bullpen. Second, to add some right-handed outfield power, Dombrowski signed Chris Young, who simply mashes left-handed pitchers. His career wOBA against left-handed pitching is a stellar .363 with a .211 Isolated Power. His skill set matches up very well with Fenway Park’s dimensions, as he is an extreme fly ball hitter to left field.
The final master stroke, although it is doubtful that Dombrowski is anywhere near done shaping this team, is the signing of Price. Except for the 32 starts he’s made for the Detroit Tigers (11 in 2014 and 21 in 2015), Price has worked exclusively in the American League East division. Price’s career numbers are stellar; over his eight years he is 104-56 with a 3.09 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 8.57 K/9 IP and 2.32 BB/9 IP. At Fenway Park, he’s made 11 starts and has a record of 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA 0.95 WHIP and he’s allowed just four homers in 74.1 innings pitched. He hasn’t lost a game at Fenway since 2012.
The only knock on Price, and I’m not certain it’s fair to knock him for this, is that he has yet to pitch well in the postseason. Well, that’s not really true. He was used by the Tampa Bay Rays in relief during the 2008 ALCS, pitching against the Red Sox. He notched a win with two-thirds of an inning in relief in Game 2 of that series, and a save with one and one-third relief innings in Game 7. All told, he pitched two shutout innings against the Red Sox to help advance the Rays to the World Series. Since then, he’s either been ineffective or received no support when he was effective, and he’s only notched one win. His postseason ERA is 5.12. However, we don’t care about that in Fantasy. We’re only concerned with what he does during the regular season. From here on he’ll be doing it as a very wealthy man but under the microscope that is the Boston baseball market. Still, there is no reason to expect him to be anything less than what he’s been for the last eight years. An ace pitcher.
Here’s a quick look at the Fantasy outlooks for some of the other players mentioned above.
Jordan Zimmermann (Tigers, SP) – The move to the AL brings the usual warnings about changes to the strike zone and perhaps a tick fewer strikeouts as a result. But Zimmermann had some red flags run up the pole during the second half of 2015 that should sound off alarm bells on draft day. His second half ERA (4.20) was a full run higher than his first half mark (3.22), and there was a significant drop in his fastball velocity of just about one mph. However, he was also tinkering with his mechanics and changing his pitch mix to include more breaking pitches and fewer fastball/changeup sequences. So, we could be seeing Zimmermann learning to pitch without his best fastball velocity and maturing right before our eyes. Or not. He’s not going to be on my bid list next spring, simply because I didn’t like what I saw in the second half. I’d advise others to proceed with caution. There’s more downside than upside here.
Chris Young (Red Sox, OF) – The Red Sox needed right-handed thump from their outfield last season and couldn’t buy it anywhere, but they were able to sign some pretty cheaply in the form of Young, who will act as the fourth outfielder on this team behind Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. Young can play all three outfield positions and he mashes left-handed pitching, as mentioned above. It’s doubtful he will garner enough plate appearances to make a dent in mixed league play, but in deeper AL-only formats, Young could be a nice cheap source of power.
Craig Kimbrel (Red Sox, RP) – I suppose one could look at his 2.58 ERA in 2015 and worry. It is, after all, the first time his ERA was anywhere near that high since he burst on the scene with the Braves in 2010. Actually, the culprit was the long ball. Kimbrel gave up six home runs, which is more than twice as many homers than any other season (except for 2014 when he gave up four). Aside from the dingers, his peripherals were all right in line with his career norms or trending better. The move to a better defensive team (the Padres were awful defensively) and one that will provide many more save chances should put him back on top of the closer leaderboard in 2016.
Jed Lowrie (A’s, 3B/SS) – This was a bit of a head scratcher since the A’s seem set at the infield positions. Then again, who’s to say that Billy Beane is done making deals? He could easily turn around a flip Lowrie to another team or move someone else on the A’s roster (Brett Lawrie?) and play him at third base instead. Either way, Lowrie is a league average sort of hitter who can hit for average with a little pop as long as he stays healthy; and therein lay the rub. Lowrie has been healthy for an entire season just once (2013). He’ll be 32 years old next year and most likely heading in the wrong direction as far as skills go. If he’s given a full-time job when spring training breaks, there might be some value in mono-league play as a cheap source of batting average, but mixed leaguers will want to look elsewhere because Lowrie just isn’t all that good.