Well, that was fun. The Winter Meetings officially came to an end with Thursday's Rule 5 draft, but not before a flurry of player movement. First and foremost I'm a fantasy owner, so the focus will be fantasy implications. I can probably fill a book discussing every player in every transaction but I'll keep it simple and focus only on the notable big league hitters changing teams.
Ian Desmond - Heading into a contract year, Desmond landed in a great spot for hitters in 2016. He took full advantage, finishing the season with a strong .285-22-86-107-21 line, including a .330 batting average and a .865 OPS at home in Texas. Apparently, Desmond is quite skilled at choosing teams, as he will now be calling Coors Field home for the next five years. In 23 career games at Coors, Desmond boasts a .379 batting average to go along with three homers, 18 RBI and a 1.016 OPS. Pretty good. Expect Desmond to at least match last season's numbers, and it would not be surprising to see him post his first 30-homer campaign. He's no longer shortstop-eligible, but that's just nitpicking.
Adam Eaton - I like Eaton, but the Nationals gave up a lot. From a fantasy standpoint, the 28-year-old is a fine contributor, but likely overrated on draft day. While he should excel in the batting average and runs departments, power and speed production has been nothing special. Supporters of Eaton can point to nine of his 14 home runs last season coming after the All-Star break, so maybe he can make further strides in that area. I have my doubts. He's a low-end OF3/high-end OF4 in 12-team mixed leagues, no more and no less.
Dexter Fowler - The strange thing about Fowler is that he actually performed better on the road last season (nine homers, .915 OPS) than at Wrigley Field (four homers, .759 OPS). Especially valuable in OBP leagues (career .366 OBP), the new Cardinal should continue doing what he's been doing for awhile now, hitting for some power while chipping in some steals and serving as a steady source of runs. In other words, we're looking at a quality third outfielder in deeper mixed formats.
Jorge Soler - Fowler wasn't the only outfielder to leave the North Siders this week, as Soler will now get a fresh start in Kansas City. While the Cuban import has fallen well short of expectations, he will be only 25 on Opening Day, and the power is legit. Don't forget about this guy on draft day. He firmly belongs in the post-hype sleeper category.
Wilson Ramos - Too bad. Ramos was in line for a major payday until he suffered ACL and meniscus tears in his right knee during the final week of the regular season. So instead, the 29-year-old backstop has to settle for a modest two-year contract with incentives. He's likely to miss the first month or two of the 2017 season, but when Ramos does return to action, the Rays will have themselves quite a bargain. Drafting Ramos, who set career highs across the board in 2016, as your No. 2 catcher in a deep mixed league and stashing him on the DL is a move that could pay off in a big way.
Mitch Moreland - After launching a combined 45 homers over the past two seasons, the underrated Moreland will now share first base with Hanley Ramirez for the Red Sox. Moreland's batting average has fluctuated drastically throughout his career, but as a late-round power source in mixed leagues or a cheap starting first baseman in an AL-only format, he fits the bill.
The Winter Meetings and the week or two following the annual get together is usually the time when most of the MLB Hot Stove action takes place, but a funny thing happened this year. Apparently, several teams were tired of waiting, opting instead to get an early start on their off-season shopping. This is certainly a viable strategy. Strike now before the supply of available players, whether free agents or trade targets, thins out to the point where asking prices significantly rise. Sure, the elite free agents will take their time before choosing their 2017 homes, but November signings and trades often turn out to be the most cost-efficient moves. These players might not be All-Stars, but strong contributors? Absolutely.
On that note, let's take a fantasy-angled look at some of the notable big league players who have changed teams this month, and I have a feeling that there will be a lot more to discuss very soon.
Jean Segura - Even before the trade to the Mariners, I was wary of drafting Segura this year, figuring that his cost would be inflated by last season's 20 home runs, a feat that he was unlikely to repeat. Now he moves from a home run-friendly park in Arizona to a pitcher-friendly environment in Seattle. His 2017 home run total will be closer to 10 than 20, and though he should remain helpful in the batting average department, I'm thinking more like .280 than .319. You're drafting Segura for his speed. I'll be turning to cheaper stolen base alternatives.
Taijuan Walker - Although changing addresses from Safeco Field to Chase Field cannot be seen as a good thing for any pitcher, Walker is talented enough to develop into an ace, irrespective of home ballpark. The longball has been an issue, and this is a little scary considering his new scenery. Walker doesn't hurt himself with walks and has the stuff to strike out roughly a batter per inning. Draft him in the late rounds as a fifth or sixth starter in mixed leagues. This might be the last time you will be able to get him for that price.
Ketel Marte - Coming off a largely disappointing 2016 campaign, Marte enters 2017 as somewhat of a post-hype sleeper. He just turned 23 last month and offers 25-plus stolen base potential if given regular at-bats. Think of him as a fine fallback MI option in deeper mixed leagues.
Brian McCann - We all saw this coming, as it didn't make a whole lot of sense for the Yankees to use McCann as their everyday DH in 2017. So the Yanks get a pair of intriguing pitching prospects and the Astros get their new starting catcher, a guy who has slugged at least 20 homers in each of the last nine seasons. McCann's fantasy value doesn't change one bit. He remains a safe top-10 backstop.
Kendrys Morales - Boasting averages of 26 home runs and 100 RBI over the past two seasons with the Royals, Morales now enters a favorable hitting situation with the Blue Jays. Even if Toronto doesn't bring back Edwin Encarnacion or Jose Bautista, their lineup, led by Josh Donaldson, is still dangerous. Don't overlook Kendrys on draft day. Bank on at least 20 homers and 90-plus RBI and you won't be disappointed. Another factor to keep in mind is that if Encarnacion does indeed sign elsewhere, Morales could see some time at first base, enough time to regain 1B eligibility.
Cameron Maybin - Staying healthy has always been Maybin's biggest challenge, and 2016 was no exception. He did post a stellar .315/.383/.418 slash line with 15 swipes in 94 games. Maybin is a career .259 hitter, so don't pay much attention to last year's .315 mark. Still, the new Angels left fielder could provide solid late-round mixed league value with 25-plus steals...if healthy.
Danny Valencia - Valencia may have a tough time finding enough at-bats to make a mixed league impact in 2017 as he's expected to split first base duties with Dan Vogelbach while providing insurance at third base behind Kyle Seager. The new Mariner is best left for deeper mixed leagues or AL-only formats.
Howie Kendrick - Kendrick once carried star potential, but that was a long time ago. Now, the 33-year-old fits under the "better in real life than in fantasy" category, and he's coming off his worst offensive season to date. The Phillies will hand him everyday playing time and Kendrick is entering a contract year. But that's about it in terms of positives. Stay away.
Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey - The key number here is 85, that is the combined age of these two hurlers. I guess one ancient starter wasn't enough for the Braves. At this point, it seems like Colon will remain a serviceable back-end of the rotation mixed league starter as long as he is still playing, perhaps even into his Senior Citizen years. I'm not nearly as confident in Dickey, though maybe a move back to the NL East, where he won a Cy Young award while with the Mets, will help. Regardless, we're looking at strictly an NL-only option.
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In the end, the best team won, and that's the way it should be. The Cubs offense woke up just in time to reel off three straight wins, ending a 108-year-old title drought. From a competitive standpoint, the 2016 World Series was as tight as it gets. The two clubs finished tied in runs at 27 apiece. Chicago homered eight times while Cleveland tallied seven home runs. The Cubs posted a .316 OBP while the Indians got on base at a .321 clip. Still, there's something about baseball without fantasy implications that leaves me wanting more, which is why my mind wandered over to individual player stats. While I don't take postseason numbers too seriously due to the small sample size, I don't ignore them altogether, as glancing at these stats gives me an excuse to start thinking about some of the top performers and their outlook for the following season. So, which players in particular caught my attention during the seven-game World Series and what are my expectations from them for 2017?
Ben Zobrist: .357 AVG (10-for-28), 2 RBI, 5 R, 2 2B, 1 3B
Let's start with the MVP, who continues to be an underrated fantasy asset. Zobrist's first season with the Cubs was arguably his most productive season since 2011. The 35-year-old doesn't run much anymore but I wouldn't be surprised if he duplicates this year's .272-18-76-94 line in 2017. Throw in the multi-position eligibility and we're looking at a worthy mid-round investment. Note that Zobrist carries added value in OBP leagues (career .358 OBP).
Anthony Rizzo: .360 AVG (9-for-25), HR, 5 RBI, 7 R, 3 2B, SB
Boasting averages of 32 homers, 105 RBI and 94 runs scored over the past two seasons, Rizzo has established himself as a viable top-10 overall pick. One scary thought is that he's still only 27 years old. Another scary thought is that 20 of his 32 homers this season came on the road, away from hitter-friendly Wrigley Field. I see a 40-home run campaign in his immediate future.
Francisco Lindor: .296 AVG (8-for-27), 2 RBI, 2 R, 2B, SB
The word on Lindor upon his big league debut last summer was that his defense was MLB-ready but his bat might take some time to develop. Apparently not. After going .313-12-51-50-12 across 99 games in 2015, Lindor's first full season in the Majors produced a stellar .301-15-78-99-19 line. The Indians shortstop's equally impressive postseason performance suggests that his #30 overall draft position in the MLB.com October Mock was far from a reach.
Jake Arrieta (2 starts): 2-0, 2.38 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 15 K in 11 1/3 IP
Coming off a Cy Young season in 2015, Arrieta wasn't quite as dominant this year, though his final numbers (18-8, 3.10 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 190 K in 197 1/3 IP) were still ace-caliber. I wouldn't mind drafting Arrieta if he comes at a low-end ace price, but judging from early mock draft results, Jake isn't coming at any sort of discount, so I doubt I'll own him in any of my leagues next season. The dramatic walk rate increase from 1.9 BB/9 in '15 to 3.5 BB/9 in '16 is concerning.
Corey Kluber (3 starts): 2-0, 2.81 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 15-to-1 K/BB ratio in 16 IP
Kluber entered this year as a legit top-10 fantasy SP, and thanks in part to disappointing seasons from a few of the other upper-tier hurlers, the Indians righty has improved his stock, even approaching top-5 status. I'm going to chalk up his shaky Game 7 outing to being fatigued from pitching on short rest twice in a row. There's little downside in drafting Kluber to serve as the anchor of your 2017 staff.
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Six rounds is one thing, but a full 23-rounder is something else. As it turned out, my second mock draft for the 2017 season was of the 15-team, 23-round variety, conducted Wednesday night and completed in less than two hours. There really wasn't a whole lot of time to think in between picks. But fortunately, I did most of my thinking in the days leading up to the draft. And this was an important mock, as it's the mock that will be featured in Rotoman Peter Kreutzer's annual Fantasy Baseball Guide Professional Edition, which should be available in newsstands everywhere by mid-January. So, just to whet your appetite, I figured I'd share some thoughts on a handful of early-round picks that caught my attention.
Brian Dozier (Round 1, Pick 15) - I get it, the guy hit 42 homers last year. Still, I can't get around the fact that his previous single-season high was 28. It is true that Dozier's home run and RBI totals have steadily increased over the past four seasons, so maybe we're looking at a player who is simply reaching his true potential. Or maybe his 2016 stat line will end up being the clear outlier. Drafting him at #15 overall seems like a reach to me, but that might be an accurate guess as to his draft day cost come March. If that's the case, the Twins second baseman will not be on any of my fantasy squads.
Wil Myers (Round 2, Pick 12) - Finally, Myers put together the kind of year that many envisioned he would eventually put together, though the 28 steals were a pleasant surprise. The oft-injured former Rookie of the Year managed to stay healthy for a full season, and fantasy owners who invested a mid-round pick on the 25-year-old were rewarded with an All-Star campaign. One cause for concern is that Myers faded in the second half, batting only .223 with nine homers and 34 RBI after hitting .286 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI prior to the All-Star break. But Myers is still young, so there's time for him to work on becoming a more consistent run producer. I'm not quite ready to spend a top-30 pick to draft the Padres first baseman, but at the same time, I wouldn't be shocked if he turns in a top-30 season in 2017.
Yu Darvish (Round 3, Pick 4) - Darvish's long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery was an overwhelming success, as the Rangers ace proved that he is indeed still an ace. His draft position in this mock suggests that Darvish will not be available at any sort of injury-related discount, so if you're planning on targeting him, be ready to pay accordingly.
Billy Hamilton (Round 4, Pick 14) - Only nine players swiped more than 30 bags in 2016. Yes, stolen base totals are down throughout baseball, so it's no wonder that Hamilton (58 steals in just 119 games last year) will carry a premium price tag. I've never been one to spend heavily on any single stolen base specialist, preferring to spread out my speed sources among multiple players. But considering this trend of disappearing steals, maybe it's time to rethink my approach.
Eduardo Nunez (Round 5, Pick 13) - Speaking of steals, Nunez was one of only five players (along with Hamilton) who registered at least 40 thefts last year. Merely a utility player until last season, the 29-year-old has developed into a highly productive everyday guy, hitting for average with some pop to go along with the elite speed. And he's entering a contract year, so Nunez will certainly be motivated to prove that 2016 wasn't a fluke. But grabbing Eduardo in the fifth round is a bold move. I wouldn't do it, but how am I going to acquire enough steals?
The good news? I have four months to think about this.
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Mock drafting in October? Crazy, right? Well, I do it every year, organizing and participating in the annual MLB.com October mini-mock, lasting six rounds and is now complete. Click here for the pick-by-pick results plus commentary from each of the owners.
The reality is that it's never too early to start thinking about next season, the player pool at the various positions and most importantly, the newcomers to the early rounds. These are the guys who likely resided on the rosters of most championship fantasy squads, as the cost to draft them last spring was minimal yet the reward was great. So, before we turn our full attention to 2017, let's take some time to recognize a handful of these 2016 high-profit earners, and let's plan on drafting the 2017 version of this group. Easier said than done. Note that all of these players were selected in the six-round mini-mock and were purchased for no more than five dollars in the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars league.
Jonathan Villar - This $1 auction buy is now a consensus top-50 player, and he was valued even higher (#27 overall) in the mini-mock. With reliable speedsters in short supply these days, third round doesn't seem like much of a stretch. Still, while 50-plus steals is well within reach for 2017, I'm not expecting another 19-home run campaign. For owners who like to invest heavily in one dominant stolen base source, Villar is your guy. I prefer to spread out the risk when addressing steals, so Villar is unlikely to reside on any of my fantasy rosters.
Trevor Story - Story missed the final two months of his rookie campaign due to injury, but fantasy owners of the Rockies shortstop still got more than they expected from him over a full season (27 HR, 72 RBI). This was a case of a rookie actually living up to the hype, and judging from his draft position in the mini-mock (Round 4, Pick 1), owners hoping to obtain Story's services for 2017 at an injury-related discount can forget about it.
Jean Segura - Heading into the 2016 draft season, Segura piqued my interest as a potential breakout candidate who might benefit from a fresh start with the Diamondbacks. I figured he could bat .260 with 30 steals, 8-10 homers and a decent number of runs should he hit near the top of the order. But a .319 batting average with 20 home runs, 33 steals and 102 runs scored? I didn't expect that. No one did. I wouldn't mind owning Segura in 2017, but 47th pick? That's pushing it. Do note that speed came at a hefty cost in this mock (see Jonathan Villar). Let's see if this trend continues as the mock draft season progresses.
Kyle Hendricks - Drafted as a back-end of the rotation mixed league starter last spring ($4 in Mixed Auction Tout Wars), Hendricks turned in a career year in 2016, going 16-8 with a 2.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP. Although it is hard to see him matching that stat line in 2017, it would be unfair to dismiss this past season as a fluke. There's clearly a lot to like about the soon-to-be 27-year-old, particularly his pinpoint control (2.1 BB/9 in '16). But honestly, it was strange to see him drafted before David Price.
Aaron Sanchez - Speaking of strange, it is very strange to remember that Sanchez entered spring training in a competition for Toronto's final starting rotation spot. Well, the young righty won that competition and quickly established himself as the club's most reliable starter, finishing the season with a 15-2 record to go along with a 3.00 ERA and 1.17 WHIP.
From $1 auction purchase to 64th overall pick in the span of seven months.