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Tuesday 25th Jul 2017

Some players will remember their 2016 season with fondness. But for others, the end of the calendar year could not have come soon enough. Whether it was due to injury, subpar performance or a combination of the two, these guys failed to live up to the expectations of both their real teams and their fantasy owners. The good news is that the new year really does mean a clean slate. While a major bounceback in 2017 is no guarantee, underachievers from the previous season, especially underachievers who sport a solid big league track record, is the first group I focus on when beginning my annual draft prep. Whether or not I will aggressively target all of the below players has yet to be determined, but let's just say that I'm intrigued.

Miguel Sano - Sano appeared in only 116 games last season thanks to a variety of ailments, but the Twins slugger still tallied 25 home runs and 66 RBI. With 43 homers over his first 196 big league games, the power is clearly legit, and Sano doesn't even turn 24 until May. Grab him at a discount now before it's too late.

Lorenzo Cain - Health, not production level, was the problem for Cain last year, though duplicating his 2015 stat line of .307-16-72-101-28 was going to be a tall order anyway. He's always been injury-prone, but Lorenzo's expected 2017 draft price takes that risk into account, and then some. I've seen him fall outside the top-30 among outfielders in many mocks, and if his market value remains roughly the same come draft day, I'll be all over this five-category contributor.

Lucas Duda - Limited to just 47 games due to injury last season, Duda might slip more than he should in 2017 drafts. Keep in mind that he launched a combined 57 homers from 2014-2015, and he managed to swat an impressive seven home runs in only 153 at-bats last year. He's a batting average liability, but there's plenty of profit potential here, and bump him up your rankings in OBP leagues (career .343 OBP).

Jason Heyward - What happened last season? I don't have the answer, but I've never been much of a Heyward supporter from a fantasy perspective. How many times has he recorded at least 20 homers in a season? Once. How about 80-plus RBI? Once. Or 90-plus runs? Once. Yet he's routinely drafted as a "high upside" top-30 OF. Well, that won't be the case this time around, which is why I'm at least thinking about him. But ultimately, I'll likely pass.

Dallas Keuchel - Keuchel was on my Do Not Draft list heading into 2016, despite the two straight stellar campaigns and the Cy Young season in 2015. The cost to draft him would be substantial, and I needed to see more before I could value him as a legitimate fantasy ace. As it turned out, I made the right call. The Astros southpaw would enter the All-Star break with a 4.80 ERA and 1.37 WHIP. Keuchel posted better, though far from ace-caliber, results in the second half, registering a 3.94 ERA and 1.08 WHIP before shoulder inflammation ended his season in late-August. Word is that Keuchel pitched through the injury for much of the season, which is actually good news when it comes to his 2017 outlook, as this could at least partly explain his struggles. Although it's probably a mistake to expect a return to ace form, as a third or fourth starter in a 12-team mixed league, he's well worth the investment.

Felix Hernandez - I might be placing too much weight on the past, but I find it hard to believe that after one injury-marred season, the days of Felix being a valuable fantasy commodity are over. Perhaps his days as a fantasy ace are over, but I can't even say that for sure. I could be wrong, and I really don't have any statistical evidence to support my hunch. Then again, don't underestimate the value of a hunch.

Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars Champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB

After devoting last week's column to the mixed-league worthy hitters who officially changed teams since the start of the Winter Meetings, it's only fair that we give equal attention to the pitchers. Since the performance level of pitchers from year to year tends to be tougher to predict, any edge that these guys can get from a more favorable home ballpark, a stronger supporting lineup or a more prominent role can be vital when it comes to a pitcher's fantasy outlook. Let's get started.

Chris Sale - I don't need to tell you that Sale is a fantasy ace. You knew that already. I don't need to tell you that Sale is a top-5 fantasy SP. You knew that already. As far as his value is concerned, I don't see it changing much. The move to a better team with a better lineup comes at the cost of a tougher division. Sale is a lock to be drafted among the top 30 players in 2017, and since I don't like to draft starting pitchers very early, it's unlikely that he will be a part of any of my teams. That said, barring injury, it's unlikely that he will disappoint.

Aroldis Chapman - I do worry about how the final year or two of Chapman's five-year contract will play out, as a 93 mph Aroldis Chapman is far less intimidating than the current 103 mph version. But really, who could criticize the Yankees for signing the Cuban southpaw, who boasts a career 2.08 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 15.2 K/9 rate? The bottom line is that Chapman deserves to be the first closer off the board in 2017 drafts.

Mark Melancon - Melancon is no Chapman, but he's pretty good. Over the past three seasons, the 31-year-old sports a combined 1.93 ERA and 0.90 WHIP to go along with 131 saves in 141 chances. He certainly adds stability to what was a messy late-inning situation for the Giants last season, and he will add stability to your fantasy bullpen as well.

Wade Davis - Davis entered the 2016 campaign as the consensus top fantasy closer, but he has now lost that title following a season in which forearm issues limited him to just 45 appearances. But the other numbers were once again stellar. For those willing to take on the injury risk, there's upside appeal in drafting the new Cubs stopper towards the back-end of the top-10 closers. Would anyone be surprised if he reclaims the #1 spot?

Lucas Giolito/Reynaldo Lopez - Quite a return package for the White Sox, who acquired these two hurlers (along with Dane Dunning) from the Nationals in exchange for Adam Eaton. Both Giolito and Lopez struggled in their first taste of the big leagues last season, but both are still very young and sport impressive minor league stat lines. Lopez could earn a rotation spot out of spring training while Giolito is likely to open the season in the Minors, though he has the higher ceiling. Expect both to make a mixed league impact by year's end.

Derek Holland - The White Sox weren't done adding arms to their roster, and there's little downside in signing Holland to a one-year contract. But after enjoying a solid 2013 campaign (3.42 ERA, 189 K's), health woes have limited the 30-year-old lefty to a combined 38 games over the past three seasons, and the results have been far from impressive. Holland is strictly an AL-only option for now, though owners in deeper mixed leagues would be wise to track his progress throughout spring training and into April.

Fernando Rodney - By now, we know the deal with Rodney. He will open the 2017 season as the Diamondbacks closer. He might even finish the 2017 season as the Diamondbacks closer. But he will drive his fantasy owners nuts from start to finish, so nuts that the saves will not be worth it. Stay away. 

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. 

Follow me on Twitter @ZachMLB.

 

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. 

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.

Follow me on Twitter @ZachMLB

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