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Thursday 23rd Nov 2017

It arrived in the mail this past Thursday and was immediately placed in a prominent spot on my desk, to be studied meticulously over the course of the next two-plus months. If you're looking for the fantasy baseball preview magazine that will best prepare you for the upcoming season, The Fantasy Baseball Guide Professional Edition, put together by Rotoman Peter Kreutzer, is the one to get. And trust me, I'm not just saying this because I contribute to the 160-page publication. 

The strategy essays and expert mock draft results provide invaluable information, but my favorite part of the magazine are the player profile Picks and Pans, where a cast of fantasy pundits offer their thoughts on players who they consider to be either undervalued (picks) or overvalued (pans) heading into draft day. My favorite part of my favorite part of the magazine is finding out if the players I chose were popular pick/pan selections, which is often the case. More interesting than the agreements are the disagreements, that is players who were deemed Picks by some experts and Pans by others. So, just to give you a taste of the magazine content, let's take a look at some of the guys who fit this description. 

Gary Sanchez (1 Pick, 5 Pans): Arguably the most controversial player of them all, some owners view Sanchez as a no doubt top-40 player while others are wary of overpaying based on a 20-home run, two-month stretch that was aided by an unusually high HR/FB ratio. Count me in the latter group, and clearly I wasn't alone.

Jose Abreu (6 Picks, 1 Pan): Well, so much for the idea of drafting Abreu at a steep discount. Apparently, I'm not the only one who wasn't taken aback by a "disappointing" .293-25-100 stat line. The White Sox first baseman is a safe bet for another strong batting average in 2017, and the fact that 14 of his 25 home runs last season came in the final two months suggests that a return to the 30-homer level is well within reach. The profit potential might not be as great as I originally thought, but Abreu remains an appealing lower-priced 1B alternative to Joey Votto and Freddie Freeman. 

Miguel Sano (2 Picks, 1 Pan): The batting average might be ugly and the strikeout total will be ugly, but through 196 big league games, Sano has already racked up 43 homers and 118 RBI. Pretty good. If you happen to play in an OBP league, he's even more valuable (career .346 OBP). Then there's the dual-position eligibility at third base and outfield. Sano's injury-marred 2016 season opens up a nice buying opportunity for 2017. Take advantage.

Jonathan Villar (1 Pick, 2 Pans): Stolen base totals are down throughout baseball, which is why you might be tempted to invest heavily in Villar and enjoy not having to worry too much about steals for the rest of the draft. I don't like to build my roster that way. What happens if Villar gets injured and you don't have enough 20-SB type fallback options because you were counting on at least 50 swipes from the Brewers speedster? What happens if he doesn't bat .285 again? (This is quite possible considering his .373 BABIP last season.) And what happens if he doesn't hit 19 homers again? There's simply too much that could go wrong here.

Jonathan Schoop (2 Picks, 2 Pans): A true split decision. I'm not sure if Schoop can improve upon his 2016 stat line, but for some strange reason, he's ranked outside of the top-15 second basemen on many sites, which is why I labeled him a Pick. Can we please show this guy a little more respect?

Adam Jones (1 Pick, 3 Pans): Ah, to be in the minority. Jones has now registered at least 25 homers and 82 RBI in each of the last six seasons. Yeah, maybe he's no longer an elite fantasy option, but there seems to be this idea that you will need to pay top dollar to draft him, which just isn't the case. I don't see his production all of a sudden plummeting. In fact, I consider Jones to be an intriguing contrarian pick, in that so many owners will view him as overvalued that he might end up being undervalued. 

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

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

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. 

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.

 

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