Boy, if you thought last winter's Hot Stove period featured a lot of action ... well, let's just suggest that this year you add an extra cupful of espresso to your tub of coffee and find yourself a cozier couch upon which to sit.
A record of more than $2.4 billion was spent on free agents this offseason, and greater than 60 trades of at least 160 players were made. Roughly 300 names, 13 of whom finished among the top 100 from the 2015 Player Rater, changed teams since last season concluded. What's more, from the final pitch of the 2015 World Series until Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we never went more than seven days without a member of last season's Player Rater top 300 changing teams.
That's an exhausting amount of Hot Stove action to absorb.
Thankfully, that's where this primer comes in handy. Welcome to your one-stop, catch-me-up-on-all-the-winter-moves-I-might've missed column. While I've annually advised fantasy owners to never take a winter off, to not tune out the November, December and January transactions log, I recognize the allure of those "other" sports that play through the winter. Heck, I play them, but that's only because I don't sleep; too many baseball transactions to catch up on after daytime management of my football teams.
In the interest of brevity -- if this winter can possibly allow that -- the most fantasy-relevant moves are broken down into dual lists of nine that rank the most impactful transactions on individual players, both positive ("Grins") and negative ("Groans"). Beneath that is a "Hot Stove movement chart," which tracks all fantasy-relevant moves, complete with grades of the impact of the transactions on the player's 2016 value.
Finally, neither David Price, who finished No. 15 on our 2015 Player Rater, nor Chris Capuano, No. 1,340, made either list of nine. There's a simple reason: Price's fantasy value endured only minimal change as a result of his signing with the Boston Red Sox. Capuano, meanwhile, is on neither list nor chart because he wasn't a fantasy-relevant player last season and isn't expected to be one this year.
Quick links to take you to each section:
Nine 'grins': Tristan's most fantasy-beneficial player moves
Nine 'groans': Tristan's most value-sapping player moves
Hot Stove movement chart: Complete with fantasy grades
1. Miami Marlins signed SP Wei-Yin Chen
Details: On Jan. 19, the Marlins signed Chen to a five-year, $80 million contract which includes a vesting option for 2021.
It might seem unusual to have Chen on this list, being that few people would project him to beat his No. 138 overall and No. 34 starting pitcher finishes on the 2015 Player Rater, and especially ranked at the top. But this list is as much about a player's perceived stock and his transaction's impact upon it, and landing in Miami gave Chen a fighting chance at repeating his lofty 2015 finish. Consider that Chen had a 16-19 record and 4.06 ERA in his 52 career starts against American League East opponents, and 30-13 with a 3.47 ERA in 65 starts against everybody else. Last season, AL East teams averaged 4.64 runs per game, while National League East squads averaged 3.95; those were the most and least of the six divisions by substantial margins. While the Marlins did shrink the dimensions at Marlins Park this offseason, Chen is still in quite a good spot to attempt a repeat.
2. Chicago White Sox traded for 3B Todd Frazier
Details: On Dec. 16, the White Sox acquired Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds as part of a three-team trade, sending 2B Micah Johnson, RP Frankie Montas and OF Trayce Thompson to Los Angeles Dodgers, who sent 2B Jose Peraza, OF Scott Schebler and 2B Brandon Dixon to Reds.
Like Chen, how is Frazier expected to improve upon his No. 49 Player Rater finish? Well, in Chicago, he just might, though this is as much about that as it is his escaping the rebuilding Reds for what might be an underrated White Sox offense, helping stabilize his counting numbers (RBIs, runs). U.S. Cellular Field is no less favorable a ballpark for Frazier's skills than Great American Ball Park, though U.S. Cellular's historic home run tendencies should suit Frazier well. He had the majors' third-highest fly-ball rate in 2015 (43.3 percent of all balls in play), and from 2012-15 combined, his 39.9 percent fly-ball rate ranked in the league's 89th percentile.
3. San Francisco Giants signed SP Jeff Samardzija
Details: On Dec. 9, the Giants signed Samardzija to a five-year, $90 million contract.
Things can't get much worse for Samardzija, can they? From Aug. 1 forward last season, he was 3-8 with three quality starts, a 7.26 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 11 games. More distressing, though, was that his strikeout rate slipped to 15.7 percent during that span as he leaned more heavily upon sliders, cutters and sinkers than he had previously during his career. Samardzija had the look of a pitcher in transition, at least in terms of pitch selection, but at least he's now in the right park for a more contact-oriented pitcher. Lefties hit fly balls against him nearly 10 percent more often than righties did last season, and AT&T Park is the most forgiving venue in baseball to right field. If you believe that Samardzija's strikeout rate can return to 2011-14 levels -- I'm admittedly more skeptical than most -- he's in the perfect place in which to speculate.
4. Chicago Cubs signed OF Jason Heyward
Details: The Cubs, on Dec. 15, signed Heyward to an eight-year, $184 million contract including two opt-outs, the first of which occurs after 2018.
The 2016 season will be the first during which Heyward calls a neutral- to hitter-friendly venue his home, and considering the Cubs' all-in approach to this season, this will be the best offense of which he has been a part. That's a significant advantage in its own right; if he's a No. 1 or 2 hitter for his new team, he might come to the plate as many (or more) than 50 additional times, boosting his counting numbers.
5. Minnesota Twins signed 1B Byung Ho Park
Details: The Twins, on Dec. 1, signed Park to a four-year, $12-million contract.
The Korean Baseball Organization's home run champion four years running, hitting 50-plus in each of the past two, Park brings plenty of power to Target Field, a much better venue for that than is most fantasy owners' perception. In each of the past two years, it graded above-average for home runs, and right-handed sluggers in particular experience a boost. As for the adjustment to the U.S. game, don't overlook that Jung Ho Kang, who averaged 29 home runs (one per 17.9 trips to the plate) in his final three seasons in the KBO, managed 15 homers (one per 31.1 PAs) in his first year in 2015.
6. Colorado Rockies signed OF Gerardo Parra
Details: The Rockies, on Jan. 20, signed Parra to a three-year, $27.5 million contract including an option for 2019.
What was initially a curious signing -- another left-handed outfielder added to a team that already had three in starting roles -- made a lot more sense following the trade of Corey Dickerson eight days later. It cleared a regular role for Parra, who before 2015 had a strong defensive reputation, and who also managed 14/14 numbers offensively. Though he's unlikely to take any significant steps forward at age 29 (he'll turn that age on May 6), Coors Field might be enough to boost his batting average into the .300 range, and his power closer to 20 home runs.
7. White Sox traded for 3B/2B Brett Lawrie
Details: The White Sox, on Dec. 9, acquired Lawrie from Oakland Athletics for RP Jeffrey Wendelken and SP Zack Erwin.
He was a "groan" in last year's edition, yet he enjoyed arguably a career year -- though his No. 192 Player Rater overall finish in 2012 was actually higher than his No. 228 in 2015 -- so, naturally, he's a "grin" this year and will be a bust, right? Injuries always seem to influence Lawrie's final numbers, but if we can safely assume he'll repeat his 149 games played, the move from O.co Coliseum to U.S. Cellular Field couldn't be much better for his hitting stats. He blasted only six of his 16 homers and had a slugging percentage 44 points lower in home games last season, but remember that during his Toronto Blue Jays career, playing what was another hitter-friendly venue, he slugged 86 points higher at home than on the road.
8. New York Yankees traded for SS/2B Starlin Castro
A fresh start with a new team might be just what Castro needed to get his once-promising career back on track, and he'll enjoy additional advantages of escaping a Cubs middle infield that had lots of competition for a Yankees team that will promise him an everyday role, as well as moving to one of the game's most homer-friendly ballparks in Yankee Stadium. But what's most interesting about Castro's game is his past ability to make hard contact to the opposite field, something that's especially advantageous in that ballpark if he can recapture it: From 2010-13, Castro's 123 hard-contact line drives plus fly balls were 10th-most among right-handed hitters in baseball.
9. Houston Astros traded for RP Ken Giles
Save opportunities can be unpredictable, rarely influenced by a team's win total except in the most extreme historical examples of losing squads -- think 105-plus losses. Giles' 2015 and 2016 teams provide as good evidence as any; the 2015 Phillies won 63 games but generated 51 save chances, while the 2015 Astros won 86 and generated 58 save chances. In Giles' case, it's not the saves that matter with his move, but rather the change in ballparks: Minute Maid Park has been slightly less favorable for left-handed hitters than Citizens Bank Park. That's important considering lefties' extreme pull tendency against Giles, as his 49 percent pull rate was fifth-highest among relievers with at least 50 appearances in 2015.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks traded for SP Shelby Miller
Miller had already shown a tendency to out-pitch his peripherals -- he was one of only four pitchers (R.A. Dickey, Mike Leake and Julio Teheran were the others) to make at least 30 starts resulting in a FIP at least one-third of a run higher than his ERA in each of the past three seasons -- and now he'll call Chase Field, which afforded 60 more home runs than did Turner Field from 2013-15 combined, his home. The Diamondbacks are sure to back him better than did the Braves, who averaged 1.64 runs in his 14 quality starts that came within his 24-start winless streak last season (2.00 if you count all 24 games), but we all know how fluky the wins category by definition, and any possible gain there will be at least offset by a rise in Miller's ERA/WHIP. New teammate Rubby De La Rosa had eerily similar peripherals to Miller in 2015, and De La Rosa finished with a 4.67 ERA and No. 317 standing on the Player Rater.
2. Tampa Bay Rays traded for OF Corey Dickerson.
Leaving Coors Field is rarely a positive for a hitter, evidenced best by the team's 49-points-better-than-the-league-average wOBA in home games the past three seasons, which more than compensates for their 20-points-worst-than-average wOBA on the road during that same time span. Still, some of the reason that Rockies players' home/road splits are so wide are the effects -- and constant adjustment to them due to travel -- of the mile-high altitude on a baseball, something that shouldn't have as dramatic an effect upon a player scheduled to play the vast majority of his games closer to sea level. Don't simply project Dickerson's career road stats to a full 2016, but be prepared for his numbers to be closer to them than his home rates.
3. Diamondbacks traded for SS Jean Segura.
It's as much a "groan" because of the impact on Segura's new Diamondbacks teammates as much as his own value. General manager Dave Stewart hinted to the media immediately after the trade that acquiring Segura "gives us a top-of-the-lineup hitter," despite Segura's .300 on-base percentage the past three seasons combined, seventh-worst among the 112 players with at least 1,500 plate appearances during that time span. Slotting him first means maximizing at-bats for one of the team's weaker hitters and lessening them for the team's better bats, not to mention the hit on RBI opportunities for the heart-of-the-order men. Segura also enters a middle-infield mix that includes Chris Owings and Nick Ahmed, and in the case of Ahmed, also a natural shortstop, he's a superior defensive player who actually had a higher wOBA in 2015 (.276 to Segura's .268).
4. Detroit Tigers signed SP Jordan Zimmermann
Details: Tigers, on Nov. 30, signed Zimmerman to a five-year, $110 million contract.
It's a move with the resulting effect of the Chen signing -- leaving the NL East for the American League -- or perhaps for a more apt such comparison, Max Scherzer, whose move from the Tigers to the Nationals went in the exact opposite direction? In this space a year ago, I posted the production differential between the designated hitter and pitchers batting, and not much changed in 2015:
MLB average pitcher: .132 AVG, .150 wOBA, 0.5 HR%, 37.8 K%, 2.21 PA/G
MLB average DH: .260 AVG, .336 wOBA, 3.5 HR%, 20.8 K%, 4.21 PA/G
But there's a significant difference between Zimmermann's and Scherzer's skill sets: Zimmermann had a 19.7 percent strikeout rate (18.4 percent against non-pitchers), going more for ground balls, while Scherzer had 30.7 percent. And let's not forget that the Tigers' four AL Central foes added the aforementioned Frazier, Lawrie and Park as well as Mike Napoli; the primary losses were Aaron Hicks, Torii Hunter, Alexei Ramirez and Ben Zobrist (who spent a little more than half the year in the AL West).
5. Kansas City Royals signed SP Ian Kennedy
Details: On Jan. 29, the Royals signed Kennedy to a five-year, $70 million contract.
The Zimmermann lessons apply to Kennedy as well, except that in Kennedy's case, in addition to having to face the DH, he's also leaving one of the most pitching-friendly venues in baseball while going to the more hitting-oriented league. Though Kennedy's strikeout rate was higher of the two -- he whiffed 24.4 percent of hitters he faced last season (23.7 percent of non-pitchers) -- he's also the more fly-ball oriented and home-run prone, which isn't a good mix in the AL Central.
6. Washington Nationals traded for OF Ben Revere
Details: On Jan. 8, the Nationals acquired Revere and a player to be named later from Blue Jays for RP Drew Storen and cash.
To be fair, Revere's fantasy value might not change a bit in Washington. As a contact-hitting speedster, he might be new Nationals manager Dusty Baker's preferred choice to lead off each and every day, a role that would fuel Revere's counting numbers to the point that he could repeat his top-40 Player Rater finish of 2015. Still, if Baker goes the wise route with a straight platoon of Revere and Michael Taylor, or realizes that Revere is more suited for the bottom of the order against lefties, then Revere will be hard-pressed to repeat. Besides, this is as much of a "groan" for what it means for Taylor's fantasy value. Taylor was, after all, a mixed league-relevant player who finished 263th on last year's Player Rater.
7. Diamondbacks signed SP Zack Greinke
Details: On Dec. 8, the Diamondbacks signed Greinke to a six-year, $206.5 million contract.
Greinke's landing in Arizona wasn't a devastating move by any means, but Chase Field is a considerably more hitting-friendly environment than the pitching-oriented Dodger Stadium, and the right-hander already got a lot of breaks in posting the majors' best ERA (1.66). He's on the list as much for the near-probability that his ERA will regress to 2.50 or greater -- and perhaps even three-plus -- as the move itself, but let's not forget that when he last played in a ballpark comparably offensively oriented, Miller Park, he had ERAs of 3.83 (2011) and 3.44 (first four months of 2012).
8. Blue Jays traded for RP Drew Storen
Details: Blue Jays, on Jan. 8, acquired Storen and cash from Nationals for OF Ben Revere and a player to be named later.
His is another move that's frustrating on two fronts, as Storen's arrival in Toronto sets up a closer battle between him and the incumbent Roberto Osuna. Osuna, fantasy baseball's No. 16 closer last season, didn't do anything worthy of a demotion from the job, but Storen has slightly more experience, which often sways managers. In addition, even if Storen is given a declaration that the job is his, he's still moving out of the game's weakest offensive division (NL East) for its strongest (AL East), and in the process is moving into one of the most hitting-friendly environments in the game.
9. Yankees traded for RP Aroldis Chapman
Another example of a "groan" due to the impact upon an incumbent closer, Chapman's arrival in New York greatly decreases the chances that Andrew Miller will come anywhere close to his No. 43 overall finish on the 2015 Player Rater. Though it was good news for both Chapman and the Yankees' bullpen depth, it also raised the valid question about a mix-and-match team strategy, where he, Miller and Dellin Betances could garner a save chance on any given night. Manager Joe Girardi has shown a tendency to pick one man to close, which favors Chapman substantially, but there are only so many saves to go around for these three.
Players are listed by position, then in order of their 2015 Player Rater ranking, with both their former and new teams. A grade is included: two green plus signs mean a significant increase in fantasy stock; one green plus sign means a slight increase; dashes mean no discernable change; one red minus sign means a slight decrease; two red minus signs mean a significant decrease in fantasy stock.
Note: The players below might receive grades somewhat out of line with their ranking order in the lists above; the player's overall fantasy importance is considered in those rankings, while the grades below merely estimates the player's projected change in value from 2015-16.