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Fantasy baseball: Hot stove analysis of offseason trades and free-agent signings

After battling it out during the World Series, who knows what uniforms Freddie Freeman and Carlos Correa might be wearing in 2022? TANNEN MAURY/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Tracking the offseason MLB trades and signings with fantasy baseball implications for 2022, Eric Karabell and Tristan H. Cockcroft will analyze and provide an outlook for all of the key players involved. Check back often as players like Carlos Correa, Freddie Freeman and Trevor Story begin to find their potential new homes for 2022.

Players will be separated by position, and then listed in order of fantasy relevance within each positional grouping. Also included are links to any stand-alone analysis stories regarding free-agent signings and trades. Players who end up re-signing with their previous team will not be included.

Jump to: Catcher | First Base | Second Base | Shortstop | Third Base | Outfield | Starting Pitcher | Relief Pitcher


Second base

Texas Rangers sign 2B Marcus Semien: The first of the big-name free agent shortstops -- or, in this case, second basemen, as that was his primary position in 2021 -- is off the board. -- Cockcroft


Seattle Mariners trade for 2B Adam Frazier: Two middle infielders finished among the top 10 in hits last season. Can you guess who they were? One is Trea Turner, the dynamic base stealer that may go No. 1 overall in 2022 fantasy drafts. Turner is a fantasy superstar! The other was also acquired in a trade last season by a contending team who had hopes for a long playoff run. It did not work out so well.

Still, give Adam Frazier ample credit for having his best season. The Padres traded for the longtime Pirates second baseman and deployed him in a utility role. Now, eight weeks after missing the postseason, they have dealt him to the Mariners for a few prospects. Frazier hit .305 in 2021, although that was just about all he did for fantasy managers -- that and scoring runs.

The contact-oriented Frazier has never hit more than 10 home runs in any season, nor has he stolen more than 10 bases, so he offers more value to those in points formats as opposed to those in roto. Still, batting average matters in almost every league and Frazier is rather safe there, though a big key to his value will be his lineup spot. Let us assume/hope it is at the top, likely in concert with new double-play partner J.P. Crawford, also a singles-minded hitter. Still, it is tough to value either of these Mariners as fantasy building blocks. Get them late in drafts. -- Karabell


Shortstop

Texas Rangers sign SS Corey Seager: Can Seager finally stay healthy for a full 162 games? -- Cockcroft


Detroit Tigers sign SS Javier Baez: Give Baez ample credit for bouncing back during the 2021 season, as he smacked 31 home runs and stole 18 bases for the Cubs and Mets, reminding everyone that his 2020 statistical nightmare season was likely an aberration. Baez has power and he has speed, enough to tantalize any roto-league manager, and he is eligible at both second base and shortstop. Baez finished the 2021 season at No. 45 on the Player Rater, a solid return on investment in those formats.

The problem came in points leagues, where Baez continues to underperform due to a complete lack of plate discipline -- and with little hope of that narrative changing. In fact, he now has more home runs than walks in four consecutive seasons, which is exceedingly rare and makes him a batting average risk. We saw the bottom drop in his batting average in 2020, and his .265 mark in 2021 was fair, but also perhaps more of a ceiling moving forward.

Now 29 years old and set to be a member of the Tigers for a long time, this is what Baez is. There is considerable good here, both for the pop and speed combination and for the wondrous defense. For points leagues, however, the lack of walks is a killer, as more than 100 hitters alone scored more points, despite Baez playing in 138 games. That's hard to do, folks. The bottom line is that Baez is worth a top-100 pick in roto formats, but he's not close to it when it comes to points. As always, know your league's rules! -- Karabell


Third base

New York Mets sign 3B Eduardo Escobar: Escobar gives the Mets another option for both second and third base, plus shortstop in a pinch (albeit with mediocre defense there). On a team that had been so left-handed in recent years, his history of "lefty mashing" might well come in handy. In his career, he has a wOBA 19 points higher against southpaws than righties, and from 2019-21, that gap was 28 points. Expect the Mets to utilize him much in the way that his previous team, the Brewers, did, shuffling him around and exploiting daily pitching matchups -- which is ideally what his fantasy managers should also do. -- Cockcroft


Outfield

New York Mets sign OF Starling Marte: The Mets finally got their center fielder! After four seasons of fielding defensive-only players or hitters effectively playing there out of position, Marte will give the Mets competent defense, good hitting and elite base stealing ability in center field. Having a complete player in place will probably pay the most fantasy dividends for Marte's new teammates than Marte himself, as his bat boosts the lineup without squeezing any key pieces out, while his glove will give the pitching staff better odds of successful outcomes on balls in play. I'm a little more bullish on Mets pitchers with his arrival -- though ultimately might only award them an extra buck in salary-cap drafts or a handful of ranking spots -- and I'm certainly more intrigued by their lineup as well.

Marte's speed is key in fantasy. He paced the majors in stolen bases (47) by a seven-steal margin, becoming the first player in history to steal 20-plus bags in both leagues in a single season. He actually came within 10 steals of the National League's lead and 15 of the American League's lead in the category. Much of that was an increasing number of green lights on the base paths but Marte's improving accuracy on his attempts is also encouraging in light of his slight decline in speed over the past four seasons -- his 28.4 mph Statcast average sprint speed in 2021 represented a career low. He's as good a bet to pace the majors in stolen bases as anyone, and while 33-year-olds tend to see that number decline more than increase, the identity of the Mets' manager might ultimately decide whether he's more a 30-SB candidate than a 40-SB one. The difference matters, but in this steals-starved era in fantasy, it's worth paying the premium for the chance at the latter.

Expect Marte to slot in either at leadoff, second or fourth in the lineup, depending, again, upon the identity of the manager. With the Mets' other offseason moves, their 2022 projected roster brings many more platoon-advantage possibilities, taking this team into the Dodgers/Rays direction of building exclusively around matchups. That's a great thing for Marte, who in the past three seasons played for teams that were collectively 45 games under .500, and who profiles as an absolutely everyday player regardless of the Mets' final lineup strategy. He might well be lined up for his first career 100-run season, making his top-25-player-in-fantasy case an easy one.

There's only one league format where such a case might be flimsy, that being ESPN's standard points leagues, where he finished 91st overall (compared to third in rotisserie) and 54th among hitters, in large part due to his modest extra-base hit production and history of so-so walk rates. Consider him more top-50 worthy there. -- Cockcroft


Miami Marlins sign OF Avisail Garcia: He's a personal favorite, in large part because of his "Statcast darling" traits, best evidenced by his never-beneath-the-78th percentile (or 88th, if we exclude the 60-game 2020) sprint speed and his solid-yet-overlooked Barrel rates and maximum exit-velocity numbers. Garcia showed us in two of the last three seasons (2019 and 2021) why scouring the bargain bin using Statcast metrics is a great idea when filling out the back-end of your mixed-league roster, and it's reasonable to think that he's the .267-25-90, 10-steal player that his three-year average prorated to a full schedule indicates.

The problems, however, are that he's now 30 years old, meaning we've probably already seen his best single year, and he's joining a Marlins team whose home is one of the worst environments for power. Temper that three-year average for homers and RBIs, meaning Garcia will probably be more of a reliable-but-unspectacular, mixed-league OF5 type for fantasy. -- Cockcroft


Milwaukee Brewers acquire OF Hunter Renfroe from Boston Red Sox for OF Jackie Bradley Jr. and prospects

In an eleventh-hour surprise ahead of Dec. 2's early-morning lockout announcement, the Brewers made this shrewd move to improve their outfield, which had previously lost Garcia (see above). Renfroe brings big-time power -- he has placed in the 84th percentile or better in Statcast's Barrel rate in four of the past five seasons -- and a good defensive reputation, even if his 2021 metrics didn't reflect it. That glove should keep him in the lineup, and Miller Park's homer-friendly confines should make it pretty easy for Renfroe to reach 30 homers for the third time in the past four years, and perhaps approach or even repeat the top-30 fantasy outfielder status he enjoyed in 2021.

Bradley, meanwhile, returns to Boston, where he had a lengthy history of big hot streaks (and, unfortunately, extended cold spells). He'll probably begin in a platoon/matchups-style role where perhaps he'll get back to that level. He's not a mixed-league pick right now, but could be a handy plug-in for those formats once the season gets into full swing. -- Cockcroft


New York Mets sign OF Mark Canha: Canha brings the ability to cover both outfield corners or first base competently, plus center field in a pinch, and he might be the team's ideal designated hitter if it's reintroduced to the National League for 2022. Once a player with a reputation as a lefty masher, he has actually balanced his platoon splits to the point that he has performed better in his career against righties (.343 wOBA, compared to .325 against lefties), and his keen batting eye might make him a perfect complement to Brandon Nimmo in a prospective leadoff-spot platoon.

Canha probably isn't the 12-SB performer he was in 2021 -- that exceeded his entire 2016-20 total (10) -- and he's a bit too fly ball-oriented to raise his .244 career batting average, but he's a handy daily-matchups play who could be a sneaky-good mixed league No. 5 outfielder if the Mets were to make him their everyday left fielder and leadoff man. -- Cockcroft


Starting pitcher

Toronto Blue Jays sign SP Kevin Gausman: The first and perhaps only relevant thing that crossed my mind when I saw now-established right-hander Gausman signing on for five years with the Blue Jays was the massive difference in his old and new home ballparks. We make a big deal about this, but often it is important. So yeah, let's make a big deal about it. Gausman was great in 2021 for the Giants, finishing as the No. 9 hurler on our Player Rater and No. 7 in points leagues, but now he has to pitch half the time in a hitter's heaven! Oh, what will he do?

For the record, Gausman won 6 of 14 home starts a season ago, with a 3.44 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. In his 19 road starts, away from large Oracle Park, he won eight games with a 2.33 ERA and 1.03 WHIP. Well, there goes that narrative! Gausman is simply a very good pitcher, thanks to leaving the incapable hands of the Baltimore organization and mastering his split-finger pitch in combination with his four-seam fastball.

Sure, pitching in San Francisco didn't hurt. He twirled a 3.00 ERA over 251 2/3 innings for the Giants in two years, with a 10.9 K/9 and earning his $110-million deal with the Blue Jays. We should not expect a sub-3.00 ERA again, not in a strong hitter's park and in that division, but this is a top-20 pitcher in our rankings and, as he enters his age-31 season, he looks to be safe. Gausman has a new narrative. He is just good. -- Karabell


New York Mets sign SP Max Scherzer: If you can't beat 'em, sign 'em. That's the apparent strategy of the Mets -- Cockcroft


Seattle Mariners sign SP Robbie Ray: Will Robbie Ray still be great in Seattle? -- Karabell


Detroit Tigers sign SP Eduardo Rodriguez: If one looks solely at ERA, then sure, it looks like Rodriguez is coming off of a rough 2021. After all, his ERA was 4.74, eighth-worst among the 55 starting pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched. Using expected ERA from Fangraphs, however, we see Rodriguez boasts a 3.55 xERA, and that is 20th-best (and tied with the awesome Robbie Ray). He also tied Ray in fWAR. No, Rodriguez was not at all bad in 2021.

Truly, the underlying metrics show that this is an excellent pitcher in his prime with strong strikeout, walk and HR rates, who has just been seriously unlucky and hurt by Boston's terrible defense. Rodriguez had a startling .363 BABIP against -- the next-worst among starters was .326, and not so coincidentally another Boston pitcher (Nathan Eovaldi). Detroit's infield remains a work in progress, but Tucker Barnhart, recently acquired from the Reds, is a solid catcher, and a big-money SS signing seems imminent. This defense should aid Rodriguez in 2022 and beyond.

Fantasy managers could see a few years ago that E-Rod was building up to becoming a valuable asset, and when he won 19 games with a 3.81 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 2019, we rejoiced. Perhaps that is the ceiling. Rodriguez has a 4.16 career ERA with a rather bloated 1.31 WHIP. Nobody calls him an ace, but he misses bats. He fanned 27.4% of the hitters he faced in 2021, good for 15th among starters and nearly tied with Cy Young candidate Lance Lynn in that category.

Ultimately, it's time to reassess Rodriguez. He missed the 2020 season with myocarditis and, on the surface, it seems like his 2021 suffered. Truly, it did not. Now he leaves the rough AL East for an easier division and in a bigger home ballpark. If one regarded Rodriguez as a top-40 starting pitcher coming off his 2019 campaign, do it again. The Tigers are ascending and clearly spending money this offseason. Rodriguez should return close to his 2019 value. -- Karabell


Chicago Cubs sign SP Marcus Stroman: We'll have to wait and see what the Cubs' true competitive intent is for 2021, but if they're attempting a run at the playoffs, Stroman will fit in nicely as a No. 2-3 SP type. If they're truly in a rebuild, well then, he'll be in a formidable pairing with Kyle Hendricks at the top of their rotation. I'm expecting it's the former, though, and therein lies the problem.

Stroman has delivered big seasonal workloads around a handful of injuries (2015's knee surgery, 2018's shoulder issues and 2020's torn calf muscle and the resulting opt-out decision), albeit with "good, not great" skills that rely heavily upon his supporting cast. Case in point, his 2018, when he had a terrible Blue Jays defense behind him, and 2021, when he received the league's third-worst run support resulting in only 10 wins. At worst, he's a very good mixed-league streaming choice. At best, he'll be a consistently reliable, top-50 caliber "back of your staff" type. -- Cockcroft


Texas Rangers sign SP Jon Gray: After seven long seasons of that familiar question, "What might Jon Gray do outside of Coors Field," we'll finally get our answer, after he signed a four-year, $56 million contract with the Rangers. Many fantasy baseball enthusiasts assume greatness for pitchers immediately upon their departures from the Rockies, but the sample of those is small, with Ubaldo Jimenez, traded as a 27-year-old (Gray is 30, by comparison) perhaps being the only rational comp. Jimenez works only in that his stuff wasn't quite the same by the time he was traded as during his Rockies prime, just as Gray's isn't quite as good today as it was four years ago, and Jimenez's post-Rockies career was rather disappointing. Still, Gray is escaping Coors for a Texas ballpark that is much more pitching-friendly than its predecessor, grading as roughly neutral but with a slight pitching lean during its first two years of existence.

Here's the problem with simply shaving an arbitrary amount off Gray's ERA and WHIP with his Coors exit: His home/road splits have been historically variable, his having pitched substantially better at Coors than away from it in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021, with his 2020 very much falling into the get-me-out-of-Coors!!! pattern. Gray has also shown inconsistent start-over-start patterns historically, and while some of that might've been Coors, I suspect it's as much a need to tweak some of his pitches than simply the ballpark. He's in a much better situation to thrive now, but I wonder whether a post-Coors adjustment, adapting to the lower altitude, is in order, making him much more of a dream candidate for getting for a song come May than someone worth drafting as for the potential premium of his being a top-60 fantasy starter. I'd call him more of a SP75-80. -- Cockcroft


Los Angeles Angels sign SP Noah Syndergaard: Good for the Angels for taking the one-year gamble here. Well, perhaps it is good. Who knows? Do the Angels feel lucky? Syndergaard was great in his early days with the Mets -- and as recently as 2018, when he posted a 3.03 ERA and fanned a hitter per inning. In 2019, he rose again to make 32 starts and he eclipsed 200 strikeouts, but he also led the NL in earned runs. There were also clear concerning signs like falling velocity (not just on his fastball) and spin rates. Still, he is Thor! He is great! Well, maybe he is.

Syndergaard missed the 2020 season due to inevitable Tommy John surgery and returned late in 2021 for a few one-inning outings that told us next to nothing, since he ignored his off-speed offerings. If healthy, there is obvious ceiling and upside here, since we know he can miss myriad bats and a fantasy manager must consider all of it, regardless of league format. He could be a top-20 starter if his velocity and health return! He could also make like seven starts again. Do you feel lucky?

What else is there to say? The Angels have a huge rotational need -- more than most -- and perhaps he fills that role. Still, it is quite easy to be skeptical, too. Take a chance relatively late in most fantasy leagues -- like top-40 SP late -- and hope to get lucky. -- Karabell


St. Louis Cardinals sign SP Steven Matz: If we simply ignore the truncated 2020 season, the left-handed Matz has been a perfectly average depth starting pitcher for fantasy purposes, compiling an even 4.00 ERA in 2018, 2019 and 2021. Just forget about 2020. Oops, there goes another home run! Matz misses enough bats and, in those three seasons, averaged 30 starts for the Mets and Blue Jays, making him a reasonable streaming or fill-in option for fantasy managers. Now Matz is a Cardinals option and, while "safety" is hardly the best term to use and he is not someone you must draft, he has value back in the National League. Some value.

Matz bounced back nicely from a nightmare 2020. OK, time to stop bringing it up. He returned to career norms in strikeout rate, walk rate, ground-ball rate and Barrel percentage. His versatile pitch offerings remained consistent, and when he keeps opposing hitters from raking off-speed stuff 500 feet, Matz is fine. Just fine. He won 14 games in 2021, but do not expect that moving forward. That was run support. Matz is a five-inning pitcher, permitting a .871 OPS the third time through a lineup in 2021. Take him as your final starter in standard leagues and nothing more. -- Karabell


Tampa Bay Rays sign SP Corey Kluber: Wow, the Rays signed two-time former Cy Young award winner Kluber! If the Rays are doing it, then it must be an awesome move, right? Well, there is little downside to the move, but fantasy managers should realize there is little chance that Kluber, 35, is going to make 30 starts or win 15 games. Kluber made 16 starts for the 2021 New York Yankees and they were reasonable ones. He missed bats, avoided home runs and kept hitters off balance with an effective changeup. Kluber barely throws the fastball and barely cracks 90 mph with it, but this is the Rays and they know what they are doing, right?

Good for the Rays and, at this stage of his career, Kluber. He is hardly someone to target as a top-40 starter in fantasy, mainly because the durability and consistency that once defined him with Cleveland is long gone. Shoulder woes washed out his 2020 campaign and limited him last season. The Rays qualified nary a pitcher for the ERA title in 2021 and they are likely to handle Kluber with the utmost of care, whether that means tandem starts and/or surprise IL stints. This can frustrate a fantasy manager. Expect Kluber to make fewer than 20 outings. At least they should be decent ones. -- Karabell


Los Angeles Dodgers sign SP Andrew Heaney: Teams are always in search of the "next Robbie Ray" and, as Heaney's 26.9% strikeout rate, his workload relative to his brethren last season, and his left-handedness are all eerily similar to Ray (who had a 27.1% strikeout rate back in 2020 as he headed towards free agency), it's no surprise to see Heaney on such a candidacy list. It's not a perfect comp since Heaney has a much better track record of control (6.7% career walk rate to Ray's 12.2%). He also lacks the top-shelf strikeout rates Ray that historically had, as Ray has an electric, put-'em-away slider and Heaney does not.

Heaney is also a more extreme fly-baller, which explains all the home runs. Still, Heaney has an extremely high 90th-percentile fastball spin rate and the Dodgers are a good fit. If he and/or the team can improve his location during the offseason, he might be due for a big bounce-back campaign.

Few pitchers ever do what Ray did, though, so don't get overzealous with your expectations and lock Heaney into your regular fantasy rotation, since a streamer's value point remains more likely in standard mixed leagues. After all, Drew Smyly is another left-hander who had interesting underlying metrics as a free agent in each of the past two off-seasons, yet provided fantasy utility only sporadically in what were seemingly cozy landing spots themselves. -- Cockcroft


San Francisco Giants sign SP Alex Cobb: One might think it a forgettable signing, as Cobb barely qualified among the top-85 starting pitchers on the 2021 Player Rater (excluding the handful of SP-eligible relievers), except the destination is certainly of interest. Under Farhan Zaidi's regime, the Giants have grabbed no fewer than five reclamation-project SP types from the free-agent list, and all of them seemed to get "fixed" in San Francisco. Kevin Gausman (1.61 ERA decrease as a Giant from 2020-21 compared to his three-year average before it) and Anthony DeSclafani (1.45 decrease in 2021 compared to 2018-20) were the most notable examples, and while the former has long been a more highly regarded pitcher, the latter isn't an outrageous skills comp.

Cobb should instantly land on any fantasy manager's spring watch list now that he's a Giant, as during one healthy three-month stretch of 2021, he had a 3.20 ERA across 11 starts, and he has that splitter/changeup hybrid that fueled a career-best 24.9% strikeout rate. A big March would make him a prime "last man on your mixed staff" or "upside in NL only" pick. -- Cockcroft


Relief pitcher

Chicago White Sox sign RP Kendall Graveman: A sensation for a Seattle team that promptly traded him at last year's deadline -- he had a 0.82 ERA and 10 saves in 30 games for them! -- Graveman settled back in as a solid, yet sometimes wild, setup man with the Astros. That's the role he'll occupy in Chicago, but his arrival complicates bullpen planning in that the White Sox had previously picked up closer-turned-setup-man Craig Kimbrel's 2022 option, with the expressed intent to trade him. Graveman is third in line for saves based off the roster today, but he'll probably begin next season as one of the more attractive, hold-getting setup men and/or closer insurance policies, even if about the only chance we'll see Graveman saves is in the case Liam Hendriks misses time due to injury. -- Cockcroft


Arizona Diamondbacks sign RP Mark Melancon: No matter your opinion on Melancon, a cutter-reliant closer with variable year-over-year strikeout rates, he represents a substantial upgrade for the Diamondbacks bullpen. It was one of -- if not the -- worst in baseball in 2021, with a league-low 22 saves, the third-worst ERA (4.98) and the seventh-most blown saves (28).

Melancon has led the majors in saves twice in his career (51 in 2015, 39 in 2021), with the biggest differences in his skill set between those years being a higher walk rate (9.4% in 2021, compared to 4.8% in 2015). He won't come anywhere near as cheaply as he did last year, when he was the No. 28 relief pitcher off the board in ESPN leagues -- and he shouldn't, considering he'll have some of the best job security in the game pitching ahead of Noe Ramirez, J.B. Wendelken and little else in terms of proven big-league talent, not to mention his new two-year deal (which includes an option for 2024).

Chase Field isn't nearly as bad a home-field landing spot as perceived, playing as a near-neutral venue since the permanent installation of the humidor in 2018. The bigger knock on Melancon's fantasy potential is the Diamondbacks' status as a rebuilding franchise. Still, locked-in closers on "bad" teams often fall into 30 saves -- see Jeanmar Gomez (2016), Shane Greene (2018) and Kirby Yates (2019) for recent examples. Melancon is capable of doing it with a low-threes ERA or better. These days, that's more than enough to propel him into the back end of the position's top 10, though I'd certainly hope to pay a price just outside of that tier. -- Cockcroft


Philadelphia Phillies sign RP Corey Knebel: Knebel was a dominant closer for the 2017 Brewers and his insistence on signing only a one-year deal with the Phillies is a good sign that he is "betting on himself" to return to prominence. The Phillies sure lack a closer and this relationship may work beautifully for both pitcher and team.

Health is far from guaranteed, as Knebel threw only 25⅔ innings last season for the Dodgers, but they were good ones. Knebel misses bats with a power fastball and high-spin curve. Unless the Phillies add another experienced closer, this looks like "the guy." With health, he can save 30-plus games and, while it's premature to rank him as a top-10 closer... well, it's not that premature. -- Karabell