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 and Trevor Story 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.
Note: Players who end up re-signing with their previous team will not be included.
Texas Rangers acquire C Mitch Garver from Twins: Ryan Jeffers, as things currently stand, becomes the Twins new starting catcher, a big-power, bad-batting-average type who could still deliver a 25-HR stat line that could put him on the shallow-mixed radar, although the subsequent arrival of Gary Sanchez may muddy the waters there. He's now my No. 25 points-league catcher, but be forewarned that that's a fluid tier in the rankings. Garver is surely relevant, moving up a spot in my catcher rankings to No. 16 despite the downgrade in park factors. He'll face less competition for at-bats in Texas, with this trade being bad news for Jonah Heim and Jose Trevino. -- Cockcroft
Atlanta Braves acquire 1B Matt Olson from Athletics: The end of the Freddie Freeman era in Atlanta appears to have arrived. -- Cockcroft
San Diego Padres acquire 1B Luke Voit from Yankees: Simply because he was regarded as "excess" by New York, Voit might be largely overlooked by prospective fantasy managers, despite his having led the major leagues with 22 home runs only two seasons ago. He'll take over as the Padres' primary designated hitter, perhaps even stealing some first base starts from Eric Hosmer, who himself has been frequently mentioned on the trade rumor mill this offseason. Voit still has a legitimate case at top-25 1B status, carrying over his eligibility from 2021, but beware of expecting a larger rebound, considering his past contact issues and the noticeable park factor downgrade going from Yankee Stadium to Petco Park.
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
Minnesota Twins sign SS Carlos Correa: How does this surprising signing impact Correa's fantasy value? -- Cockcroft
Boston Red Sox sign SS Trevor Story: How will this free-agent deal impact the fantasy value of Story? -- Karabell
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
New York Yankees acquire 3B Josh Donaldson from Twins: Donaldson will be "bringing the rain" to New York in 2022. -- Cockcroft
Toronto Blue Jays acquire 3B Matt Chapman from Athletics: Oakland's fire sale continues, much to the benefit of the AL East squad. -- Cockcroft
Colorado Rockies sign 3B/OF Kris Bryant: Raise your hand if you saw this one coming! A year after giving away Gold Glove 3B Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals, the Rockies have given Bryant a seven-year contract. Who is better? Well, Bryant is a former MVP and Rookie of the Year, but that was quite a while ago. His 2021 season (split between the Cubs and Giants) was rather ordinary, though many of his metrics bounced back to their 2019 range after he was bad in 2020. Now 30, Bryant may have ended up as a popular overrated pick in pending drafts, but how can we judge him that way now, as he will play half his games in Denver, well above elevation?
Bryant should hit for both power and average, and we love the dual-eligibility, but the normal caveats for all Rockies hitters will still apply. For those in head-to-head formats, you may not get the best numbers in road games. It's simply a fact. Still, a healthy Bryant should return to top-50 status in both points and roto formats -- not only because of his home venue, but also because he draws walks and he is a good contact hitter. A 30-HR season seems plausible, and this .278 career hitter should surpass that mark in future seasons as well. Bryant even stole 10 bases last season, so perhaps another double-digit performance there is likely.
Put simply, Bryant entered this offseason lacking momentum in fantasy leagues, but finding a home with the Rockies changes everything. -- Karabell
Seattle Mariners acquire 3B Eugenio Suarez from Reds: Suarez was great in 2019 when he bashed 49 home runs and hit a reasonable .271 (which, in this era, is good enough). A .199 batting average over 202 games and his 805 PA since is not good enough. In fact, it is horrific. Suarez has 46 home runs in that span, but at huge cost to fantasy managers.
This is actually not about contact or walk rates. Suarez just is not hitting baseballs as hard, and his BABIP has cratered since then. Call it unlucky if you will, and the power remains, but there is little reason to believe Suarez can safely hit his weight at this point (roughly .213), making him difficult to recommend for either 10- or 12-team formats. In fact, give Mike Moustakas, still on the Reds and likely the starting third baseman, a chance instead. -- Karabell
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
Philadelphia Phillies sign Nick Castellanos: The Phillies clearly wanted to add to their lineup this offseason, and the acquisitions of Castellanos and Kyle Schwarber surely achieve that goal. Castellanos comes off his best big-league campaign, finally surpassing both 30 home runs and a .300 batting average. For years, Castellanos combined excellent exit velocity rates with launch angle and curiously fell short of those hitting milestones, but things finally came together last season, as he also struck out a career-low rate.
Fantasy managers like good hitters, of course, and Castellanos is a hitter -- and the Phillies lineup is now full of them. Bryce Harper, Rhys Hoskins and others will enjoy the club adding more bats, and Citizens Bank Park is quite a friendly place to hit. Sure, the Phillies keep loading up on designated hitters and their defense may end up being remembered among the worst ever, but do not worry about that when considering Castellanos in Round 5 or 6 -- for either a roto or points league. He is legit.
Miami Marlins sign OF Jorge Soler: Fantasy managers should not forget about the Jorge Soler who hit 48 home runs for the Royals in 2019 because he is capable of replicating that surprising season now that he has joined the Marlins. That said, we should not assume it. The power, sure, it remains real. Soler hit 27 home runs last season with the Royals and the Braves. However, he hit only .223 between those teams, and .228 in the shortened 2020 campaign. Is Soler more likely to lead the NL in home runs this season, even in Miami's spacious ballpark, or hit .265 again, as he did in 2019?
Soler became a different hitter in 2021, drastically chopping his strikeout rate to a career low and making more contact while still drawing a double-digit walk rate, but still hitting for relevant power. His BABIP dipped and his ground-ball rate rose, but these things may not be terribly predictive for this season. Soler, who carries OF eligibility even if Miami really should try to avoid him playing out there, is clearly capable of adjusting his plate approach. We should expect big power -- likely more than 30 home runs -- but he should fall short of a .250 batting average. There is value in that, especially since he seems like a rather off-the-radar selection in many fantasy leagues. -- Karabell
Seattle Mariners acquire OF Jesse Winker from Reds: The lefty-hitting Winker bashes right-handed pitching, and he should continue to do so leaving the hitter-friendly confines of Cincinnati for Seattle, but there are issues. First, Winker has really struggled against left-handed pitching for most of his career (other than the shortened 2020 campaign) -- to the point that the Mariners may need to platoon him. Second, Winker has yet to reach 500 plate appearances in any season, with an intercostal strain costing him most of the final two months of 2021.
Winker has value. He made the NL All-Star team in 2021 and he is firmly in his prime. However, if he cannot stay healthy and hit all pitching (not to mention his having managed only stolen three bases over his entire five-year career), it makes it tough to view him as a top-20 fantasy outfielder. -- Karabell
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
Chicago Cubs sign OF Seiya Suzuki: The longest Japanese-player posting period in history has mercifully concluded, with Suzuki landing in a most unlikely destination. He's now the Cubs' starting right fielder, pushing defensively oriented Jason Heyward into more of a roving/late-inning replacement role across their outfield, as rebuilding teams don't pay $70-plus million over five years for part-time players. Suzuki is a tough read for fantasy, a right-handed hitter with exceptional plate-disicpline statistics in Japan, but one with a wide range of projections, in part because of the challenges of adapting to the U.S. game, but also because of the limited sample of successful right-handed hitters to do so.
To that point, we project .256/.357/.469 hitting rates for Suzuki. Steamer forecasts are considerably more optimistic (.282/.384/.518.). ZiPS, meanwhile, is closer to our stat line with a projection of .287/.351/.480. I'm more of an optimist, in part because Suzuki's skill set fits points-based scoring (or sabermetric formats) a little better than rotisserie, but also because he's 27 years old and comes with a highly regarded hit tool. He's my No. 39 points-league outfielder and No. 153 overall player, with profit potential from those rankings, even if he has landed in an offense that won't greatly enhance his runs/RBI/PA. -- Cockcroft
Philadelphia Phillies sign OF Kyle Schwarber: There is little question as to what Schwarber is good at. He was one of just eight players to hit 30 home runs and offer an on-base percentage on the good side of .370 in 2021, and Schwarber achieved this in only 113 games and 471 PA. The Phillies needed another left-handed power hitter and they got one. They did not need another poor defender, but perhaps they believe they can utilize three or four DH slots all at once? Hey, the rules are still changing.
Expect Schwarber to provide power and walks to the Phillies lineup. One more caveat: Philadelphia ranked second-to-last in 2021 in OPS out of the leadoff spot, and Schwarber posted a hefty 1.216 OPS from the No. 1 lineup spot between the Nationals and Red Sox. Do not say Schwarber has too much power for the leadoff spot. He has plenty of plate discipline for it and, if the Phillies place him there, expect more runs and fewer RBI. Still, this is a potential top-100 option for both roto and points leagues. -- Karabell
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
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
Chicago White Sox acquire OF AJ Pollock from Dodgers: With Andrew Vaughn (hip) working his way back to full strength, Pollock will take over as Chicago's regular right fielder, affording Vaughn the ability to return to the DH spot once healthy in mid-April. Pollock's move to the White Sox might drop him into a slightly weaker offense, but they're also a very good one, and Chicago's Guaranteed Rate Field is also a slightly better hitters venue, which helps offset things. I'm not moving Pollock at all in my rankings accordingly, keeping him OF68 (although a lot of the names ahead are multi-eligibles, so he's definitely draft-worthy), but his arrival is bad news for players like Leury Garcia, Gavin Sheets and Adam Engel, who will lose at-bats.
Incidentally, one potentially overlooked byproduct of this trade is that back in Los Angeles, Gavin Lux, who lost his path to playing time when Freddie Freeman signed with the Dodgers, might again have a chance for regular at-bats. Chris Taylor and perhaps Kevin Pillar should absorb the bulk of Pollock's vacated at-bats in the outfield, freeing up more time for Lux at second base.
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
Tapia has been going 70th among outfielders in NFBC drafts, more than 100 overall picks ahead of Grichuk, but that is all about to change. Tapia, with speed but truly terrible road numbers in his 1,425 career plate appearances (.839 home OPS, .605 road OPS) leaves the friendly altitude of Denver and joins a more crowded outfield situation in Toronto. Tapia, 28, may find it quite difficult to reach the 533 PA and 20 stolen bases - each career bests - from the 2021 season, and likely ends up near the bottom of the stacked lineup when he does play. If you already drafted Tapia, my condolences, and you may want to consider adding the fellow for whom he was traded.
Grichuk, 30, boasts legitimate power, having exceeded 20 blasts in each of the last five full MLB seasons, while contributing little else. That may change now with half of his games in Denver. Grichuk ranked 22nd among qualified hitters in fly-ball rate last season, and he routinely tops 40%. He enjoyed hitting in Toronto, but now gets to hit fly balls on a regular basis in extreme altitude. Plus, he should hit higher in the lineup than in previous seasons. Perhaps Grichuk, a career .245 hitter with the Blue Jays and Cardinals, can exceed that mark as well. Grichuk is not a base stealer and not much of a walker, for those in points formats, but hey, Coors Field! Grichuk goes from being a fantasy afterthought to a potential top-60 outfielder, regardless of format. --Karabell
Cincinnati Reds sign OF Tommy Pham: Pham's 2021 was the epitome of streakiness, as he batted .182/.313/.218 in his first 41 games to land on many a fantasy waiver wire, .324/.426/.560 in his next 50, and .164/.270/.306 in his final 64. What stood out, though, was the single stolen base he attempted (a successful one, fortunately) in the latter split, down from a 10-of-15 success rate in the category in the middle split, which when coupled with what was a career-low Statcast sprint speed for the season (granted a still 69th-percentile 27.8 feet per second) says his fantasy value, especially in roto scoring, is declining.
Signing with the Reds stabilizes Pham's downward curve, at least, as it's by far the most HR-friendly ballpark that he'll have called his home. He might set a personal best in home runs, which is easy to say when 23 (2017) is his career high, but be forewarned that his declining speed means he's becoming increasingly a more valuable points-league pick. Pham is a fine final mixed-league outfielder in either format, however. -- Cockcroft
San Francisco Giants sign OF Joc Pederson: It's easy to hate the ballpark move since San Francisco's Oracle Park is one of the toughest home run venues in baseball, but this isn't a totally awful landing spot for Pederson. The park's recently shrunken dimensions have helped things somewhat for lefties, but what does have appeal is the Giants' excellence in maximizing individual at-bat matchups during the Farhan Zaidi regime. Pederson's wide platoon split -- 83 points of wOBA! -- assures that he will partner with either Darin Ruf, Austin Slater or Wilmer Flores (at DH in his case), so daily-leaguers might squeeze a decent share of back-of-your-lineup value from him. -- Cockcroft
Milwaukee Brewers sign OF Andrew McCutchen: Now 35 years old, McCutchen -- the 2013 NL MVP -- has followed the expected downward aging curve nearly to a tee. He has exhibited a widening platoon split over the last two years, with 106- and 143-point wOBA splits in 2020 and 2021, so fantasy managers willing to do their matchups homework can squeeze a sneaky-good amount of value from him. He swapped one HR-friendly ballpark for another with this move, he should continue to play regularly, and he's capable enough to chip in a handful of steals. All of this leads us to the conclusion that he remains a fine final mixed-league outfielder, even in weekly or traditional formats. -- Cockcroft
Washington Nationals sign DH Nelson Cruz: Cruz last played in the NL with the Brewers in 2005, logging seven plate appearances well before he became the consistent, feared slugger who laughed at the idea of age becoming any deterrent to posting big slugging statistics. As the NL's adoption of the DH on a full-time basis for 2022 doubled Cruz's potential destinations, the Nationals somewhat surprisingly swooped in to give OF Juan Soto critical lineup aid. Whatever one thinks of lineup protection -- it is an unproven myth -- adding Cruz clearly helps Soto, Josh Bell and the hitters around him.
Cruz, 41, slipped a bit in 2021, posting a .832 OPS (his worst since the 2012 season) but he still smacked 32 home runs, drew walks at a solid rate and made ample hard contact. Cruz still makes for a feared cleanup hitter. Fantasy managers have long underrated him, always expecting the inevitable, painful decline. However, even last season, split between the Twins and Rays, he remained relevant. Cruz struggled after his trade to Tampa Bay, hitting just .226 with a decreased walk rate and increased strikeout rate over two months (perhaps in part to tougher Tropicana Field), but he also hit 13 home runs in those 55 games.
Cruz played seven innings of one game at first base in 2021, so he may qualify for that position in some leagues, but he last played as many as 10 in a non-DH spot back in 2016, so he is definitively a full-time DH. Still, his bat alone warrants a top-100 spot in both points and roto drafts. Cruz last failed to hit 30 home runs in a full season in 2013. Betting against him reaching that mark again, regardless of his age, seems rather foolish. -- Karabell
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
San Francisco Giants sign SP Carlos Rodon: How will moving to the Giants impact Carlos Rodon? -- Cockcroft
New York Mets acquire SP Chris Bassitt from Athletics: Bassitt has carved out quite the career as a peripherals-busting hurler, his ERA better than his FIP, SIERA or xERA in each of his five big-league seasons of greater than 30 innings. It's in large part thanks to one of the game's best sinkers, worth minus-31 total runs above average (per Statcast) from 2019-21 combined. If not for the injury that cost him 36 days late last season, having taken a line drive to the head during an Aug. 17 start, he'd have probably finished the year as a clear top-20 fantasy starter and a more highly regarded draft target entering 2022.
Changing coasts changes little for Bassitt, as New York's Citi Field still leans pitcher-friendly, albeit not to the extent that the Oakland Coliseum did, but he'll gain in terms of run support and now won't have to deal with an AL West that gained in terms of overall hitting competition this offseason. I'm not going to move Bassitt (currently my SP33) just yet, but I feel stronger about this ranking following the trade, as Oakland's upcoming rebuild casts a team-wide fantasy value shadow.
Looking at that tier of starting pitchers, I still prefer higher-ceiling starters like Dylan Cease (SP27), Alek Manoah (SP29) or Eduardo Rodriguez (SP31), but I can make the case that, come the end of this post-deal "player movement bonanza" period, that I would much prefer Bassitt to someone like Sean Manaea (SP26). Stay tuned, if you're planning to sink draft capital into that positional tier. -- Cockcroft
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
Minnesota Twins acquire SP Sonny Gray from Reds: Gray thrived in his first season with the Reds back in 2019, posting a 2.87 ERA and eclipsing 200 strikeouts for the first and only time in his career. Since then, he boasts a 4.05 ERA over 37 starts, albeit with a terrific strikeout rate that likely shows he has been a bit unlucky. Moving away from Cincinnati's bandbox ballpark and an atrocious infield defense -- no more Eugenio Suarez at shortstop -- should help, and could restore Gray to SP3 status in both ESPN points and roto leagues. For now, he is a middle-round selection with upside.
Gray keeps hitters off-balance with a solid curveball/slider combination in addition to a fastball that dropped a bit in velocity in each of the last two seasons, and some fantasy managers may have concerns about durability. Gray missed some of last season with back and groin injuries, but he still made 26 starts. He has reached 30 starts in only one of the past five full seasons, but other than a rough 2018 campaign with the New York Yankees, his performance has been relatively consistent.
The Reds, who figure to shed more salary before the season, get back 2021 Minnesota's first-round pick Chase Petty. He has yet to turn 19 years old, so even in a dynasty league, be very patient. It will be a while for him. It may not be a while for hard-throwing right-hander Hunter Greene, though. The Reds already had room in their rotation behind Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle and Vladimir Gutierrez, and those hoping to see Greene make the club may see the Gray trade as confirmation of its possibility. Still, it is tough to recommend Greene for standard, redraft formats in 2022, his massive strikeout upside notwithstanding. -- 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
Toronto Blue Jays sign SP Yusei Kikuchi: As they aimed to pad their SP depth, having already signed Jose Berrios to a long-term deal while adding free agent Kevin Gausman to fill the shoes of Robbie Ray, who landed in Seattle, the Blue Jays added themselves an interesting No. 5 man in ex-Mariner Kikuchi. Thanks in large part to a sizable bump in average fastball velocity in 2020 (from 92.5 mph on average as a 2019 rookie to 95.0 and 95.2 in the past two seasons), the left-hander enjoyed a modest breakthrough between September 2020 and the first half of 2021, before he regressed to the tune of a 5.98 ERA in 13 second-half starts to conclude last year.
Kikuchi is a difficult read, having posted near-identical ERAs against the league's toughest, middling and weakest offenses, which makes a matchups case challenging, and the move to Toronto's Rogers Centre represents a definite downgrade compared to the more pitching-friendly confines of Seattle's T-Mobile Park. That's not great news for a pitcher who surrendered the majors' highest average exit velocity (91.9 mph) and second-highest hard-contact rate (47.0% of batted balls), not to mention has graded average-to-below-average in those departments in all three big-league seasons.
Kikuchi should benefit from the Blue Jays' pitching depth easing any workload pressures on him, but his skill set looks like that of a deep-mixed/AL-only starter, and he now checks in as only my No. 75 points-league starting pitcher. -- Cockcroft
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
Atlanta Braves sign RP Kenley Jansen: Jansen's signing shakes up fantasy baseball's closer rankings -- Cockcroft
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
Los Angeles Dodgers acquire RP Craig Kimbrel from White Sox: It was no April Fool's joke, as the Dodgers on April 1 replaced the departed Kenley Jansen, second all-time on the active career saves list (350), with the pitcher who tops said list, Kimbrel (372). Those facts are no cap-tip to past accolades, either, as Kimbrel finished 10th among relief pitchers on the 2021 Player Rater with the position's 13th-best fantasy point total, and not a far cry from Jansen's RP4 finish in either scoring system. Manager Dave Roberts indicated following Jansen's move to Atlanta that he'd go with a closer-by-committee including Blake Treinen, Daniel Hudson, Brusdar Graterol and Alex Vesia, noting that he preferred to deploy Treinen at the game's most critical juncture rather than simply the ninth inning with a lead, and now he can use Treinen in exactly that way, knowing he has a skilled, experienced closer on hand.
Kimbrel was amazing for the Chicago Cubs between the final month of 2020 and with them before his mid-2021 trade, converting 24-of-26 saves with a 0.41 ERA, but wildness held him back with the cross-town White Sox, both sets of stats indicators of his having a wider range of possible outcomes than his Dodgers predecessor. Job security, though, will make Kimbrel a clear top-10 fantasy closer, though, and he's my RP6 in the points-league rankings now. Treinen, meanwhile, suffers a severe drop in value, plummeting from RP11 to RP42 now that his chances at saves are minimal. He's still an excellent source of holds, however.
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