Go grab yourself a cup of coffee and a cozy seat. We might be here awhile.
Nearly 300 names from our 2014 Player Rater have changed teams since the past season concluded, and 15 members of the Player Rater top 100 will be sporting new uniforms in 2015. Between Halloween and Martin Luther King Day, we never went more than nine days without a fantasy-relevant -- and that's standard-mixed-league-relevant -- player changing teams.
That's a lot of Hot Stove action.
Although I routinely advise championship-questing fantasy baseball owners to never take a winter off or turn their attention away from the winter transactions log, many of you are lured by the siren song of that "other" sport with the oblong ball ... well, oblong when it's properly inflated. I know you're playing it; I've seen the numbers. OK, OK, I admit it: My spies told me so.
That's where this column comes in. Consider this your primer, your one-stop, catch-me-up on all the winter happenings you might've missed.
Now, I'm sure you didn't come here to read about the travels of Jamie Romak, who, after spending 28 days on the Los Angeles Dodgers' roster early the past season, signed in November a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks that included a spring training invite. More likely, you're here to learn about the new surroundings of Dee Gordon, the highest-ranked name on said Player Rater (No. 11), who was traded by the Dodgers to the Miami Marlins on Dec. 11.
First, you'll notice neither Romak nor Gordon made either list below, my "Nine 'grins'" and "Nine 'groans.'" The rationales are simple: Little changed with regard to Gordon's fantasy value as a direct result of his trade; players such as this are listed in the "Hot Stove movement chart" at column's end with grades of the impact of their moves on their 2015 value. As for Romak, he's in neither list nor the chart because, simply put, he wasn't a fantasy-relevant player in the first place (and still isn't). Consider it a weeding-out process, by design, to efficiently catch you up on baseball's changes.
Quick links to take you to each section:
1. Toronto Blue Jays traded for 3B Josh Donaldson
After back-to-back seasons within the Player Rater top 50, Donaldson could somehow see his fantasy stock rise in Toronto, thanks to the fit of his swing to homer-friendly Rogers Centre. He's a hook-it-around-the-pole slugger, with his 10 homers hit within 5 feet of the left-field foul pole from 2013-14 the fourth most in baseball, and bear in mind two of the sluggers who had more, Edwin Encarnacion (14) and Jose Bautista (12), are now his teammates. Like those now-teammates, Donaldson has a keen sense of the strike zone that should help stabilize his batting average and fuel an on-base percentage that maximizes his run potential.
2. Houston Astros traded for C/OF Evan Gattis
Gattis is another pull-power slugger, and by moving from Turner Field to Minute Maid Park, he'll take aim at a left-field fence 20 feet closer to home plate; the "Crawford Boxes" will be Gattis' friend. What's more, by moving to the American League, his new team has a designated hitter spot in which to stash his mediocre glove (on nights it wishes to). That gives Gattis more avenues to everyday at-bats -- 500 mean a lot more than 369 for a player such as this -- and if you believe the Astros' chatter that they view him as more of a first baseman/DH, it could mean triple eligibility (catcher, outfield and first base) in season.
3. Washington Nationals signed SP Max Scherzer
Details: Nationals signed Scherzer to a seven-year, $210 million contract, Jan. 21.
When it comes to player transactions, few are more immediately impactful than pitchers migrating from the American League to the National League. Scoring potential is lower in the NL than in the AL, and the basest cause for that is the production differential between designated hitters and pitchers:
MLB average pitcher: .122 AVG, 0.3 HR%, 36.6 K%, 2.26 PA/G
MLB average DH: .247 AVG, 4.0 HR%, 21.8 K%, 4.17 PA/G
But with Scherzer, it's more than that. He moved from the highest scoring of the six divisions in 2014, the AL Central, which averaged 4.26 runs per game, to the lowest scoring, the NL East, which averaged 3.89 runs per contest. What's more, the NL East saw Justin Upton, Jimmy Rollins, Marlon Byrd, Jason Heyward and Gattis (among non-Nationals) depart and Dee Gordon, Nick Markakis, Martin Prado, Michael Morse and Michael Cuddyer arrive; the former group totaled 104 home runs in 2014, and the latter 54. It's a wonderful thing to be an NL East pitcher these days.
4. Toronto Blue Jays signed C Russell Martin
Details: Blue Jays signed Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract, Nov. 18.
This was a significant transaction pertaining specifically to ESPN standard leagues; remember that our system utilizes 10 teams and one starting catcher apiece. Whether Martin projects within the top 10 catchers or outside that results, essentially, in his being either draftable or undraftable. Yes, he was the No. 6 catcher on the 2014 Player Rater, but few assume he'll repeat his .290 batting average, which was 35 points higher than his career mark entering the year, and any loss in that department potentially threatens his top-10 status. Yet in Toronto, Martin's power should experience an uptick to make up the difference. To that point, he hit 26 home runs in his two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates but hit 39 the two years before that, with the New York Yankees, another team that calls a power-boosting ballpark its home.
5. Chicago White Sox traded for SP Jeff Samardzija
I loathe chasing wins. But so long as it's one of the 10 traditional Rotisserie categories -- not to mention one that typically carries all-too-generous weight in points-based systems -- it warrants at least a casual glance. Samardzija's career has resided on the lower extreme of the category, as he has never won more than 13 games in a single year in his professional career. He is averaging 7.5 in his four pro years in which he had 25-plus starts. Finally he's on a team with the bats to back him, and if you're worried about the homer-friendly ballpark, don't be; his 51.1 percent ground-ball rate ranked in the 75th percentile among ERA qualifiers in 2014.
6. Chicago Cubs signed SP Jon Lester
Details: Cubs signed Lester to a six-year, $155 million contract, Dec. 15.
The AL-to-NL point made above with Scherzer also applies to Lester, but by landing in Chicago, Lester garnered another specific advantage: He'll have two of the game's better pitch-framers catching him, in Miguel Montero and David Ross. Lester and Ross have a history -- Lester's career ERA with Ross catching him is 2.77 -- and it's possible the two could be assigned a "personal catcher" relationship. But regardless of Lester's battery partner, his declining walk rate coupled with quality framing makes this quite a pleasing move.
7. Cleveland Indians traded for OF/1B Brandon Moss
Details: Indians acquired Moss from the Oakland Athletics for 2B Joe Wendle, Dec. 8.
Moss' health impacts this one -- he's coming off Oct. 23 surgery to repair a torn labrum and an impingement in his right hop -- but one would think the Indians wouldn't trade for him if there were significant, lingering concerns. The injury, with which he played for much of 2014, could explain his downturn in production, but his ballpark swap represents a significant power advantage. From 2012-14, fly balls hit to right field cleared the fence 9 percent more of the time at Progressive Field than at O.co Coliseum. During that span, no left-handed hitter had a fly-ball rate higher than Moss' 48.7 percent.
8. Houston Astros signed RP Luke Gregerson
Details: Astros signed Gregerson to a three-year, $18.5 million contract, Dec. 12.
In perhaps the winter's sneakiest saves move, Gregerson, a pitcher with only 19 saves on his résumé, landed with an Astros team that had the majors' fewest saves (94) and worst save conversion rate (56.3 percent) from 2012 to 2014. But don't let those numbers dissuade you from picking him if you choose to go the cheap, speculative-saves route; he was the headliner of an Astros bullpen makeover that added fellow closer hopeful Pat Neshek to a group that already included Chad Qualls, Josh Fields and Tony Sipp. Gregerson is the most talented of the bunch, as he has substantially narrowed his splits, shaved his walk rate and increased his ground-ball rate through his six big league years.
9. Arizona Diamondbacks signed 3B Yasmany Tomas
Details: Diamondbacks signed Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million contract, Dec. 8.
Considering the recent influx of Cuban stars -- Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig and Jose Abreu in the past three seasons alone have been smashing successes -- one might think Tomas belongs higher on the list. That the Diamondbacks are seriously considering using him as their everyday third baseman supports it. Still, while Tomas' bat is expected to generate power, he's not expected to be an on-base specialist (despite a roughly 8 percent walk rate during his career in Cuba). In short, he sounds a lot like his new teammate Mark Trumbo.
1. New York Mets signed OF Michael Cuddyer
Details: Mets signed Cuddyer to a two-year, $21 million contract, Nov. 10.
The first of the high-profile free-agent signings -- unless you include Chris Young, who signed with the crosstown New York Yankees a day earlier -- was also the most potentially devastating in fantasy terms. Cuddyer might've won a batting title (.331, 2013) and averaged one home run per 22.5 at-bats during his three years with the Colorado Rockies, but the move from Coors Field to Citi Field significantly threatens those numbers. Yes, Coors' outfield fences average between 8 and 10 feet farther from home plate than Citi Field's, but Coors is also roughly 5,270 feet higher in elevation. As the Rockies' own website notes, "The ball still travels 9 percent farther at 5,280 feet than at sea level." Do the math: A 400-foot drive at Citi equals roughly 436 at Coors.
2. Detroit Tigers traded for SP Alfredo Simon
If the move to the National League was good for ex-Tiger Scherzer, it'd follow that the move to the American League was bad for new Tiger Simon. Simon had a 13.8 percent strikeout rate against non-pitchers, fifth-worst among ERA qualifiers, and he's moving to the aforementioned AL Central, that division featuring four teams with legitimate playoff aspirations.
3. San Diego Padres traded for OF Matt Kemp
No one wants to see hitters move to Petco Park -- not even right-handed hitters. Petco is renowned for suppressing left-handed power, but it's mediocre for righties too. In the past three seasons, righties hit 91 fewer homers at Petco (173) than Dodger Stadium (264), and yes, while personnel influences those numbers, the fact remains that Petco's outfield fences average roughly 9 feet farther from home plate than Dodger Stadium's. Oh, and Kemp has an injury history, so a "counting numbers" argument carries minimal weight.
4. Oakland Athletics traded for 3B/2B Brett Lawrie
Details: Athletics acquired Lawrie, RPs Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin, and SS Franklin Barreto from the Toronto Blue Jays for 3B Josh Donaldson, Nov. 28.
At least by escaping Toronto, he'll play 81 fewer home games on AstroTurf, a good thing for a player with six DL stints in three-and-a-half major league seasons. That said, Lawrie batted 42 points lower and slugged 86 points lower away from Rogers Centre than in it during those three-and-a-half years. Any positive case made for Lawrie is founded primarily upon a "change of scenery" claim.
5. Atlanta Braves signed OF Nick Markakis
Details: Braves signed Markakis to a four-year, $44 million contract, Dec. 3.
Alt hough hardly a top-shelf fantasy name, Markakis' move belongs here because it was a head-scratcher. Within two weeks of this announcement, he succumbed to fusion surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck, and the move was plenty questioned before that. He's a limited source of power, not to mention 34 of his 37 home runs the past three seasons were to right field, the most expansive part of Turner Field. A case can be made that Markakis isn't even a draft consideration in ESPN standard leagues.
6. Kansas City Royals signed SP Edinson Volquez
Details: Royals signed Volquez to a two-year, $20 million contract, Dec. 29.
Like A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano before him, Volquez was a previously spotty command pitcher placed under Ray Searage's tutelage, and the Pittsburgh Pirates' pitching coach -- make that wizard -- coaxed a 3.04 ERA, a career best, out of the right-hander. Volquez took that peripherals-busting number to the free-agent market and landed in the AL Central. Nothing against the Royals' Dave Eiland, a solid pitching coach in his own right, but it's extremely difficult to coax consecutive seasons like Volquez's out of a pitcher with his skill set.
7. Seattle Mariners signed OF Nelson Cruz
Details: Mariners signed Cruz to a four-year, $57 million contract, Dec. 4.
Although his home/road splits might not inspire fear -- his weighted on-base average (wOBA) was six points higher in home games (.352) than on the road (.346) over the past three seasons -- Cruz, for the first time in his 11 big league seasons, will not call a hitters' park his home in 2015. He'll provide balance to a predominantly left-handed Mariners lineup, potentially increasing his in-game matchup prospects, but the park effect cannot be glossed over.
8. Chicago Cubs traded for C Miguel Montero
Details: Cubs acquired Montero from the Arizona Diamondbacks for RPs Jeferson Mejia and Zack Godley, Dec. 9.
Although Montero's acquisition benefitted the Cubs' pitchers, it decreased the chances of Montero's improving upon his No. 15 ranking among catchers on the 2014 Player Rater. Not that Wrigley Field is a poor venue for hitters, but it's no Chase Field, one of the league's most favorable. In addition, Montero's widening platoon split, David Ross' presence on the roster and the prospect that the Cubs could make personal-catcher arrangements that throw their hitting matchups out of whack, make him a less attractive, counting-numbers candidate.
9. San Diego Padres traded for OF Wil Myers
See: Kemp, Matt. Petco is an unfavorable environment for any hitter; it's particularly unattractive as the new surroundings for a former top prospect trying to get his career untracked. Myers has enough raw power to clear any fence -- even Petco's. Petco will, however, cap even his most optimistic projection at 20-25, rather than 30, homers.
Players are listed by position, then in order of their 2014 Player Rater ranking, with both their former and new teams. A grade is included: ++ means a significant increase in fantasy stock; + means a slight increase; N means no discernable change; - means a slight decrease; -- means 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 estimate the player's projected change in value from 2014 to 2015.