Fantasy Baseball 2021: New Faces in New Places
Every offseason, we restlessly wait to see where the top free agents sign. In Winter 2019, we saw Manny Machado sign with the Padres for an unprecedented 10 year/$300 million contract. And then just a few weeks later, Bryce Harper signed a whopping 13 year/$330 million contract. These signings sent shockwaves through the baseball world, and understandably so. It’s very important for fantasy baseball managers to understand how a player could potentially perform after landing on a new team. In this piece, I am going to touch on seven players who have recently found new homes. Without further ado, let’s analyze the fantasy implications of some of these recent offseason transactions.
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What Offseason Movement Means for Fantasy Baseball Managers
George Springer to TOR: 6-Year/$150 Million Contract
It was likely that the Blue Jays would be spenders this offseason, but not many people saw this one coming. The Blue Jays came into this offseason featuring a young, but very promising offensive core. One that includes Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr, Cavan Biggio, and Teoscar Hernández. In 2020, TOR won more games than they lost for the first time since 2016. Who knows what would’ve happened over a full 162-game season, but they showed that they are ready to compete. However, it was obvious they were still a couple strong players away from competing with some of the better teams in the league. So, they went out and got one of the best hitters in baseball in George Springer, locking him in through the 2026 season.
In every season that he’s seen at least 400 at-bats, he’s hit at least 22 home runs and earned at least a 119 wRC+ and .780 OPS. Beyond that, he’s earned at least a 114.2 max exit velocity and 8.4% barrel in every season since his MLB debut. He doesn’t make contact at an above-average rate, but whenever he does connect with the ball, it’s usually loud contact. Every season he plays in, he has 30-home run/.280 batting average potential.
Furthermore, leaving the Astros lineup to go to another loaded lineup in the Blue Jays should keep his RBI and runs totals steady. If Springer can see 400+ at-bats in 2021, he’ll once again be a very valuable and reliable fantasy asset. His Fantrax ADP currently has him being drafted as the OF13, making him a fine selection around the 5th round in 12-team leagues. Draft Springer with confidence in 2021, he could be in store for one of his better seasons to date.
Liam Hendriks to CWS: 4-Year/$54 million contract
Alex Colomé actually had a very solid two-season stint with the White Sox. He converted 91.3% of his save opportunities and performed well. However, the White Sox apparently didn’t view Colomé as a reliable long-term option and instead decided to secure one of the best relief pitchers in the game in Hendriks. The deal implies that the White Sox truly value what Hendriks can do on the mound, virtually locking him into their closer role for the next three seasons.
Ironically, Hendriks actually has a worse save conversion rate than Colomé over the past two seasons. Nonetheless, the White Sox still view Hendriks as the more reliable option in the 9th. In fact, they tried to acquire him a year earlier. During a conference call in mid-January 2021, general manager Rick Hahn stated, “We didn’t progress anywhere with (the) Oakland (Athletics) a year ago when we tried to acquire him via trade…But he’s been someone who, from a performance and makeup standpoint, we always felt was going to be a real nice fit for what we are trying to do.” Seemingly, Hendriks has been apart of the White Sox’s plans for some time now and they finally were able to secure him for years to come.
Over his last 110.1 innings pitched, Hendriks has earned a 1.79 ERA (2.42 SIERA), 161:24 K:BB (32.2% K-BB), and 17.6% swinging-strike rate. This is elite production and it’s clear why the White Sox want him long-term. He’ll be 32-years-old at the beginning of the 2021 season, so this is likely the case of a team squeezing out everything a player has left. Given the talent littered throughout their roster, they understand now is the time to win a World Series title. I fully expect Hendriks to see at least 30 save opportunities in 2021, with the upside to lead the MLB in saves. Don’t be afraid to bank on Hendriks as a top-2 closer option this season, everything is in place for a monster campaign.
Jameson Taillon traded to the NYY for four prospects
Jameson Taillon with a curveball looking just like Jose Berrios' deuce from Sunday.
Absolutely beautiful. pic.twitter.com/ql42nExFJG
— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) April 2, 2018
To put it lightly, Taillon has had a rough start to his career as a professional baseball player. He’s had to undergo Tommy John surgery twice, dealt with a sports hernia in 2015, and he beat testicular cancer in 2017. In all, he’s missed about 3-4 years of his professional baseball career due to injuries and medical conditions. Taillon has been through more at 29 years old than many will ever have to deal with in their entire lifetimes. He’s a mentally strong and motivated individual; he wants to be out on the field competing. Despite all of his injuries and setbacks, the Yankees decided that Taillon’s talent was worth the risk.
Virtually locked in as the Yankees SP2/3, he’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove he can stay healthy and succeed as an MLB starter. And when he is healthy, Taillon can be very effective on the mound. In 2018, he earned a 3.20 ERA (3.77 SIERA), 179:46 K:BB, 46.2% groundball rate over 191.o innings pitched. He’s not a high strikeout pitcher, but he commands a five-pitch arsenal well and can fill up the zone with strikes.
Furthermore, because he hasn’t pitched in the MLB since Spring 2019, it’s reasonable to expect an adjustment period over his first few starts of the 2021 season. But by summertime, I predict Taillon will be comfortable on the mound again and we’ll get to really see what he has to offer. Taillon isn’t an ace, but given his team situation, motivated character, talent, and opportunity, he could very well end up being one of the better draft day values of the 2021 fantasy season.
Nolan Arenado traded to STL for five prospects and cash
Arguably the most exciting free agent move of the offseason, Nolan Arenado will be wearing red and white for the first time in his career this upcoming season. Over 7.5 seasons in Colorado, Arenado has done nothing but produce and showcase terrific durability. Whether it’s in the box or at the hot corner, Arenado always seems to find a way to produce. Just two years ago, Arenado signed a massive 8-year/$260 million extension. After signing the extension, Arenado stated,” I love this group, and that’s why I committed here…I’m comfortable here and it feels right with this young group we have. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and I really believe we can win. I wouldn’t make this decision if I didn’t believe that. I’m here for the long haul.”
Well, if 2020 taught us anything, life can change rather quickly. In Arenado’s case, his relationship with GM Jeff Bridich began to turn (more) sour after the signing and it became increasingly obvious Arenado was not happy in Colorado. Cardinals management understood this and understandably, did what they had to do to land the eight-time Gold Glove winner. He’s now under contract with the Cardinals through 2027. There’s a high chance Arenado will finish his career in St. Louis, meaning they should be doing what they have to do to win now.
From a fantasy perspective, the worry now surrounding Arenado is that his departure from hitter-friendly Coors Field will hurt his production. While to some degree that is likely true, Arenado isn’t who he is because of Coors. He’s a great hitter who just happened to get drafted by the Rockies. The road to solid counting stats is there and Arenado’s talent isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. There’s an abundance of talent in MLB right now, so that alone pushes Areando’s value back in fantasy drafts. Nonetheless, those who manage to secure Arenado in the 3rd/4th round of their drafts have secured an elite talent at a discounted price. Take advantage of Arenado’s discounted ADP in your drafts this offseason, as I expect another very productive campaign from the seasoned vet in 2021.
Carlos Carrasco and Francisco Lindor traded to the NYM for four players
When Francisco Lindor makes this play for the first time in a Mets uniform I may cry pic.twitter.com/TUVouzksiQ
— Dylan Hornik (@_Hornik_) February 8, 2021
Lindor being on a new team in 2021 was expected by most, but Carrasco also being dealt was a surprise–especially since it was in the same deal. Carrasco is 33 years old, but still has plenty of talent left in the tank. In 2019, he was unfortunately diagnosed with a type of blood cancer known as chronic myeloid leukemia. Amazingly, he returned to the mound in September 2019, emphasizing just how strong and motivated he truly is.
Then in 2020, he didn’t miss a single start in the shortened season and also performed admirably. He posted a 2.91 ERA (3.91 SIERA), 1.21 WHIP, and 82:27 K:BB. Seemingly, the Mets had no worries regarding his health and decided they wanted him to be apart of their 2021 rotation. Pitching for a National League team for the first time in his career, it’ll be interesting to see how he adjusts as a whole. His talent isn’t going anywhere and he’ll most likely be a reliable fantasy option once again. I see no reason to avoid him in drafts this offseason.
In regards to Lindor, he now moves to a division that does have slightly better pitching staffs, but I don’t expect much to change in regards to his production. Along with his world-class defense, Lindor has been a very consistent hitter his entire career and that will likely be the case once again in 2021. Another season with a .270+ batting average, solid plate discipline, solid contact skills, and five-category production should be expected. Whether he stays with the Mets long-term remains to be seen, but for 2021, he’ll again be a top-end fantasy asset.
Kolten Wong to MIL: 2-year/$18 million contract
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one surprised when the Cardinals elected to decline Wong’s $12.5 million option for the 2021 season, making him a free agent. Since his MLB debut in 2013, Wong has been one of the better defensive second basemen in baseball. He’s never had a fielding percentage less than .975 in any season and that mark has been above .980 since 2018. As a result of his excellent defense, he earned a Gold Glove Award in 2019 and in 2020.
Aside from his defense, Wong brings an interesting offensive skill set to any lineup. For his career, he’s never had a zone-contact percentage less than 87.0% or a contact percentage less than 80.5%. The league averages for these metrics are around 87.0% and 80.0%, respectively. So in short, Wong has been an above-average contact hitter his entire career.
However, with a 46.8% career groundball rate and subpar quality of contact metrics, his overall production has always had a low ceiling. He’s never hit more than 12 home runs in any season, and likely never will. Despite his lack of elite bat-to-ball production, his aggression on the base paths gives his overall offensive profile some juice. He’s had two career 20+ stolen base seasons and has 29 stolen bases over his last 201 games played. At age-30, Wong’s defense and offense can still help most MLB lineups and the Brewers seem to agree.
Locked up through the 2022 season, with a club option for the 2023 season as well, Wong’s fantasy value should be stable for the foreseeable future. More than that, there’s a good chance Wong hits leadoff for the Brew Crew to kickoff the 2021 season, giving him plenty of opportunities to rack up steals and runs. In fantasy drafts, Wong makes for one of the better late-round infield selections at the moment, especially in category leagues. You really can’t go wrong with banking on Wong for some respectable fantasy production this season.
Trevor Bauer to LAD: 3-year/$103 million contract
The Dodgers can acquire whoever they want, however they want to acquire them. Since 2017, they’ve managed to land superstar Mookie Betts, Max Muncy, David Price, and others. The Dodgers always seem to be playing chess while every other team is playing checkers. For example, one of the only reasons they were about to land Betts was because they acquired Jeter Downs in 2018, who was then dealt to the Red Sox in the Betts trade. They are always thinking one step ahead, making it easy to understand why they continue to be a successful team year in and year out. And the Bauer trade was just another example of this organization making the right moves at the right time. They now have prime Trevor Bauer signed through 2023 and are ready to make another confident run at a World Series title.
Bauer’s fantasy value gets a slight boost because now he won’t ever have to pitch against the Dodgers–a privilege most MLB pitchers will never be able to experience. Beyond that, he’ll more than likely receive plenty of run support on a regular basis. Since 2019, Bauer has earned a 3.78 ERA (3.84 SIERA), 353:99 K:BB, and an impressive 5.8 WAR. He was even better in the shortened 2020 season, as he earned a 2.94 SIERA and won the NL CY Young Award. At 30-years-old, Bauer’s dominance isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. He’s currently being drafted as a top-5 starting pitching option in virtually all formats this offseason. I expect another dominant season from Bauer in 2021 and so should you.
For more great fantasy baseball rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2021 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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