By: Nate Leer
In a weak free agent year, closers and right-handed sluggers hit the market. Those are coveted commodities but the influx of right-handed power has driven the market down. Guys like OF Mark Trumbo and 1B Mike Napoli are still available and could be important fantasy assets as well as influencing the other players in whichever lineup they land in.
Here are the top 12 MLB free agents this winter and their fantasy impact:
- Yoenis Cespedes – OF – NYM (re-signed) – The most talented hitter on the market has agreed to stay put. The interesting part now is the impact his deal (4 years, $110 M) has on the rest of the free agent field and what the Mets do next. Cespedes’s contract set something of a ceiling for the impact hitters. The Mets will now likely move one of their older, power-hitting corner OFs and that will have fantasy implications.
- Edwin Encarnacion – 1B – Cle (signed) – Widely considered one of the gems of the free agent crop along with Cespedes, Easy E brings a ton of pop but defensive limitations. He is an upgrade over Mike Napoli for Cleveland so he could help the other hitters in their lineup. However, the situation is a step back from playing in Toronto so don’t overpay for Easy E.
- Aroldis Chapman – RP – NYY (re-signed) – Chapman is obviously an elite arm and has thrived in pressure situations as a closer. The only concern may be his age and how long he can maintain his best-ever velocity. He got a big, long-term contract to be the closer for the Yanks. As great as Chapman is, he may not get a ton of save chances in NY. The Yanks could easily be just a .500 team and their stadium lends itself to high scoring games that may be decided by more than 3 runs.
- Mark Trumbo – OF – FA – Trumbo is potentially the highest risk/highest reward free agent. He is coming off a monster power year so should get big money. However, he is prone to slumps and is a limited defensive player. The lack of apparent interest in Trumbo indicates the market sees the risk as well. This could bode well for Trumbo though as he may be headed back to Baltimore at a price they can afford. Going back to Camden Yards and the Orioles lineup would give Trumbo the best chance to repeat his monster 2016 season for fantasy owners.
- Kenley Jansen – RP – LA (re-signed) – Jansen appeared to be headed east but ended up going back to LA. This keeps him in an ideal situation to be one of the elite closers for fantasy.
- Ian Desmond – SS/OF – Col (signed) – This is maybe the most interesting signing this offseason. Desmond won’t qualify at SS in most leagues after playing over 700 games there in the 5 years through 2015 but none last year. That hurts his value a bit. However, he had a great year last year playing OF in Texas. Now he moves to one of the very few better hitters’ parks as part of a potent lineup. Where he bats in the order (likely 5th or 6th but maybe 2nd or 3rd) will affect his value some but he will gain position versatility as the Rockies are expected to start him at 1B. He could also add other positions, most likely SS, if injuries and/or ineffectiveness limit other players.
- Wilson Ramos – C – TB (signed) – I am not sure how to feel about this one. I have been a fan of Ramos since he came up with my team, the Twins. He has emerged at times as a quality fantasy C. Now he is expected to miss the first month or 2 of the season recovering from ACL surgery. The C position is brutally thin again this year – Gary Sanchez and Willson Contreras will be over-valued considering their limited sample sizes and Buster Posey may be fading – so Ramos could be beneficial as a draft and stash on the DL player. If the Rays bat Ramos in the middle of their order, there may be just enough opportunity and protection for him to produce in that lineup. However, TB doesn’t usually make hitters betters – see OF Corey Dickerson and IF Matt Duffy – so Ramos is a tough case. I have him as my 8th ranked C but that only applies to leagues with a DL spot. Once Ramos is healthy, he could easily return top 5 value as a C.
- Jose Bautista – OF – Tor (re-signed) – Joey Bats is versatile but should play 1/3 to 1/2 of his games at DH. He could be a fantasy sleeper if he gets healthy. He’s in the ideal situation heading back to a good hitters’ park with an elite hitter in the line-up already (3B Josh Donaldson) plus more quality bats. Joey Bats could be batting between Donaldson and SS Troy Tulowitzki. Gotta like that spot!
- Justin Turner – 3B/2B – LAD re-signed) – Going back to the Dodgers was probably the best-case scenario for Turner. He has been a solid fantasy 3B the last couple years so hopefully he keeps producing at a weak position.
- Mark Melancon – RP – SF (signed) – I was worried that Melancon would struggle away from the Pirates elite pitching coaches but he heads to another organization that helps Ps thrive. SF is also a great place to pitch so Melancon retains his 2nd-tier status as a fantasy reliever. He should rack up saves for the Giants but he does not have top-end K numbers.
- Carlos Beltran – OF – Hou (signed) – Beltran kept producing in 2 stops at age 39 last year. His swing, athletic ability and smarts indicate he can keep it going, given good health. Houston is a great landing spot – DH option, great hitters’ park, very good lineup – so expect continued production. Beltran is still OF eligible so, if you can live with a few extra days off, he could be a good pick to round out your team late in drafts.
- Dexter Fowler – OF – StL (signed) – I like Fowler’s decision from an on-the-field perspective but not for fantasy. He is just a marginal fantasy OF and, while the Cards will probably win plenty of games, St. Louis isn’t a great situation for him to put up big offensive numbers. Avoid him at all costs unless he is a depth OF behind high risk/high reward players at the position. Fowler would be a solid alternative to have if 1 or 2 of your home run picks end up being swings-and-misses.
Honorable mention: Napoli – FA, Rich Hill – SP – LAD, Kendrys Morales – 1B/OF – Tor, Josh Reddick – OF – Hou, Wellington Castillo – C – Bal, B Ziegler – RP – Mia.