If you play Fantasy Baseball, this is the page you’ll want to bookmark for hot stove season. It’s where you’ll find our breakdown of the biggest moves — i.e., the ones with serious implications for Fantasy Baseball.
You’ll of course want to check back throughout winter, into next year and in the lead up to spring training. Offseason movement tends to be a slow drip, after all.
With the winter meetings happening, though, the pace is picking up. The second day saw two of the biggest free agent dominoes fall, followed by a series of smaller signings on Day 3.
Here’s my breakdown of everything that matters so far …
Taijuan Walker signs with Phillies
The terms are the most eyebrow-raising part of this deal. Four years, $72 million seems exorbitant for this pitcher in this market. Then again, Walker has always been difficult to quantify. He’s not a big bat-misser or strike-thrower, yet he’s had a tendency to outperform his peripherals by inducing low-quality contact. It stands to reason he’d be one of the bigger beneficiaries of the leagues move to de-juice the ball, though last season’s 3.49 ERA was probably still too good to be true. It ballooned to 4.80 in the second half, and something in the high threes is probably the best you can hope for, especially now that he’s going to one of the more homer-friendly venues. Walker will be streamable at times in 2023, but for most leagues, you can do better with a late-round pick.
Mitch Haniger signs with Giants
Oracle Park of course isn’t a hitter-friendly venue, but it’s not quite the outlier it used to be. And of course, Haniger is coming from another pitcher’s park in Seattle, where he managed to make a name for himself. It’s not the most optimal landing spot, but it’s no reason to downgrade him either, especially since he’ll be among the last bastion of serviceable starters before the sudden outfield void. Am I certain he’s on the good side of that void? Well, no, but for all the time he missed with an ankle injury in this year of the dead ball, playing in just 57 games, the home run total was solid. And he did hit 39 homers in 2021. As a third outfielder, his fine, but your expectations can only be so high.
Cody Bellinger signs with Cubs
The Cubs are in a position to take on a big reclamation project, having few financial commitments or lineup fixtures. The 2019 MVP, who has hit .203 with a .648 OPS in the years since, should get plenty of run with them as he looks to parlay a one-year $17.5 million deal into a mega multi-year offer. It’s not so far-fetched that Bellinger could rebound at age 27, but he’s been such a mechanical mess for so long that it’s certainly not the safe bet, particularly since the Dodgers, of all teams, couldn’t get him right. He’s been working with Matt Holliday this offseason, though, and his swing already looks different.
Christopher Morel, who came on strong last May but faded hard down the stretch, may lose out with this deal since Bellinger is at his best in center field, but it’s also possible Bellinger helps break in prospect Matt Mervis at first base.
Andrew Heaney signs with Rangers
The Rangers have their second pitching pickup in a week, having come to terms with Jacob deGrom on Friday, and he and Heaney join Martin Perez and Jon Gray to form a low-key formidable rotation … at least in theory. The Dodgers helped Heaney unlock his long-forgotten potential by introducing him to a new sweeping slider that quickly became his put-away pitch. That’s hardly the whole story, though. Shoulder issues limited him to less than 75 innings, and even when he was “healthy,” the Dodgers generally held him to 4-5 innings, undermining his potential in Fantasy.
So is departing them to Heaney’s benefit? We can’t be sure he’ll perform as well without their oversight, but the Rangers probably won’t baby him as much either. He’ll also benefit from moving to a bigger park, his vulnerability to the long ball accounting for a 3.72 ERA at home last year compared to 2.38 on the road. All told, it’s still likely Heaney is drafted outside the top 50 starting pitchers.
Josh Bell signs with Guardians
Bell should fare well enough in Cleveland, which rates in the middle of the pack as far as venues go. The bigger question is what “fare well” even means for him. Last year was itself a tale of two seasons, with him hitting .301 with an .877 OPS in 103 games for the Nationals compared to .192 with a .587 OPS in 53 games for the Padres. His quality of contact has always been high and his plate discipline excellent, making him a better bet for points leagues than 5×5, but his tendency to put the ball on the ground makes the home run output difficult to predict. He’s a mid-tier option at the deepest position.
Meanwhile, Josh Naylor’s path to playing time becomes less clear. The Guardians don’t have a dedicated DH, so maybe he (or Bell) becomes essentially that, but the lineup clearly offers fewer openings now. Naylor has played some outfield in the past, but it’s unclear if the Guardians would be willing to try him there again. The 25-year-old hit .256 with 20 homers last year and is sure to get some looks in leagues that require a third corner infielder.
Trea Turner signs with Phillies
Turner is leaving the Dodgers, a historically efficient run-scoring juggernaut, but it’s hard to say his stock is down as a result. He’s joining a team that itself ranked seventh in runs scored last year and has plenty of big boppers like Bryce Harper (his longtime teammate in Washington), Kyle Schwarber, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins to drive him in. He may even get to run more seeing as he’ll be joining the team with the fifth-most stolen bases in 2022. As good as Turner was last season, his 27 steals were kind of a disappointment and less than we’re used to seeing from him. He remains in the mix to go No. 1 overall. Scott White breaks down the Turner and Verlander signings in more depth here.
Justin Verlander signs with Mets
After leading the majors in ERA and WHIP en route to his third Cy Young award, Verlander is my top ranked starting pitcher for 2023, and going to the Mets doesn’t change that. Granted, you won’t find a more favorable situation for a pitcher than the Astros, who have gone to four of the past six World Series, winning two, but the Mets actually outscored them last year. And while I wouldn’t bet on it becoming a trend, the fact is that Verlander shouldn’t find the run support lacking with his new team. Whether his 40 years of age is enough to scare you away is another matter, but he’s obviously showing no signs of decline. Check out Scott White’s article for a full breakdown.
Jacob deGrom signs with Rangers
This generation’s best pitcher going from the only organization he’s ever known to an upstart trying to spend its way into contention is, from a real world perspective, earth-shaking news. But from a Fantasy Baseball perspective, not much changes. If deGrom can stay healthy, he’ll be the best pitcher — and by quite a lot, probably. And if he can’t, well, he’ll be like he’s been the past two years, making a combined 26 starts but with a 1.90 ERA, 0.63 WHIP and 14.3 K/9. Check out Scott White’s article for a full breakdown.
Jesse Winker traded to Brewers for Kolten Wong
Provided the Brewers hold on to Winker and don’t flip him in his final year of control, the 29-year-old has a prime opportunity to rebound in a park much more like the one where he made a name for himself in Cincinnati. Chances are, though, his bigger issue in Seattle was health. He had surgery on both his knee and neck after the season, and president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto implied that he played through the former injury much of the year, which might explain the plummeting exit velocities. Winker is a master at getting on base and was coming off his best season, having hit .305 with 24 homers and a .949 OPS for the Reds in 2021, but longstanding health and platoon concerns cap his upside. Even with this news, he may go undrafted in three-outfielder leagues.
Likewise, Wong is a better option for deeper leagues, as in the kind that require a third middle infielder, but he offers moderate speed and modest power. His 15 home runs last year were a career high, and Statcast estimates he would have hit just as many if he had played every game in Seattle. Abraham Toro, who the Mariners are shipping along with Winker, figures to replace Wong at second base for the Brewers, though we shouldn’t rule out Keston Hiura having a role there as well. Winker, meanwhile, should fill the void left by Hunter Renfroe, at least offensively, though he’s more likely to play DH than the outfield.
Zach Eflin signs with Rays
The relief pitcher market has been outrageous this offseason, but even so, three years for $40 million suggests the Rays are looking to make Eflin a starter again. And that they see something in him. They’re a clever but notoriously stingy organization, and yet they just handed their biggest ever free agent contract to a 28-year-old with a history of knee troubles and only one season with a sub-4.00 ERA (3.97 during the pandemic-shortened 2020). So what could be the reason? Well, he had a 3.27 xERA. He also leaned on his curveball unlike before when he returned as a reliever in September, and it’s a pitch he could stand to throw even more. If nothing else, you can trust the Rays not to behave stupidly, so Eflin is now deserving of late-round consideration.
Jose Abreu signs with Astros
Abreu is coming off a career-worst season in which his 2021 home run total was cut in half, which might raise some alarm given that he’s 35 and … well, you may have heard about a new ball suppressing home run totals for certain players. But his average exit velocity and hard-hit rate were in line with career norms, which is to say 93rd and 97th percentile, respectively, which is to say excellent. It suggests that age wasn’t an issue, and the ball likely wasn’t either. There is such a thing as statistical oddity.
In other words, Abreu was likely to rebound no matter where he went, but joining the Astros only makes it more likely. Statcast estimates he would have hit 22 home runs at their park vs. the 15 he actually hit. The Astros also qualify as an offensive juggernaut, which bodes well for someone with an uncanny knack for driving in runs (to the extent any of us believe in such things), averaging 110 per 162 games in his career. The response to Abreu in early drafts has been tepid, but this move should solidify him as one of the top 6-7 first basemen off the board.
Mike Clevinger signs with White Sox
Clevinger’s long-awaited return from Tommy John surgery didn’t go as hoped. His velocity was down a couple miles per hour from when we last saw him in 2022. His whiff rate went from 75th percentile to 39th percentile. Neither improved over the course of the year either, resulting in a 6.52 ERA over his final six starts. It was 3.59 before then, but the underlying numbers spelled trouble. Every time a pitcher has Tommy John surgery, the odds of a return to form go down, and this was Clevinger’s second. It’s possible he’s no more than a back-end arm moving forward, and that’s all the White Sox are asking him to be. Draft him late, if at all.
Hunter Renfroe traded to Angels
With at least 26 homers in five straight seasons (pandemic-shortened 2020 excluded), Renfroe has emerged as a reliable slugger at a time when those are becoming more valuable again. HIs past two seasons were his best two, with him delivering a near-identical slash line in each. What’s reassuring about his move to a new venue is that those two performances came in different parks, and while Angel Stadium may not have the hitter-friendly reputation of American Family Field, where Renfroe played in 2022, it has actually been the more hitter-friendly of the two over the past three years.
There, Renfroe will have a chance to drive in Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and Taylor Ward, all of whom reached base at better than a .350 clip last year. Suffice it to say, then, Renfroe’s stock doesn’t suffer with this move, and given the current state of the outfield position, he should be one of the first 30 drafted.
Teoscar Hernandez traded to Mariners for Erik Swanson
This move for Hernandez would have inspired more dread a couple years ago, when Rogers Centre was still regarded as a hitter’s haven, but with its introduction of the humidor in 2021 (a year earlier than most other venues), it hasn’t played as favorably. It’s still better than T-Mobile Park, which ranks near the bottom in overall park factor but in the middle of the pack for home runs. Hernandez’s quality of contact is so high that I don’t see it being a major issue for him, but it does clarify his ranking for 2022 — behind Randy Arozarena and Cedric Mullins but ahead of Adolis Garcia.
Swanson, meanwhile, gives the Blue Jays a reliable setup man, having compiled a 1.68 ERA, 0.91 WHIP and 11.7 K/9 with the Mariners last year. He’ll back up Jordan Romano for saves, in all likelihood. The Blue Jays also got a decent pitching prospect, Adam Macko, in the deal.
Tyler Anderson signs with Angels
The Dodgers are one of those organizations known for pulling gems out of the scrap heap, and Anderson is one such example. Signed to a one-year deal, the 32-year-old soft-tosser altered the grip on his changeup to make the bottom fall out, and the results were good enough to earn him an All-Star nod and qualifying offer — one he seemed destined to take until the Angels stepped in with a three-year bid. We of course would have preferred Anderson to stay put in Fantasy. His poor track record and low strikeout rate would prompt skepticism even with the Dodgers’ built-in advantages, and he’ll probably be part of a six-man rotation now to accommodate Shohei Ohtani. Still, early ADP results have Anderson going so late that a glass-half-full approach makes sense.
This move only increases the chances that an up-and-comer like Ryan Pepiot, Bobby Miller or Gavin Stone has a spot in the Dodgers rotation to begin 2023.
Anthony Rizzo signs with Yankees
Though several teams reportedly had him in their crosshairs, Rizzo opted to re-up with the Yankees for two more years rather than test the open market. It may seem like the best possible outcome in Fantasy given that he just reached the 30-homer threshold for the first time in five years — and at a time when 30 homers actually means something. He took aim at the short porch in right field, altering his swing to launch the ball in that direction, and now we can expect more of the same. But with those alterations came a reduction in batting average that may also be locked in.
If he goes elsewhere, maybe Rizzo levels out his swing and sees his batting average spike with the new shift limitations put in place. But now, we’ll never know. His current setup makes him a viable option at first base, but a flawed one who probably shouldn’t be drafted in the first 10 rounds.
Joc Pederson signs with Giants
The most surprising player to receive a qualifying offer not surprisingly took it, raising Pederson’s base salary from $6 million to $19.65 million. He was coming off arguably his best season, setting a career-high in batting average by 26 points while coming within two points of a career-high OPS, but he was also a defensive liability who didn’t see much action against left-handed pitchers. The Giants like to mix up their lineup as much as any team, so those playing-time concerns will remain in spite of the big payday. Pederson has a place in five-outfielder leagues, but his upside is limited.
Martin Perez signs with Rangers
Another well-traveled 30-something coming off a career year, Perez couldn’t resist the big pay increase afforded by the qualifying offer and will be back with the Rangers in 2023. He has long excelled at limiting hard contact, so his breakthrough 2022 may have simply been a byproduct of the league taking the juiced ball out of circulation. But even if that’s the case, his 3.59 xERA and 3.80 xFIP offer a better idea what to expect moving forward than his 2.89 ERA. It’s also troubling that he issued 4.3 BB/9 over his final 15 starts compared to 2.2 over his first 17. He’s not a good enough bat-misser to get away with that.
These concerns are widely shared, though, and early indications are that they’re having an outsized influence on Perez’s draft stock, making the risk possibly worth the reward.
Miles Mastrobuoni traded to Cubs
Mastrobuoni isn’t a big name and may never become one. But as I wrote in September, the Rays produce so many super utility guys like him that they’re often forced to trade them once they come of age, with Jake Cronenworth being a notable example. And, well, voila. Whether Mastrobuoni makes himself into a Fantasy asset with the Cubs like Cronenworth has with the Padres remains to be seen, but the 27-year-old profiles similarly as a hitter and could potentially also factor as a base-stealer. Plus, the rebuilding Cubs wouldn’t have much trouble finding at-bats for him should he prove worthy of them. Put him on your radar as a deep sleeper worth monitoring in spring training.
Clayton Kershaw signs with Dodgers
Like he was going anywhere else, right? It’s almost as if Kershaw and the Dodgers have a standing one-year agreement up until the time he decides to retire. There’s of course no place we’d rather see him go in Fantasy, and he’s still every bit an ace when he’s able to take the mound, averaging as many Head-to-Head points per game as Shane McClanahan this past season. But that’s only when he’s able to. His 126 1/3 innings were the most he’s thrown since 2019, and he hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2015. Lengthy absences are just part of the package now, making Kershaw too troublesome to target among the top 30 starting pitchers.