Baseball is back.
That means fantasy baseball is, too, so it’s time to get ready for a new season of earning bragging rights -- and snagging buy-low players -- from your leaguemates.
Whether it’s a slumping should-be star … or an under-the-radar breakout about to happen ... or a productive performer on the verge of returning from injury, we’ll be identifying a crop of candidates each week you can acquire via trade at a discount.
With only two regular-season games -- and very little actual data -- in the books so far, let’s start with a batch of five who might be underappreciated trade targets as the action begins.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Phillies
With the Phillies landing so many big-name fantasy stars this offseason -- from Bryce Harper to J.T. Realmuto to Jean Segura -- you’re forgiven for overlooking McCutchen’s fit in Philly. Not to mention, Cutch is now 32 years old and three seasons removed from his MVP-caliber prime.
That said, he’s still in great shape and super durable, having played at least 153 games in eight of the past nine years (and 146 games in the other season). That sort of steady, consistent, set-it-and-forget-it lineup piece can be extremely valuable in fantasy.
Plus, it’s not like McCutchen hasn’t been plenty productive, even as he’s aged. His .255/.368/.424 slash line with 83 runs, 20 homers, 65 RBIs and 14 steals in 2018 prove he still can contribute across the board. Besides, the dude likely is going to hit leadoff in the revamped Phillies lineup to take full advantage of his on-base skills (12.6 percent walk rate and .366 on-base percentage since 2017).
Expect a solid average, double digits in both homers and thefts, enough RBIs to keep you happy and the possibility of 100 runs scored -- and then some. If the owner in your league’s reason for drafting McCutchen was something like, “He’s boring, but I had to fill out my outfield somehow,” you should be the owner who trades for him by dangling a buzzier name (say, Teoscar Hernandez or Franmil Reyes) and benefits when “boring” beats “buzzy.”
Jonathan Villar, 2B, Orioles
Speaking of being forgotten, Villar fits that bill as a player stuck on an O’s team coming off a 47-win season and embarking upon a lengthy rebuild process under a new regime.
Back in 2016, Villar was a fantasy darling who hit .285/.369/.457 with 92 runs, 19 homers and an MLB-leading 62 stolen bases for the Brewers. His follow-up season was far from an encore (.665 OPS, 11 HR, 23 SB), and he was shipped out of Milwaukee at last year’s Trade Deadline having shown only flashes of that form.
While it’s hard to argue that landing in Baltimore is good for any player’s performance these days, Villar actually might wind up working quite well as a volume play. Unlike with the contending Brewers, he’s going to get plenty of playing time, which should allow him to rack up stolen bases -- perhaps even upward of 50 -- and 15 long balls isn’t out of the question at hitter-friendly Camden Yards. Heck, he pilfered 21 bags and hit eight homers in just 54 games after the O’s acquired him last summer.
Even if he struggles to top 2018’s runs and RBI totals (54 and 46, respectively) because of the surrounding lineup, the 27-year-old switch-hitting Villar could be worth starting at second base or middle infield (or better yet, at shortstop if he’s eligible there in your league), thanks to his pop-speed combo.
Willy Adames, SS, Rays
The Rays have as much position-player depth as just about any team. There are multiple legitimate starting Major League-caliber options across both the infield and outfield, with exceptions at catcher (Mike Zunino), center field (Kevin Kiermaier) and shortstop, where the young Adames is in position to prove he can handle the everyday job.
A former top prospect, the 23-year-old showed he could hold his own in The Show last year by hitting .278/.348/.406 with 43 runs, 10 taters and 34 RBIs in 323 plate appearances -- right around half of a full season.
Considering Adames' importance to the roster, the Rays should give him every opportunity to improve on the 29.4 percent strikeout rate he posted with Tampa Bay a year ago. While that mark will have to come down for him to have extended success, the good news is that Adames also has shown the ability to draw free passes, with a 9.6 percent walk rate for the Rays and a 12.4 percent rate in his Minor League career.
Don’t expect huge production from Adames in his first full season, but he has the pedigree, ability and lineup to be a quality contributor at middle infield -- with upside for more as he develops. If you could use 20 dingers, 10 steals and won’t-hurt-you numbers in the other three primary fantasy categories, Adames can do that.
Archie Bradley, RP, Diamondbacks
Your fellow owner who recently drafted Bradley got bad news this week when D-backs skipper Torey Lovullo revealed that the club’s closer will be Greg Holland. That’s good news for you, though, since Bradley’s value has been undercut through no fault of his own, creating an opportunity to buy low.
Look, we went through the same shenanigans last March: Bradley entered Spring Training coming off a fabulous breakout 2017, only to have another veteran with quote-unquote “closing experience” -- remember Brad Boxberger? -- get the gig. Alas, Bradley wasn’t quite as strong while dealing with a lingering cracked nail on his right forefinger in 2018 (3.64 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.4 K/9) and never really got a shot to handle the ninth inning.
Here’s betting things will play out differently this time around. Holland is aging (33), injury prone and struggled mightily for most of last year with the Cardinals (7.92 ERA, 2.24 WHIP in 25 IP) before salvaging his season late with the Nationals. Bradley, on the other hand, is in his prime (26), back to full health and the best reliever on the D-backs.
More often than not, the pitcher with that combination on a team winds up getting the final three outs. Can we guarantee it? No. But then again, that's exactly why you won’t have to give up all that much to snag a chance at some saves down the line, if you make a move to acquire Bradley now -- while outs Nos. 25, 26 and 27 belong to someone else.
Wade Miley, SP, Astros
The brief buy-low case for Miley is this: The Astros are almost unmatched in their ability to get the most out of their pitchers. Just look at Justin Verlander and Gerrit Cole, high-octane arms who got much better after being traded to Houston; or Charlie Morton, Collin McHugh and Brad Peacock, versatile vets whose careers were resurrected more or less off the scrap heap by the Astros.
After his own resuscitation with the Brewers last year, Miley’s one-year deal with the Astros went very much under the radar this winter. Could the 32-year-old southpaw be next in line to benefit from being in Houston?
Miley excelled in 2018 by showcasing his improved cutter, pitching to a 2.57 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP over 80 2/3 frames across 16 starts. Sure, that’s a small sample size for a starter, and yes, Miley struck out only 5.6 batters per nine, but his career mark is a more palatable 7.1 -- and if any team can coax a few more whiffs, it’s the Astros.
There won’t be a repeat of that minuscule ERA, but if Houston helps Miley further refine and utilize that cutter -- he threw it 41.4 percent of the time in '18, allowed a .194/.251/.309 slash line and a .291 xwOBA against the pitch and induced poor/weak contact an MLB-high 73 percent of the time, per Statcast -- there’s enough to like here as a reliable rotation piece in fantasy.
Jason Catania is an editor and reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JayCat11.