Early offseason moves impact '16 fantasy values
Zimmermann's deal with Tigers highlights fairly quiet holiday week
The past week likely served as a calm before the storm in terms of free-agent movement. Few players found new homes during the holiday weekend, but Jordan Zimmermann may have opened the floodgates by agreeing to the richest deal to this point in the offseason. While we brace for an expected deluge of transactions at the upcoming Winter Meetings, let's check out the few notable moves from this past week.
The Tigers made a massive rotation upgrade by signing Zimmermann to a five-year contract. The right-hander undoubtedly is a workhorse, but he may fall short of No. 2-starter status in shallow formats next season. Dealing with reduced fastball velocity in 2015, Zimmermann posted his highest ERA (3.66) and WHIP (1.20) since '10. Most of his woes came on the road, where he recorded the third-highest ERA (4.87) among qualified National League hurlers. The 29-year-old should enjoy working at pitcher-friendly Comerica Park in '16, but he will be challenged to reverse some of his negative trends while adjusting to a schedule filled with deep American League lineups.
Last season, J.A. Happ joined a lengthy list of hurlers to excel under the guidance of Pirates pitching guru Ray Searage, posting a 1.85 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP and a 5.3 K:BB ratio across 11 starts after joining the Bucs at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Though his '16 sleeper value would have surged if he had joined a Senior Circuit club with a pitcher-friendly home park, the left-hander nonetheless may be an asset in 15-team mixed leagues as a member of the Blue Jays. The 33-year-old owns a lifetime 3.38 ERA across 170 1/3 innings at Rogers Centre, and he should be well-supported by a Toronto club that boasts an outstanding lineup and a strong defensive unit.
Happ will join Marcus Stroman, R.A. Dickey and Marco Estrada in the Blue Jays' rotation, with Jesse Chavez and Drew Hutchison likely competing for the fifth-starter role. By adding multiple starters in November, Toronto management may have tipped its hand that skilled youngsters Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sanchez will remain at the back end of the bullpen in '16.
Because he can play multiple infield positions, Jed Lowrie should hold a prominent role with the A's in 2016. Sharing playing time with Brett Lawrie at second base, Marcus Semien at shortstop and Danny Valencia at the hot corner, Lowrie could serve as a solid source of homers for those in deep leagues. But as a lifetime .257 hitter with little speed and a lengthy injury history, he is unlikely to warrant a roster spot in standard mixed formats.
Bud Norris had his best season in 2014, going 15-8 with a 3.65 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP with the Orioles. But the right-hander lost his rotation spot -- and eventually his roster spot -- after struggling early last season. Norris is unlikely to be a factor in '16 mixed-league drafts, but he could emerge as a spot starter in deep formats if he can use the benefits of pitcher-friendly Turner Field to get his career back on track.
Chris Young was an effective reserve player for the Yankees in 2015, belting 14 homers across 318 at-bats and posting his highest batting average (.252) since '10. With a lifetime .837 OPS against left-handers (.704 vs. righties), the native Texan should start against most southpaws as the Red Sox's fourth outfielder in '16. Those in AL-only formats can hope for a 10th consecutive season with double-digit homers, but the 32-year-old is unlikely to crack standard mixed-league rosters.
Jim Johnson finished 2015 with a 2.25 ERA across 49 appearances with the Braves and a 10.13 ERA in 23 appearances with the Dodgers, so he is a tough pitcher to project for '16. Even though he effectively handled the closer's role in Atlanta, the right-hander is unlikely to regain the team's ninth-inning job. The hard-throwing Arodys Vizcaino excelled as the Braves' stopper down the stretch and finished last year with a 1.60 ERA, so he has a strong chance to earn save chances in the upcoming campaign.
Chicago will likely utilize newly-signed catcher Alex Avila in a timeshare with incumbent starter Tyler Flowers next season. A .224 hitter since the outset of 2012, Avila is unlikely to dent mixed-league rosters.