Fantasy roundup: 4 early offseason items
The champagne stains have barely dried in the visitors' clubhouse at Citi Field, but all Major League organizations have already shifted their focus to 2016. While the major offseason storylines have yet to develop, there have already been a few news items that should pique the interest of fantasy owners.
1. Mariners, Rays complete six-player swap
Seattle and Tampa Bay made the first notable trade off the offseason with a six-player deal that centered around right-hander Nathan Karns and shortstop Brad Miller.
The move to Seattle should have little effect on Karns' fantasy value. Safeco Field and Tropicana Field are both pitcher-friendly parks, and continuing to work in spacious surroundings will be key for a starter who posted a 1.2 HR/9 rate in 2015. If he can repeat his 8.9 K/9 rate from last season, Karns could continue to work around inconsistent control to post a sub-4.00 ERA.
Many owners have been disappointed with Miller, who was expected to make an impact when he debuted with the Mariners in 2013. The native Floridian has the skill set to be a five-category contributor, but he struggled to consistently hit for average in limited playing time with Seattle. Now with the Rays, the shortstop could be poised for his first 500-at-bat season. A ground-ball-heavy swing may limit his power numbers, but Miller could be poised to hit .265 and exceed the 15 in both homers and steals in '16. With a dearth of fantasy talent at shortstop, he could be a factor in shallow leagues.
Logan Morrison joins Miller on his travels, but the outlook for Morrison with Tampa Bay is less rosy. The Rays already have first baseman James Loney under contract, which pushes Morrison to the designated hitter spot. The left-handed slugger will likely need to battle Daniel Nava for a DH role against right-handers. Nava owns a lifetime .787 OPS against righties, and Morrison has produced a .767 mark. As a low-average hitter without a secure role, Morrison is best left on waivers in mixed leagues.
Minor Leaguer Boog Powell went west in this trade, and he could factor into the center-field equation if Seattle does not make additional moves. The native Californian has posted a lifetime .308 average and .401 on-base percentage in the Minors, and he has the speed to record some swipes. While the Mariners will likely add reinforcements, Powell is slated to compete with Shawn O'Malley and James Jones for a regular role.
By trading Miller, Seattle has also reinforced its belief that Ketel Marte is ready to run with the starting shortstop job. With substantial speed and an ability to hit for average, the 22-year-old could be a mixed-league factor in 2016. While Marte benefits from this trade, former Mariners prospect Nick Franklin can be scratched off mixed-league draft lists. A key component of the '14 David Price trade, Franklin was expected to eventually fill a starting role in the Rays' middle infield. With Miller at shortstop and Logan Forsythe at second base, the 24-year-old Franklin will have to settle for a backup role or another trip to Triple-A.
2. Twins pick Park
In a blind-bidding process, Minnesota has won the right to spend up to 30 days negotiating a contract with Korean slugger Byung Ho Park. If he signs, the 29-year-old would surely garner plenty of fantasy attention after hitting .343 with 53 home runs and 146 RBIs across 528 at-bats in the Korea Baseball Organization in 2015. Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang made a successful transition from South Korea to the Majors last season, which lends credibility to the belief that Park could have immediate success. For mixed-league owners, he would be worth late-round consideration.
Due to their corner-infield depth, the Twins seemed unlikely to have major interest in Park. Minnesota has Joe Mauer to play first base, Miguel Sano to serve as designated hitter and Trevor Plouffe to man the hot corner. The club could choose to move Sano to the outfield, or a Park signing could be the catalyst for additional offseason maneuvers. It is also possible that the Twins are hoping to duplicate the success of the Pirates, who used the addition of Kang to build a deep roster that could withstand injuries and slumps.
3. Brantley and Pujols undergo surgery
Due to an injury suffered on Sept. 22, Indians outfielder Michael Brantley underwent arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder on Monday. Because the outfielder is expected to require five to six months of recovery time, he may not be ready to play on Opening Day. Among of the safest five-category contributors, Brantley would have warranted a third-round pick if he had arrived at Spring Training with a clean bill of health. While the updates of his recovery process will dictate his draft spot, the 28-year-old will likely be left on the board until at least Round 5.
Angels first baseman Albert Pujols also recently underwent surgery, and he is also unlikely to be part of the Opening Day lineup. The slugger was terrific during May and June of last season, but he dealt with soreness in his right foot throughout the second half and posted a .231/.288/.419 slash line after the All-Star break. Because Pujols is expected to resume full baseball activities in 4 1/2 months, a late-April season debut is a reasonable estimate. Due to the combination of his injury and second-half slide, the 35-year-old should not be one of the initial 12 first basemen to come off draft boards.
4. Gardner gets a reprieve
Few players were less consistent than Brett Gardner in '15. The Yankees outfielder was a fantasy All-Star while posting a .302/.377/.484 slash line in the first half before producing a .206/.300/.292 slash line after the Midsummer Classic. While Gardner's final numbers met preseason expectations, the disappointing finish left fantasy owners unsure about his ability to help squads in shallow league.
Newly hired hitting coach Alan Cockrell commented last week that Gardner's poor second half may have been the result of playing through a nagging right wrist injury. Cockrell believes that the injury was initially sustained on April 13, and further damage to the same area eventually wore down the multi-category contributor. If Cockrell's assessment is accurate, Gardner could be poised for an uptick in overall production next season.