Though it might have seemed the case, the 2016-17 offseason wasn't only about big bucks for free-agent relievers and Seattle Mariners trades.
Still, of the more than $1.25 billion spent on free agents, more than one-quarter was invested in relief pitchers, $228 million on the three who finished among the Player Rater's top 50 overall last season. Relievers were at a premium, and as a direct result of this winter's transactions, 11 teams entered 2017 having made (or potentially made) a significant change to their closer positions.
The Mariners and executive vice president and general manager Jerry Dipoto, meanwhile, were responsible for 13 of the 50 total trades completed, five of which occurred after Jan. 1. As many as four of their nine projected starting lineup spots, and two-fifths of their projected rotation, changed hands as a result of trades.
And if you think that's a lot to take in, add a Chicago White Sox rebuild, another $130 million paid to two other top-50 Player Rater finishers and, of course, the $700 million-plus spent on other free agents and 37 other trades and we're talking a lot of Hot Stove action, even in a weaker offseason free-agent class than the one that preceded it.
Thankfully, you've come to the right spot: This primer is your one-stop recap of all the winter transactions you might've missed. If you took the winter off from fantasy baseball -- it's not something I advise, but I acknowledge that those "other" sports also warrant a good amount of your attention -- here's a good place to make up for lost time.
The most fantasy-relevant moves are broken down into lists of nine below, which rank transactions by the most positive ("Grins") and negative ("Groans") impact on individual players' fantasy values. Beneath that is a "Hot Stove movement chart," which tracks all fantasy-relevant moves, grading the impact of the transactions on each player's 2017 value.
Quick links to take you to each section:
Nine 'grins': Tristan's most fantasy-beneficial player moves
Nine 'groans': Tristan's most value-sapping player moves
Hot Stove movement chart: Replete with fantasy grades
Details: The Rockies, on Dec. 13, signed Desmond to a five year, $70 million contract.
Hitter joins Rockies, hitter's (perceived) fantasy value soars, rinse, repeat. Desmond's arrival in Coors Field was predictably met with excitement, but the true fantasy impact of the move might be somewhat different than its perception. After all, he played 2016 at another one of the game's most hitting-friendly environments, Texas' Globe Life Park, resulting in the second-best fantasy campaign of his career going by Player Rater finish. His No. 37 only narrowly trailed 2014's No. 33, and barely beat 2012's No. 38 and 2013's No. 44. It's Desmond's year-over-year variability -- he had extremely wide first-/second-half splits in each of the past two seasons, had the fourth-most strikeouts in baseball in the past five years combined and had a 59-point range in his batting average during that five-year span -- that should be softened by the move to Coors, a ballpark with spacious outfield gaps resulting in easily the highest batting average on balls in play of any active venue. Ultimately, Desmond's repeat prospects are what improved, and as the team's currently projected first baseman, he could pick up multi-position eligibility fairly quickly, plus be a potential emergency fallback at shortstop should Trevor Story miss further time due to injury.
Details: The Nationals, on Dec. 7, acquired Eaton from the White Sox in exchange for Giolito, SPs Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning.
Part of the White Sox's aforementioned rebuilding during the offseason, Eaton's trade to Washington raised many an eyebrow initially. Upon further inspection, however, it significantly upgraded two weak spots for the Nationals in the short term (and likely also in the long term, considering Eaton's affordable contract): the leadoff spot and center field. Eaton has provided .362, .361 and .362 on-base percentages while mostly leading off for the White Sox the past three seasons, while the Nationals got a third-worst-in-the-majors .303 from that spot, with Ben Revere and Michael Taylor accounting for more than half of the team's plate appearances at leadoff. Eaton's arrival strengthens the team's top half of the lineup, his defense should be a boon to the team's pitching staff -- especially a fly-baller like Max Scherzer -- and his ability to steal a base might be something an aggressive-on-the-base-paths manager like Dusty Baker will exploit more often than Robin Ventura did.
Details: The Cubs, on Dec. 7, acquired Davis from the Royals in exchange for Soler.
Davis will close in Chicago, just as he did previously in Kansas City, but his trade at least signaled that perhaps the forearm problems that plagued him for much of the second half of last season aren't a huge worry. More importantly, his move had ripple effects upon the Cubs and Royals: Soler's departure cleared up some of the Cubs' outfield clutter, not to mention gave him a fresh start on a team with less competition for at-bats, albeit one in a more pitching-oriented ballpark. Davis' exit, meanwhile, freed up the Royals' closer role for Kelvin Herrera, who enjoyed a 40-save pace during the 45 team games during which Davis was on the DL last season.
Details: The Red Sox, on Dec. 6, acquired Sale from the White Sox in exchange for Moncada, SP Michael Kopech, OF Luis Alexander Basabe and RP Victor Diaz.
The highest-finishing pitcher on last year's Player Rater, Sale's trade was one of the big stories of the winter. In fantasy terms, however, his was not as impactful a move as perceived; it was actually a greater boon for Moncada. Sale will benefit from greater run support in Boston, but Fenway Park isn't the friendliest to left-handers -- the last ERA-qualified lefty to manage better than a 3.50 ERA and 1.10 WHIP for the Red Sox was Babe Ruth in 1918 -- and he did win 17 games in 2016 nevertheless, thanks in part to his pitching deeper into games. The move mostly stabilized his top-five starter value. Moncada, meanwhile, has a much clearer path to playing time in Chicago, and he'll likely begin his White Sox career as a second baseman.
Details: The Cardinals, on Dec. 9, signed Fowler to a five year, $82.5 million contract.
Any time a team can add a player with a .393 on-base percentage to the top of its lineup, it's almost certainly going to be a win for that squad. That's true even for a team like the Cardinals, whose .368 mark from the leadoff spot was third-best in baseball, mainly because of what it does to the construction of their lineup. Matt Carpenter, who made 114 of the team's 162 starts out of that spot but who has added a considerable amount of power to his game in the past two years, can now slide down to a more run-producing spot -- likely third in the order -- giving the team a probable Fowler-Aledmys Diaz-Carpenter-Stephen Piscotty-Yadier Molina top five. What's more, it gives the team a better-constructed outfield defense, with Randal Grichuk shifting to left field, providing a small boost to the team's pitchers.
Details: The Dodgers, on Jan. 23, acquired Forsythe from the Rays in exchange for De Leon.
Like Eaton and Fowler, Forsythe filled two pressing needs for his new team: Second base and the leadoff spot. Though Forsythe's .333 on-base percentage might pale in comparison to Eaton's or Fowler's, he possesses a specific skill that makes him an ideal choice to lead off: A keen knowledge of the strike zone, evidenced by his being the second least-likely to swing at a non-strike last season (19 percent swing rate). Forsythe's on-base percentage was probably not representative of his true ability, and he gives the Dodgers their first everyday leadoff candidate since Dee Gordon in 2014. Not that the team was hurting for run production in 2016, but a Forsythe-Corey Seager-Justin Turner-Adrian Gonzalez top four represents one of the game's stronger quartets.
Details: The Giants, on Dec. 5, signed Melancon to a four year, $62 million contract.
It might be difficult to imagine Melancon's fantasy value improving with his move to San Francisco -- he and Zach Britton were the only two closers to finish among the top 70 on the Player Rater in each of the past three seasons -- but his decision indeed stabilized his chances at again finishing within that group, and perhaps even repeating his No. 28 overall finish of a year ago. San Francisco's AT&T Park is one of the game's most pitching-friendly, and the Giants have placed among the game's top 10 in save opportunities in each of the past three seasons. In addition, Melancon's departure from the Washington Nationals clears the closer role for a probable competition among Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Koda Glover and Joe Nathan.
Details: The Blue Jays, on Nov. 18, signed Morales to a three year, $33 million contract.
While on the surface it might appear that the Blue Jays downgraded at DH this winter, going from Edwin Encarnacion to Morales, the switch might not result in a significant change in numbers at the position. Morales' power is underrated, as he had the game's ninth-best average fly-ball distance last season (319.7 feet), and in his two seasons with the Royals, his fly balls cleared the fence more than four percent more often in his road than home games, illustrating Kauffman Stadium's pitching-friendly leaning. Morales isn't Encarnacion's equal in the home-run department, but in a more homer-friendly environment in Rogers Centre, he could be quite a value this year.
Details: The Brewers, on Jan. 19, signed Feliz to a one year, $5.35 million contract which includes incentives.
After a one-year stop in Pittsburgh to work with Ray Searage at reviving his career, Feliz landed another closer role with the Brewers in January. Though he has struggled both with injuries and in the role in the past, he enjoyed a significant boost in velocity as well as to his strikeout rate last season, and he'll also face minimal competition for saves in Milwaukee. Miller Park represents a downgrade for Feliz, but he could provide 30 saves and 60 strikeouts at minimal cost.
Though Seattle's Safeco Field actually saw more home runs hit last season -- a major league-leading 234 -- than Arizona's Chase Field, traditionally speaking, one would rather see the pitcher move to the former, the hitter to the latter. This trade sent the hitter fresh off a massive, sixth-on-the-Player-Rater rebound campaign to Safeco, and the pitcher coming off an injury-marred year to the desert, hurting the fantasy appeal of both players in the process. Segura has hit 32 of his 43 career home runs at Chase, Milwaukee's Miller Park, Cincinnati's Great American Ball Park and Colorado's Coors Field, all of them homer-friendly venues, but he'll probably find repeating his 2016 power output more difficult in Safeco's more spacious confines. Walker's higher-than-average fly-ball tendency might prove an equally poor fit for Chase Field, hurting his rebound prospects. In the end, would anyone be surprised if the player involved in this trade whose value improved the most was Haniger?
Details: The Red Sox, on Dec. 6, acquired Thornburg from the Brewers in exchange for Shaw, SS Mauricio Dubon, SP Josh Pennington and a player to be named later or cash.
The Brewers' best relief pitcher last season, Thornburg emerged as an even more fantasy-relevant closer than the man he replaced, Jeremy Jeffress, after the latter's trade to the Texas Rangers last Aug. 1. Thornburg saved 11 games from that point forward en route to the 12th-best fantasy season per our Player Rater. The Red Sox, seeing his same No. 12 ranking among relief pitchers in Wins Above Replacement, then added him to their bullpen stable, where he'll serve as a setup man (and fantasy handcuff) to closer Craig Kimbrel. Without the regular prospect of saves, however, Thornburg's fantasy appeal drops considerably. As for Shaw, his arrival in Milwaukee was not only bad news for him -- he'll presumably be the left-handed part of a third-base platoon -- it also potentially cuts into the playing time of other Brewers like Hernan Perez, who might be Shaw's platoon mate, and Scooter Gennett, who might have to settle for a utility role with Jonathan Villar shifting to second base.
Details: The Athletics, on Jan. 20, signed Casilla to a two year, $11 million contract which includes incentives.
First off, don't ignore that Casilla finished 2016 on a poor note, blowing four of eight save opportunities with a 6.57 ERA in his final 15 appearances. The move to Oakland, however, clouds the Athletics' closer picture, where manager Bob Melvin said in January he was undecided on his pick of Ryan Madson, Casilla, Sean Doolittle or perhaps even Ryan Dull. With the exception of Dull, the least likely to emerge in the role come Opening Day, none of these pitchers is a trusted enough source of ERA, WHIP and strikeouts over the 162-game schedule to warrant a hefty investment. It looks like guesswork will be required with this bullpen, and it's possible that as many as three or four different pitchers will shuffle through the role in 2017.
Details: The Rays, on Dec. 12, signed Ramos to a two year, $12.5 million contract which includes $5.75 million in incentives.
Though the move to Tampa itself wasn't disastrous for Ramos, it's the incentives in his contract that reveal conservative expectations for his 2017 playing time from the Rays themselves. He has $3 million combined in catcher starts and plate appearances incentives, plus a provision promising him a $2 million increase in 2018 salary based upon starting 55 games at catcher and not returning to the DL due to his right knee, which required October surgery to repair his ACL and two meniscus tears. Ramos' timetable at that time was set at six-to-eight months, which set his return somewhere between April and June. The catcher himself said he might be ready to play in the majors by early May, at least as a designated hitter, but all signs point to him missing at least the season's first two months.
5. Athletics sign OF Rajai Davis
Details: The Athletics, on Jan. 4, signed Davis to a one year, $6 million contract which includes incentives.
Davis' career high in stolen bases came during his previous stint with the Athletics -- he swiped 50 with them in 2010 -- but this is still a team that is traditionally conservative on the base paths. More importantly, the Athletics call a pitching-friendly environment (O.co Coliseum) their home, which is a negative for Davis after his unexpectedly huge 2016. He'll receive regular playing time in center field for his new team, but home-run regression was inevitable, and at 36 years old, he's at greater risk for a sudden loss of speed than a younger player would be.
Details: The Astros, on Nov. 17, acquired McCann and cash considerations from the New York Yankees in exchange for SPs Albert Abreu and Jorge Guzman.
Yankee Stadium was a brilliant venue for McCann's extreme pull-conscious, power-oriented approach, and it should not be ignored that the distance down the right-field line at Houston's Minute Maid Park is 12 feet deeper. He has only continued to show signs of being affected by the aging curve, his contact rate dropping and his platoon split widening, and he's also now on an Astros team that has more competition for at-bats at catcher, first base and DH than he'd have faced with the Yankees. McCann's days of exceeding 525 plate appearances might be in his past.
7. Cleveland Indians sign 1B Edwin Encarnacion
Details: The Indians, on Jan. 5, signed Encarnacion to a three year, $60 million contract with a 2020 option.
Encarnacion's power can play anywhere, and certainly his arrival in Cleveland is a boon to the rest of the lineup surrounding him, as he has a keen sense of the strike zone and legitimately elite power. Still, Toronto's Rogers Centre was a dream environment for a player with his skill set, and his pull-conscious approach might not work quite as brilliantly in Cleveland's Progressive Field, which has a fence nine feet higher in both left and left-center fields. Encarnacion might see a few more of his fly balls and line drives dunk off the wall, resulting in doubles rather than homers, and that could have a small, adverse impact upon his final fantasy numbers.
Details: The Angels, on Jan. 24, signed Valbuena to a two year, $15 million contract with a 2019 option.
Valbuena's signing with the Angels had to be met with audible groans amongst fantasy owners, but it's mostly because of the impact of his arrival upon three other players -- Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron and Yunel Escobar -- rather than Valbuena himself. General manager Billy Eppler quickly announced that he viewed Valbuena as an everyday player against right-handed pitching after the signing, which means someone from that bunch will suffer a noticeable loss in playing time. Did it signal Pujols' plantar fascia surgery being more serious than initially anticipated, perhaps resulting in a DL stint of a month or two to start 2017? Did it hint that the team wasn't as optimistic about Cron's breakthrough prospects as his 2016 numbers suggested? Did it mean that the team viewed Escobar as more of a utility infielder or right-handed platoon partner rather than regular? Perhaps spring training will provide us some hints, but as things stand, all four project to lose a handful of at-bats.
9. Athletics sign 3B Trevor Plouffe
Details: The Athletics, on Jan. 18, signed Plouffe to a one year, $5.25 million contract which includes incentives.
As with Davis, Plouffe's power will take a hit at O.co Coliseum, which is a below-average venue for right-handed power, whereas Minnesota's Target Field is above-average. Plouffe's arrival, however, also clouds the immediate future of Ryan Healy, one of the more promising breakthrough stories of the second half of 2016. Healy might now have to fight for playing time at third base, first base and designated hitter, and he can't be projected for regular at-bats as a result.
Players are listed by position, then in order of their 2016 Player Rater ranking, with both their former and new teams. A grade is included: two green plus signs mean a significant increase in fantasy stock; one green plus sign means a slight increase; an equals sign means no discernable change; one red minus sign means a slight decrease; two red minus signs mean a significant decrease in fantasy stock.
Note: The players below might receive grades somewhat out of line with their ranking order in the lists above; the player's overall fantasy importance is considered in those rankings, while the grades below merely estimate the player's projected change in value from 2016-17.