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There was always the expectation that once the lockout was finally lifted there would be an explosion of trades and free agent signings as each team attempted to finalize its roster in the precious few weeks leading up to Opening Day. Things have been happening each and every day, sure, but it hadn’t exactly been the wild extravaganza that it was built up to be. That is, until Wednesday at least, when the Hot Stove absolutely exploded.
The biggest news of the day – and of the off-season to date – didn’t happen until late into the evening on Wednesday. It was a move that had been anticipated – growing to a crescendo as the days passed – but it wasn’t until Jeff Passan and Kiley McDaniel of ESPN announced it did the reality of the situation actually set in. The Los Angeles Dodgers – a team that has won the National League West in eight of the past nine seasons, claimed three National League Pennants and a World Series Championship during that stretch – had signed Freddie Freeman to a six-year, $162 million contract.
The Braves all but closed the door on Freeman’s possible return on Monday when they acquired first baseman Matt Olson from the Athletics. They then slammed that door completely shut when they signed Olson to a massive eight-year, $168 million contract extension on Tuesday. Freeman took to social media early on Wednesday, penning a personal farewell to Braves Country, thanking everyone in the organization for the 15 seasons that he spent there after being selected in the second round of the 2007 draft out of El Modena High School in Orange, California.
One by one throughout the day, the other possible teams that had been in the Freeman sweepstakes fell by the wayside. The Yankees re-signed Anthony Rizzo late on Tuesday night. The Blue Jays acquired Matt Chapman from the Athletics’ fire sale early on Wednesday. The Red Sox bowed out of the race. All of a sudden, it was down to the Dodgers and the Rays – a team that seemed like an extreme longshot all along.
As the day progressed, it seemed like an inevitability, with Dodgers fans and baseball aficionados around the world simply waiting for that final confirmation that Passan and McDaniel delivered just before Midnight EST.
The Dodgers – who already boasted one of the strongest lineups in all of baseball – just took things to a new level. Their projected starting nine should be absolutely frightening to opposing pitchers. The order that they’ll line up in isn’t yet clear, but the top third should be some combination of Mookie Betts, Trea Turner and Freeman, followed by Will Smith, Justin Turner and Max Muncy in the middle and rounded out by Chris Taylor, A.J. Pollock and Cody Bellinger. I’d be shocked if the Dodgers offense didn’t pace the league in runs scored in 2022.
From a fantasy perspective, I don’t believe that too much changes for the 32-year-old slugger. Freeman was already hitting in the middle of a tremendous lineup, driving in the likes of Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies with regularity, though the overall strength of the Dodgers lineup as a whole should boost his RBI and run totals a bit higher. Many people still believe that Dodger Stadium functions as a pitcher’s park, but it actually is the seventh best park in all of baseball for left-handed power, which is a slight bump from Truist Park in Atlanta. He’s going to be an absolute monster in the first four categories while chipping in at least a handful of stolen bases to go along with it. Call it a slightly discounted version of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Since the calendar has flipped to March, Freeman has sported an average draft position of 18 in NFBC drafts. I’d anticipate that to creep up slightly over the next few weeks, pushing him into the end of the first round in most formats.
Rockies Break Bank for Bryant
It’s crazy to say that Freeman’s $162 million contract with the Braves wasn’t technically the largest contract given out on Wednesday, but in terms of total dollars it wasn’t. One of the biggest surprises of the day came as Jon Heyman of MLB Network announced that the Colorado Rockies had signed free agent slugger Kris Bryant to a seven-year, $182 million pact. Yowza.
For background, this is the same Rockies team that had to pay $51 million in order to offload superstar third baseman Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals prior to the 2021 season. The same team that was unable to convince Trevor Story to sign a long-term contract extension, and let ace Jon Gray depart this winter without even giving him a qualifying offer. Only to turn around and invest $182 million in Bryant, a move that would take a team projected to finish in fourth place in the National League Central and move them up to… fourth place in the National League Central. So yeah, this move does raise a few eyebrows.
On the flip side though, I’d much rather see teams spend money and actually give some semblance that they’re trying and that they care about their fans, as opposed to the abhorrent fire sales that we’ve seen from the Reds and Athletics in recent days.
For what it’s worth, the 30-year-old slugger has already won a World Series Championship with the Cubs in 2016 – and he won the National League MVP in the same season. It’s possible that playing for a competitive squad that’s going to be competing for a title in the next few years wasn’t as big of a concern to him. Perhaps he’s content cashing in on his mammoth free agent deal, playing in a beautiful city and piling up exaggerated offensive numbers while getting to play his home games at Coors Field with limited pressure and media scrutiny as the team isn’t expected to contend.
With that out of the way, what we care about here is fantasy value and Bryant’s should soar with the move to Colorado. Spoiler alert, Coors Field ranks as the number one park in terms of offensive park factors for right-handed hitters. It’s the fourth best park for right-handed power, doing an even better job at boosting batting average. Bryant has eclipsed the 30-homer plateau twice in his career, with 31 long balls in 2019 and a career-best 39 during his MVP campaign in 2016. I’d anticipate him surpassing 30 dingers again in 2022.
A career .278 hitter, I’d think that he gets back up into that .290+ range with the extra hits that will fall into that massive home outfield of his. The one place that he will get dinged a bit is in the counting stats, as the Rockies lineup is a downgrade from the stacked Cubs rosters that he was once a part of and the Giants lineup that he finished out the 2021 campaign in. Still though, a .290+ average, 30 homers, say 180 runs + RBI and a handful of stolen bases makes for an extremely valuable commodity. Prior to Wednesday’s news, Bryant had been going just outside the top 90 picks overall in March fantasy drafts. I expect that cost will jump up a couple of rounds at a minimum, finishing much closer to pick 60 overall. The dual-eligibility at third base and in the outfield helps, but I’d have a hard time justifying any cost that gets higher than that.
Seiya Suzuki Chooses Cubs
Speaking of Bryant’s former team in Chicago, the Cubs made quite a statement of their own on Wednesday, wooing Japanese superstar Seiya Suzuki with a five-year, $85 million contract as reported by Jon Morosi and Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. That’s the largest contract ever given to a Japanese position player coming to MLB.
It had seemed all along that the Padres were the favorites to land the 27-year-old slugger – especially after he visited with them in San Diego over the weekend. He met with the Cubs brass on Monday night though and apparently things went so well that he didn’t need to continue his tour.
In his final season overseas, Suzuki slashed a monstrous .317/.433/.636 with 38 homers, 88 RBI and nine stolen bases in 134 games. He also posted a tremendous 89/88 K/BB ratio across his 538 plate appearances. With his outstanding plate discipline and control of the strike zone, I expect Suzuki to hit the ground running in his first big league season. He may not be able to replicate the lofty power numbers that he posted in the NPB, but he’s certainly going to be relevant from a fantasy perspective.
It’s not yet clear where exactly he’ll slot into the Cubs lineup, though it should be in either the third, fourth or fifth spot. The bottom half of that lineup isn’t strong – which could cut into his runs scored totals, but there’s enough talent at the top to keep respectable RBI totals in play. He should play every single day in right field, hit for a plus average with 20+ homers, a couple of stolen bases and likely in the 170 range for runs + RBI.
Prior to the signing, Suzuki sported an average draft position over the past two weeks of 185 overall, putting him in the 13th round in 15-team formats and in the 16th round in 12-teamers. I’d anticipate that he climbs an additional two rounds now that we have certainty that he’s coming stateside and know his lineup and playing time situation.
Jays Pluck Chapman from A’s
The Toronto Blue Jays were the latest team to take advantage of the Oakland Athletics fire sale on Wednesday morning, plucking three-time Gold Glove Award Winner (and two-time Platinum Glove Award Winner) Matt Chapman in exchange for four prospects (Kevin Smith, Gunnar Hoglund, Zach Logue and Kirby Snead) – a deal that was first reported by former big leaguer Carlos Baerga.
The 28-year-old had a down season offensively in 2021, slashing just .210/.314/.403 with 27 homers, 72 RBI and a woeful 202/80 K/BB ratio across 622 plate appearances. Even that though, produced a 101 wRC+ – which along with his world-class defense at third base still made him an extremely valuable player.
With Cavan Biggio expected to settle in at second base in place of Marcus Semien who signed with the Rangers, the Jays had a gaping hole at third base that needed to be filled. Not only were the Jays able to do so with one of the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball, but they added some additional right-handed power to the lineup to replace what Semien took with him.
Sure, if he repeats his 32.5% strikeout rate again, his batting average is going to be a major problem. But the power production should increase with the move from the Oakland Coliseum (fourth worst for right-handed power) to Rogers Centre (10th best). The counting stats get a massive bump as well, as there’s a dramatic difference in the quality of the supporting cast between the Jays and the A’s. If you can handle the batting average risk and the lack of speed, Chapman should deliver strong three-category production at a discount price.
Prior to this move, Chapman’s average draft position in March was 182 overall. I think that number takes a huge jump based on this move – comfortably inside the top 150 overall and possibly higher.
Phillies give Schwarber $79 Million
Not to get lost in the shuffle of such a wild day, the Phillies made a huge move of their own on Wednesday – locking up free agent slugger Kyle Schwarber to a four-year, $79 million contract as reported by Jon Heyman of MLB Network.
Phillies superstar Bryce Harper had been trumpeting for ownership to add more power to the lineup – specifically mentioning Schwarber, Nick Castellanos and Kris Bryant as additions that would immensely help the ballclub. It looks like they take Harper’s suggestions seriously.
The 29-year-old has power that plays well in any field, but Citizens Bank Park is certainly one of the better spots that he could have landed. Schwarber clubbed 32 home runs in only 113 games during the 2021 campaign, making it the third time in the past four full seasons that he has eclipsed that 30-homer plateau. Expect him to do so once again in 2022 as long as he’s able to avoid the injured list.
It’ll be interesting to see where he slots into the Phillies lineup, as they may want to go right-left-right-left and split up Schwarber, Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto and Rhys Hoskins. In some order, I anticipate those four will hit in the 2-5 spots, with Jean Segura atop the lineup. The alternative could be using Schwarber in the leadoff spot, where he had tremendous success with the Nationals.
Prior to this move, Schwarber’s recent ADP sat around pick 114. I don’t expect that to move too much, as we all knew that he’d eventually sign somewhere and expect him to be the player that he’s expected to be. Maybe he gets a slight bump and winds up closer to pick 100, but it shouldn’t be anything too drastic.
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American League Quick Hits: Red Sox left-hander Chris Sale was diagnosed with a stress fracture on the right side of his rib cage. He will not be ready for the start of the regular season and it will likely be weeks before he resumes throwing… O’s top prospect Adley Rutschman was diagnosed with a strained right triceps and will be shut down for the next two-to-three weeks, killing any chances of him cracking the Opening Day roster… The Tigers signed left-hander Andrew Chafin to a two-year, $13 million contract… The Yankees, Twins and Tigers have all been mentioned among the teams talking to the Athletics about starting pitchers Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea… The Royals acquired Amir Garrett from the Reds in exchange for Mike Minor and cash considerations… The Royals also reunited with Zack Greinke on a one-year, $13 million contract… Astros manager Dusty Baker tabbed Jeremy Pena as the “frontrunner” to claim the team’s starting shortstop job – assuming the team doesn’t wind up bringing back Carlos Correa… Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reported that hte Blue Jays have spoken to the Indians about Jose Ramirez, though the possibility seems extremely unlikely… The Angels announced that Griffin Canning re-injured his back a few weeks ago and will start the season on the injured list… Royals skipper Mike Matheny told reporters that the team is eying Adalberto Mondesi for starting shortstop duties… That means they’re giving Bobby Witt Jr. a long look at third base this spring… The Tigers signed Wily Peralta to a minor league contract… Red Sox manager Alex Cora officially tabbed Nathan Eovaldi as his Opening Day starter… The A’s claimed Sheldon Neuse off of waivers from the Dodgers… They also brought back Billy McKinney on a minor league contract… The Mariners signed Chance Sisco to a minor league pact… The Rangers re-signed Charlie Culberson to a minor league deal… Jonathan Hernandez (elbow) and Jose Leclerc (elbow) each threw bullpen sessions at Rangers camp, though neither is expected to return until around mid-season… Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters that he expects Amed Rosario to rotate between shortstop and left field during the 2022 season… The Angels signed Matt Duffy to a one-year, $1.5 million contract… The Rangers signed former Royals closer Greg Holland to a minor league deal… The Astros announced that Jake Meyers (shoulder) will not be ready in time for Opening Day… Anthony Rendon (hip) declared himself 100 percent healthy heading into the 2022 season…
National League Quick Hits: Padres superstar Fernando Tatis Jr. officially underwent surgery on his left wrist on Wednesday. He’s expected to be sidelined until mid-June… The Braves re-signed playoff hero Eddie Rosario to a two-year, $18 million contract. The deal includes a $9 million club option for 2024 as well… The Giants signed Joc Pederson to a one-year, $6 million deal… Cardinals right-hander Alex Reyes is visiting Dr. James Andrews to get a therapeutic injection in his pitching shoulder. He has not thrown off a mound all offseason, and won’t be doing so any time soon… Alex Pavlovic of NBC Sports Bay Area reports that the Giants have had internal discussions about making a push for Michael Conforto… Zac Gallen (shoulder) threw a successful bullpen session on Wednesday and still has enough time to ramp up for Opening Day… The Padres officially inked Nick Martinez to his four-year, $20 million contract… The Brewers made their one-year, $8.5 million deal with Andrew McCutchen official… The Rockies did the same with their $5 million deal with Jose Iglesias… The Rockies also signed Chad Kuhl to a one-year, $3 million deal.. The Diamondbacks signed Keone Kela to a minor league contract. He’s still on the mend from Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected to be ready until midseason… The Dodgers re-signed Shane Greene to a minor league contract… The Braves signed Alex Dickerson to a one-year, $1 million non-guaranteed deal… Yadier Molina has yet to arrive at Cardinals camp due to a personal matter, though he is expected to be there in time for the start of the regular season… The Reds splurged and signed Donovan Solano to a one-year, $4.5 million contract… The Cubs inked former Yankees closer David Robertson to a one-year, $3.5 million deal… The Phillies officially signed Brad Hand to his one-year, $6 million deal… Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol told reporters that he likely won’t have a set closer to begin the 2022 season… The Diamondbacks made Ian Kennedy’s one-year, $4.75 million contract official… Reds general manager Nick Krall announced that the team will not be trading Luis Castillo or Tyler Mahle.. or he’s just trying to drive up the price on the offers that he’s receiving for them… The Nationals made their deal with Sean Doolittle official… The Braves signed Tyler Thornburg to a one-year, $900,000 contract… The Mets signed left-hander Chasen Shreve to a minor league deal with an invite to spring training. He’ll make $1.5 million if he cracks the big league roster… The Reds signed Buck Farmer to a minor league deal… Dodgers manager Dave Roberts mentioned David Price as a candidate for the fifth spot in the team’s Opening Day rotation… The Pirates claimed Adonis Medina off of waivers from the Phillies… The Cubs signed Daniel Norris to a one-year contract… The Giants agreed to a $5.2 million contract with left-hander Matthew Boyd. The deal also includes $2.3 million in incentives. The 31-year-old hurler is still recovering from surgery on the flexor tendon in his pitching arm and isn’t expected to be ready for game action until June…