Pitchers and catchers reported Wednesday. On Thursday, a report on one catcher brought bad news for fantasy players.
J.T. Realmuto, the consensus top catcher for fantasy purposes heading into 2021, suffered a fractured right thumb last week and will be immobilized for at least two weeks before getting reassessed. Realmuto told reporters Thursday he suffered the injury at the base of his right thumb while trying to block a ball in the dirt at the team's spring complex in Clearwater, Florida, where he'd already shown up to start preparing for the 2021 season.
“We’re obviously going to be cautious with it,” Realmuto said Thursday. “I feel pretty confident about those two weeks -- it’ll be healed, because it already feels quite a bit better than the day it happened. It’s definitely going to heal on its own and I’m confident I’ll be back by Opening Day. But you can’t set that in stone just because you never know what can happen. We’re going to take our time with it. If I have to miss the first three days of the season, we’d rather do that than absolutely rush back and have something linger a little longer.”
It sounds like a minor injury and one that won't have long-lasting effects, but it's certainly not the way Realmuto or the Phillies anticipated the early days of his new five-year, $115.5 million contract to go. Realmuto re-signed with the Phillies in late January after testing the free agent waters this winter.
As the 29-year-old indicated, there's a real chance he'll be back on the field with a few weeks left before Opening Day and this isn't a lingering issue, but the injury could force fantasy players to make an uncomfortable decision if they draft in the next few weeks. Realmuto, currently going as the 40th player off the board in Yahoo drafts and 33rd overall in NFBC drafts this spring, is the no-doubt top catcher heading into 2021 after posting a career-best .840 OPS with 11 homers and four steals in 47 games during the shortened season.
Even if he doesn't return in two weeks, his draft-day price isn't likely to drop far enough that he won't still be the first catcher off nearly every board. The risk averse who might have been in on Realmuto previously could choose to balk at his draft price and pivot elsewhere. Those less concerned with the injury could secure a small discount and still get their top catching target. Which way you go depends largely on your approach to injury and risk.
Even though players are rarely good sources of accurate timelines, Realmuto is saying all the right things about his outlook. This author would be inclined to buy the dip and enjoy five-plus months, if not more, of Realmuto once again being a difference-maker at the catcher position, but to each his own.
A's close the deal with Rosenthal
The first closer domino fell earlier this offseason when Liam Hendriks opted to leave Oakland for the Windy City.
The last domino fell Thursday when his replacement landed by the bay.
Trevor Rosenthal and the Athletics agreed to a one-year, $11 million deal Thursday, a move that almost certainly ensures he'll be closing games for the A's when their season opens in six weeks. The deal is backloaded and will pay Rosenthal $3 million in 2021, $3 million in 2022 and $5 million in 2023.
Rosenthal took a while to find a home but was very deserving of the hefty payday after he experienced a career resurgence in 2020. He began the year with the Royals before being traded to the Padres mid-season, and the right-hander finished with an incredible 1.90 ERA, 0.85 WHIP and 41.8 percent strikeout percentage in 23 2/3 innings of work overall.
In Oakland, he'll slide into the role vacated by Hendriks and push high-leverage relievers (and, before the signing, potential favorites for saves) Jake Diekman, Sergio Romo, Lou Trivino and J.B. Wendelken into the middle-to-late innings. While unable to talk about specific players before their deals are finalized, A's manager Bob Melvin said the versatility of his bullpen will allow him to mix and match to get to the endgame.
“In theory, I’m sure this was by design,” Melvin said of the A's reported moves during a Zoom call on Thursday. “Youth, power, touch, arm angles. It definitely poses some potential problems for other teams and how you kind of match it up. There’s a lot of analytics that are thrown out there now to determine who follows who, and it looks like, potentially, we have guys that can do a lot of things and do them differently.”
Diekman had been going the highest of the Oakland relievers in early drafts, holding a 289 ADP by FantasyPros' consensus ADP rankings, while Wendelken was going roughly 100 picks later on average. Rosenthal, for his part, has a 178.5 ADP between the four sites, a number that is certain to change now that he's landed in a favorable spot. In the wake of Thursday's news it wouldn't be surprising to see him jump up to the Raisel Iglesias/James Karinchak/Brad Hand range, near pick 100. Plan accordingly.
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COVID cases dampen spring shine
In case all the baseball activity was too exciting and carefree, the news in recent days also brought a dose of 2021 reality.
Still dealing with the effects of playing during a pandemic, multiple players were confirmed to have COVID-19 or placed on COVID-19 injured lists since Wednesday. Hitting the COVID-19 injured list were Red Sox backup catcher Kevin Plawecki and Cubs reliever Kyle Ryan, and Diamondbacks backup catcher Stephen Vogt and pitching prospect Luis Frias were diagnosed with COVID-19 as well.
The two biggest names diagnosed with the virus were Shane Bieber and Frankie Montas. It was revealed Wednesday that Montas has COVID and "does fell the effects of it," according to A's manager Bob Melvin.
"He's having some symptoms, more flu-like than probably anything else at this point," Melvin said. "So unfortunately, he's going to be a little bit behind."
A's general manager David Forst did say he doesn't "think there's any concern" about Montas' availability for Opening Day at this point, but as we saw last season, the virus affects everyone differently. It remains unseen whether Montas will show any ill effects of having had the virus, in the early days or over the course of the full season.
Bieber, a consensus first-round pick in drafts this spring, brings more consternation, despite positive reports. Cleveland Baseball Team president Chris Antonetti said the Cy Young Award winner is dealing with "very, very mild symptoms" and that he expects Bieber will receive clearance to report to camp in the next few days.
Again, if 2020 taught us anything it's that we know nothing when it comes to COVID -- Freddie Freeman had one of the worst reported cases of it among baseball players and went on to win the National League MVP, and others like Yoan Moncada, Austin Meadows and Eduardo Rodriguez had lasting effects that impacted their on-field performance and, in the case of Rodriguez, prevented him from getting on the field at all in 2020.
Hopefully both Bieber and Montas get into camp quickly and fantasy players can see some early results before having to make a decision about rostering them for 2021. At this point, it's anyone's guess how they will or won't be affected, so keep it locked on the NBC Sports EDGE Player News page for all the latest news on both players and every other fantasy-relevant player making headlines this spring.
National League Quick Hits: Nationals manager Dave Martinez said Thursday that Juan Soto "wants to steal more bases" this season ... Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports that Fernando Tatis Jr. has agreed to a 14-year, $340 million contract extension with the Padres ... Giants manager Gabe Kapler confirmed Wednesday that Jake McGee will be competing for the team's closer role ... According to Craig Mish of SportsGrid, Marlins manager Don Mattingly "went to Anthony Bass often" when discussing the team's closer role on Wednesday ... According to SNY's Andy Martino, right-hander Taijuan Walker has emerged as the "top target" for the Mets on what remains of the free agent pitching market ... Mike Soroka (Achilles) will increase his mobility exercises in the coming weeks ... Braves manager Brian Snitker stated Thursday that the team may use "2-3 guys to close" ... Cardinals president John Mozeliak noted Wednesday that Miles Mikolas (elbow) is on a normal schedule at the start of camp ... According to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Giants have signed free agent right-hander Aaron Sanchez to a one-year, $4 million deal ... Cubs signed RHP Brandon Workman to a one-year, $1 million contract ... Marlins acquired RHP John Curtiss from the Rays for 1B Evan Edwards ... Phillies signed LHP Tony Watson to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.
American League Quick Hits: Shohei Ohtani (elbow) threw a 27-pitch bullpen session on Thursday in Angels camp ... White Sox general manager Rick Hahn reiterated Wednesday that 1B prospect Andrew Vaughn is "very much in the mix" to make the Opening Day roster ... Red Sox manager Alex Cora stated on Thursday that Eduardo Rodriguez (heart) is a "full-go" for spring training ... Sean Murphy had surgery for a collapsed lung this offseason, but reports are that the prognosis is good despite his absence from camp thus far ... Tigers manager A.J. Hinch said Thursday that he plans to name a closer but won't necessarily deploy that pitcher only in save opportunities ... Athletics manager Bob Melvin indicated Wednesday that Elvis Andrus is a candidate to bat leadoff ... Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro told the media Thursday that the team plans on playing in "some combination of Dunedin, Buffalo, and Toronto" this year ... According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Yankees have interest in bringing back Brett Gardner but only "at their price" ... ESPN's Jeff Passan reports that the Athletics have signed free agent Mitch Moreland to a one-year contract ... Tigers signed RHP Wily Peralta to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.