There are still a couple handfuls of quality free agents left, but the elite options are now off the board, with Trevor Bauer picking his new -- and a bit surprising -- club on Friday (check out Matthew Pouliot’s article that breaks down the fantasy implications on Bauer’s new deal with the World Champions). On Monday, we got some big news for the 2021 year, but it has nothing to do with a player changing names.
Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported early Monday evening that Major League Baseball and the MLBPA reached agreement on the health and safety protocols for spring training and the regular season. The full details have not been divulged as of yet, but Hannah Keyser -- who reported that the agreement could happen on Monday first -- of Yahoo Sports notes that the agreement is expected to include two rules that debuted in 2020. The first of those being that doubleheaders will last seven innings, and that extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.
While those two rules are being imported over from the truncated year, the universal designated hitter is not at this time. This obviously has a significant impact on several rosters in the National League -- and a few free agents as well -- and limits the potential fantasy upside of a few players, as well. A name that immediately jumps to mind is Dominic Smith, but there are a plethora of players on NL rosters that will now have their at-bats limited because MLB is holding the DH over the union’s head. That last bit is speculation, of course, but it’s hard to understand why the designated hitter isn’t being put into place if it’s not.
As noted by several writers, there’s still time for the two groups to come together to add the universal DH for 2021 -- and likely beyond -- and there’s still things to be negotiated like expanded playoffs. For now, however, it looks like we’ll be watching pitchers bunt this summer instead of real hitters like Smith. At the risk of editorializing, here’s hoping that gets figured out before the games start this spring.
Ozuna back in Atlanta on four-year deal
One of the players who is a candidate to be a designated hitter in the National League -- if it does come to fruition -- is Marcell Ozuna, and that’s true after Ozuna re-signed with the Braves on a four-year $65 million contract. The deal comes with a fifth-year club option that would pay him $16 million in 2025, and if the Braves decline it, they’ll pay him $1 million for the trouble.
It’s a little bit surprising to see Ozuna back in Atlanta, and surprising to see the AAV (average annual value) this low. Having said that, this is a strong landing spot for the 30-year-old -- or re-landing spot -- that will provide plenty of fantasy relevance. He would have been relevant, anyway, but it’s tough to not like his place in that Atlanta lineup. This was a hitter who registered a slash of .338/.431/.636 in 267 plate appearances, and he also socked 18 homers while helping bring the Braves to within a game of the World Series.
It’d be natural to question whether or not Ozuna can repeat this level of success, and if you’re a person who loves metrics, it’s tough to beat what he did in 2020. His exit velocity, hard hit percentage, expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA), expected batting average, expected slugging percentage and barrel rate all ranked anywhere from the 94th to the 99th percentile. Those are outstanding numbers, obviously, and it’s worth pointing out that Ozuna ranked in the 90th percentile -- at worst -- in all of those metrics in 2019, as well.
Ozuna can flat-out hit, and while he may have a tiny dip in average, there’s every reason to believe he’ll be an excellent option again in 2021. The only question now is whether or not the Braves will have to deal with his lackluster defense in left or have the ability to play him at DH this summer.
Andrus, Davis switch clubs in interdivision trade
You don’t see a ton of large trades between two clubs in the same division, but one took place on Saturday between the Rangers and Athletics.
Obviously, the two big names here are Andrus and Davis. Andrus will now take over as the everyday shortstop for Oakland after spending 12 years in Texas. The 32-year-old was not good in the shortened campaign with a .192/.252/.330 slash along with three homers and three steals in 111 plate appearances. Once a fantasy standout because of his ability to steal bases and hit for a solid -- if unspectacular -- average, there’s still reason to believe that Andrus can help in the theft category, but it’s unlikely that he provides the type of relevance that he did in the middle part of the last decade.
After hitting 40 homers each year from 2016-2018 and hitting an exact .247 for four-straight seasons -- an unbelievable accomplishment if you think about it -- Davis has struggled over the last two seasons, and wasn’t likely to find much playing time with the A’s in 2021. He should be able to be an everyday player for the Rangers in what very much looks like another rebuilding year for Texas, but considering his lack of success the past two years and that he’s going to hurt in more categories than he can help even at his best, this is another player that can probably be avoided in most formats.
Yadi back in St. Louis for at least one more year
Just try and picture Yadier Molina wearing a different uniform. Well, you won’t have to. At least for one more year.
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch confirmed that the Cardinals have re-signed Molina to a one-year deal. Jon Heyman of MLB Network notes that the deal will play the backstop $9 million for the 2021 campaign.
Molina’s value in real-life is obvious even if it’s harder to quantify; he’s considered one of the leaders in the organization, and he’s also still considered a strong defender behind the plate. What’s easier to quantify, however, is that there’s very little fantasy relevance left in the potential Hall of Famer. Even if you take away his lackluster .262/.303/.359 slash from 2020 in 42 games, it’s been a while since he’s provided quality numbers. In the prior three seasons, Molina registered a .738 OPS on a .268/.313/.426 slash, and his power appears to be diminishing.
Molina will help the Cardinals pitching staff -- and again, it’s impossible to imagine him in another uniform -- but it’s hard to believe he’ll be worthy of a mixed-league roster spot unless you’re playing in a two-catcher format.
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Quick Hits: Diamondbacks signed RHP Joakim Soria to a one-year, $3.5 million contract … Reds signed INF Dee Strange-Gordon to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Angels and DH/RHP Shohei Ohtani avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $8.5 million contract and acquired RHP Aaron Slegers from the Rays for a player to be named later or cash considerations … Rays signed RHP Hunter Strickland to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Twins signed OF Keon Broxton to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Robert Murray of FanSided reports that the Phillies, Blue Jays, and Red Sox are among a "half-dozen" teams interested in free agent infielder Marwin Gonzalez … Yoshihisa Hirano has signed a one-year, $1.4 million deal to return to the Orix Buffaloes in Japan … Pirates signed LHP Chasen Shreve to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Mets reached agreement on a deal with free agent outfielder Albert Almora … Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports that the Athletics have agreed to a one-year, $3.5 million contract with free agent right-hander Mike Fiers … Astros avoided an arbitration hearing with Carlos Correa by agreeing to a one-year, $11.7 million deal for the 2021 campaign.