Bassitt Heads to Queens As Hot Stove Heats Up
The MLB hot stove exploded on Saturday with several free-agent signings and trades taking place. The most notable transaction came in the form of a swap between the Mets and Athletics sending all-star pitcher Chris Bassitt to Queens. After notable free agents Carlos Rodon, Clayton Kershaw, and Yusei Kikuchi found a new home the Mets turned their attention to the trade market and locked down the 33-year-old in exchange for prospects J.T. Ginn and Adam Oller.
Bassitt went 12-4 last season with a 3.15 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 157 1/3 innings, earning his first All-Star selection. The right-hander’s season was unfortunately cut short after being struck by a line drive in August, leading to a fractured right cheekbone. Bassitt would return for a brief stint after a four-week absence and allowed one earned run over 6 2/3 innings to end the year.
Location is the name of the game for Bassitt, who relies on location for success at the major league level. The righty sports a deceptive four-seam fastball that approaches home plate at only 93.2 miles per hour but generated a .236 wOBA against with a 33.2% hard-hit rate (88th percentile in MLB). Since recovering from Tommy John surgery in 2018, Bassitt has carried a 3.23 ERA with 396 strikeouts over 412 innings pitched with his strikeout rate reaching a career-best 25% in 2021.
The former A’s starter will now join an elite Mets rotation led by Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco, and Taijuan Walker. If healthy, this group of five is a formidable obstruction for all opponents.
One unfortunate side effect of the Bassitt addition will be the likely demotion of rookie standout Tylor Megill. The 26-year-old showed flashes of brilliance at times during an up and down season while sticking out 99 batters over 89 2/3 frames. Fantasy managers have been tagging the right-hander as a possible sleeper candidate, but Megill will probably need to wait for an opportunity in Triple-A. Although with the health questions surrounding the Mets rotation, that chance may arrive sooner rather than later.
Blue Jays Sign Kikuchi to Three-Year Deal
The Blue Jays made their first notable transaction since the lockout ended, signing left-hander Yusei Kikuchi to a three-year $36 million contract. The southpaw was one of the more interesting free agent candidates on the market considering that he has struggled to this point in his career but still turned down a $13 million player option with the Mariners. The gamble certainly paid off as the intrigue of Kikuchi’s underlying skills as a left-hander drove enough interest to land a multi-year deal.
During his rookie season in 2019, Kikuchi posted a 5.46 ERA over 161 2/3 innings with a 16.1% strikeout rate and followed that disappointing season with a 5.11 ERA in the COVID shortened 2020 campaign. Last season there was a glimmer of hope surrounding a spike in fastball velocity that led many to believe a breakout was upon us. This prediction looked to be wise through 15 starts as Kikuchi carried a 3.18 ERA and an impressive 25.4% strikeout rate to go with a 53.8% ground ball rate. Unfortunately, the second half of 2021 was not nearly as king with the former Mariner posting a brutal 6.22 ERA over 63 2/3 innings with a double-digit walk rate and a 41.7% walk rate. The Jekyll and Hyde ways of Kikuchi led to Seattle declining their $16.5 team option to retain his services.
Toronto is a fascinating landing spot for the inconsistent left-hander, especially given their recent results with reigning Cy Young award winner Robbie Ray. A large portion of Kikuchi’s success appears to be tied to fastball velocity. Over the past two seasons, the 30-year-old posted an impressive 2.39 ERA when his fastball was able to reach or exceed 96 miles per hour. However, when the southpaw’s velocity failed to reach 95 miles per hour his ERA dropped to an appalling 6.64 during those starts.
If Kikuchi can manage to find some consistency with his fastball velocity, a full season breakout would surely follow. The new Toronto starter featured a changeup with a 21.9 swinging strike rate last season to go along with a slider that carried a 17% mark in that category. Kikuchi carries a small amount of risk, but in fantasy leagues, the payoff could be immense at his current late-round ADP (that is sure to skyrocket).
Mitch Garver Traded To Texas
The Twins and Rangers made a deal on Saturday that will send veteran catcher Mitch Garver to the Rangers in exchange for Isiah Kiner-Falefa and prospect Ronny Henriquez. This trade may seem like a modest transaction to many but will have a solid impact on fantasy baseball.
Garver is coming off a solid 2021 campaign in which he batted .256 with 13 home runs over 207 at-bats. This production may not jump off the page, but on a per plate appearance basis that is very strong for a catcher. The primary drawback for Garver was a concern over playing time in Minnesota with the designated hitter slot clogged and rookie Ryan Jeffers itching for playing time. Neither roadblock exists in Texas.
The 31-year-old carried the third-highest OPS among qualified catchers last season (.875) and once posted a .995 OPS in 2019. Garver’s 31 home runs that season may seem like a fluke, but the power is quite legitimate with a 17.4% barrel rate and 53.6% hard-hit rate. A full helping of at-bats seems likely, with only Jose Trevino to challenge him, making Garver a sure-fire top-10 catcher.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa now moves to the Twins infield, where he is expected to be their primary shortstop. The versatile 26-year-old is a great fit for Minnesota due to his position flexibility, but he does not offer much pop in his bat. Kiner-Falefa’s primary value in fantasy will be on the basepaths, but be aware that after a 15 stolen base outburst in the first half last season he managed to swipe only five in the second half. Most projections have the new Twins shortstop batting around .267 with eight home runs and 15 stolen bases this season, which seems like a fair estimate. Andy Ibanez is now in-line to be the Rangers starting third baseman on Opening Day.
The trade also leaves an opening for 24-year-old Ryan Jeffers to take over as the primary catcher in Minnesota. The former second-round pick struggled during his rookie season, batting just .199 over 267 at-bats with 14 home runs and a 36.7 percent strikeout rate after hitting .273 over a brief cup of coffee in 2020. Jeffers is a great defensive catcher who posted strong offensive numbers in the minor leagues, so he could be a candidate for a step forward this season and should be a target in two-catcher leagues in fantasy.
Quick Hits: The Rockies agreed to a one-year deal with Alex Colome, who may become Colorado’s new closer. … Astros signed infielder Niko Goodrum to a $2.1 million contract. … White Sox agreed to a deal with utility man Josh Harrison and relief pitcher Joe Kelly. … Kurt Suzuki signed a one-year deal with the Angels. … Jose Iglesias signed a one-year deal with the Rockies, who will no doubt deploy him above more deserving candidates for playing time. … Jonathan Villar turned down a $6.5 million contract from the Blue Jays … Lewis Brinson, spring training All-Star, signed a minor league deal with the Astros. … The Phillies signed reliever Jeurys Familia to a $6 million deal with incentives. … Veteran catcher Robinson Chirinos and right-hander Jordan Lyles signed a contract with the Orioles. … Reds relief pitcher Lucas Sims is behind schedule due to “elbow stuff,” but is reportedly cleared to throw. … Reds manager Nick Krall announced that prospects Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo are potential candidates for the starting rotation. … Marlins signed OF Roman Quinn to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.