Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove season is here, which means free agents are making some big decisions about their future. Over the next few months, we’ll be keeping track of every signing — from Trevor Bauer, George Springer and J.T. Realmuto to the sneaky good role players — so that you’re always up to date. Be sure to check back every day for a roundup explaining every deal. As a bonus, we’ll even have some analysis from the Yahoo Sports Fantasy crew.
Yankees sign DJ LeMahieu
The player: The Yankees got a steal two years ago when they signed LeMahieu to a $24 million dollar contract. He was worth every bit of $12 million per season. Sure it was just 60 games, but in 2020 he had a .421 on-base percentage. In 2019, he was an MVP candidate who hit 26 homers, drove in 102 runs and kept the Yankees afloat while their sluggers were injured. He’s proven that his bat wasn’t just inflated by playing in Colorado. He can be the glue of any offense in baseball.
The deal: Sources tell Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown that LeMahieu is close to a deal to re-sign with the Yankees. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports the deal will be for six years and $90 million.
Is that a lot? It’s certainly a longer deal than expected, which lands LeMahieu more total money than industry observers originally projected. MLB Trade Rumors pegged LeMahieu for four years and $68 million at the start of the offseason, but the second baseman’s importance to the club appears to have driven up the price. He did not land the J.D. Martinez deal (five years, $110 million) he apparently desired, but by taking a lower average annual value of $15 million, he got in range of Josh Donaldson’s four-year, $92 million deal with the Minnesota Twins. The contract appears to be designed so the Yankees lower their calculated number in relation to the league’s Competitive Balance Tax, while still approaching LeMahieu’s demands.
Is it going to work? LeMahieu has been one of the best hitters in baseball since he arrived in New York — by OPS+ he is 10th in baseball over the past two years. Plus, he is a crucial (and flexible) piece of the Yankees’ infield defense. Six-year deals for 32-year-old are certainly unusual, but that is likely driven by New York’s desire to push down its CBT number and it’s a small price to pay for a World Series contender to keep a highly productive, beloved player.
What does it mean for your fantasy team? Remember when some people used to say that DJ LeMahieu was a product of Coors Field? Yeah, not so much. LeMahieu has been an absolute stud for the Yankees — at times the most prolific, dependable hitter in their lineup — and for fantasy managers, and now he’ll return to the same golden situation. We like our fantasy hitters to stay in the environment they’ve thrived in before, and so it will be with LeMahieu on top of a (hopefully) healthy and potent New York squad. It’s not hyperbole to say that LeMahieu has been one of the best hitters in baseball — he put together a .364/.421/.590 line in the shortened 2020 season — and at 32 years old, there haven’t been signs of slowing down (recall his MVP-level season in 2019, when his .349 BABIP matched up nearly with his .345 career mark). He’s a four-category fantasy contributor with the Yanks and a solid option in the third/fourth round of 2021 drafts.
Phillies sign Archie Bradley
The player: Bradley is a former top pitching prospect who eventually found success in the Arizona Diamondbacks bullpen. Armed with mid-to-high-90s heat, Bradley has accrued a 2.82 career ERA as a reliever and worked as a closer for part of 2019. He was traded during the 2020 season to the Cincinnati Reds, who recently non-tendered him to avoid paying him in arbitration.
The deal: Bradley has signed a one-year, $6 million deal with the Philadelphia Philles, according to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.
Is that a lot? Well, the Reds were expected to pay him around this much in arbitration (he was due a raise from his $4.1 million salary in 2020), so this seems about market value for a set-up man with sporadic closing experience.
Is it going to work? In the Phillies bullpen, who knows? Bradley’s fastball velocity has been slightly trending down for years (from a peak of 96.3 mph in 2017 to 94.2 last year), so that’s a red flag, but he also had a 2.95 ERA last year with decent peripherals (2.59 FIP, .296 XWOBA, 3.44 SIERA) and is still only 28 years old. Relievers always come with risk, but there are worse bets than this kind of experience for $6 million.
White Sox sign Liam Hendriks
The player: Hendriks has had an interesting journey, going from an unclaimed pitcher on waivers in 2018 to an All-Star closer for Oakland in 2019. Now he is cashing in on that success. Here are the numbers teams will be salivating over: Since the start of 2019, Hendriks has a 1.79 ERA and 13.1 K/9 over 110 1/3 innings, not to mention he’s the WAR leader among all relievers at 4.9. That will play anywhere and everywhere.
The deal: Hendriks is signing a multi-year deal with the Chicago White Sox, sources tell Yahoo Sports’ Tim Brown. The deal is technically three years with an option for a fourth, but guarantees Hendriks $54 million either way.
Is that a lot? MLB Trade Rumors projected he would get three years and $30 million, so the White Sox are ponying up a bit to secure the top reliever available. The fourth-year option, which sends Hendriks $15 million whether it is picked up or declined, is certainly novel.
Is it going to work? Any reliever on a multi-year deal comes with risk. But what we know is this: Hendriks has been the most effective reliever in the game over the past two years. For an up and coming team like the White Sox, he is undoubtedly worth an investment. Their closer spot was vacated by free agent Alex Colome, and this will create a devastating bullpen combo with the groundball wizard Aaron Bummer.
What does it mean for your fantasy team? Well, if you were hoping to target Alex Colome (who could be on his way out of Chicago as a free agent anyway) again in order to wait on closer, sorry. Liam Hendriks has transformed himself into one of the most dominant, exciting relievers in the game — so yes, he is going to be the reliever to prioritize in drafts out of the White Sox. Even if he suffers regression from his eye-popping numbers (and they were eye-popping) from last season, Hendriks will remain an elite option as part of a Chicago team that sees itself as a contender — especially so in the weak AL Central. Expect to use a mid-round pick on him in drafts as one of the top-five closers off the board.
Nationals sign Kyle Schwarber
The player: Schwarber was non-tendered by the Chicago Cubs in one of the first signs of their intention to sell this winter. Schwarber’s career has mirrored the Cubs as a whole. He ascended quickly to the majors in time to join the title-winning core, but he has been merely solid since then, never taking a next step. The shortened 2020 season was by far his worst, but he can typically be counted on for about 30 homers, a mountain of strikeouts and moderately above-average overall offensive production. The issue that loomed over his free agency was the still unresolved issue of whether the designated hitter would be in both leagues again. He’d be best suited for at least a partial DH role going forward.
The deal: The Nationals are reportedly signing Schwarber to a one-year, $10 million deal.
Outfielder Kyle Schwarber and the Washington Nationals are in agreement on a one-year, $10 million deal, sources familiar with the situation tell ESPN. First with the deal: @dougherty_jesse.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 9, 2021
Is that a lot? Well, no. One-year deals carry very little risk for teams, and $10 million doesn’t buy much in terms of expectations on the market. It is notable that Schwarber found more money in his unexpected free agency than the Cubs would have likely had to pay him to simply keep him around. It’s estimated he would have made somewhere between $7 million and $9.3 million through the arbitration process, but apparently that was too much for Chicago.
Is it going to work? There aren’t too many ways this could go wrong. If there is no DH, the Nationals fill an uncertain left field spot with a steady, if defensively weak, veteran for one year. Schwarber joins trade acquisition Josh Bell as new protection for Juan Soto in the lineup. If the DH does come to the National League permanently, then the Nationals and Schwarber have a one-year showcase and the possibility to add more offense.
Dodgers sign Blake Treinen
The player: Treinen was the best reliever in baseball in 2018, posting a 0.78 ERA in 80 1/3 innings for the Oakland A’s. Then he suffered a rotator cuff strain and a stress reaction in his back in 2019, which limited his effectiveness. He took a step forward for the Dodgers in 2020, posting a 3.86 ERA in 25 innings.
Reliever Blake Treinen and the Los Angeles Dodgers are in agreement on a two-year deal for $17.5 million with a club option that’s worth $8 million, sources tell ESPN.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 6, 2021
The deal: The Dodgers are bringing Treinen back on a two-year deal worth $17.5 million, with a club option for 2023 that could pay another $8 million, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.
Is that a lot? The deal is a touch more than expected, as MLB Trade Rumors had projected Treinen for two years and $14 million. The 32-year-old is coming off a rebound season, but did not return to the dominant heights of his 2018.
Is it going to work? There’s always risk with relievers, but Treinen has been either good or great whenever healthy. It’s unclear who the Dodgers will truly rely upon going forward with Kenley Jansen wobbling. Treinen’s strikeout rate was down in 2020, not a good sign, but he boosted his slider usage and got more grounders than he had in recent years. He’s a known quantity to the team and a legitimate closing option with game-finishing experience — a good player to have around when defending a World Series crown.
Padres sign Ha-Seong Kim
The player: Kim was the best international name on the market. He’s a 25-year-old shortstop and third baseman who has starred in Korea since he was 18. He’s coming off a season in which he hit 30 homers with 109 RBIs in the KBO, but remember that’s roughly equivalent to Double-A.
The deal: The Padres have reached an agreement to sign Kim, according to The Athletic’s Dennis Lin. It comes hours after the team reportedly reached a deal to acquire Blake Snell from the Tampa Bay Rays and amid rumors of a Yu Darvish pursuit.
The Padres have reached an agreement with Ha-seong Kim, a source tells The Athletic.
— Dennis Lin (@dennistlin) December 28, 2020
Is that a lot? We don’t have the terms of the deal yet, but the New York Post’s Joel Sherman reported Monday morning that a potential deal with San Diego was likely to place Kim’s guaranteed money near $30 million. At the beginning of the offseason, MLB Trade Rumors projected the relatively young hitter would net five years and $40 million. The Padres apparently beat out the Toronto Blue Jays, among other interested teams, for his services.
Is it going to work? Kim was a star shortstop in the KBO, but the league’s overall talent level is a little further from the majors than Japan’s NPB, and the translation can be tricky. The ZiPS projection system at FanGraphs nonetheless pegs him as an above-average hitter, and he would likely rank among the top 100 prospects in the game if he were plying his trade in the minors. The Athletic’s Keith Law notes the velocity of MLB pitching could require adjustments and sees him as a super-utility player.
The Padres, of course, do not need a shortstop. According to Sherman, the Padres could put Kim at second base, forming a double play tandem with Fernando Tatis Jr., while last year’s out-of-nowhere Rookie of the Year candidate Jake Cronenworth moves to left field. It could be that both players wind up in utility roles, or that Cronenworth is dangled as trade bait. Regardless of how the positions shake out, the addition adds depth and goes toward creating the sort of multidimensional roster that has become a hallmark of the rival Dodgers.
Mets sign James McCann
The player: Despite being far less proven than headline offseason target J.T. Realmuto, there’s some chance McCann is almost as good. After a breakout 2019 that even the Chicago White Sox weren’t willing to bank on, McCann kept up his newfound offensive pace in 2020. So over the past two seasons, his OPS is .808 to Realmuto’s .825. The Baseball-Reference WAR model says McCann has been MLB’s second-best catcher over that span (behind Realmuto), while FanGraphs has him fifth.
The deal: The Mets are committing four years and more than $40 million to McCann, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, after making catcher one of their offseason priorities. They figured to be a favorite for Realmuto at the offseason’s start. But with new ownership and a desire to compete immediately, the Mets don’t seem to be waiting around.
McCann deal with Mets is 4 years, more than $40M @Ken_Rosenthal 1st said it was close
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) December 12, 2020
Is that a lot? MLB Trade Rumors predicted two years and $20 million for McCann, so this is, in a word, aggressive. But, again, this is new ownership and a new front office trying to quickly turnaround the Mets.
Is it going to work? If this isn’t the Mets’ big offseason move, then yes, it figures to be a good one. McCann will help the lineup, help the pitching staff and help the Mets on defense. But the Mets still need to do more. George Springer is the other player they’ve been linked to since the beginning of the winter. The dream offseason was new owner Steve Cohen ponying up for Springer and Realmuto. So now fans will be expecting at least one bigger, splashier move.
What does it mean for your fantasy team? James McCann is one of those guys who has flashed talent and production, but seems to always leave a little something to be desired. Well, we might have seen the full ceiling of his powers in 2020, even while playing behind the Sox’s prized offseason acquisition of Yasmani Grandal. McCann delivered a .289/.360/.536 slash line, which is pretty much a dream for a fantasy catcher. He will fill an OBVIOUS need for the Mets, and you hope he’ll be able to deliver a bit more power numbers, but he’s likely shown enough that this opportunity to be the clear starting catching option in New York will vault him into the top-10 catchers available in fantasy drafts, even with some regression (especially in batting average).
Kansas City Royals sign Carlos Santana
The player: Santana, entering his age-35 season, remains a good hitter with a knack for getting on base. After his second stint with the Indians, he’s staying in the AL Central by joining the Royals.
The deal: The Royals are giving Santana $17.5 million over two years, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, with an additional possible $1 million in incentives.
Is that a lot? It’s surprising, but more for the years than the dollars. Santana made $20 million each of the past two seasons, so $17.5 million for two is probably right in line with his value at this point. It’s more surprising to see a Royals team that isn’t really close to contending committing to two years of Santana.
Is it going to work? This deal won’t get the Royals (26-34 last season) into the postseason, but it will make their lineup better and make them more competitive, which is what any fan should want from their team. Santana is getting older, but he remains a potent bat. He led MLB in walks last season and remains an on-base percentage-driven player. His power numbers dropped last season, with his eight homers in 60 being 21.6 in a 162-game season, but in 2019 his .911 OPS was still quite good.
Chicago White Sox sign Adam Eaton
The player: Eaton, 32, is a well-traveled outfielder who is returning to the White Sox, where he played from 2014 to 2016 before being traded to the Nationals.
The deal: It’s a one-year deal for Eaton, pending a physical, worth a guaranteed $8 million, according to various reports. Eaton will make $7 million in 2021 with a club option for 2022. If the option isn’t exercised, Eaton gets a $1 million buyout, per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand.
Is that a lot? Not really. It’s less than Eaton made the previous two seasons in Washington, where his production started to dip. He’d been a moderately-above-replacement-level player for most of his career in D.C. Since the trade, he hasn’t played like the 6.6 WAR player he was for the Sox in 2016. In 2019, Eaton slashed .279/.365/.428, which is about what you can expect from him typically. He can steal a few bases and hit a few homers, but nothing overwhelming. He would figure to play right field, where Adam Engel has played the last few seasons.
Is it going to work? The White Sox would seem to think so. They know what they’re getting in Eaton by now — though, again, he’s not as productive as he was in his late 20s. There’s some subtext here beyond baseball that makes this interesting too. We learned after his previous Chicago stint that it wasn’t all roses for Eaton. He had beef with teammate Todd Frazier and Ozzie Guillen (now a White Sox analyst and not a part of the team when Eaton was there) said last year that no players in the White Sox clubhouse liked Eaton. It’s a new era in White Sox baseball, though, with plenty of young talent in the lineup. Tony La Russa — not exactly a new talent — is also the new White Sox manager, and Eaton seems like the type of player La Russa would like to have in his lineup. Now he can.
New York Mets sign Trevor May
The player: May, 31, has developed into one of baseball’s most reliable setup men. Since moving to the bullpen full-time in 2016, he’s posted a dominant 13.2 K/9 mark. Just as impressive is his 3.2 BB/9.
The deal: May is joining the Mets bullpen, the first significant free-agent signing of the Steve Cohen era. It won’t be the last. Andy Martino of SNY was first to report a deal was in place and Jeff Passan of ESPN reports it’s for two years. The deal is pending a physical.
Is that a lot? MLB Trade Rumors projected two years and $14 million for May, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports the deal is worth $15.5 million, so this is right in the range that was expected. The Mets simply acted early to get a reliever it seems they targeted.
Is it going to work? Seems like it. The Mets need bullpen help. May isn’t the biggest name on the market — he’s also not a closer, so it goes — but he’s proven himself a reliable option over the years. And when it comes to bullpens, reliability is just about the No. 1 thing you can ask for. That goes double in Queens, where the Mets don’t often do “reliable.” Just look at Edwin Diaz. The Mets had the fifth-worst bullpen ERA last season, so there’s plenty of work to be done, but May is a step in the right direction.
An added bonus for this particular fit — May will be reunited with Jeremy Hefner, the Mets pitching coach, who was previously May’s bullpen coach in Minnesota. That seems to bring good vibes to this signing.
What does it mean for your fantasy team? This is probably a better real life move than a fantasy one. May has great talent and elite-level strikeout numbers, but he’ll be joining a packed Mets bullpen featuring Edwin Diaz, Dellin Betances, Miguel Castro, and Jeurys Familia. If May leapfrogs everyone for the primary setup job, then he’s absolutely worth a draft pick. But until we get more clarity, he’s best left on waivers to start the season.
Atlanta Braves sign Charlie Morton
The player: Fresh off another strong postseason — 2.70 ERA in 20 innings — Morton turned 37 while making his decision. The Tampa Bay Rays declined his $15 million option, but Morton had previously said he would likely retire before he roamed too far afield of his family’s Florida home. Don’t let his flirtation with retirement fool you, though. Morton was an AL Cy Young finalist in the most recent 162-game season. Those don’t grow on trees.
The deal: One year, $15M
Is that a lot? It’s exactly the same deal he would have been playing on in 2021. However, it’s almost double the one-year, $8M deal Morton was projected to receive, according to MLB Trade Rumors. It’s a sign the Braves aren’t messing around this winter as they look to acquire depth for another postseason run. The Braves previously signed left-handed starter Drew Smyly to a one-year, $11M deal.
Is it going to work? Morton is a perfect fit for a Braves team that will have World Series or bust expectations. The veteran right-hander is playoff tested, having won three consecutive winner-take-all games for the Houston Astros and Tampa Bay Rays. In fact, Morton is the only pitcher in MLB history to hold that distinction. On multiple occasions, Morton has said he wouldn’t return if he didn’t think he could maintain his current level of excellence. If he believes it and the Braves believe it, we believe Morton will have another quality season.
What does it mean for your fantasy team? Morton has apparently been drinking from the pitching fountain of youth, as he’s been able to maintain himself as an above-average middle-of-the-rotation pitcher even as he continues into the latter half of his 30s. The move from the Rays to the Braves isn’t a massive change, as Morton is going from one contender to another, but he can be a much-needed veteran presence in a rotation featuring some uber-talented young arms.
Morton was actually a bit unlucky in 2020 (.355 BABIP) so there’s a chance he could improve on his final surface stats from last season (after all, his 4.74 ERA was much higher than his 3.45 FIP). The biggest questions with Morton is how long he can keep this going and stay healthy and how much the Braves are going to put on his plate, but if he can check off those boxes (and of course, make the Braves starting rotation — and it would be a shock if he didn’t) he’s a virtual lock for double-digit wins and safe ratios, making him a solid SP option in the middle rounds of drafts. Be sure to track his fastball velocity in Spring Training, however — a couple more drops in points would be a bad sign for a pitcher his age.
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