Wed Feb 6 12:25pm ET
By MIKE BARNER
If you play fantasy baseball, the four words that you yearn to hear during the winter are, “pitchers and catchers report.” Well, it’s almost that magic time of year, despite the fact that there are several key free agents still trying to find a home. However, there are several key names that have changed squads this summer that could have a significant impact on the fantasy landscape. Let’s get ourselves reacquainted with some old faces in new places.
Paul Goldschmidt, St. Louis Cardinals: Goldschmidt found himself in an early hole last season after batting .144 with a .242 wOBA in May. Some of that could be attributed to his abnormally low .186 BABIP during that stretch. He rebounded with a stellar July that saw him slug .738 and record 23 RBI, both of which were his best marks of any month of the season. When all was said and done, Goldschmidt had another fantasy-friendly campaign in which he recorded 33 home runs, 83 RBI and 95 runs scored to go along with a .390 wOBA. If there was a downside to his season it was his meager seven stolen bases. He only had 11 total stolen base attempts after successfully swiping at least 18 bags in each of the past three seasons.
With the Diamondbacks looking to reset their roster, they decided to ship Goldschmidt to the Cardinals. The Cardinals already tied for the 10th-most runs scored in baseball last year, so they have the potential to be one of the elite offenses in the league now that Goldschmidt is in the fold. While Goldschmidt might not be as much of a threat on the base paths again this year, he certainly has the potential to finish with at least 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored. It should be noted, though, that his walk rate has decreased each of the last three seasons while his strikeout rate of 25.1 percent last year was his highest mark since he appeared in just 48 games in 2011.
James Paxton, New York Yankees: There is no question that Paxton has a ton of talent. He’s finished with an xFIP of 3.35 or lower in each of the last three seasons and a WHIP of 1.10 or lower in back-to-back campaigns. His K/9 has increased in each of the last four seasons, topping out at 11.7 last year. However, he’s often been hampered by injuries, preventing him from throwing more than 160.1 innings in any single season.
The Mariners are known to be one of the more active teams on the trade front in baseball and this winter has been no different. They decided to blow up their roster, which included dealing Paxton to the pitching-hungry Yankees. Paxton should immediately slide into the number two spot in the starting rotation and will have the benefit of one of the best bullpens in baseball behind him. Add that to the Yankees’ potent offense likely providing him with a ton of run support and Paxton could shatter his previous career high of 12 wins if he can stay healthy. However, that’s a big if. It’s also a bit concerning that he allowed a career-high 1.3 HR/9 last year when you consider he’ll be pitching half of his games in hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium. With all of that being said, Paxton still finds himself with top-20 starting pitcher upside in fantasy.
Robinson Cano, New York Mets: Last year was a season to forget for Cano. Between injuries and a PED suspension, he only played 80 games. That marked the first time that Cano appeared in fewer than 150 games in a season since 2006. However, when he was on the field, he was still productive. He finished with .364 wOBA and a 136 wRC+, both of which were actually slightly higher than his career marks.
With the Mariners shifting gears toward a rebuild, Cano also finds himself in a new uniform heading into this season. He’ll provide some much-needed pop to a Mets’ lineup that scored the eighth-fewest runs in baseball last year. He’s not the only significant offensive addition that the Mets made, either, considering they also brought in Wilson Ramos and Jed Lowrie during free agency. Add those three to hold overs Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, and the Mets likely won’t be nearly as anemic offensively. In terms of Cano’s fantasy outlook, he’s certainly capable of finishing the year ranked inside the top-10 second baseman.
Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays: At the age of 34, Morton made his first career All-Star team with the Astros last year. He was an excellent source for strikeouts with an 11.9 percent swinging strike rate and a 28.9 percent strikeout rate. Amazingly, his 96.6 mph average fastball velocity was the highest mark of his career. He also did an excellent job keeping runners off base with a 1.16 WHIP.
The Rays deployed the opener strategy last year and it worked out for them pretty well, all things considered. It’s not like they had a lot of great starting pitching options, so the strategy was more out of necessity than anything else. Their rotation is still thin heading into this season, but adding Morton does provide a stabilizing presence behind Blake Snell. The bad news for Morton is terms of his fantasy value is that he now has to pitch in the same division as the Red Sox and Yankees, two of the best offenses in baseball. On the bright side, he also gets the opportunity to feast on the horrible Orioles. Best case scenario, Morton is probably a top-25 starting pitcher this season.
Josh Donaldson, Atlanta Braves: The A’s have to regret trading Donaldson to the Blue Jays. During his first three seasons in Toronto, he averaged 37 home runs, 100 RBI and 103 runs scored despite being limited to 113 games in 2017. That’s just insane. Unfortunately, injuries completely derailed his ’18 campaign, which ultimately resulted in him being traded to the Indians. When all was said and done, he finished with a .345 wOBA and a 117 wRC+ across 52 games with both teams.
Donaldson will look to get his fresh start with an up-and-coming Braves team that has their sights set on making another run at the playoffs. He finds himself as part of a potent lineup that includes the likes of Freddie Freeman, Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. Initial reports indicate Donaldson might bat second in the lineup, which is good for him in terms of runs scored, but bad for his potential RBI output. The key will be if he can get his power stroke back. With a full offseason to heal, Donaldson is a bounce-back player to target in drafts. His current ADP is 92.49, which is behind the likes of Justin Upton (90.93) and Dee Gordon (88.36).
David Robertson, Philadelphia Phillies: Robertson was part of a dominant Yankees bullpen last year that was one of the deepest the league has ever seen. He doesn’t throw as hard as Aroldis Chapman or Dellin Betances, but Robertson still finished with an 11.8 K/9. In fact, he has never finished with a K/9 lower than 10.4 in his career. He was limited to five saves and found himself expendable with the Yankees focusing their efforts on bringing back Zach Britton and adding Adam Ottavino.
Robertson is now in a much better situation with the Phillies. They don’t have nearly the talent in their bullpen that the Yankees did, which should set up Robertson with plenty of save opportunities. He’s no strangers to the closer role after racking up 110 saves from 2014 through 2016. Seranthony Dominguez could steal away some save opportunities, but Robertson has the potential to finish the year as a top-10 closer if he gets the role all to himself.
Mike Barner has been covering fantasy sports since 2007. His work has appeared in Sports Illustrated, Yahoo, SportsLine and RotoWire. Mike was also a finalist for the 2018 FSWA Basketball Writer of the Year award. Follow Mike on Twitter @rotomikebarner.