As the 2017 spring training (and WBC) schedule takes full swing, fantasy owners are starting to sink their teeth into potential keepers, draft rankings, rookies, injuries, etc. However, one important factor for several standout players which should not be overlooked is an off-season venue change via free-agency or trade. Below are several players who are donning new uniforms in 2017 and the looming potential fantasy impact.
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Chris Sale - SP - Red Sox
Perhaps the biggest splash of the off-season occurred when the Red Sox acquired this dominant southpaw for phenom prospect Yoan Moncada.
Sale has consistently been a top 10 starting pitcher since he made his Major League debut in 2010. Already a front-runner to make a deep playoff run, the Bo Sox massively bolstered their rotation by adding this overpowering lefty.
2017 Outlook: ERA, WHIP, and K’s/inning have been a staple in Sale’s repertoire since day one. Now that he is pitching for a contender with a ferocious batting lineup, he should increase his win total significantly, while maintaining his strong strikeout percentage.
Thanks to the “Fenway factor”, expect a very slight regression in ERA & WHIP. Sale’s ground ball rate (41.2% in 2016) has steadily declined since his rookie season best 51 percent. With the Green Monster lurking only 310 feet from home plate combined with a higher fly ball rate, some fly outs of the past could become extra bases in Boston.
Edwin Encarnacion - 1B / DH - Indians
This former Reds’ underachiever who was traded to Toronto in 2009 for a washed up Scott Rolen, certainly found his swing in Toronto. Encarnacion averaged 39 HRs and 110 RBI in his last five seasons with the Jays. Although one may think that the Rogers Centre spiced up his power numbers, Edwin actually slugged nine more home runs on the road than at home in that five year burst, while knocking in 26 more runs at home in that same span.
His 2016 campaign was a stellar year for the now 34-year-old, as he posted career highs in games played (160), RBI (127), and runs scored (99), while equaling his best HR output (42). Although the supporting cast in Cleveland is nothing to balk at with the likes of Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana, the Blue Jays of recent years boasted a gauntlet of bodacious bats – including Troy Tulowitzki and perennial MVP candidates Josh Donaldson and “Joey Bats”.
2017 Outlook: Despite this Dominican slugger’s recent consistency with home/away output, look for a slight regression in offensive production. In the four years prior to 2016, Encarnacion battled injuries and averaged 142 games per season. Additionally, he will likely see less pitches with fewer power threats on his new squad.
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Ian Desmond - 1B/SS/OF - Rockies
When the Rockies added this bat to their already potent lineup, fantasy owners had to be licking their chops. Desmond averaged 22 bombs, 78 RBI, 80 runs, 20 stolen bases, with a .269 batting average over the past five seasons - including one of his most prolific campaigns in 2016 (22/86/107/21/.285) - his lone stint with the Rangers.
Although he was penciled in to several spots in the Ranger lineup, Desmond eventually settled in and thrived in the two hole.
2017 Outlook: Some baseball pundits may believe a few of Desmond’s 2016 stats (107 runs, .285 BA, .350 BABIP) were a mere anomaly, but across the board one should not expect any regression at all. In fact, with the thin air and hitter-friendly dimensions of Coors Field, don’t be surprised if he has the best season of his career.
One negative impact could be position eligibility, as the 31 year old is being groomed to become the everyday first baseman in Denver. With that said, his upside in this lineup should elevate Desmond on the draft boards.
Carlos Beltran - OF / DH - Astros
After consecutive injury-plagued seasons, this Puerto Rican star bounced back big time in 2016 with his second highest home run total since 2008, while matching his most games played (151) during that same span. Beltran managed to stay healthy and combined to wallop 29 home runs and knock in 93 runs for the Yankees/Rangers.
Now entering his 20th season with his eighth team (second stint with Houston), Beltran is hoping to be the missing piece to catapult the Astros to their first ever championship.
2017 Outlook: Adding Beltran to this massive Houston lineup was a no-brainer for the Astros’ brass as he flourished at the dish yet again in 2016. However, it is unlikely this soon to be 40-year-old will be able to duplicate those numbers as the oft-injured OF/DH will likely fall short of the 593 plate appearances of a year ago.
Mitch Moreland - 1B - Red Sox
With Big Papi’s retirement, Boston needed to find another big bat to solidify the middle of the order. While not exactly replacing the massive Ortiz production of a year ago, the Sox did sign a capable veteran lefty bat in Moreland.
After an injury-shortened 2014 season, the 31-year-old first baseman averaged 23 home runs and 73 RBI his last two seasons with the Rangers. Despite the encouraging power numbers, his batting average and BABIP were both significantly higher in 2015 than last year (.278/.317 in 2015 & .233/.266 in 2016).
2017 Outlook: With Ortiz manning the DH slot last year, Hanley Ramirez played nearly every game at first base. Moreland should see nearly all those starts in 2017 versus right-handers and will likely ride the pine versus left-handers. There is a good chance for the occasional platoon role during interleague road games to get El Nino’s bat in the lineup.
Though Moreland is joining arguably one of the top five lineups in all of baseball, his playing time/at-bats will most likely take a slight hit with his new club, and therefore result in less production. He should prove to be a productive pickup for Boston, but a platoon headache for fantasy owners.
Matt Wieters - C - Nationals
With the departure of Wilson Ramos (ACL) to the Rays, the Nationals brought in a solid replacement in Wieters. Even though the Orioles’ highly touted first round pick in 2007 never reached his superstar potential, he certainly had his moments in Baltimore. He had a three-year stretch when he averaged 22 dingers and 77 RBI (2011-2013), but missed the majority of the next two seasons when he fell victim to the Tommy John knife. Wieters bounced back last season with 17 homers and 66 RBI in only 124 games.
2017 Outlook: Now two years removed from his elbow issues, a fresh start with Washington could jumpstart a big season for the 30-year-old signal caller. Although Derek Norris will take some bites out of his apple, expect Wieters to take on the lion’s share of the backstop work in 2017. With more at bats, he should at least equal his pre-injury production and return to the top 10 catcher ranks.
Brandon Phillips - 2B - Braves
This long-time Red finally fell victim to the never-ending Cincinnati rebuild when he was shipped to his hometown Braves this off-season. Arguably one of the best defensive second basemen to ever play the game, BP has also been a model of offensive consistency over the past decade.
Although his home run totals have been scarce over the last couple seasons (12 & 11) , the 35-year-old veteran’s other counting stats have remained solid as he has averaged 67 RBI, 72 runs, a .293 BA, and 19 stolen bases over that stretch.
2017 Outlook: If Phillips stays healthy, look for another productive season from the Atlanta second Baseman. Although his bag-swiping may decline a bit from being a year older and perhaps a step slower, Phillips has a stronger supporting cast in Freeman, Kemp, Markakis, and Inciarte around him. This collection of bats should lead to increased RBI & run-scoring opportunities.
Tyson Ross - SP - Rangers
Entering last season, this talented 28-year-old right-hander was blooming as a dominant starting pitcher on both the diamond and in fantasy land. But just five-plus innings into the season, Ross pitched for the last time in 2016. After several rehab attempts, he was eventually diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome and shut down for the season.
In the two seasons prior, Ross cemented himself as a strong number one hurler. He averaged a stellar 3.03 ERA paired with 407 strikeouts in 391-plus innings. Needless to say, his injury devastated both the Padres and his fantasy owners.
2017 Outlook: Although unlikely that Ross will be ready for the start of the season, the Rangers hope he will join the rotation early in 2017. Surprisingly, Ross’ strong numbers in San Diego were not skewed by pitching half of his games at Petco Park. In his last full season (2015), Ross posted a 3.70 ERA at home, while boasting a 2.83 clip on the road. If he can make a healthy return, expect Ross to perform well, but not quite to the level demonstrated in 2014 and 2015. However, with a robust offense behind him, do not be surprised if he eclipses his career-high 13-win total.
Matt Holliday - OF - Yankees
With a great career winding down, Holliday has found an ideal landing spot in New York – both for him and the fantasy world. Despite being decimated by injuries the past two seasons, the 37-year-old has produced when on the field. In fact, with just 110 games played last season, he belted 20 home runs.
For owners concerned about Holliday’s nose-dive in batting average in 2016 (.246), look no further than his BABIP, which was 45 points lower than any other season in his 13-year career.
2017 Outlook: In addition to being a clubhouse leader for some of the young stars-to-be (a.k.a. Clint Frazier, Aaron Judge), the former Cardinals’ slugger should also benefit from Yankee Stadium’s short porch. Although he will most likely DH more than anything, Holliday will not handcuff owners to the utility roster slot as he carries his outfield eligibility. Unless snake-bit with the injury bug again, look for Holliday to have a prolific year with the Bronx Bombers.