Who were the real fantasy baseball risers and fallers from the 2024 MLB free agency this offseason, you ask?
The real winners of the offseason, of course, were Shohei Ohtani, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the devil since the Dodgers clearly made a deal with him to get Ohtani, Tyler Glasnow, Teoscar Hernandez, and Yoshinobu Yamamoto. But 30 teams play Major League Baseball (I’ve been told), and in fantasy, we need players from all of them. EXCEPT YOU, OAKLAND!
In the end, dozens of MLB free agents signed deals, and a handful more were traded. This led to hundreds of macro and micro impactful situations for our fantasy baseball preparation as we inch closer to pitchers and catchers reporting.
There are still several big names yet to sign such as Blake Snell, J.D. Martinez, and Jordan Montgomery. However, this piece will look at some of the MLB assets that have seen their fantasy value rise and fall after the current free agency dust settled for the 2024 season.
Free Agency Risers
Rhys Hoskins (1B), Milwaukee Brewers – NFBC ADP: 184.9
Mere days before the Milwaukee Brewers traded away Corbin Burnes to the Orioles, they seemed to signal that they were going to go for a postseason push by signing first baseman Rhys Hoskins to a two-year deal. Hoskins, coming off a knee injury that forced him to miss all of 2023, seems to be built in a lab to hit at American Family Field and all signs point to him coming into 2024 fully healthy.
American Family Field (where the Brewers play, in case you don’t make a hobby of keeping up with stadium naming rights) is a top-10 stadium for right-handed power. It ranked ninth over the last three years in home run park factor, according to Baseball Savant. He will also slot in the cleanup spot for Milwaukee, according to projected lineups. That puts him directly behind on-base machines like Christian Yelich and William Contreras and in a prime spot for driving in runs.
Hoskins is the 19th first baseman off the board in drafts this week, but I can see several spots where I don’t mind jumping players to secure his services as my CI.
Clay Holmes (RP), New York Yankees – NFBC ADP: 120
The Yankees were largely quiet in the relief pitching free agent market, instead choosing to spend their resources on trading for Juan Soto and Alex Verdugo and signing Marcus Stroman. That’s great news for the prospects of Clay Holmes as a reliable closer as there is no immediate option that jumps to mind who could be a reasonable replacement.
Holmes, an imposing 6’5″, 245-pound reliever became a strikeout machine in 2023, punching out 10.1 batters per nine innings while also inducing 65% ground balls. That is the ideal skill set for a reliever and one that can lean on one way of getting outs or the other depending upon the situation he faces in the ninth inning. All projection systems peg him around 30 saves this season, making him a value around pick 120 in recent drafts.
Jarred Kelenic (OF), Atlanta Braves – NFBC ADP: 225.1
The right thing for Jarred Kelenic to do all along is to move to a place where there is next to no pressure or high expectations for the former uber-prospect so he can see if he can rediscover what once made him the hottest asset in baseball. After Seattle traded him to the Braves in December, Kelenic can start to try and remake his career.
In Atlanta, he can bat eighth or ninth, have no lofty expectations that his offense will drive the team (the top half of the lineup takes care of that), and try to carve out an everyday role for a contender. Kelenic set the world on fire last April, slashing .308/.366/.615 that month, but it tumbled to .173/.308/.280 by June. He never could really recover, judging by his 33% strikeout rate in the first half, and the Mariners had finally seen enough.
In the strong side of a probably platoon, Kelenic has the underlying skills to get 15/15 in this low pressure environment and be a perfect OF5 after pick 200.
Free Agency Fallers
Mike Trout (OF), Los Angeles Angels – NFBC ADP: 65.2
These are the current plate appearance projections for the Angels’ 2-3-4 hitters in their lineup for 2024 according to Fangraphs: Mike Trout (630), Brandon Drury (581), and Anthony Rendon (560). If you believe any of those are happening, you are either a die-hard Angels fan or you are Jeff and Debbie Trout. With no Shohei Ohtani in the lineup with Trout anymore, the offensive prospects for Los Angeles look rather grim.
Trout can’t stay healthy. Anthony Rendon doesn’t understand why he has to play actual games to earn his $245 million. And the Angels are likely going to have to start guys like Jo Adell, Aaron Hicks, and Mickey Moniak this season. For the Angels’ superstar, the biggest ship around him sank and it’s dragging all the Trout and any other fish down with it.
Ryan Pressly (RP), Houston Astros – NFBC ADP: 257.3
Being an Astros fan, I have been on the Ryan Pressly roller coaster for what feels like forever. It is sometimes a wild ride with lots of bumps and drops along the way. As a fan, I noticed the lack of dominant stuff from Pressly late in the season (and I’m sure Astros management did too), which surely led to the decision to give Josh Hader a five-year deal in free agency.
In August and September of the 2023 season, Pressly had a 4.76 ERA with 18 hits and seven walks allowed in 17 innings. His total Win Probably Added during that time was -0.3. In the playoffs, however, it’s been a different story. Pressly has not allowed a post-season earned run since October 15, 2021, and has shut the door on many of the league’s best offenses. But when a chance to get Hader emerged, the Astros consulted with Pressly and got his blessing to handle the seventh or eighth inning.
With Bryan Abreu also still around with his 13 strikeouts per nine innings, Pressly may now be third in line for high-leverage situations in Houston.
Dylan Cease (SP), Chicago White Sox – NFBC ADP: 105.7
Absolutely nothing changed for Dylan Cease this offseason (at least at the time of this writing), but in some strange way that feels like a step back for him. It has seemed like a foregone conclusion for some time that Cease would be traded, presumably to a contender, but instead, he is still languishing on the White Sox roster as the date for pitchers and catchers report approaches. Beyond just the skills, if he is stuck in the south side for 2024, it will continue to drop his fantasy stock.
Cease seemingly has the underlying skills to be a topline starter in MLB, but he only put them together in his 2022 season. He has suffered a decline in K/9 each of the last three seasons. His walk rate has increased in those years as well. And he was actually lucky in the home run/fly ball rate in 2023. But perhaps the most alarming number last year is a jump in hard hit rate from 25.7% in 2022 to 34.1% in 2023. Cease has an abysmal offense behind him now on the White Sox, so he has to be perfect to get long outings and wins for fantasy managers. He has been anything but perfect over the last few seasons, and for now, he gets to keep pitching for what should be one of the worst teams in baseball.