Who were the real risers and fallers from MLB free agency this offseason, you ask?
Let’s be clear, there was one true winner of this MLB offseason, and that was Scott Boras. He presided over more than $1.2 billion in free agency deals like he was the Pope lifting his holy hands to all those MLB clubs who were desperately seeking just a morsel of the divine flock of players he had to offer.
The losers were all the fantasy breaking news writers or the poor suckers assigned to write the “Carlos Correa Signed With the [insert team here]” pieces. God bless ’em, I hope they at least got some overtime pay.
But in the end, there were actually dozens of MLB free agents who signed deals and a handful more who 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.
This piece will look at some of the MLB assets that have seen their fantasy value rise and fall after the free agency dust settled for the 2023 season.
Free Agency Risers
Willson Contreras (C), St. Louis Cardinals – NFBC ADP: 95
Willson Contreras moving from the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals for $87.5 million is a lot like me stealing the really good nanny from my next-door neighbors whom I absolutely despise. Not only did I swoop in at the right time and offer the nanny more money and the prospect of better-behaved kids, but I also left the hated neighbors with a massive hole and problem to solve. I’m sure that first plate appearance at Wrigley is going to be all lovey-dovey, but then the passion will take a quick U-turn into spite as Cubs fans remember he plays for the hated Cardinals.
But for fantasy purposes, we don’t care about any of that. We just care that Contreras is likely to bat second behind Tommy Edman and directly in front of MVP Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado. That is some elite levels of protection on either side of his lineup spot and Contreras is also likely to spend his catching off days filling in at the DH spot. Contreras did not slow down at age 30 last year, setting career-bests in plate appearances and strikeout rate. His hard-hit rate and barrel rate were all above average and his contextual stats like runs and RBI are also sure to rise this season.
Josh Bell (DH/1B), Cleveland Guardians – NFBC ADP: 182
Josh Bell’s move from the Washington Nationals to the San Diego Padres at the trade deadline didn’t exactly go how fantasy managers (and the Padres, for that matter) hoped it would. After slashing .301/.384/.493 in 103 games for Washington, Bell only gave San Diego .192/.316/.271 in his 53 games there. He looked like his normal self in five postseason games, but it wasn’t enough for San Diego to offer Bell a new contract. No matter, as he goes from batting right behind Juan Soto and Manny Machado in San Diego to backing up OBP-machine Jose Ramirez in Cleveland for two guaranteed years.
But it’s not just Ramirez who Bell will benefit from batting behind. Table-setter Steven Kwan should continue to lead off for this squad, and he proved his on-base bona fides with a .373 OBP last year and he will just turn 25 this season. With two .360+ OBP guys in front of him for 150 games this season, this is a sneaky candidate for a 30-homer, 110-RBI season that could be incoming from Bell. Add in a 12% walk rate of his own and some protection with Andres Gimenez and Josh Naylor behind him, and this has a chance to rival his breakout season of 2019.
Jesse Winker (OF/DH), Milwaukee Brewers – NFBC ADP: 273
This may shock you, but moving from the stone-cold best hitter’s park in the game to the absolute worst was a pretty bad thing for Jesse Winker last season. After slashing .287/.386/.501 from 2018-2021, Winker’s production sunk to the bottom of Union Bay as he went .219/.344/.344 in 547 plate appearances with Seattle last season. Fortunately, it was just a one-year banishment to baseball purgatory as he was recently traded for Kolten Wong and winds up now in the middle third of the Milwaukee Brewers lineup.
The reason for the dramatic tumble for Winker was simple. Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati had the single-best park factor for lefties over the last three seasons (111, or offense was 11% above average). At T-Mobile Park, that number drops to 89 (11% below average), which is the worst park for left-handers over the past three years. His new home, American Family Field, plays above average to lefties as a whole and is fifth in home-run rate to lefties, 19% above league average.
Free Agency Fallers
Rafael Devers (3B), Boston Red Sox – NFBC ADP: 20
Rafael Devers must be feeling like that Will Smith “where did everyone go?” gif we see all over the place. After Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi, and Tommy Pham (plus other minor free agents) all left for greener pastures, the cupboard is looking thin for the once-powerful Red Sox. To replace all that firepower, Boston brought in “help” by way of 38-year-old Justin Turner, walking injury Adalberto Mondesi, Raimel Tapia, and a complete question mark in Masataka Yoshida. At least Yoshida is young and they can build around…..what’s that? He’s about to turn 30? Oh, boy.
Devers can now completely be pitched around in this lineup, which is great if you have a league that counts OBP and runs only, but his power and RBI numbers are bound to take a hit in 2023. Most projections have Kike Hernandez batting second, directly in front of Devers. That places a 31-year-old with a career .314 OBP directly in front of Devers, which is like making some Sonic mozzarella sticks the appetizer to my filet mignon. Devers likely falls behind Austin Riley, Bobby Witt, and Manny Machado for me.
Jon Berti (2B/3B), Miami Marlins – NFBC ADP: 245
Give me all the unders on Berti’s 2022 numbers repeating this year. After an out-of-nowhere year where 31-year-old Berti had career bests in games, plate appearances, strikeout rate, and an astounding 41 stolen bases, things are bound to regress in a big way. Berti did have the best sprint speed score (Baseball Savant) of any second baseman last year, but Miami attempted the second-most stolen bases per game last season and was fourth overall in stolen base success rate. Do those things stay the same with the addition of guys like Joey Wendle and Jean Segura?
Berti’s opportunity to make it back-to-back 40-steal seasons took a major blow last week when the Marlins dealt for batting champ Luis Arraez. The Marlins already have a natural first baseman (Garrett Cooper), DH (Jorge Soler), and third baseman (Jean Segura), so Arraez has to play second base — the same position Berti was slotted into most last season. Berti could potentially play some shortstop (nine games last year) or some left field (15 games), but most likely he is destined to be a super-utility player who might get close to 400 plate appearances again, but the projection systems all peg him for steals in the low-2os.
Patrick Wisdom (3B), Chicago Cubs – NFBC ADP: 390
“Thanks for the free 53 home runs over the last two seasons, Patrick, but we’re going to go ahead and start playing our infield of the future now. k, bye!” With the signing of Dansby Swanson, the imminent call-up of Matt Mervis, and the ascension from Nico Hoerner last year, Wisdom is going to be persona non grata in this Cubs’ lineup unless someone at third, first or DH needs a day off. Wisdom is on the wrong side of 30 for where the Cubs are headed (the projected lineup has an average age of 28.7, and that’s before Mervis) so the future plans, he is not in them.
In addition, the bottom completely fell out of Wisdom’s profile after a promising age-29 season in 2021. In 2022, Wisdom slashed .207/.298/.426 and struck out 34% of the time. Wisdom’s .298 OBP was among the 20 worst of all players with at least 500 plate appearances.
Good points on Berti, I was higher on him but not now.
Yeah, I just don’t see any path to that many steals again. Will he get 20-25? Yeah, but pay appropriately for it.