With the Winter Meetings a little less than a week away (Dec. 9-12), baseball’s hot stove wasted no time cranking up the heat; numerous free-agent deals of the big and small variety have already been agreed upon, and a trade no one saw coming–possibly including one of the two teams involved–might have solidified baseball’s premiere starting rotation for 2014.
(As I write this, another contract has been signed, sealed and drone delivered.)
Because my Hyper-jet Engine Status is on “Light Speed” and I can’t quite keep up with all of the baseball activity, I thought I’d take this opportunity to discuss the dynasty league implications from some of baseball’s most recent transactions involving starting pitchers. (FYI, I’m only going to focus on current major leaguers, so no minor leaguers yet. That’s for another day.) First, the big kahuna:
Tigers trade RHP Doug Fister to the Nationals
No, it wasn’t surprising to see Detroit trade a starting pitcher this off-season, as Rick Porcello and even Max Scherzer were rumored to be on the move. But no one–and I mean no one–predicted the Tigers to trade Fister, who, over the past three seasons, has been the ninth most valuable starting pitcher, according to FanGraphs War. Fister was unlucky this year (hello, Tigers’ infield defense), posting a 3.67 ERA with 159 strikeouts in 208 2/3 innings. He performed much better than that, however, posting a 3.26 FIP and 3.42 xFIP. Fister, in fact, hasn’t had a FIP over 3.42 since 2010. He’s been really, really sneaky good, if someone would like to forward that bit of information to general manager Dave Dombrowski.
Fister joins a rotation with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann (it’s okay, you can drool), making Washington the team to beat in the National League East. Fister’s value goes up slightly, with an improved defense behind him and that whole, “Not having to face a DH thing.” He’s still a low-end No. 3 for me, as he’s league average in the strikeout department. I still prefer Zimmermann, who is more than two years younger, but they are both underrated and will help keep your staff’s ERA and WHIP down (Zimmermann more so than Fister). Fister turns 30 in February, but there are plenty of more Fister-like seasons ahead. He’s a good bet to beat this year’s numbers.
Other fallout from the trade:
With Fister gone, that leaves an opening in Detroit’s rotation, which will go to left-hander Drew Smyly. The 24-year-old was a fixture in the Tigers’ bullpen this season, posting a 2.37 ERA, 2.31 FIP and 2.99 xFIP in 76 innings of relief. Without a Smyly to slide into the rotation, Detroit would have never traded Fister so willy-nilly, which points to the organization’s complete trust in the young southpaw’s chances of becoming something special. In his short career, Smyly has made 18 starts while posting a 3.79 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 95 innings. With a new opportunity, Smyly is a top target in dynasty formats. In two seasons, he’s posted an impressive 24.3-percent strikeout rate, with 175 strikeouts (and 50 walks) in 175 1/3 innings. I’m sure you will read more about the former second rounder at TDG in the near future, as Bret hasn’t hid his affection for Smyly in the past. A top-5o season is doable, but keep your expectations in check; switching from reliever to starter is no easy task.
Athletics sign LHP Scott Kazmir
I declared my love of this signing on Twitter before I knew the exact financial details; Kazmir ended up getting two years and $22 million, which, I admit, is a sizable commitment to a pitcher with a medically checkered past. I still like the deal, as the market pretty much dictated it, but the thing I like most about it from a fantasy perspective is the destination. Kazmir has been homer-prone throughout his career, including 19 home runs in 158 innings in Cleveland, so moving to a big park like O.co Coliseum is going to help the lefty tremendously. I expect Kazmir to thrive with the A’s, a team that just produced two top-30 starters (Bartolo Colon, A.J. Griffin), according to the ESPN Player Rater.
I think Kazmir can get there based on this year’s numbers. In addition to his highest strikeout rate since 2008, the 29-year-old had his best walk rate and was a borderline top-10 starter in the second half. Another encouraging sign: his velocity increased as the season wore on. Kazmir still has some work to do against right-handers, but a .324 BABIP tells me he can be even better in 2014 (his career BABIP is .305). I know I’m probably higher on Kazmir than most, but I can see him putting together a James Shields-like season in 2014. His inconsistency and injuries make him a risky dynasty target, however. How lucky do you feel?
Twins sign RHP Ricky Nolasco and RHP Phil Hughes
I saved the least exciting for last (sorry, Twins fans), but there’s no denying the upgrade Minnesota made with the pair of free-agent deals. Nolasco (four years, $49 million) became the Twins’ heftiest free-agent commitment in franchise history, and Hughes (three years, $24 million) became the second highest, in terms of total money spent. I like the Nolasco signing more than the Hughes signing, but the pitcher getting the bigger fantasy boost is the former Yankee.
While Nolasco should continue to be league average in strikeouts and a plus in walks, Hughes, an extreme fly-ball pitcher, will look to benefit from Target Field’s favorable outfield dimensions. After allowing 35 home runs in 2012, the 27-year-old allowed 24 more in 145 2/3 innings this season, effectively ending his roller-coaster ride in the Bronx. But Hughes can’t rely on a new ballpark saving his career; this is still very much a work in progress. I recently wrote about Nolasco and Hughes at Fake Teams, and while I think the former can repeat as a top-50 starter, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with the latter. Hughes is strictly a streaming option for me to start the new season, but keep in mind he did win 18 games in 2010 and 16 more in 2012. If Hughes can’t turn it around in 2014, his dynasty-league prospects are buh-bye.