The long-awaited end of the MLB lockout is here, and as a result, the free-agent pieces are beginning to fall. Here are updates on what players signed where, and the fantasy impact of those signings.
Stats from Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, Statcast, and Rotowire
Yusei Kikuchi: TOR 3/$36M
On March 12th, Yusei Kikuchi signed a three-year, $36 million dollar contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. This most likely impacts Nate Pearson and Ross Stripling’s chances of being in the rotation. Kikuchi is an interesting case for the 2022 fantasy season, as his 2021 season was a rollercoaster of highs and lows. Kikuchi dazzled in the first half of the regular season but struggled mightily in the second half.
There is room for hope though. Our own Ben Palmer found that Kikuchi’s slider was a real money pitch in the 2021 season, and Kikuchi’s profile remains promising with a 94-96 mph fastball, the aforementioned slider, and a split-finger. If Kikuchi can address control issues from the second half and utilize this pitch mix correctly, he could see an increase in value.
One fair point of concern is that Kikuchi now pitches in the AL East, arguably the most deadly division with the Jays playing the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays 14 times each. Kikuchi also held a 1.55 HR/9 last year, a potential worry in the home-run friendly Rogers Centre. Here are his stats against AL East teams from 2021.
Small sample size but like Kikuchi’s 2021 season, a mixed bag. There are adjustments that need to happen, but Kikuchi is an intriguing project. Signing with the Jays doesn’t necessarily shoot him up the rankings. However, one look at his Statcast page tells you that last year, Kikuchi pitched similarly to the 2021 version of Robbie Ray. We saw the Blue Jays did with Ray last year, and there could be a chance that they see the same potential in Kikuchi. Definitely an arm to keep an eye on.
Nelson Cruz: WAS 1/$15 M
On March 13th, Nelson Cruz, the ageless DH wonder, netted a one-year, $15 million dollar contract with the Washington Nationals. The implementation of the universal designed hitter certainly helped Cruz’s market around the league, as the Nationals brought in the slugger to be their DH. And though some may worry Cruz should be slowing down, his 2021 season provided no indication that he was done.
Last season, Cruz smacked 32 home runs with 79 runs, 86 RBI, a .265 batting average, and a .832 OPS. While he suffered a minor drop-off from some previous seasons, Cruz still appears to be a reliable source of power in fantasy. His Statcast page seems to back this up.
Cruz’s outlook remains fairly positive with the Nationals. While they are not the most threatening team in the NL East, Cruz’s counting stats will benefit from the likes of Lane Thomas, Cesar Hernandez, Juan Soto, and Josh Bell around him. The top of this lineup should help his RBI numbers, and his power should play anywhere. The addition of Cruz provides more counting stat opportunities for those batters, as well.
With the universal DH, Cruz should continue to supply what you draft him for: homers and RBI. If the Nationals flip him to a competing team at the deadline, his outlook becomes more interesting, This signing mostly likely doesn’t boost his draft position, but he will continue to be a solid UT pick just outside of the top 100 picks.
Alex Colomé: COL 1/Unknown $
In the midst of trades and signings on Sunday, March 13th, the Rockies netted veteran reliever Alex Colomé on a one-year deal. Colomé had a bumpy 2021, with a 4.15 ERA to go along with his 17 saves in 65 IP. He held the Twins’ closer position, lost it, and bounced around the ‘pen for the remainder of the season. However, he has 155 career saves and seems set to serve as the Rockies’ closer.
Any arm in Coors Field faces dangerous territory, and Colomé’s previous shakiness provides a reason for concern. At the same time, Colomé garnered 101 saves in 217.3 IP from 2017-2020, and Rockies’ manager Bud Black has been clear in his desire to get an established closer for the ninth. This move pushes names like Daniel Bard, Carlos Estevez, and Robert Stephenson to set-up roles, at least to start the season.
Saves are a strange commodity in fantasy baseball, and sometimes it can feel like you’re riding the closer carousel in an attempt to collect them. Colomé is guaranteed to get save opportunities to start the season, and sometimes that’s all the assurance you need in a draft. If you’re looking for saves in the second half of your draft, Colomé could be worth a shot.
(Photo by Icon Sportswire)a Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on Twitter)