Draft Prep: AL-only Offseason Guide
For most fantasy owners, monitoring the offseason trades and free agent signings is about finding players who are joining a better opportunity (i.e. more playing time, better ballpark, etc.) in order to bump them up in your rankings.
However, for those who play in AL- or NL-only leagues, the offseason gives your league a completely new set of players to evaluate and ultimately determine draft value for. A fantasy owner who has been in an NL-only league for the past decade has never had the pleasure of owning Robinson Cano — until now. The same goes for Edwin Diaz and Sonny Gray in the NL, and guys such as DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino and Billy Hamilton, who are joining the AL for the first time.
If you play in one of those formats, all the changes can be a bit overwhelming. That’s where I come in to help! As a veteran AL-only player, I will attempt to put a round value on the players who changed leagues over this offseason to help you prepare for your drafts next season.
Note: For simplicity’s sake, I did not include players who switched leagues at the trade deadline last year as they were available in both leagues and therefore are not new. That means no Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Tommy Pham, or Chris Archer, among others.
Without further ado, here are the five biggest fantasy assets who are joining the American League this year as well as a handful of other players to target in the later rounds:
Carlos Santana, DH/1B, Indians
After seven very solid seasons with the Indians, Carlos Santana spent 2018 with the Phillies. He was his typical self, hitting 24 home runs with 86 RBI and an outstanding 16.7% walk rate. His BABIP dropped to a low .231 however, contributing to just a .229 average — along with a .352 OBP.
Now Santana is back in Cleveland and slated for everyday at-bats as the designated hitter. He definitely carries more value in OBP leagues, but his power should play well in a lineup with Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor. Target him in rounds seven or eight and maybe even a little higher in OBP formats.
Steamer: .251/.367/.453, 86 R, 25 HR, 84 RBI, 3 SB.
DJ LeMahieu, 2B, Yankees
LeMahieu is a new addition to the AL landscape. He has the tools to be a multicategory contributor, with Steamer projecting a .269 average with 11 home runs and eight steals, numbers that would make him a nice middle infield option in the eighth or ninth round.
The problem? Steamer projects 537 plate appearances for LeMahieu — and I just don’t see it. Gleyber Torres is going to start at second base, with Troy Tulowitzki at shortstop and Miguel Andujar at third base. The Yankees will also get Didi Gregorius back early in the year, and they have Luke Voit and Greg Bird at first base, not to mention Giancarlo Stanton at DH.
I don’t see enough at-bats for LeMahieu to have a huge fantasy impact, and if his draft value stays in the first 10 rounds for AL-only leagues, I’m going to let him go. If New York makes a trade or an injury occurs, he is worth that draft slot, but only then.
Billy Hamilton, OF, Royals
If you’re drafting Hamilton, you’re doing it for one reason only: steals. After three straight seasons with more than 55 stolen bases, Hamilton had just 34 in what ended up being his final season in Cincinnati. With virtually no power and two straight years with an OBP below .300, Hamilton is a one-trick pony if there ever was one.
Still, the opportunity to be a full-time starter in Kansas City next season should afford Hamilton the opportunity to once again approach 40 stolen bases, although his low batting average and limited power will tank his value. If you need steals, he’s worth a look in the 10th round or so, but only if you have an established offense that can withstand his hit to your average.
Steamer: .241/.302/.327, 57 R, 5 HR, 41 RBI, 35 SB.
Domingo Santana, OF, Mariners
Domingo Santana, seemingly like every Brewers outfielder, is blessed with an elite combination of power and speed but struggles to make consistent contact. In 2017, he gave us an outstanding fantasy performance, blasting 30 home runs and swiping 15 bases while hitting .278 — a fantasy stud.
However, Milwaukee brought in Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain to fill in their outfield, limiting Santana to just 235 plate appearances in which he hit just five home runs and posted a ghastly 32.8% strikeout rate. Now he’s in Seattle, where all signs point to him being the starting left fielder.
Safeco Field (sorry, T-Mobile Park) is not the most hitter-friendly environment, which will likely impact Santana’s power output. Still, regular at-bats make Santana a valuable fantasy asset, even if he strikes out nearly one-third of the time. I’d be taking a gamble on him in the 11th round or so.
Steamer: .237/.329/.406, 62 R, 19 HR, 64 RBI, 6 SB.
Yusei Kikuchi, SP, Mariners
Nick Pollack has Yusei Kikuchi ranked as the No. 38 starter on the most updated version of The List, although it’s fair to say he’s a tough player to predict. Most have him as a Toby with slightly higher strikeout upside, which would make him an intriguing add. In AL-only formats, he’s worth owning as your No. 3 or 4 starter, which would make him a worthwhile target in the eighth- to 10th-round range. Pitching at T-Mobile park doesn’t hurt either.
The Angels replaced Jefry Marte with Justin Bour this offseason. Bour will split time at first base and designated hitter with Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani, so his playing time is a pretty big question mark at this point. He has easy 20- to 25-home run power, especially with Los Angeles’ lowered right field fence, but it all depends how many games he starts. I’d still be willing to take a chance on his raw power in the 13th to 15th rounds — but keep an eye out for any announcement about Ohtani’s playing time.
Asdrubal Cabrera is expected to replace Adrian Beltre at third base in Texas. He is coming off 23 home runs, 75 RBI and a .262 average this past season. Texas may shift other people around the infield, but if Cabrera plays most every day, he could be a nice power source in the 11th to 13th round, especially because he will carry both second base and shortstop eligibility.
The Los Angeles Angels signed a handful of injury-prone starting pitchers, including the very volatile Matt Harvey. Harvey is already battling a hamstring injury in spring training. If he manages to stay healthy for the entire season (a huge if), he could be a useful No. 4 or 5 starter after posting a 4.18 SIERA and a 1.30 WHIP this past year, not to mention an under-the-radar velocity spike after he went from the Mets to the Reds. Don’t draft him based on namesake though, as his days of being a star are long gone.
Wade Miley rode his newfound cutter to a ton of success this past season in Milwaukee, with a sub-3.00 ERA in 16 starts. His 4.66 SIERA indicates he had a little luck, but Houston will help him abandon his useless sinker in favor of a cutter/curveball combo, which could make him a sneaky good pickup as a No. 4 or 5 starter in AL-only leagues. Target him in the middle rounds.
The Royals shored up their bullpen by adding veteran reliever Brad Boxberger. Boxberger racked up 32 saves with a 11.98 K/9 this past season in Arizona, albeit with a 5.40 BB/9 and a 4.39 ERA. He has long posted excellent strikeout numbers, but his lack of control makes him a volatile closing option in fantasy formats. Still, assuming he gets the job in Kansas City, he will be a worthwhile draft pick in the middle rounds as a second or third reliever option.
Seattle’s decision to trade for Santana put a damper on Jay Bruce’s playing time, making him hard to peg down for fantasy purposes. If he is getting everyday at-bats, either at left field, first base, or designated hitter, he is worth a look in the 15th to 17th round for his 20-home run potential. If he becomes an expensive fourth outfielder/bench bat, he can be left on the waiver wire. With Kyle Seager potentially out until June, Bruce is likely ticketed for a bigger role, making that 15th- to 17th-round area look like an appealing time to target the slugger.
Hunter Strickland and Anthony Swarzak will be competing to be Seattle’s closer this season after the team dealt Diaz. Neither is going to be an elite fantasy option, but if either of them get the job outright, he is worth a look in the middle rounds as a second or third closing option. Seattle tends to avoid the dreaded closer committee, so if one of them runs away with it, he will have nice value.
Two seasons with the Pirates saw Ivan Nova make 60 starts with an ERA just over 4.00 and a K/9 of around 6.30. Those are probably the same numbers you can expect with his new team, the Chicago White Sox. It’s nothing special, but he could be an AL-only version of a Toby as your No. 6 or 7 starter. Round 18 to 20 is a fine target here.
Very quietly, Clay Buchholz put together a 7-2 record, 2.01 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 16 starts with the Diamondbacks this past year. That came with just a 20.6% strikeout rate and a 4.08 SIERA, but still it’s worth noting — particularly with Buchholz also posting four pitches with positive pVALs, and a Money Pitch with his changeup. Now he’s in Toronto, where he should secure a spot at the back end of their rotation. Steamer has him posting a 4.74 ERA and a 6.73 K/9 — a far cry from his 2018 numbers. I’d expect him to be a little better than that but wouldn’t risk drafting him until the last few rounds, and only if he looks healthy in spring training.
Remember Drew Smyly? The former Tigers star who hasn’t pitched since a disappointing 2016 season with the Rays thanks to multiple injuries? Well he’s now with the Rangers and — as of this writing — healthy. Assuming he stays that way, there’s no reason he can’t pitch his way into Texas’ rotation. Whether his nasty stuff from 2015 comes back remains to be seen, but there’s a reason he sat at No. 98 on our top 100 list. For those who are feeling like taking a risk, Smyly is not a bad spot to look in the last few rounds.
The Yankees lost David Robertson but replaced him with Frisbee-thrower Adam Ottavino and his outrageous slider. Ottavino won’t rack up many saves thanks to Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and Zack Britton, but he is a nice middle relief option for those who value holds or K/9.
Speaking of Mariners and playing time concerns, new shortstop J.P. Crawford has all the tools to be a nice utility middle infielder in AL-only formats if he gets the playing time. He is competing with Tim Beckham to start at shortstop next season and seems poised to get the three weeks in Triple-A treatment for service time manipulation. If he does win out, he could post double-digit home runs and steals, making him a worthwhile gamble in the later rounds.
The Indians netted themselves reinforcements in the outfield by signing longtime Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez to a minor league deal. He has a good chance to crack Cleveland’s less than stellar outfield mix, but his numbers away from Coors Field have never been very good. He’s not an awful late round flyer, but I’d rather leave him on the waiver wire and pick him up if Cleveland gives him a starting job.
Gio Gonzalez is now with the Yankees, although he’s not guaranteed a rotation spot with Luis Cessa and Domingo German expected to fill out the rotation for now. I don’t think I’m drafting Gonzalez in AL-only leagues yet, but he’s near the top of my waiver wire if he gets a rotation spot in the Bronx.
One of the latest failed-starter-turned-closers is veteran Bud Norris, who is coming off two straight seasons with 19-plus saves and a K/9 hovering around 10.5. He inked a deal to pitch in Toronto, where he is expected to serve as a setup man to Ken Giles. A bigger park and a role in middle relief severely dampen his value, making him a dart throw in the last few rounds for those in holds leagues or who are desperate for saves.
He may not be the stud he was from 2014-2015, but the Tigers are hoping that right-hander Tyson Ross can bounce back in a low-pressure environment in the Motor City. Ross posted a 4.15 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP last season, with a 7.7 K/9 as a starter. If there is anything left in the tank, Detroit’s big park could help bring it out of him. He’s worth a look in the last few rounds.
Jordy Mercer has long been a better real-life player than a fantasy asset, with limited power and speed and a batting average that sits around .250. Still, he is expected to get everyday at-bats as Detroit’s starting shortstop next season, and he walks enough to be useful in OBP formats. He’s not a bad target after the 20th round, where at that point you just need everyday players.
The same can be said for his familiar double-play partner, former Pirate Josh Harrison, who also inked a one-year pact in Detroit. He should also be targeted near the end of drafts for people who simply need warm bodies who are getting playing time. Both Mercer and Harrison are potential deadline trade pieces as well, so be weary of that.
Toronto signed shortstop Freddy Galvis as insurance across the infield next year. Galvis has played in more than 150 games in each of the past four years, although that might be a challenge with Lourdes Gurriel, Devon Travis, and Brandon Drury slated to start across the infield — along with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. Galvis has hit 12 or more home runs in each of the past three years, along with double digit steals in three of the past four seasons. However — he’s only valuable if he’s playing regularly. He’s not an awful last-round flyer.
The Rangers inked a variety of injury-riddled has-beens this offseason, including right-hander Shelby Miller. Miller has only thrown 38 big league innings in the past two years, and although they haven’t been good, he still managed to strike out 39 hitters in that window. Don’t draft him — but if he strings together a few good starts he’s at least streamable.
The White Sox inked former Braves outfielder Preston Tucker to a minor league pact. If he makes the roster, he’s worth adding to your watch list with his prodigious power. At 28, it’s possible he’s a late bloomer.
(Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire)