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Fantasy Fallout: Yankees/Twins Blockbuster Trade

Josh Donaldson is the big winner in the aftermath of the MIN/NYY trade.

On Sunday night, ESPN’s Jeff Passan first reported the news of a major trade between the Yankees and Twins in which Minnesota sent third baseman Josh Donaldson, shortstop Isiah Kiner-Falefa, and catcher Ben Rortvedt to New York in exchange for catcher Gary Sánchez and third baseman Gio Urshela. Baseball Twitter exploded as reactions to the deal were met with equal parts of excitement, frustration, and confusion.

Each of these players, minus Rortvedt, are names that fantasy baseball players are all too familiar with as each has been routinely drafted in the vast majority of leagues over the past few years, and 2022 is certainly no exception. As such, the fantasy ramifications for such a deal range far and wide, so we will attempt to sort through those below.

Additionally, earlier this morning, Steve Drumwright here at Pitcher List broke down the deal from a more traditional baseball angle, so be sure to check that out as well.

 

Josh Donaldson (3B)

 

The 36-year-old former American League MVP would appear at first glance to be the biggest winner in this deal, from a purely fantasy perspective. The oft-injured Donaldson was quietly still an incredibly effective hitter in 2021, homering 26 times in just 135 games to go along with a rock-solid .827 OPS and 127 OPS+.

Donaldson now joins Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge to form a trio of fearsome right-handed mashers with a history of struggles staying on the field. However, it’s worth noting that the Yankees are showing their faith in Donaldson by assuming the entirety of the remaining $50 million left on his contract through 2024.

Donaldson’s average exit velocity (94.1 mph) ranked in the 99th percentile in all of baseball last season while his hard-hit percentage (52.7%), xSLG (.542), xwOBA (.388), and walk percentage (13.6%) all ranked amongst the best in the league.

Those numbers are no laughing matter. Knock him for the injury-prone label all you want—and deservedly so as that certainly warrants consideration in terms of his fantasy value—but there is no denying the fact that the “Bringer of Rain” does just that when he’s in the lineup.

Regarding the injuries, Donaldson missed 27 games last season and 32 games in the shortened 2020 season, most notably due to recurrent calf injuries. However, he did play in 155 games in 2019 with Atlanta.

That track record in the chart above in reference to his Statcast profile speaks for itself. Donaldson is still an elite hitter and will be a tremendous addition to a strong Yankees lineup.

Donaldson goes from hitting in the middle of a mediocre lineup in a pitcher’s ballpark at Target Field in Minnesota to hitting in the heart of a loaded lineup in the bandbox that is Yankee Stadium. This trade is clearly a boon to his fantasy value as he will slide in as the Yankees everyday third baseman.

His current ADP (186 via FantasyPros) is certain to climb in the coming weeks, as I would now slot him in to the 130-140 range in the same tier along with D.J. LeMahieu and Matt Chapman around the Top 10-12 third baseman.

While his age and recent history of injuries are certainly unsettling, the idea of him hitting in that ballpark with that supporting cast is certainly tantalizing. If you decide to draft Donaldson this season, just make sure your roster is durable and flexible enough to accommodate his inevitable trip(s) to the injured list.

 

Isiah Kiner-Falefa (SS)

 

Here’s the simple truth on Kiner-Falefa: he’s a terrific and versatile fielder (Gold Glove winner at third base in 2020 with the Rangers) who just isn’t a very good hitter. His exit velocity (85.5 mph) and hard-hit percentage (28.8%) were rated amongst the lowest in baseball last season. On top of that, he doesn’t draw walks (4.1% last year) and has only 16 career homers (eight last year) in 392 career games. His 85 OPS+ last season speaks volumes.

The 26-year-old carved out a niche as a unique fantasy asset over the past couple of years because he was eligible at catcher, a shallow position in fantasy which has been a landfill of despair and sadness the past few seasons. And Kiner-Falefa provided value as a catcher who excelled in two things: batting average (.280 in 2020, .271 in 2021) and stolen bases (20 in 2021).

However, the Hawaii native played exclusively as a shortstop last season for the Rangers which means he no longer has catcher eligibility. And this matters a lot.

While moving from Texas to New York (via Minnesota) is overall a positive for his ability to contribute offensively in a better lineup and ballpark, he simply does not offer near the upside as a fantasy shortstop that he did as a fantasy catcher, and the loss of his catcher-eligibility is a net negative in terms of his 2022 fantasy value, despite the change in his environment after the trade.

On a more fun note, Kiner-Falefa seems to already be having fun with and embracing New York’s no-facial-hair policy.

The current school of thought seems to be that Kiner-Falefa will be the Yankees’ primary shortstop and will bat towards the bottom of the order while Kyle Higashioka and Rortvedt will split time behind the plate. His current 294 ADP feels about right for him, but he’s best suited for deeper leagues when in need of a middle infielder to help in the stolen base department with a solid batting average.

 

Gary Sánchez (C)

 

Here are Gary Sánchez’s batting averages over the past four seasons: .186, .232, .147, .204.

And here are his home run totals: 18, 34, 10, 23.

The 29-year-old’s best fantasy days are very likely behind him, and the move out of hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium surely isn’t going to do him any favors. Currently being drafted as the 13th catcher off the board with an ADP around 203 via FantasyPros, I would generally be inclined to slide him down a few spots after this trade. Moving from New York to Minnesota isn’t great for fantasy value.

However, given the barren wasteland that is the catcher position in fantasy these days, I’m not sure his value changes all that much when you consider the other catchers being drafted around him: Sean Murphy, Carson Kelly, Adley Rutschman, Omar Narvaez, Mike Zunino, Elias Diaz, and Yadier Molina. That group doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

There is no guarantee that the Twins even hang on to Sánchez, but that is reportedly the plan for now. He could see some time at designated hitter and should also split time at catcher, along with Ryan Jeffers.

This trade certainly does not help Sánchez’s value, but at the moment I’m not sure it really hurts him either—although it does cap his ceiling. The 30-HR seasons are likely long gone. But Sánchez can still provide some late-round value in two-catcher formats with his potential for 20-25 homers if you can stomach the dip in your team’s batting average.

 

Gio Urshela (3B)

 

Gio Urshela is 30 years old. That surprised me a bit when I looked that up, he felt younger to me for some reason despite serving as the Yankees’ everyday third baseman for the past three seasons ever since being claimed off waivers from Toronto.

Nonetheless, the undrafted Urshela became a popular fantasy sleeper after he hit .314 with an .889 OPS in 2019 for the Yankees. And he backed that up with a solid .298 AVG and .858 OPS in 2020.

However, 2021 was a different story as Urshela missed 46 games and hit just .267 with a dreadful .720 OPS, despite 14 home runs. His strikeout rate skyrocketed to a career-worst 24.7% while his walk rate plummeted to 4.5%. Not a great trend.

Urshela is still a solid hitter, but he does not steal bases and has just 49 homers in 458 career games. At this stage of his career, he pretty much is what he is at this point, and moving to Minnesota isn’t going to increase his offensive production either.

Currently the 24th third baseman off the board with an ADP of 267, I’m sliding him down a bit after this trade. I’d rather have Evan Longoria or Cavan Biggio and maybe even Patrick Wisdom over Urshela in drafts.

 

Ben Rortvedt (C)

 

Ben Rortvedt is a defensive-minded catcher who will provide a much-needed upgrade behind the dish for the Yankees, splitting time with Kyle Higashioka. However, the 24-year-old does not offer much offensively and therefore is not on the fantasy radar as a part-time player who hit just .169 with a .510 OPS for the Twins last season.

Currently ranked as the 54th catcher via FantasyPros with a non-existent ADP, he can be ignored for fantasy purposes.

Featured image by Shawn Palmer (@Palmerdesigns_ on Twitter)

Lucas Spence

Writer for Pitcher List and contributor for FantasyPros and InStreetClothes. Certified Physician Assistant. Proud husband and father of three whose favorite baseball highlight of his lifetime occurred in the bottom of the 11th inning of the 1995 ALDS. Twitter: @lspence24.

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