Wednesday marked the third day of Major League Baseball’s Winter Meetings, and finally baseball fans around the globe started to see the type of action that they were hoping for – just as teams were getting ready to leave Nashville.
The Diamondbacks bolstered their starting rotation in a major way – adding left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez on a four-year deal worth around $80 million. The Orioles fortified the back-end of their bullpen, landing closer Craig Kimbrel on a one-year, $13 million pact. Oh, and the Yankees acquired some guy named Juan Soto who is supposedly pretty good at hitting baseballs. So much action. So much baseball. Let’s dive in.
Eduardo Rodriguez chooses Diamondbacks
The first major domino in the starting pitching market finally fell on Wednesday night, as the Diamondbacks agreed to a four-year, $80 million contract with free agent left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez.
There had been reports over the past few days that Rodriguez had narrowed his list of destinations down to two and was close to making a decision. Then Jon Morosi of MLB Network reported that the Diamondbacks were one of those two teams – and shortly afterwards Jeff Passan of ESPN dropped the bombshell that the two sides had reached an accord.
Jon Heyman of the New York Post adds that the deal also includes a vesting option for the 2028 season that could push the total value of the contract to $100 million. It seems that the 30-year-old southpaw made a wise decision to opt out of the final two years and $49 million remaining on his contract with the Tigers – while he’ll get a lower AAV, he now has the long-term deal that he was looking for.
He’ll join Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and Brandon Pfaadt to form one of the more formidable rotations in the National League. Let’s dig in a little deeper to see how the move will affect Rodriguez from a fantasy perspective.
In his two years with the Tigers, Rodriguez was a strong and reliable option – registering a 3.58 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and a 215/82 K/BB ratio over 243 2/3 innings in his 43 starts. He also routinely worked deep into games and was able to secure 18 victories during his time in Motown – despite being backed by a subpar offense. While wins are highly variable, his outlook in the category should improve substantially with the increase in run support. He’ll also have the benefit of a stronger bullpen working behind him.
On the downside, the move away from the spacious confines of Comerica Park and into Chase Field – one of the better hitting environments in the National League – could hurt his ratios a bit. He’ll also see fewer starts against the weak competition in the American League Central while facing the Dodgers and having to pitch at Coors Field more frequently. When you put all of that together, it’s probably a wash to his overall fantasy value.
Heading into the 2023 season, Rodriguez was being drafted just inside the top-300 players overall. He’s no longer going anywhere near that significant of a discount. In early NFBC drafts, the left-hander finds himself just inside the top-200 picks overall – which makes him the 55th starting pitcher off the board on average. That seems like it’s more than a fair price for his expected production, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him creep up closer to the pick-150 range as we get closer to March.
Juan Soto joins Bronx Bombers
The biggest move of the Winter Meetings was finally pushed across the finish line on Wednesday night, as the Yankees finally were able to close the blockbuster deal that they had been working on, acquiring superstar outfielder Juan Soto from the Padres – along with outfielder Trent Grisham – in exchange for right-handers Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez and catcher Kyle Higashioka.
Our venerable leader D.J. Short covered the deal in meticulous detail already here, so be sure to check out the below for all of the details, reactions and fantasy implications of the blockbuster trade
Orioles add closer Craig Kimbrel
For the majority of the last two seasons, the Orioles featured one of the best bullpens in all of baseball – anchored by star closer Félix Bautista in the ninth inning. That was the case until late August, when the 28-year-old right-hander was diagnosed with a torn UCL in his right elbow and ultimately underwent Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery. He’ll miss the entire 2024 season while recovering from the procedure.
While Yennier Cano did a decent enough job filling Bautista’s shoes over the final month-plus of the season, the O’s liked him much better in his eighth inning setup role. That meant that O’s general manager Mike Elias needed to find a stopgap option in the ninth inning for the 2024 campaign. On Wednesday, he secured one of the top available options, agreeing to a one-year, $13 million contract with right-hander Craig Kimbrel. The deal will pay Kimbrel $12 million in 2023 and includes a $13 million team option for the 2025 season with a $1 million buyout.
The 35-year-old hurler is one of the most accomplished closers in Major League history – having amassed 417 saves over his 14 seasons in the big leagues. He was as solid as ever with the Phillies in 2023 – posting a 3.26 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a 94/28 K/BB ratio across 69 innings while notching 23 saves. He also showed the dominance that had been lacking in 2022 – posting a 33.8% strikeout rate and allowing a batting average against of only .179.
Prior to this news, Kimbrel had been going off the board in early fantasy drafts around pick 233 overall. That draft cost was held down artificially due to the uncertainty around where he’d land and whether or not he would be working in the ninth inning. Now that we have clarity, expect to see his average draft position soar over the next few weeks. My best guess is that he settles in just inside the top-150 picks overall. Meanwhile, Cano had been going around pick-170 overall, and his stock is going to drop like a stone – likely to a place outside of the top-300 picks overall.
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Rule 5 Draft Results
The Rule 5 draft also took place on Wednesday, with 10 clubs deciding to make picks. As a refresher, if a player is selected in the draft, they must remain on the team’s big league roster for the entire season or be placed on waivers. If they do clear waivers, they then must be offered back to their original team. We saw a pair of gems come out of the Rule 5 draft in 2023, as the Athletics plucked first baseman Ryan Noda away from the Dodgers and the Giants snagged Blake Sabol from the Pirates.
Without further ado, here’s the full results as well as our fantastic crew’s wonderful analysis of each pick:
1) Athletics - RHP Mitch Spence (Yankees)
The 25-year-old Spence will go right into the rotation mix for the A’s after going 8-8 with a 4.47 ERA and a 153/53 K/BB ratio for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre last season. He’s not viewed as someone with much upside, but he might be a decent enough bottom-of-the-rotation guy.
2) Royals - RHP Matt Sauer (Yankees)
The top two selections were both swiped from the Yankees’ system. Sauer, a 2017 second-round pick, has been rather slow to develop and probably doesn’t have the command to be helpful as a starter right now. He might, however, prove to be pretty good out of the pen in time. The soon-to-be 25-year-old had a 3.41 ERA and a 93/34 K/BB ratio in 74 innings as a starter last season, most of them coming in Double-A. He had a 5.91 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings as a reliever in the Arizona Fall League.
The Rockies released RHP Connor Seabold earlier today, to make room on the roster for this selection. The 21-year-old Molina has a 23-13 win-loss record and a 3.64 ERA across 301 2/3 minor-league innings. He made 27 starts across Double-A and Triple-A action this past season, posting a 102/38 K/BB ratio along the way.
It was a surprise that the Red Sox didn’t put Drohan on the 40-man, even though he struggled to a 6.47 ERA in his first attempt at Triple-A last season. The White Sox are rebuilding, so they’ll give him a look as a potential fifth starter. He’d most likely be a liability initially, but there’s definitely some chance of him becoming a solid starter in the long run.
The 23-year-old has primarily played shortstop during his time in the minors with the Marlins, jumping over to second base occasionally. His bat has yet to develop, holding a career slash line of .233/.358/.286 over four seasons. He hasn’t played above Double-A ball but his value comes with his glove and speed. Nunez swiped 52 bags in 125 games last season with Double-A Pensacola.
6) Cardinals - RHP Ryan Fernandez (Red Sox)
Fernandez had a 4.14 ERA in 54 1/3 innings as a minor league reliever last season, though he went from 1.77 in Double-A to 6.16 in Triple-A. The Cardinals will have him compete for a bullpen spot, but he’d seem to be one of the longer shots to stick of the 10 players selected in the major league portion of Wednesday’s draft.
The Mets then flipped Slaten to the Red Sox for minor league left-hander Ryan Ammons and cash considerations. The Red Sox probably would have gotten Slaten, a Rangers prospect, in the Rule 5 draft anyway, but they just couldn’t take that chance that he’d last until 12th. So, they moved up to the Mets, who were slotted in eighth and made him the seventh player selected (after the Angels passed). Slaten will audition for a spot in the Red Sox pen during spring training. If he fails to secure one, he’ll go on waivers and then, assuming he’s unclaimed, be offered back to the Rangers.
8) Guardians - 3B Deyvison De Los Santos (Diamondbacks)
One of just two position players selected, De Los Santos is a 20-year-old coming off a season in which he hit .254/.297/.431 with 20 homers in Double-A. He’s not nearly ready for the majors now, but he does offer plenty of long-term power potential. He’ll just be less likely to reach that potential if he spends next year rotting away on the Guardians’ bench. Cleveland, though, might decide it’s worth it anyway.
9) Padres - RHP Stephen Kolek (Mariners)
Kolek, the younger brother of former Marlins prospect and No. 2 overall pick Tyler, moved to the pen and had a 3.76 ERA and a 76/32 K/BB ratio in 69 1/3 innings in 2023 season spent mostly at Triple-A Tacoma. He has a chance to be helpful in middle relief right away, but he probably won’t ever turn into much more than that.
10) Rangers - RHP Carson Coleman (Yankees)
The 25-year-old Kentucky Wildcat was the third Yankees pitching prospect to get snagged in this draft (Mitch Spence to the A’s and Matt Sauer to the Royals). Playing his second season in the minors, Coleman posted a 2.13 ERA in 63 1/3 innings in 2022 with 44 of those coming at the Double-A level. His K/9 rate was certainly worth writing home about (13.5). He ended his season with a combined no-hitter in the Eastern League Championship. Randy Vasquez opened that game up with eight hitless innings and Coleman added a hitless ninth inning to complete the 15-0 rout. Coleman sat out the 2023 season with an elbow injury.
MLB Quick Hits: Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports that the Padres plan to pursue former KBO MVP Jung-Hoo Lee… Super agent Scott Boras has been telling anyone who will listen that Frankie Montas (shoulder) is now fully healthy and in “great demand”… Jon Morosi of MLB Network notes that the Reds have been involved in serious discussions with free agent third baseman Jeimer Candelario… Morosi also notes that the Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers and Angels are all interested in free agent hurler Robert Stephenson… Jon Heyman of the New York Post reports that the White Sox have pulled back on trade talks involving right-hander Dylan Cease for the time being… The Angels agreed to a one-year, $1.65 million deal with right-hander Adam Cimber… The Rangers made their one-year, $4.5 million deal with Kirby Yates official… The Dodgers announced their one-year, $9 million deal to re-sign Jason Heyward… The Astros acquired right-hander Dylan Coleman from the Royals for minor league righty Carlos Mateo… The Mets inked right-hander Michael Tonkin to a one-year, $1 million contract… The Blue Jays have kicked the tires on utilityman Tony Kemp… The Mariners brought in Brett de Geus on a minor league contract… The Marlins added Matt Andriese on a minor league deal and re-signed Devin Smeltzer to a minor league pact… Albert Abreu signed on with the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball… Victor Reyes is heading overseas as well, signing on with the Lotte Giants in the Korea Baseball Organization… The Marlins are considering stretching A.J. Puk back out as a starter during spring training… Johan Oviedo underwent successful Tommy John surgery… The Rays re-signed Erasmo Ramirez to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp… The Angels signed Willie Calhoun to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training… The Braves inked Leury Garcia to a minor league contract… The Yankees brought in Dennis Santana on a minor league deal… The Nationals signed slugger Juan Yepez to a minor league deal with an invitation to big league camp… The Rockies brought back right-hander Matt Koch on a minor league contract… Yadier Molina joined the Cardinals’ front office as a special assistant to president of baseball operations John Mozeliak… Yankees’ skipper Aaron Boone told reporters that D.J. LeMahieu will be his regular third baseman heading into the 2024 season… Red Sox’ manager Alex Cora noted that Wilyer Abreu is penciled in as the team’s starting right fielder.