The Phillies made the largest splash on the free agent market so far this offseason, agreeing to terms with highly-coveted starting pitcher Zack Wheeler on a five-year, $118 million contract on Wednesday. The 29-year-old right-hander reportedly drew interest from a wide array of potential suitors including the White Sox, Reds, Angels, Blue Jays, Twins, Yankees, Rangers, and Astros. After struggling with a variety of injuries and persistent control issues earlier in his big-league career, Wheeler has evolved into a completely different pitcher, recording a sparkling 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 374/105 K/BB ratio across 377 2/3 innings (60 starts) over the last two seasons. More importantly, he’s been extremely durable, making at least 29 starts in each campaign during that span.
Wheeler is expected to slot in behind staff ace Aaron Nola and solidify a Phillies’ rotation which had plenty of question marks entering the offseason. His presence ensures that they won’t need to lean heavily on veteran Jake Arrieta, who is coming off elbow surgery, and also won’t need to rely on Zach Eflin, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta emerging as reliable options for a playoff contender in 2020. From a fantasy perspective, Wheeler is obviously extremely familiar with the NL East and should benefit exponentially from the sublime pitch framing abilities of Phillies’ backstop J.T. Realmuto. He projects as a low-risk top 30-to-40 starting pitcher in fantasy drafts next spring.
Brewers Extract Narvaez From Mariners
Following the departure of veteran stalwart Yasmani Grandal, who inked a massive multi-year deal with White Sox via free agency last week, the Brewers wasted little time in finding his replacement, acquiring backstop Omar Narvaez from the rebuilding Mariners on Thursday. Here’s the full deal:
Brewers acquired C Omar Narvaez from the Mariners in exchange for RHP Adam Hill and a 2020 Competitive Balance Round B draft selection.
Given the draft pick compensation, which includes a selection at the conclusion of the second round next June, the Brewers paid a hefty sum to fill their gaping void behind the plate. Yet, they managed to pick up one of the most gifted offensive performers at the position. The 27-year-old backstop has blossomed into one of the premier offensive catchers in the game and was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal 2019 campaign for the Mariners, hitting .278/.353/.460 with 63 runs scored, a career-high 22 round-trippers and 55 RBI in 482 plate appearances. Yet, he remains a defensive liability and is a clear downgrade from Grandal, who has rated as an elite defender for the last half-decade. No matter what direction they chose, they simply weren’t going to be able to replace Grandal’s defensive contributions, but Narvaez checked in as one of the worst defenders in the game last year. Per Baseball Prospectus’ metrics, Narvaez graded out as the fourth-worst (-13.7 Catcher Defense Adjusted) overall defender and fourth-worst pitch framer (-12.3 Framing Runs Above Average) at the position last season.
From a pure fantasy perspective, Narvaez remains one of the few reliable options in an otherwise barren landscape at the position. Despite its previous reputation, T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field) isn’t the pitcher’s paradise it used to be, especially for left-handed power hitters. However, relocating to the hitter-friendly dimensions of Miller Park is a massive upgrade for Narvaez, who should be a virtual lock to cross the 20-homer threshold for the second consecutive season. He may experience an extended adjustment period early on as he switches over to the National League after spending the last four seasons within the junior circuit as a member of the White Sox and Mariners, respectively. Yet, his considerable raw power potential, solid plate skills and surrounding talent in Milwaukee insulate against the risk of a total collapse in 2020. He’s a legitimate mixed-league starter and should be among the top 10 catchers selected in fantasy drafts next spring.
Meanwhile, the Mariners decision to jettison Narvaez kicks the door open for both Tom Murphy and Austin Nola, who is also capable of playing multiple infield positions as well, to emerge as everyday options next season. Of that tandem, Murphy is easily the most intriguing fantasy investment, simply because of his extremely impressive raw power. After showing brief flashes of immense potential (and striking out a ton) with the Rockies earlier in his career, he finally proved that he could provide over-the-fence pop and make enough contact to survive at the big-league level, posting a respectable .273/.324/.535 triple-slash line and a career-high 18 home runs in just 281 plate appearances last year. The 28-year-old backstop has the potential to easily eclipse the 30-homer threshold with everyday playing time, a feat which has only been accomplished by three catchers (Mike Napoli, Mitch Garver and Gary Sanchez) in the last decade.
Hamels, Braves Agree To One-Year Pact
After a nearly five-year odyssey, which included stints with the Rangers and Cubs, veteran southpaw Cole Hamels is back in the NL East. The 35-year-old left-hander signed a one-year, $18 million contract with the Braves on Wednesday. He reportedly garnered interest from a number of teams, including the Phillies, White Sox, Giants and Rangers, but ultimately chose to eschew a multi-year pact in favor of a short-term deal with a potential World Series contender. His reliable veteran presence should help to solidify an Atlanta starting rotation, which was spearheaded by a pair of young studs -- Mike Soroka and Max Fried -- and further augmented by the re-emergence of right-hander Mike Foltynewicz last season. Hamels posted a 3.81 ERA, 1.39 WHIP and 143/56 K/BB ratio over 141 2/3 innings across 27 starts with the Cubs last year. Despite his shiny surface stats, there are some reasons for concern moving forward. According to Baseball Prospectus’ data, Hamels’ 4.87 Deserved Run Average (DRA) was more than a run higher than his actual ERA and ranked 74th out of 121 pitchers with at least 100 innings of work last year. Per FanGraphs’ data, both his FIP (4.09) and xFIP (4.38) reveal that he outperformed his expected results in terms of run prevention last season.
From a fantasy perspective, Hamels’ familiarity with the NL East in addition to a more pitcher-friendly home ballpark and a loaded Braves’ lineup, capable of supplying plenty of run support, should boost his stock entering the 2020 campaign. It wouldn’t be totally shocking if he enjoyed a late-career rebirth, but he’s been merely pedestrian in terms of strikeout rate (9.08 per-nine last season) recently and no longer offers elite ratios (ERA and WHIP) at this advanced stage of his career. There simply isn’t a ton of upside relative to other late-round/low-cost lottery tickets, but Hamels durability and win potential should ensure that he’s among the top 75 starting pitchers selected in fantasy drafts next spring.
Halos Gamble On Bundy
The Angels augmented their lackluster starting rotation by acquiring right-hander Dylan Bundy from the Orioles on Wednesday. Here’s the full deal:
Angels acquired RHP Dylan Bundy from the Orioles for RHP Isaac Mattson, RHP Kyle Bradish, RHP Zach Peek and RHP Kyle Brnovich.
The results have been sporadic, and he’s been extremely homer-prone, but the 27-year-old right-hander has unquestionably morphed one of the most durable starting pitchers in the game over the last three seasons. He owns a lackluster 4.83 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 498/163 K/BB ratio across 503 innings of work (89 starts) during that span. That reliability is exactly what the Angels need after witnessing a whopping nine different starters (excluding openers) make at least nine starts and none of them finish with more than 18 starts last season. He’s not a superstar, but after boasting one of the worst pitching staffs in the entire game, a perfectly cromulent back-end of the rotation starter makes a huge difference for Los Angeles. If healthy, southpaw Andrew Heaney and young right-hander Griffin Canning project as the only surefire locks to begin the impending campaign in the teams’ starting rotation. They’re expected to get two-way sensation Shohei Ohtani back at some point, but at the end of the day, the Angels need someone to soak up innings, which puts Bundy in a position to make at least 28 starts for the fourth consecutive year. This is the type of move that gets the Angels closer to playoff contention.
The Orioles remain committed to slashing costs and bottoming out in a full-scale teardown, so it’s not surprising they elected to move on from Bundy, who has just two years left of team control before hitting the free agent market. They netted a quartet of right-handed pitching prospects in return, with Isaac Mattson registering as the most likely candidate to contribute at the major-league level in the near future. The 24-year-old posted a 2.33 ERA with a 110/27 K/BB ratio over 73 1/3 innings across three levels in the Angels system last season. Perhaps the most intriguing long-term lottery ticket in the deal is Kyle Bradish, a 2018 fourth round selection who racked up 121 punchouts over 101 innings at High-A Inland Empire last year.
American League Quick Hits: According to The Athletic’s Dan Hayes, the Twins have re-signed free agent right-hander Michael Pineda to a two-year, $20 million contract … ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported Thursday that Yankees’ ownership has given GM Brian Cashman approval to offer free agent right-hander Gerrit Cole a record contract … Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported Wednesday that a meeting between free agent right-hander Stephen Strasburg and the Yankees is “said to have gone well.” … Angels general manager Billy Eppler declined Wednesday to reveal a timetable as to when Shohei Ohtani (elbow, knee) would pitch in games in 2020. Eppler also told reporters that Zack Cozart (shoulder) is expected to be ready for spring training without restrictions … Athletics GM David Forst said Thursday that the club hasn’t given up on re-signing free agent RHP Blake Treinen … MLB.com's Jon Morosi reported Thursday that Japanese outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is drawing interest from the White Sox, Blue Jays, Tigers, and Twins. Morosi also reported that the Tigers and Angels are among the teams showing interest in free agent RHP Josh Lindblom … Red Sox re-signed INF Marco Hernandez and LHP Josh Osich to one-year contracts … Indians re-signed RHP James Hoyt to a one-year contract … Rangers signed C Nick Ciuffo and RHP Wei-Chieh Huang to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training … Orioles signed INF Dilson Herrera to a minor league contract.
National League Quick Hits: Mets acquired OF Jake Marisnick from the Astros in exchange for LHP Blake Taylor and OF Kenedy Corona … Reds officially signed 2B/3B Mike Moustakas to a four-year, $64 million contract with a $20 million club option for 2024 … Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner told NBC Sports Washington’s Donald Dell on Thursday that his team can’t afford to retain both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg this offseason … According to Bob Nightengale of USA Today, free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson is “being heavily pursued” by the Nationals … Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported Thursday that the Padres are “expected to make a run at” Korean left-hander Kwang-Hyun Kim … Giants signed LHP Tyler Anderson to a one-year contract … Brewers signed RHP Justin Grimm to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Mets signed OF Jarrett Parker and 2B Max Moroff to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training … Giants hired former Red Sox’ vice president of pitching Brian Bannister to be their new director of pitching and Donnie Ecker as their new hitting coach … According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Padres are promoting Damion Easley to be their new hitting coach.