Winter Meetings Recap: Day 1

Winter Meetings Recap: Day 1

This article is part of our Winter Meetings Recap series.

Baseball front offices and a throng of media have descended upon the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville this week for Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings. History tells us that free-agent signings are sure to happen, trades will be consummated and the rumors will be running rampant during the Hot Stove's marquee offseason event.

I will be offering up recaps and commentary on the festivities each day in this space, opining on what went down, what might go down and what the fantasy fallout will be.

Kelenic Heads South

This trade was actually completed Sunday night, but it was a big one. Jarred Kelenic was dealt from the Mariners to Atlanta along with Marco Gonzales and Evan White, with Seattle receiving Jackson Kowar and pitching prospect Cole Phillips in return.

Kelenic is the headliner here, and it is rather jarring to see a 24-year-old former top prospect traded for the second time. It looked in April like Kelenic was at the outset of a breakout season with the Mariners, as he slashed .308/.366/.615 with seven home runs and five stolen bases in the opening month. The long balls came in clusters, with Kelenic going deep in four straight games in mid-April and then homering in three straight contests in late April.

Unfortunately, that proved to be the high-water mark for his season, as he batted only .235/.314/.356 with four homers, eight steals and a 33 percent strikeout rate over 79 games the rest of the way. Kelenic also missed

Baseball front offices and a throng of media have descended upon the Gaylord Opryland Hotel in Nashville this week for Major League Baseball's annual Winter Meetings. History tells us that free-agent signings are sure to happen, trades will be consummated and the rumors will be running rampant during the Hot Stove's marquee offseason event.

I will be offering up recaps and commentary on the festivities each day in this space, opining on what went down, what might go down and what the fantasy fallout will be.

Kelenic Heads South

This trade was actually completed Sunday night, but it was a big one. Jarred Kelenic was dealt from the Mariners to Atlanta along with Marco Gonzales and Evan White, with Seattle receiving Jackson Kowar and pitching prospect Cole Phillips in return.

Kelenic is the headliner here, and it is rather jarring to see a 24-year-old former top prospect traded for the second time. It looked in April like Kelenic was at the outset of a breakout season with the Mariners, as he slashed .308/.366/.615 with seven home runs and five stolen bases in the opening month. The long balls came in clusters, with Kelenic going deep in four straight games in mid-April and then homering in three straight contests in late April.

Unfortunately, that proved to be the high-water mark for his season, as he batted only .235/.314/.356 with four homers, eight steals and a 33 percent strikeout rate over 79 games the rest of the way. Kelenic also missed two months of action during the second half when he fractured his left foot as a result of kicking a water cooler in frustration.

There were some promising developments in terms of Kelenic's quality of contact. He significantly upped his hard-hit rate to 45.5 percent and his average exit velocity to 90.9 mph. Those numbers were just 35 percent and 86 mph, respectively, in 2022. His line-drive rate, per Fangraphs, was 28.9 percent, which was the highest mark in all of baseball among players with at least 400 plate appearances.

Kelenic had a nice .282 xBA and .508 xSLG against fastball in 2023. Unfortunately, he continued to really struggle against everything else, posting just a .296 xWOBA and 43.3 percent whiff rate versus breaking balls and a .277 xWOBA and 42 percent whiff rate against offspeed pitches.

What Kelenic is ultimately able to offer moving forward is unclear, but it seems like a worthy gamble for Atlanta that mostly amounted to a salary dump by the Mariners. He's penciled into the left field job — at least against right-handed pitching — and receives a notable ballpark and lineup upgrade. Kelenic isn't arbitration-eligible until after next season and is under team control through 2028.

The addition of Kelenic throws a wrench into the 2024 outlook for Vaughn Grissom. Grissom had seemed slated to make the move to left field, with the position being cleared after the club decided not to exercise Eddie Rosario's option. Now, it would appear Grissom is in line for a short-side platoon role in left. He could also see some occasional action at his more familiar infield spots, but Atlanta gave very few days off to their starting infielders in 2023. A trade might be his best shot at fantasy value in 2024, perhaps as part of a deal to land Dylan Cease?

Gonzales' tenure in Atlanta is not expected to last long, with Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic saying the left-hander is likely to be flipped to another unnamed team. The southpaw was limited to just 10 starts in 2023, posting a 5.22 ERA before needing surgery for a nerve issue in his forearm. Gonzales is expected to be healthy and should have a rotation spot wherever he lands, but even at his best Gonzales' fantasy value in mixed leagues was pretty minimal. As for White, he hasn't played in the majors since 2021 due to multiple groin/core surgeries. It wouldn't be a surprise if he never suits up for his new team.

As for the Mariners, they wanted an outfielder prior to this trade and now that need is only amplified. Rosenthal has reported that they inquired with the Rays about Randy Arozarena earlier this offseason. He would certainly provide a much-needed jolt to Seattle's lineup and is under team control for three more seasons. Another corner outfielder available via trade is Max Kepler, who Jon Morosi of MLB Network sees as a fit in Seattle. Currently, the Mariners' corner outfield candidates include Dominic Canzone, Cade Marlowe, Sam Haggerty, Dylan Moore and Taylor Trammell.

Kowar is unlikely to make much of an impact for the Mariners in 2024 and Phillips certainly won't. The former was a first-round pick back in 2018 with the Royals but is now 27 and has struggled to gain any traction at the big-league level, managing a 9.12 ERA and 2.10 WHIP over his first 74 innings. Kowar was a full-time reliever in 2023 and his best opportunity with Seattle next season might be as a long man. Phillips is 20-year-old who has yet to make his pro debut after needing Tommy John surgery in high school.

Korean Duo Posted

On Monday, two more notable free agents were officially added to the pool when Korean outfielder Jung Hoo Lee and Korean reliever Woo-suk Go were posted by the Kiwoom Heroes and the LG Twins, respectively. Major-league teams can begin negotiating with the players beginning Tuesday and they will have 30 days to complete a deal.

Lee is seen as the bigger prize of the two. The outfielder is one of the youngest free agents, as he won't turn 26 until August. Lee has put together a blistering .340/.407/.491 batting line during his seven seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization. Renowned for his contact skills, Lee collected 383 walks versus just 304 strikeouts in the KBO, including a 23:49 K:BB over 86 games for the Heroes in 2023.

The biggest question with Lee is ultimately how much power he will be able to provide at the big-league level. The 25-year-old broke out with 23 home runs during the 2022 season after he had clubbed just 42 over his first five seasons. He then fell back to six bombs in 387 plate appearances during a 2023 campaign which ended prematurely due to a fractured ankle. Lee's new home park could factor into his home run expectations in 2024, but ultimately fantasy managers should probably be expecting more of a table-setter type with modest power. Lee also isn't much of a base stealer, either, swiping just 11 over his last two KBO seasons and never more than 13 in any one year.

The Giants, Mets, Yankees and Padres are among the clubs that have been connected to Lee. He is capable of playing all three outfield positions.

Go is lesser known than Lee but has been a terrific closer in Korea for several seasons. The 25-year-old had a bit of a down 2023 season for the Twins while missing time with a back issue, collecting a 3.86 ERA and 59:22 K:BB over 44 frames. In 2022, though, he posted a 1.48 ERA and 80:21 K:BB across 60.2 innings of work while recording 42 saves.

The feeling seems to be that Go could be capable of handling high-leverage situations in the majors. Whether he's handed a closer job, though, isn't certain, and obviously that will carry a lot of weight when considering his fantasy outlook.

Something to keep in mind with Go is that he will not be a free agent until next offseason. While the Twins agreed to post him this offseason, they could choose to keep him if they aren't satisfied with the offers they receive.

Quick Hits: Dodgers manager Dave Roberts revealed in an interview at the Winter Meetings that the plan is for Mookie Betts to be the club's everyday second baseman in 2024. Betts made nearly as many starts at the keystone as he did in his more familiar right field in 2023 and will move to the dirt full-time next year … Astros general manager Dana Brown on Monday shut down trade speculation involving Alex Bregman, saying the third baseman isn't going anywhereErick Fedde is nearing a two-year contract worth more than $5 million per season with an unidentified team, Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reports … At a press conference Monday making Jackson Chourio's record-breaking contract official, Brewers general manager Matt Arnold confirmed that the 19-year-old would be given an opportunity to make the team's Opening Day roster in 2024 … Wade Miley re-signed with the Brewers on Monday on a one-year contract which guarantees the left-hander $8.5 million. The deal also includes a $12 million mutual option for 2025 … Milwaukee has also inked Joe Ross to a major-league deal. Ross has been limited to 17 minor-league innings over the last two seasons following his second Tommy John surgery … Jack Flaherty is drawing interest from the Pirates on a short-term contract. The White Sox have also been speculated as a possible fit for the free agent right-hander … Davis Schneider has been drawing trade interest, Scott Mitchell of TSN.ca reports … Athletics GM David Forst told reporters Monday that the team would not be trading Paul Blackburn or Seth Brown this offseason … The Diamondbacks are considering Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez to fill their designated hitter spot, per Jim Bowden of The Athletic

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ryan Boyer
Ryan has been writing about fantasy baseball since 2005 for Fanball, Rotoworld, Baseball Prospectus and RotoWire.
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