Winter Meetings Recap: Day 3

Winter Meetings Recap: Day 3

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.

Soto Sent to the Bronx

The Yankees' acquisition of Alex Verdugo on Tuesday proved to be an appetizer. On Wednesday night, they ordered their main course.

There were some twists and turns along the way, but a trade sending Juan Soto to the Bronx Bombers is happening. The Yankees will also receive Trent Grisham as part of the deal, with Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez and Kyle Higashioka heading to the Padres.

Soto will take over in right field for the Yankees, with Aaron Judge shifting over to center field and Verdugo handling left. It's not an ideal defensive alignment, particularly after Judge missed a large chunk of this past season with a toe injury. However, New York is betting on the massive offensive contributions from Soto more than making up for a wonky defensive setup.

The Padres might have disappointed as a team in 2023, but Soto was not to blame, having slashed .275/.410/.519 with a career-high

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.

Soto Sent to the Bronx

The Yankees' acquisition of Alex Verdugo on Tuesday proved to be an appetizer. On Wednesday night, they ordered their main course.

There were some twists and turns along the way, but a trade sending Juan Soto to the Bronx Bombers is happening. The Yankees will also receive Trent Grisham as part of the deal, with Michael King, Drew Thorpe, Jhony Brito, Randy Vasquez and Kyle Higashioka heading to the Padres.

Soto will take over in right field for the Yankees, with Aaron Judge shifting over to center field and Verdugo handling left. It's not an ideal defensive alignment, particularly after Judge missed a large chunk of this past season with a toe injury. However, New York is betting on the massive offensive contributions from Soto more than making up for a wonky defensive setup.

The Padres might have disappointed as a team in 2023, but Soto was not to blame, having slashed .275/.410/.519 with a career-high 35 home runs, 109 RBI, 97 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. He finished as a top-15 hitter and top-10 fantasy outfielder.

Soto popped 23 of the those 35 home runs on the road and batted .307 with a 1.026 OPS away from home. He hit a more pedestrian .240 with a .827 OPS at Petco Park, swatting 11 fewer home runs in just 10 fewer plate appearances.

Trading in Petco Park for Yankee Stadium could certainly do wonders for Soto. Per Baseball Savant's Park Factors, Yankee Stadium ranks as the second-best park for homers if you're a left-handed batter. Petco came in at just 26th on that list. Now, I should caution that Soto hits a ton of balls on the ground and also sprays the ball all over the field, so maybe he won't benefit as much as others would from the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium. Still, I have a hard time believing it won't be a big benefit for the 25-year-old, particularly when considering his previous confines.

Soto is currently the 14th player off the board in early NFBC drafts. It doesn't leave a ton of room for him to move up, but I could see him inching up a little following this trade. You may have heard that Soto is due to hit free agency after the 2024 season. He'll be plenty motivated and certainly is capable of the putting up the best numbers of his career in his walk year (his absurd 1.185 OPS during the shortened 2020 season not included).

Grisham didn't have much fantasy value, anyway, given his lackluster hitting over the last two seasons, but he's a loser in the deal. The plan is for the 27-year-old to operate as the Yankees' fourth outfielder and late-inning defensive replacement.

King will slide into a Padres rotation which desperately needs him. The 28-year-old had become a high-leverage reliever with the Yankees but was moved into the rotation late in the 2023 season and thrived, posting a 1.88 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 48:9 K:BB over 38.1 innings. King's velocity not only held but actually went up slightly as a starter, and his sweeper and changeup were as nasty as ever.

Will King be able to sustain the velocity and stuff as he continues to get stretched out? He came up in the minors as a starter, but King nearly doubled his major league starts total last year and the 104.2 innings he threw in 2023 were easily his most since 2018. There's also the fact that he required surgery in 2022 to repair a stress fracture in his pitching elbow. I love the upside with King, though, so I might be willing to use around a top-100 pick on him even when factoring in the risk.

Brito and Vasquez should also get a chance to compete for spots in the Padres' Opening Day rotation. Vasquez has more swing-and-miss of the two and, thus, I'd probably give him an edge to scratch out some fantasy value in 2024. I'm not sure either guy is mixed-league relevant, though.

Thorpe is a nice get for San Diego and could potentially debut for them at some point in 2024. The 2023 season was the first in pro ball for the 2022 draftee and it was a dominant one, as he collected a 2.52 ERA, 0.93 WHIP and 182:38 K:BB over 139.1 innings between High-A Hudson Valley and Double-A Somerset. Some see Thorpe as more floor than ceiling, but he looks like a good bet to be at least a mid-rotation starter.

Higashioka isn't going to have fantasy value himself, but his acquisition could be good news for Luis Campusano. There had been whispers about the Padres potentially bringing Gary Sanchez back, but Campusano should now be locked in at the top of the catching depth chart with Higashioka backing him up. The former top prospect slashed .319/.356/.491 with seven homers in 174 plate appearances in 2023 and is still just 25.

Kimbrel to Camden

We're all waiting to see which frontline starter the Orioles add to their rotation, but in the meantime they made a big move Wednesday to address the back-end of their bullpen.

Baltimore announced that they have signed Craig Kimbrel to a one-year, $12 million contract with a $13 million club option (or $1 million buyout) for 2025. Kimbrel is expected to take over as the Orioles' closer.

The Orioles, of course, had arguably the game's best closer in 2023, but Felix Bautista underwent Tommy John surgery in October and will miss the duration of the 2024 campaign. The addition of Kimbrel allows the O's to slide a veteran closer into the ninth inning while shifting Yennier Cano back to the setup role he thrived in this season.

Kimbrel's numbers in 2023, on the whole, were excellent, as he posted a 3.26 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 94:28 K:BB over 69 innings of work. Only six full-time relievers totaled more strikeouts than Kimbrel and only nine topped his 33.8 percent strikeout rate.

Kimbrel doesn't throw as hard as he used to, averaging 95.8 mph with his four-seamer in 2023 for the second year in a row. The fastball and knuckle curve remain a terrific 1-2 punch, though, as Kimbrel had a .293 xWOBA and 30.6 percent whiff rate on the four-seamer and .258 xWOBA and 38.2 percent whiff rate on the curveball this season.

Even as the numbers were there in the end for Kimbrel in 2023, the consistency was not. He posted a 5.85 ERA in the first two months of the season and during the last two months he blew four of his nine save opportunities. The 35-year-old made three scoreless appearances during the Wild Card Series and NLDS but then gave up four runs during the NLCS, taking the loss in two of his four outings.

It would be silly to not expect some more bumps in the road at times for Kimbrel in 2024. That's just kind of the deal with him at this point (and with most relievers). The stuff is still there for him to be a nice closer for Baltimore, though, and the save opportunities should be aplenty as part of a club coming off a 101-win season. This is also a ballpark upgrade for Kimbrel with Camden Yards now playing more neutral overall with its cavernous left field. That's especially notable for a guy in Kimbrel who is an extreme flyball pitcher who has had home run issues at times.

E-Rod Lands in Desert

Fresh off a National League pennant, the Diamondbacks made a move Wednesday to fortify their rotation, inking Eduardo Rodriguez to a four-year, $80 million contract, per Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, There's a vesting option and bonuses which could make the deal worth $100 million over five years.

Rodriguez is coming off a nice season with the Tigers, having held a 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 143:48 K:BB over 152.2 innings covering 26 starts. A 4.04 xERA points to some good luck, and the left-hander's velocity has dipped a bit the last two seasons along with his strikeout rate, which came in at 21.3 percent. 

Rodriguez has a pretty deep repertoire, with five pitches ranking at even or positive Run Value per Baseball Savant. The four-seamer and the slider both came in at plus-7, with the slider garnering a 39.5 percent whiff rate in its limited usage. He's also always been good at limiting hard contact, although it was up a tick above average in 2023 at 38.5 percent.

Comerica Park is a great place to pitch, but this move should benefit Rodriguez all things considered. While Chase Field is middle of the pack overall with a Park Factor of 100, per Baseball Savant, it comes in at 84 for home runs. The left-hander will also benefit from a better offense behind him and certainly a better defense, with the Diamondbacks having ranked third in baseball in defensive fWAR.

Quick Hits: Shohei Ohtani is expected to pick a team before the end of the weekend. The Dodgers, Blue Jays, Giants and Angels are the perceived finalists, with most viewing the Dodgers as the front-runners … Yoshinobu Yamamoto met with Mets owner Steve Cohen in Japan last week and is expected to meet with the Yankees on Monday … Jung Hoo Lee is high on the Padres' wish list. San Diego is suddenly in need of outfield help after trading Juan Soto and Trent Grisham … The market for Michael Taylor is heating up, with the Reds, Red Sox and Blue Jays joining the Mets in pursuit … Phil Maton is drawing interest from the Astros and Cardinals, along with eight other teams … Late last night after this article was submitted, the Reds signed Jeimer Candelario. It's a somewhat unexpected destination given Cincinnati's already crowded infield, so the move seemingly pushes Spencer Steer to the outfield and makes a Jonathan India trade more likely ... The Nationals also got in on the late-night action, signing Nick Senzel ...

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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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