MLB’s Top 25 Off-Season Moves for Hitters

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It’s could be an omen when the hype gets flowing.
Right around this time last year Adrian Beltre predicted his team’s latest acquisition would win the MVP award in 2014. The Rangers had just signed Prince Fielder, along with Shin-Soo Choo and Alex Rios to boost the team’s offence. The excitement was palpable. Texas became the most hyped team before Spring Training even got underway. We all pictured Fielder hitting third after Choo and Andrus, with Beltre protecting him in the clean-up spot, and Rios after that. On top of this, half of their games were to be played in the bandbox, whoops, I mean, Ballpark in Arlington, It was a perfect world. Too perfect. Too good to be true. 

We all know what happened next. In short, Ian Kinsler’s wish came true, Texas had their worst season since 1985. They lost Fielder for the year on May 16, but up to that point he had been struggling quite badly, anyway. Fielder owners quickly went from stoked to choked. Choo battled injuries all year long after having a career year in Cincinnati, where he had an .885 OPS and 107 runs – not to mention, 21 HR and 20 SB. Rios had a lacklustre season where it seemed like he was just going through the motions. The pitching staff was hurt by injuries, as well. The team fell apart before they even had a chance to come together. So, what can we take from all of this?

Don’t get too caught up in all the hype. When a perfect storm is brewing with a team’s new acquisitions, it could end up being a s**tstorm. I do remember eyeballing the Rangers new offence with giddiness – it was tough not to – but something told me that it was overhyped. I ended up with no Rangers on any of my fantasy teams. It was part luck, for sure, but sometimes the greatest hyped acquisitions do turn out to be complete flops. It could be an omen when the hype gets flowing. 

“Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”

On the flip side, the more ignored part of a trade – or a star free agent whose team has decided not to resign – is who will fill the empty spot. This “empty spot” is not just who will take his position, but who will fill his spot in the line-up. As Isaac Newton stated in his third law, “Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.”. Lopsided trades notwithstanding, many transactions can be perceived this way. For example, if a team suddenly has a glut of good outfielders, it stands to reason that the eldest fielder with the large contract could be let go. This opens a spot for an up-and-coming player who has already shown signs of out-performing the older, pricier player. And, lest we forget, even if the replacement fielder is mediocre, someone still has to take the departing player’s spot in the line-up.

So, be sure to temper yourself with the following top off-season acquisitions. In some cases it may be better to let your opponents enjoy all of the hype and hope associated with a star acquisition going to new surroundings, while you can zero in on the empty spot on his old team. For each transaction, we will outline how this impacts the old team’s “empty spot”. Remember, there is often a reason, besides money, for which his old team let him go. In Fielder’s case, I guess we’ll find out this year if 2014 was just a one-off fluke. But Beltre remains the better pick for me. After all, he was the one who ended up as the team MVP in the Texas s**tstorm of 2014.


1Josh Donaldson (A’s —> Jays) Perhaps the most surprising acquisition of the off-season. Most would have thought Donaldson untouchable, but those closer knew he fell out of Billy Beane’s favour when he asked for a healthy day off. The A’s have been an offensive powerhouse over the past two years. However, his new line-up and ballpark look even better. On top of this, Donaldson turns 29 on Valentine’s Day. Look for an uptick in home runs and RBI.

Impact on A’s: Their line-up no longer looks like the powerhouse it has been for the last two years. It appears Beane has gone back to the old-style “pitching-first” Athletics team. With Donaldson, Cespedes, Moss, Lowrie and Norris all gone, who is left with any fantasy relevance? Butler and Zobrist, I guess.


2. Justin Upton (Braves —> Padres) San Diego’s new “rockstar” G.M., A. J. Preller, has wasted no time in his attempt to turn the Friars into a contender. With the signings of Kemp, Upton and Will Myers an entire new outfield, and era, has been established. While Kemp will probably hit third, Upton will most likely hit from the clean-up spot with Myers and Gyorko to follow. Upton ends up in a line-up that isn’t too different from Atlanta’s talent wise, so you can expect much of the same numbers from the power hitter.

Impact on the BravesWith the loss of Heyward and Upton, Atlanta appears to be weaker on offense. Expect to see a small dip in the counting stats of their fantasy relevant players.


3. Matt Kemp (Dodgers —> Padres) (see above) Yes, there is some cause for concern here as some amount of arthritis was discovered in Kemp’s knees during his physical with the Padres, but that probably won’t have an immediate impact on 2015, at least. Kemp enjoyed a very good rebound last season

Impact on the DodgersThe once cramped outfield in L.A. is now looking more solidified. Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig will be the biggest benefactors with the loosened log jam. Crawford was platooned often last year, so you can look for him to play more games this season, provided he stays healthy. Ethier may also see more time.


4. Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers —> Red Sox)  The Red Sox are now looking very good on paper, but in reality Ramirez may not be a good fit in the fishbowl at Fenway. It feels like a volatile situation which could go one way or another, depending on how his first month goes. Despite his obvious talent, I suspect if he begins to fall out of favour with the fans and media that we could see his other side. Perhaps Big Papi and Panda, who now have 3 World Series rings each to their credit, can tame Hanley’s immaturity, but it’s a crapshoot.

Impact on the DodgersJimmy Rollins will fill the void left by Hanley in the field, and will likely bat second. Rollins could have a solid season in a fresh environment, after things went a little sour with Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg last year.


5. Yoenis Cespedes (Red Sox —> Tigers) Adds to an already strong and powerful line-up. It’s now a matter of where he fits into the bulging middle. With Cabrera, Victor and J.D. Martinez staying put in the 3-5 spots will Cespedes be happy batting 6th? If so, he’ll still have plenty of opportunities with runners on base. However, 2014 (22 HR and 100 RBI) was probably the ceiling for the 29 yr. old Cuban.

Impact on the BoSoxEven more so than the Dodgers, the Sox needed to clear space in their very crowded outfield, especially with Hanley supposedly moving to left field. They still have 8 outfielders to sort out, so I don’t think they’re finished bargaining yet. Stay tuned.


6. Nelson Cruz (Orioles —> Mariners) After he averaged 29 HR in his last 4 years with New York, Robinson Cano had half that number -14- with Seattle last year after signing a mega-contract. Adrian Beltre spent his prime years (age 26-30) with the Mariners, but averaged just 20 HRs over those 5 years . The year before he was traded to the Mariners he had 48. In the 4 years after the trade Beltre averaged 31 HR. Cruz, who tends to get injured frequently, will prove to be one of the worst value picks in Fantasy Baseball in 2015. 

Impact on the O’s: Baltimore will continue to be an offensive force, but no one will directly benefit by taking Cruz’s spot in the line-up, especially since Chris Davis comes with a big self-imposed question mark. They were good with him and good without him.


7. Dee Gordon (Dodgers —> Marlins) Adds a new balance to the Marlins line-up, as he is the quintessential lead-off hitter. Gordon led the league with 64 SB last year, and missed 14 games. The hype here may overvalue him, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to see him hit the 50 mark this year. And with Yelich and Stanton knocking him in, you can expect 100-plus runs.

Impact on the DodgersL.A. has made big changes, as well. Will Crawford or Puig lead off now? Where do Rollins and Kendrick fit into the line-up, which is now without Hanley and Kemp?


8. Jimmy Rollins (Phils —> Dodgers) The smog of L.A. might breathe new life into the veteran shortstop, after his relationship with Ryne Sandberg and the Phillies went a little sour last year. Unlike Kendrick, the 36 yr. old is coming from a weak line-up, and therefore should see a healthy uptick in runs, especially if he hits in is usual two-spot in front of Adrian Gonzalez.

Impact on the PhilsConsidered to be in rebuilding mode at this point, the Phillies are looking less and less relevant in the fantasy world. It’s kind of meh, who cares, considering who might fill the two-spot at this point, but that may change.


9. Howie Kendrick (Angels —> Dodgers) Why is it so easy to picture Kendrick in Dodger Blue? It’s a smooth crosstown transition for the veteran second baseman, and his numbers shouldn’t get too wrinkled either, as the two L.A. line-ups are equally stacked. Expect much of the same production – decent, but not elite.

Impact on the AngelsNewly acquired Josh Rutledge (or Gordon Beckham) will slip into the vacated second base position, and will hit anywhere from 6th to 8th in the line-up. There’s no big shake-up here, as the top 4 spots in the line-up will not be affected. If healthy, Josh Hamilton could have a comeback in the clean-up spot.


10. Adam Laroche (Nationals —> White Sox) It appears the White Sox are serious about contending with all of their off-season activity, including the signing of Laroche in November. Laroche will probably slot into the clean-up spot behind Jose Abreu. This bodes very well for the veteran in terms of RBI chances, and good pitches to hit. He had 92 RBI in just 140 games for the Nats in 2014. He could play in more games for Chicago, as he is an ideal fit for the DH spot.

Impact on the NatsIs this the chance Tyler Moore has been waiting for, or do the Nats have other plans? He has proven himself in the pitcher friendly International League where he hit 29 HR in 158 games over 3 years. Moore turns 28 this week, so now is the time for him to prove he can be a big league starter.


11. Melky Cabrera (Jays —> White Sox) Cabrera’s rocky journey through the majors continues. The ChiSox will be his 6th team in 7 years. Naturally, newly signed players are shown a little favouritismbecause the better they look, the better the GM looks. In other words, Melky will probably be slotted into the 2-spot in the line-up, sandwiched between on-base machine Adam Eaton and Rookie of the Year, Jose Abreu. If there’s better spots to be in all of baseball, you could count them on one paw. Draft accordingly.

Impact on the JaysMichael Saunders takes Cabrera’s spot in the field. The Jays are counting on him to display untapped potential. He’s not as fantasy-relevant as Melky, but make no mistake, with Josh Donaldson joining the middle of the order the Jays are better on offense.


12. Jason Heyward (Braves —> Cardinals) If the Cards realize what the Braves didn’t – Heyward is not a lead-off hitter – then his tools could be put to better use. Believe it or not, Heyward is still only 25 yrs. old. He’s not yet the player that Hank Aaron imagined him to be, but in an upbeat clubhouse he might shine a little brighter. Fortunately, their are many good outfielders this year. So, you don’t have to take a chance on Heyward, unless he falls out of the first 10 rounds in a 12-team draft.

Impact on the BravesNick Markakis will fill the void in right field and maybe in the lead-off spot, as well. It is highly unlikely that his numbers will improve from the hitter-friendly confines of Camden Yards. Markakis is a number 4 outfielder, at best.


13. Pablo Sandoval (Giants —> Red Sox)  Panda’s general upbeat demeanor is quite the opposite of Hanley’s. Too bad you couldn’t combine his attitude with Hanley’s talent. Panda is all heart, which makes him such a good fit for the post-season. Unfortunately, you have to get there first. The last time he had 80 RBI or more was 2009. Remember, the Sox also acquired him because he’s a very good fielder. This is great for real baseball, but means nothing to us in Fantasy. Even though he is just 28 yrs. old, his OPS has been declining steadily since 2011 – last year’s was .738, which is slightly above the league average.

Impact on the GiantsBrandon Belt could be the biggest benefactor with the loss of Panda, as he most likely moves to the clean-up position. If Belt can stay healthy he could finally have that breakout year. Panda’s replacement at third, Casey McGehee, should have similar numbers to his stint in Miami, where he had 177 hits but only 4 that went over the fence..


14. Ben Zobrist (Rays —> A’s) “Z becomes A” would be the cool headline here, instead it might read “Beane tries for Guiness Record”. It almost seems like he’s just having fun confounding us now. There are a few teams that have undergone major facelifts this year, but nothing quite like the A’s. I’m sure when Sonny Gray shows up at the A’s new and renovated Hohokam Stadium in early March, and looks around at the players on the field, he’ll assume he came to the wrong place. But maybe, if Coco is on the field, instead of the DL, Sonny boy will spot him and think twice about leaving. Okay, onto Zobrist – the 33 yr. old has been a healthy reliable multi-eligible player for 6 straight years. He may fade a tad this year, but that would be more attributed to not playing in front of or behind Longoria (or anyone remotely close to his talent level), than anything else.

Impact on RaysTampa has done less to improve than most teams this off-season. They may be becoming the Padres of the American League.


15. Will Myers (Rays —> Padres) Never really got it going last year at all after having won the Rookie of the Year award in 2013. The injury in late May prevented him from ever recovering. He returned on August 20th and remained “Myred” in a slump right through to the end. In fact, it was a team-wide slump. Almost every bat in the line-up had a down year. His OPS dropped from .831 in 2013 to .614 in 2014. His average OPS throughout the minors was .912. He may not be a phenom in the making, but he’s still a decent value pick for the coming year.

Impact on the Rays Try this one on for size: The Tampa PadRays.


16. Martin Prado (Yankees —> Marlins) At first glance the move to Miami appears to hurt Prado’s Fantasy status. However, along with new faces Dee Gordon and Michael Morse, and existing stars Christian Yelich and, of course, Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins have stepped things up. It now looks like a legitimate and balanced line-up. It will be interesting to see where he is slotted – then you can take it from there.

Impact on the YanksPrado only played 37 games with N.Y., so the impact will be minimal. (see Chase Headley below)


17. Marlon Byrd (Phillies —> Reds) 2015 marks his 9th stint (8th different team) with the Reds. The 37 yr. old hasn’t slowed yet (25 HR/85 RBI), but there’s thousands of late 30s decliners for every Torii Hunter. Even still, I like this move for the Reds, at least for 2015. They could be sneaky good with a healthy Votto, a resurgence from Bruce, and a repeat from Mesoraco and Frazier. If they’re smart, they’ll bump Phillips down in the line-up, which would allow Byrd to hit 5th or 6th.

Impact on the Phillies(See Jimmy Rollins above)


18. Chase Headley (Padres —> Yankees) Okay, technically this already happened, but his sample size with the Yanks was not nearly big enough to determine how he will do over a full year. In 2012 Headley put it all together with 31 HR and 115 RBI. His next highest yearly HR total is 13. That’s a lot of disparity – even more than the disparity between the Padres’ old line-up and Petco, and the Yanks and their home stadium. Let the Yankee fans in your league draft him with subjective hope, as they will overvalue him, anyway. Headley turns 30 in May.

Impact on the PadresYangervis Solarte made a splash last year with 13 RBI in each of the first two months, and then fizzled in the second half. His minor league numbers suggest he won’t be fantasy relevant any time soon, if ever.


19. Brandon Moss (A’s —> Indians) What should we make of the player who was about to become a firefighter before the A’s gave him one more chance to prove himself? Well, he’ll be a good fit for the clubhouse for sure. Expect a lowered HR/RBI total from last year (25/81), as the Tribe have lots of options at 1B and OF. Moss tends not to hit for average – .234 last year.

Impact on the A’s: Billy Beane is confounding us this time around, as we’re looking at a tremendously depleted offense compared to the past two years.


20. Billy Butler (Royals —> A’s) I’m less worried about whether Butler will have a bounce-back season, than I am about his new line-up. One thing is certain, he will not be lacking opportunities. However, he could be lacking RBI opportunities. Butler had been a model of consistency for 5 years with a career .808 OPS. Last year it dropped to .702 in the midst of the Royals quest – unacceptable for a 1B/DH.

 Impact on Royals(see Kendry Morales below)


21. Jedd Lowrie (A’s —> Astros) Heads back to familiar grounds with a less familiar and much improved line-up. Coming off a down year, the 30 yr. old could feed off the building momentum and talent in Houston, and prove to be a valuable late round pick.

Impact on the A’sMarcus Semien will replace Lowrie at short. He has hardly had a chance to establish himself in the Bigs, but did have a .839 OPS throughout the minors. His ceiling is 20/20, but that won’t happen in 2015.


22. Kendrys Morales (Mariners —> Royals) Despite the fantastic year the Royals enjoyed, the one thing the team still missed was power. Acquiring Morales is a step in the right direction. He replaces the HR-challenged Billy Butler, and may climb his way into the clean-up spot if all goes well. Is this finally his big break after his infamous unlucky one in 2009?

Impact on the Mariners: Logan Morrison now has free reign as the 1B, and he showed signs of life with a solid September for the Ms.


23. Jung Ho Kang (Korea —> Pirates) A big foreign investment for the Pirates, who presently do not have a regular spot in the line-up for the power-hitting shortstop. Jody Mercer had a decent year at shortstop, Josh Harrison was spectacular playing all over the field, and Neil Walker had an improved performance at second base. The Pirates believe they can use Kang’s strong arm in the outfield, as well. However, the outfield is even more established than the infield, with McCutchen, Marte and Polanco. The Pirates have stated they have no intention of sending the 27 yr. old to the minors, so keep an eye on this situation as Spring Training proceeds. Never say never.

Impact on KoreaWang will become the pride of Korea with a successful transition to the Majors. Although there are other Korean born players in the MLB, he will become the first position player to come from the Korean Baseball Organization. Can you say media frenzy?


24. Yasmani Grandal (Padres —> Dodgers) How many of you honestly remember who the Dodgers got in the Kemp trade? Dodgers’ fans, maybe. This can work in your favour in Fantasyland, especially if you take my recommendation to wait on the catcher position. Grandal was a big part of the trade, by the way. The 26 yr. old finally has a full season under his belt after injuries and a suspension. He managed 15 HR/49 RBI in 128 GP, and came on in the second half with a .795 OPS after the All-Star break. But perhaps the most important splits to glean are his home/away performances: His OPS at Petco was .698, while away from the hitter’s graveyard it was .758. Oh, and one more thing – he no longer has to face Dodger pitching. The big question mark is how the Dodgers will manage Grandal’s playing time with A. J. Ellis. A hot bat in Spring Training may help Mattingly decide. (Sleeper)

Impact on Padres(see below)  


25. Derek Norris (A’s —> Padres) Will most likely hit in the 7th or 8th spot with San Diego’s beefed up line-up. Norris has decent pop with an above average OPS for catchers. Look for the 26 yr. old to have his best year to date in his transition to the National League. (Sleeper)

Impact on the A’sImpact is the word, or lack thereof, as far as Fantasy is concerned with Oakland.


25. Dexter Fowler (Astros —> Cubs) One final piece added to the new-look Cubs, and it could prove to be a vital one. Fowler will be their lead-off hitter and a veteran presence in a young talented line-up. However, because of all the attention the Cubs are getting this year, he may become overvalued. His career .786 OPS is decent enough, but his durability is questionable, as he played in just 119 games in 2013 and 116 last year. 

Impact on AstrosDoes Altuve now start the season in the lead-off spot, or do the Astros have a different plan. Regardless, Springer and Carter will continue to knock him in, which gives the 2014 hits leader a good chance at 100-plus runs and 40-plus steals this season. 


Watch for Part II of Caveball’s “Top Off-Season Moves – Arms”, which reviews the top pitcher acquisitions over the Winter. Comes out Monday.

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