What are the fantasy implications of the Jason Heyward-Shelby Miller trade and the Blue Jays' signing of Russell Martin?
We had our first big day of the offseason on Monday, with the details breaking on Giancarlo Stanton’s enormous new contract, a blockbuster trade (Atlanta’s Jason Heyward traded to St. Louis), and a surprise free agent acquisition (Russell Martin signing with the Blue Jays). We know what to expect from Stanton in Miami (homers, and lots of them), but what about the three old faces in new places?
The Braves and Cardinals pulled off an unexpected trade of young players who have disappointed in recent seasons. Heyward, who never quite lived up to the hype of his rookie season, will now call St. Louis home after Atlanta sent him, along with Jordan Walden, to the Cardinals for Shelby Miller and minor league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins.
There isn’t too much fantasy impact from this trade. Heyward has been better on the road than at Turner Field in his career (.265/.357/.442 against .259/.346/.416), but he’s hitting just .234/.321/.383 in 53 plate appearances at Busch Stadium. He could benefit from a change of scenery as much as anything, as he seemed to have stagnated, at least offensively, in Atlanta.
The Cardinals got themselves a great defensive outfielder, but questions surround Heyward’s offensive production. His power all but abandoned him last season when he hit just 11 home runs in 649 plate appearances. His isolated slugging dipped all the way to .113 while his home run/fly ball rate fell to a career-worst 6.5 percent. Busch Stadium is slightly more favorable to left-handed hitters than Turner Field, but it would be foolish to expect Heyward to experience a spike in his power based on the move. He still had a 45.5-percent ground-ball rate last season, and is near 50 percent for his career.
Heyward did post a career-best 15.1-percent strikeout rate last season, and that could play well in his new environment. He’s surrounded by a much better offense in St. Louis than he was in Atlanta last season. If he can compile an OBP in the neighborhood of .350, he should get a boost in runs and RBI. Heyward retains the same value as players like Christian Yelich and Starling Marte, somewhere between Nos. 20-25.
Miller’s problems last year went far beyond team context. His curveball, which he throws about one-fifth of the time and had been a plus pitch for him in 2013, according to FanGraphs pitch values, was a negative offering for him last season. In fact, only Miller’s fastball received a positive grade in 2014. In addition to the curveball, his cutter and changeup cost him runs last season.
There is still reason to be optimistic about Miller, regardless of where he is pitching. He’s entering his age-25 season and his average fastball checks in at just shy of 94 mph. Throwing hard isn’t everything, but it certainly helps. Turner Field plays a little better to pitchers than Busch Stadium, but not enough to markedly alter Miller’s fantasy value. If he’s ever going to realize his immense potential, he’ll have to cut down on walks. He had a .256 BABIP last year, which helped offset a 9.6-percent walk rate. He can’t count on being that lucky next season.
The big winners of the trade may be a few of the players left behind. The Cardinals lost a starter and gained a reliever. That makes it a whole lot more likely that Carlos Martinez will break spring training in the starting rotation. Evan Gattis, meanwhile, is now penciled in as the regular left fielder in Atlanta, though he still has catcher eligibility in fantasy leagues. He had 22 homers last season, but was able to play just 108 games due to injury and necessary rest days. Both of those should decrease if he’s not behind the plate as often as he was in 2013.
Martin spurns Cubs, returns home
Many in the baseball world figured Martin would be the first big coup of the offseason for Theo Epstein and the Cubs, but sometimes it’s hard to resist coming home. Oh, and $82 million spread over five years doesn’t hurt, either.
That’s what Martin will get from the Blue Jays after he and the team agreed to a deal on Monday. Catcher didn’t seem like a position of need for the Blue Jays, but they went out and got the best one available in the free agent market. The move north to Toronto lands Martin on the fantasy radar for 2015.
Martin slashed .290/.402/.430 in 460 plate appearances with the Pirates last season. He was aided by an unsustainable .336 BABIP, though it must be said that his 19.3-percent line-drive rate was respectable. The main reason this is an upgrade for him, though, is due to the change in home parks. PNC Park is notoriously tough on right-handed power, and Martin hit just three of his 11 homers last year in Pittsburgh. He did slug .474 at home, but PNC’s gaps helped him produce 14 doubles. The Rogers Centre, on the other hand, is one of the friendliest parks for power from the right side of the plate. Martin isn’t going to hit 20 homers all of a sudden, but he should get into the 15-to-17 range. That should make him a top-15 catcher.
The Cubs coveted Martin’s defensive skill set just as much as his offensive one, and he’ll bring that superb pitch-framing ability with him to Toronto. This signing is a boon for all of the Blue Jays’ pitchers, especially R.A. Dickey. According to baseballsavant.com, Dickey got called strikes on the corners on 8.4 percent of his pitches last year, down nearly 4.5 percent from the previous season. With an unwieldy pitch like Dickey’s knuckleball, he needs all the framing help he can get.