PT TODAY: Pre-Winter Meetings Edition

A lot can happen in the (almost) four months between now and Opening Day, especially now at a time when almost anything seems possible. But players have already begun to change team via signings and trades--and this week’s December 2 contract tender deadline has also forced some tough calls on a few MLB organizations. Sunday December 8 marks the beginning of the MLB Winter Meetings—a week-long gathering that always fuels at least a mild uptick in off-season activity and usually more.

With some keeper leagues already in active off-season and even single-season owners beginning to plan their drafts, we take a brief look at some of the more interesting and consequential off-season player movement to dateas well as some of their foreseeable ripple effects as of Tuesday December 3. [Ed.—As such, analysis of the Hamels, Wheeler and Bundy moves (and anything after) will be covered in a future edition of PT TODAY.]

CHW gets Grandal ... Yasmani Grandal has cashed in on a fine 2019 with MIL (28 HR, .848 OPS over 513 AB) by inking a huge 4-year deal with the White Sox. The switch-hitting Grandal's power shouldn't take much of a hit if any with the move to Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, where his excellence as a pitch-framer should assist a relatively young CHW pitching staff. 

The move points to a reduced role for James McCann, who caught most of the 2019 White Sox innings and responded with a career-best .273/.328/.460 season that included 18 HR in 439 AB. The financial commitment to Grandal suggests that McCann now becomes trade-baitor perhaps not, if the early comments from the organization can be believed. CHW also regards McCann as a plus behind the plate, and the two catchers could be utilized and preserved by AB from the DH and 1B spots. At the very least in two-catcher fantasy formats, McCann still looks relevant for now.

CIN's new 2B ... looks like Mike Moustakas, following his agreement to a 4-year $64M contract. The Reds' 3B spot is already spoken for by Eugenio Suarez, leaving Moustakas to take over a 2B spot that was rotated among more than a few names in 2019. With 101 HR over the past three seasons and now a move now to an even more extreme HR park, expect more of the same from Moustakas.

Rotation-challenged Rangers add an SP ... in the form of free agent Kyle Gibson, who they've signed to a three-year, $30M deal. Gibson projects to slot in behind Lance Lynn and Mike Minor as the #3 starter, allowing at least some of the inexperienced TEX arms behind these three names more seasoning in the high minors. Leaving Target Field doesn't favor Gibson, who struggled with HR while posting a 4.84/4.08 ERA/xERA through 160 IP for MIN in 2019. His healthy arm, a solid 50%-ish GB% and a career-best 9.0 Dom/13.4 SwK make signing understandable for the Rangers, but Gibson is strictly a low-upside fantasy rotation flyer.

Padres get busy ... San Diego touched off the trading season by sending LHP Eric Lauer and middle infielder Luis Urias to the Brewers for OF Trent Grisham and SP Zach Davies. The unproven 23-year-old Grisham (.231 BA, 6 HR in his 156 AB MLB debut) projects to fight for time in what still looks like a crowded OF both at the MLB level and organizationally, though he'll likely need at least more Triple-A seasoning. The experienced Davies rebounded in 2019 to outpitch his peripherals, as suggested by a 3.55/5.30 ERA/xERA and 5.7 Dom. Under club control for the next two years, Davies takes Lauer's place at the back of the SD rotation. The home venue change is obviously a plus, though Davies' overall numbers suggest little upside with plenty of risk.

In what currently seems like an obvious 2B replacement for Urias and woeful Ian Kinsler, the Padres acquired Jurickson Profar from OAK. The once-highly-touted Profar slumped badly last year, hitting just .218 despite 20 HR, a .277 xBA and decent plate skills that included a 9% bb%, 84% ct% and 109 HctX—all of which ticked upward over the final two months. Bad luck and a .192 BA vR plagued the switch-hitting Profar, who never adjusted to the extreme shifts he faced as a LHB. Now in his final season under club control, Profar may not be around too long in an organization with plenty of legit MI talent at the lower levels but his peripherals and 2020 playing time opportunity can't be ignored.

SD also signed Drew Pomeranz, who after being torched as a starter for a year-and-a-half suddenly looked reborn out of the bullpen in the 2H, posting a 50/8 K/BB and 1.88 ERA over 29 IP as a reliever. This is a small sample and relievers are a hyper-volatile bunch, but Pomeranz's velocity surged at the end of 2019, and the Padres believed in him enough to to fork over a guaranteed $34M over four years. For now, Pomeranz is ticketed for more high-leverage multi-inning bullpen work. 

Questions in MIL ... Grandal's departure leaves the Brewers searching for a starting catcher this winter, and this is just the beginning of their questions. Continued plate struggles from SS Orlando Arcia (.633 OPS over 494 AB) leave his promising 2017 performance a distant memory—though he's still just 25 years old and a fine defender. 2B Keston Hiura's bat will play, but his defense could turn into a problem. All of this went into the thinking behind the acquisition of Urias, a 23-year-old middle-infielder with a solid minor league pedigree / hit tool, as well as  time to develop. But Urias' .655 OPS over 215 AB in 2019 says he still has plenty to prove—and he may be stretched as a SS. Adding to the infield uncertainty is the free agency defection of Moustakas that leaves MIL without an obvious 3B candidate. Stay tuned.

Though new acquisition Lauer didn't have pronounced 2019 HR issues, he's without a GB tilt and now moves to a more HR-friendly home venue. He ate plenty of innings in SD, but a 4.45/4.83 ERA/xERA (150 IP) suggests that he's not a lock to take over Davies' vacated spot, and that he'll be challenged by plenty of other candidates at the back of the Brewers' rotation.  

The open 2B slot in OAK ... Profar's departure had been anticipated, and OAK has no shortage of internal replacement candidates. Franklin Barreto lost his once-promising HR stroke and again struggled with MLB pitch recognition issues in 2019—but he's still just 24 years old with power, speed and pedigree that usually don't just disappear overnight. Barreto is out of minor league options, as is prospect Jorge Mateo, who posted an .834 OPS (19 HR, 24 SB) over 532 Triple-A AB last year. Rookie Sheldon Neuse (.939 OPS over 498 Triple-A AB) saw time at 2B near the end of the season; the A's could also turn to more experienced utility Chad Pinder. And they could add another 2B option or two from a deep free agent list. Again, to be continued.

Also in OAK, keep an eye on rookie catcher Austin Allen, a surprisingly decent return from SD for Profar. Superfluous with the Padres as a catcher, Allen is a left-handed hitting prospect with decent power (65 HR over the past three seasons between A+ and AAA) and a career .296 minor league BA. He's reportedly improved behind the plate, and now in the AL has a chance to catch on as a backup catcher/DH/1B type following the A's non-tendering of Josh Phegley.

ATL stocks up on relievers ... The Braves have already signed free agent (and ex-SF closer) Will Smith to 3yr/$39M plus option deal, along with Darren O’Day and re-upping Chris Martin, which gives them in a deep bullpen with plenty of high-leverage options. They project to enter 2020 with four RPs accumulating at least 12 saves each last year. This includes Mark Melancon (3.61/3.25 ERA/xERA, 12 saves over 65 IP), who ran with the closer role late last year and will reportedly retain that role to begin 2020. That said, Smith's recent brilliance suggest that he's a better ninth-inning bet over the long haul. Meanwhile as the rich get richer, a severely challenged and rebuilding SF club will be looking for late-inning bullpen options. 

SEA locks up Evan White ...  and given that he hasn't yet had an MLB AB, some might be wondering why, or even who he is. In the wake of the Mariners' 1B uncertainty, we began pointing to White's emerging opportunity last season in our Playing Time Tomorrow space. A 2017 1st-round pick, the 23-year-old White has solid plate skills and his power took a step forward in 2019 (18 HR over 365 AB at AA-Arkansas) despite playing in one of the minors' most HR-suffocating parks. He runs well and per more than a few observers is the best defensive 1B in the high minors. Now inked to a 6-year, $24M contract with three additional club options, White looks like a lock for a 2020 MLB debut—perhaps as early as Opening Day—on a rebuilding SEA club, where he has the upside of an everyday regular.

MIA bolsters lineup with waiver claims... foremost the acquisition Jon Villar, who was let go by rebuilding BAL due primarily to a projected $10M arbitration salary—not because the Orioles have obvious less expensive in-house 2B/SS solutions. The switch-hitting Villar has been a huge plus offensively for several years now, particularly fantasy-wise, as suggested by his .274 BA, 24 HR, 40 SB performance in 2019. He also brings some defensive versatility (not excellence) to a club with plenty of questions, suggesting his position in MIA isn't yet etched in stone. Similarly, right-handed-hitting Jesus Aguilar was claimed and should get a chance to rebound from a poor year following a breakthrough 2018. He projects to battle right-handed-hitting Garrett Cooper for 1B AB. Both players should get plenty of opportunity as the rebuilding Marlins will likely try to flip them in-season.

And a flurry of notable non-tenders...  Some legitimate right-handed power was injected into the free agent market when both 1B C.J. Cron and OF Domingo Santana were released by MIN and SEA, respectively. Both players had big 1Hs prior to struggling badly during injury-fueled 2Hs that left them with replacement-level numbers. Both players were due arbitration raises from their organizations—and they'll now find opportunity elsewhere at lesser salaries. In the wake of Cron's departure, the competitive Twins will decided on whether to go with a less expensive free agent sign at 1B, or whether to move Miguel Sano across the diamond and attempt to sign one of the premium 3B names currently available. Minus the same win-now pressure, the rebuilding Mariners will construct its 2020 OF on the fly from inexperienced rookies. Names like Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis and utility Shed Long all currently look like beneficiaries of Santana's departure.

Similar to Santana in SEA, OF Kevin Pillar wasn't going to be part of the next SF winning club. Faced with Pillar's $10M salary projection, the Giants decided that his .287 OBP (3% bb%) overrode the 21 HR / 14 SB that made him valuable in the fantasy game, adding his name to this past week's non-tender pile. Pillar will catch on elsewhere; who will get most of the Giants' CF AB in 2020 is anyone's guess, though LF Mike Yastrzemski and Steven Dugger look like the current candidates.

PHI began its infield rebuild with the non-tendering of 2B Cesar Hernandez and out-of-favor 3B Maikel Franco. As with most competitive clubs, the Phillies have too many options both internally and on the free agent market to assess now how this might look on Opening Day. But watch where these names land, particularly Hernandez, a BA plus and consistent $18 earner over the past four seasons, fueled by durability and counting stats despite sub-par power.  

Among other pedigreed position players non-tendered this past week were Addison Russell, Steven Souza, Jose Peraza and Travis Shaw. Pitchers included Kevin Gausman, Jimmy Nelson, Aaron Sanchez, Blake Treinen and Taijuan Walker. All of these names struggled with some combination of poor performance, injuries and even off-field issues, but all showed MLB skills not that long ago and are young enough for rebound potential with a scenery change. Someone from this group will likely rise from the dead in 2020. 


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.