How are you handling unsigned free agents in fantasy baseball, which fantasy-relevant player yet to sign worries you most?
Tristan H. Cockcroft: The Hot Stove season is officially upon us. Wait, what, it’s mid-February?!
We are now 18 days away from the first of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) "only"-league drafts, and the realization has dawned upon all of us: We’re highly likely to commence those drafts, in which free agents are eligible but must be instantly released to the league free-agent pool if they sign in the other league, with at least one fantasy-relevant — or let’s say "unquestionably roster-worthy in fantasy" — player still seeking employment for the 2018 season.
In such an AL- or NL-only league, a free agent would inevitably suffer a drop in draft-day value, substantial in the most extreme cases because of the great — and at minimum 50/50 — chance of losing the player (and the draft resources you spend to acquire him) entirely. In such a league where you can retain the player’s services regardless of where he winds up, or in mixed leagues, the impact is less significant … well, for now.
The problem with role uncertainty for these players at this late stage is that for each day that passes, teams grow increasingly likely to make critical decisions on 2018 regular-season roles, closing doors that for these players might once have been open. By mid-March, the only opportunities available might be those created by unexpected injuries to other players, situations that might not provide as much job security as others. The lesser the name, the greater the chance he’ll have to settle for a sub-par situation.
Expect to see the remaining free agents slowly trickle down my rankings as the coming weeks pass, with the most highly regarded — players like J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer — falling most slowly due to the still extremely high likelihood they’ll land premium roles, and the lower-ranked players in danger of plummeting by full rounds or greater. And again, while my rankings cover mixed, AL- and NL-only, the effect in the "only" leagues has the potential to be more severe than the rankings numbers.
Among the remaining free agents, of which more than 30 remain in either my top 300 or positional rankings, which one concerns me the most?
That’d be Greg Holland by far, because of how much saves fuel his fantasy value coupled with the dwindling prospects he’ll land a promise of a closer role. My No. 15 relief pitcher today, he has top-10 fantasy skills at his position if he’s guaranteed a gig, which might now only be realistic with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers or Los Angeles Angels, all of whom have incumbents who stake just as strong claims to their roles. In the event Holland must settle for a setup role, he’d be a top-35 option at best. To illustrate, if we take even 30 saves off his 2017 total of 41, he’d have gone from the No. 10 to merely the No. 55 pure relief pitcher (scratching the pure starters with relief eligibility) on our Player Rater.
Eric Karabell: Whether one blames the players, agents, owners, global warming, Alex Rodriguez or some combination of these mighty entities, fantasy managers really should not be worried in mid-February. It would be quite surprising if Martinez, Hosmer and Jake Arrieta were still looking for work in a month. As a result, those with fantasy drafts any time in the near future should presume selecting top-150 options with relative confidence, and those rostering these options in keeper/dynasty formats should not panic. Sure, Arrieta could be worth a bit more — or less — depending on eventual home venue, but in general, top players always find jobs. There is a market for these fellows and many others but this winter it will take a bit more time.
The unsigned player to worry about for fantasy value is former Royals and Rockies closer Holland, for his role is obviously team-dependent. When third baseman Mike Moustakas finds work, he will hit somewhere in a lineup and play third base. Holland might or might not earn saves. In fact, at this point he might need to wait until a current closer suffers an injury and forces a team to panic. That does not mean Holland is not worth what he desires; the market bears the value. It is just becoming a bit tougher to envision Holland repeating his 2017 value — specifically in saves — as time goes on, so that will be reflected in rankings.
AJ Mass: For most free agents, at this stage of the game, it’s all a matter of timing, and even after it seems that all of the best opportunities (in terms of playing time) get filled either by internal options or other signings, a player might well "luck into" an even better job due to an unexpected injury that forces a team to open up the checkbook.
That’s why I absolutely preach holding your drafts as close to Opening Day as possible, so that even in a glacially slow offseason like this one has been, you allow for the player carousel to come to a complete stop before attempting to make your personnel decisions for the fantasy season.
That said, I do have concerns with one free agent in particular, and that’s Eric Hosmer. In most years, I wouldn’t really care all that much about negotiation details and the identity of the agent representing a particular player. However, in 2018’s "chilly" offseason, the fact that Scott Boras represents Hosmer, Arrieta and Martinez — the three biggest names left on the board — means that we could be in for a lengthy standoff that ends up keeping the trio in limbo, and potentially into April.
Personally, I think Hosmer got his free agency at just the right time for him, coming off a career-best .318 BA and a second-straight season of 25 home runs. I think one of those things will have to give. He can’t continue to both have that kind of power and hit for average.
He’s maxed out his home run potential in Kansas City — a ballpark that ranks No. 22 in Park Factor for runs scored and No. 27 in home runs. Look no further than last season’s career-high HR/FB rate of 22.5 percent from Hosmer on a career-low 22.2 FB%. If he stays at Kauffman Stadium in 2018 (where his HR/FB rate was 27.1 percent, well above his career 13.8 percent at home), the power will drop.
If he ends up taking a deal with the San Diego Padres, things get even more dire for his slugging potential. Petco Park isn’t exactly a hitter’s paradise, ranked No. 29 in both runs scored and home runs on Park Factor, not to mention a huge expected decline in the doubles department — Petco is No. 26 in doubles, compared to Kauffman’s No. 11 rank in that category. Unless some other club enters the fray and gives Hosmer a better hitter’s home for the upcoming season, I’m very wary about his chances at being a solid top-10 1B option for 2018.