Fantasy Implications: Sale, Melancon, Thornburg, Hill, Benoit

We are cooking now!! The Winter Meetings often kick the Hot Stove into high gear and even with a light free agent market, we are officially on fire. It became obvious over the summer that the trades were going to drive this market and that’s coming to fruition with heavy rumors that include superstars and then a huge blockbuster today that likely won’t be topped the rest of the way even if some of those other starts move.


Remember, you can follow the Hot Stove Implications tag for all of the pieces throughout the winter as Jeff Zimmerman and I will keep you up to date on the market.

White Sox trade Chris Sale to Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz

The Red Sox scooped an ace lefty for the second straight offseason and this one might be even better – which is saying something because David Price is awesome (yes, even after his wonky debut season in Boston). Sale can succeed anywhere so I’m not sure park factors and stuff like that is going to move the needle much one way or another.

It’s worth noting that his overall home run park factor improves in Fenway, but he might not get full benefit of it because the gains are mostly against lefties, who he already absolutely suffocates. He did allow five homers to lefties this past season, after allowing just three in his career prior to 2016. Bullpen and lineup support improves in Boston, too, and could aid Sale to setting a new career-high in wins (17, twice).

The biggest gain for Sale is actually going to come behind the plate, though.

Go here and hit Ctrl-F “White Sox”. Their highest guy is in the negative and the further you go down the list, the more playing time those guys had. Now go Ctrl-F “Red Sox” and see the difference. Yes, Sandy Leon was the most-played catcher and he drew a negative, but he was still ahead of the two highest volume guys in Chicago, Dioner Navarro and Alex Avila. So as Petriello suggests, there’s no way it’s not an improvement for Sale.

All of that said, I’m not sure there is much change to his fantasy value. He was already very much in the mix to go after Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer. I’m not sure this move catapults him ahead of Scherzer for me.

Going back to Chicago are the 1, 5, 8, and 28 ranked Red Sox prospects according to and 2, 6, 10, and unranked according to Dan Farnsworth’s list from last January. The White Sox have languished in the bottom five of organizational prospect rankings for the last several years so this is a much needed massive jolt to the system. Moncada, Kopech, and Basabe will instantly become top five prospects for the Sox with the former two no doubt topping their list.

Moncada got a brief, meaningless 20 PA taste in the majors this year and went 4-for-19 with a walk and 12 strikeouts. Heading into his age-22 season on a team not expected to compete means he will almost certainly head to Triple-A to start the season, a level he skipped after just 45 games in Double-A.

He will likely be drafted in some leagues, but I’d temper expectations regarding 2017 MLB impact. I could see him pushing his way up midseason if he crushes in Triple-A, but there just isn’t an impetus for the White Sox to call him up right away, especially since the trading of Sale is likely not their last move this offseason. He remains a great dynasty piece, who could be delivering substantial value as soon as 2018 if he continues on his current trajectory.

Kopech’s timeline is probably about a half-season longer than Moncada’s, putting him on target for the middle of 2018. The hard-throwing righty made noise this year with a pitch clocked at 105 MPH and while it was likely on a hot gun, no one disputes his ability to regularly touch 100 MPH. His timeline has been stunted by some self-inflicted wounds as I highlighted when I fake-dealt him to Detroit earlier this offseason, but I’m not sure there’s much he could do to speed up his timetable for legitimate fantasy impact. If he keeps his head on straight, this is a frontline arm.

I’m not even going to pretend to know anything about Basabe and Diaz, so please read Eric Longenhagen on those two (and for more on the two principle pieces).

Brewers trade Tyler Thornburg to Red Sox for Travis Shaw plus minor leaguers Mauricio Dubon and Josh Pennington

Do you have those pitchers you always think are lefties? Or maybe you have a lefty you always wrongly place as a righty? Thornburg is one such pitcher for me. I consistently mistake him for a lefty and I guess it could be because he emerged along with Will Smith in that Milwaukee pen, but I never forget Smith is a lefty. Anyway, Thornburg had shown flashes of being a quality late-inning reliever for years before finally putting it all together in 2016. The Red Sox got a nice piece here.

He experienced a jump in velocity (94.1 MPH avg. fastball) and saw both of his secondary pitches surge in swinging strike rate, yielding a career-high 12% SwStr rate en route to a 34% strikeout rate (also a career-high), good for 11th among qualified relievers. His consistently high flyball rates became a weapon as he turned a career-high 15% infield flyball rate into a 7% pop-up rate, also 11th-best.

The curveball/changeup combo has left him immune to normal platoon issues (maybe that’s why I associate him as a lefty in my head) and this year’s fastball improvements were key in his career-best .635 OPS against righties. He’s not going to push Craig Kimbrel out of his role, but he showed he can handle the role if necessary with a 1.85 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 31 Ks in 24.3 IP in role over the final two months of 2016. He’ll assume the 8th inning role and if the strikeout gains hold, he has some AL-only value as a $1 arm.

When this trade happened, we all assumed the move of Shaw opened the door for Moncada to start at third, but of course he was dealt hours later which seems to suggest that our old friend Pablo Sandoval will get another chance to succeed in Boston. I’m kind of intrigued by Panda as a super-cheap late round/low dollar pick. I think even the most glowing Spring Training reports will only push his value so high. A large contingent of fantasy players have simply quit on Sandoval. He’ll be 30 in 2017, there’s still some life in that bat.

Speaking of Shaw, he heads out to Milwaukee to become their primary third baseman, shifting Jonathan Villar to second and Scooter Gennett into a bench bat role. Shaw looks like a platoon bat, though. He did decimate lefties in his 2015 MLB debut, but it was 85 PA and spurred by a .368 BABIP. He was at the other end of the spectrum in 2016 with a .219 BABIP in 115 PA vs. lefties. Plus, they have Hernan Perez as a platoon partner for Shaw.

Even as a platoon player, Shaw gets a value boost here. He moves from a park that heavily stifles lefty homers (76 HR park factor) to one of the very best in the league (136 for Miller Park). He still had a great .216 ISO at home despite Fenway’s power-stifling ways, so that really bodes well for him in Miller Park.

He has struggled a lot on the road with .656 OPS. I don’t know if he just doesn’t hit on the road or if it was specific to the AL Beast. A quick look suggests mixed results with an .805 at Rogers Centre, .800 at Yankee Stadium, .689 at Tropicana Field, and .519 at Camden Yards. He hit well at two of the friendlier environments, but that’s not the only thing because Camden is a great place to hit and they smoked him. I’m interested in him as a corner infielder mostly, or maybe a starting 3B if I wait on the positon in NL-Only.

Check out Chris Mitchell projecting Dubon and Pennington using his KATOH system. I also fake-dealt Dubon in the Kopech deal and wrote what little I know of him there, but Carson Cistulli likes to pretend to know stuff so check him out on Dubon, too.

Mark Melancon signs a 4-year/$62 million dollar deal with San Francisco Giants

In Melancon, the Giants got the closer with the third-most saves since 2013 (147), behind only Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen. While I thought they’d go for the top of the market (Aroldis Chapman or the aforementioned Jansen), Melancon is such a Giants closer it’s not even funny.

Look at how he stacks up against their two closers since 2013. He has the lowest strikeout rate of the group, but also the lowest walk and home run rates with the highest groundball rate by a substantial margin. He does get plenty of weak contact to succeed, but his 12% swinging strike rate isn’t bad. It’s just above the 11% average for relievers and he has put up a 24-26% strikeout rate in three of the last four seasons.

It’s a good move for the Giants and I expect Melancon to be really successful this year, but I’m not sure there’s much change to his bottom line fantasy value. He remains a second closer after the super-strikeout studs atop the ranks.

Rich Hill re-signs a 3-year/$48 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers

I just don’t have a ton of analysis here. Re-signings are like that, but Hill in particular is just such a huge wildcard because we have no idea what kind of innings total we’re going to get from the injury-riddled 37 year old. I don’t think you realistically plan for more than the 110 innings we saw this past season. And if you don’t play in a league with flexible roster rules, you shouldn’t even bother.

Now he did manage a $20 season in those 110 innings because he’s so good when he does pitch, but this health track record would be scary on a 27-year old, let alone a guy 10 years older. Just be careful. Team construction is super important with a player like this.

Joaquin Benoit signs a 1-year/$7.5 million dollar deal with the Philadelphia Phillies

I haven’t seen it stated explicitly, but it looks like Benoit will be brought in to close for the Phillies. The 39-year old righty had a topsy-turvy season. He had an influx of walks and homers in his 24.3 IP with Seattle en route to a 5.18 ERA. The walks went down and he allowed just one homer after being traded to Toronto and gave them 23.7 IP of a 0.38 ERA before season ended when he got hurt during a brawl. It really showed the volatility of small samples for relievers (and why you shouldn’t fight).

Benoit has quietly been an elite reliever since returning from injury in 2010. He’s 6th in ERA (2.40) and WHIP (0.98) and 11th in both strikeout (28%) and K-BB (20%) rates among 61 qualified relievers with at least 300 IP since 2010. His SwStr% was at three-year low this past season, but still a healthy 14%. If he Jeanmar Gomez can pop 37 saves, I think Benoit can at least match that on a Phillies team that should be even a little better than the 71-win iteration we just saw.

While I like him more than Gomez, I’m not sure I can really get him too much higher in the closer rankings. He’s somewhere in the 22-26 range if he does in fact get named in the role. I’d slot Benoit ahead of the Arizona, Atlanta, Minnesota, Angels, San Diego and Texas situations for sure – at least as they sit right now.


Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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5 years ago

White Sox 2016 OF DRS: -2
Red Sox 2016 OF DRS: 42