Hot Stove Implications: Atlanta Turns Up the Heat

It’s been a chilly offseason thus far, even with the big James Paxton trade last week, but the Braves have singlehandedly helped spark the hot stove with a couple big moves on Monday. Let’s take a look at the fantasy fallout from the latest set of moves:

Nationals Sign Kurt Suzuki

This is actually a return for Suzuki as he spent part of 2012 and 2013 with them, though you might’ve missed it given his meager .239/.297/.344 line with the larger sample in ’13 netting just a 57 wRC+ in 79 games. He meandered his way through three mediocre seasons in Minnesota (86 wRC+) before landing in Atlanta where he enjoyed a mid-30s surge. He put up the best work of his career with a robust 116 wRC+, 31 HR, and 100 RBI in 697 PA in a dynamic platoon with Tyler Flowers.

Among the 35 catchers with at least 500 PA over the last two seasons, he’s tied for 3rd in wRC+ with J.T. Realmuto and sits 7th in WAR with a 4.6 mark. His .485 SLG is actually best at the position and he’s done it with a fantastic 12% K rate (tied with Buster Posey for 1st). His ability to add this big-time power while maintain his awesome contact rate has been especially impressive. His exit velo hasn’t really changed at all, but his launch angle is up to 18 degrees each of the last two seasons after sitting at 13 and 15 in 2015 and 2016, respectively.

The Nationals won’t ask Suzuki to be a full-time starter. That said, he will likely exceed his PA counts of the last two seasons (309, 388) as he will undoubtedly own all the time against lefties while getting a fair number of starts against righties as well. The question will be whether they put Spencer Kieboom in that backup role or make another move, maybe for a lefty backstop who can spell Suzuki against his weaker side. I had Suzuki as a top 15 catcher coming into the winter and this move doesn’t really move him up for me.

Rays DFA C.J. Cron, Twins pick him up

In a move reminiscent of last year’s Corey Dickerson DFA, the Rays have once again moved on from a player coming off a particularly strong season for them. This one makes a little more sense as solid pop at 1B just isn’t that hard to find. Cron had a career year in his Tampa Bay debut, popping 30 HR with a 122 wRC+ in 560 PA. He was slated to make about $5 million in 2019 and with 40-man rosters due, the Rays favored the roster spot and saving that cash instead of sticking with Cron.

The Twins claimed Cron, but I’ll get back to that in a second. First, let’s discuss the fallout in Tampa Bay. This clears the path for Jake Bauers to have as much playing time as he can handle at first base. He had some ups and downs in his 388 PA debut, hitting .201/.316/.384 with 11 HR and 6 SB (in 12 tries). His fantastic minor league plate discipline was present in the debut with a 14% BB rate, but his 27% K rate was the worst we’ve ever seen from him as a pro (17% MiLB rate).

As we’ve seen regularly of late, Bauers saw his power jump at the major league level with a .183 ISO and he could push the upper-teens in a full season next year with double-digit SBs. He’s a strong target in OBP leagues and a worthy CI/UT option in AVG leagues. I expect him to whittle down that strikeout rate closer to his minor league rate and with that push his AVG up closer toward the .250-.260 range.

This also improves the stock of Ji-Man Choi. He should get regular DH playing time against righties. He feasted on righties in 2018, especially with Tampa Bay. He had a .289/.387/.535 line against them with 7 HR in 168 PA with the Rays. Cron and Choi would’ve made a great platoon, but the Rays aren’t in a position to pay $5 million for a weakside platoon DH. Choi is an AL-only play primarily, but could be worth a late pick in something like the NFBC’s 50 round Draft & Hold format, too.

Back to Cron in Minnesota. He’s at least the first part of replacing Joe Mauer, if not the full solution. Cron still had a useful 110 wRC+ against righties last year, which was 14th among qualified 1B. He has a 111 against them for his career so the Twins don’t need to platoon him. Cron’s arrival likely cuts into the playing time of Tyler Austin, who made some noise with 9 HR in 136 PA after being traded to Minnesota. Cron and Austin are both righties so there isn’t a natural platoon fit.

Braves sign Brian McCann and Josh Donaldson

Atlanta brought back their former star backstop on a one year deal for $2 million dollars. He’s coming off the worst year of his career (82 wRC+) and knee issues played a role in limiting him to just 63 games. Ideally, he’ll be their primary guy against righties, but health will obviously determine how much playing time McCann gets. Even including 2018’s ugliness, McCann is still 11th among catchers in wRC+ against righties at 102, but if you lop off 2018, he jumps to 9th with a 106 mark.

Tyler Flowers couldn’t replicate his 2017 success against righties (116 wRC+) with a putrid 49 wRC+, but he continued to smack lefties around with a 203 mark in 88 PA. McCann isn’t a must-sit against southpaws with a 93 mark the last three seasons, but it’s an easy way to give his 35-year old knees a breather. McCann is a deep league C1 if you really wait on the position, but ideally you’re slotting him into the C2 role. Flowers is the perfect NL-only C2, but could fill the role in the a mixed league if necessary.

Saving the biggest news for last (since I’m going in chronological order), Donaldson is the first major free agent chip to fall, inking a pillow deal (one-year) for $23 million dollars. I kinda thought he’d go for a three-year deal around $60-65 million as he enters his age-33 season, but he decided to go for the one season in hopes of rebuilding his market value and ideally still getting a three or four year deal next offseason.

Shoulder and calf injuries limited him to just 52 games and curbed his production to a 117 wRC+, a seven-year low. However, he looked a lot like his MVP self in a 16-game run with the Cleveland Indians to end the season. Not only were his results strong (3 HR, 149 wRC+) in the 60 PA, but the underlying skills rebounded as well (albeit in a tiny sample).

He had equal 17% K and BB rates with 10 apiece, improving his 28% K and 13% BB rates pre-September. His flyball jump seven points to 40% and his hard hit rate was up 13 points to 50%. Both of those bore out in his Statcast data as well with his exit velo jumping from 89.7 before September to 91.2 with Cleveland and his launch angle going from 9.7 to 16.6.

With health, it’s hard not to see Donaldson getting back on track as a premium middle of the order bat. He might not get all the way back to his MVP caliber 150s wRC+ counts from 2015, 2016, and 2017, but I like his Steamer projection of 131 with 27 HR in 130 games. That builds in some injury time and leaves room for upside should he return fully healthy and be regain that elite form. I have him 8th among 3B for the upcoming season.

This move clouds the outlook of Johan Camargo on the heels of his breakout season, though I doubt they just shuffle him to the bench after a 115 wRC+ and 19 HR as the primary 3B. Roster Resource currently slots him into left field, a spot opened by the pending free agency of Nick Markakis and shuffling of Ronald Acuña Jr. to CF and Ender Inciarte to RF.

This would be a major position change for Camargo as he’s played all of one game in LF as a pro player… in fact, it was one whole inning. The 25-year old is a utility infielder by trade so it’s not impossible to imagine him having the wherewithal to handle left, but it’s not a guarantee. I had him 23 at 3B entering the winter, but I’m bumping him down to 25 until his playing time plan is cleared up a bit.

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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El Diablo
El Diablo

Several Braves reporters have mentioned the plan is to give Camargo about 130 starts between all four infield spots. The comp mentioned was Marwin Gonzalez. This was also a stated goal of AA to strengthen the bench and find more rest for regulars, so I’d fell pretty confident that Camargo will play if he performs.