March Madness MLB Edition #2: Cruz, Olson, Winker, Suárez

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

One of the only decent things to come out of the lockout is the compressed timeframe for teams to get their rosters ready for Opening Day which will create an NBA/NFL-esque free agent and trade frenzy in the next weeks. I will posting these regularly until the season starts.

Covered in this article: Cruz, Olson, Winker, Suárez, Williamson, and Dunn

Previous editions: March 14th Pt. 1 |

Nelson Cruz to WAS

Was his time with the Rays a BABIP-fueled blip (96 wRC+, .252 BABIP) or the start of legitimate decline? He also struck out in 27% of his 238 PA after being traded over. Maybe he hated the Trop, too, because that’s where he really struggled, posting just a .603 OPS in 101 PA. Even a Cruz who is more his 2021 line (122 wRC+) than the guy who put up a 164 in 735 PA from 2019-20 is totally fine. The top half of that Nationals lineup is coming together with Lane Thomas, César Hernández, Juan Soto, Cruz, and Josh Bell giving them a strong top five while Keibert Ruiz could give it a bit more length in the 6-spot. His bat plays everywhere, and Nationals Park is a bit of an unheralded offensive gem, giving righties a 103 Park Factor (5th in MLB) over the last three seasons. At age-41, it is worth planning for fewer plate appearances, but anywhere north of 450 should be enough to be an impact bat.

Bottom line: Premium slugger aging gracefully at age-41 and all of sudden this Washington lineup isn’t so bad, either.

Matt Olson traded to ATL

Olson did an amazing Freddie Freeman imitation last year and if he maintains the strikeout gains, then Atlanta fans will barely notice a difference. I understand they love Freeman and he will always be their guy, but in terms of production, this is a smooth handoff. They also got four years younger in the process. This is a substantial park improvement for Olson, too, with Oakland playing 26th-best for lefties over the last three seasons while Atlanta sits 8th.

This move really opens things up for Seth Brown in Oakland and I’m excited about that! He popped 20 HR in 307 PA last year and while it also came with a .203 AVG, I think consistent playing time would help smooth tings out there a bit. He hits the ball really hard but live in the air so we can’t just point to the .230 BABIP and say it will push toward league average, but I think he can certainly improve up to the high-.200s. The upside is a .240/30 HR campaign. This move also solidifies a spot for Eric Thames 테임즈 if he’s healthy. He and Brown can man DH/1B against all righties at the very least.

Bottom line: There is little difference between 2021 Olson and what Freeman did year after year in Atlanta. If Olson keeps that K% under 20% and takes to his new park, there could be a 50-HR MVP season on tap.

Jesse Winker traded to SEA

Hug a Reds fan if you know one! They need it. The appear to be tearing it alllll the way down. Winker is a pure hitter. He has had brilliant plate skills throughout his career (17% K, 12% BB, 132 wRC+) as only injury has been able to slow him down. Last year was his first north of 385 PA with a career-high 485 and while it still stands as a breakout season, it could’ve been really special had an oblique not essentially eaten up his entire second half (just 124 PA in 28 games). He might need to finally put up a volume season if he wants to avoid sharp regression because this park move is severe. He is going from the 3rd-best place to hit as a lefty the last three years and where he put up a .294/.388/.569 in 521 PA to the worst park for lefties in T-Mobile Park. Since 2019, Omar Narváez is the only lefty with a positive wRC+ (min. 100 PA), posting a 122 in 250 PA.

Bottom line: Excellent hitter who has never been able to stay healthy now takes on a severe home ballpark hit with his volume concerns.

Eugenio Suárez traded to SEA

Suarez has evolved into an all-or-nothing power bat as he swatted 31 HR despite just a .198 AVG last year. He has hit just .199 since 2020 and while the .221 BABIP is definitely on the low end, he is also hitting the ball in the air a lot more and with less force. His flyball rate has been at 47%, up from 40% in 2018-19, and his hard hit rate has dropped from 48% to 35%. He is earning some of that BABIP drop-off. T-Mobile Park is no better on righties, either, so he will experience a similar plight to his teammate Winker. Great American Ball Park sits 2nd in righty park factor at 106 the last three years against T-Mobile’s 95 mark that sits 25th. Suarez hasn’t leaned on his home park as much as Winker, though, with an .841 OPS at home and .805 on the road since 2019.

I’m not worried about the power, but there is a cut-off where even 30 HRs isn’t worth the AVG hit. While you may be heartened to see that he was still the 21st-best 3B last year despite that rough .199 AVG, know that the raw dollar value doesn’t have any context for how your team is built so unless you have protected his batting average with several other players bringing strong averages to counterbalance him, know that he is risky. This move could disrupt the Abraham Toro hype train a bit as he no longer has a locked in job. I imagine Toro will still play plenty of 3B while Suarez DH’s and he can also play 2B, but his outlook has decidedly gotten worse.

Bottom line: Lots of pop, but the AVG could be at a tipping point where it’s not worth it; Toro’s outlook also dinged.

Brandon Williamson & Justin Dunn traded to CIN

Neither Williamson nor Dunn projects to be fantasy relevant this year with Williamson getting just 25-30 IP in most models and Dunn only up at 80-90 IP. Dunn only has 102.7 IP in the majors, but there hasn’t been much to latch onto in terms of projecting a breakout. At this point, it seems like it would take a sharp development of a pitch or two or a severe uptick in command and control to get to a mid-tier starting level. Things can change quickly like that for pitchers, but usually there are elements that underscore such jumps and I don’t really see any with Dunn.

Williamson hasn’t debuted yet and in fact, hasn’t even reached Triple-A to this point, but he slotted 61 on our Top 100 this year. He has a rich swing-and-miss arsenal that he finally got to display after pitching just 15 IP in 2019 post-draft and then missing all of 2020’s development… or at least missed a schedule of games. We don’t really know who did what at the alt sites. At age-24, he might not need much time at Triple-A so keep him in mind as a summer call-up. He has a deep arsenal, and he learns the finer points of commanding it, he could be a real impact arm from the left side for the Reds. He is a strong get for the Reds in this deal, though the returns were admittedly dampened by Seattle agreeing to take Suarez’s money.

I’m realizing as I’m editing this that I forgot Jake Fraley so I will move him to the next piece for Tuesday as obviously this park move could benefit him if he finds a role.

Bottom line: Can’t completely rule out a 26-year-old Dunn finding something, but it would take some unexpected development; Williamson has major upside that could start showing itself in a summer call-up.

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

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Thanks for these breakdowns – they’re really helpful! Any thoughts or insights on what the Cincy deals might mean for playing time for Barrero and/or Lodolo?

Last edited 1 year ago by jbona3