There are some big-name hitters that are looking for new homes next season. If they go elsewhere, they can affect the landscape of fantasy baseball in 2017.
The 2016 playoffs are off to a hot start. There have been blowouts, shutouts, comebacks and blown leads. But, for fantasy baseball owners, the playoffs are just something in the way of preparing for the 2017 season. The offseason is where that picks up. The first thing is the Winter Meetings and free agent signings.
Every year, there are some big free-agent signings that change the landscape of baseball. Looking at last offseason, it’s was all about the pitchers. David Price, Johnny Cueto and Zack Greinke led the list of big offseason contracts. This season, I see the money going to the hitters.
The list of free agents I have do not include hitters with club or player options. Call me an optimist, but I expect those players to remain with their current team. This list will feature outright free agents that are free to sign anywhere for next season.
The five hitters I listed here could change a lot about fantasy baseball next season. If the players go to a favorable park, like Colorado or New York, their numbers may go up, which then bumps them up the position rankings. Or, it could go the opposite direction and drop them in the rankings. It also depends on his surrounding cast and the player’s age.
With all of these factors, here are my top five free agent hitters entering the 2017 season.
Edwin Encarnacion leads my list of free agent hitters. His 2016 performance was amazing and may have been the best of his career. He played in a career-high 160 games and stayed pretty consistent with his ratio stats.
He hit 42 home runs, 127 RBI (career high) and scored 99 runs. He had a .263/.357/.529 line with 138 strikeouts and 87 walks. The increase in walks is nice to see, but the big jump in strikeouts is a little scary. He had just 98 last season.
It did help that Encarnacion had the teammates that he did. Opposing pitchers were only able to pitch around one of them and, for some reason, he wasn’t one of them.
There are a few teams that could use the services of Encarnacion. Just looking at the depth charts, I can see the Colorado Rockies and the Oakland Athletics making offers. The possibility of him going back to Toronto is likely, too.
Encarnacion hit as both the first baseman and designated hitter. That is one of the reasons why I can see him going to an American League over National League team. Regardless, if he can stay healthy, he will still be a top 30 hitter.
Could the outrageous bat flips find themselves somewhere else in 2017? Encarnacion’s teammate Jose Bautista is also a free agent this offseason. The Toronto Blue Jays could lose two of their slugglers. I think Bautista has a better chance of signing elsewhere over Encarnacion.
Bautista will be turning 36 shortly. As an outfielder, that is pretty old. His body seems to be breaking down as well. He played in just 116 games after playing in at least 153 games in the previous two seasons.
As a top-15 draft pick, Bautista was a big disappointment. He hit just 22 home runs, 69 RBI and 68 runs. He hit .234, his lowest batting average since becoming a full-time player.
He’s also seen a decline in his plate discipline. Bautista struck out 103 times, second straight year with at least 100 strikeouts, and walked 87 times. He had 110 walks last season, which helped his on-base percentage.
While I think Bautista can still play the outfield, likely one of the corner spots, I think he would be better fit as a designated hitter. It may be farfetched, but the Boston Red Sox are losing David Ortiz has their DH, so there is a spot open. The Chicago White Sox are also in need of a good DH.
After a successful four seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, Trumbo bounced around for a couple of years before landing in Baltimore. The ballparks in the American League East favor hitters, four of the five teams finished in the top 10 in team home runs.
Along with his 47 homers, he hit 108 RBI, 94 runs scored and a .256/.316/.533 line. With a power hitter like that, the average is going to be a little low, but in fantasy, the power numbers outweigh the value of a good batting average.
Trumbo spent the majority of this season as the Orioles’ right fielder, 95 games. He also was the DH and spent four games at first base. At age 30, he still has a lot left in the tank. He played in 159 games in two of the past four seasons.
The Orioles won one of the two AL Wild Card spots, but lost to the Blue Jays in the Wild Card game. If Baltimore wants to get back to the playoffs, they need to re-sign Trumbo. The A’s are the only other team, I see, in need of a power-hitting outfielder, but I don’t see them spending the kind of money to sign Trumbo.
After leaving the Washington Nationals, Ian Desmond had one of the best seasons in his career. The Texas Rangers already had a shortstop in Elvis Andrus, so Desmond was forced to transition to the outside. And he had no problem adjusting.
In 156 games, he hit 22 home runs, 86 RBI, 107 runs scored and a .285/.335/.446 line. His strikeouts dropped from 187 to 160 and his walk total dropped just one, 45 to 44. Desmond also stole 21 bases in 27 attempts.
The Rangers had one of the best lineups in baseball. The team made some much-needed trades to help this team reach the playoffs. By trading for Carlos Beltran (also a free agent) and Jonathan Lucroy and signing Carlos Gomez, the current hitters got a little more protection.
While the team lost Prince Fielder, the Rangers still have Adrian Beltre, Rougned Odor and a young ground of hitters. The team would be smart of re-sign Desmond. However, there are teams can could use him as a shortstop, including the San Diego Padres and Tampa Bay Rays.
Rajai Davis is an unlikely candidate for this list, but he provides value to whatever team he’s on. Davis has had a long career, and while his average has dropped, he has developed some power. A team looking for a left fielder or bench depth should sign Davis.
He played in 134 games with the Cleveland Indians, the most since 2012. He hit a career-high 12 home runs with a .249 average. He drove in 48 runs and scored 74 times. The Indians have a young corps, but the veteran presence of Davis and others creates a good dynamic.
The one consistent thing about Davis’ game is his speed. He stole 43 bases, fourth in the league. It was the first time he stole over bases since 2013.
Davis will turn 36 on Oct. 19, but he’s running like he’s 28. I’m not sure if Davis will find a starting outfield job outside of Cleveland, but he will be a good rest-day substitute or pinch runner. In deeper fantasy leagues, Rajai is someone you can draft late to help you in steals.
The Winter Meetings are just as exciting as your fantasy baseball draft. Finding out where players sign creates a little frenzy. You have to adjust your rankings based on that news. For example, I bumped Nelson Cruz down when he signed with the Seattle Mariners, but that turned out to be wrong.
I think Encarnacion stays in Toronto and Bautista leaves. It’ll be interesting to see if his new team will have a lineup just as good or if he will struggle to carry the offense. Trumbo is a power-hitting outfielder, Desmond can provide some power, speed and contact. Davis is a speed guy with a little pop.
The 2017 rankings will be fun to put together once the dust is settled and Spring Training is underway.
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