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Return Of The Gardner

George Bissell

The Yankees capped off their colossal Winter Meetings spending spree by re-signing veteran outfielder Brett Gardner to a one-year, $12.5 million contract on Thursday. According to reports, the deal also includes a $10 million option for 2021. The widely anticipated reunion has the potential to keep Gardner, who has spent the previous 12 years wearing pinstripes, in New York for the remainder of his career. In addition to his clubhouse leadership and defensive versatility, the 36-year-old outfielder enjoyed a true offensive renaissance last year, blasting a career-high 28 round-trippers, while also scoring 86 runs and collecting 74 RBI across 550 plate appearances. He’s expected to fill an everyday role, especially with center fielder Aaron Hicks sidelined for the first half of the 2020 campaign as he recovers from Tommy John surgery.   

From a pure fantasy perspective, Gardner remains one of the most consistently underrated five-category contributors in the game. It may be unrealistic to expect him to replicate last season’s power production, but he’s eclipsed the 20-homer plateau in two of the last three years. If he continues to pull the ball like he did  taking advantage of Yankee Stadium’s favorable right-field short porch, his power isn’t going to evaporate. He’s also swiped at least 10 bases in seven consecutive seasons, dating back to the 2013 campaign. Given his advanced age, Gardner isn’t a highly-sought fantasy target. However, he remains a solid, yet unspectacular, power/speed combo asset and offers plenty of appeal as a fourth or fifth outfielder in deeper mixed leagues. Even if we bake in slight regression in terms of over-the-fence pop (and counting stats) he’s likely to occupy an everyday role versus right-handed starters and is a solid bet to finish as a top 50-to-75 mixed-league outfielder. Don’t let him slip to the late rounds in fantasy drafts this spring.  

Mets Roll Dice On Porcello

While the proverbial Evil Empire justifiably grabbed virtually every headline at the Winter Meetings in San Diego this week, but the Mets quietly continued to bolster their starting rotation, agreeing to terms with veteran right-hander Rick Porcello on a one-year, $10 million contract on Thursday. The 2016 American League Cy Young Award winner spent the last five seasons with the Red Sox and played a key role in their 2018 World Series victory. Yet, he’s coming off an underwhelming campaign in which he recorded a lackluster 5.52 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, and 143/45 K/BB ratio over 174 1/3 innings (32 starts) last year. Per Baseball Prospectus’ data, Porcello’s disastrous 6.06 Deserved Run Average (DRA) ranked 101st out of 121 starting pitchers with at least 100 innings of work last year.   

At this stage of his career, Porcello is merely a durable, back-of-the-rotation innings eater. Fortunately, that’s exactly what the Mets need; especially after losing free agent right-hander Zack Wheeler, who inked a massive multi-year deal with the division-rival Phillies last week. The 29-year-old righty had blossomed into a front-of-the-rotation stalwart, posting a 3.65 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 374/105 K/BB ratio across 377 2/3 innings (60 starts) over the last two seasons. Porcello won’t be able to replicate those numbers, but he’s a low-risk, low-cost alternative and certainly capable of soaking up those innings next season. His days as a mixed-league fantasy starter are likely over, especially as his strikeout rate continues to decline. However, a shift to the senior circuit should make him a relevant option in NL-Only formats.   

“There was a lot of talk about our lack of starting pitching depth over the course of the last couple of weeks,” general manager Brodie Van Wagenen told reporters on Thursday. “I think that story has changed. I think we're probably the deepest starting pitching rotation in baseball.”

In addition to Porcello, the Mets also elected to roll the dice on free agent right-hander Michael Wacha earlier this week as another low-cost reclamation project. With Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Marcus Stroman spearheading the front of the rotation, Porcello and Wacha (if healthy) appear poised to anchor the back-end. The pair of recent acquisitions likely means that left-hander Steven Matz will be forced to transition to a multi-inning relief role. It also ensures that both Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman will remain in the bullpen next season.  

Rule 5 Draft Recap

The Winter Meetings officially wrapped up with the annual Rule 5 Draft on Thursday morning. Here’s an oversimplification of the process: Teams with an open 40-man roster spot are eligible to select a player from other organizations, with either four (or five years) professional experience, if that player has not been given a 40-man roster spot. Players who signed at 18-years-old (or younger) but have five years of experience are eligible to be selected, as are players signed at 19-years-old (or older) who have four years of experience. Franchises must carry chosen players on their active rosters (or the major league disabled list) throughout the entire 2020 season; otherwise the player must be placed on waivers and then offered back to his original club. Draft position is based on the reverse order of last season’s standings. Here are the full results:

First Round

1.1 Tigers: RHP Rony Garcia (Yankees)

Garcia, who turns 22-years-old next week, posted a 4.44 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and 104/38 K/BB ratio across 105 1/3 innings (20 starts) at Double-A Trenton in the Yankees’ system last season. He projects as a back-end rotation starter or potential swingman for the pitching-starved Tigers in 2020. 

1.2 Orioles: RHP Brandon Bailey (Astros)

Plucked from the Astros’ minor-league system, which Orioles’ general manager Mike Elias used to directly oversee, Bailey posted a solid 3.30 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 103/41 K/BB ratio across 92 2/3 frames (22 appearances, 17 starts) at Double-A last season. The 25-year-old righty projects as a multi-inning reliever long-term, but could get a shot to start in the impending 2020 campaign. If you’re mining for a potential fantasy gem in deeper mixed leagues or AL-Only formats, Bailey fits the bill perfectly. 

1.3 Marlins: RHP Sterling Sharp (Nationals)

Considering his raw talent and proximity to the big leagues, Sharp was arguably the most intriguing prospect left unprotected this offseason. The 24-year-old righty was limited to just 12 starts in Double-A due to injuries last season. Yet, he excelled in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.50 ERA across 24 innings of work. He’ll make an immediate impact as a middle reliever for the Marlins next season.

1.4 Royals: RHP Stephen Woods Jr. (Rays)

Among the four players the Rays received from the Giants in the Evan Longoria trade, Woods missed the entire 2018 campaign due to shoulder surgery. The 24-year-old righty flummoxed the Florida State League last summer, posting a 1.88 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 79/33 K/BB ratio across 86 1/3 innings (18 appearances, 12 starts). Given the Royals extreme lack of quality relief options, he could stick in their bullpen right away.  

1.6 Mariners: RHP Yohan Ramirez (Astros)

Ramirez whiffed an eye-popping 158 batters across 106 innings between High-A and Double-A in the Astros’ minor-league system last year. He also struggled with his control, issuing an absurd 74 free passes during that span. The 24-year-old righty is an intriguing talent and the rebuilding Mariners can afford to roll the dice, especially with major-league rosters expanding to 26 players in 2020.

1.12 Reds: OF Mark Payton (Athletics)

The 28-year-old outfielder enjoyed a breakout in the Athletics’ system, putting more balls in the air en route to a ludicrous 334/.400/.653 triple-slash line at Triple-A Las Vegas last year. Sure, it was the Pacific Coast League (and a “juiced” ball) but those numbers and batted ball changes are worthy of a second look. He’ll get a chance to make the Reds’ roster as a fifth outfielder and pinch-hitting specialist. 

1.13 Giants: RHP Dany Jimenez (Blue Jays)

Jimenez recorded a solid 2.59 ERA and 93/21 K/BB ratio across 59 innings of relief work between High-A and Double-A in the Blue Jays’ system last season. The 25-year-old righty will figure into the mix as a potential middle reliever for the Giants.

1.15 Phillies: INF Vimael Machin (Cubs) (Traded to Athletics)

Originally scooped up by the Phillies, Machin was promptly flipped to the Athletics and will try to carve out a utility role in 2020. The 26-year-old infielder posted a .295/.390/.412 triple-slash line across 129 games between Double-A and Triple-A in the Cubs’ minor-league system last year.

1.16 Cubs: RHP Trevor Megill (Padres)

The towering 6-foot-8 righty recorded a 3.86 ERA and 87/22 K/BB ratio across 60 2/3 innings of relief work in the upper minors of the Padres’ system last year. He projects as a low-cost middle reliever for the Cubs.

1.17 Red Sox: SS Jonathan Arauz (Astros)

The 21-year-old infielder recorded an underwhelming .241/.311/.389 triple-slash line across 119 plate appearances at Double-A in the Astros’ system last year. He’s unlikely to make the Red Sox big-league roster, but it’s easy to see why they’re rolling the dice on a switch-hitting middle infielder with solid bat-to-ball skills. 

Second Round

2.2 Orioles: RHP Michael Rucker (Cubs)

The lone second round selection of the Rule 5 Draft, Rucker posted a 4.18 ERA and 93/25 K/BB ratio over 79 2/3 total innings (one start) between Double-A and Triple-A in the Cubs’ system last year. The 25-year-old righty will compete for a spot in the Orioles’ bullpen this spring.

 

American League Quick Hits: According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Yankees “have been the most active pursuer” of Brewers left-handed reliever Josh Hader … Rosenthal also reported Thursday that multiple teams have expressed trade interest in Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager … Red Sox have signed free agent left-hander Martin Perez to a one-year, $6 million contract. The deal also includes a $6.25 million club option for 2021. Red Sox also agreed to terms with free agent infielder Jose Peraza on a one-year, $3 million contract … Tigers signed catcher Austin Romine to a one-year, $4.15 million contract … According to MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, the Padres, Cardinals, White Sox, Reds and Angels are “in play” as potential suitors for Red Sox left-hander David Price … Athletics acquired OF Buddy Reed from the Padres as the player to be named later to complete the Jurickson Profar trade … Angels acquired LHP Garrett Williams as the player to be named later to complete the Zack Cozart trade … According to Levi Weaver of The Athletic, the Rangers “are getting a lot of interest” in Jose Leclerc … Weaver also reported Thursday that the Rangers are “likely out” on free agent third baseman Josh Donaldson … Red Sox selected RHP Raynel Espinal from the Yankees in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft.

National League Quick Hits: According to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the Braves are “thought to have checked in on” free agent starter Hyun-Jin Ryu … MLB.com’s Jon Morosi reports that the Cardinals met with the representatives for free agent starters Dallas Keuchel and Hyun-Jin Ryu this week … Morosi also reported Thursday that the Dodgers are showing interest in Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo … Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Dodgers are among the “most aggressive” bidders for free agent reliever Dellin Betances … Tim Healey of Newsday reported Thursday that the Mets are “disinclined” to include outfielder Brandon Nimmo in a trade for Pirates outfielder Starling Marte … MLB.com's Joe Frisaro reports that Marlins’ right-hander Elieser Hernandez is attracting trade interest … Marlins signed RHP Yimi Garcia … Rockies re-signed C Drew Butera to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Phillies re-signed INF Phil Gosselin to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training … Mets signed RHP Pedro Payano to a minor league contract … Cardinals signed LHP Rob Kaminsky to a minor league contract … Giants signed RHP Wendolyn Bautista to a minor league contract … Cubs selected RHP Brock Stewart from the Blue Jays in the Triple-A phase of the Rule 5 Draft.