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The Diamond Exchange: Royals Sign Hammel

Yesterday the Kansas City Royals brought in Jason Hammel in on a two-year deal.  A move, sadly, was necessary to do to the untimely death of Yordano Ventura.

Hammel, 34, at least can be relied upon to pick up some of the innings as he comes off a second consecutive thirty-start season, though he has never thrown more than 177.2 innings and a season and seems to end up in the 170-ranging every full season of his career. The righty was also left off the Cubs’ World Series roster due to elbow tightness and must prove he is once again healthy. His control numbers should, therefore, be a primary focus to monitor that issue.

Hammel has a solid history as a strike-thrower (Career 2.8 BB/9 and 2.9 in 2016), but has been noted to allow home runs at high rates on a regular basis and has consistently, thanks in part to suppressed batting averages on a ball in play, has kept his ERA under a 4.00 with some frequency despite allowing home runs on fly-ball rates ranging in the 11 to 13% area.

Going forward there really is not much reason to expect any substantial changes from his performance, health-permitting, given a stable skill set and no changes to the velocity of his offerings. While his suppressed BABIP might regress, he is moving to one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the majors with respect to home runs and should benefit from that making him still a candidate to get into the double digits in Wins and possibly still maintain a below-4.00 ERA though his xFIP and FIP last suggested that it should be in the mid-4’s. If you spend more than $5 on auction day in AL-only leagues, however, you will certainly eat into or could completely erase your potential profit margin.

Personal Note: I have been nominated as one of three finalists for Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year, Print for 2016! You can listen in and see if I won this evening by tuning into http://www.siriusxm.com/fantasysportsradio tonight at 9 PM eastern!

Diamond Exchange: Straily to the Marlins for Prospects

The Reds moved Dan Straily to the Marlins for Luis Castillo, Austin Brice, and Isaiah White. Straily made 31 starts and threw over 190 innings for Cincinnati last year and manage a sub-4.00 ERA. With Robert Stephenson pushing for a regular turn in the rotation, Straily became excess baggage that they could leverage for prospects

Despite a solid 7+ K/9 and 3.4 BB/9, a slew of metrics indicate that Straily was pitching well over his head and getting out of town might help him to avoid an ERA over 5.00 in 2017 given how homerun friendly the Great American Ballpark is. The former A’s outwardly good ERA was suppressed by both a .239 batting average balls in play as well as a left-on-base rate of over 80%. Straily also continued to struggle with the long ball, allowing a 1.4 HR/9 and 12% HR/FB rate. It does not help that he is predominately a fly-ball pitcher (48%). A move to Miami and its cozier confines could keep his ERA in the mid 4’s, but still in end game or reserve round territory for most NL-only leagues.

As for the Red’s hall, Luis Castillo is the best of the lot. The 24-year old righty already is throwing in the upper nineties and spins the ball well with a solid slider/curve combo and a developing changeup, but so far he has not missed as many bats as one would expect since moving into a full-time starting role, barely registering a 7.0 K/9 A+ ball this year. Given his age, he’ll begin 2017 in at least Double-A, if not Triple-A and could see some time in the majors as well.

Another 24-year old, Austin Brice is another right-hander who could help the Reds out as earlier as this season. A reliever, Brice showed much-improved control in Double-A with a 2.8 BB/9. He saw brief action at  Triple-A and the majors as well. The former starter features a solid fastball/slider combination and profiles as a middle reliever.

Finally, we come to Isaiah White. The 20-year old is the project of the trade having only seen action in short-season ball. There is a lot to like in the tools, particularly the speed, department, but he has struggled mightily to make contact, striking out 30% of the time while batting just .214. At this time, he is a name to note, not draft for fantasy baseball purposes.

Diamond Exchange: A Duo of Deals

Trade Background: A busy Wednesday for the Mariners ended in two trades and moving several key members of their farm system. The first deal with Atlanta sent Luiz Gohara and Thomas Burrows to them in exchange for Mallex Smith and Shae Simmons. The second with Tampa Bay sent Smith on to his second team of the day along with Carlos Vargas and Ryan Yarbrough. for Drew Smyly.

It has been no secret the Mariners are targeting veteran starters to shore up their rotation and it appears they have their final piece as they head towards spring training. The M’s are also taking a chance that Simmons is healthy and could add him to the bullpen mix this spring or by mid-season.

For the Braves this is all about acquiring arms with upside and both Gohara and Burrows have some, especially Gohara.

The Rays, content to move on from Smyly, also chased young talent. Smith fits a theme amongst Rays outfielders in terms of speed and defense rather than power. Carlos Vargas has the potential to be the steal of the deal but is only 17 and it may be years before he is relevant, if at all. Yarbrough contrasts against Vargas as near major league ready journeyman who gives the Rays another in-house option that they could put to use as soon as this season.

Roster Impacts: The deal contains relatively few MLB roster impacts despite the number of players changing hands. Smyly, health permitting, slots into a Mariner’s rotation slot that Ariel Miranda and Chris Heston might have competed. One of the two will now vie for a long-relief role while the other will likely be held in reserve in Triple-A.  Shae Simmons will be given a look in spring training for a relief role and may, if healthy, have some upside as a setup man or more. The Braves acquisitions are both slated for the minors while Mallex Smith and Ryan Yarbrough should see some MLB action, but neither appears to be opening day roster candidates. Colby Rasmus, Kevin Kiermaier, and Steven Souza man the Rays’ outfield with Corey Dickerson at DH, plus they’re likely to also carry Mikie Mahtook and Nick Franklin on the roster. Yarbrough also faces an uphill climb with a number of pitchers with either more experience or greater upside likely to appear on the AAA roster. Carlos Vargas, meanwhile, will likely only play in short-season level ball.

Player Analysis: 2016 was the first season Smyly made 30 starts in a season. He has also yet to throw more than 175 innings in a single year. All this came last season and was after throwing fewer than 100 innings in the previous season. So, right off the bat, Smyly considering his injury history and usage history is someone who has to be handled carefully and that a fifth starter’s role, regardless of his skill level compared to pitchers such as Yovani Gallardo, may be a good idea. A fly-ball pitcher who regularly posts fairly high HR/FB and HR/9 numbers, Smyly may not benefit as much as one might think at first glass from to Safeco as Tropicana Field has been somewhat comparable in terms of home runs regardless of handedness. Smyly does to his credit still have above average command and can still miss bats high rates, but as long as the long ball issue remains it is hard to see him as a sub-4.00 ERA pitcher.

Shae Simmons has taken a long while to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. He remains a hard thrower averaging over 95 mph on his fastball. He generates plenty of groundballs and has a slider that flashes plus at times, but struggles to consistently command either of his pitches. Simmons is a reliever with a wide range of outcomes from possible closer to Triple-A roster filler but should get a few opportunities this season to showcase his stuff.

Mallex Smith is a bit buried on the Rays depth charts at the moment, but at a minimum because of his speed and defensive skills should receive a cup of coffee or two in the Majors. At best, he could challenge for the starting left field job. Smith’s main draw is his speed which is well above average and his minor league career shows a history of someone who is willing to both draw walks and who tries to play within his game as a more contact-oriented hitter fully aware of his limited power potential as clearly seen in his 60% groundball rates at the MLB Level. Smith, 23, has yet to translate the walk rates from the lower minors to even Triple-A and did not show his contact-making skills during his MLB stint with the Braves. There is .280+/40+ stolen base potential here, but he’ll have to improve his contact, show a better batting eye, and make major improvements against left-handers after hitting .080 against them in a small sample (50 at-bats) with the Braves.

Ryan Yarbrough, a former fourth-round pick, is a 25-year old left-hander known for his good command and ability to induce groundballs at high rates. He’s a pitch to contact type likely to end up a back-end of the rotation inning eater or long man out of the bullpen.

Carlos Vargas will turn 18 less than a month before opening day. He is currently listed as a shortstop and will remain there for now. In time though he may move to the hot corner or an outfield spot given his plus arm. Vargas handled rookie ball quite well showing an advanced feel for the strike zone, a quick, contact-making bat, and already emerging power. There is some reason for excitement here but on the other hand, at his age, it is difficult to justify drafting him except in keeper/dynasty leagues with deep minor league rosters.

Luiz Gohara, 20, was one of the better young arms in the Mariner’s system. A left-hander, Gohara is regularly in the mid to upper nineties fastball and compliments that plus pitch with a plus slider, striking out well more than a batter an inning. He topped off his season by impressing in the hitter-friendly Arizona Fall League, striking out over 14 batters per nine innings as one of the youngest players in a prospect-heavy league. He should move up to full season A+ ball this year.

Thomas Burrows, a college closer and a 2016 4th round pick, has the potential to move quickly through the Rays’ system. However, he does not project to his college role in the majors, lacking a power pitch or a dominating strikeout pitch for that matter, but does at least have more than enough to be more than a situational lefty.

Final Thoughts: The overall impact of this trade for fantasy leaguers may not be all that great, at least in 2017. Gohara would have first appeared on dynasty/keeper league radar this season, but AL-only players now lose that opportunity. Smyly’s value is not hinged to his team so much as it is linked to his health and gopheritis. Vargas is worthy of consideration, as mentioned, for dynasty leaguers. Simmons and especially Smith have sleeper potential and are both worth keeping eyes upon in the near and far future. Smith’s proximity to the majors and stolen base potential alone make him a prime target in late rounds/minor league drafts in AL-only leagues. The fact that it is Colby Rasmus and other journeymen ahead of him on the depth charts makes taking a flier on him all the more reasonable.

Diamond Exchange: The Mariners Keep Busy

Trade Background: The Mariners did not sit still for long deciding they did not want to go with a multiple-rookie outfield acquiring veteran speedster, Jarrod Dyson from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Nate Karns who due to injuries and 2016 effectiveness issues had become a surplus arm without a clear path to a rotation spot.

Roster impacts: Dyson’s arrival, as mentioned, places him as the opening left fielder and possible leadoff hitter with Leonys Martin returning in centerfield, and newly acquired Mitch Haniger in right field. The winner in this scenario will certainly be the pitchers with the upgraded all-around outfield defense. Ben Gamel goes from possible starter to bench player and quite possibly to Triple-A where he will get every day at-bats. Danny Valencia will be a super sub, seeing time at 1B, 3B, and in the OF when the team faces a left-hander.

Nate Karns is still on the outside looking in at a roster spot, let alone a rotation spot. His best path to the rotation is through Matt Strahm who was used entirely out of the bullpen, but effectively for the Royals last year. He’ll return to his starting roots and is penciled in as the fifth starter despite his lack of Triple-A experience.

Player Analysis: Dyson, 32, may be coming of a career year in which he made contact about 88% of the time while posting a respectable .278/.340 line with 30 steals. The lefty is currently in line for the most at-bats of his career as a regular in the Mariners outfield. So, on the one, hand 40-plus steals is a possibility. On the other hand, we are talking about someone who has yet to top 337 plate appearances in a single season who could quickly find himself overexposed. His 2016 contact rate is out of context with the rest of his career, so a regression for him is quite possible. I’d put my sights on a 35-pus stolen base season, but possibly at the expense of a sub .250 batting average, 1 to 2 HRs, 50 to 60 runs and fewer than 35 RBIs. That could still make him go for around $18 to $20 on draft day in AL only leagues, albeit with risk.

Nate Karns, 29, after making some solid process in the strike-throwing department gave away all his gains when he posted a 4+ BB/9 last season. Things got worse in the second half as he missed significant time due to a back injury and he lost all feel for hitting his spots (6.4) K/9 in the second half. On the plus side, Karns doesn’t appear to have lost any velocity and may simply have been pitching injured or seeing his health decline over a longer time span his DL stay especially considering his solid start to the season in April and May. Keep an eye on his velocity and command this spring.

Final Thoughts: Dyson’s speed will continue to gain him value and a double digit bid in AL only leagues, but he is already past his prime years and comes from a platoon-background with a .231/.308/.285 line against lefties. Karns has upside and still managed to strike out around a batter per inning despite his injury, but currently lacks a role making him a $1 days or reserve round pick.