February is flying by, spring training is underway, and fantasy fans are beginning the search for value plays. Time for us to go to work! The next six weeks, I'll throw some names out to consider, covering one division each week. When the dust settles, we should be looking at Opening Day, and hopefully have a value-laden pitching staff heading into the 2017 season. Let's get to it and look at the:
National League East
The Braves have gone to great lengths in an attempt to strengthen their mound corps. The middle of their rotation was re-tooled, I will say I do expect R.A. Dickey to benefit from the move out of the AL East – perhaps even enough to make him mildly fantasy relevant – but I have serious doubts regarding the contributions of Bartolo Colon and Jaime Garcia. Colon is 43, and his velocity has trended downward for a few seasons now. He has been getting it done with smoke and mirrors, but the smoke may be clearing, and I don't anticipate even a repeat of last year. Garcia was pretty well thought of not too long ago, and should be reaching his peak, but he hasn't shown an ability to stay both heavy and effective at the same time. He has some upside, but I don't see enough to offset the risk.
That leaves us with the top – Julio Teheran – and the bottom – Mike Foltynewicz – of their rotation. Teheran has been popular in draft rooms for a few seasons, and finally provided some positive movement in 2016. My concern is you might have to pay for another anticipated jump, and I'm not quite sure it's there. That adds up to no appreciable value. Never fear, though, we (and the Braves) saved the best for last. Folty really turned my head last season. He was somewhat inconsistent, leading to mediocre overall numbers, but he has the best stuff on the staff, and he shows signs of quickly learning how to use. His price tag could be very reasonable, and if it is, I'm buying.
Taking a quick look at the bullpen, Jim Johnson likely will break camp as their closer. He performed fairly well last year, but I think his best-case scenario is pitching well enough to hold the job temporarily as a contending team's set-up guy in waiting. At some point, Mauricio Cabrera will harness his command and step in. If you're going to roster Johnson, Cabrera is a must-own handcuff.
Recapping the Braves:
The arm to own: Mike Foltynewicz
He's not for me: Bartolo Colon
Best of the bullpen: Mauricio Cabrera
The Marlins are doing some restructuring, as well – primarily as the result of tragically losing ace Jose Fernandez in a boating accident last fall. One of the most talented young pitchers in the game, he cannot be replaced, but Miami will try to piece together a competent rotation. It won't be easy. Adam Conley would probably be considered the staff leader, but his walk rate and modest strikeout totals aren't very encouraging. I'd be inclined to lean slightly toward Edinson Volquez, but he is so erratic, I would do so with considerable reservations. That said, without a true No. 1, your best bet – if you just have to have a Fish pitcher – might be Wei-Yin Chen. He doesn't have much room for progression, but he looked better than his peripherals would suggest for much of last season. I could be convinced to give him a mulligan for 2016.
It doesn't get better. They also added soft-tossing Dan Straily and will probably round things out with either Tom Koehler or David Phelps (who is best suited to a bullpen role). If those guys are your best options at the back of your fantasy rotation, I think I'd start scouring the waiver wire early. Their minor league system doesn't look like much help, at least not yet, so it could be a rough year for the Miami mound corps.
The Marlins looked for help at the back of the bullpen over the winter, but they head into spring training with incumbent A.J. Ramos anchoring the endgame. Off-season acquisitions Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa can provide much-needed depth but don't really excite me as closing options (although Ziegler could get a look if Ramos stumbles). The guy to keep an eye on is Kyle Barraclough. He has the best stuff in the pen by far, and if he can build some confidence, he could be a serious sleeper to close.
Recapping the Marlins:
The arm to own: Wei-Yin Chen
He's not for me: Dan Straily
Best of the bullpen: Kyle Barraclough
New York Mets
There are "haves" and there are "have nots," but the Mets definitely fall into the former category. It starts with Noah Syndergaard, who is arguably the best young arm in the game. He added some weight in the offseason to improve stamina and to add to an explosive fastball that could already touch triple digits late in games. That's scary. Unfortunately, like others on the staff, concerns over possible injury risk is worrisome. That's the only thing that could deflate his price tag even a little. However, he's simply too good to pass on, I'll pay for his elite upside.
Matt Harvey will hopefully be ready to step it up again after a shutdown ending with thoracic outlet surgery late last season, and Jacob deGrom will look to prove his elbow issues are behind him after having ulnar nerve surgery last year. Are you seeing a trend here? I'd enthusiastically welcome a fully healthy Harvey or deGrom to my roster, but with the health concerns, I want a bit of a discount. And, the beat goes on. Steven Matz had shoulder woes last year, and that is enough to scare me off. Durability has never been high on his resume, so the risk is always going to be a factor. With Zack Wheeler likely to face significant workload restrictions after missing the last two seasons, they will pencil Robert Gsellman into the regular rotation after a strong debut late last year. Honestly, I think he could provide adequate, but not spectacular results.
Endgamer Jeurys Familia proved he could be a very reliable closer last season (he lead the league with 51 saves), and he'll return to that role in 2017. The clouds over his immediate future relate to a domestic violence charge, which could result in a suspension of indeterminate duration. Until that is resolved, projecting his productivity is problematic, but owners may want to add Addison Reed as an insurance policy.
Recapping the Mets:
The arm to own: Noah Syndergaard
He's not for me: Steven Matz
Best of the bullpen: Jeurys Familia
For the most part, the Phillies' rotation is filled with ho-hum arms that can be moderately effective at times, but probably don't have anything that even resembles head-turning upside. The one exception to that bland observation could be Aaron Nola. He is a prototypical workhorse, and those guys can be pretty valuable. Nola isn't an ace, and he doesn't project to be one, but he can pile up useful innings, and if he comes at a reasonable price, that can be a solid plus.
The lackluster group following Nola to the mound includes Jeremy Hellickson (still too hittable for me on most days), Vince Velasquez (something of a Jeckyll and Hyde), Jerad Eickhoff (pedestrian stuff with semi-predictable results) and newcomer Clay Buchholz (the poster child for inconsistency). Hellickson and Velasquez both get battered enough to seriously tarnish their appeal in my eyes, and Eickhoff just doesn't show me enough upside to get me too excited, leaving Buchholz as the remaining consideration. His most recent epiphany is linked to his pitching exclusively from the stretch. It helped over a small sample last year, but is that the ultimate answer? Mark me skeptical.
This bullpen is probably the most intriguing in the division. The team emphatically says Jeanmar Gomez will be the closer – maybe too emphatically. He may have been the most surprising reliever in the game last year as he piled up saves, but reality struck late in the year and he imploded with a flourish. He is miscast as a closer, and the Phillies have other quality alternatives with a lot of upside. Hector Neris is probably next up on the food chain, and he deserves it following some very eye-popping results with his trademark splitter, but I am enamored with Edubray Ramos. I loved what he showed, and I think he could be a darkhorse to eventually grab the gig. Veteran Joaquin Benoit is also aboard, but Neris and Ramos should ensure he remains in a set-up role.
Recapping the Phillies:
The arm to own: Aaron Nola
He's not for me: Jeremy Hellickson
Best of the bullpen: Edubray Ramos
At least at the top of the rotation, this is another "haves" staff with co-aces Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg. When they're healthy and clicking it doesn't get any better. Scherzer was an absolute beast last year, and a stress fracture of his finger is supposedly healed. I used to grumble about his inconsistency, but he has locked everything in and I think he is now a safe No. 1. His only negative now is his price tag. He is in Clayton Kershaw's neighborhood now, and there won't be any discounts come draft day.
So, let's look at Strasburg. He might – or at least should – come with a modest discount. He hasn't been able to stay healthy, and reduced use of his slider (to reduce strain on his arm) has resulted in fewer strikeouts. Now, I see him transitioning to a different type of pitcher, and when it all comes back together I believe he'll be a dominant force again. If you can buy him right, take the chance.
They'll be followed by Tanner Roark and Joe Ross. Both are competent, and Roark qualifies as a solid mid-rotation fantasy starter. Ross could be useful too, but he was sidelined with shoulder inflammation last season and that worries me. Did I forget Gio Gonzalez? Nope. He could theoretically be their No. 3 starter – on some days. However, on other days he can forget how to throw anything close to the strike zone, and depart early with a bloated pitch count. He's going to frustrate another owner this season while I watch for A.J. Cole (sooner) and Erick Fedde (later) to potentially contribute.
The Nats want to win now, so this pen is still up in the air. They spent the offseason shopping for a proven closer, but the results probably weren't what they were hoping for. They did land a big name in Joe Nathan, but despite 377 career saves, he is 42 and has pitched just seven innings over two seasons. If he can prove he is healthy, and if he is capable of handling the workload he will probably see save chances, pushing their next best, albeit fragile, option, Shawn Kelley, at least temporarily, back into his proven role as a premier set-up man. That's a lot of "ifs" to be sure, so barring another acquisition, Kelley will probably also get the chance to finish games. If Nathan and Kelley should fail to stay healthy, Blake Treinen would be the in-house option.
Recapping the Nationals:
The arm to own: Stephen Strasburg
He's not for me: Gio Gonzalez
Best of the bullpen: Shawn Kelley
Next week we'll look at the AL East.