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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

National League

MINNESOTA TWINS
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Acquired C-R John Ryan Murphy from the Yankees in exchange for OF-S Aaron Hicks. [11/11]

With the Twins' return to competitiveness coinciding with incumbent starter Kurt Suzuki's return to the offensive pits, Terry Ryan entered the winter with an obvious need at catcher. Hence Murphy.

Having done fine the past two seasons in small roles (most recently as Brian McCann's platoon pal), the 24-year-old Murphy deserved a chance at more playing time. He should receive that burn in Minnesota; just don't expect anything special to follow, since he's more average than outstanding. Murphy possesses solid catch-and-throw skills, as well as the potential to hit for a decent average and provide some pop against lefties. Alas, he has his share of blemishes, too—most notably, he needs to improve upon his net-minding, and up his walk rate, as a means to counterbalance his strikeouts.

The biggest drawback to Murphy's mostly average skill set is that he's consecutive down years away from being relegated to backup status. Nonetheless, he won't qualify for arbitration until after the 2017 season, making him a cheap fix for a team who needs to use its money on the other side of the ball. Factor in how the Twins didn't have a real internal alternative—Josmil Pinto is the only other non-Suzuki backstop on the 40-man roster, and the Twins have made it clear they won't suffer his defense—and Murphy is a solid, if unspectacular upgrade behind the plate for a team that needed one. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

John Ryan Murphy

Murphy’s fantasy stock remains relatively neutral because he still isn’t projected to be an everyday starter and his bat isn’t special enough to be worthwhile in fantasy leagues. The Twins picked up a quality backstop who can push Suzuki for playing time; however, he won’t move the needle offensively. Although he has shown an ability to hit .270-.280 in the majors, it comes with little power and questionable plate discipline. It ain’t worth it. Even if he no longer has Gary Sanchez breathing down his neck, the 24-year-old remains undraftable in anything but the deepest of leagues.

Kurt Suzuki

Dude is a career .255 hitter with a .114 ISO. He’s on the wrong side of 30 and now has the Twins bringing in a young backstop to steal some playing time. Suzuki was the 29th-ranked fantasy catcher a year ago—which is unrosterable in the vast majority of leagues—and his overall situation is not improving. All of this is to say that his measly 4.4 percent ownership in ESPN leagues is poised to fall precipitously in 2016. —J.P. Breen

NEW YORK YANKEES
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Acquired OF-S Aaron Hicks from the Twins in exchange for C-R John Ryan Murphy; acquired RHP Ronald Herrera from the Padres in exchange for 2B-R Jose Pirela. [11/11]

Fresh off a breakout season—or month, more accurately—Hicks finds himself on the move to New York, where he should fit right in.

Hicks is a high-quality defender whose strong arm allows him to play across the outfield. He's also a speedy baserunner who has succeeded on 74 percent of his career stolen-base attempts. At the plate, he's less of a certain quantity. In recent years, Hicks had gained the reputation as a passive hitter—someone who took too many pitches for his own good. He changed that perception in 2015 by becoming more aggressive at the plate, upping his swing rate by more than seven percentage points when compared to 2014, and, most impressively, doing so while maintaining his strike-zone command.

Unfortunately, Hicks was unable to improve upon his status as a nominal switch-hitter. His .296 multi-year True Average against lefties is about as good as his .236 figure versus righties is bad. The obvious Yankees-related comparison to make then is to Chris Young, whose platoon split was even wider than Hicks', and who Joe Girardi micromanaged to perfection in 2015. While it's hard to ignore that the Yankees acquired Hicks on the same day that rumors surfaced about other teams' interest in Brett Gardner, the smart money remains on Hicks being the new Young and nothing more.

Herrera, meanwhile, is a small right-handed starter with a low-90s fastball, an average curveball, and the makings a decent changeup, according to Christopher Crawford. His ceiling is believed to be that of a back-end starter, with a future in relief serving as the more likely outcome. —R.J. Anderson

Fantasy Impact

Aaron Hicks

With the Byron Buxton Era set to begin in Minnesota, Hicks didn’t have a great long-term outlook with the Twins. The Yankees gave Chris Young 350-plus plate appearances a year ago and reportedly are willing to move Brett Gardner this winter—both of which indicate that Hicks should have an opportunity to provide fantasy value with the Bronx Bombers.

The common consensus seems to be that Yankee Stadium should benefit the 26-year-old center fielder. That’s true, just not as it has been represented by many. Hicks did most of his offensive damage as a right-handed batter against southpaws a year ago, but Target Field (104) had a better home-run factor for righties than did Yankee Stadium (101). The power advantage for hitters in New York comes to right field. Hicks only hit .237/.304/.361 with five homers when batting left-handed, which seems to indicate the stadium shouldn’t matter much. But check out the underlying numbers:

AVG

OBP

SLG

BB%

K%

BABIP

as RHB

.307

.375

.495

9.8%

24.1%

.368

as LHB

.237

.304

.361

8.3%

14.1%

.261

It should be noted that BABIP is often deserved and quality of contact matters, but the discrepancy is massive with the walk-to-strikeout ratio being much better as a lefty. One wonders if his performance as a left-handed hitter is due to bounce-back a bit in 2016. If so, Yankee Stadium would be a huge upgrade.

Of course, Hicks momentarily gave up switch-hitting in 2014 because he lost his confidence as a lefty. Perhaps that’s a reflection of poor mechanics and his low BABIP is a function of poor contact and a poor swing. Looking at the numbers, though, it appears he has some upside as a lefty for the Yankees, at least more than he did in Minnesota. And given a more open path to playing time in pinstripes, Hicks’ overall fantasy value gets a nudge to the green. —J.P. Breen

SEATTLE MARINERS
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Reportedly signed OF-R Franklin Gutierrez to a one-year deal. [11/11]

The offseason hasn't officially started until Gutierrez returns to Seattle on a one-year deal—this is the third consecutive winter the two sides have come together on such a pact. Unlike last year's arrangement, this one brings good reason for optimism: Gutierrez is coming off an impressive 189-plate appearance stretch, during which he homered 15 times—a noteworthy accomplishment for a player whose career-high 18 required an additional 440 plate appearances. Gutierrez will presumably reprise the platoon role that saw him face lefties in nearly 60 percent of his plate appearances in 2015. He should prove to be worth the M's while, provided he's hearty and hale (admittedly never a given). Join us around this time next year where we offer the same caveats about the same parties.

ATLANTA BRAVES
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Reportedly signed C-L A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal. [11/11]]

Duh. As productive as Pierzynski was at the plate last season—and remember, he posted the fourth-highest True Average among catchers with more than 250 plate appearances—his return to Atlanta seemed more likely than not. Why? The obvious reasons: he's old (he'll play next season at 39); he's unlikely to replicate his performance again; he's a below-average defender; and so on—that doesn't even address his at-times prickly personality. Expect Pierzynski to resume his role as Christian Bethancourt's mentor and platoon partner—and don't be surprised if he finishes the season on another team's bench.

SAN DIEGO PADRES
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Acquired UTL-R Jose Pirela from the Yankees in exchange for RHP Ronald Herrera. [11/11]

A.J. Preller's first offseason addition is a small one. Pirela is a soon-to-turn 26-year-old who has limited big-league success and potential. Rather, he profiles best as a bench player whose keep is earned by his good speed and impressive defensive versatility (he has experience at almost every position). While Pirela has enjoyed success at the plate in Triple-A (career .311/.362/.435), during his stints in the majors he's shown little regard for maintaining his zone or even taking balanced swings—a combination that leads to weak contact and poor results. You might wonder just how this trade affects Alexi Amarista—a similar player to Pirela who is already on the San Diego roster—at which point you should come to the realization that spring is a long, long ways away. —R.J. Anderson

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huztlers
11/12
It seems like everyone gets a projected bump in offensive numbers when going to NYY, but it never seems to actually play out.
danfinn01
11/12
See Chris Young....
oldbopper
11/12
Pirela may not be able to play but Amarista has already proven, beyond any doubt, that he can't. It is certainly worth a try.
Michael
11/13
Regarding J.R. Murphy, you wrote "he has shown an ability to hit .270-.280 in the majors." OK, but 2014-15 was only ~240 AB and came with a BABIP much higher than one would expect based on his lack of power and speed and minor league track record. I question whether Murphy has that ability.