Players Opting Out Creates Opportunity and Fantasy Value for Teammates
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
As the start of the regular season draws near, more and more active players will likely choose to opt out. So far, four (now up to 7 and will continue to grow) somewhat regulars have announced they'll be sitting out the 2020 shortened season. The few players choosing to sit out the season due to health and safety concerns, opens up playing time for teammates, increasing their fantasy value. Let's review which players are opting out and which of their teammates benefit the most. (The opting out player is listed first, followed by the players with increased value.) ** This list will be continually updated throughout "Summer Training" and the regular season.
Ian Desmond OF, Colorado Rockies
Sam Hilliard OF
With the announcement of Ian Desmond opting out, Charlie Blackmon testing positive for the coronavirus, and the DH coming to the NL, a ton of new playing time opens up for the Rockies, and Sam Hilliard is the first name that comes to mind. Someone I was already high on before the DH and absent players, the 6'5" lefty, now has a clear path to everyday at bats and should produce at a high level. A power hitter with great speed, evident by his 35/22 season last year in AAA and his 7 home runs and 2 steals over 77 at bats at the major league level, Hilliard has an excellent chance to produce big time numbers (with possibly a low batting average) for fantasy teams and the Rockies.
Garrett Hampson 2B/SS/OF
Most likely to be given starts at second base, with Ryan McMahon going to first, and Daniel Murphy moving to DH, Hampson can now also fill in for Desmond who was expected to platoon in the outfield vs. lefties. He hit .284 with a .804 SLG in the second half last season and stole 11 bags in only 169 AB's. With even more spots opening up, expect the former prospect to play often and be a nice source of steals, while not hurting you in any other category.
Matt Kemp OF
Kemp was added by the Rockies after the Marlins left him off of their 60 man roster. He hasn't shown much in recent times, but if Kemp has anything left in the tank, Colorado is the place to do it. He's only a year and a half removed from being an All Star, and if he can somehow make the team, he could start at DH vs left handed pitching, something he has done well at in the past.
Ryan Zimmerman 1B, Washington Nationals
Howie Kendrick 1B/2B/3B
Zimmerman was originally slated to platoon at first base and come off the bench as a late-in-game pinch hitter, but when the NL DH was announced, it was thought that he and Kendrick would share time at DH and 1B (along with Eric Thames and Asdrubal Cabrera). That no longer being an option, the club will rely even more heavily on the soon to be 37 year old Kendrick. If everything goes as planned, Eric Thames will start at first base vs righties switching off with Kendrick against lefties. Howie would presumably move to DH vs righties with Asdrubal Cabrera DH'ing vs lefties. (That is if the Nationals do hand the starting third base job to Carter Kieboom.) Kendrick will still need the occasional days off, especially with the grueling schedule, but if he can return to or even come close to the .966 OPS, 142 OPS+ player he was last season, Kendrick will be a steal in the late rounds.
Eric Thames 1B
If Thames can continue to cut down on his K rate (35% in 2018, 30% in 2019), he could become fantasy relevant again. Back in 2017, when he returned to MLB, he showed massive power and great ability to get on base. After that first year however, the strike outs rose, especially vs left handed pitching, and he became more of an after thought in fantasy leagues. The Brewers regulated him to platoon duty and he hit for a .219 BA with a 77 OPS+, causing the Crew to decline his option. The Nationals smartly scooped him up with 1 year deal worth 4 mil (with mutual option for 2021) and now with Zimmerman out for the shortened season, it's looking like an even sweeter deal. Without a ton of healthy, young options in Washington, if Thames can repeat what made him so valuable two seasons ago and can continue to hit home runs like he did last year (25 in less than 100 games started), he will not only find himself on the field more often, but in fantasy lineups as well.
Asdrubal Cabrera 2B/3B
The thought was, if top prospect Carter Kieboom earned the starting third base job, the journeyman Cabrera, would likely be left without a starting position. With Zimmerman no longer in the picture however, Cabrera who actually hit well for the Nationals last year, may find himself not only subbing in all over the diamond, but DH'ing quite often as well. If he finds near full time playing status, he could have value in leagues that require MI and CI spots.
Mike Leake SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
Merrill Kelly SP
With the Arizona staff as it was, the D'backs looked to have 6 obvious starters with a few younger options. With the absence of Leake, Merrill Kelly should be the first choice to move back into the rotation. An average arm at best last year, Kelly showed resilience when fans were down on him and he continued to produce decently as a #5 starter, winning 13 games and striking out 158. He'll have to beat out teammate Alex Young for the 5th and final starting spot however, who surprisingly did show some potential last year. In the right match up, Kelly does possess some value, especially in weekly leagues where he lines up against two weaker opponents. The NL West will only be facing west coast teams this season, so some nice matchups vs the Mariners and Giants could be just what the doctor ordered.
Alex Young SP
The 43rd overall pick in the 2015 draft took his lumps in AAA, but was good enough last season to get the call up and did not disappoint. Over 15 starts and 2 relief appearances, Young produced a 3.56 ERA with a quaint 1.19 WHIP. His K's weren't very high and his peripherals showed he got consistently lucky (4.81 FIP), but nevertheless Young won 7 games for the D'backs and held opposing hitters to a .226 BA. If given the chance in the rotation or as the likely first replacement, particularly in a year that's going to see a ton of roster turn around, Young makes for a nice NL only arm and a valuable watch list candidate in mixed leagues.
Joe Ross SP, Washington Nationals
Austin Voth SP
Voth is a strong candidate to earn the 5th starting job for the Nationals. In the mix even before Ross opted out, Voth, a 7 year minor league vet, contributed nicely with a fine 3.30 ERA (3.79 FIP), a 1.05 WHIP, and more than a K per inning over 43 and 2/3 innings for the World Series Champs. He shows good command, keeps the ball in the yard, and induces weak contact (22% of the time). A four pitch pitcher, who mainly sticks to a fastball/curveball combination, Voth has the ability and surrounding cast to be a viable, end-of-rotation type in most fantasy leagues.
Erick Fidde SP/RP
Fidde who was optioned to AAA in the end of March, started 12 games for the Nationals last season and also pitched in relief. The one time, highly valued prospect out of the University of Nevada, has struggled to find his footing over the last few years in the organization, yielding mixed results. A sinker ball pitcher, who walks too many and gives up plenty of home runs, only seems to pitch well in AA where he keeps being reassigned. After his demotion he performs very well, just to be called up again to disappoint. Maybe this is the year he puts it all together and with Ross's absence, it may open the door for Fidde to prove himself once again. The organization hasn't given up on him, and neither should fantasy owners. He's someone to monitor as the season goes on.
David Price SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
Dustin May SP
Dustin May is the Dodgers top pitching prospect and performed very well last season. With a fastball that touches the high 90’s and a filthy cutter/slider, May could be the next young, ace-type starter the Dodgers farm system continues to produce. He deserves a spot on all fantasy rosters and could be the first in line to take over for Price. If not, his starts should come sooner than later.
Ross Stripling SP/RP
Stripling was great when given a chance to fill in as a starter in 2018. Then with high expectations the following year, many owners spent an early mid-round selection on him only to be left scrambling to replace the injured starter. When Stripling did return, he did so as a reliever. He's always been a good arm regardless of when he pitches, regularly producing an ERA in the mid 3's, with more than a strike out per inning, and a very low WHIP. If the Dodgers don’t hand the keys to Dustin May out of the gate, Stripling would likely get the first crack as a starter/opener and could stick all year, greatly increasing his value from fringe player to must start.
Felix Hernandez SP, Atlanta Braves
Sean Newcomb SP
Not that King Felix was ever a shoe-in for the Atlanta starting 5, but after a nearly flawless shortened spring, many were projecting he would earn the role. Newcomb would return to the bullpen where he'd had success and the younger guys would return to the minors and continue to develop. That no longer being the case, the young guys are thrown right back into the mix with Newcomb as the front runner. He had a fine rookie and sophomore season, but eventually his control problems proved to be too much and was sent to the bullpen. A 4 pitch pitcher who leaned less on his changeup after moving to the pen (his least successful offering), thrived by focusing mainly on his fastball/curveball combination. If he can parlay that formula back into a starting role, he may end up a valuable piece in the young Braves rotation. It's been reported however, that the Braves will be cautious with their starters, limiting them to 2 to 4 innings their first couple times through the rotation, further limiting their fantasy value.
Kyle Wright SP
While Wright didn’t fare nearly as well in his initial call up as Newcomb, he did pitch effectively in the minors. Armed with a mid 90's fastball who averaged more than a strikeout per inning last year in AAA, young pitchers in the Braves origination are always worth monitoring. If he can beat out his teammates over theses next few weeks of summer training, he could have some value down the road.
Bryse Wilson SP
Wilson, like Hernandez shined early in Spring Training, garnering attention and rumors that he may be a strong contender for a starting job. With Cole Hamels originally sidelined due to injury, the Braves had a significant opening in their starting five, but with the delay has since returned. The absence of Hernandez however, reopens a spot and Wilson could be the guy that fills it. The Braves unfortunately will stick to short outings over the first month of the season however, limiting his value. Ultimately, they’re going to redo another shortened version of Spring Training and it will be up to the players to go out and win the job. The situation deserves monitoring as the season draws closer and could result in a helpful back of the rotation piece for fantasy teams.
Nick Markakis OF, Atlanta Braves
(Markakis has since announced his plan to return this season)
Adam Duvall OF/1B
Duvall, originally projected to platoon with Markakis vs lefties, should have an opportunity to play every day now. In 120 at bats last season, Duvall hit an impressive 10 home runs with a .267 BA and a 121 wRC+. He destroyed minor league pitching and if you go back a couple of years, he was an All Star with the Reds. If he can slightly increase his production against righties (only batted .230, but did hit 6 home runs in 81 AB's and drove in 11), then he could be a valuable source of power off the waiver wire. Depending on how long Freddy Freeman is out for could also increase his playing time.
Austin Riley 3B/OF
After crushing 9 home runs over his first 18 games, Riley became susceptible to the down and away slider and his numbers tanked. If he can make the adjustment this season, he could go back to his mashing ways and the 2015 first round pick out of high school could find himself somewhere in the lineup everyday. Look for him to rotate between third, first, the outfield, and DH. He's worth a late round flier.
Ender Inciarte OF
Remember a couple of seasons ago when Inciarte was going in the mid-rounds due to high average and steals potential? That seems like an ancient memory now after a down 2018 and an injury filled 2019. Replaced by the wunderkind Ronald Acuna, Inciarte's pretty much a forgotten man in Atlanta these days, but with the current state of things, it's not that hard to imagine Inciarte producing again at only 29 years old. He may sit against lefties, but he could be a late source for steals if he's able to constantly get on base. He's a wait and see candidate with rebound potential.
Cristian Pache OF
There's a chance the Braves look to their future and decide to promote their top prospect (ranked 12th overall in MLB), Cristian Pache. He's a dynamic, 5 tool player that is still developing, but did spend an ample amount of time in the high minors last season. If Atlanta does go this route, look for the 21 year old to produce in all 5 roto categories, just don't expect anything substantial. He probably won't play much as it is, but you never know with players dropping like flies. He's someone to keep an eye on.
Yasiel Puig OF
**Update: The Braves have signed Yasiel Puig to a contract, where he should play at least six days a week. Freeman is still out with Covid-19 and there is no timetable for his return. Combine his absence with Markakis opting out, and the Braves should still have plenty of playing time to go around. It will come down to who gets the bulk of the playing time at third and how long Freeman is actually out. My prediction is Duvall will be in the lineup vs lefties, Riley will start about 5 days a week, Inciarte will start most games vs righties, while Carmargo will take the biggest hit and fill in for all those mentioned. Duvall loses some value (not that he was that high on anyones list, but I liked him as a sleeper), Riley's stays about the same, but Puig's presence does bolster some of his teammates value, adding another quality bat to the middle of the lineup. I think he'll fit in well in Atlanta. The team culture seems to fit his personality, plus the Braves usually get the best out of their players. Look for Puig to return to his old ways and can now be moved safely up draft boards again, (figuring he can be ready by opening day) up to round 11, or even 10.
Buster Posey C, San Francisco Giants
Joey Bart C
With Posey choosing to opt out for family reasons, there's a strong chance the Giants turn to their future, and activate Joey Bart. The top prospect in their system since being drafted second overall in the 2018 draft, the 6'3" Bart combines great plate awareness with power and has a cannon behind the dish. The Giants could choose to prolong his service time and not activate the young backstop for the shortened season (he has never appeared above AA after all). This could prove to be the wise choice considering they're not projected to contend this year anyway, but if they do call him up, Bart could produce some nice power numbers and would be a fine #2 catcher in leagues that require it.
Michael Kopech SP, Chicago White Sox
**Kopech never figured to be on the opening day roster anyway, but was expected to be part of the 60 man taxi squad. In a year where the Sox could make a run at the playoffs, it would have been a nice plus to have Kopech waiting in the wings. It makes perfect sense for him to sit out this season however, without being given ample time in the minor leagues to complete his rehab and up his pitch count. Whether that was the reason or not, even if Kopech did join Chicago at some point this season, it would have been in a somewhat limited capacity. Replacing one of the original starters due to injury or otherwise, Kopech probably wasn't going to go more than a few innings per start, strongly limiting his fantasy value. He of course does come with a lot of upside and strikeout potential, but after the season got reduced to 60 games, 2020 was never going to be his year.
(Dane Dunning SP)
Maybe the White Sox 6th best prospect (3rd best pitcher), the 6'4" Dane Dunning could get the call. He is listed on the 60 man roster and besides missing all of last year due to Tommy John, has pitched very well in his minor league career so far. The former first round pick has shown good command of the zone and has great late movement on his pitches. In 2018 Dunning started 11 games in AA, where he didn't give up a single home run and averaged more than a K per inning. The only downside is, similar to Kopech, I doubt the Sox brass would allow Dunning to go more than a few innings per game in this very strange season, thus limiting his value.
Jordan Hicks RP, St. Louis Cardinals
Carlos Martinez RP
Jordan Hicks was thought to rejoin the bullpen mix sometime this summer after recovering from last years Tommy John surgery, and eventually return to closing. That will no longer be the case however, after he announced he"ll be opting out, citing pre-existing health conditions. With Giovanny Gallegos still absent from camp, the closer role may again fall upon Carlos Martinez. Martinez, also a late arrival to camp, had expressed interest in the off-season about returning to the starting rotation, but the team may have other ideas and could be better served employing him at the back end of games again. He produced a 56.5 GB%, 9.87 K/9, a very low 0.37 HR/9, and a 3.39 BB/9. Which translated to a 3.17 ERA (2.86 FIP), 1.18 WHIP and 24 saves over 48 and a third innings, all of them in relief. If the numbers tell us anything, it's that the results could be even better this season and that they will likely give Martinez the first crack and saving games again. The Cardinals could turn to a committee, which in the shortened season could be beneficial, but with the success Martinez had last season and having two great options from both sides as setup men (Miller L, Gallegos R - when he returns), the Cards will likely stick with Martinez for most save opportunities.
*Update: Martinez has earned a spot in the starting rotation to begin the season.
Giovanny Gallegos RP
Gallegos was the front-runner a few months ago to close games at the beginning of the 2020 season, but with everything that has happened and his continual absence from camp, Gallegos becomes more of a mid season replacement for Martinez. He'll likely return to a setup role, a spot he thrived in last year, where he could eventually vulture a couple saves and earn a win or two. Gallegos still has value, but he can safely be moved down draft boards now, with the future still unknown.
Andrew Miller RP
Miller will also likely return to a setup role for the St. Louis club and could be a useful source in all 5 pitching categories. His value though, will be less than his two teammates previously mentioned. He's still worth a pick in the final round of your draft.
Kwang Hyun Kim RP
Kim has been named the closer to begin the season, but looked a bit shaky In his first opportunity. It’s his job for now, but Gallegos could replace him at any time. Both are worth owning.
Lorenzo Cain OF, Milwaukee Brewers
Ben Gamel OF
Gamel, a decent player for the Crew, is more of a platoon player, who may have some value in the deepest of leagues. He won’t play everyday though and likely won’t produce enough to be fantasy relevant in most leagues.
Logan Morrison 1B
Cain‘s abscence could at times move Ryan Braun to the outfield, opening up the DH spot for Morrison. His best days are behind him however, and he’s best left off of fantasy rosters.
Yoenis Cespedes OF, New York Mets
Dominique Smith 1B/OF
Before today, Smith had primarily platooned vs RHP for the Mets this season, where he produced a .250 BA, 1 HR, and 5 RBI. Likely to stick in the lineup against righties and possibly lefties (he’s gone 11 for 33 against them dating back to the beginning of last year), Smith could carve out a valuable bench role for fantasy players in most leagues. Capable of driving in runs, hitting for a decent average, and driving balls out of the park, Smith shouldn’t have much competition for the job. Brian Dozier may have something to say about it, but he won’t really cut into his time. If you have the room, add Smith now and he may surprise you.
Issan Diaz 2B, Miami Marlins
Jon Berti SS/3B/OF
The Marlins roster has been turned upside down by the current coronavirus outbreak. It’s anyone’s guess who could replace/start for the organization, but if Jon Berti is healthy, look for him to pick up much of the slack left by Diaz opting out. He could fill in at second, or be shifted to the outfield, keeping Anderson and Villar in the infield. Either way, Berti will likely be starting where his stolen base potential makes him a worthy roster candidate.
Monte Harrison OF
This doesn’t directly correlate to Diaz, but with the roster in flux, Harrison should get an everyday opportunity and could produce nicely at the major league level. The 9th ranked prospect in the system, Harrison looked great in spring/summer camp and played like a five tool star in the minor leagues. If nothing else, he should steal a good amount of bags, making him a quality add off the waiver wire right now (August 2nd).
Marcus Stroman SP, NY Mets
David Peterson SP
Stroman was already expected to miss half of the season, but now he won’t return. Peterson should stick in the rotation all year and is a nice streaming option in the right matchups. He struck out just over a batter an inning in AA last year and posted a 4.19 ERA, but with a 3.19 FIP. In three starts so far this season, he’s gone 2-1, with a 3.78 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, and 14 strikeouts over 16.2 innings.