2016 Outlook: Had Murphy gone on his power binge a little later in the playoffs and had it propelled the Mets to the title, the message would be not to pay for a well-publicized hot streak. There's still some residual optimism and the National League Championship Series hero can carry some of it over to 2016, but now it's a little easier to remind everyone that Citi Field boosts left-handed power while Nationals Park depresses it. Thus, on paper, Murphy's home run output should actually drop in his new digs. Murphy changed his approach last summer leading to a second-half featuring nine homers. If the change subsists, a total in the high teens is plausible. Perhaps a result of some nagging leg injuries, Murphy barely ran last season. That could change under Dusty Baker as the Nationals skipper is on record as saying he'd like the club to be aggressive on the basepaths.
2016 Outlook: Crawford managed to once again demonstrate improvement in every major offensive category in 2015, the fourth consecutive season that he's accomplished the feat. The 29-year-old, already a perennial Gold Glove contender, set new career highs in at-bats, runs scored, hits, doubles, homers, RBI, batting average and slugging percentage, and also enhanced his already-stellar defensive resume. Crawford's 21 homers in 2015 more than doubled his previous high of 10, a stark increase even when factoring in that he'd improved his home run numbers in each prior season as well. If he happens to approximate his poor 77 percent contact rate from 2015 and his career-high 16.2 percent HR/FB rate experiences some regression, Crawford will likely see his power numbers come back towards the mean. Regardless of some potential fluctuations in performance at the plate, he'll enter 2016 armed with a six-year, $75 million extension complete with a no-trade clause, cementing his opportunity to build on his recent success.
2016 Outlook: The 34-year-old super utility player may have finally found a lineup where his production will seem truly utilitarian. He will no longer be asked to carry an offense; rather, he will simply have to get on base so the thumpers behind him can drive him in. Zobrist is on a run of four straight seasons with double-digit homers, 75-plus runs and a batting average of .270 or better. That kind of production is hard to find, especially from someone who qualifies at second base. Hitting either first or second in the Cubs' lineup will allow him to easily clear 75 runs again, and he will also get the benefit of playing in the best hitter's park of his career. The only potential drawback is that Javier Baez may earn some starts at the keystone, but Zobrist's ability to play the outfield may keep him in the lineup even on those days. Of bigger concern may be losing his plum spot in the lineup to Addison Russell should the young shortstop get back on track at the dish this season.
2016 Outlook: Rendon checks many of the boxes that seasoned owners look for when pinpointing bounce-back candidates. He was a borderline first-round pick in drafts last year and didn't come remotely close to returning that value. Injuries limited his playing time and sapped his production when he was on the field. However, at just 25 years old, all of the skills that made him a top-20 pick last year remain, and this year he should enter camp fully healthy. Rendon should hit in front of Bryce Harper in the two hole all year, which offers hope that he can return to scoring 100-plus runs like he did in 2014. He also qualifies at second base and third base in most formats, which provides lineup flexibility. His power and speed contributions are difficult to project, as 2014 represents his lone full MLB season, but evaluators have thrown plus grades on his hit tool since back when he was the sixth pick out of Rice in 2011, so he should at least offer a solid batting average.
2016 Outlook: As everyone suspected, Walker's 2014 home run total was an outlier. His 23 home runs were a career high after four years ranging from 12 to 16. A career-best 14 percent HR/FB rate wasn't so far outside of his range that it couldn't sustain it, but the safe bet was to regress him back toward his 10 percent career mark -- and that's exactly where he landed, which yielded another 16-homer season. The move to the Mets is probably neutral, though he is unlikely to get as many plate appearances in the prime spots (61 percent of his 2015 PA were in the Nos. 2 and 4 spots). Two of his last three seasons have seen him post sub-.600 OPS totals against lefties, which leave him susceptible to a platoon, especially with lefty-crushing Wilmer Flores on the club. Lost time against lefties might actually help his bottom line, though. He has just two home runs and 24 RBI in 316 plate appearances against southpaws over the last three seasons.
2016 Outlook: A lot of people are ready to write off Lawrie, and understandably so as he's never been able to live up to the hype incited by his first 150 at-bats as a major leaguer. In a quick call-up back in 2011, he posted a .953 OPS with nine homers and seven steals. And since he was a heralded prospect, this kind of performance was almost expected over a full season. Predictably, he hasn't come close to delivering on those expectations and yet now might not be the best time to move away from him. Consider that he's still just 26 years old, moving back to a hitter-friendly environment, finally stayed healthy in 2015 (his first DL-free season), has dual-eligibility (2B/3B), set career-highs in homers and RBIs, joins that offense that rebounded after a wretched start while also adding Todd Frazier this offseason, and now costs next to nothing to acquire. One. More. Chance.
2016 Outlook: After a disastrous start to the season that saw him hitting just .211 with seven home runs at the All-Star break, Desmond pulled it together in the second half, as he hit .262/.331/.446, comparable to his 2013 Silver Slugger campaign (.280/.331/.453), and mashed 12 homers in the season's final 74 games. Even in a down year, Desmond was a four-category contributor, as he also stole 13 bases, scored 69 times and knocked in 62 runs. Seeking an upgrade for the oft-injured Josh Hamilton, the Rangers signed Desmond to a one-year deal soon after the start of spring training in February, where he will take over as the team's starting left fielder.
2016 Outlook: Nobody was quite certain how Kang would hit major league pitching, but he exceeded most expectations with a strong rookie year while playing both spots on the left side of the infield. His season was prematurely ended when Chris Coghlan aggressively slid into Kang's leg trying to break up a double play as the Pirates were fighting for the NL Central banner. Kang walked enough and his strikeout rate was OK considering the drastic change of competition coming from overseas to the major leagues. He hits too many ground balls to forsee a spike to 20 homers; as it was, it took a 17 percent HR/FB ratio to get him to 15 homers last year. Enjoy the above-average bat that qualifies at two spots on draft day, particularly at shortstop, which is rather top-heavy in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Of all the Cubs' rookies, Russell garnered the least attention. Part of that was by design as the club grew more reliant on his defense at shortstop than counting on offensive production. In fact, Russell hit out of the nine-hole, a favorite Joe Maddon ploy. Unfortunately, the attempt to get a second leadoff man didn't come to fruition as Russell's contact rate fell precipitously, fueling a rather anemic .307 on-base percentage. With nearly a full season under his belt, look for the 22-year-old infielder to cut down on the strikeouts, though not enough to work his way much higher in the order. The element of Russell's game that did not manifest during his rookie campaign was speed. As his confidence grows, so will the running opportunities. Still, so long as Russell is buried in the order, his production, despite sneaky power, will be tempered.
2016 Outlook: Harrison couldn't live up to his excellent 2014, and even giving him a break for the torn thumb that cost him over a month doesn't really help because he was actually better after the injury. He just wasn't the hitter we saw in 2014. The .353 BABIP regressed as many expected, but it wasn't that substantial and definitely not the issue behind his drop-off. He lost a full 100 points off of his slugging percentage and his 3.4 percent HR/FB rate was 21st lowest among 211 batters to log at least 400 plate appearances. Some of that might've been bad luck, but he also pulled the ball a lot less and hit fewer fly balls. The Pirates are undaunted, clearing the path for Harrison to have a guaranteed spot with the trade of Neil Walker. It's a solid lineup and he should regularly be near the top of it.
2016 Outlook: Opportunity knocked for Forsythe in 2015, not only the opportunity to play every day for the first time in his career, but also the chance to bat in the heart of a major league batting order. He answered the challenge in his age-28 season, finishing second on the Rays in home runs, runs, and RBI (behind Evan Longoria in all three categories), with a final line good enough to rank him 10th among all second basemen in earned 5x5 rotisserie value. His 8.9 percent walk rate was a career best, and the uptick in power did not come at the expense of contact as he maintained an above-average contact rate of 83.4 percent, a mark right around his career average. He also swiped nine bases in total, but was only 2-for-4 on the basepaths in the second half and it's hard to imagine he will get the green light to run more often this year. A dip in the power department could return him closer to fringe mixed-league status, but Forsythe has the second base job to himself and the projected lineup spot is fruitful for counting stats.
2016 Outlook: While Kendrick may be a boring player to own in fantasy, he is certainly entertaining to observe statistically. Over the past five seasons, his batting average has very little variance and he's hit over .290 for the last three seasons. He's either scored more than 85 runs or fewer than 65 in that same five year span and he's stolen either six or 14 bases depending on the year. He's back with the Dodgers on a two-year deal as the free agent market did not work out like he hoped, and projecting Kendrick is one of the easiest projections to do any offseason. He'll hit for a good average and provide owners with a little bit in the counting categories, but not enough in any one of them to make any significant impact. A second baseman in his 30s rarely surprises statistically, so unless he mimics what Brandon Phillips did in 2015, it will be another bland season from Kendrick in 2016.
2016 Outlook: Traded from the Angels to the Braves in the offseason as part of the package for Andrelton Simmons, Aybar goes from one of the most potent lineups in baseball to one of the most anemic. And it's not like Aybar, who's coming off his worst season as a full-time starter and entering his age-32 season, is the caliber of talent who can produce counting stats no matter the team context. He continued to make contact at a well-above-average clip, but that skill was largely negated by an inability to take a walk (3.9 BB%) or hit for a lick of power (.069 ISO). While Aybar continued to produce decent run and stolen-base totals, his contributions in those categories are in serious jeopardy entering 2016. His success rate on the basepaths has been slipping in recent years, and a spot near the top of the order is far from a given considering his lackluster on-base skills. Shortstop is thin, but even so, Aybar's appeal is limited.
2016 Outlook: 2015 was a rough year for Pedroia owners, as he appeared in just 93 games and became a total non-factor on the basepaths. At 32 years old and in the 11th year of a career that has seen him consistently banged up, it's easy to wonder how long his body will withstand the rigors of playing the game. Pedroia missed 27 games in 2014 before missing 69 in 2015, and he isn't getting any younger. Still, second base is a very weak position in 2016 and Pedroia has hit at least .270 every year since his sophomore season in 2007. Between his consistent contact ability and the surprising power he showed in 2015 -- 12 home runs in the short campaign after failing to reach double-digits in 2013 and 2014 -- he at least provides more upside than the typical fodder at the position.
2016 Outlook: Miller is the Rays shortstop to own in fantasy, as he should open the year on the strong side of a platoon with Tim Beckham. Neither player was particularly valuable in real life last year, however, so there could be some fluidity if one emerges as the far superior defensive option. Miller proved last year that he can help a little in power and steals, though his likely spot at the bottom of the Rays lineup will limit his upside in runs and RBIs. A .248 career hitter, his batting average is unlikely to be much help, but it won't sink a fantasy team either. There is not much hype surrounding the 26-year-old, though he can be thought of as a serviceable middle infield option in mixed leagues; he could outperform that valuation if he achieves the skill growth that many players experience at his age.