Dear Mr. Fantasy: The danger of overvaluing keepers
Fantasy owners covet top prospects, almost to a fault. As our Scott White writes, some overvalue elite keeper options so significantly that it prevents them from reaching any short-term goals.
"In your dreams, pal."
That's what you'd probably hear a contending team say if a rebuilding team asked for its top prospect in exchange for a pricey veteran. As much as the contender wants to win today, that prospect represents its future. And the future is a long, long time.
Most Fantasy owners haven't had to think in such terms. But with more and more people choosing to play in more and more complex leagues in the off chance Billy Beane pops in, surveys the transactions page and says, "Yes, yes, I must have him as my assistant" -- hey, we can all dream -- Fantasy is gaining ground on reality.
But it's still not even close.
No, until your league expands to 30 teams complete with minor-league systems that run four or five teams deep, until the word "contract" eliminates the word "keeper" from the league constitution, until the player pool runs so thin that you start holding drafts in June instead of April, prospects won't have as much value in Fantasy as they do in real life.
There's simply too much talent to go around.
I'm currently in second place in my keeper league. I have Domonic Brown and Michael Stanton as rookies, and under our league's rules, rookies all get cheap contracts and don't count against your keepers until they've played two seasons. So I'd basically get to keep both for free next year. I know both have high ceilings, but how high do you think they really are? Would you consider moving one or both in exchange for considerably higher-priced pitching? Or should I just sit tight and hope my current staff of Stephen Strasburg, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Cain and Trevor Cahill get it done for me down the stretch? -- Kirk Sibbald
SW: You're in second place, Mike. The title is within your grasp. If you're in a position to win it, go for it. The best keepers in the world don't guarantee anything, so why play for next year if you don't have to?
Though your starting rotation might be good enough, you could only benefit by adding another arm to it, especially with Strasburg injured and on a tight innings limit. So if you spot a rebuilding team dangling a Justin Verlander type, don't hold back.
As free as Stanton and Brown might be for you, neither is a sure bet for significant Fantasy production, especially within the next two years. Stanton in particular concerns me. If your league penalizes for strikeouts, he could hit 35 homers a year and still fall short of elite status. And that's assuming he doesn't go the way of Chris Davis, which is hardly a certainty at this stage of his career. Brown I like a little more because of his steady progress every step up the ladder, but he hasn't even landed an everyday job yet.
If you can improve your present situation without sacrificing the future, more power to you. Perhaps you can hang on to Brown and package Stanton with Garza to get the top arm you need. I don't know. But this isn't the big leagues where you run the risk of crippling your franchise for the next decade by trading away your top prospects. Do what you need to do.
The best thing about prospects is there's always more on the way.
In my Head-to-Head keeper league, somebody offered me Carl Crawford and Yovani Gallardo for Matt Kemp and Cliff Lee. Kemp or Lee would be my fifth and final keeper if I had to choose now. Does Crawford and his likely change of scenery represent a good enough upgrade long term to pull the trigger on this offer? I'm currently in first place but have three teams right on my heels. Lee has been carrying me, but Gallardo is no slouch. What do you think? -- Brian Brennan
SW: For the sake of argument, let's think of this deal as Crawford for Lee straight-up. They're the principle pieces and the ones you'd consider keeping.
I think you should stick with what you have, Brian. I realize Lee trails pitchers like Adam Wainwright, Roy Halladay and Ubaldo Jimenez by a few points, but when you consider he began the season on the DL with an abdominal injury, missing four or five starts in the process, he has been arguably the most valuable pitcher in Fantasy. On a per-start basis, he's averaging 22.4 points compared to 20.9 for Halladay, 20.8 for Wainwright and 20.6 for Jimenez.
Of course, Crawford ranks among the top five outfielders and is routinely a first- or second-round pick in Fantasy, so you can certainly argue a player like him is fair value for Lee, especially if you consider Gallardo the better of the secondary players in the deal. But Crawford -- like most speedsters -- tends to run less in the second half. He stole only 16 of his 60 bases after the All-Star break last year. Granted, he could buck the trend, as he has more than once in his career, but the chances of him slowing down are much greater than the chances of Lee slowing down.
I realize Lee is nearing his 32nd birthday, which isn't exactly an ideal age for a keeper, but let's be honest here: You play in a mixed league where every team keeps only five players. You'll be able to find keeper-level talent in next year's draft. It's not like you play in a dynasty league where you're stuck with the same players until you trade them or they retire. Because of the opportunity for turnover, next year is the only year you should care about when choosing your keepers. Lee won't suddenly become an old man by then.
If you needed an outfielder and had too much starting pitching, I might sing a different tune, but all things being even, I prefer Lee to Crawford right now.
I have Daric Barton playing first base with Adam LaRoche and Luke Scott on the bench. Someone offered me Paul Konerko for Barton and Jonathon Niese, who I consider my eighth-best pitcher. Is Konerko enough of an upgrade to pull the trigger? Standard scoring, but runs do not count. Also, what are your thoughts on Brennan Boesch for next year. I have him and am mulling a half-season rental of Josh Beckett, who is set to become a free agent in our league. -- Mike Nelson
SW: You people and your complicated rules. Whatever happened to drafting a team every year? It's like you're all competing for Ed Wade's job or something.
All right, guy whose rules I vaguely understand, I'll try my best to give you an educated answer. To me, Konerko seems like an obvious upgrade over Barton, especially since you'd only have to sacrifice your eighth-best pitcher to get him. How often do you actually start your eighth-best pitcher? How many eighth-best pitchers have you had over the course of the season? Why get especially attached to this one? Barton offers almost no power at a position that demands it, and scoring runs, which don't even count for anything in your league, is one of the few things he's good at.
As for Boesch, he's still a bit of a wild card. Given his lack of pedigree, his debut seemed too good to be true, which perhaps explains his recent slump. But then again, he was too good to be true for a solid two months. I wouldn't fault a rebuilding team for looking into him, especially if he has a favorable contract, but I don't think you should be that desperate to hold on to him.
If a Beckett rental could put your team over the top, you shouldn't deny yourself for a non-prospect who may have already had his day in the sun.
I'm in first place in a 10-team non-keeper league and was recently offered Matt Cain and Jayson Werth for Ubaldo Jimenez. I know Jimenez has struggled lately, but I think he has the ability to return to his earlier form. My team has a solid outfield (and offense in general) and starting rotation. Would I be insane not to take this trade? -- James Sullivan
SW: Actually, this sort of trade is exactly why I say I like the side of the deal that gets the best player. You'd be netting the extra player, sure, but in a league as shallow as yours, you'd actually lose more ground than you'd gain.
In a 10-team league, Werth is at best a No. 2 outfielder. You say your outfield is above-average, which means you might already have three outfielders rated No. 2 or higher. Werth doesn't upgrade your team in any way. He just adds depth, which can actually work to your disadvantage if you play around with your lineup too much.
No doubt, Cain is a good Fantasy option, but he currently ranks 15th among starting pitchers in standard Head-to-Head leagues. In other words, every team has a Matt Cain-type pitcher atop its rotation. You can't say the same for Jimenez, who currently ranks fourth in Head-to-Head leagues even with the recent cold spell. The purpose of Fantasy is to outperform your competition, not simply to keep up with it, and Jimenez is one of the few options who makes it possible. Why would you give that up for a little outfield depth?
Now, if you played in an NL-only league and were starting Melky Cabrera as your third outfielder, we could talk.
I'm in a 10-team Head-to-Head league and need help with relievers. A few weeks ago, my two closers (Neftali Feliz and Francisco Cordero) blew saves on the same day, and it cost me an important win. I admit I overreacted and dumped both, thinking I could replace them easily enough off the waiver wire, but every move I've made since then has backfired. Bobby Jenks, Huston Street and Brian Fuentes have given me almost nothing over the last three weeks. Now I've gone back to Cordero and picked up John Axford, but are they good long-term options? Jonathan Papelbon, Ryan Franklin and Carlos Marmol are also available. -- Kurt Harris
SW: Settle down there, Kurt. You're running your team like a crazy person.
When you have that much talent at your disposal, lineup changes are hardly necessary. You've fallen into the habit of chasing the numbers, meaning you start a guy the week after he puts up big numbers instead of just waiting for the big numbers to happen.
Consistency is hard to predict, but over the course of the season, the numbers tend to even out. You know Feliz, Cordero and Jenks will get their 35 saves, but they won't get them evenly over a 26-week period. Their teams will heat up and cool off, and they'll go through hot and cold stretches of their own. If you try to guess when they'll get their saves and when they won't, you'll end up missing all the good weeks and hitting all the bad ones. So don't play that game. Just find a closer you trust and stick with him.
That goes for every position. Every player from Hanley Ramirez to Placido Polanco will have good weeks and bad. If you sit a guy after a bad week, you won't get that bad week back; you'll just risk missing out on the bounce-back week -- the kind that made him worth drafting in the first place. If you trust in the talent, you should trust that the numbers will be there in the end.
Now, if you don't trust in the talent, you can mix it up a little more. If you're using borderline options like Troy Glaus and Jose Guillen at your DH spot, you can platoon them based on streaks and matchups. But studs are different, and just about all of the closers you listed are studs.
So who are the best? I like Papelbon because of his track record and supporting cast and Feliz because of his pure stuff. Cordero would be my third choice as the closer for a first-place team. Don't even bother with the others unless one of those top three gets injured.
SW: I'd like to keep both Marcum and Nolasco. Scherzer and Zito both have their uses, but Scherzer has been too inconsistent to classify as a must-own option, and Zito still isn't as dominant as he was in his Oakland days.
Marcum had me worried when he pitched less than six innings in his first two starts off the DL, but he bounced back in a big way last time out, allowing one run on three hits with no walks and 10 strikeouts in seven innings. Still, he's known more for being an efficient innings eater than a strikeout artist, which limits him to middle-of-the-rotation status in Fantasy.
Nolasco, on the other hand, could strike out 10 batters every time he takes the mound. His control is second-to-none for a pitcher with his knockout ability, and for the third straight year, he seems to have found his form in the second half, going 6-1 with a 3.12 ERA, a 0.92 WHIP and 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings over his last seven starts.
He's the only one of the four who could emerge as an ace for your team. If you can only keep one, keep him.
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