The cliché is that hope springs eternal in baseball and that is no doubt especially so in fantasy baseball wherein you get to remake most, if not all, of your team each year. Keeper leagues allow you to build a core and hopefully keep a winning tradition around for several years. Of course, we know it doesn’t always work out that way.
Looking at the keeper lists in one of my leagues I saw one team as especially strong heading into auction day with Buster Posey, Jason Heyward and Madison Bumgarner at $5 apiece, Colby Rasmus for $10 and Matt Cain at $21. This is an NL-Only league so he had a strong hitting base, an ace and second tier arm for $46. Plus a $1 Omar Infante that offered flexibility and solid if entirely unspectacular production with the bat.
I never declare anyone the winner before auction, after auction, in May, etc… but I definitely pegged this team as a chief competitor. Well we know how this plays out. The two foundational hitters flopped with the former out for the year and the latter sidelined and being called out to get his butt back in the game. How about his big auction buys? Hanley Ramirez, Ubaldo Jimenez and Tim Lincecum. Lincecum was dominant until a recent skid while Ramirez and Jimenez are trying to dig out of massive holes.
It just hasn’t worked out for this team and as such he decided to pack it in and begin selling off pieces to rebuild his core and give it a go again in 2012. You may be faced with a similar scenario in your league. You have made the decision to play for the future, but now you are wondering: who do I get for this supposed magical core of greatness? I am so glad you asked. Over the next few days I will be going position-by-position outlining the best core talents in the fantasy game*.
(*in my opinion)
This won’t just be a listing of the first rounds of this year’s average draft position. Albert Pujols is no longer a cheap contract unless your league has weird rules, neither is Hanley. Same goes for Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, David Wright, Robinson Cano, Adrian Gonzalez, Mark Teixeira and you get the point. Older stars who have been great for several years are now the $30+ guys year in and year out. So I will be identifying the next wave of $30+ players who are still really cheap* with at least another year of low-dollar cost.
(*in most leagues, I can’t know every league so I will be making some assumptions and if a certain guy doesn’t fit the pricing in your league and he’s already a high dollar guy, just skip over him.)
We will start with catchers.
Carlos Santana (CLE, 25 years old) – He is definitely under-performing against expectations so far this year with a meager .216 batting aaverage, but he is still toting a .347 OBP and is on pace for 17 HRs and 63 RBIs, marks that would have put him 5th and 7th among catchers in 2010, along with 70 runs which would have been the 2nd-highest total for backstops a year ago. The bar is low for catching so he doesn’t need to dominate on the level of a first baseman or outfielder to be worth a lot, alas I am still confident he has a big stretch in his bat this year. Remember, he is coming off of a devastating leg injury from last year.
Matt Wieters (BAL, 25) – Funny how Santana is viewed as a disappointment while Wieters is thought to be having a strong showing thus far. He is on pace for 13 more RBIs than Santana, but two fewer home runs and 14 fewer runs scored. It is because snap judgments are often made by looking at the batting average first. Wieters has a 59-point advantage in batting average yet he is 16-points back in on-base percentage so I’m still taking Santana. Wieters hasn’t fulfilled the potential he was said to have coming up from the minors, but he’s improving.
Buster Posey (SF, 24) – Despite the injury, he is still someone worth building around because he is so talented. He will have a long time to heal and given that there was initially talks of his return late this year, there is no reason to think he won’t be ready for the start of 2012.
Alex Avila (DET, 24) – He was a sleeper pick in AL-Only leagues and deeper mixed leagues especially for those who just go for lottery tickets at catcher opting to spend their money on more bankable positions and he has exceeded even the greatest expectations. The power production (on pace for 21 HR) isn’t too surprising to me, but the 89 RBI pace and .304 average are huge bonuses. I wouldn’t bet on the batting average, but he is likely a dollar in many leagues so he doesn’t need to hit better than .300 to have incredible value. In some leagues he is probably a waiver pickup and leagues vary with their cost for pickups. If he’s $10 (or more), I wouldn’t be so eager to acquire him.
Miguel Montero (ARI, 27) – This isn’t exactly a new level of production for Montero as he had a similar season in 128 games back in 2009. Last year he battled injuries and played just 85 games. In 60 games this year, he has nearly equaled his production from 2010 falling just a home run, nine RBIs and three runs shy while improving his average by 19 points.
JP Arencibia (TOR, 25) – Arencibia is a quick study. He has learned, in short order, the Toronto philosophy to grip it ‘n’ rip it so despite a meager .232 average and horrendous .286 on-base percentage, he is on pace for 23 home runs and 80 RBIs. A similar line from John Buck in Toronto last year made him a top 5 catcher (trading some RBIs for batting average which might push Arencibia down a few ranks, but you get the point). In a two-catcher league, cheap power is a nice asset.
The list is thin, as you might expect, but that’s because quality offensive catchers are tough to come by so if you can find a cheap, productive one then he is worth using as a building block. Even though we started with catchers, I would rate them last on the hierarchy of positions from which to build. Though the hierarchy fluctuates based on the talent pool in baseball, catcher is pretty firmly entrenched at or at least down near the bottom.
Outfield would be the leader because of the young talent available and because it isn’t as deep as many assume. You generally need at least four outfielders if not five plus some people use one for their DH and other owners might take OF-eligible players and put them in positions where they might better fit their team thus drying the pool further.
First base is the deepest talent pool, but it is rich with early round, high priced talent so it ranks second to outfield here. Then it would be shortstop, second base and third base in that order. Again, this is based on the current talent pool of cheap, keepable players that skew young. I will go around the diamond in order of catcher-first base-second base-shortstop-third base-outfield before looking at pitching. That’s a whole other field worthy of its own deep-dive discussion.