Outfield has a lot of great centerpiece players that would be worth giving up any un-keepable entities you have to in order to land them. In fact, a number of them are “arm & a leg guys” meaning, of course, that they will cost you an arm and a leg.
You have to give something to get something and as long as you aren’t blowing up your team completely (e.g. trading a few expiring contracts/high-priced un-keepables AND some guys you were planning on keeping), then they are worth it. Situations will vary depending on league format & keeper rules, but don’t overdo it just to get one guy or you may be worse off than you were before you got him.
Based on talent, age and the likelihood of studs on a cheap contract, outfield is the best position in this Keeper Building Block series to find your truly elite cornerstone. The first 7 or 8 guys fall into that category and while all won’t be cheap in your league, several should be giving you options. And it is likely that at least one of them is on a contender and hopefully you the missing puzzle pieces for them to seal a title and be willing to give their star.
There are several more OF building blocks than at any other position, so I broke it up into two pieces.
Jose Bautista (TOR, 30) – See the third basemen piece for info on Bautista. He is almost certainly on a cheap contract and it’d take just about any viable piece you to get him, but it might be worth it if you still have a few keepers around him. His value is much, much higher at third base, but since he qualifies at outfield, I made sure to list him here.
Carlos Gonzalez (COL, 25) – When a season of .287 with 22 HR, 27 SB, 88 RBI & 100 R is your come down season from a career year, you are an elite player. Plus he is getting better month-over-month so he just might improve those paces. Either way, he still ranks 26th overall on ESPN’s Player Rater and 8th amongst outfielders. His 2010 breakout came on the heels of an 89 game debut in Colorado that went well (.284/.353/.525, 13 HR & 16 SB), but still left him with a reasonable average draft position (ADP) of 120. So he is either on a minor league contract or a regular one that is no doubt affordable.
Andrew McCutchen (PIT, 24) – I am pleased to have this burgeoning star locked up for two more years in my NL-Only league for just $15. He is a dynamic, five-category (his .279 isn’t elite, but the league-high is .272 and my team average is .262 so he is definitely a positive contributor in that category) stud who appears to be just scratching the surface of his potential. Next year will likely be his first full season in a run production lineup spot (third or fourth) and that should allow to knock in 100+ runs for the first time in his career. That is if he doesn’t increase his pace of 98 this year and make 2012 his second stab at the century mark. He is the face of the budding Pirates franchise and he can be the same for your fantasy team.
Mike Stanton (FLO, 21) – This kid is incredible. He hit 22 home runs in 100 games (hitting one every 16.3 AB) and while the lofty strikeout rate (31%) made it clear that batting average would be a challenge, the power was undeniable. He has made incremental gains on his power (HR every 15.8 AB and .267 ISO up from .248), his strikeout rate (down to 28%) and walk rate (up from 8.6% to 9.2%, OK so that is essentially the same) putting him on pace for 34 home runs and 96 RBIs… at 21 years old!
If there is one concern, it’s slight and it’s his age combined with the strikeout rate. His inexperience and lack of contact could lead to prolonged slumps as he continues to grow. It doesn’t dissuade me from targeting him, but keep it in mind. In most keeper leagues, he will be on a minor league contract which is no doubt much cheaper than his actual value and with power on the decline league-wide; he should be a premier target.
Jay Bruce (CIN, 24) – He is essentially a look into Stanton’s future on some level, a pure power hitter with batting average liability. Bruce doesn’t have the strikeout woes that Stanton does, but they profile similarly. As a 21 and 22 year old Bruce hit 21 and 22 home runs in 413 and 345 at-bats, respectively. His walk rate has steadied at 10% the last three seasons and while his BABIP-influenced.281 batting average (.334 BABIP) from 2010 hasn’t held (.265 w/.293 BABIP), the .265 he has posted doesn’t hurt too much in this low-offense environment of 2011. I have him and Stanton pretty close, but I gave Stanton the edge because he likely cheaper and he is three years younger.
Jason Heyward (ATL, 21) – The ideal situation would be finding Heyward on a contender because his 2011 has been a disappointment (have I mentioned that young talents, no matter how good, don’t improve linearly?) due at least in part to injury. There is a bit of concern around his massive groundball rates (55% and 58% in his two pro seasons) and how that affects his power potential, but the kid is 21 and even when he is underperforming it is easy to see while watching him that he is a special player.
Colby Rasmus (STL, 24) – Generally when a guy needing a “change of scenery” is thrown around, it is an excuse for his struggles when the truth is that he probably just isn’t as talented as originally believed. However with Rasmus, I think it is one of the few cases where the change is necessary. Rasmus has a permanent front row seat in manager Tony LaRussa’s dog house and it seems to have finally crept on the field full time and affected his play. Instead of aiding his first place Cardinals with a season that builds on his strong 2010, Rasmus looks out of place and appears to pressing with increasingly worse numbers month-to-month:
Generally teams don’t discuss trading mid-20s talents like Rasmus alas his name has come up in some preliminary rumors as we near the trade deadline. I have no doubts that he can flourish out from under LaRussa’s thumb and his modest 2011 output might allow you to get a discount via trade. Or he could be a primary reason why you’re building for 2012 already. If it is the latter, sit tight with Rasmus.