Fantasy sports were invented with the idea that “I” know more than “you.” Thus, the ultimate judge of that question we ask ourselves can be answered by playing in a keeper or dynasty league. Keeper leagues generally allow fantasy owners to keep three or more players into the following season with varying rules, while dynasty leagues allow owners to keep their entire rosters. They’re the ultimate meeting of short-term baseball player knowledge vs. long-term major league and minor league player projection.
Many of the same strategies that work in redraft leagues continue in keeper and dynasty leagues, but most owners in these long-term leagues approach with the thought that they’d like to win more than once. As such, younger players and prospects have far more value than redraft leagues during the draft and in-season.
The following is a rundown of ideas to keep in mind for keeper and dynasty leagues, whether your league is just getting off the ground in 2015 or has been around for 20 years. We’ll also look at some players with the most perceived extra value in these long-term leagues as we head into draft day.
The Age Curve
If you’re planning to build a team to win post-2015, the age curve is an important factor to keep in mind. While you’ll see different curves for different stats and time periods, the research of the post-steroids era shows earlier declines. Depending on your source of research, players are now starting to decline at age 26 and the hardest throwers are also the youngest throwers. It’s clear that if you want to build a long-term roster, build your squad with youth.
Can Prospect Lists Be Trusted?
Baseball America, MLB.com and Keith Law’s ESPN.com prospect lists will likely be on hand as your league opponents think about the future. However, how much value can we really take from these lists that account for defensive ability as much as offensive ability? That’s an important concept to keep in mind as defensive stalwarts like Padres’ catching prospect Austin Hedges are pushed up the list for value that simply won’t help fantasy owners. Also, premium speed generally doesn’t carry as much value on these lists as it does for fantasy owners searching for the next Dee Gordon. Use these general prospect lists as a source but certainly not the end-all for how you should be ranking future talent.
Opportunity Cost of Prospects
For young prospects, your rules mean everything. There’s always immense upside and romance in drafting the 18-year-old high school prospect who got a $5 million bonus in the most recent amateur draft, but the failure rate of such players is just as high as the success rate. Added is the 3-5 year timetable for such prospects, and you’re more likely to waste valuable bench spots for multiple years than find that elite value you’re looking for. There’s something to be said for drafting more advanced, “safer” prospects that are already in Double-A or above and able to contribute by 2016. It’s certainly a balance, and the best answer to how you should fill your bench should be determined on your realistic short and long-term goals. If your team is in a complete rebuild mode with no shot of competing in 2015 or you already have a roster full of Mike Trouts, Giancarlo Stantons and Clayton Kershaws, looking for fresh long-term upside isn’t the worst idea. However, if you are somewhere in between, as is the case with most keeper league rosters, consider spending on some prospects that can help sooner.
The idea of Moneyball is to find undervalued commodities and exploit them to your advantage. With that thinking, investing in injured players as if they are prospects can be a major coup for long-term leagues. Why invest heavily in a hot shot prospect when you can find a more proven performer that just happens to be taking some time off due to injury like the Marlins’ Jose Fernandez or the Diamondbacks’ Patrick Corbin? We know what these players can do if they return to the game healthy, and their timetables are also more favorable than a prospect in the lower levels of the minors. These strategies are even more advantageous if your league allows you to stash players in DL spots all year without a penalty.
The previously mentioned idea of the age curve should always be considered, but there are exceptions to every rule. Search through the ranks of age 35-plus players on draft day, and you will always find some oldies but goodies. Among them are Victor Martinez, Matt Holliday, Nelson Cruz (35 in July), David Ortiz, Koji Uehara and countless others. These older players, while very unlikely to improve, usually can be had at a discount in long-term leagues and still contribute huge value for owners looking to land in the money this season. You should never count players out just because of their age unless you have no chance of competing in the near future, and even in that case, older, productive players can usually be utilized as trade bait to acquire more youth. An example was set by the Cubs over the last two seasons when they signed and swapped veteran pitchers Scott Feldman and Jason Hammel for valuable future pieces.
And if it All Goes Wrong…
There are more DL stints in MLB now than the last 20 seasons, and as much as we try to minimize luck, it still plays a part in the game. We’ve all had some bad luck at one time or another, and the key in a long-term league when this happens is usually to be the first team to strike and “dump”. It’s a controversial topic that has caused many disagreements in leagues, yet if you’re looking to set your team up to win and get the most value for your short-term players, it’s absolutely necessary. You have the most trade opportunities and prospects to acquire when you are the first team to trade. I’ve seen owners dump as early as late April after a poor draft or major injuries to blue chip players. “The early bird gets the worm” is often accurate in these leagues.
Popular Keeper Targets
24-year-old Salvador Perez hit a career-low .260 last season, but the peak in his power could make him a top-five catcher in many keeper leagues … Travis d’Arnaud’s strong second half has put him on the radar as a No. 1 catcher in all leagues, especially long-term leagues … Mike Zunino was rushed to the majors at age 22 in 2013, and fantasy owners are still optimistic … I don’t understand the optimism regarding Christian Bethancourt. Sure, he will play regularly for Atlanta this season, but he was overmatched during his brief major league stay last season and has a career .680 OPS in the minors … Kurt Suzuki was brought in by the Twins as a placeholder for Josmil Pinto last season, but the team retained him after a season that can be described as an outlier. Pinto, now a post-hype sleeper, has 11 homers in only 245 major league at-bats … Arizona didn’t add much catching help this offseason, and at least publicly calls Peter O’Brien their catcher of the near future. An analysis of his defensive performance in the minors would conclude that’s a mistake, but we can’t help but think of Phil Nevin when looking at his offensive upside.
As consistent as he’s been during his four-plus year major league career, it’s easy to forget that Freddie Freeman is only 25. The significant losses in Atlanta’s lineup could really hurt his counting stats, but it’s still tough to overlook his upside … Also just 25 is former top prospect Eric Hosmer, who is apparently getting a boost from his playoff performance. Hosmer was mediocre offensively last season, but did hit .302-17-79 in 2013 … The future of all-or-nothing power could be Jon Singleton. He was often overmatched during his rookie campaign in 2014, but still hit 13 homers in only 95 games.
Anthony Rendon is just outside of the first round in ADP, and will likely reach it in keeper leagues just short of age 25 … Coming off a strong second half, 24-year-old Kolten Wong is a popular sleeper in all leagues. He’s that much tougher to acquire in keeper formats … Joe Panik emerged as San Francisco’s No. 2 hitter last season, hitting .305. He doesn’t contribute much power or speed, but hits for enough average to help as a middle infielder … Marcus Semien already has multi-position eligibility, and will likely add shortstop to his second and third base value. He’s a quality power and speed option as a post-hype player … Jose Peraza is a personal favorite fantasy prospect, as a rangy shortstop being moved to second base as a result of Andrelton Simmons in Atlanta. Peraza has incredible contact ability and speed, hitting .339 with 60 steals between two levels last season. Don’t be surprised if he’s helping in May … Micah Johnson is a poor man’s Peraza, but his playing time in 2015 is complicated by Chicago’s acquisition of Emilio Bonifacio … Without a major addition at second base, young Devon Travis could see significant playing time as Toronto’s starter … Dilson Herrera held his own late last season for the Mets at age 20, and it’s not a matter of if he will eventually replace Daniel Murphy as the Mets’ starting second baseman but when.
Nolan Arenado will turn 24 just after Opening Day, and is quite a value for keeper leagues as a key piece of Colorado’s future … We’re seeing Kris Bryant go near the top 100 in redraft leagues, so it wouldn’t be a shock to see him go in the top five rounds of your keeper league. Considered a can’t-miss power hitter, we’ll likely see him in the majors by May … Manny Machado’s knee issues complicate what was seen as an elite talent only months ago. He’s now behind Bryant in ADP having played only 82 games last season. Still, Machado has huge upside in keeper formats … Nick Castellanos was probably promoted before he was ready last season, but the upside still remains to the seen for the soon-to-be 23 year old … Maikel Franco’s star dimmed after hitting only .257-16-78 at Triple-A Lehigh Valley last season, but he faced more advanced competition. He could have a role by Opening Day or shortly thereafter as Philadelphia’s best position prospect … Jake Lamb’s value fell after the signing of Yasmany Tomas, but he could still play a big part in Arizona’s plans if Tomas is unable to cut it at the hot corner in spring training.
It’s hard to believe Starlin Castro only turns 25 in March. He rebounded after a bad 2013 season, and could benefit from the addition of Joe Maddon … Castro’s teammate, Javier Baez, has shortstop eligibility and big-time power potential. We should expect hiccups after he struck out 95 times in 52 games during his major league debut, but the long-term power potential is elite … Xander Bogaerts was in Baez’s shoes heading into 2014 and struggled during his rookie season. Still, he was an elite hitting prospect coming into last season, and he hasn’t shown anything to change the long-term projection … Chris Owings’ shoulder troubles are hopefully behind him, but it remains to be seen where he will hit in Arizona’s lineup under new manager Chip Hale. Regardless, he has an intriguing combination of power and speed … Jose Ramirez is likely a placeholder for Francisco Lindor in Cleveland, but brings speed that can really help fantasy owners and hopefully keep him in the regular lineup somewhere for a long while … Wilmer Flores’ offensive potential is underrated based on his minor league history. He may not stick at shortstop beyond 2015, but fantasy owners should take notice … Brad Miller and Chris Taylor will battle for Seattle’s shortstop job in spring training, and both have interesting fantasy upside.
Mike Trout is already the consensus first overall draft choice, and his value goes through the roof in keeper leagues. Of course, you have to keep in mind that his steals have already started to decline, and the long-term projection has to include that decline … Yasiel Puig had a terrible second half, but remains a very interesting long-term play with huge upside … Bryce Harper still presents plenty of optimism, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him as a first-round pick in some keeper leagues. Whether his otherworldly projection ever comes to fruition remains to be seen … Christian Yelich impressed last season, and should continue to grow into his 6-3 frame and add more power … Mookie Betts was terrific as Boston’s leadoff man last season, and has enormous short and long-term upside if he can maintain that spot in the order … Jorge Soler, Avisail Garcia and Joc Pederson present the next wave of big-hype sleepers in redraft leagues that carry even more value in keeper leagues … Steven Souza and Dalton Pompey are also picking up steam as it becomes clear that they will play important roles for their teams in 2015 and beyond.
The return of Matt Harvey from Tommy John surgery could put him among the elite fantasy starters in keeper leagues if owners remember how dominant he was before his injury. He adds to an impressive array of Mets young pitchers that also includes Jacob deGrom, Rafael Montero and Noah Syndergaard … Julio Teheran is already an innings eater before age 25, and brings huge keeper value along with teammate Alex Wood … Royals youngster Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy bring big upside, but have also suffered arm injuries early in their careers. They represent the risk of heavy investment in young pitching for keeper owners … Cleveland’s rotation is loaded with high upside young arms, including Danny Salazar, T.J. House and Trevor Bauer … Taijuan Walker and James Paxton disappointed fantasy owners last season while working through arm issues, but should see a huge boost in keeper leagues … There’s no such thing as a sure thing in the world of relief pitchers, but Ken Giles is as close as it gets. He could step in as Philadelphia’s closer if the team trades Jonathan Papelbon … Kevin Gausman is a very popular sleeper in all leagues this season, but pitching in Baltimore does slightly hurt his ERA upside … Jesse Hahn has also received his fair share of hype, even after getting traded to the AL … Miami moved top prospects Andrew Heaney and Anthony DeSclafani, but both pitchers show big potential in their new homes … Alex Meyer could get a shot to compete for Minnesota’s fifth starter job. His past shoulder issues and youth should limit his innings this season, but keeper league owners can invest in him expecting more innings down the road.