Keeper and dynasty leagues are popular for seasoned fantasy owners and new owners alike, as the ultimate showcase of baseball player knowledge. Anyone can win a league once, but winning multiple years in a keeper or dynasty league takes both short- and long-term planning.
Many of the same strategies that work in redraft leagues also work 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 a result, younger players and prospects have far more value than they do in 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 or has been around for 20 years. We’ll also look at some players with the most perceived value in these long-term leagues.
The Age Curve
If you’re planning to build a team to win post-2016, 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, from sources like Jeff Zimmerman at Fangraphs.com, shows earlier declines. Depending on your source of research, players are now starting to decline at age 26, and velocity is also declining earlier. It’s clear that if you want to build a long-term roster, build your squad with youth.
Can Prospect Lists Be Trusted?
Prospect lists will likely be on hand as your league opponents think about the future. It’s worth keeping in mind that unless expressly stated otherwise, these rankings usually value true baseball ability. That means defense and on-base percentage are valued, unlike standard 5x5 leagues. Also, factors fantasy owners covet like elite base stealing ability aren’t as highly valued. It can be worth taking the time to look at minor league stats to find diamonds in the rough that are more valuable in fantasy leagues than real baseball.
Opportunity Cost of Prospects
For young prospects, establishing and adhering to your rules means everything. There’s always immense upside and romance in drafting the 18-year-old high school prospect who received a $5 million bonus in the most recent amateur draft, but the failure rate of such players is higher than the success rate. Added is the 3-5 year timetable for these prospects, and you’re more likely to be wasting valuable bench spots for multiple years than finding 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 this year. It’s certainly a balance, and the best answer to how you should fill your bench should be determined based upon your realistic short- and long-term goals.
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 hotshot prospect when you can find a more proven performer that just happens to be taking some time off due to injury like Greg Holland or Alex Cobb? 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.
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. 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.
Popular Keeper Targets
After playing 21 games at catcher in 2015, Kyle Schwarber is eligible at catcher in most leagues this year. His power potential makes him worthy as a top catcher. The Red Sox youth movement of 2015 included Blake Swihart, and he held his own at age 23, hitting .274-5-31. His minor league track record showed even more upside. Tom Murphy is the future at catcher in Colorado, and he’s shown 20 home run power in the minors.
Gregory Bird could start the season in the minors, but he showed down the stretch last season that he’s the future of the Yankees. Waiting in the wings behind aging Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez, there’s a good chance he’ll see significant at-bats this year. Arguably baseball’s best pure hitting prospect, A.J. Reed should be in Houston by midseason. He received Minor League Hitter of the Year honors from most publications in ’15 after hitting .340-34-127. The Pirates are using Michael Morse as a placeholder for top prospect Josh Bell, who hit .317-7-78 in the upper minors last season. He’s yet to develop great power, but he should be able to help in most leagues this year.
Former No. 1 prospect Jurickson Profar has basically missed two consecutive seasons with shoulder injuries, but he’s back on the map after a successful Arizona Fall League. It’s an opportunity to buy low, even as his odds for playing time in 2016 look iffy. The trade of Jedd Gyorko in San Diego likely opened up a starting job for Cory Spangenberg, a pesky infielder with the ability to hit for average and steal bases in the double digits. Jonathan Schoop quietly hit 15 home runs in only 305 at-bats last season, despite missing time. While less hyped, his skillset is similar to the Cubs’ hotshot power-hitting prospect, Javier Baez.
This could be the golden age of young stud third basemen. The hottest commodities are Manny Machado, Kris Bryant and Nolan Arenado, all potential first-rounders in keeper leagues. The Giants’ surprise hot corner guy Matt Duffy lacks upside, but he performed in his rookie season in line with his minor league performance. The Arizona third base situation is one to watch. Jake Lamb could have to compete with Brandon Drury in spring training, and both performed very well in the minors.
Speaking of golden ages, shortstop has three studs near the top. Carlos Correa won AL Rookie of the Year after hitting 22 homers in only 99 games at age 20. He could be a 30/30 man in the making. Corey Seager is just as exciting, and could have elite power upside. Kyle’s younger brother doesn’t have the speed that A-Rod had, but he’s cruised through the minors with a high batting average and 20 homers. Most scouts believe he’s capable of putting up 30-plus homers soon. Francisco Lindor lived up to the hype in his rookie season, showing five-category ability at age 21 and finishing second to Correa in AL ROY voting. The pending arrivals of Philadelphia’s J.P. Crawford and Washington’s Trea Turner make the youth at the position even deeper.
The fantasy world we predicted finally arrived this year, as young Mike Trout and Bryce Harper could go 1-2 in most fantasy leagues. They’re the prizes of keeper leagues. Mookie Betts could be a first-rounder before long, falling just short of a 20/20 season as Boston’s leadoff man last year. It’s hard to believe Christian Yelich is still only 24, but that leads to optimism that the lanky left fielder has more power in him. Gregory Polanco disappointed some fantasy owners last season, but he’s going on age 24 and showed Starling Marte-like ability in the minors. Formerly an elite prospect, Byron Buxton’s stock has dropped due to injuries. He still has elite batting average and stolen base upside. Michael Taylor was forced into playing time last year, and that could happen again this year. He struggles to hit for average, but 20/20 ability is hard to find. He lacks elite power, but the Cardinals love Stephen Piscotty’s work ethic and high batting average ability.
The offseason Jose Fernandez trade rumors showed just how valuable he is in baseball circles, with the upside to be baseball’s top pitcher if he can stay healthy. Pick an arm in the Mets’ rotation for your keeper pleasure. Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz looked terrific in their rookie debuts. Taijuan Walker struggled to keep the ball in the park last season, but his pure stuff and peripherals still point to ace upside. Lance McCullers could be ace 1-B of the Astros staff after dominating in his rookie season. Luis Severino was arguably the Yankees’ best pitcher down the stretch and received comparisons to Pedro Martinez while in the minors. Aaron Nola is at the center of Philadelphia’s rebuilding effort, and has been solid already due to his polish. LA has been hesitant to move Julio Urias or Jose De Leon, a pair of high-upside arms who should help in 2016. Arodys Vizcaino finally realized his potential as Atlanta’s closer late last season, and was dominant in the role. Don’t sleep on sidearming Oriole Mychal Givens. He shows potential to be Baltimore’s version of Dellin Betances, after posting a sub-2.00 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 87.1 innings between Double-A and the majors last season.