Keeper League, After Week 2

Week 2 saw me follow-up a 6-5-1 start with a 6-6 week. It should have been 7-5; I was up in all pitching categories going into Sunday, with my opponent having no pitchers going. I benched my two starters (Corey Kluber and Tyson Ross), because we both had K/9 ratios over 11 and close enough that a good start with a K/9 around 9 would drop me below my opponent – the odds were on that number going down. Anyway, I left my relievers active – all three closers had pitched the last three days, and my two set-up men were gambles.

Turned out, as it would happen, both my opponent and I had one of our setup men pitch an inning yesterday. Mine – Gregerson – struck out no one in one inning. His guy ended up with a 13.50. The end result? I finished the week with a K/9 of 11.054 and he finished with a 11.055. Bah.

Otherwise, I really can’t complain. The lineup is performing well.

My Week 3 roster is:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Chris Davis
2B/SS – Emilio Bonifacio
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Carl Crawford
UTIL – Dustin Ackley
BENCH – Alex Guerrero

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Ernesto Frieri / Francisco Rodriguez
P x2 (closer/setup) – Sergio Santos / Luke Gregerson
DL x2 – Matt Harvey / Aroldis Chapman

Hey, same roster as last week. I “moved” Bonifacio into my 2B/SS spot and Ackley into my UTIL… at this point, Bonifacio’s speed and leadoff slot make him more valuable a commodity to me than Ackley, if I have to make a choice. I don’t dislike Ackley, though. I just realize that his skillset isn’t specialized enough to keep around if someone else gets hot. Given that I’m bursting with speed (I lead the league in SBs) without either Marte or E-Cab getting on a roll yet, I can probably ditch Bonifacio down the road – but I’d rather keep him around, continue to dominate the speed role, and drop Ackley if I can find a better power option down the road. I’m still lacking in the power category (2nd-fewest HRs), but I’m not going to worry about that yet, since neither Davis or Fielder have hit a jack yet. Once they get rolling, it’ll come around. But there’s no lie – I could use another middle-of-the-order bat. And warmer weather.

I actually almost got Avisail Garcia this week. When he busted his shoulder, his owner dropped him – I jumped on him, not waiting for the MRI results. I liked Garcia a lot going into this season, and dropped Corey Kluber to pick him up in the keeper-friendly E19 (19th round, E-tier keeper). Of course, then the MRI came back, so I just picked up Kluber again in that spot. Had I kept Garcia, I would have ended up dropping Ackley to re-obtain Kluber, whose keeper value I still like.

On that note, pitching had a good week. Only Wheeler struggled, and 4 earned runs isn’t something that puts the panic into me. More than anything, I was really glad to see Kluber put in two good starts, as well as Alex Wood’s great start. Shelby Miller is still struggling some, but hopefully he gets over it. I’ll feel better once I can pick up my 7th starting pitcher, but with the way the Dodgers are looking, I doubt Guerrero will get his call-up until June sometime.

As it stands, there’s nothing to really do with the lineup until either some waiver wire players goes on enough of a tear to get me to drop Ackley. Otherwise, I’m just hoping to see a power surge from Fielder and Davis soon; I’m realizing that I paid too much attention to stolen bases this year and not enough to power, although that was largely because I didn’t want to reach for power knowing that I had Fielder/Davis/Alvarez. And frankly, being short on power from my studs in April isn’t something to worry overly about. But still. It’d be nice to see Fielder and Davis show me something soon.

If I were a GM…

The Detroit sports scene has typically been blessed with favorable GMs (general managers). Well, except for the Lions… sort of. And the Pistons, sometimes. I don’t really follow the Pistons, though; I just know that Joe Dumars went from hero to villain pretty quick during his tenure as GM. The Lions, well, it’s hit-and-miss. But the Tigers and Red Wings, recently, have been consistently excellent under the tenures of Dave Dombrowski and Ken Holland, respectively.

Holland’s only misstep lately was a 5-year signing of injury-prone, largely unproven Stephen Weiss, who is making $4.9M per year. That said, in the space of one injury-riddled year for the Wings, Weiss has become the odd-man out. He missed most of the year due to a sports hernia and the resultant rehab; in that time, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening emerged as NHL-ready centers. Sheahan has size, a good shot, and incredible passing skills; he’s probably a better player than Stephen Weiss, even this early in his development, and makes more sense centering the 2nd line going forward, especially if he continues to center the “Kid Line” with guys he’s played with for years in the minors, as well. Glendening only recently notched his first goal (it took 51 games), but he’s shown great development over the season. A temporary call-up, he leveraged his size, fearlessness, and skating ability into an everyday role as the 4th-line center and on the penalty kill. He’s essentially the ideal 4th-line center, a guy who can grind with the best of them and still be a danger to score; in fact, his line performs so well, that Coach Babcock has been intentionally matching them up with the other team’s best line on occasion. As for the other two lines, the top line is centered by Pavel Datsyuk, of course. The third line is typically centered by Darren Helm, who has blazing speed, tenacity, and is another top penalty killer. I’m not sure where the Wings fit Weiss in next season when he returns; however, the recent youth movement has suddenly made him the odd-man out. It should also be of note that the Red Wings have ridiculous depth at center beyond that: Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, and Joakim Andersson can also all play center as necessary.

Other than that, the Wings are in an excellent place – they have a great deal of young talent suddenly, in the same year as several contracts are set to expire. Mikael Samuelsson ($3M), Todd Bertuzzi ($2.075M), Daniel Alfredsson ($3.5M), David Legwand ($4.5M) and Danny Cleary ($1.75M) are all unrestricted free agents. The Wings could potentially re-sign Alfie, but there’s really no room for any of these guys – Samuelsson and Clearly have spent most the year injured, and Bertuzzi has been a regular healthy scratch of late. The Wings look to clear almost $15M off the books and see the cap expand by $4M or so next season. That money will likely be spent on locking up their future – both Danny DeKeyser, Riley Sheahan, and Tomas Tatar are restricted free agents, and all three look poised to be cornerstones of the Red Wings’ future. Gustav Nyquist, another young force, is signed for next year, but the Red Wings might look at locking him up, as well. Those four – Sheahan, Nyquist, Tatar, and DeKeyser are the next generation. Their emergence this season is testament to the scouting and youth development of the Red Wings.

So let’s move on to the actual point of this post, which is to explore the odd offseason of Dave Dombrowski and the Detroit Tigers. For one, note that the Tigers made a pretty significant shift in philosophy with Jim Leyland retiring and Brad Ausmus taking over; the Ausmus Tigers are looking to be a quicker team with better base-running. As such, Dombrowski managed to alleviate the major cramp in Leyland’s team last year – he traded Prince Fielder for Ian Kinsler. This was multi-level move that worked for the Tigers; on paper, the trifecta of Cabrera/Fielder/V-Mart looks really good, until you realize that it locks the 1B/3B/DH positions in stone. Leyland’s lack of lineup flexibility, especially with an injured Cabrera last season, was a major problem. Ausmus doesn’t have that problem; with Fielder gone, Cabrera takes over 1B, and he can always flip-flop with V-Mart as necessary. Kinsler is an upgrade over Omar Infante at 2B; nothing against Omar, who is a household favorite here, but he’s basically a hit-for-average guy and not do much else – a guy who hits .300/10HR/10SB has value, but Kinsler’s upside is simply higher, and it let them jettison Fielder and his massive contract. To be fair, the just took those savings and lavished them on Cabrera with an even more massive contract, but that was just as inevitable as Joe Mauer’s ridiculous Twins contract a couple years back.

No, I have no issues with Dombrowski’s Fielder move or any other position player moves (even the ridiculous shortstop scrambling after Jose Iglesias was lost for the year). No, I’m concerned and confused by the bullpen.

Going into the offseason, two mutually exclusive facts seemed to be true: first, the Tigers’ major weakness was the bullpen; and second, Smyly was due to get his shot starting. Smyly starting makes some sense; he’s a good pitcher with good starter-quality stuff, and he’d paid his dues – two years in the bullpen, largely due to the economics and other situational factors. However, Smyly was essentially our best reliever last season, and there was no burning need in the rotation to move anyone. Sure, Scherzer might walk in free agency, but if he did, that would get Smyly his spot, while holding him in the ‘pen for another year while we patch it up. Honestly, Smyly could have been a candidate to close after Benoit left.

Instead, Dombrowski traded the perennially underrated Doug Fister (another household favorite) to the Nationals for Robbie Ray (a lefty starter prospect), Ian Krol (a young lefty reliever), and Steve Lombardozzi (a utility infielder). This was seen partly as a salary cap move, to clear some room to – people thought – bolster the bullpen. The Krol acquisition is part of that; he’s a lefty arm that replaces Smyly in the ‘pen, since this move put Smyly back in the starting rotation. But make no mistake – this move happened with the knowledge that Smyly was our best reliever last season, that our closer left as a free agent, and that Scherzer (based on things he’d said and the history of Scott Boras) was likely to test free agency next season. The Tigers took what was left of their play money and signed two men – closer Joe Nathan and reliever Joba Chamberlain.

Joe Nathan has been an elite closer in his career. He’s been especially elite against the Tigers. His career numbers include 341 saves, a 2.77 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and a nearly 3:1 K:BB ratio. However, he’s 39. His physical skills – velocity, for example – have been on the decline. That didn’t stop the Tigers from giving him $10M, with a $10M option for next year. Chamberlain got a 1-year, $2.5M deal; Chamberlain’s claim to fame was that he was a top prospect once, who got largely mismanaged by the Yankees due to injury. His career numbers include a 2.5:1 K:BB ratio, a 3.87 ERA, and a 1.39 WHIP. Honestly, I don’t mind the Chamberlain signing so much – his velocity is also down, but he’s seen as a potential reclamation project; it’s entirely feasible that he’ll thrive in a new setting and away from the shorter outfields of Yankee Stadium. However, with the relative lack of depth in the bullpen, it puts Chamberlain in a higher leverage situation than he really should be.

Along with these moves, the Tigers declined a $3.75M club option on Jose Veras, who pitched quite respectably as a Tiger last season. Veras owned a 3.02 ERA and 1.07 WHIP with the Astros and Tigers last year; his career marks stand at 3.86 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. He’s not a flamethrower or a sure-fire closer, but he is a veteran pitcher with proven experience as a closer. For whatever reason, the Tigers decided he wasn’t worth keeping around.

What bothered me about these moves was the desperation behind them; the Tigers, as they did in the past with Jose Valverde, seemed locked into the idea of having a “proven closer.” As a result, they reached and overpaid for Joe Nathan, at the expense of the bullpen as a whole. The relief pitching market wasn’t thin this season; had the Tigers had the gusto to put the closer position up for grabs, they could have filled out their bullpen with quality names instead of blowing a large chunk of payroll on one player, then making a speculative signing on Joba Chamberlain.

So we have $12.5M to play with, let’s pretend. But! Let’s also pretend that we didn’t trade Doug Fister, so we’ll take… oh, let’s say $2.5M off of that. What are we doing with it? First up, I’m exercising the club option on Jose Veras for $3.75M. Okay. $6.25M left. Let’s get some lefty depth. Since Smyly’s still in the pen, I venture after Manny Parra. Parra had a poor 2012 after missing 2011 due to injury; he bounced back in Cincinnati in 2013 with a 3.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. The Reds didn’t extend a qualifying offer to him, so he hit free agency. He ended up re-signed on a one-year, $1M contract. Let’s give him $1.5M to come to us. $4.75 left. I want more insurance for the unsettled closer position, so rather than let him go back to Milwaukee, we’re going to offer $3.75M to Francisco Rodriguez, who had an excellent 2013 in a set-up role. That leaves us with $1M or so left in budget, which we’ll just consider to be net savings, or leave to be spent on prospects. The only other move I’d make, and I would push for this one, would be to acquire Luke Gregerson from San Diego, since he was on the block. Let’s pretend we trade Andy Dirks and a minor league player-to-be-named later for him, which seems reasonable since San Diego got Seth Smith. At any rate, believe that if I’m the GM and I know Gregerson is on the market, I’m getting him; the Tigers have minor-league OF depth to offset a Dirks trade. If this trade isn’t possible, it’s no worry; the bullpen is still suddenly much deeper than it was, and the open bullpen positions can be staffed by young guys like Evan Reed or Luke Putkonen.

These changes leave us with last year’s starting rotation – Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez/Fister/Porcello, with the likely outcome of Scherzer walking in free agency (or being trade bait mid-season, even if we’re winning!), with a bullpen of Smyly/Veras/Alburquerque/K-Rod/Coke/Parra/Gregerson/Reed/Putkonen. This results in a deep bullpen mixed with younger guys and veterans, with room for any of Smyly/Veras/K-Rod/Gregerson to complete for the closer job, and the losers to be relegated to very reliable set-up duty. It’s also deep enough that if the Tigers did opt to trade a starter at the deadline, Smyly could step out of the ‘pen without leaving a gaping hole.

I’m no professional, and obviously, I curtail all of the realities of GMing in this exploration, but I’ve watched enough baseball over the last couple years to realize that a deep bullpen is critical to winning. Both Boston and St. Louis had formidable bullpens with no obvious weaknesses last year; by contrast, the Tigers spoiled incredible starting pitching with dubious relief work. That bullpen is no better today; I’d argue it’s worse. If the Tigers are on the outside looking in come October, I doubt anyone will have to look further than the bullpen to know why.

Keeper League, After Week 1

Week 1 came and went, and I saw a 6-5-1 start that could have gone anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3 on Sunday.

I made a couple lineup changes. First of all, I had to plunk Harvey and Chapman on the DL, so I picked up setup men to replace them in my lineup. My normal roster leaves me with everyday position players, 2 setup men, 3 closers, and starting pitching the rest of way, including occupying both bench spots. Right now, I’m stashing Alex Guerrero, so that has me down to one extra SP.

Ironically, one of the setup men I picked up was K-Rod. Then he turned into a closer. Which is great, maybe, but sort of jacks my whole idea of having two reliable setup guys. Holds are a fickle category, even moreso than saves – it’s a hard category to win without two reliable guys, unless I’m up against someone who’s largely punting holds. I picked up Sergio Santos to replace Chapman with my final draft pick, so now I’m set with 4 closers and one on the DL. Eventually, Santos will hopefully make a reliable setup option, but I might be forced into an odd decision when Chapman comes off the DL; I really doubt that K-Rod will have trade value in a league where saves and holds have equal value.

My Week 2 Roster looks like:
C – Buster Posey
1B – Prince Fielder
2B – Dustin Pedrioa
3B – Pedro Alvarez
SS – Everth Cabrera
1B/3B – Chris Davis
2B/SS – Dustin Ackley
OF x5 – Starling Marte / Austin Jackson / Nori Aoki / Khris Davis / Carl Crawford
UTIL – Emilio Bonifacio

SP x6 – David Price / Shelby Miller / Corey Kluber / Zack Wheeler / Tyson Ross / Alex Wood
RP x3 (closers) – Craig Kimbrel / Ernesto Frieri / Francisco Rodriguez
P x2 (closer/setup) – Sergio Santos / Luke Gregerson
DL x2 – Matt Harvey

No real major changes other than dropping James Loney for Emilio Bonifacio. That was a no-brainer for two reasons – first, I never liked Loney much to begin with; second, I like to ride the hot hand with my UTIL spot. My personal choice is to avoid DH-only players like Victor Martinez or Billy Butler because they cramp roster flexibility by cementing my UTIL spot. When Bonifacio cools off, I’ll drop him for another hot hand. Similarly, Ackley is a place-holder until Guerrero gets his call-up later this season; although, to be fair, Ackley looks good so far in a legitimate way.

Otherwise, I’m pretty happy with my lineup. My major concern after one week was a low number of home runs, but that will go up and down. I came out pretty steady on .AVG and .OPS, both of which are scored categories. I also ended up with a lot of speed, even without Marte or Cabrera contributing steals. My only concern going forward might be my perpetual annual concern – too much top-of-the-lineup speed contributing runs and steals, not enough middle-of-the-order power contributing HRs and RBIs. We’ll see. I’m banking heavily on major power coming from Chris Davis, Fielder, Alvarez, and Posey – any week where two or three of them slump a bit and no one else in the lineup (like Austin Jackson or Khris Davis) pick up the slack might see me lose those categories, as I did this week. Khris Davis’s cold start was a little concerning, so it was highly encouraging to see him bounce back with multi-hit games after he got a day off.

People in this league do lots of different things with pitching; I try to cover all categories – my goal is always to have the potential to go 12-0-0 in a given week, so I go after holds and saves. Some guys punt saves or holds completely. I know one guy picks up 3 set-up men for his RPs, and fills everything else with SP. Other guys punt saves and pick up 4-5 setup men. I’m hamstrung slightly right now, with Guerrero occupying a bench spot I’d normally fill with a seventh SP. Likewise, I’m holding 4 closers right now. I rotated a couple different guys through that single setup spot until deciding today on Luke Gregerson, who I’ve always been a fan of. I’ll feel more comfortable when Chapman comes off the DL and I make final decisions on how my relief options will pan out; ideally, by then, the Brewers will have settled on whether or not K-Rod or Henderson will be a long-term closer this season (given the choice, exclusively as setup men, I’d prefer K-Rod to Santos).

It’s too early to be worried about any starting pitching; Corey Kluber’s outing was discouraging, though. I’m confident in a bounce-back, though, and otherwise I’m pretty confident in my starters. I imagine some of them – Ross, particularly – might find their way out of the lineup eventually, but for now, it’s way too early to jump ship for someone else who put up a remarkable first start. I will feel better about my pitching once I can pick up that seventh starter, though; but Guerrero’s potential is too high to ignore – an 18th-round pick who could potentially produce 20 HRs from the 2B spot is, well, worth stashing for now.

Keeper League Post-Draft

My keeper league concluded its draft in late March. We ended up conducting it by e-mail, since we couldn’t get schedules to align and we had people scattered all over. In the end, said e-mail draft took about a week and a half. While that level of delayed gratification drove some people nuts, the delay also saw several draft-worthy players sustain season-ending injuries, thus saving some people from making picks destined for injury.

I had keepers in the 3rd, 4th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 14th, 17th, 20th, and 22nd rounds. Remember that we have to keep a player from each “tier” of draft rounds, with each “tier” being a set of 4 (1-4, 5-8, etc). Keepers are also assigned contracts. My keepers went like this:

3rd round – David Price, TB/SP (2012 keeper; 2nd year of a 2-year contract)
4th round – Craig Kimbrel, ATL/RP (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 1-year contract)
7th round – Buster Posey, SF/C (2012 keeper; 2nd year of a 3-year contract)
8th round – Pedro Alvarez, PIT/3B (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 1-year contract)
9th round – Chris Davis, BAL/1B (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 3-year contract)
14th round – Matt Harvey, NYM/SP (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 2-year contract)
17th round – Starling Marte, PIT/OF (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 2-year contract)
20th round – Austin Jackson, DET/OF (2012 keeper; 2nd year of a 2-year contract)
22nd round – Shelby Miller, STL/SP (2013 keeper; 1st year of a 1-year contract)

So quite a bit, there. I’m admittedly nervous about a 3-year contract on Davis – keepers are undroppable for the duration of their contract, unless they go completely out of baseball (demotions to the minors do not count). My thinking is simply that I can have 30+ HR potential in the 9th round for the next 3 years. That’s hard to replace. But all in all, a relatively solid slate of players. Harvey will be gone all year, but I had no other real options in my rounds 13-16 (D-tier) set, so I put 2 years on him and let him sit on my DL this year. But all in all, got some power and some speed and it’s a nice set. But no middle infielders.

I went into my draft with two picks in the first four rounds, as a result. I had two goals – a big bat in the first round and a solid middle infielder in the second. My big bat was Prince Fielder; I had my eye on him from the start, since I love him in Texas. In the second round, I picked up Dustin Pedroia.

After not picking for a couple rounds, I knew I’d have two picks in the “B-tier” – rounds 5-8. I knew I needed a speedster, ideally from the middle infield again, and then some pitching. I ended up taking Aroldis Chapman in the 5th round; I don’t personally overvalue saves, but I figured having two lockdown closers with good ratios would help, and I have depth all over anyway. In the sixth round, I took Everth Cabrera, as I’m entranced by his speed and I knew he wouldn’t last through the next three rounds I wasn’t picking in; plus, shortstop can often be the shallowest position on the diamond for fantasy purposes. Rounds 10-12 saw me take Zack Wheeler, Nori Aoki, and Ernesto Frieri. Again, the closer was just there; I knew coming out of three rounds of not picking, I wanted a young pitcher with buzz – Sonny Gray and Danny Salazar were my top two picks for that, but they were taken the round prior. Wheeler was my next preferred option. Aoki is just a player I’ve always picked; I think he has 30 SB potential with the free-running Royals, and could top 100 runs as their lead-off man. I see his upside as being .300/30 SB/100 R, with a downside being more along the lines of .260/20 SB/70 R.

Round 13 came then, and it was time to snag a real sleeper prospect – I wasn’t picking in Round 14, and I like having a real prospect to hope for in the “D-tier” (rounds 13-16) and “E-tier” (rounds 17-20). The “F-tier” (rounds 21-25) are less important for that, since free agent adds corresponding to DL moves count as 25th-round picks for keeper purposes; among my “25th-round picks” via injury replacement last season was Sonny Gray, who I almost (and maybe should have) kept over Shelby Miller. Anyway, wanting a young power bat, I took Khris Davis in the 13th round, then watched several of my other sleeper targets go in the next round – notably, Kole Calhoun and Yordano Ventura. Calhoun was my 18th-round target, alas. My next target, then, was going to be Avisail Garcia, who I think has legit 20 HR/20 SB potential… but he was gone, too. I settled for Alex Wood and Carl Crawford for rounds 15 and 16.

In the E-tier, I jumped on Alex Guerrero and Corey Kluber; even if Guerrero misses part of the season in Triple-A, he looks like the Dodgers’ desired 2B. At 18th-round value, if he does come up and show a potential for 20+ HR, he can be a valuable middle infielder as a keeper. I’ve got my fingers crossed; I don’t like choking a bench spot on a minor-league prospect, but I’m stuck doing it for now. Since I missed out on Salazar, I took the other Indians pitcher I’m high on as a consolation prize.

The final set of rounds I more or less just fill needs as necessary. As the draft had gone on by now, we’d had several players sustain injury – including Aroldis Chapman. Plus, I knew I had Matt Harvey destined for my DL, so I needed an SP to replace him. I also had an open utility spot. I ended up playing a hunch and picking up Dustin Ackley to serve as my MI placeholder while Guerrero gets his Triple-A seasoning, and picking up Sergio Santos to hold down saves for Chapman while he recovers. I rounded out my roster with sleeper hunch Tyson Ross and reliable James Loney.

When I draft this league, I try to target one or two keepers per tier, so that as the season starts, I already have a plan. When I brought a couple friends into the league this year, I advised them simply that it’s not about having a stud keeper in each tier; it’s about having options that won’t hurt you. One guy had to choose between Eric Young Jr. and Ryan Cook this offseason in his D-tier; he simply didn’t have other options, and he couldn’t find a trade to better his position. He settled on Cook. I try to avoid those situations. Pedro Alvarez may or may not be worth an 8th-round pick; but he’s not hurting me there. Similarly, I don’t love blowing my 4th-round pick this year on Kimbrel, but my next best option was losing my 1st-round pick to keep Robinson Cano. Kimbrel’s not hurting me, and I’d rather pick up Fielder in Texas than keep Cano in Seattle. Naturally, as the season goes on, free agent adds will change what my roster and keeper options look like, and trade possibilities will happen, but I always look at my draft as a starting slate, and try to pick up guys that I feel make good short-term keepers or have the potential to be reliable long-term keepers. So my plan this draft was such:

A-tier: As it stands, my keeper options will be Fielder or Pedroia. All in all, no complaints there; both are sturdy and reliable, and I won’t mind putting a 1-year contract on either at the end of the year.
B-tier: Chapman was essentially a value pick here, and if it comes down to it, he’s not a bad 1-year option. However, my hope here is that Everth Cabrera breaks out some more – if he hits .270+ and steals 40+ bases, he’s suddenly a 2-year keeper option.
C-tier: Frieri was another value pick for me, and isn’t someone I’d ideally keep. Given the choice, I’d probably throw one year at Aoki instead. However, Wheeler is my hope here – he seems to have the stuff to potentially justify a 2 or 3-year contract at season’s end.
D-tier: Davis, Wood, and Crawford are all hopes here. Crawford seems like a reliable 1-year option. But, of course, I’m digging hard for value at this point, and I’m hoping that Davis or Wood turn in standout years and become strong 2 or 3-year contract candidates. I don’t trust either fully, so I’m hoping one of them works out. If Davis can give me 25+ HRs and bat .270+, he becomes a great value going forward, and that’s my hope.
E-tier: I really wanted Kole Calhoun here, but I ended up settling for Guerrero and Kluber. This is my most “dangerous” tier, as both guys are unknowns and therefore gambles; in the other tiers above, I have someone “reliable” if my prospects don’t work out. This is going to be where I might end up scraping for a trade later. But the hope, of course, is that one of the two pan out – it’s the same as my D-tier, basically, but without the reliable veteran fall-back option.
F-tier: I don’t love any of these guys, but I respect breakout potential in both Ackley and Ross. If that works, great. If not, I know I’ll have several options from free agent adds corresponding with DL placements as the season goes on. I don’t worry about the F-tier.

All in all, a good draft. I have a roster with a high upside for young starting pitching coming through, and a set of hitters who could provide plenty of power and speed and hit for average. Of course, the downside is that no one really has stand-out years and I end up falling short in numerical categories each week, and that my young pitching falters and I lack enough stable veterans to fall back on. Still, starting pitching is always deep. I’m building not just to contend this season, but to build a more solid foundation next year, too.

It’s good to have baseball back.

My Personal Fantasy Baseball Primer

I love fantasy baseball.  I started out as a fantasy football guy, probably 10-12 years ago.. gosh.  I just remember winning my first league because it was the year Steve Smith went down with an injury, and Jake Delhomme and Muhsin Muhammed ended up being an elite QB-WR tandem that year.  That’s how long ago it was.  Anyway, about five years ago, a friend of mine started bugging me about fantasy baseball.  He recognized my skills and seemed to believe I’d be well-suited for the deeper fantasy baseball.  I relented and, in 2010, partook in my first fantasy baseball league.  It ended up being a 9-man rotisserie league.  Without a lot of baseball knowledge beyond my hometown team, I floundered in the middle of the pack until I got familiar with the statistical trends that govern fantasy baseball.  Solid midseason waiver pick-ups ended up guiding me to a 2nd-place finish.  After that, I took a year off – I wasn’t sure it was for me.  In 2012, that same friend invited me into a new keeper league he had started.  Also in 2012, another friend from my years in Seattle invited me to his redraft league.  In 2012, I won the championship of the keeper league, and lost the championship round in the redraft league.  Both leagues played again in 2013; after holding down the top seed all year in the keeper league (finishing in 1st by more than 10 games), I lost in the first round of the playoffs, and won the redraft league.  Because it’s fantasy baseball and requires more attention, I don’t play more than a league or two per year – so my sample size is small, especially compared to fantasy football, where I used to carry 3-5 leagues per year.  But make no mistake – that’s my track record of fantasy baseball coming into 2014.  Five leagues.  Two championships.  Two second-place finishes.  One non-championship playoff loss.  

Going into 2014, it looks like my redraft league won’t continue.  But the keeper league – named the Keeper Bank – continues.  Most of my fantasy baseball posts will be tailored to the specific rules of that league, which are rewardingly complex.  The basic twist is that the draft is broken into tiers every 4 rounds (A-tier = rounds 1-4; B-tier = rounds 5-8, etc).  At the end of the season, every manager has to keep a player from each tier.  Six keepers per year, one per tier, and they’re mandatory.  On top of that, keepers are signed to “contracts” – each year, the manager has 3 one-year contracts, 2 two-year contracts, and 1 three-year contract to sign their six keepers to.  Keepers are undroppable for the duration of their contract, although they can be traded (recipients of keepers via trade must honor their contracts).  Contracts cannot be re-signed when they expire; expiring contracts return to the draft pool the next year.

I love this system.  I can’t express enough how awesome I find the Keeper Bank.  It’s a brilliant system that pushes all managers to find depth and value across their roster, and maintain good roster management all season.  As I explained to a friend coming into the league this year, it’s less about finding a stud All-Star in each tier as it is about making sure you have some safety blanket in each tier, so that if you end up with less-than-stellar options, they won’t be actively bad options.  The best example of this I can think of is that I kept Marco Scutaro in 2013 as a one-year keeper in my C-tier; I think he had round 12 value or thereabouts.  Is that a great keeper?  Not really.  But he was solid.  Outside of a cold stretch early in the season, he never actively hurt my team.  I had studs elsewhere; you can’t win every tier – but the ones you can’t win, try not to lose, you know?

Anyway.  My years of fantasy baseball, both in keeper leagues and redraft leagues, have taught me some lessons.

Rule #1 – There’s always more SP

There’s a reason people don’t “stream” position players.  Starting pitching is deep.  Always is.  Part of it is that each team deploys 5 starters (sometimes more), so there’s a high probability of breakout players or impact rookies.  I treat my fantasy starters like a real GM, to a point – I like to have one or two anchors in the rotation; maybe they’re aces, maybe they’re not – but they’re guys I feel like I can rely on.  Last year, my anchors were David Price (my A-tier keeper, round 4 value), Max Scherzer (my F-tier keeper, round 25 value), Matt Harvey (drafted in round 11), and Shelby Miller (drafted in round 22).  Price and Harvey were my true aces; Scherzer was just an obviously good keeper at that value (although I only kept him for 1 year, whereas I kept Price for 2… oops).  Miller was a gamble that I figured was worth a late-round pick, who obviously panned out.  After those four guys (especially after Harvey went down, and Miller started to tire down the stretch), I just rode hot hands.  Some guys stayed in my rotation for months, some only for days or weeks.  But there was always someone else to pick up.

Rule #2 – 2B and SS are the true premium positions

Power is key in fantasy baseball.  You need HRs and RBIs.  But the fact is, you can find those late in the draft at the 1B/3B/OF positions.  Sure, it might not be an elite player, but you will find 3/4/5 hitters late in the draft who will get RBI chances.  Perfect examples are Mat Adams and Alex de Aza, both of whom have ADPs this year above 170.  If you’re feeling risky, you could gamble on Mike Moustakas, Justin Smoak, or Ike Davis, all of whom have ADPs over 240.  But you know what you won’t find?  Reliable 2B/SS.  Gambles, maybe.  But if you want a 2B/SS you needn’t worry about, you need to snag that guy early.  In my first year in the Keeper Bank, I was saddled with garbage at 2B.  I had Scutaro at SS, but my best option at 2B was Dustin Ackley.  In 2012.  I ended up doing something that’s conventionally unthinkable – I traded Clayton Kershaw for Aaron Hill.  And, truth be told, it saved my team.  I was deep in pitching and virtually empty at 2B.  Hill’s presence immediately solidified my lineup.  Last year, in 2013, I drafted Robinson Cano in the 1st round.  Having a 2B who puts up 1B/3B numbers is a huge boon, because that simply isn’t something you’ll find on the waiver wire in June.  If you’re asking me what my 1st/2nd-round targets are in a draft, I’ll probably tell you 2B and SS, unless I have a particular taste for a certain elite 1B/OF, or plan to take a 2B in the later single-digit rounds.

Rule #3 – Don’t overpay for saves

Obvious, I know, and I say this as a guy who took Kimbrel in the 3rd round last year in my keeper league (for a strategic reason, though).  I treat my relievers the same as my starters – I like an anchor, and then whatever works.  Kimbrel was my anchor, and is likely to be again this year as a 1-year A-tier keeper.  After that?  I forget.  I finished with Koji Uehara and Chris Perez as my other saves guys.  Both were free agent pick-ups.  I think I started the season by drafting Kimbrel, Jason Motte, and Jim Henderson.  The Keeper Bank also scores holds; despite being an obnoxious stat by nature, I enjoy the depth it applies across RPs.  Using holds means many RPs gain value, and some players with serious misfortune on saves can punt the category and go after holds.  I usually draft a couple holds guys, but they’re generally set-up guys who profile well as closers; that’s how I ended up with Uehara – I saw his stat line and the closer trouble Boston was having, snagged him as a holds guy hoping he’d switch to saves.  When he did, I picked up Tazawa to replace him and got a one-two HD/SV combo that reaped rewards.  This year, my eye is particularly on Rex Brothers and Danny Farquhar, although I think Farquhar is currently being drafted way too high for a set-up man who might become a closer.

Oddly, last year, my “drafting RPs” plan went perfectly in the Keeper Bank, but horribly in my redraft league.  In the end, my best laid plans in the Keeper Bank went astray as Motte went down with injury (at round 8 value!  Agh!) and Henderson imploded early; ironically, my very piecemeal redraft bullpen ended up being steady as a rock, despite including unsexy names like Steve Cishek and Bobby Parnell.  Go figure.

Rule #4 – Victory lies on the waiver wire

Look, a good draft never hurts.  No doubt there.  It helps.  The draft is where you find your corner stones; your 40-HR guy or your 40-steal guy, your 100+ RBI guys.  But those guys don’t win your league usually.  Success is found on the waiver wire, when it comes to reading trends and dropping that slow starter who never takes off for someone with a sustained hot streak.  In all my leagues, I’m an active waiver wire hunter.  I do believe that every player deserves time to shake off a slump, but that’s relative to your investment in them.  If I gamble on Mike Moustakas in the 24th round this year and he bats .180 for the first two weeks, I’ll probably cut bait unless he’s been absurdly unlucky.  Keeper leagues alter this formula slightly, as you might give a younger player a little more slack than otherwise, but I think it’s easy to get blinded by youth in keeper leagues – why wait forever on a potential 22-year-old stud when you could pick up a reliable 30-year-old who will put up similar numbers, and has a track record of doing so, for the next couple years?  

Rule #5 – Steals are getting rarer, and therefore more valuable

Most leagues score steals, and steals can be a very feast-or-famine category for most teams.  There aren’t a lot of 30-steal guys anymore; hell, there aren’t even a ton of 20-steal guys… especially not guys who won’t hurt you elsewhere.  There’s a lot of hype around Billy Hamilton this season, but is he really someone you want on a well-rounded team?  Sure, maybe he steals 50 bags this season.  But is that worth having if he does so largely as a pinch-runner or he puts up otherwise poor numbers?  Hamilton is a largely unproven player in every category other than steals – including his minor league track record – and he’s projecting an ADP around 70.  Absurd.  But this proves how scarce steals can be nowadays.  Finding those 20/20 guys for your team can be a huge boon, and it’s partly the danger I ascribe to taking a high-end 2B or SS; the big boys in that category don’t steal so much anymore.  I think OF is the place to look for steals largely, unless you find a speedy shortstop to your liking.  If you can get a guy like Starling Marte or Coco Crisp or someone else with legit 20/20 potential, I don’t think it’s a poor decision to reach for that player.  But also, know the teams a little – for example, Austin Jackson could put up 20+ steals every season, but the Tigers under Jim Leyland simply didn’t steal; on the flip-side, Kansas City is a super-aggressive base-running team.  If you’re looking at a guy and counting on him for steals, make sure he plays for a team that will help you out (I say this with Austin Jackson as a keeper, entering year two of his 2-year contract).

Rule #6 – Have fun with it, duh.

Right?  Chill out.  Have fun.  Make daring trades.  Draft that prospect you love.  Draft a hometown hero, even if you reach for him.  Make bold waiver pick-ups.  Watch some baseball.  Eat some sunflower seeds.  Drink some good beer.  And try to find friends to play with; it makes a big difference.  No matter how you draft, no matter what you prioritize over what, the only way to truly do it wrong is to not have fun doing it.

Happy spring!

Baseball’s back!

It’s been a long Minnesota winter. Really long. And cold. And snowy. And cold. Baseball is one of the most rewarding-feeling sports to see start up… it just conjures up so many pleasant images and sensations – the smell of the grass, the feeling of the sun on your skin, a crisp breeze, a cold beer, the crack of the bat, the thunk of the ball in the mitt. The color of baseball is green, for me… the vivid green of center field grass; the color of spring and revitalization. Yes, I am happy to see baseball back.

Personally, I’m a Tigers fan, as previous posts indicate. That’s my hometown team, you see. As a displaced Detroiter, I feel even closer to them that I would at home… they’re one of my connections. At any rate, I think this year’s Tigers – in Year 1 of the Ausmus Era – will look a lot different than last year’s Tigers. Comerica’s not a hitter-friendly park; one of my concerns with the Fielder signing was that we’d lose games in which we didn’t mash, and sure enough, the plodding Tigers team of the last couple years had trouble “manufacturing” runs in tight games. The Fielder trade is good for the team’s economic flexibility, but also a boon for lineup flexibility. Cabrera will probably get an extension and remain the central power threat in the lineup, but otherwise, Dombrowski seems to have realized that a small-ball squad might yield better results than the softball team he fielded previously. The new lineup seems designed to take advantage of Comerica’s spacious outfield to produce doubles and triples and cause more havoc on the basepaths. Both Boston and St. Louis fielded similar-looking teams last year, so I can’t lament the loss of power as a result. My bigger concern remains the bullpen, just as it was last year. I didn’t like the Tigers going out after Joe Nathan; there were plenty of reliable relievers on the market that could have been had at smaller prices, with that $10M/year easily being spread out among 3-4 guys. But Dombrowski is very obviously enthralled by the closer tag, based on the Valverde reclamation project last year and the Nathan signing this year. That’s a shame; if you look at Boston and St. Louis, neither team finished the season with their season-opening closer. Both teams, rather, had incredibly deep bullpens. The Tigers might have a top-flight closer, but age concerns aside, what happens when their shaky middle-innings guys can’t carry the lead? Both set-up guys – Al Alburquerque and Bruce Rondon – are essentially unproven in consistent roles. The best player in the bullpen last season is starting this year (Smyly) after the mind-boggling Fister trade. Joe Nathan’s been a great pitcher, but wouldn’t that $10M/year been better spent spread across a combination of guys like Jose Veras, Jesse Crain, Chris Perez, or Scott Downs? Maybe even throw in a trade for a guy like Luke Gregerson, especially given how little Oakland dealt to obtain him? That’s a lot of money in one guy that doesn’t help an already thin area. Nevermind the Joba Chamberlain deal, which I think is a reasonable risk at a reasonable price – but I’d feel better about it if the bullpen was deeper.

I live in Minneapolis, though, so I’m inundated with the Twins. As such, I can expect another year of very boring local baseball – it’s hard to get excited about the Twins right now. They’re waiting on their mega-prospects, to be fair, but they’ve also demonstrated an inability to make critical moves at critical times and/or acquire reliable starting pitching. The Twins have seen valuable expiring contracts walk away as free agents when they should have been traded; among these are Joe Nathan, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel. More recently, they’ve failed to capitalize on peak trade values of Josh Willingham and Glen Perkins; I appreciate the desire to keep your good players, especially when you want to fill up a new stadium, but let’s face it – Willingham isn’t part of the bigger plan, and Perkins is a closer… by the time the TWins are relevant, they could develop a new closer and/or Perkins could be less effective, as the shelf life on closers is so short. The White Sox made a daring deal this winter by dealing their young closer – Addison Reed – for help in other areas; that’s the kind of move the Twins should have made last year. So, at any rate, I feel like it’ll be another year of vaguely boring Twins baseball.

One thing that always intrigues me is how my pre-draft fantasy baseball plans look in my keeper league (more on that in another post). Without realizing it, I’ll end up keying in on several guys from a team that wasn’t successful the year previous, making me wonder if this year will be their year. Last year, for example, that team was Kansas City – I was really looking hard at Salvador Perez, Alcides Escobar, Greg Holland, and stuck with Mike Moustakas as a one-year keeper. I asked myself, last March, “wait a sec, do I expect this team to be good?” I kinda did. And they kinda were. This year? I’m keying in on the White Sox. Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu, Nate Jones, Matt Davidson… I feel like the White Sox have sleeper potential written all over them. In fact, I think the whole AL Central (other than the Twins) looks to be more competitive than it’s been in years. Cleveland and Kansas City are legitimate threats to Detroit’s reign, and again, I think the White Sox have serious dark horse potential.

Otherwise, I have no other predictions to give voice to at this time. I have them, yes, but that’s not what this post is for. I’m just happy to see baseball coming back. Expect to see occasional fantasy baseball-related posts, as I discuss the custom-format keeper league I’m in (and love being a part of), as well as general baseball observations. What matters most right now is that Opening Day is less than a month away and with it, hopefully, all the joys of spring.

Prince Fielder’s Departure; By Dombrowski We Swear

Ken Holland of the Red Wings has been Detroit’s patron GM for awhile, but I think Dave Dombrowski has finally overtaken him. It’s a process that took time, since Holland was so masterful in building the Red Wings, and he may reclaim it as these young Red Wings mature, but for right now, I think it’s fair to say that Dombrowski has established himself as one of the craftiest GMs in all of baseball. Let’s forget the obvious stuff – the swindling he does at the trade deadline, fleecing Seattle for Doug Fister in 2011 and then Miami for Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante in 2012. What he managed to do that’s set him apart now is that he managed to shed Prince Fielder in the offseason of 2013; beyond his other deals (besides acquiring Miguel Cabrera), this one will mark the franchise the most. We’ll look back in 2019 and shudder at what might have been.

I wrote a month ago about what I saw as the plight of the Tigers, that they were burdened by too many large contracts and it was likely to cost them some of their impending free agents, likely one of (if not both) Max Scherzer and Miguel Cabrera. I remarked at the more balanced budgets of St. Louis and Boston, and noted that balance might lead to championships more than star power. I noted that it seemed impossible for the Tigers to exist competitively down the road with both Cabrera and Fielder, and that the ideal situation might actually be to move Fielder, if possible. Clearly, this possibility gained traction within the Tigers’ organization after Fielder’s poorly timed bluntness about the ALCS loss. Detroit fans are a passionate bunch; that’s why we react positively to Torii Hunter’s boldness (even if he bats poorly) and negatively to Fielder’s nonchalance. There’s inherently wrong with what Fielder said; it’s totally realistic to take the loss in stride, to look forward to getting back to family. But it plays poorly with fans; with the loss still raw, it was a poor decision for Fielder to publicly voice how little it seemed to matter to him. When fans considered his poor postseason performance (dating back to 2012, also) and his mega-millions contract… it’s a bad combination.

The simple baseball reality was just as stark – Cabrera, injured or not, is a limited third baseman; Fielder, injured or not, is a limited first baseman. In an ideal world, Cabrera plays 1B and Fielder plays DH. But the Tigers currently employ Victor Martinez as DH, who makes up for a lack of power with remarkable consistency and tenacious at-bats. It should also be noted that the top prospect in the Tigers’ system, Nick Castellanos, is a third baseman. They’ve been working on converting him to left field, but suddenly, this move lets him play his natural position when he makes the big league. It also means that as Cabrera ages, assuming the Tigers retain him (which seems the obvious intent now), there’ll be no one to block a move to DH. Suddenly, the Tigers are looking like a more complete team, one that will be set up to age better, one that will have more defensive range in the field, and more flexibility in the batting lineup.

Piling on Prince is unfair, though. Prince Fielder is a good ball-player and has certainly played his heart out in a Tigers uniform at times. I think it’d be unfair if Tigers’ fans remember him for his poor choice of words, his playoff disappearance, and his epic belly flop after a terrible base-running decision. I think it should be noted that Prince Fielder’s poor offensive performance as a Tiger came after moving from the Brewers’ Miller Park – a very hitter-friendly park; Comerica Park does hitters no favors. In fact, one of the Detroit News writers speculated last season that Miguel Cabrera would hit anywhere from 5-10 more HRs per year had he gotten to play in Tiger Stadium instead of Comerica Park; this is conjecture, but I’m confident if someone did the math with Cabrera’s hit chart and Tiger Stadium’s dimensions, it would hold up. Likewise, Prince gets more traction in a hitter’s park; in fact, I bet he has a serious resurgence in Texas next season. The major difference between Cabrera and Fielder in their play at Comerica is that Miggy seems happy to take all of the doubles that Comerica affords him; Prince, on the other hand, can’t match Cabrera on the basepaths, and what power he loses in the spacious park simply relegates him to more singles. Maybe the pressure of Detroit was too much for him, too; Detroit forces the issue of his tenuous relationship with his father, a former Tiger, after all, and he had to play up to his contract. We can joke all we want about lamenting the misfortunes of millionaires, but I have no doubt some people just want to play ball, and don’t want that kind of pressure – maybe Prince is one of those guys.

It’s strange to see deals that work out so well for both teams. The Tigers acquired Ian Kinsler, an All-Star 2B at age 31. For the Tigers, this is an upgrade over the departed free agent Omar Infante and a better expense than Fielder; Kinsler should be able to sustain his production through his contract (ending in 2018) and give the Tigers time to develop a 2B-of-the-future, something that does not exist in their organization right now. Likewise, they open up flexibility at the corners – as I noted above, Miggy can move to 1B and Castellanos can play 3B. The Tigers cleared a glut at the corners to fix lack of depth up the infield. Well done. For Texas, the situation is reversed – they acquire depth at the corners and alleviate a glut in the middle infield. Their own top prospect, the incredibly named Jurickson Profar, is a 2B, but Texas had locked up their middle infield in Kinsler and Andrus a couple years ago, relegating the MLB-ready Profar to a bench role. Meanwhile, while set at 3B with Adrian Beltre, they lacked a solid 1B. Now with Kinsler gone and Fielder acquired, Profar will slide into an everyday 2B role, giving Texas a very potent-looking daily infield. The Tigers, meanwhile, will hope that Castellanos – who raked in the minors last year and looked capable in limited MLB action in September – makes the team out of spring training, giving them an attractive infield of Cabrera/Kinsler/Iglesias/Castellanos.

It seems likely that the Tigers aren’t done shopping, that they’ll look for a solid outfield bat to add – but that kind of shopping, which seemed prohibited by finances prior to this deal, suddenly seems more reasonable, as does retaining Max Scherzer. The future that I saw in October – of a slow, aging Tigers lineup unable to overcome big contracts – suddenly seems less likely to happen. The Tigers now seem poised to lock up Scherzer, guaranteeing a future top-3 rotation of Verlander/Scherzer/Sanchez, and set to extend Cabrera’s contract whenever those talks become necessary. That’s a core that Tigers fans will stand behind and can have faith in to guide a future of continued contention. That window, that I feared was closing a month ago, suddenly seems to have gotten propped up a little higher.