Most Untradeable Fantasy MLB Keepers: No. 14-30
The funny thing about fantasy keeper leagues, is that there’s no single winning formula in which to build your perennial contender. If you had to peg a strategy though, continually upgrading your keeper core from year-to-year, making them as strong as possible, would probably be the way to go.
The question of how to go about doing so, is a riddle that too few ever figure out. Identifying your Holy Grails can often be hard enough as it is. It’s easy to look at the previous year’s numbers to figure out the most helpful players, but much harder to take recent history, player make-up, team/ballpark support, position, age and skill sets, to prognosticate a player’s potential upside.
Lucky for you, I’m here to do it all for you.
This year I’ll rank the Top-30 most valuable keepers. Why 30? Because that is how many big league clubs there are. But it’s completely arbitrary. Maybe next year I’ll rank 50 or 64 or go dilute our pool of players, rendering them all but meaningless by going all the way up to 96. That’s what the NCAA is going to do with March Madness… right? They wouldn’t self-mutilate their own product, would they?
Just missing the list this year were: Dan Haren, Ian Kinsler, Grady Sizemore, Jason Heyward, Justin Verlander, Jacoby Ellsbury. Of those six, with money on the line, my guess would be that only Heyward cracks the Top-30 next year.
(*UPDATE: Upon further review, I realized leaving David Wright off of the “just missed” was kind of a giant hemorrhoid of a mistake. He doesn’t crack the Top-30 this year, but he certainly was in the conversation. My bad.)
So let’s get to it shall we. Allow me to help light the way towards many prosperous fantasy baseball seasons for you all.
There is only one rule, unless you have a glaring need for a certain position – and I do mean GLARING – and particular position wealth in which to deal from, you should never trade a player ranked higher on this list than the one you are receiving in return, straight-up for one another. Package deals of course are different beasts altogether, but still this list should be a good guideline for you to follow.
In reverse order, these are the guys you should be looking to acquire and HANG ONTO…
Let’s Talk Turkey:
30.) C.C. Sabathia, SP
29.) Cliff Lee, SP
28.) Tommy Hanson, SP
27.) Ryan Zimmerman, 3B
26.) Ryan Howard, 1B
Don’t get it twisted, just because these five round out the list, doesn’t mean you should be looking to give them away. What you most definitely SHOULD be doing, is quietly sending out feelers to see if you can find any homer-owners willing to overpay for a security blanket.
Sabathia will be 30 years old in July, but plays for a powerhouse team, is still pretty stinking good and doesn’t have any sort of injury history. The bad news is, that he plays in a powerhouse division, has a career ERA of 3.62 and plays in a newer, eastern version of Coors Field. He’s good but you probably aren’t betting the farm on him. Maybe the tractor though. And a horse or two. Sabathia is a pretty swell pitcher.
Cliff Lee is down here so low because his career has been just a little too perplexing. He’s a 31-year-old who was REALLY good in ’08 and ’09, decent in ’05, but scary bad every other MLB season he has pitched in. Lee has also had a bizarre history of abdominal injuries. But boy was he good the last two years, and now that he plays in the weak-hitting AL West, you like him on your squad that much more. Due to the risk though, for good value in return, you should be more than willing to exchange Lee for a better option.
Tommy Hanson. Oh, Tommy Hanson. He’s ranked 28th this year, as he only has one season under his belt; BUT BOY WAS IT NICE. Hanson is only going to shoot up in value – baring major injury – so if you dig his style, THIS is the time to go get him.
Ryan Zimmerman is definitely in the right grouping. He is like the younger, position-playing version of Cliff Lee. The third baseman – who was once a highly touted prospect – didn’t exactly burst onto the scene. But he did make a good first impression, before sinking for a while. Last year was Zim’s coming-out-party, so he is in a weird middle-ground in terms of value. Buy, sell… it depends how you view his young career thus far. I am cautiously buying on Zimmerman.
What is former NL MVP, Ryan Howard, doing in the high twenties? Perhaps the fact that he’s really only a 4.5 category (HR, OPS, R, RBI) player has something to do with it. He will KILL you in K’s, doesn’t run at all and half the time, drags down your batting average too. SELL, SELL, SELL on Howard.
If the Price is Right:
25.) Carl Crawford, OF
24.) Matt Holliday, OF
23.) Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Crawford just isn’t multi-dimensional enough to really build around. The speedy Ray (for now) is certainly a guy who can help a fantasy team win, but he isn’t going to be the reason you win.
Did that make sense?
I think it made sense. Moving on…
Matt Holliday saw an enormous spike in his keeper value, from his trade to and extension with the St. Louis Cardinals. Hitting behind Albert Pujols? YOU HAVE VALUE. It doesn’t hurt that Holliday has averaged right around 30 homers and 15 stolen bases over the course of his six-year career.
You should know now that I don’t place a ton of stock into position value. Sure it’s nice if you get 20 home runs from your catcher, 15 stolen bases from your first baseman, or 100-plus RBI from your second baseman; but in the end stats are stats, regardless of where you find them. It’s all about VORP (Value Over Replacement Player) and sometimes that means that finding strength at a weak position holds extra value and other times it means doing so won’t matter so much. With Troy Tulowitzki (shortstop) you’re going to find yourself in a pickle if you concentrate solely on his position. Sure if the 25-year-old strings together another 30/20 season at short, your VORP at short is going to be through-the-roof. But what happens if he only gives you 8/1 as he did in an injury plagued ’08?
You might not want to find out.
Young Talented, Valuable and NOT CHEAP:
22.) Andrew McCutchen, OF
21.) Pablo Sandoval, 3B/1B
20.) Stephen Strasburg, SP
19.) Prince Fielder, 1B
18.) Clayton Kershaw, SP
This tier is going to undoubtedly be the toughest for most to gauge in value.
Andrew McCutchen certainly hasn’t been without hype this off-season, but strangely, he is probably STILL under-hyped based on his potential value. There’s no doubt in my mind, that unless you play in a VERY savvy league, Power Wheels (my personally dubbed McCutchen nickname) can be yours at a great discount.
Kung Fu Panda is in a similar boat, but only because of his free-swinging ways. But do you realize that Sandoval didn’t break the century mark for Ks in ’09? Heck, he didn’t even break 90 (Panda whiffed 83 times). Like Hanson, Sandoval is another candidate to shoot up the keeper value charts by this time next year.
Stephen Strasburg is pretty much a total wild card, even with nine out of ten dentists telling you chewing Strasburg will whiten your teeth and reduce gingivitis better than the leading brand.
Stras has spark though, which means he is extremely appealing to owners. For the record, in our keeper league, Britton Dennis and I (co-owning is definitely the way to go in fantasy, it’s just a lot more fun to have a partner) preferred young Braves demigod Jason Heyward to Stras, but that was part due to our pitching situation (Tim Lincecum, King Felix, Roy Halladay and Dan Haren) and part due to us REALLY crushing on Heyward. Make no mistake though, in terms of general opinion, Strasburg is far and away the most valuable (keeper) rookie in the field this year.
Is it possible to be the son of Cecil Fielder, a two-time top-five NL MVP finisher and STILL be undervalued? Just ask Prince Fielder who only hit .299, 46 home runs and had 141 RBI last season. Geez.
Clayton Kershaw is my favorite pitcher in the league to watch. He is capable of just about anything. Kershaw could strike-out 18 and pitch a one-hitter, or he could implode by walking six, on his way to giving up eight runs in less than three innings. He has to learn how to better control his fastball and deuce, but when ON, both of those pitches are plus ones. As Herm Edwards once said: “We can build on this!!!”
He’s Like Family, but More Like a Second Cousin
17.) Roy Halladay, SP
16.) Zack Greinke, SP
15.) Joey Votto, 1B
14.) Justin Upton, OF
It’s a bit unnerving to see Halladay ranked as a Top-20 keeper. As recently as two years ago, he was left for dead on the side of the fantasy keeper road. Due to age, an uninspired K/9 and injury plagued ’04 and ’05 campaigns, Halladay was about as useful to keeper league owners at the end of a season as an already squeezed ketchup packet.
But then something amazing happened; Doc started missing bats, TONS of them. Still, playing in the AL East with the like of the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays as foes, really hampered the former Cy Young winner’s value. Now on the Phillies, that has all changed. Trade Halladay if the offer is attractive, but don’t settle. He’s going to terrorize the NL East.
There are only two pitchers who have more value as keepers than Kansas City ace, Zack Greinke. The guy is amazing. He is 26, getting better each year and coming off a Cy Young winning season. LOVE HIM. His psychological issues seem behind him.
Reds first baseman, Joey Votto, is the position playing version of Greinke. Young (26) and extremely talented (fifth in all of MLB in OPS in 2009), Votto is oozing with value. The only thing really holding him back this far is the depth of first base, as well has his own anxiety struggles, which like Greinke, seem to be slowly fading in the rear-view mirror.
Scouts have long since lauded the younger Upton as the most skilled youngster in the game. It might seem tough to believe but the kid is still only 22 years old. And even with his ’09 break-out season (.300-AVG 26-HR, 20-SB) owners are still assessing his lofty value based on potential. A tough pill to swallow for some, when talking about a Top-15 keeper.