Playing for keeps

It’s likely the trade deadline in your league has either passed, or will be passing in the coming week or so. With that in mind, it’s probably as good a time as any to start talking about potential decisions to be made regarding keepers for the following year. In this column, I’d like to take a look at some players whose stock has either risen or fallen this year and evaluate them from a keeper-standpoint.

Of course, a number of caveats apply, so let’s just get them out there and done away with.

1. It’s hard for me to determine Player X as a keeper in any context other than a draft league; I can’t tell you whether I think you should keep Mark Reynolds in an auction league if I don’t know what you paid for him or what other bargains you may have on your roster. (Though, it’s probably a safe bet to say that if you have him in an auction league, he quite likely represents a great ROI, and you should keep him).

2. Not all leagues have the same categories, so I’m going to talk most generally about classic 5×5 scoring mixed leagues. Obviously, Ichiro gets a bump up if your league counts net steals as opposed to raw steals and a demotion if it counts OPS instead of batting average.

3. I don’t know how many keepers your league may allow, so I’ll make comments at two cut off points, shallow and deep. Shallow will refer to a 10 team league with 3 keepers per team (30 total keepers); while deep will refer to a 12 team league with five keepers each (60 total keepers). I’ll try to pick players who might be around either of these borders, and try to focus on guys who have seen a change in their value this season. I will consider as “borderline” players who I think are defensible as keepers at that cut off, but I’d be hesitant to actually recommend.

All that said, let’s get going, shall we?

Jonathan Broxton
Shallow: NO

Broxton has had a great year in his first full go-round as closer, cementing himself as one of the elite at his position. He embraces a high workload, posts inhuman strikeout rates, closes for one of the best teams in baseball and plays in a division overflowing with pitchers’ parks and mediocre line-ups. Still, I wouldn’t consider keeping him in a league that doesn’t reach 50 total keepers. The reason is replacement value. Unless your league is extremely fond of keeping closers, there will be plenty of elite closer options remaining after keepers are declared. There won’t, however, be many players with 30/30 potential, or with realistic shots at 40+ homers. Don’t put one of those guys back in the pool to keep Broxton. Additionally, he may flirt with double-digit wins this year, but don’t expect that to be repeatable.

Let me also make two overarching points here. First, Broxton’s evaluation is basically applicable to the entire crop of top tier closers. Second, because I hate reading pieces in which the author makes a whole slew of predictions that are cumulatively preposterous (we’ve all read football season previews where the combined records of all the teams don’t add up to .500), I actually tried to list as many players as I would clearly choose to keep before considering closers. I started having to think about the decisions in the low-fifties.

Adam Dunn
Shallow: NO
Deep: YES

Leagues are rarely won in the first few rounds of drafts, but they can be lost there. That’s why I’m a proponent of reliability in my early picks. You can pencil Dunn in for his 40 homers and 100 RBIs. His skill set dictates he should be good for 100 runs too, but a putrid supporting cast hurts the cause. Dunn’s OF-eligibility pushes him over the hump. There aren’t a whole lot of 40 home runOFs out there and anytime you can get power production like that without using spending one of your corner infield spots, that’s a great opportunity. Dunn’s faults are well known, just make sure you are cognizant of batting average throughout the draft, and you’ll be fine.

Zack Greinke
Shallow: NO
Deep: YES

Two things make the Greinke dilemma especially interesting. One is that the jump Greinke made has been a quantum leap. Sure, he broke out last year, but to go from borderline All Star to Cy Young candidate is skipping a step or two. The other factor is that, as is the case with Mark-Reynolds, it’s likely that if you have Greinke, you also have your top picks from the draft to consider as keepers.

You know what scares me about Greinke? Two words: Francisco Liriano. Track record is really important to me when it comes to elite pitchers, you can’t get burnt keeping a pitcher and win your league; it’s almost impossible.

Carlos Quentin
Shallow: NO
Deep: YES

I thought I would be really conflicted about Quentin, but when I did the thought exercise to test my intuition about Broxton, I found there were way more than 30 players I’d rather roll the dice on than Quentin. I’d rather gamble on, say, Aramis Ramirez staying healthy. Toward the deeper end, the upside is hard to overlook. He has the pedigree and clearly showed his capabilities last year.

A Hardball Times Update
Goodbye for now.

Deep: YES

I really wanted to not recommend Reynolds in shallow leagues, but I have to at least give him a tentative thumbs up. I even went to Hit Tracker hoping to find that a disproportionate number of his homers were classified as “lucky,” but ‘twas not the case. In fact, only Pujols and Dunn have hit more “no doubters” than Reynolds, who has blasted 19 homers 430 feet or further.
There are a few things that put me over the top on Reynolds.

1. While the strikeout rate remains truly frightening, the walk ratio is moving up.

2. Minus the average, Reynolds wasn’t that far from being a pretty high level 3B producer last year, and could have been knocking at the door of the deeper keeper pool even with just an incremental step forward.

3. The steals drastically elevate his “floor.” Obviously, we can worry about the batting average. Anything over .270 seems unsustainable unless he hits 45 or so homers, but I don’t think we need to worry about .240 either. Another way to approach this would be to think about worst case scenario, which might be along the lines of 80/25/90/12. Meanwhile, what’s the upside? 110/45/120/30? He could totally have another top-10 overall value season next year. And, while you may worry about the BABIP, perhaps the fact that he’s 26 and could still be improving his core skills, which might be able to mitigate some of legit worry with legit hope.

Reynolds is like a poker hand in which you think you might be beat, but you are getting three-to-one on a call. I maintain a “borderline” recommendation because I’m generally conservative by nature about these things, but I couldn’t fault anybody for going all in on Reynolds.

Ichiro Suzuki
Shallow: NO
Deep: YES

There’s a group of players that seem to only live up to their projected fantasy value when everything goes right. Ichiro is a member of this group, along with Jimmy Rollins and Derek Jeter. These players will not justify their pre-season rankings unless they have great years by their own standards.

Personally, I wouldn’t be all that confident in a 10-12 team league if Ichiro was the third best player on my team. I’d prefer a guy with a higher ceiling; I’d easily keep Ellsbury or Markakis over Ichiro, who is likely not a top 30 player without hitting .350. I also wouldn’t even consider keeping him if I was keeping a starting pitcher, doing so would just put you at such a power disadvantage so early in the draft, you’d be chasing those categories the whole draft and likely wind up reaching along the way.

Troy Tulowitzki
Shallow: NO
Deep: YES

Tulo is a great example of a high ceiling player. He plays a premium position. He hits in a great ballpark. He has shown elite fantasy potential previously and he’s stepped up his running game (at least for fantasy purposes) and emerged as a five-category threat. Tulo has risks, as just about any player outside the top 30 will have, but they are risks I’m comfortable taking on.

Alfonso Soriano
Shallow: NO

Soriano will be 34 next year and he hasn’t played a full season or stolen 20 bases since 2006. The ISO’s been trending down too. Soriano doesn’t seem to be the type of player who will decline gracefully. I can see betting on him in the deeper pools, but I’d easily trade the ceiling for the reliability of a slightly lesser player on this one. I can’t emphasize enough how down I am on the way players of his make-up and component skills age. If you have a greater appetite for risk and want to chase the 30/30 potential, here’s a question: who has a better chance to go 25/25 next year, Alfonso Soriano or Alexei Ramirez? I don’t think I’d keep Ramirez either, but a middle infield-eligible guy on his way up seems like a more attractive proposition.

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13 years ago

It’s a daunting task to discuss keepers on a grand scale since – by and large – every keeper situation is unique depending on the context of the league.

That being said, I think you have the right approach to this column going forward.

Reynolds is a very interesting case for next year. My early inkling is that he’s one of the biggest busts next year. I’m very risk-averse and typically avoid players with low contact rates, though.

13 years ago

i like the article, but have one comment. i don’t quite agree with your definition of “deep keepers”

I play in a 16 team league and your assumption of 50-60 keepers translates to about 3 or 4 keepers per team which is not at all very deep. Even in a 10 or 12 team keeper (which is pretty shallow) that means about 5 or 6 keepers per team which again does not seem very deep at all. i think deep keepers is more when you have say 100+ keepers and 14+ teams. it’s quite easy to name the top 60 or 80 fantasy baseball players, but once you get to about 100 it gets tricky.

i think you evaluated the shallow keepers pretty well, but need to expand on the deep keepers. guys who would be interesting include danks, floyd, nolasco, w.rodriguez, rios, h.kendrick, pence, werth (to name a few).some guys are in or close to the top 50 this year (werth, w.rodriguez) but are they worth keeping at their age? that would be more interesting

13 years ago

Why should the words “Francisco Liriano” make you worried about Greinke?  Liriano’s issues may stem from having had Tommy John surgery, and Greinke has never had any kind of arm problems.  Plus Liriano really only had one year anyway (so you’re right, no track record), but Greinke was pretty darn good last year too.  You ought to be more scared of the words “plays for the Royals” than Francisco Liriano.

Kevin Jebens
13 years ago

I understand that when you compare Greinke to Liriano, you’re only referring to the fact that “elite” pitchers have a way of burning you. But I don’t think the comparison is the best idea.

I look at Liriano and I see a guy who hasn’t ever pitched a full season as a starter. Greinke already did that before his mental breakdown, and he did it last year as well. He’s much more reliable in my book than Liriano as a keeper option, specifically because we know he can handle the workload (for now). I don’t consider him any more of a risk than other top starters, because anyone can go down at any time, like Webb this year. And although Greinke’s second half hasn’t been quite as stellar as his first half, I’m keeping him in one of my keeper leagues (as my only pitcher) without any worries.

Derek Ambrosino
13 years ago

Thanks, BK.

I understand that some leagues go far deeper than 60, but I’m under the impression that is a minority of leagues. Once you are keeping 100 players or so, the dynamic of the draft really changes. Also, the deeper the pool gets, the more players have legitimate arguments as keepers. The “bubble” on the top 60 may be something like 15 players or so. At 100, I’d assume it’s at least twice that.

I might make this article something of a series, and in the future I’m willing to discuss a crop of players on the fence at the top 100. I’ll try to chime in with some thoughts on the specific players you mentioned a bit later.

In general, I think the key to designing a keeper structure is to ensure that teams who plan well have an advantage going in to the draft, but there is still a great opportunity for the team with the worst set of keepers to draft impact players and strengthen their team to contention.

How does 100 keepers affect the strength of the competitive balance of the teams, BK? I’ve never played in a league with such a large number of keepers. Does it become dynastic, or at least an A-division/B-division dynamic? I could fathom it playing out that way, so I’m curious as to your thoughts.

Derek Ambrosino
13 years ago


Some quick takes on some of the guys who brought, considering a cutoff of top 100.

Danks – I’d be skeptical, especially in that ballpark.

Rodriguez – He might be the safest bet among the pitchers you named because a number of us kind of saw this coming.

Nolasco – I think he was overdrafted this year. He was one of those guys that experts created an echo chamber of hype for, which resulted in them collectively outsmarting themselves. You have to love the potential, but even with 100 players off the board, there’s usually still a lot of reliable, quality pitching still out there.

In general, I think people overestimate the depth of very good outfielders and underestimate the depth of solid, but non-elite pitching (and, especially in relation to ADP)

Rios, Pence, and Werth should each produce top 100 value next year.

Glp and/or Kevin,

Basically, the quantum leap scares me. And more so with pitchers than hitters. Most savvy fantasy players spend their top picks disproportionately on hitting, making the opportunity cost that much greater if you swing and miss on a pitcher. I know Liriano had health issues, but it’s really buying into the tier 1A status too early that I’m cautioning against.

Would you feel just as comfortable keeping Matt Cain? Adam Wainwright? Do you really trust Greinke the way you trust Haren or Halladay, production-wise? Maybe you do; and, maybe you’ll be proven right. To me, pitchers are about sure things and high ROI at draft position. I’m not fully convinced and I’m not going to get value, so I’m shopping elsewhere.

13 years ago

I’m in a 14 team league. We keep four teams per team. I have 3 definite keepers in Hanley Ramirez, Ian Kinsler, and Tim Lincecum. My options for number four are Justin Upton, Brian McCann, and Kendry Morales. I’m thinking Upton, but I’m not entirely sure. Thoughts?

Jason B
13 years ago


For what it’s worth, I would rank them in the order that you listed them.  Upton, then McCann, then Morales.

Derek Ambrosino
13 years ago

I agree with Jason.

Morales is the most easily replaced of the three, so he’s immediately out.

With 14 teams, you can’t totally punt the catcher position in the draft and deal with the scraps, so there’s an argument for holding on to premium talent. But, I still think there’s plenty of totally passable options to be had there as well.

If Upton performs, you’d be sitting with a real nice core and set up for a great draft. You already have good speed, studs up the middle, and probably the best pitcher in the game. Corner can power comes relatively cheap, so you should have a lot of flexibility in the draft.