(*) KEEPERS: Playing For Next Year
If your keeper league team is dead in the water, now—not the offseason—is the time to re-tool for 2013. And now less than two weeks before the MLB trade deadline—and not many days afterward before fantasy deadlines become a factor—the landscape offers you ample opportunity to improve your roster. Here are some strategy tips and initial player ideas for the next month:
Take advantage of your less attentive competitors
As Ron Shandler noted in his Fanalytics column last week, our season is six months long, but fantasy football is already beginning to divert some of your fellow owners' attention. Not only is there always less competition for some of the better FA finds beginning in mid-summer, but some fantasy footballers are less diligent in their baseball deal-making. Identify them and act accordingly. When their intensity flags, it's time to up your game; playing until the end of September is paramount for keeper league success.
Don't wait for big MLB deals create immediate fantasy opportunities
By this time in seasons past, the MLB trading season was in full swing with big names and prospects changing hands and creating new playing time opportunities. But as Ray Murphy noted in last week's Speculator, an additional wild-card spot has created less sellers than in previous seasons. And mid-season player rentals no longer provide renting clubs with supplemental draft picks after the player becomes a free agent the following winter. To date, pre-deadline trades have slowed to a crawl relative to previous seasons, as valuing two-month rentals is proving difficult for buyers and sellers alike.
Unless a veteran player is going to come cheaply—i.e., for low-minors, perhaps not-ready-for-prime-time prospects—contenders are more likely to pass, preferring players still under contractual / club control that aren't as readily available. Likewise, with prospects more valuable than before, a non-contender may decide that a winter arbitration offer-and-rejection scenario can net a draft pick—and make retaining their soon-to-be FAs worth their while.
Specifically, salary relief and sketchy minor league talent aren't likely to pry either Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, or even Francisco Liriano from their current teams and thus open up MLB rotation innings. If the Royals don't get what they want for Jon Broxton, role upgrades for the rest of their talented bullpen will be on hold. This isn't to say a contender going all-in and an also-ran with an itch won't find each other -- but that it's less likely to happen than before.
Target non-producers taking up roster space on your league's contenders
At the beginning of 2012, names like Justin Upton, Peter Bourjos, Carlos Santana, Mat Latos, and Desmond Jennings were considered among the best young players in baseball and eminently rosterable in all fantasy league formats. Now? Not so much—at least not for the remainder of 2011, if they are taking up space on a team still in the hunt. Identifying the growth-age underachievers on your league's contenders your primary objective—like, yesterday. If you think one them might be interested in, say, Alfonso Soriano in return for Peter Bourjos, see if you can create a bidding war.
Don't dismiss the over-30 underachievers, particularly if they come cheap
By this time in 2011, fantasy owners were willing to give up Alex Rios for pennies. Now with 13 HR, 14 SB and a .311/.295 BA/xBA combo, Rios is proving again that he's a streaky player, not a terrible one. With the emphasis on youth, you can always find contenders and rebuilders alike willing to give up on 30-somethings having down years. An owner who wants to move a scuffler badly enough will often make it it easy for you to take a gamble.
There's talent on MLB benches, if you look for it
Trevor Plouffe was a player without a position who had 99 MLB AB through the end of July 2011, as he bounced back and forth between MIN and AAA-Rochester. But even while he struggled with his defense and his BA, Plouffe was showing impressive power growth, which led a few fantasy owners to take a flyer on him as a qualifying SS in 20-5 leagues this past March. Now as MIN's regular 3B with 19 HR, an .861 OPS and a 161 PX, Plouffe is looking like one of 2011's "Black Swans."
Currently on the Mets, Jordany Valdespin is coming off the bench as a utility, and dealing with some of the same defensive issues that plagued Plouffe last season. And through the erratic play, he's also exhibiting plus power and speed in a small sample—167 PX / 5 HR, 113 Spd / 4 SB in 79 AB. He may need more time to refine his patience and pitch selection, but like Plouffe, Valdespin is a talent that also-rans and rebuilders can afford to gamble on.
Look for MLB experience, blocked talent, and second-half surgers toiling in the minors
Even significant minor league talent on your league's contenders should be available given its non-producing nature. But obviously unless you're offering significant/immediate production or talent for talent, names like Wil Myers with good 2013 potential will be tough to come by in a dynasty league.
Still, plenty of lesser names with 2013 contribution potential may still be available in your league. For example, the Red Sox may not deal either Ryan Kalish or Ryan Lavarnway by the trade deadline, if they don't get the pitching they want. But BOS is unlikely to allow these players to languish in Pawtuckett after 2011, particularly since their skills and MLB experience have earned everyday MLB opportunities. Given the Red Sox OF glut, Kalish—113 PX, 10 SB in 163 BOS AB back in 2010 before injuries set in—is a prohibitive bet to be moved before spring training. And Josh Reddick's successful move from BOS to OAK—21 HR, 161 PX—is a reminder that sometimes all talent needs is playing time.
Thanks to the STL offense glut, 23-year-old Matt Adams wasn't going to last with big club, and is now putting up stupidly-good numbers—15 HR, .361 BA—in AAA-Memphis. With the Cards unlikely to retain the injury-prone Lance Berkman come 2013, Adams' power and MLB experience should give him another chance soon enough.
And while most your co-owners zero in on mega-prospects who have performed well all season, you should be looking for upper-minor leaguers who have picked up their performance over the last month or two, or who have been overlooked for whatever reason. Dan Straily wasn't on many fantasy radars before the season, but he's now leading the minors in strikeouts with a 162/36 K/BB in 126 IP between Double-A and Triple-A, and is now close to joining the OAK rotation. Adam Eaton has never been accorded elite prospect status, but his .352 career minor league BA and solid defensive skills should grab your attention given the questions surrounding ARI's OF going forward.
Don't bury the wounded
Dynasty and KL owners who forgot about Jordan Zimmerman after he went down with Tommy John (TJS) surgery several years ago are kicking themselves now. One of this past year's preeminent TJSers, Brett Anderson LHP, OAK), is just now beginning a rehab stint in A-ball this week—and should be good to go come April 2013.
But two less-heralded TJS plays are Rubby De La Rosa (RHP, LA) and Carlos Carrasco (RHP, CLE) both of whom are on a similar time-line as Anderson—and both of whom should see significant time in their respective teams' rotations in 2013, if healthy. The 22-year-old De La Rosa was regularly touching the mid-90's in his 2011 LA debut, during which he put up a 3.58 xERA, 48% GB%, and 8.9 Dom in 61 IP before he went down. Likewise, Carrasco appeared to be coming into his own at age 24 in June 2011, a month that saw him record a 1.90 ERA and 4.0 Cmd in 43 IP prior to a dreadful July and his eventual surgery.
Next column, we'll begin taking more detailed looks at these and other names in an early effort to identify under-the-radar 2013 producers.