Why I Picked These Guys, Jr.

November 5, 2014

 

 

For the first time in 15 years I was unable to attend the XFL draft at Ron Shandlerís First Pitch Arizona*, but that did not stop me from drafting. Fortunately, I was able to enlist the assistance of Tim McLeod, the 2014 winner of the Tout Wars Mixed League Draft to sit in for me. Running up to the draft, he and I had several conversations about what to expect in this keeper/dynasty event, as well discussions regarding a number of players I targeted to acquire. Needless to say, once any draft commences, almost all planning goes out the window so there were a few surprises when I finally got my roster. Still, thereís some decent potential with what I have to work with going forward and thatís about all that can be expected from any draft. And frankly, given the fact that no one is allowed any reference materials at the draft other than a list of the major league 40-man rosters which is provided on-site, and he was drafting someone elseís keeper league team against many of the best fantasy baseball minds in the world, I have to say Tim did a fine job.

 

Going in from a positional standpoint, I needed a third baseman, a middle infielder, three outfielders, a utility player and five pitchers, preferably broken down as three starters and two closers. As far as production, from what I already had on the roster I figured I needed to acquire 60-70 home runs worth of power, 350 RBI and runs and about 90 steals. On the pitching side, itís hard to project wins and saves, but the top teams finished with roughly 90 wins, 90 saves and about 1450 strikeouts.

 

There was a lot of depth in the third base pool, with Adrian Beltre, Pablo Sandoval, Aramis Ramirez, Chase Headley, Pedro Alvarez, Martin Prado, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Zimmerman all available. In addition, due to Manny Machadoís injuries this season, Chris Davis played some third base making him eligible as well. Thatís a lot of quality with only five or six teams needing a third baseman. There were plenty of corner spots open but the first base pool was also rather deep. So given the usual extreme scarcity of good third basemen, this was a welcome opportunity. My plan going in was to acquire as many as possible, squirreling away those with multiple position eligibility elsewhere. It didnít work out that way as I only came away with Ryan Zimmerman ($17). Thatís not necessarily a bad thing. His impending move to first base will hopefully keep him out of the trainerís room this year, as many of his injuries have been throwing-related. Itís no guarantee but at least thereís a reason for optimism.

 

Alcides Escobar ($10) is becoming one of the better shortstops in the majors and is just now reaching his peak performance years. In two of the last three seasons heís topped 30 steals so as long as he can keep his on base above .320 (something that is heavily dependent on his BABIP) then he can be a significant asset in this league.

 

My third priority was to roster some outfield depth. I came in with Giancarlo Stanton and Justin Upton already in tow and was hoping to nab either Jay Bruce, Jayson Werth or Carlos Gonzalez and then back fill the remaining spots with dollar speed. That also didnít work out so well as Bruce ($27), Werth ($32) and CarGo ($35) all went for more money than I had anticipated. Instead I ended up with Oswaldo Arcia ($14). Iím not a huge fan of Arcia because he doesnít walk very much and his contact rate is very low - in the range of BJ Upton and Juan Francisco, as a matter of fact. And as a Bruce substitute he fails the smell test as Bruce had been a much better prospect, displaying better power and speed yet with similar contact skills at a younger age. However, Bruce has been on a negative trend in both walk rate and strikeout rate for the last four years, whereas Arcia has been trending upward in walk rate. Thatís not to say I think Arcia will match Bruce in 2015, but I do think thereís a reasonable chance the difference will not be so huge that the savings in salary are not insignificant. Bruce has more raw power, but at this point it could be argued that Arcia has just as much useable power. So paying for Bruce is getting what you pay for; Arcia might produce a nice profit. I like his chances even more now that Paul Molitor has signed on as Twins manager; his insights into hitting can only help Arcia develop.

 

The other two outfield spots are now occupied by Ender Inciarte ($1) and Jordan Schafer ($2). Inciarte might be looking at a 4th outfield spot to start the season but I donít see David Peralta as being an insurmountable obstacle to more playing time. Peralta has decent skills across the board but does not have the kind of talent that is ďmust-playĒ every day. Inciarte will definitely get some playing time, probably in the neighborhood of 450+ at bats. That should be plenty for him to display his usefulness. In 2012 split between two levels of A-ball he stole 46 bases. He followed that up with 43 swipes in Double A. Last year, between Triple A and the majors he stole 26 bags. The better news is that all through the minors he displayed a fairly keen eye at the plate, walking almost as much as he struck out and last year in his debut he did not seem overmatched. There are the makings of a decent lead-off man here and a potential opportunity for an everyday role.

 

It seems like Schafer has been around forever but in fact he just turned 27 last season. Thereís an old scouting maxim that states it takes between 1000-1500 at bats for a hitter to reveal who he really his at the plate. Last year, Schafer entered that zone. Split between Atlanta and Minnesota he swiped 30 bags in just 210 at bats. In 2013 with Atlanta he swiped 22 more in 231 at bats. If we combine them to give him what amounts to just shy of a full season of at bats, we end up with 52 steals in 441 at bats. Granted, that almost-full season also yields a less than desirable .243 batting average but in an on base league he generated a more palatable .321 on base. Thereís legitimate concern that his playing time will be threatened by the eventual promotion of Byron Buxton but to date the uber-prospect has yet to prove he can stay on the field for a complete season. So for now, Schafer is penciled in as the everyday left-fielder. Thatís a decent enough risk for that price.

 

The utility spot will temporarily be manned by Michael Cuddyer ($12). Although it wasnít a concern at the draft, the Rockies offering him a qualifying offer is now a significant concern. It was assumed beforehand that he would become a free agent and find a team that would play him in the outfield, first base and perhaps DH if he signed with an American League team. However, with the $15.3 million qualifying offer, heís pretty much stuck in Colorado or, on the off-chance he declines, in the same netherworld that haunted both Ervin Santana and Nelson Cruz until late March this past season: no team will want to sign him at the expense of a draft pick. Cruz had to take a significant pay cut to play anywhere and he is still in his prime years. Cuddyer would be crazy not to accept the deal as it is a pay raise of almost $5 million and at age 35 heís not going to see any more paydays like this one. But if he resigns with Colorado thereís no place for him to play regularly. Justin Morneau is pretty solid at first and the Rockies outfield is pretty well set talent-wise with CarGo, Charlie Blackmon, Corey Dickerson and Drew Stubbs. So either the Rockies are going to trade one of their outfielders for some pitching help (probably a smart move) or theyíre going to pay over $15 million for a bench player (not as smart). That price will also be an obstacle should the Rockies entertain the idea of trading him instead. The guy can still hit but right now there are a lot of obstructions to a regular path to the plate.

 

As for the pitchingÖ in general, teams that are competitive in the XFL have a deep supply of quality starting pitching. Most come away from the draft with six or seven decent-to-excellent starters. I came into the draft with Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish, Drew Hutchison and Taijuan Walker with Jon Gray as a potential contributor from the farm. Hutchison might seem like the odd man in that group, but he pitched surprisingly well down the stretch. He was victimized by poor bullpen support and some bad luck with flyballs, all of which conspired to inflate his ERA.In the second half his SIERA (one of the more accurate predictors of future ERA) was right in line with those of big-name starters like Jon Lester, Gio Gonzalez, Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto, and his K% was 9th best in the majors behind the likes of Chris Sale, Cory Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Madison Bumgarner.

 

Unfortunately, the only starter we were able to roster was Derek Holland ($10). Not a bad pick, for sure. When he returned from his knee injury, he posted a 1.46 ERA in five starts and the best walk rate of his career. His ERA was largely driven by the fact that he did not allow a home run in those five starts, a remarkable and unlikely repeatable achievement given where he pitches. On the plus side, his strikeout rate was on a three-year upward trend before he was injured and the Rangers should be a much better team in 2015 with so many players returning from injury. Thereís a lot to like here.

 

The two closers I ended up with are Jonathan Papelbon ($7) and Josh Fields ($1). Papelbon is a little older pitcher than I would have liked but his skills still show plenty of resilience. The Phillies have Ken Giles waiting in the wings once Papelbonís time with them is done but even if he gets traded heíll more likely be going as a closer than a set-up man. There just arenít that many closers who have been better over the last five years that would warrant putting him in the 8th inning. Fields probably has the best skills of any of the current Astros relievers and Houston isnít exactly in a position talent-wise to be overly concerned with getting an established closer for a playoff run. He should get plenty of opportunities to prove he belongs in the role.

 

The other two relievers I ended up with are Dellin Betances ($8) and Kevin Quackenbush ($7). The Yankees can offer current closer David Robertson a qualifying offer to stay on, which he might accept. Teams have not had much luck with closers signed to big money in recent years so his qualifying offer might be the biggest payday he ever sees for one year. Another possibility is that he declines but then the Yankees sign him to a multi-year deal at a lower yearly rate. However, if he does end up seeking greener pastures elsewhere, Betances is his logical successor. Even if DB doesnít get the closing gig, he proved quite valuable as a set-up man over 90 innings last season. Should he repeat that feat with the same ERA, WHIP and K rate, heíll be worth almost as much as a second tier starter. Quackenbush will begin the season as Joaquin Benoitís set-up man in San Diego. Pitching in Petco virtually assures heíll post quality numbers in relief and should Benoit go through another bout of shoulder issues, Quackenbush is the likely replacement in the 9th.

 

While rostering four relievers was definitely not my preference, it might end up being the best move for my own good. Last year I began the season with what I thought was an excess of very good starting pitching. Unfortunately, nearly all of them got out of the gate poorly. As a consequence my season was sabotaged almost before it could begin. Itís very tough to recover from a team ERA of over 6.00, even with five months left in the season. So having all these relievers will certainly give me an opportunity to limit the damage should I again be saddled with underperforming starters.

 

So with the active roster complete, the next step is filling out the reserves in March. Until then, may the hot stove be kind.

 

 

 

(*By the way, if youíve never been, itís definitely worth the price of admission Ė four days of Arizona sun, talking baseball and watching two games per day featuring the best prospects in the gameÖ whatís not to like?)