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
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.
The utility spot will
temporarily be manned by Michael Cuddyer ($12). Although it wasnít a concern at the
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
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
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?)