Chad Young and I have written a couple times about our general disdain for prospects in ottoneu. It’s not that we dislike all prospects, they’re just rarely a cost effective means to build (or even rebuild) a team. It would be fantastic to own Kris Bryant for $3. Unfortunately, his average price is actually $10 – on par with Danny Salazar and more than Nolan Arenado. Of course, Bryant is a “can’t miss” star. Right? Right!? While prospects of his caliber don’t often fail, it does happen. Given that his owner has probably invested upwards of $20 over the last couple years, Bryant needs to do a lot better than “not fail” in order to be a profitable asset.
Because good ottoneu prospects often cost quite a bit – as much as $24 for Bryant – the superior strategy is often to target established major leaguers on cheap contracts. Not all ottoneu leagues are the same. Bryant is $2 in at least one league, which makes him an extremely valuable asset. Leagues can get trapped in their own form of group think, spiraling prices for certain types of assets in unexpected directions.
I touched on this topic last week when I discussed the value of Melky Cabrera and Julio Urias. In the league FanGraphs Staff Two, there are two teams who have put their (theoretical) money on developing prospects. A couple other teams view themselves as candidates to rebuild, so they’re also keen to acquire top prospects and youngsters. The result is an environment where a good, cheap prospect is worth a boatload in win-now talent. Alternatively, I’ve also viewed some leagues where very few teams are pursuing prospects. It can swing both ways.
All of which is a long winded way of introducing today’s topic – prospect buckets. Classic prospect analysis focuses on two dichotomies – ETA and overall upside. In the case of ottoneu, we’re left with four classes of viable prospect. I’ve created a handy visual below.
Ideally, we want prospects who fall into the upper-right quadrant. Prospects in the lower-left quadrant should be ignored in a standard ottoneu league (some leagues include an auxiliary roster, which could change prospect values.)
That’s the easy part, we keep or trade the best prospects and dump the mid-ceiling, long-term types. What should we do with the rest? Players in the other two quadrants can possess sneaky value because they’re less flashy than the ideal quadrant. Despite lacking an ideal profile, they possess utility via near-term opportunity or long-term ceiling.
After an offseason of wheeling and dealing, my roster has just three prospects – J.P. Crawford, Manuel Margot, and Jacob Lindgren. All three cost $2. Crawford and Margot fall into the bottom right quadrant while Lindgren fits the top-left quadrant. How I handle them is context dependent.
The further a team is from contention, the easier it is to hold prospects. For a weak team, the opportunity cost mostly amounts to a roster spot – one that probably can’t be used much more efficiently. However, my roster is geared towards contention in 2015. Roster spots are at a premium, and I may want to use Lindgren’s spot to draft a $1 reliever who is already in the majors. Including the prospects, I have 38 players on what I consider to be a keepable contract. I’d like to draft more than two players.
As you can imagine, the trade market is rather tepid for the trio. Lindgren profiles as a high strikeout reliever, but those float across the waiver wire multiple times a season. The only thing between Crawford and a major league job is Freddy Galvis, but he probably has years to develop before he’s ready. Margot is well-regarded in the prospect community, but he’s also a long-term asset with little name value.
With a competitive roster and plenty of budget, there’s little doubt I could put these roster spots to better use in 2015. It shouldn’t be too hard to find a deal for Crawford, but his profile could mark him as a top 25 prospect this time next year. As I demonstrated in the Cabrera-Urias article, a $3 top prospect can return a lot of value in trade. I’m inclined to develop him.
Margot didn’t even elicit interest from resident prospect guy Marc Hulet, so he’s seemingly an easy cut. However, he first crossed my radar when reading about a hypothetical expansion draft. His combination of power and speed as a 19-year-old in A-ball is intriguing. He’s a likely trade target for whenever the Red Sox get around to acquiring Cole Hamels, David Price, or another ace, which will further elevate his visibility. He presents a difficult cut or hold decision.
In some ways, Lindgren is the easiest and the hardest to evaluate. He’s a potential high strikeout reliever. It’s usually possible to spend $1 on an actual high strikeout reliever. The 2014 draft pick is on the fast track, having already shown small sample success at the Double-A level. High walk rates indicate a need for further development. On the other hand, he profiles as a better Will Smith, who happened to be the best LOOGY in 2014.
So, now it’s discussion time. How would you handle these prospects? Do you have prospects predicaments of your own that you’d like to air out? Let’s talk.