The Value of Melky Cabrera and Julio Urias in Ottoneu

If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you are familiar with my weekly ottoneu content. I base my advice and observations on my experiences in the league FanGraphs Staff Two. As a Twitter discussion recently highlighted, the league is not representative of all ottoneu leagues. This post will explore the idea of a player’s relative value based on league preferences.

All ottoneu leagues fall into one of four flavors, with only a couple additional variables (i.e. arbitration type). It seems intuitive that one FG Points league would possess near-identical valuations to another FG Points league. In reality, owner preferences can create wild swings in values by affecting supply and demand.

Our league has two rosters that can be best described as Triple-A, and there are usually at least another two teams rebuilding at a given time. The dynamic creates a high demand for prospects. Kris Bryant costs $19 this season. He’s an extreme example, but many of the top 20 prospects – especially those expected to debut soon – cost in the $8 to $10 range. This has prompted Chad Young and me to deride the strategy of rebuilding with prospects, but perhaps this only applies in some cases. This all came to fore over a trade:

Encarnacion Instant Breakfast (me) receives –

$7 Collin McHugh
$4 Brandon McCarthy
$4 Melky Cabrera

Bang the Woodrum receives –

$3 Julio Urias
$4 Raimel Tapia
$7 Billy Hamilton

In our league, Urias is a special kind of asset. He’s a rare top prospect with almost no cost associated to owning him. The team I traded with is one of those prospect clearinghouses I mentioned. His roster is best suited to compete in 2016 when Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, and Archie Bradley can help to carry the team. Now add Urias to his mix of top prospects.

For me, the deal was about acquiring additional pitcher depth. The top of my rotation is strong with Corey Kluber, Jon Lester, and Hisashi Iwakuma. Below them, I have Drew Smyly, Tanner Roark, Patrick Corbin, Nick Tropeano, and Jesse Chavez to fill out the unit. Adding McHugh and McCarthy increases my confidence in the bottom of the rotation, and it should let me package a couple of them for an upgrade. Based on talks, I won’t be able to net Carlos Carrasco or Jake Arrieta, but I should be able to find something.

Cabrera was an afterthought. Indeed, Bang the Woodrum’s original counteroffer did not include him. I requested Cabrera as a throw-in, thinking a $4 Melkman is nothing special. He’ll join Charlie Blackmon on my bench as a seventh outfielder. Maybe he’d run $10 or $12 on draft day, but that’s factoring in steep inflation for full time players.

Based on Twitter comments, other ottoneu leagues do not have this dynamic of pure-future owners. Without as strong a market for Urias, there would be no way to leverage a trio of solid building blocks. What I found surprising was the overwhelming sentiment that Cabrera could represent the best value in the deal. After pausing to reflect, it makes sense.

Since our league has two rosters in a prospect-driven rebuilding stance, it also means we have two fewer teams competing for most types of major league assets. In essence, the replacement level for outfielders is higher in our league. To put some names on it, I could have targeted someone like Michael Saunders, while a more present-focused league might have had Robbie Grossman at the top of the waiver wire.

The demand for players like Cabrera increases as more teams aim to compete. His future value is marginal at best, but it’s not hard to look at 2015 and find cause for positivity. He should reach base frequently for a team that calls hitter friendly U.S. Cellular Field home. He’ll play just about every day he’s healthy. And if you’re trying to compete, the very first step is to ensure you have enough players to reach the games played and innings pitched limits.

What I’d like to learn today, via the comments, is where your ottoneu league falls on the scale of present-focused to future-focused. Can inexpensive top prospects net multiple major league assets in your league, or are you left developing them until they prove themselves in the majors?

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Our league, UZR Friendly (90), has some rebuilds going on but none are entirely stepping out of contention to do a massive rebuild. I think our league hasn’t stretched prices the way some others have because our 4-time league champion has managed to win without cashing in his future to get stretch-run loaners. Top players aren’t maxed out like some other leagues. Our Trout is $53 and Stanton is $40. Maybe another season will get us to that sort of pricing but we don’t seem to have those extremes.