Too Many Keepers Redux

I had this idea for today’s post – to evaluate my home league roster which includes more keepable players than I can possibly afford. As I prepped the information and tables I would need, the concept began to feel more and more familiar. Sure enough, I wrote about this exact topic for this exact league last March. I thought I had too many keepers then? I was a naive fool.

Like nearly all of my leagues, my home league is designed to allow owners to keep a large volume of players subject to budget constraints. In this case, we get $310 for a 29 man roster. Sometimes, a team will only have three or four keepers. Sometimes they’ll have upwards of 20. We usually average about 10 or 11 keepers per team. They cost previous draft price plus $7.

Before we get into the details, let’s talk about some default advice. Any time you find yourself with too many keepers, you should try to make some trades. Aggregating value is a great opportunity to solve your problems. In this case, our league no longer allows for offseason trading. The commissioner (i.e. me) lost interest in performing the manual administration Yahoo requires.

Last winter, I was sitting on a ridiculous volume of minimum priced studs like Trevor Story, David Dahl, Nomar Mazara, Alex Bregman, Andrew Benintendi, and Dansby Swanson. A season later, only Story and Benintendi are still on my roster. The others were traded in March and April for big upgrades. This is how I execute a rebuild.

This time around, the list of names isn’t quite as voluminous. I managed to finish last season with 33 keepable looking players by maxing out my DL and NA slots. Quantity has been replaced by quality. Behold!

Available Keepers
Player Pos Cost Player Pos Cost
Willson Contreras C 15 James Paxton SP 15
Joey Votto 1B 46 Arodys Vizcaino SP 8
Jose Altuve 2B 43 Blake Treinen SP 8
Jake Lamb 3B 15 Felipe Rivero SP 8
Daniel Murphy MI 22 Jon Lester SP 27
Trevor Story SS 15 Alex Claudio SP 8
Nelson Cruz OF 40 Alex Colome RP 15
Charlie Blackmon OF 29 Alex Wood SP 8
Mitch Haniger OF 8 Zack Godley SP 8
Ender Inciarte OF 10 Chris Archer SP 29
Rafael Devers 3B 8
Chris Taylor UTIL 8
Greg Bird 1B 8
Andrew Benintendi OF 15
Willie Calhoun 2B 1
Yonder Alonso 1B 8
Gleyber Torres SS 1

*I may keep only one of Calhoun or Torres for $1

That’s a total of $426 across 27 players. I need to cut roughly $126 to have a legal roster. The highest priced players last season were Clayton Kershaw ($65) and Miguel Cabrera ($53). The other costly draft assets were Madison Bumgarner ($42), Giancarlo Stanton ($42), and Edwin Encarnacion ($40). Eight of the top 12 players by price were keepers. To generalize, a top player in the draft costs $40.

With that information in hand, it’s easy to see that Jose Altuve is well-priced. His massive five category potential would launch him into Kershaw territory on draft day. Interestingly, according to our auction calculator, Steamer projects only about $30 of production. Using default settings, Altuve earned $40 in 2017. In any case, I’m keeping him as the anchor of my roster.

My other two players in the $40-and-over bin are less certain. Cruz turned in $36 of production last season. He projects to brush $30 of value in 2018. Cruz has been remarkably consistent over the last four seasons, combining huge plate appearance totals with 40 home run power, run production, and a strong average (our league uses OPS where he also thrives). Alas, he’s entering his age 37 season. I’m reminded of the old adage – it’s better to quit on a player a year too soon than a year too late.

Votto is in the same boat. He’s 34 and coming off a $41 campaign. Steamer thinks he’ll earn $28 next season – I’ll happily take the over. He’s a god. Even though it probably makes sense to cut all three of these expensive assets, I’m a big believer in locking down elite talent – even if it’s a little overpriced. After all, finding top players in the auction is risky proposition. Due to the expanded $310 budget, inflation on top talents can get out of control. I’m not closing the door on keeping one of Votto or Cruz just yet. Their draft prices are likely to match or exceed their keeper costs.

My next most expensive players run $22 to $29. Charlie Blackmon is a no brainer as is Jon Lester (in an opposite kind of way). Archer actually projects to outearn his $29 contract despite coming nowhere close in 2017. Since pitchers are risky assets, I’ll probably cut him loose. Murphy’s a tricky one. Steamer isn’t a fan even though he returned $23 of production last season. Injuries and age mar an otherwise very attractive batting profile. Let’s punt a decision until later in the winter

After reviewing the pricey assets, I seem to have decided upon keeping two, cutting four, and revisiting another after further review. All told, I’ve freed up $137, meaning I could keep every other player on my roster if I so desired.

Of course, we should finish the analysis. If there’s money to cling to Votto while still addressing what appears to be a thin pitching staff, then it’s worth finding it. Story looks like an easy cut. However, he returned $9 of value last year and projects for $16 next season. An adjustment from the young shortstop could unlock a big upgrade in value. He’ll be one of the hardest decisions I have to make. My backup shortstop is Taylor who I prefer in a utility role.

Alonso was a $11 first baseman last season, although he faded quite sharply in the second half. That’s a possible sign that either the league adjusted or he doesn’t have the physical endurance to be an every day starter. All else equal, I’d rather overpay a few dollars for Votto than receive a couple dollars of excess value from Alonso. I’ll reevaluate when he signs, but it’s worth noting that my corner infield slot is already tabbed for Devers.

Surprisingly, the numbers suggest I should ditch Inciarte. He was only a $8 player in a career season. While his stolen bases were useful, I’m not exactly hurting for speed with Altuve, Benintendi, Taylor, and Blackmon. Since it’s an OPS league, Inciarte’s high batting average is lost on me. Haniger is a similar player except with the home run and stolen base distributions reversed. While I absolutely want shares of him in 2018, perhaps I should aim for him at a lower price.

My last decision on the hitting side of the ledger is Greg Bird. The projections estimate 28 home runs and a $9 price tag. He’s a trendy player – the exact kind of asset who could parlay an early hot streak into season-winning trade value. I’ll roll those dice.

On the pitching side of the ledger, I’m sitting on a shaky rotation and a deep bullpen. I’ll probably lean into this build by keeping a few closers, Paxton, Wood, and Godley. Although I have serious doubts about Wood coming anywhere near his 2017 self, his Steamer projection pegs $17 of value over just 140 innings. That seems very achievable.

That leaves me with $234 committed to 18 players including $22 for Murphy and $15 for Story. Rotation shortfalls may make it hard for me to justify scraping together the assets for Votto. However, it should be noted that premium pitchers are difficult to draft in this league – they cost a boatload. Perhaps I’ll take the big bat and return to the same basket that yielded Paxton, Wood, and Godley.

Parting Notes

On the way out the door, here are a few takeaways from this roster analysis:

  • Cutting expensive players is the easiest way to get back on budget. It’s also risky. Those are usually your best players. You need some of those carrying assets.
  • Don’t shy away from keeping a full starting lineup if you have the option. Using the draft for $1 backups is a great way to earn profit in keeper formats.
  • All else equal, take hitters over pitchers. You can always acquire arms at the start of the season after they’ve survived Spring Training.
  • All else equal, take the trendy name over the boring veteran. A hot hitting Bird can garner an irrationally high return. A hot hitting Alonso draws far more tepid interest.

We hoped you liked reading Too Many Keepers Redux by Brad Johnson!

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Trey Baughn
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Good article. The struggle to figure out how many players to keep comes up in Ottoneu, too. Joe wrote about it last year: https://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy/youre-keeping-too-many-players/