Baseball’s regular season wrapped up on Sunday, but the season never really ends for keeper league owners. Let’s consider how this year’s results will affect next year’s draft — and try to move some pieces around to take advantage.
Before blindly keeping the top scoring players on this year’s roster for 2018, we should consider positional scarcity to determine where our rosters and the player pool are going to be shallow. If we start the 2018 draft with these positions covered — either via keepers or early-round picks/high-dollar bids — we’ll have more options for getting value elsewhere as the draft progresses. The goal during the offseason is to 1. shift assets from positions of depth into positions that will be sought after in the draft room, and 2. choose keepers who are likely to outperform their draft replacement by more than a player at another position versus his replacement.
Whether to keep Gary Sanchez or Buster Posey depends on your league settings — you’ll obviously need to craft your own plan based on your league’s number of keepers. But home runs are up and catchers miss so much time that I’m inclined to try to beat the field at other positions, although the DH available to Sanchez is a positive. Quality pitching is easier to add in-season than quality hitting — and year-to-year variance is higher among pitchers than hitters — so I want to focus on non-catcher position player finishes in 2017.
Here’s how the top 50 and 100 players in the Yahoo 5×5 broke down by position this season. (The tally does not account for players with multiple-position eligibility, so it will total more than 50 and 100, respectively. And it’s based on 2017 eligibility measurements, so totals will shift slightly for 2018.)
I’m not concerned about how this breakdown compares to years’ past. The 2017 stats will affect the 2018 pre-draft rankings, plus these are the numbers your counterparts will be looking at in the draft or auction queue. A few things stand out.
Nolan Arenado, Jose Ramirez and Kris Bryant were the only third basemen to finish in the 5×5 top 50 in 2017. Although nine more players with third-base eligibility finished between 50 and 100, the list includes guys like Travis Shaw, Scooter Gennett and Jake Lamb — no one worthy of a keeper spot unless you’re rolling over a big roster. Some are useful multi-position eligible guys you’ll want to draft, though, like Gennett and Chris Taylor.
We already know to keep third basemen Arenado, Bryant, Manny Machado and Josh Donaldson in leagues with even the fewest keepers. Maybe you can trade a first or second baseman for Machado or Donaldson coming off years that disappointed their owners? If they’re on a team with a weak roster, throw in another player you don’t have room to keep anyway.
The player who stands out as an excellent buy when considering production, upside and price is Freddie Freeman, who gained third-base eligibility this summer thanks to Atlanta’s acquisition of Matt Adams. He’s worthy of a second- or third-round pick in redraft leagues, but his counting stats look down because he missed seven weeks with a broken wrist. I’d trade any of Eric Hosmer, Edwin Encarnacion, Brian Dozier or Dee Gordon for him (better yet, a starting pitcher). Similarly, Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner slashed .322/.415/.530 for a career-high .945 OPS in 2017, but his final line fell outside the top 100 largely because of a three-week DL stint in May. Turner’s 21 home runs and 71 RBI were nearly on pace with 2016’s 27 and 90, and he could win a batting title someday. Both Freeman and Turner are values if you’re working with keepers based on last year’s draft position or salaries that increase with production. Pry them loose!
Like third base, shortstop production was weak in 2017. Only Elvis Andrus and Francisco Lindor finished in the top 50, with six more players falling within 50-100. Corey Seager missed so much time he ranked outside the top 100. Lindor, Seager, Carlos Correa and Trea Turner are clearly holds.
Andrus’ career year in 2017 is confounding: He’s been in the league for nine years and is only 29, but prior to 2017 he had never hit more than 8 home runs in a season. His stolen base totals have been in the mid-20s for four straight seasons. Try to sell him, or just let him go, and find stolen bases elsewhere (Whit Merrifield!). This is where keeping someone like Justin Turner might make more sense even though Andrus finished the season ranked 25 and Turner 102. Replace Andrus with Didi Gregorius in your draft, or target Xander Bogaerts, Alex Bregman and Jean Segura in trades coming off seasons that were disappointing relative to their draft positions but still usable. They have huge upside.
Moving resources into third base and shortstop during the offseason, even if you lose dollar-for-dollar swaps, can give you more leeway when crafting the rest of your roster in the spring.