The first thing to know about this exercise is that it's mostly out of context. I'm in a bunch of leagues every year (too many, really, but it's a labor of love) and they come from all angles. Mixed leagues. Mono leagues. Keeper leagues (well, one). Redraft leagues. Drafts and auctions, with the player-penetration level constantly changing.
At this time of year I like to look back (though I'm not done drafting) and see what players I've landed more than once. Repeated ownership generally means I like a player, at least more than my opponents do - but it's obviously a lot more complicated than that. And sometimes I find myself missing on players I actually do like a lot because of circumstances I can't really control (I only have one Norichika Aoki share to this point; two months ago, I thought he'd be on nearly all of my teams).
WIthout further preamble, here's a look at some of my common threads for 2013. Take it for what it's worth. It's all about value collecting and balancing upside and floor. When I tell you I have a handful of Paul Maholm shares this year, it doesn't mean I think he's better than Cliff Lee. I'll try not to be repetitive with it, but I could write "hey, I liked the price" on every name here.
Let's do the do.
Todd Frazier: I've never tried to deny my affection for position flexibility, and Frazier no longer has to look over his shoulder at Scott Rolen. The park also could be a nice boost for Frazier, something he didn't take advantage of last year (.871 road OPS, .786 at home). An Age-27 season is also something nice to invest in.
Paul Maholm: He's been the last-hand-on-deck pick in a bunch of my leagues, someone I'm merely asking to be playable, a mild contributor. I love the outfield defense Atlanta has constructed, and Maholm's numbers since the beginning of 2011 are better than many might realize (ERA around 3.60, WHIP around 1.24). Forget the win/loss record in Pittsburgh and Chicago (or even with the Braves last year); this is far and away the best team Maholm has ever been on. A nifty Mr. Relevant pick in the final round.
James McDonald: It was a heaven and hell 2012; he couldn't do anything wrong for about three months and then the stock crashed, hard. But at least we've seen the evidence of upside, and perhaps a smoother season is in line for the Age-28 campaign. In most of the mixers where I snagged McDonald he'll be on a short leash, but if it all clicks I could imagine a mid-3s ERA and 170-190 strikeouts. You certainly won't get into a wrestling match for McDonald; the second half scared many (if not most) away.
R.A. Dickey: This one surprised me, but I'm just playing the market. I consider Dickey to be a Top 10 arm who regularly goes at a 15-20 price for some reason (he's my second starter on a bunch of clubs). Obviously the league change has to be considered and we can't use 2012's stats to base any kind of a bid, but consider Dickey's ratios from 2011 (3.28/1.23) and 2010 (2.84/1.19). If he regresses to that level, I'm still primed to make a profit. Dickey's age isn't a concern to me; you throw out so many rules when it comes to knuckleballers.
Brandon League: This is what I call a "stink player" - someone you keep selecting because everyone else in the room seems to hate him. I understand the root of the League angst: the Dodgers signed him to a controversial three-year, $22.5 million contract despite a skills profile that begged against it. The team probably has several relievers more skilled than League, too.
That said, there's no grand decree that forces teams to use its best reliever in the save-grabbing role, and the money paid to League has to be considered as well. Don Mattingly probably isn't going to quickly yank League from the ninth-inning gig unless the closer is absolutely awful. It's not that hard to get three outs in a baseball game while holding a lead (perhaps up to three runs) and having no one on base. Even if League knocks and pings his way to a mediocre 18-20 saves, I'm still looking at a profit given the market's lack of confidence.
At most positions, I understand why you look at skills over roles. But in the ninth inning for rotisserie purposes, the role is the thing.
Emilio Bonifacio: I'm not proud of the pick or thrilled with the spring news cycle - Bonifacio probably doesn't have a regular job yet. But his defensive versatility (albeit without great skills) allows for Bonifacio to potentially get on the field in a number of ways, and he's still capable of dominating the stolen-base column if he's allowed to play. Keep in mind there's a low barrier of relevance with speed and closing specialists. At least Bonifacio's offensive game is percolating in March: a .306/.346/.531 slash, and a perfect 8-for-8 on the bases.
Miguel Cabrera: I've been blessed with the first or second pick in a lot of leagues, something I'm very appreciative of. I don't know about you, but the No. 6-30 group in fantasy baseball (the second-half of the first round and the full second round) seems more up in the air than usual; with that in mind, let me have a crack at the sure thing up front.
I've had chances to draft Ryan Braun and I've passed on all of them. Not everyone agrees with this; my buddy Michael Salfino thinks it's a clear error. While I concede a guaranteed full-Braun season would have a better projection than a full Miggy season, I refuse to treat the cloud over Braun as a non-issue. I also give Cabrera a slight bump because he's an infielder (I always feel like you can get outfield fills on a budget), but that's a minor issue. At the end of the day, if I've flushed a little upside because I view Miggy as safer, I can live with that. If you disagree, that's fine - that's why we have a game.
Mike Trout: If you don't have him in your Top 5, tear the list up and start again. And don't start with the Regression Police line of thinking; Trout can potentially give a lot back from last year and still be worth a first-round tag. The league is going to adjust to him? I'd like to know why the league didn't do this last year, when Trout had zero bad months. This isn't the NFL, where adjustment periods can take months to implement. Baseball's matchups are basically one-on-one in design and far simpler to analyze.
Justin Ruggiano: I realize last year's hit rate is a stone fluke and will correct in 2013. And Ruggiano's spring has been untidy, with some nicks and an uncertain job status. That said, I can't see how the Marlins can really sit Ruggiano if he's healthy, and the category juice (pop and speed) is real, even if the batting average tanks on us.
Trevor Cahill: The gigantic ground-ball rate is a nice place to start, and the walk and strikeout numbers are nudging in the right direction. He's still just 25. I fully expect him to climb a level sooner or later, maybe it's 2013.
Brandon McCarthy: Without question, the most interesting baseball Tweeter around. He's also a pretty fine pitcher when healthy.
Dexter Fowler: I have mixed feelings on this one. Fowler is one of those fast players who really doesn't steal bases well, and maybe that's never going to change. But thin air is thin air - I want a piece of Coors Field every year. And Fowler is another player entering the magical arc of the late 20s (he turns 27 on Friday). I know last year's batting average is probably more fluke than reality, but maybe the power really is starting to develop.
Paul Konerko, A.J. Pierzynski: Here's where I pull out the Ibanez All-Star label, which signifies a boring, old veteran who's likely to provide sneaky value. No one goes into their draft all gung ho to draft this sort of player, especially into the late 30s. Okay, I'll be that guy.
Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Kipnis: There are a lot of middle infielders who don't fill both sides of the category juice, but these guys certainly do. I give Kipnis a pass for the awful second half; he was hurt.
Aaron Hill: I don't think he's as streaky as many would have you believe. Career average of .272 is fine with me, albeit it's come through peaks and valleys. The popless 2011 now looks like the fluky outlier.
Freddie Freeman: You love seeing a solid sophomore year despite finger and eye problems. Now Freeman is healthy as a horse, buoyed by a very deep Atlanta lineup, and crushing in spring training (seven homers), if that matters to you. I actually didn't know of Freeman's ST pop until Thursday; he's not the type of player I watch closely in March. I know who he is, a nice mix of floor and upside. I have no problem taking him before the Rizzos and Hosmers (though I do have some Hosmer shares, too). You gotta love a Reggie Cleveland All-Star.
Mariano Rivera: I bet he could pitch 3-4 more years if he really wanted to. The beauty of being a short reliever: you can get by with one dominant pitch. I don't think much of the Yankees as a team this year, but they'll still win around 80-82 games - more than enough to support their closer.
Chris Carter: If he gets 500 at-bats, book 30 homers right now (perhaps an unfair argument; he won't get to that AB total unless he's producing). I know he'll strike out a ton and there's no good place to hide him on the field, but the power is obviously legitimate.
Ian Desmond: I'd like him more batting first or second (for fantasy purposes anyway), but at least Davey Johnson doesn't mind Desmond running from the No. 6 slot. It worked last year just fine, so I won't hassle it. Desmond could easily give back 20-30 points of average and still be a dynamite fantasy play; again, it's all about the category juice. And the depth of the Washington lineup also fits nicely.
Cole Hamels: He's just a spec behind the Big 3, but the price hasn't caught up in every pocket. Unquestionably the best pitcher Philly has, too. He's winning a Cy Young one of these years.
Martin Prado: Look at all those positions, especially the shortstop tag. Versatile but non-dominant players tend to be underrated (Bill James made this point decades ago), and it carries over to our world as well.
Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia: What happens when you keep getting the 1 or 2 pick in a snake draft? You likely land one of these guys in the second pass. Pedroia is the clear preference if faced with both options; even though he was hurt for a decent chunk of 2012, it didn't hurt his overall numbers that much. Drafting Kinsler is like adopting a pet - you know you're inheriting a tragedy at some point, it's just a matter of when. But the Arlington sirens have the sweetest harmony.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Stephen Strasburg: I'm not targeting him too early but if you dangle him in the third round, I'm pushing the chips in. I didn't get any Justin Verlander or Clayton Kershaw shares yet, mostly a product of where I've been drafting. Being locked out on those guys won't be fun.
Jose Veras: Yes, the Astros are horrendous, maybe the worst team of the last 25 years. But they still can support a 20-25 save closer - any team can. Veras doesn't have much in his profile to recommend, so you probably don't want to watch him pitch. But you can add that caveat to about half of the closers in the majors right now, maybe more.
Shane Victorino: Basically a Martin Prado for the outfield. Fenway Park and the AL environment certainly will help. Sure, he's overpaid in real life, but why worry? You're not footing the bill.
There are two other dimensions to this column for it to be truly complete - the players I've been trying to get but keep missing on (I don't have any Sal Perez because he's too freaking trendy), and the players I'm skipping by design (I might make my Non-Wallet a separate blog post). I'll try to add more to the Wallet Piece from Connecticut or New York this weekend; I'm traveling to the Tout Wars Experience as we speak. I'm sure at least one of my Tout competitors will use this entire article against me at the table, and I wouldn't want it any other way.
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