- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Most of the questions I'm seeing about fantasy baseball at this point of the season -- well, the calendar year -- deal with keepers, and not looking back on the exciting 2007 season, so I will look ahead as well. So what if the World Series hasn't begun yet! It's never too early to plan ahead!
Some general thoughts on keeper leagues:
• When in doubt, go with the bat: Fantasy teams should build around offense. This is why the first round is pretty much all hitters, and maybe two or three of my first 10 picks in a normal league will make their living with their arm. Pitchers get hurt. Hitters can slump, but even a worse-than-expected Albert Pujols season is still pretty darn good. You can count on hitters, but with pitchers, you're praying they aren't Chris Carpenter.
• Anchor pitchers, however, are worth it: Of course, not all your keepers should be hitters, but you don't want to be protecting Jamie Moyer, either. Keeping Johan Santana is obvious, but I'm looking for someone with a track record, a lot of strikeouts and in a good situation. And if your team can keep five and you're thinking of keeping more than one pitcher, I'm not a fan of that.
• Send your closer back: Don't even think about keeping saves. So what if you've got J.J. Putz or Jonathan Papelbon. Throw these guys back and either re-draft them or wait until round 15 to get Matt Capps. Saves are the craziest fantasy category out there, and most of these guys are one-category providers anyway. Pay attention to supply and demand in your league, of course, but if you're only keeping five players, nobody should be using a spot in a closer anyway.
• Pay attention to position scarcity: I wouldn't bypass a good outfielder or corner infielder who puts up 30/100 every year for Omar Vizquel, but if you've got a few similar players and one of them is second baseman Dan Uggla and the other is first baseman Paul Konerko, well, you know what I'm going to pick. All drafts are chock full of depth at first base and outfield, but if you can get middle infield and catcher taken care of before the draft, you're a step ahead.
• Pay attention to statistical scarcity: So what if your top-5 keepers all have power, could you also keep a runner like Brian Roberts even if he's a step down from a Magglio Ordonez type? Well of course you can! Your goal is to build the best team possible, while keeping in mind many other factors, but you don't want to head into a draft forced to overdraft stolen bases if you could very easily protect some of them. And by the way, I'd keep Roberts over Ordonez anyway.
• Check out trends: Looking merely at the final 2007 stats won't tell you everything you need to know. Some players were far better in the first half than the second (Justin Morneau, Brad Penny, Reggie Willits), and vice versa, and you might want to take a look at some of this before making a decision. Morneau is a solid keeper no matter what, but don't make someone like Willits a keeper when further research would tell you his second half was more like it.
• Ignore the old and brittle: Basically, Gary Sheffield could belong in a few of these categories. He's certainly not young or durable, of course, but he's an outfielder, his second half was a joke and, well, he's a big risk. Sheffield is precisely the type of player who should not be protected based on a number of factors, but the main one is, do you think he's going to improve, or even stay at his current level? What is his current level anyway? There are obviously certain older gentlemen who deserve special consideration, like John Smoltz, but even in this current era, you're better off with someone in their prime who can annually provide 600 at-bats or 200 innings, not -- wait for it -- Barry Bonds.
• Know your rules: First of all, in no leagues should you be voting on whether to suddenly make your league a keeper format. Settle all business now for the next full season, and that includes this offseason. In other words, if you want to go keeper, and you already have players, the soonest this should happen is 2009. If you're starting from scratch, it's no big deal. When it comes to general keeper rules, there should be any intrigue. If you're told you can keep five, you keep five. But can you keep fewer than that if you don't have a good fifth? Can you trade keepers after the deadline? And when is the deadline? What's the hurry on making a decision, anyway?
I've been in keeper leagues since I started playing, and I recommend them. Then again, there's something exciting about drafting a team and knowing it's only for one year. Either way there's a lot of strategy to think about.
Doug (Toronto): "Hi Eric, I have been offered Ryan Braun and Dan Haren for Jose Reyes. Reyes is a stud but I could use the upgrade at starting pitcher. At this point, I'm keeping John Lackey and John Smoltz, so Haren would make a strong No. 2 guy and push Smoltz into my No. 3 (my pool puts greater emphasis on pitching). Braun had an amazing season, but it would be hard to trade a top-3 overall fantasy player. Should I pull the trigger, deal Reyes and hope I can draft Troy Tulowitzki or Miguel Tejada?"
Eric: I would not trade away Jose Reyes. This guy is young, owns a category, plays a scarce position and should be getting better. He's among the top-5 players in fantasy, and certainly that is reflected in keeper leagues. He's a guy you want to trade for. Also, even if there is a strong emphasis in your league on pitching, that doesn't mean you need to keep a ton of it. Pitching is not nearly as easy to predict as hitting.
Brett (Scotch Plains, NJ): "I'm in a nine-team keeper/auction-style league, seven keepers max, and the normal 10 categories. I've already decided on keeping Johan Santana, Jake Peavy, Chase Utley, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Braun and Grady Sizemore. I'm still torn between the runs and BA from Derek Jeter, the power potential from Justin Morneau and the all-around stats from Nick Markakis. Jeter has been a keeper of mine for years, but I'm just wondering when the wheels are going to fall off. Morneau I kept last year as well, but am concerned about the lack of offense around him. Markakis, I believe, finished as the No. 10 rated outfielder on the Player Rater (just ahead of Sizemore), which has led me to think more about keeping him. Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated."
Eric: Well, I'll make this easy for you. While Derek Jeter does tend to be an overrated fantasy player, he'd be my choice here. Yeah, he doesn't steal as many bases as you might like, or hit for enough power, but how many other players are as consistently good as he is? And he plays shortstop! Don't underrate how important batting average is. You always know Jeter will help there. As for Markakis versus Sizemore, you are correct that the Orioles right fielder finished one spot ahead of the Indians center fielder, but I would still keep Sizemore. He runs more, and he has the higher upside to me. I wouldn't expect Markakis to steal that many bases again.
Dave (Helena, Mont.): "Eric, I'm concerned about Miguel Cabrera. I'm in a 12-team, 12-man keeper league. My outfield as of right now is Carl Crawford, Grady Sizemore and B.J. Upton. I had an offer to trade Cabrera for Alfonso Soriano and a closer (J.J. Putz, Joe Nathan). I'm worried about Cabrera's weight issues and his lack of power this year. Any advice for a rookie?
Eric: Well, Cabrera is seven years younger than Soriano, and while he doesn't steal bases, he is one of the safest power hitting threats in the game. In fact, Cabrera has been a first round pick the last few years, and elicited comparisons to Manny Ramirez, in more ways than one. Sure, Cabrera doesn't look the same as he did when he came to the majors. He's, um, a bit larger now, and someday soon we might see him move across the diamond to first base, but he remains safe. In fact, I have him ranked higher than your outfielders for next season. As for his lack of power, he hit "only" 34 home runs, which was a career high, but he's knocked in 112 or more runs every season and has a career .313 batting average. There's no need to worry. Keep Cabrera and just draft the closer.
Keep sending those comments by clicking here, and let me know what you'd like me to write about, what you think of other blogs, mistakes I have made that I probably didn't mean to, whatever you want. Enjoy your Wednesday. It's back to fantasy football for this blog on Thursday and Friday.