AL Central: 2014 review/2015 preview 

October, 17, 2014
Oct 17

Jose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera and Greg HollandGetty ImagesJose Abreu, Miguel Cabrera and Greg Holland could be their team's top picks next year.
As the fantasy baseball offseason continues, it's time to recap/preview the American League Central. Click here for the AL East. Enjoy!

Chicago White Sox
Fantasy MVP: While lefty Chris Sale was really, really good, finishing No. 6 among all pitchers, it's tough to beat Cuban slugger Jose Abreu ending up ninth overall on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater. Shortstop Alexei Ramirez was also helpful, as the club's third fantasy option on draft day ended up the third most valuable, but that was about it. Abreu and Sale need a lot more help.

AL East: 2014 review/2015 preview 

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9

Adam Jones, MLB), Jose Bautista, Jacoby EllsburyGetty ImagesAdam Jones, Jose Bautista and Jacoby Ellsbury were all top-25 players on the Player Rater.
Welcome to the fantasy baseball offseason and our division-by-division recaps/previews, starting with the American League East. Enjoy!

Baltimore Orioles

Fantasy MVP: Outfielder Nelson Cruz, signing late in the offseason on a one-year deal, certainly made good with 40 home runs and 108 RBIs, finishing 18th overall on the Player Rater. He was a 14th-rounder in ESPN live drafts and a reminder that nobody really knows for sure how players will perform the year(s) after being caught and/or shamed for taking steroids. Cruz outperformed second-rounder Adam Jones, though Jones did nothing wrong. How Jones manages to hit .280 every year, and with power, with such a ghastly walk rate, is amazing. It is rare. And kudos to lefty Zach Britton, drafted in nary a league but saver of 37 games. He finished third among all relief pitchers (Greg Holland, Craig Kimbrel) on the Player Rater. When Buck Showalter makes a move, we should listen.

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Mike Trout and Clayton KershawDominic DiSaia for ESPNCan Mike Trout and Clayton Kershaw also be fantasy superstars in the postseason?
Welcome to October and the baseball playoffs! We know that some of you will be participating in postseason pools, and we're here to help with our annual rankings both by position and overall. If the Tuesday and Wednesday wild-card contests -- well, the Tuesday one at least -- told us anything, it's that the playoffs are going to be a blast, so why not get your buddies together and select rosters to compete though the month.

In past seasons, we've revealed rankings prior to the wild-card games, but there's so much risk in choosing players from a team that could perform in only one game, so now we've got the final eight remaining teams, and each is guaranteed a series. Certainly I have opinions on who will prevail in this series and so should you; a critical key to winning a baseball playoff pool include selecting players that make it through a series or two before elimination, so if you think the Washington Nationals will win it all -- as I do -- then load up on Nationals and avoid Giants. Full disclosure: I've got the Nationals topping the Baltimore Orioles in the World Series.

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My top 20 players for 2015 

September, 29, 2014
Sep 29
KershawAP Photo/Mark J. TerrillWhere does fantasy ace Clayton Kershaw land in Karabell's 2015 rankings?
Washington Nationals right-hander Jordan Zimmermann ended his 2014 regular season on a significant high note by no-hitting the Miami Marlins Sunday, but it's still not enough to get him into my overall top 20 for next season. This theme has resonated with me for years in fantasy leagues, loading up on hitting -- and specifically versatile power hitters -- as opposed to taking the safer route with starting pitching. There's tremendous depth in the latter group, but offensively, the cupboard is comparatively bare. The wise fantasy owner must covet hitting early. And as another season ends -- and I hope you loved it as much as I did! -- it's worth reminding everyone that there really isn't enough offense to go around, regardless of strategy.

Before we get to my ridiculously early look at 2015, let's discuss Zimmermann, because he deserves it. The 28-year-old has been one of fantasy's better options for four seasons, though he's never been regarded as a top-10 choice among hurlers. That's because of the depth, but also because Zimmermann isn't a major strikeout pitcher. He has made strides, though; his 10 whiffs Sunday gave him 182 in 199⅔ innings, the best rate of his career. Zimmermann has started 32 games for three consecutive seasons, so he's durable, and his ERA/WHIP are always strong. I'll rank him among my top 15 starting pitchers for 2015 based on safety and reliability, but not top 10. Those guys, such as teammate Stephen Strasburg, really pile on the strikeouts.

As for my overall top 20, it's heavy on the bats, though a few pitchers make it.

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My 2014 fantasy baseball MVPs 

September, 26, 2014
Sep 26

Michael BrantleyBrace Hemmelgarn/Getty ImagesMichael Brantley is a 20-20 guy nearing 100 RBIs with an average well over .320.
When I spoke to Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley at the All-Star festivities in Minneapolis and asked him about his shocking statistical season, he made it seem like it was no big deal at all -- just a maturing player becoming smarter with his plate approach, taking the next step in his career. To Brantley, it was no surprise. To fantasy owners, however, the fact that Brantley went from undrafted in most leagues to top 5 on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater was certainly unexpected, and he gets my nod for fantasy baseball MVP this season.

There are others deserving of top consideration for similar reasons, based on results versus value, but the other fellows who end up in my top-3 had been stars in the past. Brantley, 27, seemed to break out in 2013 when he hit 10 home runs with 17 steals, both career bests. He enters the weekend with 20 home runs, 97 RBIs and 23 stolen bases, with a fancy .329 batting average, a true five-category fantasy option. Others had more of everything statistically, but this combination is rare. For perspective, Brantley and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout have provided essentially the same overall fantasy production this season, but at far different value.

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Least Valuable Player awards for 2014 

September, 25, 2014
Sep 25
Prince Fielder AP Photo/David ZalubowskiThose who used a high draft pick on Prince Fielder were wildly disappointed this season.
The Texas Rangers, playing better of late but still the worst team in the American League, started seven rookies in Wednesday's 5-1 victory over the Houston Astros. The Rangers have used a record number of players to get through the season, and while several Rangers managed to deliver fantasy numbers close to what we expected, it's not surprising -- looking at the standings -- that most of them did not. So on Thursday, as we analyze the Fantasy Baseball Least Valuable Players for the season -- Friday it will be the happier MVP! -- we start with this woebegone squad.

What goes into selecting an LVP? Well, it can't be someone you selected in the 17th round, let's put it that way. Players needed to be in high demand and disappoint more than the normal awful players, for whatever the reason. For example, the case can be made for burly first baseman Prince Fielder, the No. 12 choice in ESPN average live drafts, as he provided a .247 batting average and three measly home runs over 42 games. You couldn't drop him, but you might have dealt for him. A neck problem ended the season for one of the most durable players in the game. However, outfielders Alex Rios and Shin-Soo Choo, each selected in the fourth round, kept playing, perhaps through injury. Rios managed four home runs in 131 games, though he stole 17 bases. Choo hit .242 with 13 home runs and three steals in 123 games, before a bone spur in his elbow finished his season. If forced, I'll choose Fielder as prime LVP, though the one offensive position at which it's easiest to find help is first base.

Let's not stop there, however! Without burying the Rangers any longer, here are others by position getting consideration for the honor of Least Valuable Player this season

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Early 2015 top 10 pitcher rankings 

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24

Felix HernandezNick Turchiaro/USA TODAY SportsFelix Hernandez was roughed up Tuesday, but he's still the best AL pitcher heading into next year.
I think we all enjoy baseball nights when aces are in action, even though I rarely own aces in the first place. Perhaps that's why I enjoy it, to some degree, not really worrying from pitch to pitch about my teams but just reveling in the glory of a top-10 hurler piling on outs.

Of course, not all those aces helped fantasy owners Tuesday. Regardless, it seems an opportune time to reveal my early -- so early that this season hasn't even ended yet! -- top 10 starting pitchers for 2015. Sure, my love of choosing hitters will prevent me from selecting them, but there's always the lure of midseason trading!

1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers: What, you were expecting Kyle Kendrick? He just missed my top 10 . . . er, top 110. Kershaw is in my overall first round, too, though not top 5. Can't recall ever having a pitcher in my first round, but he leaves us no choice.

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Assessing Braves bats for 2015 

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
FreemanDale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsFreddie Freeman currently sits in the No. 12 slot on the ESPN Player Rater for the 2014 season.
The Atlanta Braves continued their September swoon with a 1-0 home loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday, thanks to an Andrew McCutchen home run, pretty much ensuring more losses than wins for the season. The organization parted ways with general manager Frank Wren on Monday morning, and manager Fredi Gonzalez could suffer the same fate. Fantasy owners haven't been so pleased with the Braves, either, as they've hit a brutal .199 with 40 runs -- next-worst is 53 runs! -- this month, and awesome closer Craig Kimbrel obviously hasn't received many save chances. The team is 4-15 in September.

When teams are in free fall -- those owning Oakland Athletics and Milwaukee Brewers hitters can relate -- it doesn't provide many strong fantasy options on offense in your run to championships, but let's look ahead to 2015 for the Braves, going around the diamond:

Evan Gattis, C: He hasn't started a game in more than a week because of kidney stones, so why do you still own him? Gattis ultimately improved on his stunning rookie season, hitting for power and a higher batting average, and although he'll miss my top-10 catchers next year, it's not by much.

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When to draft Kemp, Puig in 2015 

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
Matt KempAP Photo/Nam Y. HuhYasiel Puig and Matt Kemp have delivered the goods for their fantasy owners this season.
The words likely most associated with the Los Angeles Dodgers outfield early in the season were expensive, crowded and mostly unproductive. However, while the first word remains true, the other two don't fit any longer, as Matt Kemp has been resurgent in the second half, Yasiel Puig is back to his old offensive tricks and even Carl Crawford has made fantasy owners smile in September. Still, Kemp is the star these days, as he homered and knocked in four runs Sunday at Wrigley Field. He has really been one of the signature players in the sport since the All-Star break, among the leaders in not only home runs (15), RBIs (49) and OPS (.964), but plate appearances (242) as well. Yes, Matt Kemp has been durable.

All this leads to discussion of Kemp's enticing future, and how he will be viewed for 2015 drafts.

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Previewing 2015 positional eligibility 

September, 19, 2014
Sep 19

Anthony RendonAP Photo/Alex BrandonAnthony Rendon, one of this year's top breakouts, will be eligible at second and third next year.
As we wind down another fantasy baseball regular season and look ahead to 2015, it seems worthwhile to give an update on eligibility situations that owners might not be aware of. Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz played first base in Pittsburgh (an NL ballpark) Thursday, without much incident offensively and defensively, but it was only the fifth time this season that occurred. Unless the baseline in your league for adding eligibility year over year is five games, it changes nothing. In ESPN leagues, the minimum is 20 games, so we'll focus on that. By the way, the way Ortiz hits as compared to others, it doesn't matter he's eligible only as a DH, but he's actually not the lone DH-only option worth drafting, which might be news itself.

Houston Astros slugger Chris Carter spent this season in the outfield and/or first base for fantasy owners, but that's ending soon. Carter won't play enough in the field to qualify anywhere and while I'd argue he's one of the few players with a legit shot at hitting 40 home runs, he'll have to do so in your utility/DH slot in 2015. That reduces his value somewhat. On the bright side, Detroit Tigers star Victor Martinez did play enough at first base, as did Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals. The former is a potential third-rounder, really, someone with big power and batting average, while Butler is neither of those things and probably doesn't get drafted at all. Two others who are DH-only for '15 are Kennys Vargas of the Minnesota Twins and Zach Walters of the Cleveland Indians. Vargas, capable of playing first base but not exactly Keith Hernandez there, clearly has pop, but the four walks versus 51 strikeouts is a problem. You drafted Butler for years, and Vargas has that potential, in theory, even as a DH. Walters, generally a middle infielder, could be similar in terms of power and strikeouts.

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Red Sox full of fantasy value for 2015 

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Rusney CastilloCharles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsRusney Castillo singled for his first major league hit Wednesday. How should you value him in 2015?
The Rusney Castillo era began for the Boston Red Sox Wednesday, as the 27-year-old Cuban made his big league debut in center field, hitting seventh and delivering an infield single in four at-bats of a 9-1 loss. This was my first look at Castillo, and while time will tell if he can hit pitching consistently at this level, the recent experiences of others from his homeland make me think at the least he won't be overwhelmed. After all, he's not some raw kid two years out of high school. Castillo's impressive build reminds me of former outfielder Ron Gant, who brought power and speed and was a solid fantasy option for years, but that doesn't mean he'll match up statistically.

The Red Sox are an interesting team for next season because there's so much depth, and that could certainly affect how Castillo fits in.

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Orioles, NationalsUSA TODAY SportsSteve Pearce, Nelson Cruz, Anthony Rendon and Ian Desmond have all been solid fantasy values.
Congrats to the first two teams to secure MLB playoff berths, as the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals, their stadiums separated by less than hour of drive time, won their respective East divisions Tuesday night. The Orioles received five passable innings from right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez and home runs by Steve Pearce and Jimmy Paredes to rout the Toronto Blue Jays, while the Nationals enjoyed seven shutout innings by right-hander Tanner Roark and home run No. 23 from shortstop Ian Desmond to shut out the Atlanta Braves. Let's discuss these successful "Beltway" teams from a fantasy perspective, because from that sense there are actually few similarities.

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How to value deGrom for now, 2015 

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
Jacob deGromElsa/Getty ImagesIn a full season of work, Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom is a threat to total 200 strikeouts.
It's certainly possible that Cincinnati Reds outfielder Billy Hamilton will be given the NL Rookie of the Year award for his flashy contributions in stolen bases, but New York Mets right-hander Jacob deGrom really should be earning more attention. Fantasy owners certainly love deGrom, who, in his 21st career start Monday night, struck out the first eight Miami Marlins of the game, tying a big league record set long ago by Jim Deshaies. The final line showed 13 strikeouts in seven innings, with three earned runs and a no-decision, yet another terrific performance in a season full of them. It's hard to believe now, but deGrom, a ninth-round choice by the Mets in the 2010 draft and not viewed as a special prospect, certainly has produced a special season.

Consider how deGrom has affected fantasy owners as opposed to Hamilton, for example: The Reds' speedster has stolen a ton of bases, but he offers little in the power categories and doesn't aid in batting average. The guy just isn't on base that much and he hasn't been helping many owners in September with his .156 batting average and three stolen bases. Basically, he's a one-category guy, while deGrom boasts a 2.68 ERA -- it actually went up a bit Monday -- and 1.14 WHIP with a ton of strikeouts and seven of his eight wins since July. Entering Monday he hadn't permitted an earned run over his past three outings, and his ERA since the All-Star break is a pristine 2.07. He's not Clayton Kershaw, but he's acted like him for the past few months!

With Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and eventually Noah Syndergaard, not to mention serviceable veterans, the Mets are loaded with rotation depth for the future, but is it possible the surprising deGrom is as good as any of them?

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The value of Holliday, Taveras in 2015 

September, 15, 2014
Sep 15
Oscar Taveras and Matt Holliday Kyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsMatt Holliday and Oscar Taveras are likely to occupy corner outfield spots for the Cardinals in 2015.
It's going to be interesting to see how much fantasy owners really want St. Louis Cardinals outfielders Matt Holliday and Oscar Taveras for fantasy purposes next season. The two players will likely handle the corner outfield slots for the perennial NL Central contenders, so playing time figures to be guaranteed, but what about production? Holliday had a nice weekend against the Colorado Rockies, hitting a pair of doubles Sunday after homering in the first two games of the series, and Taveras has raised his hollow batting average to a season-best .247, but it's easy to find fault with these gentlemen moving forward.

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Giancarlo Stanton's season done? 

September, 12, 2014
Sep 12

Giancarlo StantonAP Photo/Morry GashGiancarlo Stanton suffered facial lacerations, facial fractures and dental damage after being hit.
Thursday night was an oddly dark one around the major leagues as several players were hit by pitches and forced to leave games, with the biggest name being potential National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton. The excellent Miami Marlins outfielder was struck by Milwaukee Brewers right-hander Mike Fiers in the face and taken off on a stretcher, and while our first, second and third thoughts should go to Stanton's health, certainly this is also going to affect the Marlins and fantasy owners. It seems unlikely that Stanton, who entered Thursday as fantasy's No. 3 option on the Player Rater, is going to play again this season.

Stanton, who doubled in two official at-bats and raised his batting average to .288, was ruled to have swung at the pitch that hit him below the left eye, giving him a laceration. The Marlins, who lost and fell to three games under .500, remain nominal wild-card contenders in theory, but even then they don't figure to rush their star player back. It would be great for everyone if Stanton could play again and continue his season power show. He leads the NL with 37 home runs, with 10 in the past 30 days, and 105 RBIs, and he had stolen a pair of bases the past few days. Sorry, folks; prepare to do without him. Outfielders available in more than half of ESPN standard leagues that have shown recent power include Oswaldo Arcia, Steve Pearce, Dayan Viciedo, Chris Heisey, Colby Rasmus and, believe it or not, Gregor Blanco. The Marlins will likely use Enrique Hernandez, Jordany Valdespin and Jeff Baker. Pass.

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