- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It was late in September 2010, with only a few days left in the season, when in my oldest fantasy baseball keeper league, I signed Atlanta Braves rookie reliever Craig Kimbrel. Of course, I didn't know then that Kimbrel would become fantasy's top closer and perhaps the NL Cy Young Award winner, but I took the shot, made him one of my 12 keepers in that league for 2011, and that has worked out exceedingly well. It wasn't the first time I had done this, nor the last.
With less than a week to go in this fantasy season, here are players perhaps available in your league who warrant consideration before it's too late to sign them. Perhaps you don't need an extra keeper or two, but if you have room, why not plan ahead and add now? March, or whenever your keeper deadline is, is months away, but it's always good to have options.
Mariano Rivera, RP, New York Yankees: Let's start at closer, where even in keeper formats, chances are pretty good the greatest reliever in history is available. Is Rivera a good keeper? Well, I'm taking the over on 35 saves from him in 2013. In truth, no closers are great keepers if you're allotted only three to five selections. But if your last keeper looks weak, add a closer. It's not just Rivera; I see saves for Brian Wilson and Joakim Soria next year, and it's possible Ryan Madson finds a ninth-inning role somewhere as well. Also, take a look at current veteran, healthy relievers such as Jonathan Broxton or Brett Myers, who could find closer jobs during the winter.
Wil Myers, OF, Kansas City Royals: Myers has never actually played for the big league Royals, but he's the leading candidate for 2013 top offensive rookie. Myers is potentially a top-100 player for 2013 drafts, so depending on how many keepers per team are permitted, or if you're allowed to pick up a minor leaguer, he makes sense. Others who have not played in the majors this season but warrant a look include ridiculous stolen base option Billy Hamilton from the Cincinnati Reds' system, slugger Oscar Taveras from the St. Louis Cardinals' chain and any number of Seattle Mariners pitchers who could make their rotation in 2013, led by Danny Hultzen.
Trevor Bauer, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks: I'm not a big proponent of protecting pitchers young or old in the first place, as there was tremendous pitching depth this season and not nearly enough offense to go around. I'd keep a middle infield power guy like Dan Uggla out of the draft just to ensure some safety there. However, in a dynasty format, Bauer and Baltimore Orioles teenager Dylan Bundy did appear for their big league teams, so they're eligible, and they will be good.
Jose Bautista, OF, Toronto Blue Jays: I realize it sounds crazy, but in shallow keeper leagues, it's certainly possible some of the expected top players who were shut down early because of injuries are available. Bautista being owned in only half of ESPN's standard leagues says nothing about your keeper format, but check anyway for him, Mark Teixeira, Carl Crawford, Emilio Bonifacio and others that might have been forgotten. Same with pitchers Stephen Strasburg, Brandon Beachy, Daniel Hudson, Johan Santana, Brett Anderson, Matt Garza and a ton more. It doesn't hurt to look.
Manny Machado, SS/3B, Orioles: I'd find it hard to believe he's sitting there in a keeper format, but anything is possible. He'll lose shortstop eligibility in 2013, though he could retain it depending on how he's used. He's going to be a star either way. I'm surprised he's available in so many ESPN redraft leagues today. And while you're at it, check for Texas Rangers future monster Jurickson Profar. He has played in eight games, and as of now he'll be second base-eligible in 2013, not shortstop. Very interesting indeed!
David Ortiz, DH, Boston Red Sox: From young to old, the fact is Ortiz was producing at a high level yet again, and if the Red Sox were in the race and not dysfunctional, I think he could have returned. I have no reason to believe Ortiz will suddenly fall apart in 2013. Through 90 games, Ortiz had a 1.026 OPS, better than anyone qualified for the batting title, including Miguel Cabrera. Sure, Ortiz is old and doesn't help with position eligibility, but numbers are numbers, and not all keepers need to be 22.
Dee Gordon, SS, Los Angeles Dodgers: OK, so his stock really took a turn when he couldn't hit and then got hurt, but his wheels remain, and Gordon is certainly capable of leading the majors in stolen bases. As it is, he has posted a ghastly .281 on-base percentage in the majors, but has 55 steals in 141 games. Think about that; it's possible no player will steal even 50 bases this year. Check for Brett Gardner of the Yankees as well. I feel better about Gardner having a good season, and I'm sure he's available in many keeper leagues.
Brandon Belt, 1B, San Francisco Giants: Seems like we never stop talking about this guy, but there's a reason for that. His future should be bright. Of course, I thought Eric Hosmer would be a star, too (and he will be, so see if he's available!). It would have to be a deep keeper league to protect someone like Belt at the most bountiful offensive position, and one who hasn't exactly emerged as a stud, but I'm going to predict at least 20 home runs from him next season. Others of the Belt ilk who haven't accomplished a ton but could really matter in 2013 include speedsters Anthony Gose of the Blue Jays and Andrelton Simmons of the Atlanta Braves. Could Gose steal 50 bases if he wins a starting job next year? Yes, he could. Could Simmons be a top-10 offensive shortstop? It's not a deep position. Simmons is Gold Glove-capable immediately, and could deliver similar to what Alcides Escobar did this year.
Eric Karabell discusses the potential value in picking up injured or slumping players with high upside in keeper leagues, then offers several examples, such as Mariano Rivera and Brett Gardner.