Keeper Do's and Don'ts
January 27, 2003
Brendan Roberts
Come with me, if you will, to the "wayback machine," and let's stroll back to 1996. (Alright, so that's not exactly way back.) Anyway, you must choose several keepers from your stellar squad of players and are having a tough time of it. ...

Let's see, we can keep that guy we picked up in September 1995 to fill the middle-infield spot. What was his name? Andy Rodriguez. No, wait, it's Alex. Alex Rodriguez. No, the kid looked overmatched by big-league pitching in his 142 at-bats and won't be a factor anytime soon. Besides, we have the AL's highest-ranked fantasy shortstop, John Valentin. At 28, Johnny boy will be our man for years to come.

How about this outfield dilemma? We have that Luis Gonzalez guy, who was so bad last year he was traded with Scott Servais to the lowly Cubs for Rick Wilkins. Ugh! No way. In The Sporting News Owners Manual, Luis is the 29th-ranked outfielder -- in the NL. No, we'll go with Bernard Gilkey, who's in his prime. ...

And that, folks, is fantasy history. A-Rod goes to a savvy owner early in the 1996 draft and goes on to become arguably the game's best fantasy player. And Gonzo slowly builds to that magical 57-homer 2001 season. Valentin and Gilkey, well, they had seen their best days.

As you see, selecting keepers is no small task because you are affecting the future of your team. Make the wrong decisions and you can be left in a huge hole for years to come. Make the right ones and you are a top-three squad based on talent alone.

That's where I come in. Though I don't have time to analyze and address many of your squads, I can offer some timely hints and advice to help you make your selections. Take these "Dos" and "Don'ts" into consideration as you make your selections:

DO consider keeper selection to be part of your draft. We all have our individual sleepers and surprises, but if we can get those guys back easily in a draft, don't waste a keeper spot on them. Letting a young player such as Josh Phelps go back to the draft doesn't mean you don't like him; it merely means there are other players who are in higher demand. Thus, in a five-keeper draft league, your five keepers should be the five players who are in the highest demand in your league, assuming you want them back. There are some exceptions, which will follow, but this is generally the case.

In an auction league, you are looking for bargains. If you can get a player for approximately the same cost as you currently have him, let him go.

DON'T overload a position. The "best player available" philosophy works unless you have, say, four of the best outfielders in fantasy ball on your four-keeper team. Of course, if the rest of your team stinks, your hand is forced. But try to balance out your squad a bit if you're having a tough time deciding between a few guys. It's not necessarily unwise to keep two outfielders or two starting pitchers in a five-keeper league. However, you might be missing bargain picks or sacrificing other positions if you keep more than that.

DO know what to expect statistically from each position. Quite often, an owner will think he must keep a certain player primarily because of the straight numbers he produces. Numbers vary relatively by position. Productive outfielders and first basemen usually are plentiful on draft day. In fact, 26 of the 36 players who hit 100-plus RBIs in 2002 were one or the other. That's 72 percent of the league's sluggers coming from two positions. Throw in the fact that 13 of the 24 30-steal players that season were outfielders, and it's obvious you can still get quality at these positions in the first few rounds.

On the flip side, there are maybe four or five decent catchers and only 6-8 safe shortstops to choose from. In other words, you are comparing apples to oranges when you compare players at different positions. Be sure to compare each player to his average at that position in your fantasy league. To take it one step further, take a peek back at the top fantasy teams in your league the previous season to see what they got from each position. Then strive for similar numbers -- winning each position translates into fantasy success.

DON'T get too caught up in the "rare-position" thing. Too many times, I'll get an e-mail from an owner who wants to keep Jimmy Rollins over, say, Lance Berkman because there won't be any other good shortstops available. Nonsense. Closers also tend to be "overkept." But you can get a bargain (vs. the average at that position) at shortstop and relief pitcher just as easily as you can in the outfield. Are second-tier players such as Orlando Cabrera and Mike Williams that much below the average shortstop or relief pitcher in your league? Probably not. To re-emphasize the above point, go with your five most-demanded players and don't fret over having to draft a shortstop, relief pitcher or catcher.

DO know what positions will be plentiful on draft day. Just by perusing last year's numbers or chatting with fellow owners, you can get a pretty good take on what's going to be in stock on draft day. When in the jungle, dress like the natives. If your league's keepers look offense-heavy, consider letting an upper-tier pitcher go. If there will be some good second basemen there, don't keep your mid-level second baseman. But if it looks like the top eight relievers will be gone and you're deciding between Armando Benitez and an outfielder, go with Armando. What was plentiful in last year's draft or auction? Where do you select in the draft? A smart fantasy player will predict the first few rounds (or more) of a draft and use those projections in keeper decisions.

DON'T be intimidated by old age. Obviously, Randy Johnson (39), Barry Bonds (38) and Greg Maddux (36) are not as safe as they were five years ago, but old doesn't automatically mean injury-prone. Heck, the way young pitchers are blowin' out their arms these days (Kerry Wood, Kris Benson, Darren Dreifort, Ryan Anderson), age almost looks like an asset.

As I've said before in this space, your goal in fantasy ball is to win this year. And if the three oldies but goodies above give you the best shot at doing that, then go with them over less-proven prospects with a supposedly big upside. Then trust your scouting and drafting skills to stay on top once you're there.

Sure, you might not get to keep Barry Bonds as long as you would Adam Dunn. But if Adam Dunn is the next Barry Bonds, who's to say the next Adam Dunn won't come along a year or two later? Meanwhile, ol' Barry, backed by four more years on his contract, still has some good years left in him.

I'm a big believer in making a youngster prove he belongs in the upper tier because minor league success and/or supreme physical tools don't necessarily foretell major league stardom (see recent examples Ruben Rivera and Ruben Mateo). For keepers, I'd rather freeze the outfielder who consistently hits 35 homers a season rather than the one who might hit 45. That said, it might not be a bad idea to ...

DO consider keeping one wild-card pick. This can be especially important in deep keeper leagues. Whether it's a youngster (Phelps, Mark Prior) you might not be able to get back in the draft or a comeback player (Ken Griffey Jr., Eric Milton) you think will be in high demand, the best stress-reliever is just to keep them. Most of this depends upon the personnel in your league. If there are owners who target youngsters early in drafts, you must reconsider letting a youngster go. Going back to the A-Rod example, letting an enormous talent go on the ground floor of a huge career can be devastating.

DON'T look back once you've made your choices. This is easier said than done. Once you've committed to your new pared-down squad, take the stamp off your non-keepers and consider them public property. Looking back only agonizes -- we'd be the best fantasy owners on earth if we could draft in hindsight.



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