Keep one player, or keep 40. Or keep a number in between.
That is a critical decision any dynasty- or keeper-league commissioner faces at a league's inception, the result of which creates an extra wrinkle of strategy: In a "shallow" dynasty league, the more talented your individual players kept, the stronger your team, making a consolidate-your-eggs strategy obvious. The deeper the dynasty league, the more valid a broad approach, both to years projected forward and depth of your roster.
My Keeper Top 250 grants those in either camp a helping hand, but it's those owners in the latter -- or who might be considering forming a deeper dynasty league and want to know how many players should be kept -- who might like a window into what such a league might be like. What better way to be familiarized with dynasty leagues than to see one in action? Good news: ESPN Fantasy has its own in-house such dynasty league.
A 10-team, keep-up-to-40 players-annually league, ESPN's in-house dynasty league began before the 2013 season, and is entering its second year in 2014. You might remember the inaugural draft from last year's Draft Kit, but for those unfamiliar with it, here is the link to that 40-round draft: ESPN Dynasty League's 2013 Dispersal Draft.
Today, let's take you through our league's offseason process, from cut-down day through the draft.
First, the cuts
The structure is simple: Using traditional Rotisserie 5x5 scoring and rosters -- this means we start two catchers apiece -- and a 17-man bench, our 10 owners can keep as few as zero or as many as all 40 of their players from year to year. Our cut-down day arrived in late January.
Owners, their cuts and their rationale behind their cuts are listed in reverse order of finish (meaning their order of 2014 draft selection as well):
Quintong's thoughts: "My roster has some major stars like Robinson Cano, Joey Votto and Cole Hamels, some solid if somewhat aging veterans, and a lot of question marks for any number of reasons. I think it's worth the gamble on keeping some younger players who still have the potential for good things and giving them another year to do something, even if their 2013 performances left a lot to be desired. (For what it's worth, Victor Martinez's move to being just a DH meant there was still room for J.P. Arencibia's nice power/terrible average combo, especially in Texas.) And if not, there are a few prospects already in my pipeline who could be up sooner than later. ...
"As for the cuts, Rivera (retired) and Youkilis (now signed to a Japanese team) were obvious, while Broxton and Marmol are examples of how short the shelf life for even elite closers can be, and there will be plenty of relief arms to gamble on in the draft (and later in the season; Koji Uehara, anyone?). Veterans Konerko and Keppinger are both bench players with limited upside. Delmon Young is fighting to make a roster in spring training, and while Chris Young appears to have a starting job with the Mets, I can probably find better use for his roster spot at the draft."
Mass' thoughts: "Fujikawa was thrown back due to his injury status (Tommy John surgery) which, at best, gives him half a season. I'm pretty sure I can upgrade a bit by throwing Reynolds back, given my draft spot. I have Brantley, so I'm throwing back Parra -- a similarly skilled player -- to see what else is out there. Milone doesn't have enough innings."
Schoenfield's thoughts: "I drafted young in the original draft, building for the future in selecting guys like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado early on. I still managed to build a nice rotation, with guys named Kershaw, Scherzer, Sale and Bumgarner. That wasn't enough, however: I still finished eighth. For 2014, I need Harper and Jason Heyward to have big years and youngsters like Kolten Wong, George Springer and Will Middlebrooks to produce. Trevor Rosenthal and David Robertson give me plenty of depth at closer, along with Jonathan Papelbon and Steve Cishek, so that means trying to improve the offense. ...
"I basically cut guys who were bad, injured or both in 2013. Or old. Or, in the case of Derek Jeter, all three. Most of the cuts were pretty obvious, although I did part ways with LaRoche and Moreland, even though my only other first baseman is James Loney. The hope is someone better is dumped back into the draft. If not, I can scoop up one of those guys in the late rounds. I also said goodbye to both Jeter and Escobar (worthless outside of 22 stolen bases), counting on Stephen Drew for shortstop. There's risk there, but I don't expect much from Jeter."
My thoughts: "With the possible exceptions of Anderson and Morrow, each of these players is replaceable via the draft; Anderson's potential is countered by his calling Coors Field home and Morrow's injury questions are too great to warrant taking another chance. I was especially torn on five players whom I ended up keeping: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is in a poor situation for power; Carlos Martinez, who doesn't have a clear path to either saves or a rotation spot in St. Louis; Jacob Turner, whose low strikeout rate is a concern; Mike Olt, who makes the cut primarily because the Cubs are weak at third base; and Joaquin Benoit, who might not have much value in a setup capacity. But all seemed to have greater profit potential than what I projected to be available in the latter stages of the draft."
Becquey's thoughts: "I already have my starting lineup and backups at every position, and a stable of top fantasy prospects, so I don't need much in the draft. I made four cuts to give me a chance to snag at least one high-upside prospect, or a better player than I released in each of the first four rounds. My biggest decision involved whether to keep a low-upside third catcher like Russell Martin. I decided a starting, top-20 catcher was worth more than a fifth-round pick, especially since he might end up being my No. 2 catcher in 2015 with Joe Mauer almost certainly losing his eligibility there. Byrd and Walker might have been keepers if I were weak at those positions, but I have multiple options there and hopefully wouldn't have to play either at all in 2014. Releasing Starling could be a terrible move by 2017, but I like my odds that it won't be, as he struggled in his second consecutive pro season and is tumbling down the prospect lists. I can do better than that, even with my 40th roster spot."
Karabell's thoughts: "I have a mostly veteran team again, not a surprise for me, with few prospects, so the cuts were pretty clear. I return a full group of hitters and then some -- trade bait! -- but lack high-end pitching and saves. One of those I can draft. I did opt to protect a few somewhat forgotten youngsters in Dee Gordon and Michael Pineda, both of whom could certainly surprise if health and opportunity collide. Overall, this team should contend again and my draft focus will be on upside arms."
Berry's thoughts: "Obviously, this is a team built to win now, and frankly, if not for some bad injury luck down the stretch, would have won it all last year. As it was, this team was leading or within a few points of first all season long, so there's not much tinkering that needs to be done. Cuts were fairly obvious: anyone I didn't feel would contribute to winning this year; closers who have lost their jobs; playing time or batting average risks; and Edwin Jackson. If I ever need Edwin Jackson, he, or someone just like him, will be available on the wire. I like my team a lot, so the draft will be just about upside and depth."
Ravitz's thoughts: "Berkman retired. The other two are middle relievers who have next-to-no value in the league, or certainly as keepers."
Lipscomb's thoughts: "I was happy with the win-now approach I took last season, but also with the progress the prospects I selected made throughout last season. With Rutledge unsure to be a starter in Colorado, I'm throwing him back. I hope I don't regret this move. Since I had a great deal of pitching depth, I wanted to clear some space to make picks in the draft, so I let go of my oldest starter, Kuroda, since I can't help but wonder whether his poor finish to 2013 (1-7, 5.40 ERA, 1.46 WHIP in the final two months) is a sign he's finally ready to decline. I've always liked Luebke, but I fear the Padres will ease him back into action coming off of Tommy John surgery, and felt I could possibly get him back in the draft. And Griffin was solid last season, but with more promising young arms ahead of him in my rotation -- including his teammate Sonny Gray -- I also tossed him back."
Brendan Roberts: Chris Perez.
Roberts' thoughts: "If it ain't broke ... I'm the defending champ, and I have to believe the players who led me to victory last year are in the best position to do so again this year. My team was so 'loaded for bear' in 2013 that it was tough to even determine whom to start. I might have the same problem the next 2-3 years, too. After that? Well, things could be a little more challenging. But hopefully I'll have a couple championships to ease the pain."
Next, the draft
In early February, our 10 owners conducted an email draft to fill these vacated slots. The draft order, which was not serpentine (meaning Quintong selected first in every round conducted), followed the order of team listing above, teams continuing to pick until their 40-man rosters were full.
Listed below are their selections:
As you can see, a 10-team, 40-keeper league in which only 62 players total were cut features precious little talent in the draft, which is why long-term roster structure becomes increasingly important the deeper the league. Typically, one would find four kinds of players in a deep dynasty draft: foreign imports, last season's amateur draftees, question marks and players with low ceilings.
You can see each team's final roster here.
This league was no different, as Masahiro Tanaka, Jose Abreu and Alexander Guerrero were certain first-rounders, while only nine of Keith Law's top 20 prospects found themselves available for draft as well. Oddly, Law's No. 4 overall prospect, Carlos Correa, was somehow available despite having been a professional since 2012. His 19 years of age, and status as a Class A ballplayer in 2013, might have had something to do with that, but Becquey landed himself a potential future superstar with the No. 5 pick in the draft.
Becquey, in fact, went with a prospect-heavy approach in the draft, despite a roster that already possessed Law's No. 2 (Xander Bogaerts), 5 (Oscar Taveras), 8 (Miguel Sano) and 9 (Archie Bradley) prospects overall. As he put it, "Prospects are currency in this game," a statement that makes much more sense if you consider that he was targeting Estrada in the second round; Estrada wound up going four spots before his pick. "So now I had to take a player I can hopefully trade for Estrada or better," said Becquey.
"If Xander Bogaerts is my shortstop for the next 10-15 years, then Carlos Correa is the trade chip that gets me that big veteran starting pitcher or bat that puts me over the top when I'm poised for a championship," said Becquey. "Or vice versa. The player I can get for one of those guys as their stock rises will be head-and-shoulders above the quality of player I could have drafted with that pick."
The highest-ranked available player in our 2014 top 300 rankings, Tanaka unsurprisingly went first overall to Quintong. "I'm definitely taking a gamble on Tanaka, and hoping he's anywhere close to being the pitcher he's supposed to be," said Quintong. "But he's still a relatively young pitcher in his prime, and that's a nice guy to have to be one of the anchors of the rotation for now and for a bunch of years after that. Abreu would've been very intriguing, but I suppose I think he's a little bit more of a mystery to me than Tanaka."
Having cut a league-high 11 players -- the same number set free by Karabell -- Schoenfield managed to score two of his cuts back in the draft, Escobar and Jeter. But it was one he missed out on that surprised him: LaRoche, who went in the fourth round to Quintong.
"I was actually hoping/thinking Jose Abreu would fall to me with the third pick but he went second," said Schoenfield. "Mark Teixeira and Justin Morneau also got scooped up early. LaRoche then went two picks before I would have grabbed him, so I instead settled for Corey Hart. LaRoche won't go .271-33-100 like two years ago, but I see better numbers than .237-20-62."
Here are a few owners' thoughts on some other picks of interest:
Karabell on Axford: "Axford will likely lose the job to one of my sleepers Cody Allen, but saves were my obvious need, his free-agent status was glaring and there is a track record for success. It's me hedging, just in case he's awesome (which he won't be)."
Mass on Castillo: "First off, it's pretty clear that Rusney Castillo would have already signed with a team by now, if not for the fact he's not allowed to. But he will sign soon and most likely to a team that is looking for him to contribute (at some point) in 2014. He's a center fielder who could conceivably also be converted to either second or third base, where he's also played. If Yasiel Puig is a power hitter with some speed, Castillo would be his inverse, a base-stealing threat with a little bit of pop. Look, not every Cuban defector is going to be a star in the majors, but if I end up going 1-for-2 here with Castillo and Abreu, I'll be thrilled."
Quintong on Lake: "I think he can be a pretty solid hitter for a Cubs team looking for any sort of hope. It looks like he's got a clear path for playing time after last season, and since I have a handful of players who likely won't play much this year, I do need some at-bats but with still the youth/upside."
Schoenfield on Jeter: "OK, I realized I bad-mouthed Derek Jeter earlier when I had cut him from my 40-man roster. So why did I re-draft him? Hey, maybe I just got a little sentimental after he announced his retirement at season's end. Plus, there's the little issue that Stephen Drew hasn't signed yet, so I needed depth at shortstop. And let's not forget that in his last healthy season he did hit .316 while leading the American League in hits. So there's the possibility of upside, even if he does turn 40 in June. I also re-drafted Alcides Escobar. I guess I was simply hoping for a better choice at shortstop, but most owners cut very few players, so I brought Escobar back and my team is hurting in steals so he could end up on my starting roster."
Best values of the draft
To each their own opinion, so your list might differ from mine, but the following three players were outstanding values based upon where they were picked:
Kris Bryant (No. 3 overall, to Schoenfield): After Tanaka, he was my No. 1 name on the board, a pure power prospect who has an outside chance at reaching the major leagues before season's conclusion. At the very least he should receive a long look for a job during 2015 spring training, and he's a top-10 overall prospect who is about as good a building block as there is in this format.
Martin Perez (No. 22 overall, to Schoenfield): Among starting pitchers who already possess major league experience, Perez's 2014 ceiling might be as high as anyone's in this draft, with the possible exceptions of Marco Estrada, Yordano Ventura or Brandon Morrow. In his final 12 starts of 2013, Perez had seven wins, eight quality starts, a 3.19 ERA and 1.24 WHIP, which makes it difficult to fathom how he lasted this many picks into the draft. (I did give him consideration at the time I selected Ventura in the second round.)
Josmil Pinto (No. 25 overall, to Karabell): Karabell and I have participated in three drafts during the past month in leagues similarly deep, dynasty-based and ones in which Pinto was available. In all of them Pinto slipped further than he should, and in our discussions why, I've suggested that the lack of a guarantee of a big league job entering 2014 is one of the reasons fantasy owners shy from him. I took Pinto in one of these leagues; Karabell did here. I think it's safe to assume that we both regard Pinto a potential value, thanks to his improving bat.
Tommy Hunter (No. 33 overall, to Becquey): A (potential) full-time closer available as the 371st player owned overall? That's not a bad haul, even if Hunter's exceedingly wide platoon split is a concern in his quest for the role.
Jonathan Gray (No. 45 overall, to Schoenfield): I'll admit that I considered Gray briefly in the first round, with the fourth pick overall, but decided against it due to his status as a Colorado Rockies pitcher. Gray-versus-Sanchez was another difficult debate; that was a virtual coin flip for me. Letting Gray go might've been a mistake, considering he has front-of-the-rotation potential, could reach the majors sometime in 2014 and that the recent history of Rockies pitchers -- in the "humidor era" of Coors Field -- is somewhat more positive. Frankly, I think we all snoozed on this one.