If you can't beat 'em, steal all their prospects in trades and beat 'em next year.
That's my new, rest-of-2014 mantra in my long-time keeper league, a strategy I've adopted for only the second time in the past 16 seasons. It's the reality that any keeper-league owner -- and every keeper-league owner, at some point -- faces, and it is a decision critical in timing: Can I win, or is it time to play for 2015?
Alas, making a run for the title wasn't in the cards for me. This team, at one point or another, has rostered Joe Mauer, Carlos Santana, Brandon Belt, Brett Lawrie, Aramis Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Adam Lind, Josh Willingham, Anibal Sanchez and Andrew Cashner, among players who have spent time on the disabled list, and Billy Butler, Shelby Miller and Jason Grilli among major underperformers. At some point, one must take a step back, evaluate his or her roster and determine its competitive chances. If they're nonexistent, it's time to make some trades.
So I did ... and so I'll continue to do, just as you should.
First, the trade that was a no-brainer: Carlos Santana for Byron Buxton and Chris Iannetta. Santana, in this league, would need nine more games to qualify at catcher for 2014. I'm not counting on him playing half that many.
Then, the difficult one to make: Adam Wainwright, Josh Willingham and Addison Reed for Jose Fernandez, Oscar Taveras and Kevin Gausman. This was difficult primarily because Wainwright wouldn't have been impossible to keep; he's merely priced at market value, and the three pieces I received in exchange can be locked in at dirt-cheap (read: keep-'em-forever, potentially) rates.
That's not to say that this cash-in-your-chips strategy is for you. My hopes are that you've got a more competitive squad and can win this season. That's always the preferred angle, and if you have even the slimmest of chances at winning the championship, you should make every effort.
But if you're in a similar such position to my keeper-league team, there's no smarter time to start retooling than now.
Beginning such a rebuilding effort is never easy, though, and owners who do so might be asking: "Who are the prospects and/or low-priced keepers I should be targeting in my trades?"
Or, if you're a contender, you might be asking the opposite: "What kind of value can I place upon my prospects as I deal for rental pieces?"
Ah, that's where this column comes in. As I do semiannually, in this column I'm updating my Keeper Top 250, providing you an effective "price guide" to players' values in the coming seasons. Remember, as with any rankings, there's wiggle room, and you'll need to explore trade possibilities on your own. For instance, just because I ranked B.J. Upton 214th and Dayan Viciedo 217th doesn't mean that, in every instance, I'd either drop Viciedo or trade him straight up for Upton. Player prices and roster needs, not to mention the opinions of the owners involved in any such trade, come into play.
The rankings formula
On that note, I remind that it is impossible to craft a set of keeper rankings that will be of equal use to every owner, because few keeper leagues are identical in structure. Consider the variables:
• Player pricing: Do you draft or auction players, and do you keep players in the round they are picked, the auction price you paid, or are prices irrelevant?
• Number of keepers: Can you keep one, five, 10 or perhaps your entire roster, and must teams retain the same number of players?
• Contract length: Is there a limitation on the number of seasons you can keep a player, and is there annual price inflation?
• Farm teams: Does your league include minor leaguers, and do these players automatically carry over, or are they also priced?
• Your contender status: Are you in the hunt, in a rebuilding state or are you somewhere in between? At midseason, the answer to this question is far more critical than it is during the offseason.
It's up to you to do the homework assessing each of these valuation factors, recalculating, if necessary, these keeper rankings for your needs. For example, there's no way I'd trade a $5 Xander Bogaerts for a $36 David Wright if I wasn't in contender mode, despite the fact that Wright ranks 39 spots higher. As a contender, though, I might consider it.
This is the player valuation formula that I used:
• 2014 second-half performance: 10 percent.
• 2015 performance: 22.5 percent.
• 2016 performance: 22.5 percent.
• 2017 performance: 22.5 percent.
• 2018 performance and beyond: 22.5 percent.
The rationale for these numbers is simple: Equal weighting for each of the upcoming four seasons as well as the remainder of this one. As for why 2014 -- scaling that percentage to remaining games -- is roughly equal in weight to 2018, bear in mind that I already provided updated rankings for fantasy owners focusing solely on this year; they were published Monday and can be found right here. If you're a keeper-league owner still in the hunt in 2014 -- that's always my primary recommended strategy, if you have even the slightest chance of winning -- consider this list more of a "price guide" for determining appropriate trade value for your up-and-coming prospects and youngsters.
Tristan's Keeper Top 250
Note: Position eligibility is determined based on a minimum of 20 games or the position the player appeared at most often in 2013, or 10 games played at a position in 2014. Players' projected future positions are considered in the ranking. Players' listed ages are as of July 15, 2014.
Players' 2014 preseason ("2014 Pre") and peak rankings in past keeper lists ("Prev. Peak") are also provided: These lists have been published semiannually since 2010, with "preseason" and "midseason" designated to differentiate the different times of the years in question. For example, Jordan Zimmermann is listed with a peak of 44 at "Mid-2013," meaning that his best all-time rank was 44th, in the July 2013 list. A "--" means that the player has never before cracked my keeper rankings.
Tristan H. Cockcroft's Keeper Top 250
Tristan's rankings are based upon a standard, mixed Rotisserie league with 5x5 scoring. Position eligibility is determined based upon a minimum of 20 games, otherwise the position the player appeared at most in 2013. Players' listed ages are as of July 15, 2014.