Tristan's Keeper Top 250 has been updated through March 24.
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Ask me any fantasy baseball question you wish, but please spare me the one inquiry I've most dreaded to hear this preseason.
"Which team had the best offseason?"
There it is, that subjective word "best."
When analyzing a team's winter, what exactly constitutes "best?" Most money spent? Most prior-year WAR acquired? Most total transactions? Largest number of glitzy news conferences? Better yet, should we settle it with a burger-eating contest between rival general managers?
Here's why this question warrants such debate: Ask any baseball person -- fan, fantasy owner or analyst -- and one of the first answers you'll receive is the Arizona Diamondbacks. They spent more than $200 million on new ace Zack Greinke, the majors' leader among pitchers in WAR (9.3), and traded for their new No. 2 starter Shelby Miller, who finished 25th in WAR (3.6), among other moves that bolstered a roster that finished eighth in the majors (and second in the National League) in runs scored.
Conversely, one could make the case that the Diamondbacks' offseason was one of the worst. They made six trades, with Miller's being the most ill-advised from a long-term perspective, and one could also argue that the Jean Segura trade wasn't an especially good one for them on that front. And in the process, this team traded the No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 amateur draft, Dansby Swanson, another of their top five prospects in Aaron Blair, and arguably one of their top 10 prospects in Isan Diaz.
The 2016 Diamondbacks, clearly, are a team in classic win-now mode.
By contrast, let's examine the Atlanta Braves' offseason.
They spent less than $10 million on free agents, with perhaps their most notable such addition being Kelly Johnson, who was a Brave to begin 2015, and made six trades, including dispatching the aforementioned Miller as well as elite defensive shortstop Andrelton Simmons. No baseball person would characterize the Braves' offseason as good from a competitive standpoint, but at the same time, this team did an outstanding job restocking its farm system, which enters the season topping Keith Law's organizational rankings. The Braves landed both the aforementioned Swanson and Blair from those Diamondbacks -- after also getting Touki Toussaint in a steal of a deal from them last June -- as well as Sean Newcomb, with all four of those prospects now ranking among Law's top 80 (let alone top 100), entering spring training.
The 2016 Braves, clearly, are a team in classic rebuilding mode, and they've been doing a pretty darned outstanding job at it.
Which of these two teams would you say had the best offseason?
Either is a legitimate correct answer -- though I'd personally side with the Braves -- as both teams made significant moves that fell within the parameters of their competitive aspirations. And it's this contrast in competitive states that mirrors a fantasy baseball keeper/dynasty league. As in the real game, there will be teams in position to win now, just as there are teams with stale rosters that need to rebuild. In addition, as in the real game, there will be keeper/dynasty general managers like the Braves' John Coppolella praised for their smart, rebuilding-angled moves, just as there will be general managers like the Diamondbacks' Dave Stewart vilified for their short-sighted strategies.
Welcome to the fun of keeper/dynasty league baseball!
Here, a long-range plan matters, just as it does in the real game. Whereas in a redraft -- a league that drafts rosters from scratch every season -- format, a Braves-like strategy has no merit whatsoever, here such a plan might set in motion a multiyear title winner sometime down the road. If you're in that position, this column is for you -- though it does attempt to steal a page from Stewart's "win-now" playbook, granted with a little more favorable valuation of prospects Swanson and Blair on the trade market.
These are my triannual Keeper Top 250 rankings, a "price guide" of sorts for keeper/dynasty leagues, whether previously existing or just starting from scratch in 2016. Whether you're the league's Braves, rebuilding for future domination, or Diamondbacks, playing to win today, this list accounts for player value for both competitive modes. You can use it in either position; the Braves of your league can use it to secure the best prospects, while the supposed Diamondbacks can use it to determine a fair trade value as they swap youngsters for veterans and/or rentals.
The rankings formula
You know the drill: There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all set of keeper rankings, just as there is no such thing as an honest, one-size-fits-all hat. Fitted size 7⅞, thank you very much.
The reason is the wide array of keeper/dynasty league structures. Beyond the obvious -- roster size and scoring system -- there are other variables:
Player pricing: Is your league's player dispersal method draft- or auction-based, and are players then priced accordingly by round drafted or auction price paid? Is there no pricing basis at all? If the former, is there annual price inflation?
Number of keepers: Can you keep one, five, 10 or perhaps your entire roster, and must every team retain an identical number of players? In addition, if a team retains fewer players, is there a benefit in the draft/auction?
Contracts: Do you use them? For example, must you make lock-in decisions on players for multiple years in advance, or is there a limitation on the number of seasons you can keep a certain player?
Farm teams/minor league: Does your league use them, and do these players automatically carry over year to year or is there a cost to keep them?
Team's competitive state: Are you a contending team, a rebuilding team or are you somewhere in between?
Your homework: Assess each of these valuation factors and then adjust, if necessary, these keeper rankings for your own league. For example, a $1 Carlos Rodon might be an absolute no-brainer of a keeper over a $26 Dallas Keuchel in a mixed keeper league, despite the fact that Keuchel ranks 24 spots higher in the list below (not to mention more than 100 spots higher in my redraft rankings). It'd be especially true if there's some sort of long-term lock-in for Rodon at a minimum price.
This is the player valuation formula I use for this column:
2016 performance: 20 percent
2017 performance: 20 percent
2018 performance: 20 percent
2019 performance: 20 percent
2020 performance and beyond: 20 percent
The rationale for weighting 2016 equally to 2020 and beyond is simple: We already provide rankings, projections and profiles for hundreds of players in order to fuel your championship quest this year. While 2016 warrants greater weight if your keeper league is drafting fresh -- a "win-now" strategy becomes more valid the larger the available pool of proven players -- this page serves fantasy owners building for the future. If your goal is to win now, and kudos to you for being in a contending state, our Draft Kit is an excellent tool.
Tristan's keeper top 250
My full rankings can be seen in the table below (jump ahead by clicking here), but the entire list in its previous format -- including eligible positions and past rankings -- as well as rankings broken down by positions, can be seen on their own pages:
Now,let's examine some of the more intriguing stories within the ranks.
Shortstop: Weak today, exciting tomorrow
Shortstop is the position widely regarded the weakest, especially outside the top five, in 2016 redraft leagues alone; we have only seven ranked better than 150th overall in our staff rankings, making it considerably more likely that your mixed-league middle infielder will come from the second base pool. But while the current state of shortstop might seem murky, the position's future is remarkably bright, reflected in these rankings.
Five of my top six keeper-league shortstops made my top 80 overall, all five of them aged 23 or younger, and the group on average ranked roughly 40 spots better here than it did in our staff redraft rankings: Carlos Correa (fifth here, 11th in redraft), Xander Bogaerts (27th and 62nd), Corey Seager (35th and 71st), Francisco Lindor (46th and 76th) and Addison Russell (79th and 178th). And that excludes some of the better minor league prospects on the way: J.P. Crawford, Orlando Arcia and Swanson, all of whom made my top-20 keeper league shortstops, and another who didn't miss by much, Brendan Rodgers.
We could also throw second-base-only players Trea Turner and Javier Baez into this mix, as either could profile as a future shortstop; both would've ranked among my top 20 shortstops if currently eligible there.
You'd really build around a starting pitcher?!
Well, yes and no. What you'll notice is that my No. 1 keeper-league starting pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, is ranked 13th, or nine spots worse than in my redraft rankings, but then the next seven starting pitchers rank in roughly the same range -- Nos. 19-31 -- as in those redraft ranks. There's a reason for this: Today's crop of young aces is about as exciting a group as we've seen in over a decade. Ten of my top 17 keeper-league starting pitchers will begin the 2016 season aged 27 or younger, and of the seven who begin it at age 28 or older, six finished among the top 15 -- and that's not top 15 starters, it's top 15 overall -- on the 2015 Player Rater. The one who didn't was Corey Kluber, and I just like Corey Kluber.
But what you'll find in my starting pitcher rankings is that after roughly the top 20, that's when my keeper and redraft rankings deviate. Most notably, after the proven aces -- or those on the verge of being aces (see: Noah Syndergaard) -- are gone, my keeper-league strategy leans heavily upon finding that "next ace."
That's why pitchers like Gio Gonzalez, Jeff Samardzija, Scott Kazmir and Collin McHugh suffer so severely here, despite being perfectly adequate redraft selections. They're further along in their careers and simply aren't and won't develop into future aces. Meanwhile, Lucas Giolito, Julio Urias, Tyler Glasnow, Blake Snell and Jose Berrios all easily made my top 250, despite none having yet thrown a big league pitch, because every one of them has a potential ceiling that's higher than the aforementioned quartet.
Individual player examinations
Manny Machado: The six starts at shortstop, hinting a possible future return to his original position, does influence his ranking. One could make the case that Correa belongs in Machado's spot at No. 3, pushing back Machado and Paul Goldschmidt, but it couldn't be clearer to me that these are the correct members of the top five overall.
Xander Bogaerts: It's the adjustments he made last season that make him such a promising dynasty/keeper pick. Sure, his walk rate declined and he hits way too many ground balls to expect an imminent power burst -- he had an 85th percentile 53.3 percent ground ball rate -- but he also did that while making a concerted effort to seek and make contact with his pitch while improving his game on pitches down in the zone (those tend to lead to greater ground ball rates). For a 22-year-old to adapt that quickly is a tremendous positive, and it's strong evidence that he can again adjust, whether in 2016 or beyond, to hit for more power. I've said previously that I think Bogaerts is a .300-plus hitter, and I do think a 20-homer year is in his somewhat near future.
Miguel Sano: I've been outspoken on my concerns about Sano in redraft leagues, and one can quickly see that I rank him merely 57th for 2016 alone, 24 spots beneath our staff rankings. Most often, my criticisms revolve around either his 35.5 percent strikeout rate, the 13th highest in history among players who came to the plate at least 300 times, or his miserable .179 batting average and 60 percent miss rate on swings against sliders in his final 40 games last season. Those hint at a player who has not yet fully adapted to big league pitching and might yet have an adjustment period ahead of him.
Still, Sano is also one of only three players in history to walk at least 50 times while hitting at least 18 home runs in his first 80 big league games, illustrating his keen eye at the plate and elite power potential. Once he adapts to those sliders, which I'm confident he will sometime in the next calendar year or so, he'll routinely rank among the favorites to pace the game in home runs. He might average 40 home runs with a .250-.260 batting average annually for the next half-decade.
Dee Gordon: Boy, do I hate building a dynasty/keeper league team around stolen bases, but if you're going to do it, Gordon's easily the one to build it around nowadays. He'll turn 28 years old in April, putting him a good two to three years before the typical stage of a player's career that tends to see decline in stolen bases, and he has significantly improved his game to the point that I'd call him a Juan Pierre clone. And while the name Juan Pierre tends to bring about more unpleasant than positive recollections among fantasy owners -- ah, the recency bias - let's not forget Pierre's seasons from ages 28 to 30:
Age 28 (2006): .292 AVG, 58 SB, 87 R
Age 29 (2007): .293 AVG, 64 SB, 96 R
Age 30 (2008): .283 AVG, 40 SB, 44 R, limited to only 119 games
Pierre also batted .275 while swiping 68 bags at 32, which will be Gordon's age come 2020. Would anyone complain about a five-year span of a .289 batting average and 52 stolen bases per season?
Kyle Schwarber: He hasn't improved at all in the rankings since September and in fact slipped by two spots. The main reason he's not higher on the list is the questions about his defense and eventual position. Left field remains Schwarber's most probable future spot, though he'd be an ideal designated hitter if an American League team was willing to pay a hefty premium to acquire him. In the meantime, nothing has changed with Schwarber's offensive game: He's potentially a .260-hitting, 75-walk, 30-homer hitter, and if I could guarantee that he could catch at least 100 games while amassing 550-plus plate appearances every year, I'd say I've underranked him by a good 20 spots.
Robinson Cano: He might be the one player I've most significantly overranked, but Cano's second-half resurgence last season showed he's still capable of being a .300-20 hitter, and at least there were rationales behind the miserable first half that preceded it that were something other than the aging process.
Carlos Rodon: There's a possibility here that the Chicago White Sox's decision to let Tyler Flowers walk this winter might spawn a sluggish start to Rodon's 2016, lowering his keeper-league value to the point that he's one of the midsummer's best trade targets in the format. Still, Rodon's raw ability makes it too risky to pass on him in the draft, but if he indeed does struggle initially, don't panic. He has one of the best sliders in the game already, and it's not unthinkable to regard him as a borderline top-10 starter heading into 2017, if everything breaks just right.
Billy Hamilton: If not Cano, then Hamilton is probably the player most overranked, and he's as much of a one-category performer as you'll find. That said, 57 stolen bases in 114 games makes quite an impact, and since Hamilton is only 25 years old and on a team that lacks many alternatives in the outfield, he could have as many as eight more seasons of 50-plus steals in him. Just be aware that his basement-level projection is probably the lowest of anyone in my top 100, because it's probably one that results in a role only marginally better than Herb Washington's for the 1974-75 Athletics.
Nick Castellanos: One of my more bullish rankings, Castellanos' .208 second-half isolated power is largely behind his generous ranking, though the truth is that I have had him consistently a member of my top 200 keepers since the midseason 2013 edition. Let's not forget that two years ago at this time, scouts were suggesting he could be a .290-hitting, 35-double, 20-25 homer hitter during his prime. Castellanos' slow progression in the power department hints he's not far off being on everyone's keeper radar, and if he slips even three rounds further than this, he's a potential steal.
Lucas Giolito: He went from just outside this list one year ago at this time to just outside my top 100, and the main reason for his sizable leap was his proximity to the Washington Nationals' rotation. Giolito might be to 2016 what Noah Syndergaard was to 2015; a pitcher who might not quite break camp with his team, yet could make a half-season's worth (or more) of starts in the big leagues. Ah, but there's a key difference: I think Giolito's simply a better prospect today than Syndergaard was then.
Joey Gallo: His range of outcomes is perhaps widest of anyone on the list, with fantasy potential not far removed from Miguel Sano's on the high end, to Jon Singleton's 2013-15 on the low end. Gallo's Texas Rangers don't necessarily have a regular place to play him right now, and while starting third baseman Adrian Beltre's contract does expire at season's end, the idea of Beltre being re-signed isn't inconceivable. In addition, Gallo's play after his return to the minors last July was flat-out awful: a .195 batting average and 39.5 percent strikeout rate. I want to include him in my top 50, as a player whose raw power potential rivals that of Sano, Kris Bryant and Giancarlo Stanton. Unfortunately, Gallo is the least polished of that bunch, and I'd like to see a little more evidence first. Don't be shocked, though, if he's 50 spots higher in my midseason update.
Javier Baez: He's mentioned again to reiterate what I wrote a year ago here. To repeat: "[There's a] prevailing assumption that he'll start for the Cubs all year and be a smashing success, but I'm not so sure that's true ... I think 2016 is the time to board the Baez bandwagon." In addition, here were my hypothetical projections for his 2015-18:
2015 (age 22): 4 months MiLB, 2 months MLB, .215 AVG, 18 HR, 47 RBI, 7 SB
2016 (age 23): Up for good, .235 AVG, 24 HR, 63 RBI, 15 SB
2017 (age 24): .244 AVG, 26 HR, 68 RBI, 14 SB
2018 (age 25): .250 AVG, 30 HR, 78 RBI, 12 SB
The 2016-18 projections remain rather fair, and I repeat them not in praise of the prediction -- there's still a good chance that I'll be completely wrong, and besides, I've gotten plenty of other projections wrong (ahem, Eric Hosmer in my top 10) -- but to illustrate how people's perceptions create ideal buying and selling windows during a player's career. Remember the buyers' phase of Manny Machado's career? That's when you need to strike, and those who can sniff out those brief windows are the ones who routinely dominate the format.
By the way, Baez's contact rate at all professional levels in 2014 was 62.6 percent. In 2015, it rose to 72.9 percent.
Yoan Moncada: He's one of the more raw prospects in my rankings, but he's also one who could move quickly, and as a second baseman who could bat .280-plus with double-digit power and plenty of stolen bases, he'd be quite the fantasy building block. This could be a key year for Moncada's ranking; he's one of the stronger candidates on the list for a 50-spot bump in the next calendar year.
They didn't miss my top 250 by much, but at their age and development level, the following two couldn't quite justify inclusion.
Rafael Devers: One could make the case that it'll be quite the race between Devers and Moncada for first to reach the big leagues, but Devers is the younger of the two (by 17 months), and he has quite a bit of room before he reaches his power ceiling. Devers only narrowly missed the top 250, but he's the one off-the-radar player I'd target in a league with long-term farm teams/minor league systems where you can freely carry players over. Your odds at an eventual .290-25 -- and likely better -- hitter are awfully strong.
Dansby Swanson: He stands an excellent chance at making the midseason edition, but with a likely big league arrival of 2018 and only 22 games' pro experience, Swanson is too far off to make a legitimate case for inclusion today. His ceiling isn't quite as high as you might expect from a No. 1 overall draftee; he's not quite a 20/20 candidate, with his power the more likely number to fall short. Still, as a five-category contributor, Swanson is another surefire farm-team building block.
Position eligibility is determined based upon a minimum of 20 games; otherwise the position the player appeared at most in 2015. Players' listed ages are as of April 1, 2016.
Players' September 2015 and peak rankings in past keeper lists are also provided: These lists have been published semiannually from 2010 to 2013 and triannually since 2014, with "Pre," "Mid" and "Sept." designated to differentiate whether the rank was in the preseason, midseason or September lists of those years. For example, Justin Upton is listed with a peak of 3 in "Pre-2012," meaning that his best all-time rank was third overall, in the February 2012 list. A "-" means that the player has never been previously included in a Keeper Top 250 list.