Leagues with long-term keeper rules often present their owners with dilemmas: “Should I keep Player X (who’s a better value for next year) or Player Y (who could be much more valuable in two to three years)?” Some examples might include: Paul Konerko vs. Eric Hosmer, Kevin Youkilis (or Alex Rodriguez maybe?) vs. Brett Lawrie, and James Shields vs. Jeremy Hellickson.
Clearly important factors include any price increases your league imposes on keepers, and how competitive you expect to be next year. But one key factor is often overlooked: the field. Don’t forget the field.
Fantasy talking heads love comparing keepers, particularly a long-term keeper versus a short-term one. Here’s a good-natured example from Fangraphs.
There seems to be hardly a wrong answer. One can talk about how good the older player is but also how many years are on his body and that his skills show some signs perhaps of declining. One can also talk about how promising the young player is but that he hasn’t yet proven himself over several seasons.
It is a lot of fun to compare one player to another. But when it comes to long-term keeper comparison, it is essential to remember that there are many, many other players that are implicitly figuring into the equation.
Here’s a simple example: An owner can keep up to four keepers for each year at the cost of $23 each. There’s no inflation. He’s already decided to keep Matt Kemp, Jose Reyes and Robinson Cano and is trying to decide whether to keep Rodriguez or Lawrie as his fourth.
Rodriguez may be the better bet for next year and, in standard leagues, would probably go for more than Lawrie—and also more than the $23 price tag. So Rodriguez is undoubtedly worth keeping.
What about Lawrie? Let’s say that you expect him to be less valuable than Rodriguez next year but more valuable thereafter. You still must answer these questions before you can know whom to keep:
Is Lawrie going to be getting much better in the future or is Rodriguez going to be getting much worse? Probably the answer is some of both, but of course how much of each is the key.
Even if Lawrie will be better than Rodriguez, will he be good enough to warrant keeping? Answering this question is subtle—and key. This question asks: what are the chances that, however good Lawrie becomes, you still have four better keepers on your roster at the end of next year?
Next season, you’ll have a roster full of potential keepers. It is very possible that by next September, Lawrie will be a keeper candidate (i.e. he’s worth at least $23), a better keeper candidate than Rodriguez (i.e. Lawrie’ll go for more in an auction than Rodriguez), but that you will have four players that are more valuable as keepers.
This means that you should discount distant future performances, perhaps greatly depending on league format. For the example above, as a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t keep Lawrie over Rodriguez unless I believed that Lawrie would be worth at least $35 two years from now.