Mr. Right now

Much like a woman wearing high heels to a baseball game, in fantasy sports, what’s sexy may not always be practical. As we embark on this upcoming fantasy season, we all will be faced with many decisions about how to manage our rosters.

I’m often asked about rostering uber-prospects like Bryce Harper or Mike Trout in standard, non-keeper leagues. My position on these players is more tepid than most. While owning potentially elite talents like Trout or Harper is a sexy proposition and good for the psyche because it feels like you have a bullet remaining in the chamber that your opponents don’t have, I’m not sure it’s all that practical. Oftentimes that bullet either doesn’t get fired until the battle is nearly over or turns out to be a blank.

As I’ve written many times before, talent is only one side of the production equation, opportunity being the other. A talented player lacking opportunity may have some value to various owners, but in the strictest sense, only production actually has value in the immediate term.

Earlier this week, a friend in a standard 12-team league asked whether he should drop Harper to add Mark Melancon, given the news of Andrew Bailey’s thumb problems. I told him to go for it. My friend has now inherited a valuable closer. Melancon is about as unsexy as you can get, but turning potential energy into kinetic is the name of the game.

I’d just like to offer a few more thoughts on why holding onto a blue-chip prospect may not be the best of ideas when playing in standard non-keeper leagues.

Bringing sand to the beach
Each year, players emerge from the waiver wire to become stars, or at least valuable fantasy contributors. If you hamstring your roster flexibility by retaining a player who isn’t in the majors, you increase the likelihood of missing out on breakout players on the waiver wire. Finding this year’s breakout players takes some skill and some luck, but you have to be in it to win it.

Playing shorthanded
Another manifestation of the opportunity cost to roster non-MLB players is that you get zero production from that bench spot until the player is called up. If you’ve ever charted your projected categorical production against milestone targets from the previous season while drafting or auctioning, you may have noticed that you almost always comes up slightly short of your targets.

One of the reasons this happens is because throughout the season teams get production from their bench. When your starters are given a day off or a team has an off day and you rotate your bench bats in, you get production. Those one and two runs and RBIs add up over time. A player not rostered by a major league team can’t help you on off days or fill in for a player getting a day off.

As in real sports, winning in fantasy sports requires contributions from each and every roster spot. If you are waiting for your prospect to be given his chance, you are playing a man short until that happens and relying on his production to outstrip that of your other options by a wide enough margin that it compensates for past missed opportunities.

I’ve seen it work; a friend of mine got a huge boost from a drafted-and-stashed Evan Longoria and won our league in 2008. But, I’ve seen it fail more often.

Value above replacement
Unless you play in a deep, or AL- or NL-only league, there are likely competent, reasonably productive players who receive regular playing time on your waiver wire. The higher the caliber of player on the wire, the greater the opportunity cost of holding onto a prospect.

Not only do you forfeit greater production while the prospect keeps the roster spot dead, but the bar for what the prospect must produce upon call-up is raised. Many top prospects don’t produce much more than league-average numbers in their first taste of MLB action. The pain of missing out on flexibility and other breakout players is magnified if your prince turns into a toad as soon as he heads out to the big dance.

Why not troll/ambulance chase instead?
Injured players provide much of the same appeal as prospects, but their opportunity cost is lower. If you roster Ryan Howard or Chase Utley, they will not cost you a roster spot once they are put on the DL. This means you can still visit the waiver wire singles bar, rotating bench players in to maximize games played, and you still have the chance of elite talent and production finding its way onto your roster later in the season.

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  1. sean said...

    I’m playing in several 10-team 5×5 roto leagues (2c). Wondering what you think the best thing to do with my bench spots (there are 6 but no DL spots) is? I don’t have any DL’ed players. There are weekly transactions, so streaming is less of a concern…

  2. David said...

    Rookies are almost never worth it in redraft leagues.  True immediate impact studs (aka what Moore should be) are few and far between.  Mostly you end up with guys like Trout or Harper on whom you can’t really count.  And even when they DO get the call they are almost never immediate All Stars.  Nonetheless, they hype machine ensures they will often be overpriced.  Let someone else spend the ca$h or use the too-high draft pick on them.

  3. Mark Himmelstein said...

    I agree with David, and to expand, the crop of high ceiling rookies looks shallower this year than either of the last two years. In 2010 you kind of knew you’d have a bunch of rookies come up and shine, including the catching tandem of Posey and Santana (though Santana got hurt, which was not predictable), useful production from Gaby Sanchez and Ike Davis, etc. Last year there were quite a few impact players on the horizon from the get-go, including Hosmer, Jennings, Belt, Ackley, Kipnis, and as the season wore on Lawrie joined that class (if anything, became the head of it).

    This year, there doesn’t seem to be nearly as much high-minors talent that looks like it should produce so immediately. There’s Harper, maybe Trout (his situation depends more on the Angels needs, or lackthereof, it seems), Shelby Miller, and not a whole lot else. Miller looks like the safest of the group to make an immediate impact, but arms aren’t nearly as “sexy”.

    And in a general sense, in redraft leagues, depending on the settings in terms of bench size and league depth, I agree with the thesis that stashing players is to be avoided, especially in the draft. It makes a bit more sense as we get into June and the Super-two floating deadline comes around, but that deadline will actually be later this year (thanks to the new CBA) and teams will have a much more difficult choice in terms of calling up top talent, thus things will be less predictable.

  4. Steve said...

    Pretty sure Aceves was named closer.
    Pretty poor decision to speculate on a situation that could have went either way.

    Harper will be up at some point and will have value.

  5. shmmrname said...

    Melancon’s ratios suggest he’s a better fit AND a better pitcher. If he doesn’t get his owner what he needs, he’s easily dropped for the next time SV’s become available in the FA pool. Speculating on situations that could go ‘either way’ is exactly the situations you want to speculate on. If a situation can only go ONE WAY, then that guy was probably drafted. M. Rivera’s of the world are owned, speculation happens on uncertainties only.

    The only thing certain, is while anyone holds Harper now – they will get 0 from him until he is called up. And, even after you’re done speculating WHEN he’ll get called up – you still have to speculate what his impact will be. There’s many, many can’t miss prospects that don’t become fantasy-relevant quickly (if at all), and the author isn’t saying DON’T OWN TROUT. He’s saying don’t own Trout if it’s keeping you from improving your team daily.

  6. shmmrname said...

    I think it’s another case of how your league settings are shaped… I agree, it’s not worth it with shallow benches, as if you’re hit by an injury – you’ll almost immediately have to drop the prospect anyways.

    But, I will say – if the price is right (last few rounds, $1-3 auction, or not much waiver/FAAB) – then, there really isn’t much downside to holding onto the prospect when you’re team is relatively healthy.

    Prospects can always help sway trades, and they can offer the upside that your last-man, last-picked players on your bench just can’t.

    Personally, I think it’s always helpful to know who your ‘last man’ is on your roster. So, if you need something, like SV’s or if a break-out hitter/pitcher emerges on the FA wire, you know exactly who to move.

    If it happens that your ‘last man’ is a prospect, oh well – prospects should only be held if they aren’t holding you back from improving.

  7. 3fingersbrown said...

    Here’s an interesting rookie: Brett Pill made the SF roster today. Worth picking up on talent alone, even if he doesn’t get a lot of playing time?

    In a deep 15 team redraft league that uses 2 of each IF, do you grab a guy like Pill and forgo a 2nd SS like Ryan, Santiago, Crawford or Theriot? While grabbing a bottom barrel SS will give me a few ticks in counting stats, it’ll cost me in OBP. One injury or Huff/Belt slump and Bill can see sufficient ABs to make him relevant.

  8. Kevin said...

    How do you feel about rostering someone like Oswalt, who when he signs with an NL contender mid-season, should probably be a great help to your ratios?

  9. Brad Johnson said...

    Personally I would avoid Oswalt for a couple reasons.

    Health – there’s a reason no one offered him a substantial contract and it’s health

    Playing Time – Oswalt has said he’ll need 60 days to get ready from the time of his signing. Granted, he could start ramping up on his own time if nobody signs him soon, but he’s incentivized to get a contract before doing anything that could result in injury. That means he’s sitting on your roster until at least mid-June if not later.

    Talent – Oswalt is a solid pitcher, but if you’re careful you can probably find similar production elsewhere without the above issues. His skill set amounts to a solid ERA/WHIP with average to below average K’s and a handful of W’s. Given that he’ll throw maybe 90-100 innings, you’re better off plugging in a free, elite set up reliever for 70 IP.

  10. Derek Ambrosino said...

    Sorry, this was written before the Aceves/Melancon decision was made. Neither distinguished himself on Opening Day, and my hunch is that both will get chances over the first half of the season.

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