Fantasy baseball is unlike any other pretend sport in the world. There are 30 teams with eight or nine offensive players on a team, five (or more) starting pitchers, one closer per team and some tantalizing bench players and middle relievers.
But like those fantasy games, the question in this game…where can I find value? Well I’m here to give you some good off-brand talent.
So here are some good players from bad teams. These teams all had losing records in 2012 and the players are non-obvious options on these bad teams (David Wright on the Mets is not an amazing find). The key here is to find value that others may overlook in the draft. These aren’t necessarily sleepers, but guys who could come at a good price on draft day.
Today, I’ll be taking a look at corner infielders.
Michael Cuddyer played in only 101 games last season, hitting 260 with 16 HR, 58 RBI, 53 R and 8 SB. Spread that out over 150 games, and you conservatively have 24 HR, 87 RBI, 79 R and 16 SB. That’s pretty solid output. Now, first base is stacked and most of the studs at the position play for good teams. In fact, first basemen generally dominate the rankings of top offensive players. But this is about value. While others chase a big name first baseman like Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols, you can go after premier guys at shallower positions and still get good production from someone of Cuddyer’s ilk. He also qualifies as an OF, and may spend time there with Todd Helton at first.
And playing for the Rockies, he’ll be overlooked by others in your draft room but will still get the benefits of playing in Coors Field. It’s a double-whammy. Look for another strong season of 20+ HR, 80+ RBI, 75+ R and 10+ SB.
Anthony Rizzo of the Cubs is another good value candidate. In half of a season with Chicago last year he hit 287 with 15 HR, 48 RBI and 44 R. He was good enough to push the Cubs All Star Bryan LaHair into right field, and eventually to Japan. If you assume that adjustments will be made in his first full season then it’s fair to think you could see 270+ with 20-25 HR, 90 RBI and 80 R. He’ll get gobbled up quickly in dynasty and keeper leagues, but may last a bit longer in regular leagues.
Digging a little deeper, you can always park Justin Smoak in a utility spot or even keep him as injury insurance on your bench. He’s kind of a one trick pony, but not many people would turn their noses up at an extra 20 HR from a backup.
And if you are looking for a true sleeper, I’d suggest Brett Wallace of the Astros. Injuries limited him to 66 games last year, but he hit 253 with 9 HR and 24 RBI and R in that time. Over a full season that’s another 20 HR with 60+ RBI and R. The Astros won’t be great, but if he’s figuring it out he could be a true diamond in the rough.
Chase Headley had a coming out party in San Diego last year. As the NL RBI leader, he’s someone that everyone in your league should now be pretty aware of. So he won’t come as cheaply as others on this list, but the team brand name could make him more affordable and more profitable than lower achievers from better teams.
Last season, he hit 286 with 31 HR, 115 RBI, 95 R and 17 SB. That makes him a five-category contributor. And he did that on a terrible team in a stadium that kills offense. So the good news is that he has the ability to do it again, no matter the location or abysmal talent around him. And while teams will pitch him more carefully, as the Padres young guys get better he may get more opportunities, so it could equal out. I doubt he is the RBI leader again, and may not break 100. But I think a .270 average with 20 homers, 80, runs and RBI, with 10 steals is a fairly conservative estimate, and not bad output from a weak position.
Another option at the hot corner is Brett Lawrie, but he’s a classic overpay trap. He’s an exciting young player who hit .273 with 11 homers, 48 RBI, 73 runs, and 13 steals in 125 games last year. But the Toronto Blue Jays ain’t flying under the radar anymore. Lawrie makes this list based on what the Blue Jays did last year, but certainly won’t be around in keeper or dynasty leagues.
His potential may even push his stock up in conventional leagues. But if he should fall to an affordable level, he’s worth the draft pick as he can contribute in all 5 categories, and is now playing on a team loaded with talent that would have been fairly potent last season if not for injury.
For true value, perhaps you should look at Will Middlebrooks of the Red Sox, who was .288 with 15 homers, 54 RBI, and 34 runs in just 75 games. That’s around a 30 homer, 100 RBI, and 70 run year if he plays all 162.
Again, the Red Sox brand name may sell him for more than he’s worth, but with their struggles last season, he’s a good candidate for this list. In addition, the weakness of this position really shines through as all the guys who are good enough to make this list truly aren’t sleepers.
But Middlebrooks played well enough to push Youkilis out the door, so that job is his to lose. He’ll hit in the middle of a solid Red Sox lineup and should contribute at least 20 HR and 75+ RBI while hopefully helping in AVG and R. You’re not going to get him very late, but he’s a solid candidate to eye in the middle rounds as you chase someone else with that early pick.
Check back next time for some help up the middle.