July 23, 2015
Rolling the Dice on High-Risk Players
There are lots of ways to go about rebuilding a non-competitive dynasty-league roster this time of year.
If your team is rife with talent but was maligned by injuries or bad luck, perhaps you’ll just want to move some players on the periphery of your roster to make marginal upgrades for 2016. If you own an aging squad but one that could still compete in the near future, perhaps you sell off a veteran asset or two for a younger MLB player. Or, while not generally recommended, you could also opt for the complete teardown, selling off a majority of your assets with present value for players who might help you win in 2017 or beyond.
Regardless of which type of rebuild or reload you’re about to embark on, the trading deadline marks a great time to try to steal away a high-risk, high-reward, potential franchise savior from a team in need. While depth is more important in dynasty leagues than in redraft formats, stars still go a long way toward building you a roster that can compete year in and year out.
As you know, though, stars are really, really hard to acquire in dynasty-league formats. If you miss out on a Mike Trout or a Bryce Harper or an Andrew McCutchen or a Clayton Kershaw when your league drafts, you can pretty much forget about ever owning them: The cost of acquiring them is simply too high. Young studs like Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts, Jacob deGrom, and Kris Bryant are nigh-on impossible to pry away from owners, too, because they’re good and young and producing in the majors right now.
But what about players who were once projected to be stars but have fallen short of such lofty goals? What about prospects and post-prospects who’ve lost plenty of luster, but ultimately still possess the upside of first-division fantasy talents?
Targeting these players is inherently very risky, but depending on the construction of your roster, you might be better off targeting these boom-or-bust assets than settling for quantity over quality. And unlike their established counterparts, these potential stars in the making can likely be pried from the clutches of their current owners if they are in contention.
What types of players am I talking about? You can probably think of plenty of names yourself, but here are three quick examples:
Javier Baez, INF, Cubs
Baez has recorded only 158 plate appearances in Triple-A this year, facing trying personal times and injuries as he’s seen Addison Russell surpass him on Chicago’s depth chart. Yet the 22-year-old still possesses 30-homer upside, still has the tools needed to play in the infield, and could very well secure an everyday role somewhere in 2016.
“But what if the swing-and-miss in his game means he never becomes a star?” you inquire.
Well, yeah. This is not an exercise in risk avoidance. This is about buying low on someone who would’ve cost you as much or more than a Xander Bogaerts or a Correa a year ago, and who still has gaudy fantasy tools. Would you rather receive Baez in a trade or, say, an OF3 and a mid-rotation-starter prospect? There’s a solid case to be made for either, depending on your roster, but if you’re truly looking for building blocks, Baez is worth a shot.
Jurickson Profar, INF, Rangers
You know the story by now: Profar hasn’t played in an official game since 2013, missing each of the past two full seasons with shoulder injuries. That’s a huge bummer, as just about everyone thought Profar would be a solid fantasy contributor, if not a fantasy star, by this point in his career. A manifestation of our collective hubris, he was viewed as one of the safest prospects in recent memory. But his extended absence also presents owners who like to gamble with the potential to land a player with the upside of a top-10 prospect at a greatly reduced cost.
“But what if he’s never healthy enough to truly make a difference?” you ask.
Again, this is not an exercise in risk avoidance. But Profar should, theoretically, not suffer at all offensively from his injuries, and it’s tough to see his arm regressing to the point where he can’t play at second base. You’re looking at someone who could have a Dustin Pedroia-esque career here, and Profar will still be just 23 when next season begins. If delayed gratification is your thing, Profar’s a nice piece to bet on.
Zack Wheeler, SP, Mets
“Jesus, he wants us to trade for an injured pitcher,” you think as you queue up the angry tweets/incoherent bat signals. I know, I know. But Wheeler was sneaky good in 2014, striking out more than a batter per inning, posting an ERA of 3.54 and looking like he was poised to become the no. 2 fantasy starter he’s long been projected to be. Yes, he’s out until the middle of next season thanks to Tommy John surgery, but the upside here is huge.
“But isn’t investing in pitchers—especially injured pitchers—incredibly risky,” you shoot back.
Is this an exercise in risk avoidance? I will give you a hint: this is not an exercise in risk avoidance. While the recovery rate from TJ is very strong, it’s not 100%. Wheeler might never make it all the way back, and you might trade a valuable asset for a dud. But if he does make it back, you’ll be acquiring a legit potential top-25 fantasy starter at the nadir of his value. You don’t think a team that’s competitive now and could be in 2016 is willing to deal Wheeler for immediate help? I bet you you’re wrong, and I bet he costs less than you think.
There are additional young, struggling potential stars you may be able to pry away from owners, from Gregory Polanco to Yordano Ventura to Marcus Stroman to Jorge Soler. You get the point, and at the end of the day, the names really don’t matter.
What matters is the understanding that while you can’t swing for the fences with every trade, it’s ok to sometimes. And right now, with trade deadlines fast approaching in most leagues, you may be able to catch a desperate contending team willing to give up on a budding star too soon.
Should you gut your farm system for any of the players mentioned? Of course not. But if you have a closer to sell off or an older hitter on the trading block or a player you’re looking to sell high on, seriously consider making an aggressive bid for the right high-risk, high-reward player rather than settling for a safe return.
It might blow up in your face, sure. But if it doesn’t, it can go a long way toward helping you net a championship in the future.