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This will be the most in-depth article in this series of AL-only positional reviews, and with good reason. With a minimum of 60 American League outfielders populating rosters, and usually more when you factor in the DH slot, outfield is frequently where mono leagues are won or lost. There are only 45 AL starting outfielders, but unlike many other positions you can get solid production from outfield reserves or platoon players.

In 2016, four of the 10 most expensive AL-only hitters were outfielders. Three of the 10 highest earners in 2016 were outfielders. The three fantasy “expert” AL-only leagues (CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars) spent $814 on average in the outfield and picked up $790 worth of stats. This year, there was a significant drop in the CBS AL auction on money spent on outfielders, with only $696 allocated to the position. It is worth watching LABR AL next month to see if this is part of a trend or merely an anomaly.

Why the dip? How did the expert market spend its money in 2016?

(all valuations below are from my 2016 AL-only valuations, which can be found here).

Table 1: Top 15 Most Expensive AL Outfielders 2016

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

1

Mike Trout

$41

46

-5

2

Mookie Betts

$42

37

5

3

Jose Bautista

$12

33

-21

4

George Springer

$23

32

-8

5

Justin Upton

$19

30

-11

6

J.D. Martinez

$20

29

-9

7

Carlos Gomez

$14

26

-13

8 (tie)

Lorenzo Cain

$18

26

-8

Nelson Cruz

$27

26

2

10

Adam Jones

$19

23

-4

11

Shin-Soo Choo

$6

21

-15

12

Jacoby Ellsbury

$19

20

-1

13 (tie)

Adam Eaton

$22

20

3

Michael Brantley

$1

20

-19

Hanley Ramirez

$26

20

7

Average

$21

27

-6

Losing money isn’t good, even if it is just play/fantasy money, but getting back $21 on a $27 investment is a relatively predictable outcome. Trout is a great example of being willing to pay extra for certainty. No one who purchases Trout expects him to turn a profit, but because he is a safe $35 earner, fantasy managers are willing to take the loss. After two years of reduced running, Trout bounced back and stole 30 bases for the third time in his career. He is the safest player there is in fantasy baseball.

Betts was even better than Trout, edging the Angels outfielder in earnings by $1.64. Betts earned $31 in 2015, but even so his 2016 exceeded even the market’s lofty expectations. Betts might not be Trout 2.0, but it is okay to have similar expectations of a $30 floor and build your bid limit from there. Betts’s power is legitimate and even if you agree with PECOTA that some slippage is likely in home runs, you are still paying for a 20 home run, 30 steal player who will deliver a very good batting average and generate plenty of runs and RBI in a strong Boston lineup. Betts is only 24 years old, so it is even possible that he gets a little bit better. Realistically, it is more likely that Betts is a player where you pay $40-42 and accept the fact that you are going to take an earnings loss while locking in plenty of stats. Betts went for $46 in CBS in 2017. I wouldn’t recommend chasing him that far, but he is one of three players I am comfortable paying $40 for in AL-only.

It wasn’t all sunshine and smiles at the top of the AL outfield heap. Bautista had his worst season since 2009, due to a combination of injury and ineffectiveness. Five of the 15 outfielders in Table 1 lost $10 or more for their fantasy managers. Choo was one of those outfielders. He played only 48 games due to multiple injuries. To save him from further injury, it is likely that Choo logs significant time at DH. The Rangers do have several players who may need to shuttle through the DH slot, so if you do plan to purchase Choo, anticipate a limited number of games, even if he stays healthy.

Upton was the most productive of the double-digit losers, turning in a $19 season. In Upton’s case, his health is never in question, as he logged 149 games or more for the sixth season in a row. Upton lost ground by standing still. Despite matching his career high in home runs and posting an ISO similar to his career rate, Upton earned below $20 for the first time since 2008, when he only had 417 plate appearances. The dip in steals hurt Upton, but more than anything else the increased offensive context across the board had a negative impact on his overall value. In 2016, Upton’s 31 home runs, 81 runs, and 87 RBI were worth $18.24. In 2015, Upton’s 26 home runs, 85 runs, and 81 RBI were worth $20.49.

Despite having a down season, Upton snuck onto the next table, albeit barely.

Table 2: Top 15 AL Outfielders 2016

Rank

Player

$

Cost

+/-

1

Mookie Betts

$42

37

5

2

Mike Trout

$41

46

-5

3

Nelson Cruz

$27

26

2

4

Rajai Davis

$26

8

18

5

Hanley Ramirez

$26

20

7

6

Mark Trumbo

$24

16

8

7

George Springer

$23

32

-8

8

Carlos Beltran

$23

10

13

9

Jackie Bradley

$22

7

15

10

Adam Eaton

$22

20

3

11

Khris Davis

$20

16

5

12

J.D. Martinez

$20

29

-9

13

Melky Cabrera

$20

11

8

14

Justin Upton

$19

30

-11

15

Adam Jones

$19

23

-4

Average

$25

22

3

Based on his average auction price, many expected Springer to have his big breakout season in 2016. Based on his earnings, those throngs of adorers are still waiting. Springer’s production was certainly solid, but the 20+ steals never materialized and without a strong batting average Springer is unlikely to ever be a $30+ player.

The $23 he earned last year in AL-only 5×5 is the highest amount of fantasy money Springer has earned in his career. Last year was also Springer’s worst year on an earnings/by at bat basis, as he earned $20 in 388 at bats in 2015 and $13 in 295 at bats in 2014. Springer could be an elite player based on the talent, but he either must steal bases, hit for a better batting average, or both. I’m OK with stretching Springer’s price a little in AL-only, but I wouldn’t pay more than $30 for him.

Compared to the other outfielders in this group, Cruz gets little respect. He doesn’t run, but otherwise Cruz is a three-category giant who at worst will help you slightly in batting average. His age creates a lack of buzz that keeps Cruz’s price under $30, but there is security in knowing that the floor with Cruz is 30-35 home runs barring injury. Cruz is going to cost at least $10 fewer than Trout and Betts and this is an appropriate price difference, but locking in that power at $24-26 is well worth it.

Outfield is so deep that even in a mono league there is no reason to chase. This is particularly true once you move past the elites. This is part of the reason the CBS experts only spent $696 on outfielders last week. Pushing outfielders like Martinez, Cain, Upton, or Trumbo into the high $20s or low $30s because they are the best players on the board is folly. You can lock in solid production in your outfield without paying a premium for a non-elite hitter.

In 2016, there were nineteen outfielders with an average salary of three dollars or fewer. Seven of those outfielders earned $10 or more. There is no guarantee that you get profits like this on any player, but you do want to leave room for these types at the end of your auction. Additionally, you want to have a little flexibility to bid two or three dollars for your last outfielder. If the first half of a winning Rotisserie strategy is locking in stats at the top, the other half is getting profitability from the bottom of your roster. Subbing for Bryan Joyner in CBS AL during the last hour of the auction, I grabbed Lonnie Chisenhall and Colby Rasmus at a buck apiece. They could earn $15-20 combined. The other component of this strategy involves not chasing outfielders in the middle of the pack. There are plenty of solid $15-20 options to be had in an AL-only auction, and if you are patient there will be plenty of bargains because of the depth. Much of the strategy and tactics that come into play during an auction take place when you are stocking your outfield.

Below are some examples of the profits you could have picked up last year from AL outfielders.

Table 3: Top 15 AL Profits, Outfielders, 2016

Rank

Player

$

Cost

+/-

1

Rajai Davis

$26

8

18

2

Paulo Orlando

$18

2

16

3

Jackie Bradley

$22

7

15

4

Carlos Beltran

$23

10

13

5

Cameron Maybin

$19

7

12

6

Nomar Mazara

$13

1

12

7

Coco Crisp

$11

1

10

8

Leonys Martin

$19

9

10

9

Michael Saunders

$13

4

10

10

Max Kepler

$11

3

9

11

Melky Cabrera

$20

11

8

12

Jarrod Dyson

$18

10

8

13

Brandon Guyer

$8

0

8

14

Seth Smith

$11

3

8

15

Chris Young

$8

0

8

Average

$16

5

11

Four outfielders from Table 2 also appear on Table 3 as well. Davis is perennially underrated, and has earned $20 or more in four of the last five seasons. Bradley’s cold September in 2015 put a damper on his 2016 price, but it turned out that he was a legitimate player. Beltran is the poor man’s version of David Ortiz, as he keeps managing to put up big numbers at an age when most players are sharply declining or out of baseball. Guyer and Young are great examples of one-dollar targets in AL-only. Orlando is not slated to start in 2017, but is likely to amass big profits yet again. Orlando should get a significant amount of playing time backing up the oft-injured Cain and the unproven and oft-injured Jorge Soler. Even if Orlando’s playing time is cut in half, an $8-10 season is quite a realistic expectation.

Martin has always been a reliable source of steals. In 2016, he added double-digit home runs to his repertoire. It is more likely that Martin is at his level than it is that he will take an additional step forward, but he was a 30 steal player with the Rangers and still has that kind of speed. Maybin’s price is almost always tamped down because of concerns about his health. This is a good example of how fantasy managers underestimate production and value and overestimate playing time. Maybin’s 15 steals are repeatable, but it is difficult to predict a repeat of that batting average. Speaking of undervalued commodities, Cabrera is “boring” across the board but because he stays on the field and puts up a good batting average he is a reliable $15-20 player. There is trade risk for any player on the rebuilding White Sox, but unless you’re in a byzantine league that does not permit you to keep players swapped to the NL, Cabrera should remain a safe source of OF-3 level production.

This winter featured a game of musical chairs with a couple of outfielders. Dyson was traded from the Royals to the Mariners, replacing Seth Smith, who was flipped to Baltimore. Dyson is often viewed as a part-time player, but his defense and speed make Dyson valuable enough in real life that Seattle should feel comfortable using him every day, or at least regularly against righties. Smith is the anti-Dyson, giving his fantasy managers OK power and decent run and RBI totals with no speed and a subpar batting average. It is a boring profile but as Table 3 shows, there is profit to be had.

That’s the high-level overview of the position. Here is what’s happening…in your neck of the woods.

Oops, that’s Al Roker’s tagline! Below are a few outfielders who will be owned mostly or entirely in AL-only formats.

Ben Revere, Angels ($6)
At press time, Revere is slated to be a backup outfielder for the Angels. But as noted above, Maybin’s health has always been shaky so Revere could get regular plate appearances at some point during the season. At 28 years of age, Revere is far from finished and could provide value even if he does not get regular at bats. It would be an oversimplification to simply assume a bounce back because Revere is young or that 2016 was an anomaly and not the beginning of the end. PECOTA sees Revere with a .278 batting average, one home run, 22 runs, 13 RBI, and 10 stolen bases in 188 plate appearances. Even in the deep pool of AL-only, this is not worth it.

Melvin Upton, Blue Jays ($20)
Those earnings are not a misprint. Upton earned $20 last year, although most of that came with the Padres before he was traded to the Blue Jays. Upton’s speed could make him a valuable commodity yet again, but Toronto has a logjam of outfielders and first basemen and will have difficulty finding full time work for Upton. The guess here is that he splits time in the outfield with Ezequiel Carrera and Steven Pearce. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Upton was stretched in 2016 as a starter, particularly after he arrived in Toronto, and could still give your team a big boost in steals. As he showed in the first half last year, Upton is quite the useful fantasy player when it all clicks. The trouble is that it seldom if ever does.

Mallex Smith, Rays ($8)
Smith had himself quite the winter, getting traded from the Braves to the Mariners and then from the Mariners to the Rays within the span of 77 minutes. Smith is blocked in the majors, and may not even start the year on the Rays bench. But it is very likely that he spends some time in Tampa during the regular season and finds his way into regular at bats. Smith’s speed is the kind of speed that makes him an instant add in nearly every format if he’s playing, particularly in AL-only, where he could be a $20 earner if he is starting. It was a limited sample, but in 215 major league plate appearances, Smith checked off all the boxes for a burgeoning speedster, walking a decent amount, pounding the ball into the ground, and perhaps most importantly keeping the ball out of the air. The 9.3 percent walk rate certainly wasn’t elite, but it is enough to keep Smith in the lineup even if he is only a .250 hitter. All he needs is the opportunity. Colby Rasmus, Corey Dickerson and Kevin Kiermaier all have injury histories, so the opportunity could come sooner rather than later. Don’t sleep on Smith.

Aaron Judge, Yankees ($0)
Judge stormed through Triple-A, mashing 38 extra base hits in 410 plate appearances and finding his way to the Bronx in mid-August. After homering in his first two major league games, Judge was terrible, putting up a miserable .156/.241/.260 slash in 87 plate appearances before an oblique strain ended his season in mid-September. Judge is penciled in as the Yankees Opening Day right fielder, although it is not out of the realm of possibility that he starts 2017 in the minors. Judge’s power potential is tremendous, but he must cut down on the prodigious whiff rate if he is going to survive in the majors.

Charlie Tilson, White Sox ($0)
Tilson’s game is predicated on speed. He stole 50 bases in the minors for the Cardinals in 2015, mostly in Double-A. The problem with Tilson is that the bat fits the profile of a fourth outfielder as opposed to a starting center fielder so unless there is some marked improvement he won’t survive as a regular. If there is a saving grace for Tilson, it is that he makes regular contact and wasn’t striking out at a prodigious clip last year at Triple-A. The drawbacks are a fringe arm and below average strength that will sap what little power Tilson showed in the minors. Tilson has the inside track on the White Sox center field job entering Spring Training but it is a crowded camp and it is possible that Rymer Liriano or Peter Bourjos wrest the job from Tilson. If Tilson does make the team, you are going to have to bid at least five or six dollars for him, as the possibility of 30 steals, even if it is attached to nothing else, makes him an attractive, low end target in AL-only. An early Spring Training injury has sidelined Tilson for the next one or two weeks and will not help his cause.

Eddie Rosario, Twins ($10)
Rosario is slated to platoon with Robbie Grossman to start the season, but even if Rosario sits against left handers there is a good deal of value in his profile, as his $10 earnings in 335 at-bats last year display. Rosario hit 17 home runs between Triple-A and the majors in 2016, which was his highest total since he hit 21 in a mere 298 plate appearances at Rookie ball in 2011. The knock on Rosario is a hacktastic approach that could lead to a big dip in batting average at best and a demotion back to the minors at worst but the Twins don’t have many other palatable options. Rosario should play.

Mitch Haniger, Mariners ($2)
A previously middling prospect at best, Haniger worked on his swing mechanics and added considerable power to his already solid skills baseline. It’s likely this consist of the bulk of Haniger’s fantasy contributions, because he doesn’t run much and the batting average has never been anything to write home about except for last year’s stint in the hitter-happy PCL. Haniger will get first crack at the right field job in Seattle, and he should have a decent amount of time in the majors to prove that he belongs. In mixed leagues, I can understand why fantasy managers are wary, but in AL-only it will take at least a bid in the high single digits to grab Haniger.