When I sat down to compile a championship fantasy squad with a full $260 budget (using Mike Gianella’s player values), I did not have a coherent strategy. In fact, I sifted through each position, grabbing players by feel and trying to identify either elite players I coveted or players I thought were undervalued. In this way, I sought to avoid outsmarting myself and overthinking.

After I finished and with my provisional roster scrawled in my notebook, I calculated how much money I had gobbled up. And like any good American, I overspent my budget by $22. Not a difficult amount to cull by any stretch.

Ultimately, I moved from Josh Donaldson to a second-tier option with upside and from Melky Cabrera to a low-end option in the outfield who has a history of mid-tier production. That saved me $23 in itself. Subtracting another dollar or two here, adding another couple of bucks there, and my preferred roster was complete. After all, the initial goal was to largely trust my instincts after several months of preparation.



Wilson Ramos



Prince Fielder



Brett Lawrie



Ian Desmond



Nolan Arenado



Kris Bryant



Erick Aybar



Bryce Harper



Christian Yelich



Jorge Soler



Adam Eaton



Michael Cuddyer



Brandon Moss



Danny Santana



Madison Bumgarner



Jacob deGrom



Michael Pineda



Masahiro Tanaka



Taijuan Walker



Kyle Lohse



Cody Allen



Drew Storen



Tyler Clippard



Aside from a few obvious exceptions, my overall strategy is rather transparent: I targeted many second-or-third-year players who are poised to take the next step in their development. Guys such as Christian Yelich, Jacob deGrom, Adam Eaton, Michael Pineda, and even Danny Santana have found success in the majors, yet they still have room to develop or need another season to establish a track record. In other words, I isolated players I believe in and put my money where my mouth is.

Here’s a hot take: Even if Kris Bryant and Jorge Soler were poised to play the entire year for the Cubs, I’d wager that Soler enjoys the better fantasy season. I don’t like paying premium prices for hyped prospects. Fortunately, though, Mike’s prices don’t include that “hype” inflation. Bryant and Soler are reasonably priced with massive upsides.

On the pitching side, I anchored my staff with Madison Bumgarner, who I believe is poised for a Cy Young Award in the non-Kershaw division. With guys like Pineda, Tanaka, and Walker, who have significant injury/innings concerns, a consistent innings eater like Kyle Lohse fits beautifully. The veteran right-hander has been a top-50 fantasy starter the past two seasons and is currently being drafted as the 73rd-overall starter. Just cuz it ain’t flashy don’t mean it ain’t effective.

This squad is perhaps younger than many others you’ll see in the My Model Portfolio series; however, my default strategy over the past couple of seasons has been to rely on players who I believe are ready to take the next step forward in their production. I’m not talking about grabbing guys with the highest upside or massive fliers across the board. Rather, focus on players who have the statistical and physical attributes necessary for small-to-moderate gains without the potential for significant downside. That’s what I tried to do here.

Quick Notes:

C – Wilson Ramos ($8): The injuries and plate discipline aren’t pretty, but the power potential intrigues me in a potent Nationals’ batting order. Could be a sneaky source of RBI at the catcher position.

1B – Prince Fielder ($18): We’ve yearned to see Prince Fielder exploit Globe Life Park in Arlington for long enough. The big man is ready to let it fly in the Lone Star State.

2B – Brett Lawrie ($9): I believe in Lawrie’s natural skills at the plate, though I also believe the Blue Jays tinkered with his swing too much. He’s poised for a fresh start in Oakland. The 15/15 potential with a .265-.280 batting average is nice at the keystone.

SS – Ian Desmond ($32): It’s Desmond or Tulo at short for me. I opted for the lower injury risk. The added stolen bases are a plus, too.

3B – Nolan Arenado ($20): About to turn 24, Arenado posted a .213 ISO and historically has hit for average. If he can reach 600 plate appearances, the possibilities are endless.

CI – Kris Bryant ($8): He’ll be in Triple-A for a few weeks, but for $8, I’m gonna bite the bullet to reap the later rewards. Too much talent here.

MI – Erick Aybar ($9): I value a steady middle infielder. Aybar offers a smattering of everything without being great anywhere. I dig it.

OF – Bryce Harper ($27): Don’t get me started. The dude is younger than Kris Bryant and has 20/20 potential—even if the running numbers didn’t show up a year ago. People are sick of hearing about Harpers’ potential without the elite returns. I think this is the year his critics will all swallow their tongues.

OF – Christian Yelich ($18): A wonderful pure hitter who will provide average, runs, and 20+ stolen bases. It’s unlikely that he reaches double-digit homers, but with above-average contributions in three other categories, I’ll forgive him.

OF – Jorge Soler ($9): Yes, please.

OF – Adam Eaton ($4): Eaton is undervalued because he only stole 15 bases a year ago. He’s only two seasons removed from swiping 46 bags, though. Now that he has a full big-league season under his belt, he’ll be more free on the basepaths and capitalize on his stellar batting average.

OF – Michael Cuddyer ($2): It’s all about injuries, not talent.

UTIL – Brandon Moss ($8): I wanted a bit more power at the back-end of my position players. Only 12 big-league hitters have more homers than Moss the past two years. For under ten bucks, I’m in.

UTIL – Danny Santana ($3): People don’t like the high BABIP or his lack of prospect pedigree, but the dude can flat out hit. His swing is quality and he offers 20+ stolen bases for only three dollars.

SP – Madison Bumgarner ($24): The dude had me at hello.

SP – Jacob deGrom ($14): Owns an 11.7 percent swinging-strike rate with quality ground-ball and command rates. He’s still dotting his mid-90s fastball on the outside corner at the knees this spring.

SP – Michael Pineda ($8): I covered him a couple weeks ago as one of the pitchers I’m targeting in drafts this year.

SP – Masahiro Tanaka ($6): Too. Much. Filth.

SP – Taijuan Walker ($4): It’s not about his spring numbers. It’s about his pedigree and the ballpark.

SP – Kyle Lohse ($1): This was discussed above, but Lohse has been ranked in the top-47 starters the past two years. People are waiting for the wheels to fall off. As the fastball loses zip, though, the secondary pitches have only improved.

RP – Cody Allen ($12): One of my favorite closers on a quality club. That’s a nice match.

RP – Drew Storen ($12): People are scared of Storen because he lacks the track record in the ninth and is a season removed from a 4.52 ERA. Of course, that’s sandwiched between two sub-2.50 ERA seasons with 50+ percent ground-ball rates. He’s not a home-run machine and should establish himself this season as an above-average closer on a really good team.

RP – Tyler Clippard ($4): Doolittle is dealing with a shoulder injury, so Clippard gets the nod in the meantime. Hint: shoulder injuries are nasty and often result in more time on the DL than expected.

Thank you for reading

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Love your Rotation and 'Pen! And, that OF of yours? #NothingButUpside (even with Cuddy!)
I'm 100% onboard with Jacob deGrom and Lawrie too; I own him in every league.