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In the “My Model Portfolio” series, the fantasy staff will create their own team within a $260 auction budget using Mike Gianella’s latest mixed league Bid Limits for 2017. The scoring is 5×5 standard roto. The roster being constructed includes: C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, CI, MI, 5 OF, 2 UTIL, and 9 P.

The Process

I rode this top-two strategy to a dynamic seventh-place finish (out of nine, mind you), so I figured why not double down this year? It’s a risky strategy, putting so many eggs in one basket, and if you make a mistake like I did last year in entrusting my fate to Bryce Harper’s kitschy bat decals, well, the water up that there creak gets mighty murky right quick. I won this thing three years ago with Trout skippering the dinghy, and I got what I wanted out of Mookie last year. So clearly there’s mojo on my side here, and I look forward to watching this thing work all work out.

The Offense

C

Mike Zunino

$1

1B

Eric Hosmer

$12

2B

Dustin Pedroia

$12

3B

Nick Castellanos

$11

SS

Dee Gordon

$20

CI

Lucas Duda

$5

MI

Javier Baez

$6

OF

Mike Trout

$49

OF

Mookie Betts

$41

OF

Stephen Piscotty

$13

OF

Andrew Benintendi

$13

OF

Keon Broxton

$11

Util

Greg Bird

$3

Util

Nomar Mazara

$8

Total

$205 (75.9%)

Go big, young man. Am I wildly overpaying for the top two offensive players in fantasy baseball? Probably, yeah. Certainly in terms of potential for surplus value generation, anyway. Trout, for all his wonder, earned $37 in mixed leagues last year, $32 the year before. So on one hand shelling out such premium fare feels kind of dirty given that context. On the other…man, is there something to be said for elite consistency. Bracketing the standard specter of catastrophic injury, the opportunity to put $65-70 in the bank up front from these two is just too tantalizing a prospect for me to not do.

And I think I’ve given myself ample opportunity to reap outsized returns with the rest of my outfield to offset some of the net loss I’ll be taking on my top two, as well. Stephen Piscotty was a $17 mixed-league player last year even with a second-half swoon, and he has progressed pretty much exactly how you want a young hitter to progress, right on down to saying all the right things about making next-step adjustments. If there are indeed 30 homers in that bat, as I suspect there very well can be, then he’s a steal at this price point. You give Keon Broxton and Andrew Benintendi 600 plate appearances apiece this summer, and they’re right there with Better Piscotty from a value standpoint. Broxton was on a $20 pace last season, while Benintendi has the kind of diversified skillset and peak lineup perch to generate that kind of return.

My utility spots feature two more young outfielders drooling upside all over the floor. Everything that has happened in Nomar Mazara’s developmental journey to date leads me to believe that he can grow in Year Two, and even if he can’t, at least we’ll still always have this. Bird’s anointment as the starting first baseman in New York means he’ll have an opportunity to build on 2015’s mini-breakout in an everyday role. I don’t trust the batting average, but the swing sure look tailor-made for exploiting the short porch.

I feel comfortable investing in a couple all-power, no-speed guys in my utility slots because I’ve got Dee Gordon serving as my stolen-base anchor. His value took a huge hit with the PED suspension in 2016, but he quietly returned in the aftermath to still swipe 30 bags in 79 games, netting $12 of mixed-league value in just half a season. His batted ball profile last year should put the kibosh on anyone expecting another run at .330 this year, but if he’s able to split the difference between his last two seasons and get on base at a .320 to .330 clip he has the kind of category-clinching potential we typically reserve for hypothetical discussions about Billy Hamilton.

I don’t like Eric Hosmer – that groundball rate is seriously terrifying – but he’s a durable dude, Yost loves him, he’ll play every day and drum up a ton of counting stats, and the price is right. He was a $16 player last year, and there’s no reason he can’t do that again this year. Meanwhile the emergence of Ruthian longball expectations at second base has led to Pedroia sliding through a lot of cracks despite coming off a healthy and productive rebound campaign. He’s probably not going to start stealing a bunch of bases again at 33, but he is going to score a boatload of runs at the top of that lineup (hopefully with most of ‘em courtesy of Mookie Betts) and should push .300 if healthy.

Castellanos and Baez are two of my favorite targets this year, with the former undervalued on account of taking a fastball off the hand in the middle of his breakout, and the latter largely on account of playing time concerns. I’ve written a bunch about Castellanos this winter, and I’m all-in. Baez is never going to be confused for Joey Votto, but especially in standard leagues there is a 20-20 season with a not-terrible batting average just sitting here waiting to burst through the wall Kool-Aid Man-style.

Duda’s made some mechanical tweaks this spring that look to have improved his barrel efficiency into the zone, and so far he’s held onto the lift in his swing that makes him so dangerous. He’s getting pretty drastically undervalued in drafts right now, going off the board 28th among first basemen in NFBC leagues behind dudes like Mitch Moreland and Brandon Moss. At this price and in this role I like the gamble on his balky back holding up.

Finally Mike Zunino is, once again, laying waste to spring training pitching and conjuring up optimism, once again, that his long-awaited breakout in the box is finally at hand. But at a position where the 10th-best option last season earned a whopping five bucks, there’s really not much sense going off all gangbusters after a big-dollar investment. If Zunino crashes and burns again, oh well, I’ll still live to fight another day elsewhere. And if he does get it together, I earn a few extra bucks for punting the position.

The Pitching

P

Carlos Martinez

$18

P

Jameson Taillon

$12

P

Sean Manaea

$8

P

Lance McCullers

$7

P

Kevin Gausman

$6

P

Mike Foltynewicz

$3

P

Brandon Finnegan

$1

P

Cam Bedrosian

$9

P

Carl Edwards Jr

$1

Total

$65 (24.1%)

Boy, my staff is not without its injury questions marks, eh?

If he ain’t there already, Martinez is close, man. That control of his is all that stands in the way of him stepping out of the hazy greys of the mid-rotation and seizing his place at the top of a rotation. He got less efficient as he wore down in the second half, but these things happen, and he earned $20 in spite of it. I like his potential to take another step forward this year and justify the investment.

Taillon has a medical file that can stack up against anybody’s, but last year finally managed to stay healthy and log his innings. They were mighty impressive innings, too. He didn’t whiff a ton of guys, but he did get them to pound the ball into the ground regularly, and he made them earn their way on base. The raw stuff suggests potential for the whiffs to tick up, and despite all the missed time his 160 innings last year suggests a solid baseline from which to jump up into full-season range.

Three next four names on this list – Manaea, McCullers, and Foltynewicz – all fit neatly into the same big bucket of injury-prone, pre-breakout starters that Taillon arguably resides within, as well. If just two of them can stay on the bump long enough to take the steps forward that I think they can take, my staff’ll sit pretty. Manaea’s sequencing and execution both made great strides in the second half last year, while McCullers showed elite bat-missing ability when he pitched. And Folty has received more than his share of internet ink by my keyboard this off-season.

Gausman would join them, except he’s actually gone and put up a double-digit earnings year now. After boosting his innings last year and dramatically improving his curveball’s effectiveness, I like him to take another step forward this year and return nice profit on this cost. And Finnegan at a buck feels like a really nice buy-low for a kid who flashed plenty of potential and durability last year. Barring injury he should have a full season’s worth of starts to show the rebuilding Reds whether he has that next level, and I’m at least bullish enough to think he can net me seven to ten bucks of profit from the back end of my rotation.

I’ve made it a habit of going cheap on the bullpen in these exercises, and it hasn’t really worked out yet, so I figure I’m due. Bedrosian sure looks the part of a really good closer who will have no business ceding the role back to Huston Street, though Mike Sciossia is a man of loyalties, so this one could indeed come back to bite me. But even without a full season of Saves, I still see Bedrosian as capable of coming near this value. Edwards is a guy I’ve bought far and wide this winter, as he has elite stuff capable of racking of huge strikeout totals and producing Betancian value in the middle innings.

The Prediction

I like my chances of producing huge returns out of that outfield, with some pathways to consistent surplus value rounding out my offense. The staff is very much the boom-or-bust kind, with lots of big stuff and lots of injury history. If the rotation holds and Edwards does what I expect him to out of the ‘pen, I like my chances to post a strong overall earnings number with this squad.

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