This is a big time of year for keeper league owners. There's little happening in the way of ongoing news with our fantasy players, so now is a great time for each franchise to dwell on who their potential keepers will be. Although many dedicated owners may have spent much of the winter undergoing this exercise, now is especially timely. Pitchers and catchers are closer to reporting to spring training, and with that, some of the lesser-dedicated owners might now be more inclined to pay attention and–more importantly–be ready to trade.

Because we get so many keeper questions this time of year, I thought I'd go through the process in which I decide my keepers, by walking you through my decisions for my RotoWire Staff League team. First, a little background on the league. It's an 18-team, 5×5, mixed (both AL & NL) auction league, with each team getting $260 auction dollars to spend. Roster size for each team is 40 players (23 active, 7 reserve, 10 minor leaguers). You can keep up to 15 major leaguers on your roster (but they all have to fit into active roster spots) and up to all 10 minor leaguers on your roster. A player qualifies for minor league status (and thus costs nothing to keep) if you originally drafted him as a minor leaguer, you never made him active on your fantasy roster, and he has 20 or fewer games of major league experience.

There are a number of other important rules, including how the salaries adjust over the rules. If you're interested in the specifics, you can read our league's constitution here. I'll allude to some of those rules throughout the rest of this discussion. When I refer to a player's contract as an "A" contract, it means that he just completed the first year on my roster at that price and can be renewed at the same price this year. A player with a "B" contract either has to be renewed for one more year at the price (and then let go at the end of the season), or given a long-term contract extension.

Here's the process I go through when go over my potential keepers.


  1. Who do I have under long-term contract?

    My team, George Foster's Bombs, went for it last year and ended up finishing second. Surprisingly enough, in all of my deadline deals, I didn't pick up any additional long-term contracts than what I started with. So, the only two players locked into long-term deals are Bobby Abreu, signed through 2006 at $42, and Mark Teixeira, signed through 2007 at $27. In a redraft league, the price on Abreu would be on the high side, but in a keeper league with 15 keepers per team, he's still far less than what he'd cost in an auction. Amount spent so far: $69.


  2. Who are my definite keepers?

    In a 15-keeper environment, if you can't rattle off three to five no-brainer keepers, you should strongly consider trading, either with rebuilding in mind, or trying to turn one or two of your good but not great keepers into one sure thing. Positional scarcity isn't a huge consideration here–these players should be good enough for the price that it doesn't matter where they play. These are my definite keepers: Casey Kotchman ($3A), Chad Tracy ($3A), Grady Sizemore ($3A), Khalil Greene ($3A), John Lackey ($11A), Mark Buehrle ($13B) and Chris Ray ($2A). The first four players here were all products of my farm system–they were in the first year of their "major league" contract, automatically as $3 players last year. I'll have to decide whether to give Buehrle a contract extension or renew him before this year's draft–given his workload over the last four years, I'm leaning towards the latter option. Note that I already have two first basemen (Teixeira and Kotchman) filling my 1B and corner infield spots–that's going to affect my decision on another player, and help shape my draft as well. Fortunately, Tracy played in the outfield enough to qualify there, until I can slot him at third base two weeks into this season. Total spent so far, on nine players: $107


  3. Who definitely won't be kept?

    These players fall into three categories: players who were in their "walk" years and can't be kept, players who are no longer worth their contract price, or players whose talent just don't merit a keeper spot. At the end of the year, I ended up with seven players in their walk years–Billy Wagner, Jason Isringhausen, Matt Clement, Brad Penny, David Wells, Luis Gonzalez (the Arizona OF version) and Matt LeCroy. I'm throwing back the following players: Alfonso Soriano ($57A), Jim Edmonds ($40B), Fernando Rodney ($25A), Jason Vargas ($2A) and three players who had minor league contracts last year–Tagg Bozied, Terry Tiffee and Dustin Moseley. Even after accounting for inflation, I would have had a hard time justifying Soriano's contract before the trade to Washington, but after the trade, it was an easy decision to let him go back into the pool. His home OPS last year was 1.011, while on the road he dropped to .639. Now he's going to the opposite extreme in RFK. I might regret not retaining Edmonds, but he's showing enough signs of attrition and decline for me to shy away from him, at least at that price.


  4. Players on the Fence:

    This is the tough part of the evaluation. I have six major league keeper slots open and nine players to choose from. Keep in mind that I don't have to keep 15 players, and in fact in some seasons having the extra draft slot available can be a valuable commodity. This might be one of those seasons. We're in the fourth year of the league, which means that we'll have our first infusion of walk-year players back into the auction pool. The caliber of player available in the auction should be higher than in the last two drafts. Here are the remaining players, with their 2005 contracts and relevant comments.


    • Sean Casey ($7B): The price is right for Casey–even if he has another season without power, he'll almost certainly earn more than the contracted price. While changing ballparks will hurt his already-low power output, chances are his batting average won't change much, and that alone makes him worth the price. Still, both my particular situation, owning both Kotchman and Teixeira already, and the league dynamics work against me keeping him. There's going to be a lot of talent available in the auction, from all the walk-year contracts expiring. That includes David Ortiz, who was inexplicably not given a contract extension despite having an initial contract of only $1. I'd have to use Casey at my utility slot, and I don't want that spot tied up on someone who plays the least scarce position in the game, yet doesn't hit for much in the way of power. I'll look to trade him to someone who doesn't already have a first baseman or has a few slots to fill, trying to package him with another player to get one premium player in return. If I can't get good value in a trade, I'm perfectly content to toss him back in the auction.


    • Tadahito Iguchi ($15A): Iguchi won't be an elite second baseman, but I expect at least more of the same from him. At a scarce position and in an inflated market, that's good enough for me.


    • Ben Molina ($7A): Now that Molina has signed with the Jays and will get reasonable playing time in a good park and lineup, he should fairly easily be worth the $7 it'll cost to keep him. He hits for average and has a modicum of power, which is all you can ask for out of your catcher. I'm keeping him.


    • Ryan Zimmerman ($7A): Because Chad Tracy eventually will qualify at third base (and presumably only qualify there after 2006), Zimmerman isn't a mandatory keeper at this price, especially given my corner infield situation. I could simply opt to keep him and slot Tracy in the outfield all year, deferring any tough decision I have to make until next year. What makes the decision more difficult is he has so little professional experience at any level. Right now, I'm leaning towards keeping him or trading him.


    • Brian Giles ($26A): I would have been much happier if he would have signed anywhere but San Diego. He had a home OPS of .795, while coming in at 1.008 on the road last year. Still, in a league where inflation will likely still run pretty high (albeit not as high as 2005), his numbers will still be worth the $26 it'll take to keep him. Worth noting is that he'll be my fourth outfielder kept if I retain him. I don't want to use up all five of my outfield spots, so essentially I'm choosing between Giles and Trot Nixon (see below). For now, my choice is Giles.


    • Trot Nixon ($19A): Nixon's health and platoon issues are what make me a little more wary of him than Giles. If I could be reasonably sure that he'd approach what he did in 2003, I'd be more inclined to go with him, but I'll admit my expectations run lower than that. Add in that he doesn't steal bases and Giles generally gets 10-12 bags per season, and that's enough to go with Giles over him.


    • Edgar Renteria ($31A): While I want to believe that Renteria isn't as bad as he's been the last two seasons, I'm not willing to spend $31 on him just to find out, particularly with my ongoing roster sitting at $162 already. Both his power and speed trends are negative, and while he might have more free rein to run in Atlanta than he had in Boston, that's counteracted by him moving to a less potent lineup, giving him fewer run-scoring opportunities. If I were more confident that he'd run more, then it would be a harder decision. The one thing my lineup is missing is that one big stolen base guy. I'm going to let him go back into the auction pool.


    • Livan Hernandez ($12B): Hernandez's performance declined in 2005 enough to make me worry whether this is a safe keep. Starting pitching, beyond the elite starters, tends to go fairly cheap in the auction, so I can probably get him or someone similar for the same price. Both his ongoing knee troubles and the drop in his strikeout rate are negative indicators. Even though he's somewhat inexpensive, I'm going to toss him back.


    • Scott Linebrink ($2A): The impact that Linebrink's excellent ERA and WHIP make are somewhat muted in a 5×5 league, but the good news is that he'll vulture enough wins as a set-up man to make it worthwhile anyway. Add in the fact that Akinori Otsuka is now in Texas and there's nobody else in front of Linebrink to collect the saves that don't go to Trevor Hoffman, and this is a pretty easy keep.


  5. Minor Leaguers

    My farm system is pretty thin, because of trades and promotions of my better prospects. I'm going to keep Eric Duncan (3b/1b, NYY), Ryan Sweeney (of, CHI-A) and probably Alberto Callaspo (2b, ANA). I'm going to toss back Josh Wilson (ss, COL), Tagg Bozied (1b, SD), Terry Tiffee (3b, MIN) and Dustin Moseley (p, ANA).

    After all is said and done, here's how my roster looks:

    Position        Player        Salary
    C          Bengie Molina        7
    C         (open)
    1B         Mark Teixeira       27
    2B         Tadahito Iguchi     15
    SS         Khalil Greene        3
    3B         Ryan Zimmerman       7
    CI         Casey Kotchman       3
    MI        (open)
    OF         Bobby Abreu         42
    OF         Chad Tracy           3
    OF         Grady Sizemore       3
    OF         Brian Giles         26
    OF        (open)
    UT        (open)
    P         Mark Buehrle         13
    P         John Lackey          11
    P         Chris Ray             2
    P         Scott Linebrink       2
    P         (open)
    P         (open)
    P         (open)
    P         (open)
    P         (open)
            Total                 164

    That leaves me with $96 left to spend on four hitter slots and five pitcher slots. I'll be targeting speed and starting pitching with most of my money.


Jeff Erickson is the senior editor at Rotowire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at noon ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

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