How would you like to be invited to participate in the most unique Fantasy Baseball league in the industry? Looking back to 2002, the Old Duck was thrilled to be part of the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), the vision of Ron Shandler and the first industry keeper league. Some of the most respected pundits and players of the game were kind enough to invite three “challengers” to be included as part of the 12-team group. As one of these home-league players, I was nervous and excited to sit down at the draft table that November and test my skills against the best.
As we enter our 14th season, it has been a great ride for this lifetime baseball fan. We’ve expanded to 15 teams and the camaraderie established over the years has led to genuine friendships with a great group of guys. And, to my surprise, the Quacker has turned out to be a decent player with championships in 2005, 2009, 2011 & 2012.
The XFL is a 5×5 keeper league (with OBP instead of BA) that has an auction budget of $260 for 23 players. We conduct the draft only a month after the baseball season ends and no research (or computers) are allowed at the table. Utilizing just MLB depth charts handed out prior to the first player being nominated, it is a test of your player-pool knowledge and prognostication. There is a significantly high inflation factor because many of the players on the keeper lists have salaries much lower than their projected values. Here’s the roster of Donald’s Dux following the draft…
C – Francisco Cervelli $6 (K)
C – Devin Mesoraco $11 (K)
1B – Anthony Rizzo $23 (K)
3B – Matt Duffy $10 (K)
1/3 – Jose Abreu $7 (K)
2B – Cesar Hernandez $2 (D)
SS – Brandon Crawford $6 (K)
2/S – Eugenio Suarez $10 (K)
OF – Yasiel Puig $10 (K)
OF – Andrew McCutchen $22 (K)
OF – Odubel Herrera $11 (D)
OF – Ben Revere $18 (D)
OF – Colby Rasmus $6 (K)
U – Michael Brantley $17 (K)
P – Francisco Liriano $18 (D)
P – Zach Britton $15 (D)
P – Jacob DeGrom $15(K)
P – Jeff Samardzija $11 (D)
P – James Shields $15 (D)
P – John Lackey $8 (D)
P – Jason Hammel $5 (D)
P – Jerad Eickhoff $1 (D)
P – A.J Ramos $11 (D)
To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Cervelli was drafted for $1 the previous year. Any player who qualifies as a rookie has his salary increase only $3 each season. So, because the Dux drafted Puig in 2013 before he appeared in an actual major league game, he is entering his 4th season on the roster. The league plays the season with 40-man rosters (23 active each week), so at the end of March there is a supplemental, on-line, snake draft to fill the remaining slots. These legal supplements can have a huge influence on the success of your team because so much can happen between November & March. For the teams who drafted (or kept) Joey Gallo, Yu Darvish, Eduardo Rodriguez, Max Kepler, Trea Turner, Carson Smith, Greg Bird, Aroldis Chapman, Jhonny Peralta & others, the first few rounds of this supplemental phase are critical to their team’s ability to contend.
As the result of finishing 7th in 2015, the Dux had the 6th pick in this supplemental phase as the first of 14 players to be added to the roster. As always, it becomes a lesson in strategy as to the utilization of scarce resources from a pool where over 350 players were already rostered . Looking at the Dux team, there weren’t any glaring weaknesses because all the players were still in the major leagues. The minor issues were Brantley starting the year on the DL and needing to add some additional power. The priorities easily became crystal clear. Take the best “HR” player at #6, add pitching depth and acquire back-ups for 2B & 3B.
Now, a word about prospects. Due to deep rosters, teams are not shy when it comes to rostering young players low in the minors and holding them until they’re ready. This is one of the key elements to a “dynasty” format and the owners in this league know everything about projectable minor leaguers, college players and even an occasional high-school phenom. In any given year, you could take a top-20 prospect list from your favorite publication or website and about 18 of them are already on one of the XFL rosters. The real gems in the 1st round of the supplemental draft are players who have rookie status and a major league job like Jose Abreu, who I selected with the first pick in 2014.
Teams have very difficult choices in the initial rounds, as they need to balance filling holes on their roster with also acquiring some long-term talent. This year, as we gathered at our computers on March 30th, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the 1st Round results…
> 1.01 Kenta Maeda – The perfect pick in a “Dynasty” format because he has rookie status and a major league job.
> 1.02 Blake Snell – A consensus top pitching product, he should contribute later this year.
> 1.03 Yulieski Gurriel – This Cuban veteran hasn’t signed yet, but scouts say he’s major league ready.
> 1.04 Anderson Espinosa – Another young pitching prospect but he’s only 18 years old.
> 1.05 Byung Ho Park – Like Maeda, a great pick due to rookie status and major league job. A little surprising to see him available at this spot.
> 1.06 Jonathan Schoop – This was the Dux “HR” pick. The others on the list for this spot were Park, Mark Trumbo & Domingo Santana. Santana doesn’t yet have a track record and even though Trumbo had a higher projection, 2B was the weakest position in this draft. This also gives the squad a back-up to Hernandez, who isn’t a proven commodity after only a partial season.
> 1.07 Trevor Story – Jose Reyes’ pending suspension and a spectacular Spring moved this player up the board.
> 1.08 A.J. Reed – Impressive young hitter who will probably be in the Astros line-up sooner rather than later.
> 1.09 Archie Bradley – A recent top prospect who lost some of his luster after a horrific injury in 2015. Could be significant upside in this pick.
> 1.10 Vincent Velasquez – Starting pitching was at a premium in this draft and the Phillies 5th SP has good stuff, but little experience.
> 1.11 Glen Perkins – There are always a number of Closers available due to all the bullpen changes between November & March. Passed over in the auction due to injury concerns, Perkins is a solid pick in this spot
> 1.12 Lewis Brinson – A very impressive young OF for the Rangers, he’ll be knocking on the door soon.
> 1.13 Brad Ziegler – Another Closer who wasn’t a lock back in November.
> 1.14- Domingo Santana – Has three projectable traits…HR’s, SB’s & K’s.
> 1.15 Delvin Perez – Another highly-rated international prospect, this 17 year-old should sign very soon.
The first half of Round 2 included two more Closers in Fernando Rodney & Jeremy Jeffress, some additional prospects in Andrew Benintendi, Bradley Zimmer & Victor Robles along with veterans Trumbo & Nori Aoki.
At pick 2.10, the Dux would have liked to add a SP but none of the choices seemed worthy of the spot. Instead, we opted for Steve Cishek who could get some Saves in Seattle if one of our SP’s goes down in April.
At this point, it seemed like the timing was right to add a prospect, so in Round 3 we took Willson Contreras of the Cubs. Catchers are always at a premium in this format and Miguel Montero is only signed through ’17.
> Round 4 Andrelton Simmons – Even though he’s a SS, this pick essentially gives the team a back-up 3B because Suarez will qualify at the hot corner very quickly.
> Round 5 Tyler Naquin – Will start the season as the Indians CF and provides some insurance if Brantley’s return is delayed.
> Round 6 Colin Rea – Not much to choose from in the SP pool, he’ll be a fall back in case of injury.
> Round 7 Kurt Suzuki – XFL teams must have a back-up Catcher who plays enough to help, but not enough to hurt.
> Round 8 Gleyber Torres – By the time this 19 year-old SS gets to Wrigley Field maybe I’ll learn to spell his name.
> Round 9 Chase Headley – Everyday players on your bench can’t hurt.
> Round 10 Alex Verdugo – Only the #7 prospect in the Dodgers organization but he’ll play 2016 at age 19.
> Round 11 Darren O’Day – Britton insurance.
> Round 12 Seth Smith – Under-rated and overlooked.
> Round 13 Corey Knebel – This was done prior to his injury as a flier in case Jeffress has problems closing.
> Round 14 Tom Koehler – An innings-eater in the back of a rotation, you hope he’s not needed.
The 38th, 39th & 40th spots on the roster were filled by three supplemental picks from previous years who are still in the minor leagues…Willy Adames, Yoan Moncada & Julio Urias.
How will the Dux fare? Our stat website projects a highly competitive league with four teams having 95+ points. The Dux are in the group, so as Marlon Brando once said (sort of), “we could be a contendah”.
More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com