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 15th 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 November draft…
C – Willson Contreras $4 (K)
C – Derek Norris $5 (D)
1B – Anthony Rizzo $28 (K)
3B – Hernan Perez $5 (D)
1/3 – Jose Abreu $10 (K)
2B – Cesar Hernandez $7 (K)
SS – Brandon Crawford $11 (K)
2/S – Jonathan Scoop $6 (K)
OF – Yasiel Puig $13 (K)
OF – Nelson Cruz $35 (D)
OF – Odubel Herrera $16 (K)
OF – Domingo Santana $11 (D)
OF – Jayson Werth $10 (D)
U – Leonys Martin $1 (D)
P – David Robertson $15 (D)
P – Matt Moore $14 (D)
P – Julio Urias $4 (K)
P – Jeff Samardzija $9 (D)
P – Tyler Thornburg $9 (D)
P – John Lackey $6 (D)
P – Gio Gonzalez $7 (D)
P – Jerad Eickhoff $6 (K)
P – Zack Greinke $19 (D)
FARM – Willy Adames (K)
FARM – Gleyber Torres (K)
FARM – Yoan Moncada (K)
FARM – Alex Verdugo (K)
To lend some insight into the keeper salaries, players drafted in the auction have their salary increase $5 each season. So, for example, Eickhoff 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 5th 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) Roman Quinn, Lucas Giolito, Alex Reyes, David Price, Yordano Ventura, Steven Matz, Luis Valbuena, Sonny Gray & 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 2016, the Dux had the 6th pick in this supplemental phase as the first of 13 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, the obvious hole was created when Thornburg was traded to the BoSox and lost his opportunities for Saves. That was a critical issue because having only one Closer is a distinct disadvantage. The priorities easily became crystal clear. If there was an established Closer at #6, grab him! The key was identifying if any available Pitcher fit the bill. It didn’t take much research to find that Kelvin Herrera was the only choice. All the other “Save” guys had enough question marks to make them a risk in the 1st round. Examples at that time (March 21st) were Shawn Kelley, Cam Bedrosian, Greg Holland, Jim Johnson and Neftali Feliz. So, if Herrera was taken ahead of me, what other players were the priorities? Clay Bellinger & Eloy Jiminez were the two best available prospects and there were a few everyday players who might be good enough to keep for two seasons ($1 this year and $6 next year)…Eric Thames, Yangervis Solarte, Didi Gregorius, Josh Reddick, Joe Panik and a few others. That gave me enough names to cover the #6 pick if Herrera was gone.
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, the wheels were turning for 15 separate owners and here are the 1st Round results…
> 1.01 Seth Beer – As mentioned earlier, some teams love to dig deep…he’s a 20 year-old OF at Clemson University.
> 1.02 Eric Thames – 50% of his Korea numbers make him a good choice.
> 1.03 Cody Bellinger – Dodger’s 1B in 2018?
> 1.04 Eloy Jiminez – Another great Cub prospect.
> 1.05 Ronald Acuna – A 19 year-old Braves OF with lots of upside.
> 1.06 Kelvin Herrera – This was the Dux #1 choice based on roster need and we were happy to get him in this spot.
> 1.07 Howie Kendrick – This team has a great keeper list and was looking for an everyday player to add counting stats.
> 1.08 Michael Kopech – Traded to the White Sox in the Chris Sale deal, he’s a SP who lights up the radar gun.
> 1.09 Brent Honeywell – Will probably be in the Rays rotation sometime this season.
> 1.10 Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – An 18 year-old slugger, I’m guessing he’s a free swinger.
> 1.11 Hisashi Iwakuma – Arguably, the best SP on the board.
> 1.12 Francisco Mejia – Catchers are a scare commodity in this format and getting one early in their career is a good idea.
> 1.13 Ramon Laureano – There’s always at least one player taken in the 1st round whose name I don’t recognize…that has a tendency to keep you humble. He’s a 22 year-old Astros OF who had a .955 OPS in the Minors during 2016.
> 1.14- Mitch Keller – A 20 year-old Pirates SP who had 138 K’s and only 19 BB in the Minors last season
> 1.15 Cam Bedrosian – Saves are always a valuable commodity.
The Dux didn’t have a 2nd round pick due to a trade made last season, so we had to watch while Closers like Johnson & Holland went off the board along with a bunch of prospects including Mickey Moniak, Amir Garrett, Jason Groome & Zack Collins. SP’s such as Michael Wacha & Ivan Nova were also gone before our next pick at 3.06 but I was surprised to see that Solarte was still available. His addition gives the roster some flexibility, as Perez can be shifted from 3B to OF in case one of those guys doesn’t perform.
> Round 4 Lourdes Gurriel – With the opening day roster now intact, it was time to add a long-term prospect. The 2017 season should give us a good idea of his potential.
> Round 5 Jaime Garcia & Jason Castro – Garcia will fill in for Urias for the first month and every team needs a back-up Catcher.
> Round 6 Brandon Moss – Surprised to see him here…power bat and dual position eligibility.
> Round 7 Joe Jimenez – Will KRod still be the Tigers Closer after this season?
> Round 8 Didi Gregorius – Only his DL stint let him drop this far and he could be a keeper in ’18.
> Round 9 Kyle Lewis – The Mariners #1 prospect.
> Round 10 Thomas Szapucki – Young SP in the Mets organization.
> Round 11 Brad Hand – The Padres version of Andrew Miller?
> Round 12 Dylan Cozens – I don’t know much about him either.
> Round 13 Kolby Allard – Braves pitching prospect.
Obviously, the management team for our franchise has an eye on the future with ten Farm players on our 40-man roster.
How will the Dux fare? Our stat website projects a highly competitive league with four teams having 98+ points. The Dux are in the next group with 80+ points, so as Marlon Brando once said (sort of), “we could be a contendah”…or we could be re-building by the All-Star break.
More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com