Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Oldies but Goodies: Five Aging Stars with Fantasy Upside

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By: Russell Shaffer

Fantasy baseball, just like the MLB, is all about assembling the most productive team possible. But unless you play in a keeper or salary cap league, that’s about where the similarities begin and end.

Age makes a big difference in real-life baseball when it comes to contract length and cost and assessing whether a player is trending up or fading into the sunset. In a standard single-season 5x5 rotisserie league, however, age should be irrelevant. What difference does it make whether your fantasy SS hits .316 with 15 HR and 58 RBI and is age 38 or 25? None at all!

I’ve never been able to figure out the sweeping reluctance fantasy players have toward taking a proven superstar just because he is getting a little long in the tooth. So many players would rather bet the farm on a career year (caution those targeting R.A. Dickey and Edwin Encarnacion) or unproven prospects (Will Myers and Jurickson Profar are not likely to be Mike Trout or even Bryce Harper) rather than taking an almost money-in-the-bank stat line based off the career averages of a future Hall of Famer with a 15-year track record.

The following five players are now closer to getting their AARP card than when they made their MLB debut and each is not without risk. However, based on where you can expect them to go in drafts each presents significant fantasy value based on their lengthy HOF resumes.

Derek Jeter (New York Yankees, SS): Yes, I know The Captain is coming off a broken ankle in October, was looking a little hefty in winter tabloid shots and will be 39 in June. I also know he’s Derek Jeter – arguably one of the 10 best players in the history of the game. If you didn’t recognize the stat line in the opening, it was Jeter’s from 2012. He seems a likely lock for a .290 AVG, 10+ HR, 55 RBI, 10+ SB and 100 R if healthy, and to hear from the man who knows best he should be ready to go on Opening Day. For a 12th or 13th round pick that is capable of putting up those numbers at a scarce position, you could do a lot worse. And if you pass on Jeter, you probably will.

Even at age 39, Jeter still can help your fantasy team with his well-rounded game at a shallow position

Alfonso Soriano (Chicago Cubs, OF): Jeter’s former double-play partner (yes, kids, Soriano played 2B for the Yankees) is coming off a season in which he hit 32 HR and surprisingly tallied a career-high 108 RBI at age 36. His defense in LF has long been suspect (fortunately you don’t lose fantasy points for errors) and he is never more than a play away from a pulled hamstring, but Soriano has always been a bona fide source of power when in the lineup. He has only hit less than 20 HR in a full season once and with Anthony Rizzo protecting him for an entire season Soriano should easily smack 25 HR and drive in 85 if he can log 130 games. He won’t steal you many bases anymore (just 6 in 2012), but if you can get that kind of run production with a 20th or 21st round pick why not take a flyer on someone with a proven track record?

Carlos Beltran (St. Louis Cardinals, OF): Like Soriano, Beltran was once a legitimate 30/30 threat before knee problems sapped much of his SB potential. He will still swipe a bag now and then, but if you are drafting Beltran you’re doing so for his proven run production. Beltran hit .269 with 32 HR and 97 RBI last year in St. Louis and is coming back to a strong lineup that plays in a division full of hitter-friendly parks. The knee is always a concern, but Beltran seems committed to earning another contract with the Cardinals and is beginning to see that Cooperstown could be just a few more productive seasons away. The opportunity to sign another lucrative deal with a perennial contender and reach baseball immortality should motivate Beltran to do whatever he can to stay on the field and put up big numbers. If that proves to be the case the soon-to-be 36-year-old is more than worth a mid-round pick.

Paul Konerko (Chicago White Sox, 1B): Konerko is one of those players that you don’t realize just how good he is until you examine his numbers. When you do, you find a consistent slugger who has clubbed 25 or more HRs 10 times and driven in 100 runs six times (plus seasons of 99, 97 and 90 RBI). Unlike many power-hitting 1B, Konerko doesn't just swing for the fences and can usually be expected to hit somewhere around .300. The fact that Konerko will be 37 on Opening Day, he suffered a concussion in August that limited his production the rest of the way and 1B is loaded with a bunch of proven stars and emerging studs are all reasons why Konerko’s stock is falling. His pedigree and the fact you can get him after the top 1Bs are off the board while spending earlier picks to shore up other positions is why he should be on your radar.

Konerko is a top tier first basemen without the ADP of some of the bigger name guys

Roy Halladay (Philadelphia Phillies, SP): Doc was out for much of 2012 thanks to nagging injuries to his back and shoulder. Despite the time lost, the prototypical innings eater still logged 156.1 IP and managed to notch 11 victories. His K/IP rate of .84 was only slightly below his 2011 mark of .94 when he fanned 220 in 233.2 IP – indicating the strikeouts should be there if he is healthy enough to pile up the innings. What was alarming was his 4.49 ERA – his highest mark since 2000. Chances are he’s never going to hit his 2.35 of 2011 or 2.44 of 2010 again, but a 3.00-3.50 mark is not only respectable for a guy who will be 36 in May it is also very realistic. What is likely to hurt Halladay’s value is a sagging offense that might not help him to as many wins in a tougher National League East as well as shoddy play behind him in the form of The Young and the Defenseless – Delmon and Michael Young. While his reputation made him a deserving 1st or 2nd round pick in 2012, his injury-plagued struggles should find him falling until at least the 10th round this year. If you can get him any time after that, take the gamble in hopes Doc has the prescription for one more Cy Young season.

Follow Russell Shaffer on Twitter @RussellShaffer

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