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Monday, January 14, 2013
Dynasty league draft: Rounds 1-10

By AJ Mass
ESPN.com

Every year, once the champagne from the World Series celebration has been finished off and a parade-load of ticker tape has been cleaned up, the annual player carousel springs into action.

This year, a total of 174 free agents hit the market in search of a potential new employer. For every Anibal Sanchez and Angel Pagan who opt to re-sign with their current team, there are just as many, if not more, players like Josh Hamilton and B.J. Upton who decide to take their services elsewhere, leaving hometown fans sporting jerseys that bear their names in the lurch.

Mike Trout
Whether you're playing just for 2013 or for many years down the line, Mike Trout is a slam-dunk choice for a top pick.

Throw in player movement as a result of trades, and some major league rosters look like they've been picked out of a hat. Miami Marlins fans, you know what we're talking about.

The revolving door nature of offseason player movement is a huge reason why more fantasy baseball players have started to turn to dynasty league formats. Dynasty leagues are more than just keeper leagues, where each owner may get to retain a handful of players each season. They can truly give you a chance to root for a player for as long as your heart desires.

Once a guy is on your roster, he can stay there until he retires.

Did you take a chance with a late-round flier on Mariano Rivera in 1995? Congratulations. You've enjoyed 18 seasons and 608 career saves as a result. Of course, picks can just as easily backfire on you. Remember Brien Taylor, anyone?

Of course, when you start a dynasty league from scratch you have to be of two minds. Sure, you want to create a team full of hot prospects and young players with tons of upside who may become the building blocks of a successful team for years to come, but you also have to draft enough established players who can help you today.

It's all well and good to be eyeballing a guy like the Seattle Mariners' Taijuan Walker, but if he ends up taking another two to three seasons to make the rotation, you can't be selecting him too early on in the proceedings while leaving scores of potential 12-game winners out there for your fellow owners to snatch up.

The ESPN Fantasy staff has decided to play general manager and take part in this delicate balancing act by holding our first-ever start-from-scratch dynasty league draft. We'll use a snake draft to stock a 40-man roster of players with the only caveat being that we need to be able to fill a standard 23-man lineup.

Other than that, though, we can draft current starters, minor league studs-in-waiting, guys currently playing in Japan, Mexico or Cuba, or even that eighth-grader with a nasty slider we saw last week at our local field.

We'll be presenting you with the results of our efforts over the next few weeks, starting with the first 10 rounds in today's report. Rounds 11-20 will be published next Monday. Rounds 21-30 will be unveiled on Jan. 28. On Feb. 4, the dynasty draft wraps up with the reveal of Rounds 31-40.

Our participants, listed in our selected-at-random first-round draft order, are as follows: Nate Ravitz, Tristan H. Cockcroft, David Schoenfield, Matthew Berry, Eric Karabell, me, Pierre Becquey, Brendan Roberts, Keith Lipscomb and James Quintong.

So without any further ado, we present each team's roster after the first quarter of the draft:

Nobody should be surprised by the selection of Trout at No. 1 overall, as he'll be a frequent resident of that spot in both one-and-done and keeper league formats. Ravitz has done a decent job of filling out the greater portion of an "Opening Day lineup," giving himself a solid foundation for a competitive team right out of the gate. Taveras is definitely a pick "for the future" but could well be in the mix for 2013 Rookie of the Year if he manages to get called up early enough in the season.

Taking Verlander ahead of Strasburg? Ravitz defends the move thusly: "Given the way pitchers get hurt and the way their performance can be affected by changes in environment -- new teammates, different ballpark, etc. -- it's a fool's errand to try to project anything past the next three or four years. As long as that span doesn't take Verlander too far past his physical prime, I ascribe little to no value to youth when it comes to starting pitchers."

There's a lot of buzz with Profar in Texas, and nobody truly knows exactly how much playing time the kid will get this season or what position (second base or shortstop) he may ultimately end up playing. But Ravitz clearly feels the talent is there: "He should be one of the top 3 in fantasy within two to three years at whichever middle infield position he ultimately settles."

The first five rounds are a strong start for Cockcroft's team, provided of course, that Castro lives up to his power potential and Kinsler's decline in home runs doesn't continue any further into the abyss. Myers should debut this year, it just depends on how soon. In a redraft league, taking him this early might be mock-worthy. In a dynasty format? There's no issue at all.

However, three first basemen in the last five rounds certainly is a head-scratcher. Cockcroft defends the Butler pick strongly, "I have Billy Butler rated two rounds sooner in terms of my keeper rankings, so he was a no-brainer in the sixth. He turns 27 on April 18 and is one of the safest .300-25 bets for the next five years outside of the top 25. Only three players in baseball have reached both of those plateaus in each of the past three seasons [Braun, Cabrera and Cano]."

However, with 20-20 hindsight, he would not have selected Rizzo at No. 62. "Frankly, had I known Davis would last until the 10th -- and I SHOULD'VE known that -- I'd have passed on Rizzo and taken Desmond Jennings. I had Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt and Davis somewhat closely ranked, all within four rounds of one another, and Davis would've simply been the better bargain."

This is a team that is clearly looking ahead to better days, as taking so many neophytes so early in the draft is a clear sign that 2013 may not be the year that Schoenfield raises that championship banner. However, his pitching staff is definitely off to a better start than most teams in this league and could well dominate that aspect of the game if that trend continues.

Is Bryce Harper really the No. 3 player in baseball? "Maybe not in 2013," Schoenfield admits. "But I couldn't resist passing him up in a dynasty league draft. After hitting .270 with 22 home runs, 18 steals and 98 runs as a rookie -- a 19-year-old rookie -- he's going to improve on all those numbers. I can see 30 bombs, 25 steals, 115 runs and maybe close to 100 RBIs depending on where he hits in the lineup."

Manny Machado was clearly another pick with an eye on the 2015 crown. Schoenfield's take? "Machado is still developing at the plate, but will hold his own in 2013, with projections having him at 15 to 20 home runs, 10 to 15 steals, .265 or so at the plate. Once the Orioles move him to shortstop in a year or two, he'll be a fantasy stud."

A very solid 10 rounds from Berry, as it seems that this is the "sweet spot" in the draft. It seemed that every time Berry's turn came around, he had just had his "on-deck list" trimmed by its remaining names in the 2-3 picks that preceded his. Yet, there always seemed to be one last player left in the appropriate tier still there for the taking.

For example, with pick No. 84, Berry was all set to take Matt Moore, but he went at No. 82. No worries, Salvador Perez was next on his list. Naturally, that virtually guaranteed his being snatched up at No. 83. So Berry went with Montero, whom he calls "the last dynasty worthy catcher left. He's just 23 and I'm hoping that Seattle's fences being moved in help even more."

Berry seems to be loading up at the corners and I couldn't help but wonder if he regrets picking third baseman Longoria immediately after taking Cabrera, who also mans the hot corner, in Round 1. The short answer was no. "Longoria has top-5 potential at a relatively scarce position and is young enough that he made sense to me as best player available towards the end of the second round, regardless of who else I had on my team," says Berry. And furthermore, Berry felt that at only 27, that "truly insane season" is just on the horizon.

If you had asked me before the draft which owner was going to (seemingly) ignore the fact that this was a dynasty draft and simply draft the best team for 2013 without regard to the future, Karabell would have been my pick. I've been working alongside him long enough to know he's not going to pass up players like Adrian Beltre simply because he's on "the wrong side of 30."

While that wasn't an active strategy going in, when asked about it, Karabell certainly seemed to confess. "I'm not saying that my colleagues are doing this, but there's a tendency in startup dynasty leagues to forget about trying to win the first few seasons. When productive players slip well beyond their normal draft slots, it's hard to pass up. Plus, it's not like Beltre is old. He's not A-Rod. Beltre is among the best in the game and should keep hitting for another three or four seasons."

Karabell also wasn't worried about where Michael Bourn, currently a free agent, might end up, expecting him to steal 40-plus bases for the next five years regardless of what uniform he wears. "He was a steal for ME, especially if his power jump wasn't just a contract push."

My preparation for this draft was to take my personal player values for 2013 and then to adjust them (either up or down) by a percentage of how much above or below the average age at each position each player currently was. So while I might like Matt Kemp or Josh Hamilton a bit more than Giancarlo Stanton for this upcoming season -- especially given the dearth of other bats in Miami's lineup -- in the long run I'd expect Stanton to be far more valuable, and worthy of a first-round selection.

Obviously, Freddie Freeman and Jose Altuve may be considered reaches at their positions for this year, but I'm also counting on some veterans with 2013 upsides slipping through the cracks in these first few rounds. There's still plenty of work left to be done to make this a viable contender, especially in the middle infield, but there is still plenty of draft remaining.

In a one-and-done league, I typically avoid closers until much later on, but there are really only a handful of reliable relievers out there under the age of 25, and few are at the top of their game as is Craig Kimbrel. If I can get five years of 30 or more saves out of him, then he's more than worth a ninth-round selection, because I can list on one hand the current closers I have any faith will still be holding down the fort in 2015 and beyond.

This is going to be a 40-man roster when all is said and done, so having a few "real-life" teammates is inevitable. Still, with his first 10 picks, Becquey ended up with three natural duos on his roster, including his first two selections, Gonzalez and Tulowitzki. Did he have any concerns about that?

"The picks were independent of the team. In Round 1, I needed to decide between CarGo, Upton and Kemp. In the end, I took CarGo because I believe his best season is ahead of him -- which I don't believe is true for Kemp -- and he doesn't have the warts that Justin Upton's down 2012 gave him," Becquey explains. As for Tulo, his injury history makes him a bargain, as does his age and position. "Shortstop is UGLY ... so I took Tulo and ended up with what I believe to be TWO first-rounders."

As for his pitching picks, Becquey does love himself some strikeouts. That's why he closed out his first 10 selections with Chapman and Harvey. What makes Harvey stand out? "He has already been guaranteed a spot in the 2013 rotation, had 60 quality innings under his belt and hasn't struck out fewer hitters than he's pitched innings in his professional career. This is 2013's Chris Sale."

Roberts is putting together a team of players that, at least to me, seem older than they actually are. With Hamilton, Gonzalez, Mauer and Reyes, he's doing a waltz around that 30-year-old line in the sand, but not straying too far over it just yet into Victor Martinez territory.

Even his "young" players aren't all that young. Adam Jones is 27, Chase Headley is 28, and both had their first 30-homer season in 2012. That's exactly why Roberts covets them so: "I believe they're just getting started. In this draft, while it seemed others chose youngsters with high (but unproven) upside, I aimed to choose players in the beginning of that little 5- or 6-year window known as their prime years. In other words, I'm looking for 26- to 29-year-old guys who have already shown what they can do."

It's true that many owners forget that even though you can keep any players you draft for their entire careers, there's nothing that says you have to do so. Down the line, you can easily attempt to improve your team through trading and future drafts of not-yet-on-the-radar stars of tomorrow. "I just don't have the patience to wait three years to win a league. I aim to do well the next several years and then trust my abilities beyond that."

Like Roberts, Lipscomb is also a "play for today and worry about tomorrow when it comes" kind of general manager. When in doubt, he'll always take the older guy who he knows can help him over the next few seasons, and that philosophy is clearly reflected on his current roster.

Still, while you never can be totally sure what a rookie will give you, veterans can have question marks too. If Kemp can return to 30-30 and if Upton lives up to his MVP-potential and if Hanley Ramirez can better his second-half numbers without reverting to those of his first-half ... then Lipscomb's team may well succeed in 2013.

Adding more "boom or bust" guys like Ellsbury and Jennings to the mix makes it all the more important for a solid core in the pitching rotation for Lipscomb, and with Price, Wainwright and Lee, he should have one. As he puts it, "I wanted to have three starters I could count on for a quality outing almost every time out and not worry about age in the process. Surprise pitchers seem to emerge more so than hitters each season, so I felt that getting a few historically strong guys to anchor your staff gives you a nice base and you can try to project some of those surprises later in the draft."

Picking at the tail of the snake is always a difficult task, since you have so many players who fly off the board between your current turn and the next one. Make a reach and miss? You may never recover. That's why it's not surprising to see so many tried and true names coming from Quintong and the No. 10 slot in the draft.

With Cano and Rollins, he's probably a lock to have the oldest double-play combo up the middle. But that doesn't scare Quintong a bit. "Rollins may be old, but he's still very productive, even if he isn't at the major star level he might've been a few years ago. And while his age obviously drops his value in this draft, you still want to win this league now."

Personally, I shied away from Cespedes because of his seeming fragility which limited him to only 102 outfield starts, though he did play an additional 26 games as a DH. Quintong was not dissuaded by those numbers. "I was impressed with his overall stats last year as a rookie, and I think he's still got plenty of room to grow. Interestingly, he hit a lot better at home -- usually a pitchers' park -- than on the road, which probably will bode well for the future."

As for the future of this dynasty draft, be sure to check back next Monday for the results of Rounds 11-20 to see how these teams continue to take shape.