My fellow keeper-league readers, you finally have your wish.
Be it through chat questions or e-mails, one thing seemed clear this preseason: You crave keeper-league rankings, pointing to my column of last July geared toward advising owners looking to make late-season trades. Well, I certainly appreciate the sentiments with regard to my last keeper-ranking column, and as I always say, I'm thrilled to hear your feedback on what kinds of things you'd like to see covered in the coming weeks.
There's only one small change in this edition's keeper rankings, though. Once again, the top 100 players are ranked, but today's list takes into account projected fantasy value from the 2007-09 seasons combined. This isn't a list of best picks for 2007, or a list of the best players for 2011; it's more a basis for keeper leagues drafting fresh for 2007, a way to evaluate your keepers on the trade market or for "settling debates" that I so often tend to see pop up in my keeper-league experiences.
Sure, upside, age and a player's future beyond 2009 do come into play when making the rankings, but since I didn't see Brandon Wood reaching L.A. before September or hitting 40 big league homers before 2009, he fell beneath the top-100 cut. Kids like Wood, Philip Hughes, Homer Bailey and Evan Longoria are certainly worthy of your keeper-league consideration, and I could easily see them shooting up the list a year from now, but I'm a win-now kind of owner. Don't lean too much to the future, even in a keeper format.
In addition, pitchers don't garner nearly the attention in my keeper-league rankings as hitters do, if only because hitters are far safer, more consistent commodities over the long haul. If only 31 pitchers cracked my original top 100 players for 2007 alone, it stands to reason that no more than that would make this list, taking into account the increased risk for injury.
A player's age as of Opening Day 2007 is listed in parentheses, and I've provided a brief write-up for each of the top 50 keeper-league players.
1. Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals (27 years old): The last man to win the Triple Crown was Carl Yastrzemski; if any active player's going to do it, Pujols is your best bet. He has at least .314-34-117 numbers every season, and only now is entering his prime.
2. Jose Reyes, SS, Mets (23): Considering his age, Reyes might still have room for growth with the bat. It's a tall order for him to top out as a .300 hitter with 30-homer, 50-steal potential, but the way he looked last year, it's not an outrageous peak projection.
3. Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies (27): There's no better pure power hitter in the game, and since he's 27 and plays in a bandbox, Howard's a strong bet to top 50 homers in each of the next five seasons. Even if he's pitched around often, his batting average will benefit.
4. David Wright, 3B, Mets (24): He's a franchise player with .300-hitting ability, future 40-homer potential and, most important for fantasy, double-digit steals speed.
5. Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Marlins (23): The Marlins might not look great for 2007, but they're not as far from contending as you'd think. Cabrera's main knock right now is in RBI/runs opportunities, but as he and his team improves, he'll become a top pick.
6. Carl Crawford, OF, Devil Rays (25): A fascinating case, because even if his speed declines slightly, his power's only ramping up. A 30/30 year could come soon.
7. Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees (31): Don't take his "disappointing" 2006 numbers as a sign of a career decline; the pressures of New York might have gotten to him. He's only two years removed from an MVP award and still has a few more superstar seasons left.
8. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Rangers (26): The 2007 season represents your last chance to get this elite power hitter at a keeper-league discount, as he's coming off a so-so 2006.
9. Johan Santana, SP, Twins (28): Though I'm a big believer in Santana's ability, pitching's rather tricky to project over a three-year span. He's the closest to a sure thing among the pitching crop, but he should go a few spots later than in a redraft format.
10. Grady Sizemore, OF, Indians (24): There are some forecasting a 30/30 season for him in 2007, and I'm not ruling out the possibility. He could easily be a .300-hitting, 35-homer man who swipes a good 20 bags, if not this year than certainly in 2008.
11. Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies (28): He locks up a difficult position to fill for fantasy, and there's no reason he can't go .300-35-100-12 each of the next three years.
12. Alfonso Soriano, OF, Cubs (31): The main concern here is that stolen-base totals tend to slip after a player's 31st birthday. Soriano should be a 30/30 man in 2007, but he might lose a good 5-10 steals from that total in each successive season.
13. Carlos Beltran, OF, Mets (29): We've surely seen the last of his 40-steal days, but Beltran's now a legitimate 40-homer power source locked into a contract with a contending team through 2011. He's several years away from a statistical decline.
14. Travis Hafner, DH, Indians (29): There aren't many smarter hitters around, and it's a wise move to build around players of that type who are in their prime.
15. Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels (31): Doesn't he feel older than 31? Vlad's speed might soon be gone, but he should remain a solid annual .300-30-100 bet.
16. Joe Mauer, C, Twins (23): Worry all you want about a move from behind the plate, but while he'd lose position scarcity, Mauer would also gain durability and extra at-bats with such a move. We likely haven't seen him win his final batting title.
17. David Ortiz, DH, Red Sox (31): He should challenge the 50-homer plateau in each of the next three years, and Boston's offense is likely to remain potent enough to keep his RBI/runs totals among the league leaders during that span.
18. Hanley Ramirez, SS, Marlins (23): With his second-half power gains in 2006, continued growth is as likely as a sophomore slump in 2007. He's one of the most projectable future 30/30 men in the game today, at one of fantasy's thinner positions.
19. Matt Holliday, OF, Rockies (27): The main worry with him is a trade out of Colorado, but since he's not eligible for free agency until 2010, it's not a big concern.
20. Justin Morneau, 1B, Twins (25): His elbow issues behind him and now entering his prime power years, Morneau should be a 40-homer man for the long haul.
21. Derek Jeter, SS, Yankees (32): As the No. 2 hitter in a potent offense, Jeter will be above-average at the very least in every Rotisserie category through decade's end.
22. Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers (22): A much more complete hitter than his father, and the Ryan Howard comparisons are real in the long haul. There's a Howard 2006 season in Fielder's future, and though 2007 seems unlikely, it could come as soon as 2008.
23. Jason Bay, OF, Pirates (28): He's probably now at his peak statistically, but a guy with .286-35-109-11 numbers on a weak offense in 2006 isn't bad to build around.
24. Lance Berkman, 1B/OF, Astros (31): In his healthiest seasons, 2002 and 2006, he was a .300-hitting, 40-homer man. No reason he can't be that if healthy in 2007-09.
25. Delmon Young, OF, Devil Rays (21): Though he's the least experienced player so far on this list, he brings elite ability in batting average, power and speed. It's not unthinkable that by 2009, he'll be a .300 hitter with 40-homer, 25-steal potential.
26. Jimmy Rollins, SS, Phillies (28): I'm less convinced he has room for growth than I've seen other people forecast, but if 2006 was his peak, it wasn't a bad one. He's at an age where his skills should remain sound for at least two or three more seasons.
27. Jake Peavy, SP, Padres (25): Like Teixeira, Peavy's the starting pitching equivalent in terms of being able to nab him on the cheap right now in a keeper format.
28. Miguel Tejada, SS, Orioles (30): His power might be declining, but his batting-average skills continue to improve. Expect a few more solid seasons from Tejada.
29. Andruw Jones, OF, Braves (29): He's in his prime and, as such, should be able to maintain his 45-homer, 125-RBI power potential for another half-decade or so.
30. Carlos Lee, OF, Astros (30): He's locked in for the next six years in a home ballpark friendly to right-handed sluggers. Expect many more .300-30-100 campaigns.
31. Derrek Lee, 1B, Cubs (31): Don't count on a 2005 performance from him each of the next three years, but .290-30-100 numbers with double-digit steals is possible.
32. Rafael Furcal, SS, Dodgers (29): He has underrated pop, capable of 15-20 homers, and you know all about his speed. Could a year like Rollins' 2006 be coming?
33. Chris Carpenter, SP, Cardinals (31): Back-to-back healthy, Cy Young-caliber campaigns should erase the lingering health concerns. Really, is any arm safe?
34. Paul Konerko, 1B, White Sox (31): No one seems to give him credit for his annual 35-homer, 100-RBI performances. He's a consistent, reliable run producer.
35. Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (24): He's already shown us his ability to hit for a high average, and as he matures, expect him to make better use of that short porch.
36. Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals (22): Washington might be a lousy team in 2007, but Zimmerman is the kind of player a franchise can build around. He's already a .300-capable batsman, he'll develop power in time and he's great in the clutch.
37. Garrett Atkins, 3B, Rockies (27): Once considered a stopgap for the Rockies until Ian Stewart was ready, Atkins now has the hot corner locked down for Colorado.
38. Roy Oswalt, SP, Astros (29): Consistent, reliable, for the most part durable, and he hasn't had an ERA higher than 3.49 or a WHIP above 1.245 in his six seasons.
39. Alex Rios, OF, Blue Jays (26): This high ranking is banking on him developing the 30-homer power he was on pace for the first half of last season, but chalk up the second-half slide to his leg injury. I expect a big breakthrough for Rios in 2007.
40. Rickie Weeks, 2B, Brewers (24): Could he be the next Ryne Sandberg? Or the next Chuck Knoblauch? Somewhere in between might be the answer, but Weeks is a tremendous athlete with 30/30 long-term potential. He needs to get healthy, though.
41. Rocco Baldelli, OF, Devil Rays (25): Health concerns make him one of the riskier members of the top 50, but late last year, he was looking like the future 30/30 man that many scouts forecasted when he first reached the majors in 2003.
42. Roy Halladay, SP, Blue Jays (29): Though he missed some time in 2004-05, he has been as good as most anyone in the game when healthy the past five years.
43. Aramis Ramirez, 3B, Cubs (28): Wrigley's swirling winds should keep his power numbers consistent throughout his prime, and the lineup's sure deeper in 2007.
44. Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners (20): Seattle sure is trying to preserve his young arm, but the minute the chains come off, King Felix is going to outright dominate.
45. Alex Gordon, 3B, Royals (23): He's a .300-hitting, 30-homer potential slugger who knows how to steal bases, a kind of left-handed version of David Wright. Gordon's less experienced, but he could be a top-10 guy on this list a year from now.
46. Jeremy Bonderman, SP, Tigers (24): A lot of people are underrating his continued career growth each year. He's only a small step or two from superstardom.
47. Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers (24): He and Bonderman have similar potential, though I'd call Verlander a bit more risk/reward. If you're willing to take the chance on the higher upside, go Verlander. If you prefer the safer route, Bonderman's your man.
48. Ichiro Suzuki, OF, Mariners (33): His baserunning skills haven't eroded at all, meaning a few more .300-hitting, 30-steal, 100-runs should be in his future.
49. Carlos Zambrano, SP, Cubs (25): Though many worry about those hefty workloads in his youth coming back to haunt him, Zambrano has been remarkably durable to this point of his career. No reason to bet against him, at least not yet.
50. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Padres (24): His power took awhile to arrive, but he's really only now reaching the stage of his career where a big burst should be expected.
51. Michael Young, SS, Rangers (30)
52. Brandon Webb, SP, Diamondbacks (27)
53. Bobby Abreu, OF, Yankees (33)
54. Manny Ramirez, OF, Red Sox (34)
55. Matt Cain, SP, Giants (22)
56. Cole Hamels, SP, Phillies (23)
57. Victor Martinez, C/1B, Indians (28)
58. Brian Roberts, 2B, Orioles (29)
59. Joe Nathan, RP, Twins (32)
60. Jeff Francoeur, OF, Braves (23)
61. John Lackey, SP, Angels (28)
62. Howie Kendrick, 2B/1B, Angels (23)
63. Vernon Wells, OF, Blue Jays (28)
64. Ben Sheets, SP, Brewers (28)
65. Scott Kazmir, SP, Devil Rays (23)
66. Francisco Rodriguez, RP, Angels (25)
67. Stephen Drew, SS, Diamondbacks (24)
68. Brett Myers, SP, Phillies (26)
69. Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, Red Sox (26)
70. B.J. Ryan, RP, Blue Jays (31)
71. Adam LaRoche, 1B, Pirates (27)
72. Jonathan Papelbon, SP, Red Sox (26)
73. C.C. Sabathia, SP, Indians (26)
74. Huston Street, RP, Athletics (23)
75. Dan Haren, SP, Athletics (26)
76. Felipe Lopez, SS, Nationals (26)
77. Billy Wagner, RP, Mets (35)
78. Adam Dunn, OF, Reds (27)
79. Erik Bedard, SP, Orioles (28)
80. Juan Pierre, OF, Dodgers (29)
81. Chone Figgins, 3B/OF, Angels (29)
82. Nick Swisher, 1B/OF, Athletics (26)
83. J.J. Putz, RP, Mariners (30)
84. Johnny Damon, OF, Yankees (33)
85. Josh Barfield, 2B, Indians (24)
86. Mark Teahen, 3B, Royals (25)
87. Chris Young, SP, Padres (27)
88. Hideki Matsui, OF, Yankees (32)
89. Dontrelle Willis, SP, Marlins (25)
90. Nick Markakis, OF, Orioles (23)
91. Bill Hall, SS, Brewers (27)
92. Edwin Encarnacion, 3B, Reds (24)
93. Russell Martin, C, Dodgers (24)
94. Mariano Rivera, RP, Yankees (37)
95. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Mariners (27)
96. Carlos Delgado, 1B, Mets (34)
97. Aaron Harang, SP, Reds (28)
98. B.J. Upton, 3B, Devil Rays (22)
99. Ervin Santana, SP, Angels (24)
100. Ian Kinsler, 2B, Rangers (24)
Got a question or comment? Send them right here, and I'll address them in my column every week. Note: Please be sure to include your full name, city and state with your submission to be considered.