You can't win 'em all.
The midpoint of the Major League Baseball season represents a valuable time for fantasy owners to take a step back, re-examine their current standing and relative strengths and weaknesses of their teams and make critical decisions to prepare for the coming weeks. Unfortunately, for a significant number of these individuals, the decision will be clear: This team cannot win this season.
It's not a decision to take lightly, and if you play in a redraft league, I urge you to put forth every effort to finish as strong as possible. Pride is important in fantasy, and while bad luck might contribute to a lackluster team finish, outside of that there is no excuse for finishing in last place.
But if you've decided that you're out of contention and you play in a keeper or dynasty league, your new priority is clear: It's time to retool for next, and future, seasons.
The 2011 season represents the first such year that I'll be doing this in my longtime, 12-team, 12-players-retained (plus five "farm" prospects) keeper league. After three consecutive seasons as a contender, earning one championship and two second-place finishes, my team is aging, stricken by misfortunes and has too many holes to patch in order to mount a serious challenge for the title. The only rational decision was to examine the roster, identify the keeper-league values … and pawn off every single other short-term asset to contending teams in exchange for potential keepers.
These efforts are well underway, each of these deals completed in the past 21 days:
If you're in a similar position such a strategy makes sense for you, and there's no better time to start than now.
Beginning a rebuilding effort is never easy, however, and those who do so probably have one pressing question: "Well, sure, but who are the prospects and/or keepers I should be targeting in my trades?"
Ah, but that's where this column comes in handy. As I do every six months or so, in this column I'm updating my top 250 keeper rankings, to help provide you a guide to players' projected value in the coming seasons. Unlike past editions, however, the 2011 midseason keeper rankings take a slightly altered approach to the project: Instead of simply projecting value for a three-year window, in this case 2012 to 2014, these rankings afford some wiggle room, both for expected value the remainder of this season but also for value beyond the 2014 campaign.
For a prime example, Bryce Harper places 96th in this top 250 update, yet I don't believe we'll even see him play a game for the Washington Nationals until at least a year from now. So why is he ranked that high? It's simple: If you're retooling and have the luxury of stashing such a prospect for the long haul, taking a shot on Harper's considerable upside is well worth a ranking within the top 100. He could be an impact player for all of 2013 and 2014, and an MVP after that, and if you're in the process of retooling, that has substantial value.
As always, this isn't a cut-and-dry list. You'll see that I have Alex Avila ranked 167th and J.P. Arencibia 164th, but in no way does that mean that in every instance you should drop Avila to add Arencibia, because Avila's 2011 value is higher. What it means is that if you're in a keeper league and this season doesn't matter, it might be worth trading Avila and targeting Arencibia, using Avila's short-term value advantage to perhaps upgrade your roster with a better keeper at another position.
Let's also clarify the meaning of each of the ranking chart columns: The first column is the player's keeper rank. The "Pre-2011 rank" is where the player ranked in my preseason top 250 keeper rankings; these are meant to help give you a sense of how much the player's stock has changed in half a season. Finally, the "Pre-2010 rank" is where the player ranked in my 2010 preseason top 200 keeper rankings; again, it's meant to show stock changes.
Tristan H. Cockcroft is a fantasy baseball analyst for ESPN.com and a two-time champion of the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) experts league. You can e-mail him here, or follow him on Twitter @SultanofStat.