A couple of readers and one Facebook friend questioned some of the free agent pickups I noted last week. Well, AL-only or NL-only leagues with 11 or 12 teams and minor league drafts are very deep leagues.
So, filling a vacancy due to an injury or a demoted player or even a pitcher with bad matchups (if you have reserve slots) is very important. But the bonus is that while you get some at-bats or innings for this year, you also have the chance to follow these players with next year's keeper list in mind. Indeed, this is now the focus of teams who have already traded significant players for this season in exchange for future value – usually young cheap players, minor league prospects or minor league draft upgrades.
On that note, I thought I would take a quick look at my AL-only league and discuss some of the players who were added as free agents either last season or in 2013 who were kept going into this year’s auction.
What we clearly see is that the majority of players added as free agents early in the season are the most likely potential keepers. This is logical as they are likely hitters who didn’t have a full-time job on draft day but got promoted or inserted due to injury or trade and became starters.
My league has a three-round reserve draft immediately following the auction, in part because you must replace any players on your auction roster who are on the DL or have been sent to the Minors, but also because the first FAAB run won’t occur until the second Saturday of the season (we draft on the first Tuesday after the season starts).
So, in 2014, these players were reserve picks in early April:
Drew Pomeranz, P, OAK – Pomeranz was on the Athletics roster but not in the rotation, but he did well when he became a starter and was going to be in the Oakland rotation this year.
Dellin Betances, P, NYY – Nobody could have known how good Betances was going to be as a rotisserie and real life pitcher last year. This year, it wasn’t clear who would get the saves for the Yankees but regardless, Betances would earn more than his $10 salary.
Jake McGee, P, TB – McGee wasn’t closing early last year but was potentially a nice high strikeout reliever who could (and he did) ascend to the ninth inning role. This year, it wasn’t clear how long he would be out of action but it was presumed that he would close when he rejoined the Rays staff.
The next group of players were added in April and May FAAB runs – ours runs every Saturday night, and again, while they might have just been filling a temporary lineup need at the time of their pickup, they were viewed as good $10 keepers this year.
April 14, 2014 (first FAAB run)
Collin McHugh, P, HOU – Picked up before his first start (April 20) but earned roughly $18 last year and is starting this year on an improved Astros team.
Zach Britton, P, BAL – Was in the Orioles bullpen to start the season but in the first week had two four-inning relief stints and won both games without allowing a run. Didn’t register his first save until May but ended the season with three wins and 37 saves, earning $24.
April 21, 2014
Dallas Keuchel, P, HOU – Keuchel was in the Houston rotation but his first start (before our draft) was terrible. Then he had two very good starts before he was added in the second week of FAAB.
April 28, 2014
J.D. Martinez, OF, DET – Martinez was a spring training cut by Houston and picked up by Detroit. He didn’t wear a Tiger uniform until the third week of the season but that made him a hot pickup the following week.
May 5, 2014
Steve Pearce, OF/1B, BAL – Pearce made the Orioles roster out of spring training but had very few at-bats in the first few weeks. He then had 16 at-bats in the fourth week and while he didn’t hit a home run, he did hit over .300. The next week he hit three home runs and I added him very quickly. If only I had dropped him before this season and drafted Jimmy Paredes for a buck.
May 12, 2014
Danny Santana, SS, MIN – I had planned to draft Santana in the minor league draft last year but someone else I liked better fell to me, so Santana was a free agent. But when he was called up in the first week in May and looked like he would get enough at-bats to at least make the steals valuable, I added him not knowing of course that he would also hit seven home runs and hit .319 and be worth $23.
Jake Odorizzi, P, TB – His first start last year was a very good six-inning win. But his next four starts were terrible which prompted his owner to drop him. I paid to add him and nine of his other ten wins.
Andrew Miller, P, BAL – Miller was in the Orioles bullpen on opening day and pitched very well in 17 relief appearances early in the year but had only one win. He was added as a good reliever and in fact won four more games and got one save in earning $12 for the year. This year, of course, he is closing, and while this was not known on draft night, the savvy owner who kept him also had Betances, so it was a great combo play for Yankees saves – and more.
May 26, 2014
Matt Shoemaker, P, LAA – While Shoemaker was on the early Anaheim-minor shuttle in April, he was finally inserted into the Angels rotation for good in May and was a savior for both his big league and rotisserie teams.
Of course, there are free agents added throughout the season, but you can see the dividends and importance of the earliest free agent adds. The only free agents added in June, July, and August who ended up being frozen for $10 this year were:
Stephen Vogt, 1B, OAK – Vogt wasn’t catcher eligible to start the year but everyone knew he would be. I wonder what he would have gone for in the auction.
Shane Greene, P, DET – Greene made one start for the Yankees in April but wasn’t in the rotation until July. He didn’t pitch great last year but showed enough that someone thought that on a strong Tigers team and in the rotation all year, he would be worth a $10 salary. Early results this year say maybe.
Edward Mujica, P, BOS – Mujica wouldn’t have been kept this year, but having saved eight games last year and with Koji Uehara on the DL to start this year for who knew how long, he was kept with the hope of at least a few April saves and then insurance. Sadly, neither happened, and he didn’t pitch well.
I know I left September off the introduction of late season free agents but it was because in order to protect the integrity of our deep minor league rosters, any free agent added in September would carry a $25 salary if retained the following year. This is also why there haven’t been any September free agent keepers – yet.
Some of these 2014 free agents might be kept next year as well. There have been a few in the past. In fact, Scott Kazmir, Yan Gomes and Cody Allen were all free agents added in 2013 and are still playing with a $10 salary.
If you don’t play in an AL-only or NL-only keeper league where not only is the free agent pool much smaller but you have to have an eye on emerging major leaguers as possible keepers for the following year, I think this list will illustrate why there are so many players added in these leagues that carry more value than mixed league players might think.