Don't lie to me! At some point, you've been in a relationship where you thought of the other person as a "keeper". What exactly did you mean by that? Could the objective definition be someone whose value is worth the cost...both emotionally and financially? For those of us who are fortunate enough to play keeper-league Fantasy Baseball, the definition is even more telling. As with Sandy Alderson and Daniel Murphy or Dan Duquette and Matt Wieters, we must make those tough calls when it comes to our roster. Of course, our decisions don't involve a $15.8 million qualifying offer, but they are nonetheless difficult and heart-wrenching.
Every keeper league has its unique characteristics, but 99% of the time, keeper decisions are being made within a few weeks of opening day, when information and advice is plentiful. For the owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL), their keeper list is due in late-October for an auction draft that takes place just as the World Series is ending. The XFL is a 15-team mixed keeper league with a $260 auction draft for a roster of 23 players (14 hitters + 9 pitchers). It has a standard 5x5 format with On-Base Percentage (OBP) replacing Batting Average (BA) and each team can keep up to 15 players, including minor league prospects. So, for example, if three of your 15 keepers are Farm players (less than 50 AB's or 20 IP in the Majors), you still need to draft 11 players at the table. To give you some understanding of the challenges involved, here's a quick review of the salary structure.
November Draft - Player salaries are determined by the winning bid at the table and increase $5 each season. So, unless a team finds a breakout player in the end-game, there's a reasonable chance that expensive veterans will only be on your team for one season.
March Supplemental Draft - A 17-round snake draft gets all the squads up to a 40-man roster from which you determine 23 active players each week. All players chosen in this phase have a $1 salary. For current major-leaguers, the increase each season is $5 so the annual keeper lists have a smattering of $6 players that were great choices the previous year. Examples this time around could include Carlos Martinez, Curtis Granderson, Stephen Vogt, Josh Reddick, Luke Gregerson and Brandon Crawford. Minor-leaguers taken in this phase also have a $1 starting salary, but once they get to "the show", their salary only goes up $3 per year. This is what might be described as the "dynasty" component in this particular league. An example would be Andrew McCutchen, who was taken as a minor-leaguer by Donald's Dux (my squad) in 2007 and now enters his 8th season on the roster at a salary of $22.
In-Season Monthly Free Agent Selections - Teams can choose free agents once a month and drop someone on their roster in a corresponding move. The salary is $5 with a $5 increase in subsequent seasons, so you'll see a few of these players scattered on keeper rosters at $10 each year. Current examples include Kevin Pillar, Matt Duffy, Randall Grichuk and Jackie Bradley Jr.
As with all keeper leagues, draft inflation is an important factor and some of the bargain salaries put the percentage beyond the scope of my abacus. This creates an atmosphere where one of the difficult decisions regarding keepers is not just their value versus cost, but what the estimated price will be at the draft to get them back. This makes those marginal keepers even more valuable as you pare your roster down to 15. As an instructive exercise for keeper-league aficionados, we'll look at each roster and choose a "no-brainer" keeper (the team's MVP) and a marginal keeper in the classic "bubble" category. That way, you can drool over the former and see if you agree with the latter.
* MVP - Bryce Harper $13 - Lots of choices from this championship squad, but Harper earned more dollars in this format than any other player.
* Bubble - Jose Altuve $30 - An outstanding player at a scarce position, but is the salary too high?
* MVP - Nolan Arenado $10 - Earned almost $30 and he'll only be 24 in 2016.
* MVP - Giancarlo Stanton $19 - Despite the late-season injury, this is the slugger everyone wants.
* Bubble - Justin Upton $28 - A solid player going into his age-27 season, but maybe not the superstar that was originally advertised. What would he go for in the draft?
* MVP - Lorenzo Cain $13 - Earned more than double his salary and is a five-category player.
* Bubble - Mitch Moreland $10 - Came off the scrap heap to hit 23 home runs and contribute 85 RBI. Was it a fact or a fluke?
* MVP - Curtis Granderson $6 - Went undrafted last November and then produced a $25+ season.
* Bubble - Adam Eaton $19 - Had a very productive year where he earned over $20, but can he do it again?
* MVP - Manny Machado $13 - Came back from an injury-plagued season with a vengeance and earned $35. Of course, age could catch up with him at 23.
* Bubble - Khris Davis $15 - On August 1st, the answer was definitely no. Watching the last two months could make you hesitate.
* MVP - Jose Abreu $7 - Two impact seasons with more to come for a slugger under age 30.
* Bubble - Eugenio Suarez $10 - Came out of nowhere to hit 13 home runs in less than 100 games at SS (Troy Tulowitzki hit 17 homers in 486 at-bats), but what happens if the Reds give the job back to Zack Cozart in 2016?
Peter Kreutzer & Alex Patton
* MVP - Mike Trout $16 - Another of those dynasty players, he'll be on this roster when Elroy Jetson is running against Ivanka Trump for President.
* Bubble - Brandon Phillips $13 - Produced a $17 season at age 33. Do you take the 2015 profit and run?
* MVP - Josh Donaldson $16 - A $40 season for the presumptive AL MVP.
* Bubble - Zack Wheeler $10 - Is it worth waiting until mid-season for a return on investment or do you throw him back and try to get him for less?
* MVP - Brian Dozier $15 - 28 homers and double-digit steals is great production at middle infield.
* Bubble - Brad Boxberger $9 - Had 41 Saves in 2015, but will he still have the job in 2016?
Perry Van Hook
* MVP - Dee Gordon $11 - Was the only middle infielder to earn over $30 in this format.
* Bubble - Evan Gattis $10 - Provided 27 home runs and 88 RBI but no longer gets the bump of being eligible at Catcher.
* MVP - Nelson Cruz $28- The move to Seattle didn't phase him at all, as he clobbered 44 homers and had a .369 OBP.
* Bubble - Patrick Corbin $6 - Will he come all the way back from TJS?
* MVP - Gerrit Cole $10 - Always nice to have a reasonably-priced ace to lead your staff.
* Bubble - Neil Walker $16 - Will his "walk" year be a boom or bust?
* MVP - Yoenis Cespedes $13 - This free agent will be in the middle of the order somewhere wearing a large money belt.
* Bubble - Matt Kemp $31 - Once again, his second half was much better but the salary is steep.
While you're sorting out all the Halloween candy in early November, these 15 (or 16 if Alex makes an appearance) hearty fellows will be bidding in Arizona and enjoying the camaraderie of the XFL's 13th annual draft. More information and the league history can be found at fantasyxperts.com