Thanksgiving might indeed take place in the Autumn, but the best weekend of the season is the first one in November when BaseballHQ holds the annual First Pitch Arizona conference, or as it is known in the trade, FPAZ.
Aside from reconnecting with friends within the industry, and fantasy players from around the country, First Pitch affords discussions, seminars, a handful of Arizona Fall League games, and a like number of drafts. Among those drafts is the Experts Fantasy League, or The XFL as we call it.
The XFL, as noted, is the toughest league in which I play with a deep roster for our teams and rugged competition in the likes of Jeff Winnick, Don Drooker, Peter Kreutzer, Jeff Erickson, Ron Shandler, Trace Wood and Steve Moyer.
The XFL catch is we can freeze up to 15 players, but at the draft table we get no props: no magazines, no laptops, no cheat sheets: just our smiling faces, draft savvy and experience, and ideally good memories for player stats.
It is not necessary for me to document just how much I have indeed struggled to try and win the league, which is now 15 years old, but I can say nothing I have tried has worked yet.
So, this year, I had a reasonably good freeze list, but nothing spectacular. I did trade for Kyle Hendricks, hoping to drive my pitching staff with the Cubs hurler and Dallas Keuchel, whom I froze, and I went into the draft with $112 to spend for 11 players.
The challenge was that the player pool this year was very lean, with Miguel Cabrera, who went for $47, leading the names of available options, and though Miggy is surely a fine investment, my fear was the inflation factor due to the limited number of stars available.
I did figure that the things I needed were homers and speed, areas where my squads always seem derelict, but how could I add 100 or so dingers and 70 or so swipes without getting gouged?
So, who did I get? Listed below are the results, with the new additions bolded (I left the comments I made within my earlier article on freezes for the league). Note too that we do have a 17-player expansion draft in March that allows us to ideally fix gaps and changes that occur during the off-season and Hot Stove.
Here we go:
Russell Martin (C, $20): The XFL counts OBP, and catcher in the league always seems to be a sinkhole. But the Jays backstop, with a career .350 OBP, has banged 20-plus homers the past two seasons, so Martin was a good fit.
Adrian Gonzalez (1B, $21): A-Gon is not Miggy, but he is pretty good, and last year Ron Shandler dropped $42 on the Dodgers first sacker for .285-19-80. Hard to turn a profit on that, but for half the price, I think I got a pretty good deal as well as another good power source with even a little upside.
Jedd Gyorko (2B, $13): Gyorko was trade spoils four years ago, and as a result, his salary only goes up $3 a year. He is close to value, though the 30 homers the infielder belted last year came along with a paltry 59 RBI. But, Gyorko has pop, is cheap, and has position flexibility up the wazoo.
Kyle Seager (3B, $26): I have had Seager for five years now, grabbing him as a $1 guy with his salary moving up $5 a season. He too is at value, but Seager also manages to improve his totals by just enough every year.
Marcus Semien (SS, $10): Another guy with a $3+ salary, and one who provided pop and should indeed improve.
Nick Castellanos (CI, $13): One more $3+ who was on his way to a breakthrough season last year when he broke, through the rest of the season.
Aledmys Diaz ($10, MI): I got Diaz as part of a dump trade where I let go of Craig Kimbrel at the deadline, and he's a steal for $10 if he can repeat last season's totals. I doubt he is a keeper in 2017, but for now, the bulk of my infield is covered. What I need is pop at first.
Yoenis Cespedes (OF, $16): Cespe was part of the spoils of my draft six years ago, when I spent a wad on Roy Halladay and Albert Pujols, and then swapped both for prospects. Cespe also has a $3 controlled salary, and I think still has a monster year living within him.
Alex Dickerson (OF, $8): Dickerson, whom I acquired as a rookie, has a $3 controlled salary as well, and a lot of pop. He crushes the ball and has ok on-base numbers, and at this price should help with my power totals.
Kole Calhoun (OF, $25): No question I have a thing for the Angels flychaser. His .271-18-75 totals of last year were a little low for the price I paid, but my hope is he can push the power back towards the 26 big flies collected in 2015.
Michael Brantley (OF, $17): Another guy I like, who suffered a tough injury-plagued 2016, and whom I hope can return to his 2014-15 form. Meaning .285-15-80-15 works well and are totally reasonable targets.
Kevin Kiermaier (OF, $9): Another player coming off a somewhat disappointing season, Kiermaier does have 20/20 potential, and I am willing to gamble he can pick things up and get close to his .263-10-40-18 totals of 2015. In fact, I think he can do better as a now seasoned vet.
Steven Souza Jr. (UTIL, $5): Kiermaier's OF mate has both power and a little speed and was essentially cheap. He can hit 15-plus dingers and swipe 10 if healthy.
Kyle Hendricks (P, $13): I just acquired Hendricks in a trade which cost me Hunter Renfroe and a fourth-round pick next spring. I just like the guy, who has great stuff.
Dallas Keuchel (P, $16): I received Keuchel in exchange for Matt Kemp towards the middle of last season, and the former Cy Younger is certainly worth keeping for one more season. I am hoping the Keuchel/Hendricks combo is a solid 1/2 pair of starters for me.
Danny Duffy (P, $6): Finally, Duffy, who put up a 12-3, 3.51 mark with 188 whiffs over 179.6 innings and a 1.142 WHIP, did what we thought he could. Ideally, a full season in the rotation makes Duf a solid #3 behind my mainstays.
Brandon Finnegan (P, $8): Again, willing to gamble on the young and hard-throwing Finnegan, who won ten and tossed 172 innings last year.
Jordan Zimmermann (P, $2): The Tigers starter came out of the box hot in 2015, going 5-0, 0.55 in April before injuries wiped out that good work and shortened his season. For $2, I can assume the risk Zim is back to form.
Sonny Gray (P, $11): An even more forgettable year than Zimmermann, injuries messed with Gray. But if healthy, at $11, Gray could really be a fantastic top flight complement to Keuchel and Hendricks.
Mike Foltynewicz (P, $5): Love this kid, who is still struggling to put it all together, but on a young rebuilding team, I think Folty will establish himself as a solid gambit in the coming season, doing 180-plus innings and grabbing close to a whiff per inning.
Tony Cingrani (P, $1): I have always been a fan of the Southpaw, and he collected 17 saves when moved to the pen. I think that is his niche.
Arodys Vizcaino (P, $4): There are indeed always closers available in the March supplemental, so I purchased Vizcaino and Cingrani figuring they should get saves cheap, and this will still allow me to grab a few more conversions in the future draft.