Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening –whichever is applicable to you. Theo Epstein took over a downtrodden Cubs Franchise coming off a 71-91 season and two years removed from a .500 ball club. The Franchise Player was a singles hitting shortstop who featured bad fielding and mental lapses much more often than flashes of brilliance. Having ended the title drought in Boston, Theo’s arrival in Chicago came with quite the fanfare, and brought with it a hope of those “Green Apples” Harry had spoken of many years ago. With a roster of past their prime players and a farm system among the worst in baseball, the path to relevance would require some outside of the box thinking.
Ricky Bobby poetically coined the phrase, “If you ain’t first, your last.” Perhaps more so than in any other facet of life, dynasty baseball owners seem to relish in this statement. Established dynasty leagues feature one of two types of owners: those who are playing to win now and those who are selling anything and everything not screwed down. In theory I can buy into this concept.
The primary take everyone should get from the Fantasy hobby is the enjoyment it provides. Finishing 7th in a 12 team league offers little enjoyment. However, finishing 11th after having made 20 trades and overhauling your roster likely provided you with many thrills. While those thrills provided you with short-term enjoyment, there are two questions you need to ask yourself at the end of the day. Did the moves make your team better down the line? Did you maximize on your asset or was the move made for the sake of making a move? The answers to these questions will dictate just how long this rebuild thing will last.
The shortstop position if filled with obvious players whom rebuilding owners would desire. There were 17 shortstops featured in the 2016 Baseball America Top-100 prospects. While Trea Turner and Alex Bregman could lose SS eligibility, that still leaves 15 among the Top-100. Young players offer you hope, but one could easily argue they likely hinder you in the rebuilding process. Take JP Crawford for instance. His name has value amongst the Dynasty community. While his prospect status is that of the elite, his minor league numbers have been rather pedestrian.
Before the likes of Francisco Lindor and Corey Seager, shortstop prospects tended to feature a better glove than bat over their first couple of seasons. So while Crawford is getting his feet under him, you’re married to a light hitting shortstop who would seem to have better days ahead of him. You wait and wait, all the while overlooking potential finds on the waiver wire because you feel a long-term solution is in-house. Best case scenario is Crawford pans out eventually and your patience is rewarded. Worst case scenario, Crawford’s career mirrors that of Jose Offerman or other failed prospects and your patience was rewarded with a slap in the face.
You decide to go the cornerstone collector route. The cornerstone collector is the type who will forfeit a season of contention in order to obtain a building block player for years to come. The top-tier shortstop offer several potential cornerstone talents. Corey Seager, Xander Bogaerts, Carlos Correa, and Francisco Lindor would figure to be the headliners. The question is do any of these players offer cornerstone value?
Xander Bogaerts was the top rated “shortstop only” player using Yahoo standard 5×5 scoring. Bogaerts batted .294 with 21 home runs, 89 RBIs, 115 runs scored and 13 stolen bases. Those totals were good for a 36th overall ranking. For me, Bogaerts and Lindor are the same type of player. While Lindor offers better stolen base numbers, their value is still based on the across the board production.
Safety and steady production has value, I just question if that value is the haul you would be forced to give up to obtain them? Seager hit .308 with 26 home runs, 72 RBIs and 105 runs scored. Those totals produced a 51st overall ranking in Yahoo 5×5 standard. While I feel the power and batting average skill set lends better to a potential top-20 overall season, home games in Dodger Stadium and a questionable Dodgers lineup leave me to believe that potential may still be years away.
Correa was certainly a cornerstone player coming into last season. Correa parlayed last season’s top-10 preseason status into a player who failed to crack the top-100 (103) in Yahoo Standard 5×5 scoring. Correa’s power a speed skill set gives him the best path to cornerstone status, but will the two steps back last season generate solid buying opportunities? I would suspect the price most paid to get him last season would demand more than a one-year commitment.
Both prior roster management methods require a commitment. While both may offer you superstar caliber players, they also hinder your roster decision-making. The most underused method of dynasty roster management could very well be the most beneficial. With that said, I present to you the Scott Feldman Project. Scott Feldman has started 183 major league games and logged 1,275 innings, all the while posting a 4.40 ERA and going 6 games below .500 at 71-77. Regardless of what Scott Feldman has or will do on a baseball field, he will ultimately go down as the major piece sent to the Orioles in return for Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop.
Being a rebuilding team gave the Cubs the opportunity to guarantee Scott Feldman a rotation spot. So the Cubs spent a little bit of money (a thing that is too often overlooked for rebuilding teams) on a player who was coming off two consecutive years of strikeout improvement and a declining walk rate for three consecutive seasons. Despite Feldman’s 5.09 ERA the previous season, the skill set indicated the potential for statistical growth moving forward. Feldman responded with the best ERA of his career and the rest is history. Being a non-contender with a positional opening affords you the chance to capitalize on potential value on more than one occasion.
So with the Scott Feldman Project in mind, here are four players to target to either solve your long-term SS problem or create roster value and a future trading chip.
Addison Russell – This will be your last chance to obtain this future building block piece at below full value. The .238 batting average from 2016 will settle into the .270-.280 range, and those 21 home runs will become a steady 25 year in and year out. Russell doesn’t feature much stolen base potential, but with 26 steals over 131 Minor League games in 2013, the potential for double-digit stolen bases is there. The lineup will feed into the counting stats, and it’s reasonable to expect elite level production in either runs or RBIs.
Marcus Semien – Most will be dismissive of Semien’s 27 home runs last season. A career high 14.7 HR/FB rate will be the most recited detractor. For me, Semien’s a decent contact option whose batted ball profile will feed into his home run totals. Overall, 14.7% isn’t an unsustainable number in itself and last season’s success can just as easily be a case of a power hitter coming into his prime. The .238 mark of last season will get some BABIP correction and will at the least become a number that won’t hurt you. Throw in Semien’s back to back double-digit stolen base seasons and you have yourself a Pabst Blue Ribbon version of an elite option.
Wilmer Flores – Good contact numbers and an improved BB% that nearly doubled his 2015 total. His batted ball profile may hinder his ability to establish a .280 batting average, but three consecutive seasons’ north of .250 suggest minimal risk and perhaps .270 potential. That same batted ball profile (GB/FB 1.01 career, 0.74 Last season) combined with three consecutive season’s of increased HR/FB% suggest to me that 20 home runs could be the norm if the Mets simply just give him the plate appearances. His 2016 season featured major struggles vs. RHP, but overall for his career, those struggles have not been there.
Chris Owings – Owings has posted hard hit rates north of 26% for three consecutive seasons. That mark has been nearly 30% the last two years. Last year’s 18.7 K% was nearly an eight percentage point reduction from 2015. At first glimpse a .334 BABIP could be perceived as the reason for the .277 average, but combined the hard hit data with ground ball tendencies and a nice set of wheels, and it becomes reasonable to suggest that could be a new career norm. A 21/23 stolen base success rate suggests more steal potential could be on the horizon and 30 stolen bases are most certainly obtainable. Double-digit pop potential with 30 home runs put players firmly on the map. Should Segura regress in 2017, Owings could easily find him near the top of the order. That move alone would turn Owings into a top-10 option at shortstop.
The Chicago Cubs ended a 108 year Championship drought this past Wednesday. Theo Epstein and company built this roster by turning the farm system into baseball’s best in much the same way dynasty owners hoard prospects. Theo and Co. did not hesitate when needing to add payroll with big-ticket free agents, the type of cornerstone players us dynasty owners covet via trades. Where Theo and Co. really excelled at was the afterthought free agent signings.
Most teams when committed to a rebuild focus solely on big-ticket items and farm-system depth. Ultimately a roster freeze is put into effect in many ways. The Cubs continued spending money, and that money went to players whose skill set would hopefully outproduce the contract, thus creating value. The contending Orioles traded a washed up prospect and an erratic bullpen arm for a solid pitching option that could eat up innings down the stretch. That same deal is made multiple times every season; the end result typically isn’t the trading of a future Cy Young winner.
The continued pursuit of roster improvements was the final piece to the Cubs process. If this process was effective enough to end 108 years of futility, isn’t it reasonable to suggest it’ll play in your local dynasty league?
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