Well, folks, Opening Day is finally here! Fans all over the globe are optimistic about the upcoming season, and fantasy owners are arguably even more so. Spring Training is over, and the games (and more importantly the stats) finally count!
This season, I will be offering some of my thoughts on the Fantrax Salary Cap Challenge Games. Specifically, I will be looking at some player percentages and highlighting some players who could be worth a New Player Claim. Please remember that the 18 claims each team is allowed are to be used throughout the entire season. You would be surprised how many people fail to realize this and use several of them after just a handful of games. If you did your preseason prep and designed a strong starting squad, you will not have to use a lot of claims early on.
This week, I will post my rosters for the Roto game, along with my reasoning for my decisions. I am very interested to see the player ownership reports once they come out. It is my favorite part of the beginning of the season, other than the games being played, of course. I am particularly interested this season because there are a ton of ways you can construct an impressive team. When I first started looking at outfielders, for example, I narrowed down the ones I thought made for reasonable plays, thinking the list would end up at around 15-20 players. There were 32 players on this list. Needless to say, making those final cuts to trim my outfield down to nine players was not easy. Difficult decisions were made at nearly every position, and I have plenty of doubts myself as to whether or not I made the right choices.
With that said, here are my final rosters for both the Fantrax Roto and Points games. Please feel free to share your rosters with me on Twitter or in the Forums section on the website. PLAY BALL!
I usually make sure I have backups at every position, but I’m eschewing that strategy early on to add an extra outfielder. Hopefully, this does not backfire too badly.
Gary Sanchez, 1020 – Gary Sanchez should be the most owned catcher. Catchers are not terribly expensive, and Sanchez can hit 30 home runs and have 100 RBI even with the requisite rest catchers require.
Willson Contreras, 790 – Willson Contreras is ready to take the leap to become the second-best hitting catcher in fantasy. He can hit 25 homers and drive in 90 runs this season with an average that won’t hurt you.
Joey Votto, 1410 – The only nitpicky thing I can say about Joey Votto’s game is that he walks too much, which slightly lowers the effect his tremendous batting average provides. He’s a total stud.
Freddie Freeman, 1290 – I consider Freddie Freeman, Votto, and Paul Goldschmidt to be the first basemen I trust to hit .300 with 30 home runs. Goldy is the most expensive, and you can’t have everyone, so I’m rolling with Votto and Freeman to start the year.
Hanley Ramirez, 920 – Here’s where I might lose some of you, but sometimes you just have to go with your gut. I just feel a big year coming from Hanley. If I’m wrong or if Ramirez gets hurt, there are plenty of alternatives in his price range I can replace him with.
Joey Gallo, 780 – Joey Gallo is less of a batting average drag in leagues where you start 18 hitters, so hopefully I can stomach that part of his game. If Gallo can hit above .230, he will be an excellent value at this cost.
Jose Altuve, 1660 – Altuve has the most impactful batting average in all of fantasy and has added power to boot.
Javier Baez, 750 – I think I lot of people are going to start the year with Ozzie Albies and Scott Kingery. I am nervous about starting two rookies, so I am going with Baez. The first two weeks of the Cubs’ schedule is a bit soft, and I’m hoping Baez can get off to a hot start.
Ozzie Albies, 650 – The upside of Albies is too much to ignore for me. I’ll keep an eye on Kingery for sure. But for now, I’ll roll with Baez and Albies and see how that plays out.
Josh Donaldson, 1230 – I’m holding off on Nolan Arenado until I can absorb the salary crunch a little better and once his schedule becomes a little easy to exploit. Donaldson should provide similar production in the interim at a significantly lower price.
Alex Bregman, 1020 – I consider Alex Bregman as somewhat of a Jose Ramirez-lite. I’ll take the 250 salary cap savings to start the year and hopefully gain similar production.
Adrian Beltre, 910 – I think many will choose to roster Rafael Devers in this spot, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. But I’m going to pivot to Adrian Beltre here. In my opinion, Beltre is one of the most undervalued fantasy commodities as we embark on the 2018 season. As is the case with Hanley Ramirez, there are plenty of other options should Beltre falter, but I consider him to be a potential top-50 hitter at a very reasonable price.
Trea Turner, 1280 and Carlos Correa, 1250 – Both Turner and Correa are first-round talents yet are outside the top-15 in salaries among offensive players. Shortstop gets dicey pretty quickly, so I’ll take the two studs.
Didi Gregorius, 1070 – I was all set to take Trevor Story here, as I even featured him in my pre-preview last week. But Gregorius’ power numbers appear completely sustainable, and there is even room for growth in that area. Gregorius should also benefit by coming up with a thousand men on base this year. No shortstop has driven in 100 runs in a season since 2011. I think Correa, Manny Machado (listed as a 3B in these games) and Gregorius can all turn the trick in 2018.
Mike Trout, 1670 – I don’t quite think Trout will go 55/55, but he is always the odds-on favorite for the MVP, both in real life and fantasy.
Aaron Judge, 1320 – I feel like there is a fair amount of anti-Judge sentiment among the fantasy community as if his 2017 is a complete and utter fluke. Most people seem to believe that regression is in store. To some extent, perhaps. But it’s not as if a total freefall is likely. Judge finished second in all of MLB in runs and home runs in 2017, and I see no reason why he cannot do so once again this season.
J.D. Martinez, 1210 – J.D. Martinez actually had a higher home run rate than Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge last season. He figures to have the highest batting average among the three slugging outfielders this year, and he’s also the cheapest.
Christian Yelich, 1140 – Christian Yelich is a player I do not expect to be highly owned. I suspect most envision him as having a .300/20/20 ceiling and figure that players such as Tommy Pham and Andrew Benintendi are cheaper alternatives who can provide similar production for a lesser cost. I am higher on Yelich than most, and I see the potential for .320/25/25 this season. I don’t love Milwaukee’s early schedule, but I will kick myself if Yelich gets off to a hot start, so I’ll take my chances on the budding superstar.
Tommy Pham, 1000 and Andrew Benintendi, 990 – Just because I love Yelich doesn’t mean I’m going to cut off my nose to spite my face and go without Pham and Benintendi. Pham was sixth among hitters on ESPN’s Player Rater last season but still comes at a huge discount in 2018. Pham can come close to that level of production once again and should be very highly owned. As for Benintendi, I don’t love him as much as most people seem to. I certainly would not pay a fourth-round price for him in drafts. But here, he is a relatively cheap player who can fill all five categories. These players make a good foundation for an offense.
Rhys Hoskins, 850 – Rhys Hoskins has the potential to hit 40 home runs at a very low price, and should (repeat – should) do less damage to the batting average than Joey Gallo, for instance. I am a little worried about carrying too many players who can drain the batting average, but the cheap power should make Hoskins a very popular pick.
Manuel Margot, 740 – Yes, I am rostering Manuel Margot. And yes, I am doing so over Byron Buxton among others. Sometimes you have to zig when others zag. Minnesota has three five-game weeks in the first quarter of the season, which I didn’t like. Volume isn’t everything, but that caused me to start looking for alternatives. Margot has a little less power than Buxton, but he did show improvement in that area towards the end of last season. San Diego also makes two trips to Coors Field in April, so I figured I’d take a shot and hope Margot can out-produce Buxton, at least to start the season. I can always reverse course if necessary.
Ronald Acuna, 600 – Acuna is starting the year in the minors, but I am expecting him to be called up for the beginning of Period 4. I did not want to use a pickup on him then, so I will start the year with him on my bench.
Max Scherzer (1610), Clayton Kershaw (1600), Chris Sale (1520), Corey Kluber (1440), Stephen Strasburg (1260), Luis Severino (1080), Noah Syndergaard (980) – These Magnificent Seven figure to be heavily owned, and with good reason. The first five are arguably the five best pitchers in baseball, and the latter two have the potential to join them and can be had at a reasonable price. Expect all to be owned by at least half of the teams in the field.
Yu Darvish, 1020 – Last year was arguably the worst in the brief career of Yu Darvish. Darvish fell all the way down to 21st on ESPN’s Player Rater among starting pitchers. Oh, the horror. If his floor is a 3.86 ERA and a shade under seven strikeouts per start, I’ll take it. I think Darvish’s 2018 looks more like his 2013-2014, making him well worth the cost.
Robbie Ray, 1010 – Robbie Ray took a great step forward in 2017, and I’m hoping he can continue that momentum in 2018. If he can figure a way to reduce the walks at all, Ray will be a top-10 starting pitcher this season. If he can ever get below 3.0 BB/9, he’s top-5. Either way, he should be owned by a large number of fantasy players in this format.
Alex Wood, 1000 – Many fantasy owners are wary of guys like Alex Wood, citing his fragility and injury history. That’s fine with me. I think those so-called negatives make Wood a great target in these kinds of games. His salary is deflated because of the lack of historical volume, which is exploitable. If and when Wood misses time, there will be plenty of pitchers for you to replace him with.
James Paxton, 960 – James Paxton is another pitcher whose price is reasonable in large part due to his checkered injury past. When healthy, Paxton has the makings of a staff ace. He has an excellent arsenal of pitches and has posted two straight sub-3.00 FIP seasons.
Luis Castillo, 600 – Luis Castillo burst onto the scene down the stretch of the 2017 season. He allowed just 64 hits in 89.1 innings while striking out 98 hitters. His electric stuff has fantasy owners salivating over the possibilities. He still needs to harness his control and limit the home runs, but he is far too cheap to ignore in salary cap challenge games.
Kenley Jansen (1390), Craig Kimbrel (1360), and Corey Knebel (1190) – I’m not going to try and get too cute with closers this year. Saves are so hard to predict, so I’ll just stick with the guys who are most likely to get me 100+ strikeouts along with quality ratios. It helps that these three are on good teams as well, so saves shouldn’t be too hard to come by.
Brandon Morrow, 960 – Brandon Morrow enters 2018 as the Chicago Cubs’ new closer. Chicago should once again contend for triple-digit victories, and Joe Maddon has been known to maximize save opportunities as a manager. Morrow has really found himself as a reliever, and I expect him to thrive as the Cubs’ closer this season.