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How to Choose the Best Keepers in Fantasy Baseball

Five things you need to know when selecting the best players for the future

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We all like to believe we know what we're doing.

We don't need Keith Law to tell us about an up-and-coming stud in fantasy baseball. We've seen it ourselves -- via the box scores we check each night or in the morning, when we're pretending to do real work.

We can manage our team just fine, thank you. Step aside, Brian Cashman. We don't need $200 million from the Steinbrenners to build this title contender.

Really, though, we make plenty of dumb decisions. We get sucked in by Player X's potential, even if Player Y has been performing well for years and has shown no signs of slowing.

The latter is especially true when it comes to selecting our (cue every small-market general manager) "core players" in keeper leagues.

Potential is a huge factor, but too often, we let it be the determining factor. To avoid getting fooled by the likes of B.J. Upton, keep these tips in mind:

1. Age matters

Of course it does. But don't let it be the first and last number you examine when narrowing your roster.

If one player is 25 and the other is 32, keep the younger player unless there is a sizable difference in their statistics.

The aforementioned Upton is 26. He generated a ton of buzz in 2007, when he batted .300 with 24 homers, 82 RBI, 86 runs, 22 steals and an .894 OPS at age 23. In the three years since, his season highs are 17 homers and 67 RBI, and he's batted .241 or worse in each of the last two years. Yes, he'll steal 40-plus bases, but how much is that worth to you?

Then there is Albert Pujols, who at 30 might seem old for a keeper league. Never mind that he has displayed zero signs of regressing. He just put together his 10th consecutive season of hitting at least 32 homers, driving in at least 103 runs and batting better than .300.

Joey Votto, on the other hand, became an elite player in 2010 and is a coveted keeper, as he should be. He's also only three years younger than Pujols, which isn't enough to make him a more valuable commodity in those formats.

2. Know the rules

  • If you're in AL- and NL-only leagues, hammers such as Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez are obviously even more valuable -- and thus should generate a ton as trade bait, should you need a lot of help.
  • If you're in a league that forces you to research hundreds of minor-leaguers each year, more power to you. You have more free time than many of us. (A side note: How did you manage that? Send advice to kkleps@hotmail.com.)
  • Are you in a league in which you can keep players for maximum periods of time -- three, four or five seasons? If so, that impacts your decision, especially as you near the end of the Albert Pujols era on your roster. When that sad time arrives, you have to decide if you want to win it for Big Al in his final season on your club or if you want to trade him during the season for future help (and players you can keep for three or four years at a time).
  • How many players can you keep? If it's only a few, the decisions are much more difficult. If it's almost a full lineup, the tough calls likely will be limited to the potential-vs.-current production debate.

3. Whom is everyone else keeping?

  • If you're torn between Robinson Cano and Troy Tulowitzki, and you know the guy or gal who has Hanley Ramirez is going to be forced to let him go because he's had him for the maximum allowed time, keep Cano if you think Ramirez will be there for you in the draft. Which brings us to ...
  • Your draft position -- it's not only huge in leagues that start over every year. In keeper leagues, it can be the difference between one young stud and another. Knowing you have the top pick and Hanley Ramirez waiting makes it a lot easier to let Tulowitzki re-enter the pool of available players.

4. Know the game

  • In 5-by-5 rotisserie formats, the leagues in which categories with season totals mean everything, you can't afford to ignore, or punt, saves. Same goes for steals. A one, or last-place point total, for any category can kill your chance to win the league.
  • In 5-by-5 head-to-head leagues, punting saves can be a very good decision. While other owners are keeping Carlos Marmol or Neftali Feliz instead of Mat Latos or Jaime Garcia, you can hold on to your best players and not worry about getting a "1" in a category. In head-to-head leagues, a bad saves week only means you need to win at least five of the other nine categories (depending on your league's tiebreakers).
  • It should go without saying that stud young catchers (Buster Posey, anyone?) are more valuable than stud young outfielders (our apologies, Ryan Braun).
  • In points leagues, studs and duds are much more easily defined. A reason I prefer points leagues: B.J. Upton can't hide. His 40 steals are nice, but his lack of hits, homers and RBI are going to be evident in his point total.

5. Know the production

You need to do this in any format -- keeper, standard, points, six-team leagues in which every owner has a stud first baseman and three excellent outfielders. You better do this in keeper leagues, when deciding between Player X and Player Y is not a game of "I've always liked him" vs. "I hate the Red Sox more than chick flicks starring Matthew McConaughey."

If the scouts, ESPN or Tim McCarver tell you Player Z is going to be great, that's encouraging. That doesn't mean Player Z is more valuable than a proven commodity. Hasn't Joba Chamberlain taught us anything?

Has a player regressed (Alex Rodriguez, we've noticed)? Can you do better in the draft than by using one of your limited keeper spots on someone who has been great, but clearly isn't the same?

Is he a big name with little game? I was a fan of Chone Figgins in 2007 (who wasn't?), but he's now a .260 hitter who steals bases and does nothing else.

Jose Bautista was phenomenal in 2010, but should you afford him the same regard as Pujols or Carlos Gonzalez? Uh, no. He had a career year at age 29 and, prior to 2010, had never hit more than 16 homers or driven in more than 61 runs.

More fantasy baseball tips:

How to make effective trades

Five tips on how to manage the waiver wire

Five things you can learn from a mock draft

How to assign value in rotisserie formats

How to prepare for a draft in one hour

Draft horror stories

How to manage your fantasy team in the playoffs

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