This article is part of our The Wheelhouse series.
What happens when Kenley Jansen's biggest fanboy fails to build a roster around him in 2018?
The Beat DVR League from the NFBC RotoWire Online Championship drafted on Sunday night, and while the reward of my name coming up second in the KDS selection order was the opportunity to build a team around Mike Trout, the long odds of getting Jansen or Craig Kimbrel at the Round 4-5 turn (Picks 48 and 49) left me in a position to consider the alternatives.
I attempted to script the first 10 rounds or so, using my rankings and ADP data, mostly to simulate the types of decisions I would have to make at each turn.
At the 2-3 turn, I expected to have a choice of two from Gary Sanchez, Freddie Freeman, Stephen Strasburg, Madison Bumgarner, and Josh Donaldson, where the most difficult choice would have been deciding if going pitcher-pitcher was viable if Strasburg and Bumgarner both made it back to me. When Bumgarner went 15th overall, I immediately feared that neither would be an option, and that I might have to consider waiting until the 4-5 turn to get my first starting pitcher.
As luck would have it, Anthony Rizzo was available at 24, and Strasburg did not get swiped with any of the eight picks before my turn following that Bumgarner selection.
The plan at 4-5 was simple. Take either Jansen or Kimbrel if either made it, and attempt cartwheels after choosing both on that turn if the option presented itself. Not surprisingly, both were gone before my turn, and my first choice of the remaining starters (Yu Darvish) went two picks before me. In a draft where Christian Yelich went 27th overall, I was happy to land Andrew Benintendi with the 48th pick. Factoring in Strasburg's injury risk, and the rapidly dwindling supply of viable SP2 options, I went with Chris Archer to begin Round 5, rather than push up Aroldis Chapman to begin securing saves.
I thought there was a good chance that Roberto Osuna would make it back to me for the 6-7 turn, as he consistently falls into the Pick 75 range despite a very firm hold on the ninth-inning role in Toronto and an impressive resume through three big-league seasons. The simulation of each turn when I went through my rankings and the ADP round-by-round on Saturday left me with a dream scenario of sorts at 72 and 73 overall. I thought it was reasonably likely that both Jean Segura and Xander Bogaerts were going to be available at that turn, and in my walk-through, I elected to put them both on my roster, in part because I convinced myself that there was a good enough chance that Cody Allen and Raisel Iglesias might be there together at the 8-9 turn.
While I was correct about Osuna's availability, I ended up being wrong about Allen (7.10) and Iglesias (8.5), and both Edwin Diaz (7.11) and Felipe Rivero (8.2) were scooped up in between those picks. A nightmare was unfolding, as I've been adamant that the quality of the player pool in the middle rounds is strong enough that drafting high-end closers has a lower opportunity cost than ever in 2018, and here I was, about to build one of my most important rosters without any saves secured through the first 100 picks.
At this point, there was on top-10 closer on my board still available.
The six picks between the time Iglesias was selected and my turn at 96th overall felt like the final 30 minutes in the car at the end of a long road trip.
First it was Hosmer. Then Shaw. A Luis Castillo selection at 8.8. Nick Castellanos to an owner who already had a closer. Two picks before mine....J.T. Realmuto to an owner without a closer to that point. Rafael Devers to the owner who quickly scooped up Osuna when I passed on him to begin Round 7.
I was lucky.
With five hitters through seven rounds, I wanted to try and help my ratios by getting a third starter, so Hand was paired with Masahiro Tanaka at the 8-9 turn.
I am still not entirely sure how I would have handled saves if Hand had been taken off the board before that turn. In a league that doesn't allow trading, making a run at the overall title requires at least two closers, and getting near 100 saves is ideal in order to place in the Top 10 percent in the category. Punting is not an option, and settling for a combination that yields 50 saves can be a crushing blow as well.
If Sean Doolittle had made it back to me in Round 10, he would have been my choice as the second source of saves, but he was gone at 10.3. Wade Davis, much like Mark Melancon, seems safe to keep the job all year if he's healthy thanks to his large contract, but the injury risk he presents is just as problematic as having to pitch half of his games in Colorado. Thankfully, he was gone before the 10-11 turn as well, so it was never an option.
With the hope of stabilizing my offense with two veteran players who should anchor their respective lineups, I landed Ryan Braun and Ryan Zimmerman at the 10-11 turn. Both have excellent supporting casts, and both could yield better per-game production with their expected preventative maintenance than they might without it. The appropriate discount for injury concerns with both players is already priced in, and from a roster construction perspective, Trout/Rizzo/Benintendi/Segura/Bogaerts are a very young core without those age-related durability issues.
Maybe, just maybe, I would have a chance to get my second closer at the 12-13 turn. Unfortunately, I was wrong, as Melancon and Brandon Morrow were taken in the 11th round, while Alex Colome (who I really don't like this year) and Jeurys Familia were gone in the 12th. Seeing little reason to push up any of the closers from my next tier, I went back to the script.
Just as I had drawn it up at the 12-13 turn, they were both available, so I pounced.
Mazara showed improved plate discipline last season, while hitting the ball in air more often, but the overall results don't really account for those areas of growth. Of the mid-round outfielders in this year's crop, I think he has the best shot of being the 2018 equivalent of Marcell Ozuna a year ago. As Polanco goes, I have warmed up on targeting him a lot since the start of draft season. At a glance, his 2016 numbers look like an outlier that may not be repeated. Looking more closely, there was growth year-over-year since his arrival in 2014, and that trend was halted by hamstring injuries last season. Can he consolidate the 22-homer power from 2016 with the 27-steal speed he offered in 2015 in his age-26 campaign? At this price, I'm willing to find out.
Lost in my intermittent games of "closer chicken" was the simple fact that I was negleting the catcher spots. The 14-15 plan at closer included: Blake Treinen and Arodys Vizcaino. When they were both gone by the end of Round 14, I decided to solve my catcher problems before the well of useful ones dried up, and another double-tap was in order with Evan Gattis and Mike Zunino.
Gattis will at least have a chance to serve as the regular DH for the Astros this season, although he needs to hit to fend off the slew of spare parts from other corners of the depth chart to keep that role. Zunino has significant batting average downside, but his glove will carry him to a high volume of playing time, and I could afford some dead weight in one category to get steady contributions from him in homers, RBI and hopefully runs, relative to the pool of alternatives.
No longer worrying about two limited-supply positions, I focused my efforts back toward closers. One name continued to stand out: Blake Parker. The Angels have not named a closer to begin the season, and perhaps they will be among the teams that elect to use several relievers to finish games, calling upon their best relievers at the most critical points in the late innings. Alternatively, they may just be blowing smoke.
In a tier of players with similar concerns about team bullpen management, Parker had the best skills last season, including a 33.9 percent K%, 13.8% swinging-strike rate (perhaps a sign that the strikeouts are coming down slightly) and good control (6.3 percent BB%). My hope with Parker is two-fold. One, even if Mike Scioscia doesn't name him closer that he'll get the bulk of their save chances as Scioscia ends up leaning heavily on one ninth-inning option. And two, that Parker's splitter, a weapon he did not have in his earlier attempts to secure big-league paychecks, holds up as an excellent pitch that enables him to continue his success despite being a 32-year-old when he had his breakout last season.
I felt better getting Parker as a second option for saves, but I knew that I was still going to need at least two more speculative darts to have a chance of walking out of the room with enough saves to make a run at my category target. My lack of faith in Kelvin Herrera led me to add another starter on the turn with Parker, and that starter was Taijuan Walker, whose skills growth last season paired with the new humidor at Chase Field makes him very interesting as a late SP4-type in most drafts. There was a slight tier break after Walker, before the other pitchers I like in the 200-300 ADP range were going to start flying off the board.
Looking at my roster through 17 rounds, I still did not have a starting second baseman (thanks to filling the MI spot with the Segura-Bogaerts combo earlier) or third baseman (already had a solid corner behind Rizzo with Zimmerman). Walker v. Eugenio Suarez was a close call at the 16-17 turn, and unfortunately for me, Suarez was gone before my next two picks came back around.
In search of a little more speed, Jose Peraza looked somewhat appealing as my 18-19 turn approached. Last season, I was skeptical of Peraza as a fringe Top-100 player as his ADP crept up. Now, he's going approximately 100 picks later, and he'll likely begin the season with a starting job to himself as Zack Cozart signed with the Angels this winter.
Peraza, who turns 24 in April, may not be a long-term regular, but I don't really need him to be a good real-life player. I just need him to be good enough to keep the seat warm by getting on base a little more than he did last season, and by remaining active on the basepaths whenever possible. Nick Senzel is spending a lot of time working at shortstop this spring, which could bump Peraza back into a utility role by the end of the first half. Still, it's a buy-low based on the speed, the lack of veterans to push him for playing time early on this season, and a wRC+ that was a tick above league average in 2016 both at Triple-A Louisville and during his time with the Reds. If he continues down his 2017 path (62 wRC+ for the Reds), he'll be off my roster by mid-May, and possibly off the Reds' 25-man roster as well.
Back to closers. Two closers in tow? Maybe. Yet again, there was a big tier where the players I could have pushed up around the 19-20 turn were not significantly better than the players I expected to see on the board a few rounds later. With that mindset, I started to stabilize my rotation, adding Michael Wacha and Tyler Chatwood at the 19-20 turn, Dexter Fowler as my UT (sixth outfielder) and Todd Frazier as my third baseman. Frazier is almost certainly dead weight in the batting average department, but I figured that I could afford one more hit to the category in exchange for the steady power and run production he should bring to the table. In case things get worse, I quickly backed him up with Matt Chapman, who offers a very similar profile, but thanks to his excellent glove, should get plenty of chances to work through any prolonged slumps for the A's.
Without any glaring holes left to address, I elected to take two shots at the bottom end of the closer ranks with Brad Boxberger and Joakim Soria. Neither has been named the closer for their respective club, but I trust Boxberger's arsenal more than the reports I've seen on Yoshihisa Hirano, and Soria's experience in the ninth inning should lead him to save chances ahead of Juan Minaya, at least to begin the season. If I'm wrong on both, they are easy drops in pursuit of a replacement.
Keone Kela was still on the board at the 26-27 turn, and I like him the most of the options in Texas this season, even if Alex Claudio gets a chance to retain the job to begin the year. Unlike Soria, Kela can be a useful staff filler even if he's not closing, so he may stick around on my roster a little longer despite being drafted slightly later. The preference of Soria was tied more to my confidence in his chances of getting the job, even though Kela offers better skills upside.
From this group, Martinez is the most intriguing, thanks to his impressive Statcast numbers from 2017, and the flexibility he offers with first base and outfield eligibility. Wong is a close second, as the Cards should continue to use him as a regular against righties, and he may end up offering more stability for me than Peraza, who I grabbed 10 rounds earlier.
Overall, it's a roster that I'm very comfortable with, and the key will be having at least two solid closers out of the five that I drafted, leaving me with no more than one regular spot to chase with FAAB throughout the year.
Note: Round of each selection included in parenthesis.
C – Evan Gattis (14)
C – Mike Zunino (15)
1B – Anthony Rizzo (2)
2B – Jose Peraza (18)
SS – Jean Segura (6)
3B – Todd Frazier (22)
CI – Ryan Zimmerman (11)
MI – Xander Bogaerts (7)
OF – Mike Trout (1)
OF – Andrew Benintendi (4)
OF – Ryan Braun (10)
OF – Nomar Mazara (12)
OF – Gregory Polanco (13)
UT – Dexter Fowler (21)
P – Stephen Strasburg (3)
P – Chris Archer (5)
P – Masahiro Tanaka (9)
P – Taijuan Walker (16)
P – Michael Wacha (19)
P – Tyler Chatwood (20)
P – Brad Hand (8)
P – Blake Parker (17)
P – Brad Boxberger (24)
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