Veterans to Sell in Dynasty Leagues (2019 Fantasy Baseball)
Every so often, a veteran circumnavigates the aging curve and rides into the sunset on his own terms. Father Time, however, still maintains a stellar track record.
For every David Ortiz and Justin Verlander, there’s Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Troy Tulowitzki, Joe Mauer, Felix Hernandez, Adam Wainwright, and plenty more former All-Stars who faded to obscurity. The good times don’t last forever, and just like prospect progression, a decline isn’t always gradual and linear.
Dynasty managers must weigh this risk when rostering a veteran. While nobody should ride a constant cycle of rebuilding, it also stinks to keep a depreciating asset one year too long. As long as it doesn’t sabotage chances of securing a 2019 championship, consider trading these contributors with enough warning signs to fear a sharper decline in the near future.
If these four players seem too valuable to relinquish, that’s partially by design. The idea here is to sell guys while they remain desirable. Jake Arrieta or Evan Longoria isn’t going to land much more than an OK prospect, so the optimal selling window has shut. There are also instances where instant rewards from an old and undervalued veteran — Nelson Cruz and Charlie Morton come to mind — outweigh the subdued return. Don’t feel compelled to sell veterans to the highest bidder if ageist leaguemates don’t give them any respect.
Madison Bumgarner (SP – SF)
Bumgarner was the outlier. The indestructible workhorse who hurled five scoreless innings in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series just two days after tossing a complete-game shutout. The iron man who exceeded 200 innings in six straight seasons while never watching his ERA tower above 3.37. That stellar mark, by the way, still represents the highest of his nine-year career.
Not even the 6’4, 242-pound stud could sustain such a hefty workload forever. Injury setbacks have inflicted the Giants ace in consecutive seasons. While a dirt-bike accident wasn’t enough to merit the dreaded injury-prone label, he then fractured a finger on his pitching hand last March.
He fared well enough when healthy, posting a 3.29 ERA and 210 strikeouts in 240.2 combined frames over the past two campaigns. Yet the 29-year-old started to show his age with career highs in FIP (3.99), SIERA (4.42), and walk rate (7.8%). Take a deep breath, because those aren’t the only warning flags.
Once a lethal offering, his four-seam fastball has become a major liability in light of lost velocity. Opponents clobbered it to a .299/.370/.571 slash line with a microscopic 6.5% swinging-strike rate. His overall whiff rate fell to single digits (9.2%) for the first time since 2012.
No longer a dominant power pitcher, Bumgarner adjusted by throwing fewer four-seamers in favor of more cutters. He’s too good to swiftly fall off the map, but he faces a steep uphill climb toward reclaiming his past strikeout-per-inning form. Consider trading the postseason hero now before the ERA begins to match his depreciated skills.
Michael Brantley (OF – HOU)
Brantley possesses the ideal skills to avoid an ugly closing act. Making a triumphant return in 2018, the AL Comeback Player of the Year wielded the highest contact rate (90.9%) of any qualified hitter. Only Andrelton Simmons struck out less often (7.3%) than the outfielder’s 9.5%.
A career .295 hitter, Brantley hasn’t batted below .284 (excluding an 11-game 2016) since 2011. That high floor makes him especially valuable to contenders now that he could easily accompany his double-digit homers and steals with 100 runs or RBIs for the Astros.
This is all why managers can fetch a strong haul for a 31-year-old who played 101 combined games in 2016 and 2017 because of an ankle injury that required surgery. Brantley swiped 12 bags in his return, so gamers may quickly dismiss the ailment. Yet he lost a step on the basepaths; his 26.1 Statcast speed score matched that of catchers Josh Phegley and Mike Zunino.
Veterans eventually stop running, and Houston attempted 74 fewer steals than Cleveland last season. If the steals dry up, he’d suddenly resemble the good version of Nick Markakis. A steady average with 12-15 homers and run production still helps, but see if Brantley can net a long-term return befitting a top-100 player.
Edwin Encarnacion (1B – SEA)
In re-draft leagues, take Encarnacion’s steady power if offered a discount. Dynasty managers, however, should take proactive measures to avoid getting stuck with a lemon.
An underwhelming season for the slugger still encapsulated 32 homers and 107 RBIs. That gives him seven straight 32-homer campaigns and six of the last seven with over 100 RBIs. He drove in 98 during the outlier. Such bankable power should impress eager contenders despite recording his lowest wOBA (.346) since 2011.
The dip stemmed from the worst strikeout (22.8%) and contact (75.7%) rates of his career, so a .246 batting average may not recover despite a steady supply of hard hits. His slugging percentage has slid in each of the last three years, so the 36-year-old may soon take a heavier tumble. Steamer thinks so, projecting a .238/.337/.463 slash line and 27 long balls in just 121 games played. Even if he plays a full season, the gaudy RBI tally will decline without Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez above him in the batting order. He may have one more .250, 30-homer season left in the tank, but a strong roster could risk cashing out one year too early rather than waiting too long.
David Price (SP – BOS)
Price put 2017’s elbow woes behind him by posting a 3.58 ERA and 177 strikeouts in 176 frames last season. After registering a 2.28 ERA in the second half, he exorcized his playoff demons with two World Series gems. He’s not done yet, but a downfall is still lurking.
Even before digging into the sabermetrics, he’s a 33-year-old lefty whose odometer eclipsed 2,000 innings during the postseason. That’s reason enough for dynasty managers to consider an exit strategy. His age showed in a velocity dip that resulted in his lowest swinging-strike (9.6%) and highest contract rate (79.8%) since 2013. Last season’s 35.3% hard-hit rate, 88.3-mph average exit velocity, and .310 xwOBA all represented his worst marks in four years of Statcast data. Also, remember when he nearly needed Tommy John surgery two years ago?
Still highly regarded in season-long leagues, this could be the last chance to cash in fully on his past glory. Contenders certainly shouldn’t sell the Red Sox southpaw at any cost, as his strong finish at least offered hope for one or two more strong seasons. Yet Price likely won’t be right for too much longer, so it’s still worth testing the waters.