Players to Target in Dynasty Leagues (2022 Fantasy Baseball)
The new year is the perfect reset to wake your fantasy baseball dynasty league from hibernation. Actual MLB maneuvering usually accompanies winter’s arrival, but we’ll have to fill the lockout’s transaction void with our own wheeling and dealing.
Dust the cobwebs off your dynasty league’s communication portal of choice and get the ball rolling on an active offseason. With fantasy football no longer around to divide their attention, this is a great time to start putting out trade feelers.
It won’t be difficult identifying a pattern in these dynasty targets. Aside from the first mainstay mentioned, these players are all former top prospects whose shine has lulled. Managers who viewed these young talents as untouchable building blocks last year might now at least be open to a conversation.
An astute dynasty player wouldn’t part with any of these players for peanuts, but you never know until you ask. Besides, there’s considerable room for a long-term profit even if paying a fair price.
Alex Bregman (3B – HOU)
Over the past two years, Bregman has just been another guy. He batted a mundane .270/.355/.422 with 12 home runs over 400 plate appearances in 2020 and 2021. Those numbers would look worse if including a poor postseason culminating with just two hits in six World Series games.
Bregman’s fantasy value peaked early. He won’t ever again touch his 41 home runs from 2019, a byproduct of the juiced ball and outsized 18.6% HR/FB rate. And as long as he plays for the Astros, he won’t swipe double-digit bags again. Bregman has one steal in the last two seasons and seven attempts in the past three years.
However, there’s also a long list of health woes beyond his quiet 2021 campaign. Along with spending a week on the COVID-19 IL in April, Bregman missed more than two months recovering from a left quad strain. He also underwent wrist surgery shortly after struggling in the Fall Classic.
Let’s not forget just how good Bregman was at the height of his powers. Only Mike Trout and Christian Yelich had a higher wRC+ than Bregman’s 162 in 2018 and 2019. He joined those two, Mookie Betts, and Juan Soto as the only qualified hitters with an OBP over .400 and José Ramírez and Carlos Santana as the only qualified hitters with more walks than strikeouts.
Besides the vanished steals, his skillset should age gracefully if healthy. Bregman has maintained his keen approach over the last two middling years, posting an 87.4% contact rate with just a 14.6% strikeout rate and 5.0% swinging-strike rate. He should hit in the .270-.280 range with a stellar OBP and a surplus of scoring opportunities in the heart of Houston's lineup. Assuming he's fully recovered from wrist surgery, the third baseman -- who may add positional flexibility by replacing Carlos Correa at shortstop -- could at least uptick closer to 25-30 home runs.
The regressed power and red light on the bases make Bregman a boring bounce-back candidate. Use that to your advantage and acquire an immediate building block with long-term staying power at a likely discount.
Gavin Lux (2B/SS/OF - LAD)
To get a sense of how far Lux's stock had fallen by last summer, someone dropped him in one of my 12-team dynasty leagues.
It didn't take long for The Sound of Silence to play in the background as this leaguemate lamented their huge mistake. Following months of putrid play in uneven playing time, Lux finally showed some promise in September. In those final 18 games, the Dodgers' once-prized prospect went 18-of-50 with nine walks, eight strikeouts, and a .413 wOBA.
While it's a small sample size fueled by a .415 BABIP, the improved plate approach is encouraging. Lux made more contact (83.5%) in September as a result of chasing fewer pitches outside the strike zone:
Throughout a stellar minor league career, Lux batted .304/.381/.479 with an 11.1% walk rate and 18.3% strikeout rate. He hasn't consistently demonstrated the same patience in the majors, but the 24-year-old has plenty of time to mature.
Another important element from his September: Lux spent it all in the Dodgers' outfield. He could also shift back to second base with Trea Turner moving back to shortstop and Chris Taylor instead handling the outfield or a super-utility starting role. Either way, the Dodgers should find more playing time for Lux in 2022, especially if the DH arrives in the National League.
Lux may not offer significant power or speed upside, but he still has the foundation of a steady future five-category contributor. With his underwhelming .233/.314/.368 slash line in just 144 MLB games scattered across three seasons, formerly giddily investors may instead see this as one last chance to salvage some trade value.
Jarren Duran (OF - BOS)
In a year without minor league baseball, no prospect improved their stock more in 2020 than Duran. After drawing rave reviews from Boston's alternate site, the outfielder displayed his newfound power by earning MVP honors in the Puerto Rican winter league's World Series. He continued fueling excitement by tallying 16 home runs and steals apiece over 60 Triple-A games last season.
But when the anticipated call-up arrived, Duran hit .216/.241/.336 with an appalling 40 strikeouts to four walks in 33 games. He played his way out of a job by September and will now have to re-earn a starting role in 2022. While the 25-year-old still has an open lane to a starting gig in left field, that would change if the Red Sox bring back Kyle Schwarber or sign another free agent when the lockout ends.
There's not much to like from Duran's dreadful summer in Boston. It was bad. He wasn't ready for the challenge just yet, but he certainly wouldn't be the first rookie to overcome a nightmarish debut. After all, Duran already proved his ability his adapt by revamping his swing in 2020:
Pretty massive swing change for Jarren Duran.
— Lance Brozdowski (@LanceBroz) May 14, 2021
He's not a bust because of 33 bad games. Perhaps the buzz got too loud last season, but that shouldn't be a problem anymore. Find out what the updated price is on Duran, who remains a 20/20 threat potentially as soon as this season. Based on his basement-low 411.96 ADP in early NFBC drafts, he's also an intriguingly cheap post-hype sleeper in re-drafts.
Tarik Skubal (SP - DET)
Skubal is an interesting Rorschach test. Some managers will fall in love with a young hurler whose 25.9% strikeout rate narrowly trailed José Berríos, Julio Urías, and Walker Buehler last year. Paired with an improved 7.4% walk rate, the lefty posted a solid 1.24 WHIP and a 3.96 SIERA suggesting improvement on his 4.34 ERA. One can dream of the 25-year-old taking a sudden leap to stardom.
However, Skubal also had a 5.09 FIP and a Statcast page as the blue as the Detroit River. Why would anyone want a starter with the highest HR/FB (2.11) and barrel (9.1%) rate of any pitcher with at least 140 innings?
Home runs are a glaring problem for Skubal. Looking deeper, those woes mainly stem from his four-seam fastball, which yielded 22 of his 35 homers with a ghastly .611 slugging and .413 wOBA against. He responded by lowering his fastball usage rate from 58.9% to 42.8% in favor of a far more potent slider. Skubal also threw it less as the season progressed:
This didn't solve his gopheritis, as his fastball still served up seven long balls in the final two months. But the pitch induced more strikeouts during that span, and its expected wOBA (xwOBA) improved from disastrous to just bad:
Skubal isn't a junkballer who should need to abandon his heater altogether. FanGraphs graded his fastball a 70 on the 80 prospect grade, and he fired it at a healthy average velocity of 94.3 mph last season. Skubal also finished his first full season by allowing 11 walks in his final 15 starts.
There's a path to him unlocking an ace ceiling with better fastball location. There's also a universe where he gets barrelled into the bullpen. That makes Skubal a risky re-draft investment at his 183 NFBC ADP, but dynasty managers should still take a chance on him putting the puzzle together within the next two or three years.
Jesús Luzardo (SP/RP - MIA)
The A's, a franchise whose frugality inspired a business book-turned-movie, traded the cost-controlled Luzardo for a veteran (Starling Marte) on an expiring contract. A few months earlier, they probably viewed Luzardo as their future ace until, you know, they actually had to pay him.
Maybe the manager in your dynasty league is also ready to part with Luzardo for an instant upgrade or shinier new toy.
There's no sugarcoating his awful 2021 season. Often selected with a top-100 pick in re-draft leagues, Luzardo got hammered to a 6.61 ERA and 1.62 WHIP in 95.1 innings. His four-seam fastball and sinker yielded a wOBA of .454 and .421, respectively.
While he hardly turned the corner in Miami, Luzardo began relying more on an elite slider (classified as a curveball by Statcast). It took until the final start of 2021, but Luzardo reminded everyone of his promise by allowing one run over 5.1 innings with no walks and a season-high 11 strikeouts.
— Bally Sports Florida: Marlins (@BallyMarlins) October 3, 2021
Now's a good time to remind everyone that he's a 24-year-old who posted a 4.12 ERA with a strikeout per inning in 2020. Putting last year in perspective, the southpaw still sports a 4.36 career SIERA with a 13.1% swinging-strike rate.
However, the acquisition cost is key here. Don't ignore Luzardo's struggles altogether and assume you're buying an ace at a 10% discount. While he should avoid video game injuries going forward, last year's 124.1 innings (including 29 in Triple-A) still represent a professional high. There's extra health risk given his arm and shoulder injuries. Plus, the Marlins are stacked with young pitching talent, meaning they won't keep him in the rotation for too long if he doesn't improve.
Fantrax's Eric Cross positioned Luzardo No. 157 in his updated dynasty rankings. Chances are you can scroll further down the rankings and offer someone like John Means (201), Bobby Dalbec (221), or Garrett Whitlock (244).
Whether you're new to fantasy baseball or a seasoned pro, our Fantasy Baseball 101: Strategy Tips & Advice page is for you. You can get started with our Sabermetrics Glossary or head to a more advanced strategy - like How to Make Custom Fantasy Baseball Rankings with Microsoft Excel - to learn more.