Keeper Conundrum: The Old and the Beautiful
I can remember a time, not that long ago, when aging curves and physical prime wasn’t as prevalent in fantasy baseball as it is today. A time when you could hold on to your older players like Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey Jr., Mike Piazza, Craig Biggio and Rickey Henderson and not think twice. A time when you could win a championship with players passed their prime with no feelings of angst over the next 20-something phenom. However, now with the more recent explosion of dynasty based leagues, and the appearance of premium talent at a much younger age, these older stars are being tossed out with the trash once they reach the ripe old age of 32.
Recently, my colleague Wilson Karaman, wrote about hitters that build their careers on speed and how they age over time and it sparked an idea for me. We have since agreed to team up on a point-counterpoint article about hitters over the age of 32. I will be discussing a handful of players that can either A) maintain their current level of production or B) improve upon their current level over the next few seasons. Without further ado, here are my choices for three passed prime hitters that are worthy of keeping in all formats:
Victor Martinez Team: DET Pos: DH Age: 34
Martinez missed the entire 2012 season after having micro-fracture knee surgery on his left knee. He started off slow this season, but has been lights out since the all-star break to a tune of .366/.411/.485 with 25R and 25RBI. In 2010 and 2011 he posted a 7.4 and 7.7 BB% with an astounding 9.7 and 8.6 KK% respectively. Those numbers have carried over again this season with a 7.7% and 9.5%. His power has dwindled some since he reached 30 but he’s still good for 10-15 HR annually. He has one more season under contract in a formidable Detroit lineup and will be their full time DH for the foreseeable future. In an inaugural 20 team dynasty draft that I participated in this past spring, he was drafted in the 8th round, but is currently ranked at 102 on the ESPN player rater for that league. For a team in need of some above average slash lines, and 10-15 HR, I believe that VMart is a steal in dynasty settings.
Carlos Beltran Team: STL Pos: RF Age: 36
Since coming back from his injury plagued 2009 and 2010 seasons, Beltran has gone one to play in an average 140 games a season with 25HR, 75R, 85RBI and .290AVG. For a player in his age 34-36 seasons, that’s pretty darned good. In 2012 his K% jumped up to 20% for the first time in his career, but this season it is back near is normal rate of 15.2%. However, his BB% is the lowest it has been since his rookie season, 5.6%. Another interesting fact, is that his ISO has been a combined .218 since 2011. When looking at all of this things in one big picture, you’ll see that as long as he can stay on the field, he’ll be able to produce very similar and very stable numbers for a few more seasons. When speaking about RF, you rarely hear his name in the top 10 for dynasty leagues, and that’s expected considering his age, but when games are won or loss by the stats on the field, he’s a surefire top 5 RF. While everyone is scrambling to overpay for the Jason Heyward, Jay Bruce, Yasiel Puig and Bryce Harper types, you can get sit back, reap the better stats and keep that extra value on your team.
Aramis Ramirez Team: MIL Pos: 3B Age: 35
Ramirez missed most of the 2013 season with various injuries, but the biggest one to watch for was the repeated knee sprains. Prior to this year, he has had only one season since 2001 where he didn’t play in at least 120 games, and that was 2009. When he is healthy, which is more often than not, he has continuously had a 7-8% BB% and a 12-14% K%. Both of those things combined with his ISO being over .200 annually and his LD/GB/FB numbers being consistent across the board, I have no doubt that he will be able to return to form next season. He is a perennial 25 HR, 90RBI, 70R threat with a slash line near .290/.350/.525. If Ramirez were 5 years younger, he’d be listed with the likes of Evan Longoria, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, Pablo Sandoval, Josh Donaldson and Kyle Seager, but the fact remains that his production is on par and the cost to acquire him will be far less.
In summation, I’m a firm believer in the concept that you can’t win a league championship with a 100% focus on young players. Hitters in the 20-25 age range are notoriously volatile and even though the urge to acquire the shiny new toy will be hard to ignore, it is nearly impossible to ride that roller coaster of struggling youngster to a title. Smart managers will realize that you need to supplement your youth with stable productive veterans to give yourself a chance to win will also building from within. The last thing any of us want to do is spend two to three seasons building from the bottom up just to be left in the same position we were in at the start. So while everyone rushes off to over pay for the “next big thing” the smarter play would be to retain your assets and invest in a few older players that will cost only a fraction of the price.