When it comes to keeper/dynasty leagues, there is no "right" strategy.
On one end, you've got those who prefer to build for the future; their aim is to construct a juggernaut capable of winning for several years down the road, at the expense of the current season. On the other, you've got the right-now crowd, those who go all-in this season with minimal concern for the future. And considering how polar those strategies are, you're left with a lot of in-between.
Ask our analysts, and you'll find opinions that cover every part on the spectrum.
Jason Grey sides with the former. "I take the view of not worrying about the first year or two in order to build a team that has the ability to compete for a title each year for the 6-8 seasons after that," he says. "For example, I participate in a dynasty league that started in 2004. While everyone was more focused on more immediate returns, I was picking players like Miguel Cabrera and Jose Reyes. As a result, I've reached the playoffs in this head-to-head format each of the last six seasons and am a title contender each year by taking that longer view initially."
Eric Karabell -- generally speaking -- sides with the latter. "I always seem to be the one arguing for the baseball elderly," he says. "But then again, people get way too excited about youngsters in dynasty leagues. Sure, if Jesus Montero becomes the next Mike Piazza, good for you. I'll miss out. But there are no guarantees."
Keith Lipscomb, meanwhile, tends to strategize somewhere in-between. "I may take fewer guys in their mid-30s than I would in a redraft league, but I'm not going to shy away from a 28-year-old who is in his prime for a 25-year-old who isn't there yet, just because he's younger," he says.
That's a lot of different angles, and many different opinions to consider … making projects like keeper-league rankings -- you can read my Top 250 right here -- among the most challenging we tackle each year. So, to provide further assistance to those of you in keeper/dynasty leagues, we collected 10 of the best minds in ESPN Fantasy and conducted a from-scratch, dynasty-league mock draft. What better way to give you further insight into these varied strategies in the format than to toss all those different angles into the proverbial blender?
Here are our 10 mock drafters, in drafting order: Pierre Becquey, AJ Mass, Dave Hunter, Shawn Cwalinski, Nate Ravitz, Jason Grey, James Quintong, Keith Lipscomb, Eric Karabell and Tristan H. Cockcroft.
Rules for our mock draft were somewhat loose: The goal was to select 10 rounds -- 100 total picks -- of what would in theory be a 28-round draft; rosters would be comprised of two catchers, one apiece at first base, second base, third base and shortstop, one corner and one middle infielder, five outfielders and a designated hitter/utility man, nine pitchers and five reserve spots. Standard rotisserie scoring (5x5) would be used; regarding keepers, 10 players would be able to be retained from year to year, with no cap on seasons kept and no price inflation. These 10 keepers were not required to be the 10 players picked, but the 10 picks for each team had to take into account a player's keeper potential.
The purpose of no keeper restrictions: to demonstrate which players have the greatest keeper/dynasty appeal, if you were to start a new such league today and had no restriction on which players you wanted to build your core. Prices and years kept obviously have an impact on your analysis in your keeper or dynasty league, but using this guide, you can more easily make those adjustments on your own.
One final note: Our mock drafters were also instructed that championships would indeed be awarded for 2011, as well as 2012, 2013, 2014 and so on. The 2011 championship would be based only on statistics accrued from today forward, but it should be treated as equally valuable as winning in, say, 2013. Keep in mind, therefore, that the picks below did account for rest-of-2011 value.
(Players are listed at the positions they qualify for in 2011 ESPN leagues. Ages are calculated as of April 1, 2012.)
My pick: I haven't been as pro-Longoria from a rest-of-2011 perspective as most, but there aren't many safer long-term bets in the game. He's 25 years old (26 next Opening Day), he has averaged .280-31-113-11 numbers per 162 games played in the big leagues, and he plays one of the tougher positions to fill in fantasy.
What they said: Becquey's selection of Bautista first overall might raise some eyebrows, since he's a 30-year-old (31 next Opening Day) with only 1½ years as a member of fantasy's elite, but there's one statistic that backs him up as a high pick. Since the beginning of last season, Bautista has 78 home runs … or 18 more than anyone else. "It's all about the power," Becquey said. "Bautista has so much of it and it's become such a premium asset that I wanted to secure as much of it as possible. He's signed to a long-term deal in Toronto, so he'll continue to get to hit at Rogers Centre, and it looks like he could even maintain his third-base eligibility if the Jays are serious about sitting Edwin Encarnacion. I think he'll be the top pick in drafts in 2012, and he's in the prime of his career. And if I'm not competitive in Year 1, is there a better trade chip in all of baseball right now?"
Grey's pick of Pujols represented the first "punting 2011" move of the draft, but it's difficult to argue against building your team around the best slugger of the past decade. "It had to do with using Pujols for a couple of years, if you want, and then trading him for a nice future bounty," said Grey. "Get the benefits now and later. He would have been my pick at No. 6 regardless of recent news, but yes, essentially that means I'm bagging this year. Who wants a half-season title anyway?"
My pick: No one should be surprised by my "King Felix" selection. I said in last week's chat, after all, that "the one thing I'm comfortable saying [in advance of the mock and the publishing of my rankings] is that Felix Hernandez is my unquestioned No. 1 keeper-league starting pitcher." Since his major league debut on Aug. 5, 2005, Hernandez has the second-most strikeouts (1,160) and fourth-best ERA (3.20, minimum 1,000 innings), and he's only 25 years old.
What they said: Lipscomb went first base-first base with his first two picks, ignoring the belief that first base is the deepest position in the game. Who can complain about the ones he picked, though: Cabrera and Gonzalez, the Nos. 11 and 4 names on our Player Rater. "I was really just trying to take the best players available in the early going," said Lipscomb. "Sure, with third base being so weak, I did think about the fact it would be nice to have a strong corner guy, but it had nothing to do with taking Gonzalez over anyone else."
Zimmerman became the lowest-ranked name on our 2011 Player Rater to be selected when he went 18th overall; he's not even in the top 600 names so far. Injuries have contributed, however, and it's an intriguing pick, being that he's 26 years old (27 next Opening Day), with considerable All-Star potential at a somewhat thin position. "I love Zimmerman where I took him considering dynasty, his age, his skills," said Hunter.
My pick: I wanted Stanton, Bruce, then Heyward, in that order, and would've been fine with Teixeira, who is still 31 years old but in a great situation for a solid half-decade longer. Let's say that Pedroia wasn't my first choice, but he's 27 (28 next Opening Day) and should be locked into my roster for a near-decade, so that makes the pick. He'll fill categories, and it's not like the Red Sox's future is any less than the Yankees'.
My pick: This is probably early for Andrus, but I ranked him higher in my top 250, and it's because he's a speedy 22-year-old (23 in August) who I see improving with the bat as he nears his prime. Power won't be his forte, but if he's a .290-hitting, 50-steal, 100-run source, he'll be a top-25 fantasy asset merely because he plays one of the thinnest positions in the game. I've now locked up my middle infield for the long haul and can get creative elsewhere in the coming rounds.
What they said: Call Round 4 the "old guys" round, as four of the players picked have already passed their 30th birthdays, and two others are within two years of 30. Konerko, at 35, becomes the oldest player selected thus far. "Konerko is signed through 2013, so at the very least, he's going to be the Chicago White Sox's DH for a few more seasons, a position where his advanced age shouldn't really be that big a factor," said Mass. "And what's not to like in a guy who has batted .286 with 110 home runs since 2008 -- only four other players [Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and Ryan Braun] can say they've done as well in both categories. Anyone doubting their keeper credentials?"
Granderson, the No. 5 name on our Player Rater, earns some keeper-league respect, going 32nd to Karabell. "Granderson might hit 40 home runs this season, just as I suspected when I wrote a column touting his pending accomplishment (well, I wrote it in March 2010, so I'm merely a year late!)," said Karabell. "I just don't see the Grandy Man as a fluke. His batting average works, he steals bases, and he's going to be taking advantage of his home stadium -- and cushy lineup spot -- as a Yankee for a few more years, at least. I mean, he's not 22, but is 30 years old really too old?"
My pick: What can I say? I'm a Lester fan; since 2008, he has the seventh-most strikeouts (702) and 14th-best ERA (3.34). He is 27 years old (28 next Opening Day) and the ace of one of the best teams in baseball, both now and projecting forward. I think I've assured myself this league's best one-two pitching punch.
What they said: Prado, a .302-13-68-4 player per 162 big league games who has made 56 appearances in the outfield but only 13 at third base, was a curious pick. As an infielder, Prado's fantasy appeal is obviously greater than if he's an outfielder, but Hunter apparently wasn't concerned about Prado's qualifying. "Prado loses second-base eligibility next season, although I do expect him to gain third-base eligibility, where the position is extremely thin, for this season and next. I like having Prado as a potential backup to Ryan Zimmerman at third, while keeping his bat in the lineup at corner infield long-term. Prado is just coming into the prime of his career, he hits for average, has some power, is a multipositional guy, and his overall bat fit my plans very well long term. Plus, he balances out the Drew Stubbs pick in the previous round."
Breakout star Cabrera was one of the bolder picks to this point of the draft, since he has never had a star-caliber fantasy season before this and made trips to the disabled list in both 2009 and 2010. "While the injury concerns are valid, the selection of Asdrubal had as much to do with the weakness of the position as it did his ability to be an annual 15/20 guy going forward," said Lipscomb. "He was the only shortstop left on my board I planned to take in the top 100 -- if I could help it -- so I pulled the trigger. Since the next shortstop taken was nearly 40 picks later, apparently others felt the same way about the position depth."
My pick: For a player in the midst of a "disappointing" season, Santana still has the third-most home runs among catchers and is on pace for 23. That speaks volumes about his massive offensive upside, and since he's just 25 years old, he should have many years of practically Victor Martinez-esque production.
What they said: Santana's pick spawned a run on catchers, as three were selected within six spots of one another. If Mauer had been healthy all year, he might have gone three or more rounds sooner than this, but after so much missed time and with reports that he's taking grounders at the corner-infield positions, wouldn't you think Quintong might have had concerns about the loss of catcher eligibility? "I think it was a calculated risk because when Mauer is healthy, he'll at least provide a great batting average that would be great at whatever position he might end up playing," said Quintong. "Obviously, staying at catcher in the long term and being healthy would make this a far better/safer pick. I think he can stick at catcher for at least the next 2-3 years and then figure out what's next from there. But Justin Morneau's even iffier health could shift Mauer over sooner than later."
My pick: Another heartbreaker, as at this point, my younger squad had me thinking more long term than short term, leading my draft board to go Trout, then Harper. Grey said it best: "I wanted Trout, so it was a trickle-down effect [when I took Harper]." Naturally, it was a trickle-down effect for me as well, as I decided to go with the highest-upside arm on the board in Strasburg. He's already letting loose with his fastball as he recovers from September 2010 Tommy John surgery, and I firmly believe he should be ready to go at the start of next season.
A fact you have to love: Among starting pitchers with 60-plus innings in a season, Strasburg's 12.18 K's-per-nine ratio in 2010 was eighth-best in the modern era (1901 and later). The only pitchers who have had a better year: Randy Johnson (four times), Pedro Martinez (twice) and Kerry Wood (once).
What they said: Sanchez earns some well-deserved respect, ranking 12th among first basemen and 60th overall on our Player Rater, then getting selected 61st in our mock. "Everything about Gaby Sanchez is going the right way," said Becquey. "His on-base is up to .376, his slugging is creeping up to .500, and he has a shot at being a .300-30-100, 100-runs guy as early as this season, but more likely for the following three seasons, in which he'll be 28, 29 and 30. In this format, I'd much rather have a guy like him on the upswing than an aging veteran like Ryan Howard whose numbers have started to decline and will likely continue to now that he's on the wrong side of 30."
My pick: Brown is perhaps the greatest reach of my 10 picks, but I'm warming to him. Remember, he was Baseball America's No. 15 prospect overall entering 2010, then No. 4 entering this season, and Jason Grey's No. 8 fantasy prospect in the preseason. Are we really going to hop off this bandwagon simply because he has only a .723 OPS after 33 games this season? I say it's the perfect time to buy in, as he's 23 years old (24 next Opening Day) and should only improve with experience. It's not unrealistic to think his upside in 2012 is 20/20.
What they said: By selecting Berkman, Karabell now owns the two oldest players in the mock; Alex Rodriguez is a few weeks shy of his 36th birthday, while Berkman is seven months shy of his. That narrows Karabell's window of championship opportunity, but in the short term, it makes him a stronger bet. "Age is just a number, even if it's a high number," said Karabell. "I wouldn't say I was playing for this year, but why can't A-Rod and Berkman perform well next year? Or in 2013? Berkman has proven with the Cardinals he's still got it. Perhaps he won't finish with a 1.000 OPS this season or next, but he's not done. And the fact Tristan looks exactly like him didn't influence my decision one bit."
My pick: Posey becomes my second out-for-the-season selection, and frankly, I'm surprised he didn't get selected sooner. While his ankle injury does cast a shadow upon his future, Posey would've been an unquestioned top-25 pick overall if he hadn't gotten hurt. Are we this worried about his prospects that he should drop outside the top 100 players? I'd think not; he's a special hitter and there's every reason to believe he'll return at close to 100 percent in 2012.
What they said: I admit I had my doubts about Posey; I wasn't the only one. "I had both Montero and Wieters on my board ahead of Posey," said Ravitz. "I wonder if he'll ever be the same."
Smith was arguably the boldest pick of the draft to this point, though Mass saw something special in the Rockies outfielder. "Seth Smith is a gut call, based firstly on the assumption that this season's stats count. There's a decent chance he finishes the year batting over .300, with around 20 home runs," said Mass. "Secondly, although he's been restricted to platoon play, he is arbitration-eligible after this year, so if he stays on pace, the Rockies will have to pay to keep him. And if they're paying him an everyday player's salary, he'll play every day."
Grey became the final team to select a pitcher, Josh Johnson at 86 going 33 spots later than the first pitcher selected by Lipscomb, CC Sabathia. Johnson, incidentally, was the 20th pitcher to be picked in the draft. "I didn't take pitching until late by design," said Grey. "I was planning on building the hitting base in the first 7-8 rounds, which I think is even more important in a long-term keeper format. In retrospect I wish I had started one round earlier, because the pitchers I was targeting were getting picked just before my selections in Rounds 9 and 10. I'm stil OK with who I wound up with, but they weren't my primary choices."
My pick: I'm a Jordan Zimmermann fan, plain and simple. Mat Latos was also a candidate for this selection, but considering how many times I've sung Zimmermann's praises of late, I figured I should put my money where my mouth is.
What they said: Grey wasn't pleased with the Zimmermann pick; coupled with Karabell's Chacin selection the round before, that left him digging deeper. "Chacin and Zimmermann were my first two choices at this spot," said Grey. "I figured I could take Johnson and have one of them slide. Oops."
Not one but two pitchers recovering from Tommy John surgery were selected in our mock, with Wainwright joining Strasburg, who was selected 26 spots sooner. Like Strasburg, Wainwright is making progress in his rehabilitation, and Ravitz is confident in his long-term future. "I don't know that Wainwright will be 100 percent when the 2012 season begins, but I think he'll be 70-80 percent of his usual self, if not better," said Ravitz. "The track record for guys with an existing body of work followed by Tommy John surgery at a still relatively young age is pretty good. Anecdotally, I'd compare him to Tim Hudson, as a guy who was able to regain his previous level of performance [minus a few strikeouts]."
Cwalinski's Montero pick was a notable one in that, at the time he made it, he actually listed Montero's catcher position in quotes ("C"). Naturally, I had to question why he'd select a player he seemed not to believe would actually catch when he reached the majors; I'm in the camp that believes Montero's ultimate future is at another position (first base or DH?). "While you and I don't think Montero will stick at catcher, the Yankees still seem to think he will," said Cwalinski. "All I need is for him to get 20 games at catcher, and I think the Yankees are stubborn enough that he will qualify at catcher for a few years, sort of like Victor Martinez, who keeps racking up games behind the plate despite not belonging there."
Mass made another gut pick with Peralta, who has the benefit of playing one of the thinnest positions in fantasy. "Peralta is still under 30, and third among shortstops in home runs since 2008, behind only Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki," said Mass. "At the point in the draft I selected him, seven other shortstops had gone off the board, and since I was pretty solid in my rotation already, I felt comfortable grabbing him here so that I didn't have to find myself calling J.J. Hardy's name a few rounds later."
" The San Diego Padres were the only one of the 30 major-league teams to not have a player selected among our top 100.
" The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays had the most, with seven apiece.
" There were only 27 pitchers selected and not a single one was a reliever; that's four fewer than the number of outfielders (31) picked.
" There were only eight apiece selected at catcher and shortstop, the fewest at any position. Combine those and you'd have the number of first basemen (16) picked.
" Four prospects currently in the minors were picked.
" Three injured, out-for-the-season players were selected.
Following the mock, each owner was asked to pick at least one late-round sleeper, a player he might have been targeting in the final rounds if we had made all 28 picks:
Becquey: Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves. There are a lot of great young arms in the high minors, and I planned to use my later picks to stock up on them. My draft list would be topped by Teheran, followed by Shelby Miller, Jacob Turner, Neil Ramirez and Kyle Gibson. Getting at least two of those guys to put with Michael Pineda and Jered Weaver and James Shields would give me a rotation to build upon for years. By the way, my next pick, since I'd have kicked off Round 11, would likely have been Braves rookie Brandon Beachy, whom I think will quickly become a top-20 starter as early as next season.
Cockcroft: Freddie Freeman, 1B, Atlanta Braves, or Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals. Freeman was a topic in my Wednesday Hit Parade, but I entered this draft knowing that I'd wait on first base until late. Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Belt could be later-round targets, but I'm confident that even if I strike out on them, an up-and-comer like Freeman should remain available in the final rounds. Among long-term stashes from the 2011 draft, Rendon is my pick. It's a good time to buy, with his stock seemingly low due to his shoulder issues.
Cwalinski: Anthony Rendon, 3B, Washington Nationals, or A.J. Cole, SP, Washington Nationals. Ideally I would like to get a guy like Rendon late -- say the 20th round or so -- to get a good hitter at a weak position. My thinking is that he will move to second base, perhaps, rather than first, since he is not going to replace Zimmerman at third base. If Rendon was gone, then I would take a high-upside starter in the last round, like Cole. Cole is not close to the majors but is the type of player worth stashing on my bench in a dynasty league. There aren't many guys who throw 94 mph at 19 years old with a nasty curveball and a decent changeup and still are "projectable."
Grey: Danny Duffy, SP, Kansas City Royals, Matt Moore, SP, Tampa Bay Rays, or Jurickson Profar, SS, Texas Rangers. It's always tough to read who will fall in a dynasty league, so you need to have a lot of potential options. Depending on the rest of the league managers' views and approaches to building a team, none of these players may have been available late. It's generally best to not wait to try to "slide" someone through if you want them, and don't be afraid to reach a little in a dynasty format to get the player you want.
Hunter: Jordan Lyles, SP, Houston Astros. I expect Lyles to be hanging around toward the end of the draft, and I love his potential as a No. 2 guy over his career. He can contribute the rest of this season and for many years beyond.
Karabell: Logan Morrison, OF, Florida Marlins. A few times I thought about drafting Twitter and Marlins star Morrison. In three years he might be hitting 30 home runs annually. I also thought about … Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. Hey, in a year we'll all know who he is, and many of us will be mighty intrigued.
Lipscomb: Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals. I'm rather surprised Miller wasn't taken by the 10th round, because I believe he could be in the Cardinals' rotation next year and feel he has tremendous upside. He has obviously dominated in the lower levels in the minors, but I've also been encouraged by his first five Double-A starts as a 20-year-old. I remember how excited I was for the debut of Tommy Hanson, and I'm just as ready to see Miller on a big league mound in the very near future.
Mass: Jason Bourgeois, OF, Houston Astros, or Matt Downs, 2B/3B, Houston Astros. As a last-round sleeper -- assuming Bourgeois is gone -- I might take a flier on his teammate, Downs, a versatile player who has shown a knack for driving in runs (21 total RBIs, 1-per-4-at-bats in 2011). If there's an injury in the Houston infield, Downs could be the one to pay dividends for this year and beyond.
Quintong: Pedro Alvarez, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates. Alvarez's 2011 got off to a bad start as some of the fears we had about his game and his swing did come through. However, he's still got plenty of power in that bat, and at a position that still seems a bit iffy -- although more short term than long term -- Alvarez is worth a shot later on in a draft like this.
Ravitz: Cameron Maybin, OF, San Diego Padres. I haven't really been a believer the past couple of years, but consider this: Maybin is just 24, and this season on the road he has an .842 OPS. With just a little bit of development, he could become a 15 homer-30 steal guy in a couple of years. And if you care to dream that he might escape Petco, he still has the upside to be a top-20 fantasy outfielder.
Here are how the picks broke down by team: