The inevitable rebuilding years can be arduous in many keeper leagues, but executed properly, a year or two near the bottom of the standings can yield a keeper list that stakes a contender's claim for many seasons. For tips on the process, see my article on rebuilding strategy. In this space, we identify some of the prime targets for rebuilding teams in AL-only leagues.
The AL All-Rebuilding Team below won't contain the obvious names. Even keeper league newbies already know to pursue high-upside hitters like Billy Butler and Evan Longoria, along with talented young pitchers like Phil Hughes and Joba Chamberlain. Successful rebuilding usually requires searching deeper than the mere union of youth and talent. This list is therefore not for the shallowest of leagues, but is rather a catalog of AL-only targets who could be purchased for $10 or less in many auctions.
Salty may yet begin the season in Triple-A, and is unlikely to have much value this season in any case. He has enormous power potential, however, and in the long term, Gerald Laird is not a threat to his playing time.
The threat of lost playing time will drive down the draft price of both players, but each has a future as a major league regular. The 22-year-old Barton's plate discipline and contact skills ensure solid batting averages as his power develops. Johnson's power is established, and his poor batting averages the past two years were the product of unusually low hit percentages.
Cleveland has given up, but you shouldn't. Unlikely to have value this season, Barfield will eventually get another chance to compete for a starting role. He has better all-around skills than he showed last season, and legitimate 20-steal speed makes him worth the gamble.
Aybar is the more highly touted talent, though not necessarily the leader in the shortstop competition. Izturis is the more polished hitter at the moment, but both players have the potential to quickly blossom into legitimate major league regulars. Additionally, both have the speed to provide the potential for positive value in deeper leagues, even if still in a reserve role when your rebuilding is complete.
The keeper leaguer's mantra: Don't forget about failed top prospects. This statement is especially true for those who, like Betemit, first reached the majors at age 19. Betemit wasn't ready for his earlier opportunities, but he's now finding his offensive game. The 27-year-old's power is on the rise, and it's hard to ignore the big jump in his walk rate last season. Own him when his next opportunity arises.
Scott's power is real, enough for him to shine in full-time play despite a marginal contact rate. He'll be overshadowed by rising star Nick Markakis and overlooked due to the general deficiencies of the Orioles. This is a great spot for rebuilders looking to capitalize in 2009 or 2010, because Scott's real breakout could come then if he merely delivers a 2008 season that's not outstanding, yet succeeds in affirming his worthiness of full-time play.
Scott's fellow Orioles trade booty, Jones is also getting his first real shot at a full-time job. Jones advanced very quickly through the minors, and has only 139 big league at-bats under his belt, so he will need adjustment time. Strikeouts may be excessive initially, but the home runs will begin to flow soon.
Like Jones, Quentin just needs time. He's struggled to make contact thus far in the majors, but has received fewer than 400 at-bats. Quentin's minor league track record is that of a major league regular who'll hit for both power and average eventually. If he didn't have a starting job to drive up his draft price, he'd be the prototypical upside target for rebuilders.
Perhaps the most obvious choice on this list, Buchholz makes the cut nonetheless because his No. 1 starter upside makes him worth even more to rebuilders than he will be to your leaguemates this season. Buchholz hasn't just succeeded at every level, he has dominated. Go the extra buck or two if the bidding stalls around your projected figure.
A big drop in his walk rate, coupled with a spike in strikeouts, means the former first-rounder is starting to figure it out. Floyd took a few seasons to adjust to Triple-A, too, so maybe he's just one of those guys who needs some time. The talent is there regardless; rebuilders should snag him now while he's only worth a buck or so.
Jackson has five years of major league experience; can he really be only 24? A huge leap forward in command last season will go unnoticed by your less sophisticated competitors because it still didn't yield palatable surface stats, thanks in part to a high hit percentage. Jackson isn't ready to break out yet, but his progress is unmistakable.
One and a half walks per nine innings is pretty sporty, especially for a debut season. Fortunately for his auction price, a home run rate well out of whack with his minor league track record prevented Slowey from posting eye-popping surface stats. He's a fly-ball pitcher, so it may take some time to get the homers under control. He's a No. 2 starter in the making, though.
Marcum continued to struggle with home runs, but the huge drop in his walk rate more than made up for it. The improved control is fully supported by his minor league profile, and Marcum has also shown the ability to miss bats in the past. He's putting it all together now, and when that process is complete, he could be a solid No. 2 starter.
Few 34-year-olds will make a list of targets for keeper league rebuilders, but Dotel is good enough to expect another shot at closing sooner rather than later. Twelve strikeouts per nine innings should speak to you, even in a smallish sample size. Dotel looks to be back in pre-Tommy John form, and not only will he be the first option in Chicago after Bobby Jenks, he could be a top target this season for teams seeking help at the back of their bullpens.
The acquisition of George Sherrill knocked this 6-foot-6 strikeout artist off a lot of 2008 sleeper lists. The 25-year-old needs more adjustment time anyway, but now you can land him cheaply. Hoey's minor league profile demonstrates closer-worthy skills. He's a valuable commodity in deep leagues.
Expected to miss around half the season while recovering from shoulder surgery, Zumaya is the perfect injury target for a rebuilding team. He's only 23, so unless this is the beginning of unforeseeably severe arm troubles, Zumaya should still get his shot at closing one day. Own him when he does.
Sometimes the beauty of rebuilding is that you don't have to worry as much about how roles sort themselves out in the short term. At 30, Wheeler is seven years younger than either Troy Percival or Al Reyes. He also has the best skills of the three, and they are legitimate closer-worthy skills. He'll get another chance at saves eventually.
Will Harris is a fantasy baseball and college football analyst for ESPN.com.
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