Commentary

The ins and outs of position flexibility

How to take best advantage of players eligible at more than one position

Updated: February 26, 2012, 11:31 PM ET
By Mike Sheets | Special to ESPN.com

There are many important factors to consider on draft day … and not just whether to name your team "A Streetcar Named Cuddyer" or "Splish, Splash I Was Taking a Sabathia." What round should you draft your first starting pitcher? Is it OK to wait on a catcher? When is the best time to dive into the closer pool? Should you be "zigging" when others are "zagging" (whatever that means)? Of course, all drafts are different, and there are different strategies and different ways to construct a team depending on how your draft plays out. When answering these questions, it's important to consider position scarcity. And nothing throws a bigger wrench into position scarcity than players with multi-position eligibility.

If you don't know the multi-position players and where they're eligible, your perception of the talent pool at each position can quickly become skewed. For instance, while first base is one of the deeper positions in fantasy (at least in mixed and AL-only leagues, but we'll tackle that later), nine of our top 25 first basemen, including four of the top 12, are also eligible at other positions. This means that, in theory, more than one-third of the first basemen in the top 25 could essentially be removed from the first base talent pool on draft day by your fellow owners drafting them at other positions. So if you're planning to wait on your first baseman, know that the position could thin out quicker than you might realize.

On the other hand, players with multi-position eligibility provide great flexibility to your roster. Whether you're making trades, working the waiver wire or playing the matchups in leagues that allow daily moves, having roster flexibility can go a long way in helping you maximize your team's production. You shouldn't reach for players based on their ability to play multiple positions, as talent and opportunity should ultimately win out, but it's something to be mindful of when planning and executing your draft-day strategy.

For the uninitiated, ESPN positional eligibility is determined by games played the prior season. A player must have played at least 20 games at a position to be eligible there. If he didn't play 20 games at any position the prior year, he's eligible at the position he played most. Many leagues don't differentiate between starting pitchers and relievers, but for those that do, five starts or eight relief appearances is the standard. A hitter can gain additional eligibility at a position during the season by playing 10 games at that position, while a pitcher can get additional eligibility with three starts or five relief appearances.

The Middle Men

Hard to fill

The following is a list of the mixed, AL- and NL-only middlemen who qualify at multiple positions. The bolded players are those who rank in the top 250 and are mixed-league material.

Ben Zobrist, Tampa Bay Rays, 2B, OF
Howard Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels, 2B, OF
Ryan Roberts, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2B, 3B
Emilio Bonifacio, Miami Marlins, 3B, SS, OF
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets, 1B, 2B, 3B
Sean Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays, 2B, 3B, SS

Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros, 3B, SS
Ruben Tejada, New York Mets, 2B, SS
Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox, 2B, 3B
Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees, 3B, SS
Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels, 2B, 3B
Ryan Theriot, San Francisco Giants, 2B, SS
Justin Turner, New York Mets, 2B, 3B
Jose Lopez, Cleveland Indians, 2B, 3B
Miguel Tejada, free agent, 3B, SS
Alexi Casilla, Minnesota Twins, 2B, SS
Robert Andino, Baltimore Orioles, 2B, 3B, SS
Jamey Carroll, Minnesota Twins, 2B, SS
Ryan Raburn, Detroit Tigers, 2B, OF
Adam Kennedy, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1B, 2B, 3B
Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies, 2B, 3B
Jerry Hairston Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers, 2B, 3B, OF
Aaron Miles, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2B, 3B
Willie Bloomquist, Arizona Diamondbacks, SS, OF
Skip Schumaker, St. Louis Cardinals, 2B, OF
Ramon Santiago, Detroit Tigers, 2B, SS
Mike Fontenot, San Francisco Giants, 2B, SS
Tyler Greene, St. Louis Cardinals, 2B, SS
Wilson Valdez, Philadelphia Phillies, 2B, 3B, SS
Luke Hughes, Minnesota Twins, 1B, 2B
Jack Wilson, Atlanta Braves, 2B, SS
John McDonald, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2B, 3B, SS
Mike McCoy, Toronto Blue Jays, SS, OF
Matt Tolbert, Chicago Cubs, 2B, SS
Brandon Wood, Colorado Rockies, 3B, SS

The two most prominent names on this list are Zobrist and Kendrick. Zobrist is our No. 5 second baseman but is only the No. 16 outfielder, and Kendrick is our No. 9 second-sacker and No. 30 outfielder. Given the amount of depth in the outfield, it's unlikely fantasy owners will view them as anything but second basemen, so their fates are close to sealed. Still, don't get caught overlooking their additional eligibility completely. Just because they should be drafted as second basemen doesn't mean they always will be. Part of being prepared on draft day is being aware of all possible outcomes, even those that seem unlikely. Roberts' situation is more ambiguous, as he's the No. 10-ranked second basemen and No. 12 third basemen. He's also ranked fifth at both positions in NL-only leagues, so he could go either way. Overall, the top 16 ranked shortstops aren't eligible elsewhere, so that crop of players is safe from being thinned out by other positions. Second base is fairly safe as well, with only three of the top 25 holding eligibility elsewhere.

[+] EnlargeSean Rodriguez
Kim Klement/US PresswireSean Rodriguez provides a little pop from three different infield positions.

In AL-only leagues, only one shortstop in the top 12 is eligible at another position, and just two top-12 second basemen are multi-position eligible. This is good news, as each position can stand firmly on its own without having to significantly steal from the other's player pool, making your draft-day planning that much easier. Sean Rodriguez is the top-ranked AL player eligible at both middle and corner infield positions. He ranks ninth at shortstop and 11th at second and third base, so the difference between positions is fairly insignificant. If you're digging deep, 10 of the top 25 second basemen play more than one position, compared to only three multi-position eligible guys at short. So if one of the two middle infield positions is more volatile than the other, it's second base.

Aside from a few select cases, there isn't need to worry about the middle infield crop being thinned out by other positions in NL-only formats. Only one of the top 12 shortstops and two of the top 12 second basemen are eligible elsewhere. Emilio Bonifacio will likely be drafted as either a third baseman or shortstop, because outfield is deep enough that it won't be consistently pulling from other positions. Daniel Murphy is a top-10 option at both second and third base in NL-only leagues, but he ranks just 13th among first basemen. That said, because many fantasy owners will fill their corner infield and utility spots with first basemen, there's no guarantee that Murphy will be drafted at second or third, where he's most valuable.

First And Third

Don't assume a cornucopia of players at the corner

The following is a list of the mixed, AL- and NL-only cornermen who qualify at multiple positions. The bolded players are those who rank in the top 250 and are mixed-league material.

Jose Bautista, Toronto Blue Jays, 3B, OF
Mike Napoli, Texas Rangers, C, 1B
Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians, C, 1B
Lance Berkman, St. Louis Cardinals, 1B, OF
Michael Morse, Washington Nationals, 1B, OF
Michael Cuddyer, Colorado Rockies, 1B, OF
Michael Young, Texas Rangers, 1B, 3B
Carlos Lee, Houston Astros, 1B, OF
Mark Reynolds, Baltimore Orioles, 1B, 3B
Ryan Roberts, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2B, 3B
Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves, 3B, OF
Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays, 1B, 3B
Lucas Duda, New York Mets, 1B, OF
Emilio Bonifacio, Miami Marlins, 3B, SS, OF
Mitch Moreland, Texas Rangers, 1B, OF
Mike Carp, Seattle Mariners, 1B, OF
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants, 1B, OF
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets, 1B, 2B, 3B

Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles, 1B, 3B
Aubrey Huff, San Francisco Giants, 1B, OF
Jed Lowrie, Houston Astros, 3B, SS
Mike Aviles, Boston Red Sox, 2B, 3B
Eduardo Nunez, New York Yankees, 3B, SS
Maicer Izturis, Los Angeles Angels, 2B, 3B
Ty Wigginton, Philadelphia Phillies, 1B, 3B, OF
Garrett Jones, Pittsburgh Pirates, 1B, OF
Justin Turner, New York Mets, 2B, 3B
Jose Lopez, Cleveland Indians, 2B, 3B
Miguel Tejada, free agent, 3B, SS
Robert Andino, Baltimore Orioles, 2B, 3B, SS
Juan Rivera, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1B, OF
Adam Kennedy, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1B, 2B, 3B
Chris Nelson, Colorado Rockies, 2B, 3B
Jerry Hairston Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers, 2B, 3B, OF
Aaron Miles, Los Angeles Dodgers, 2B, 3B
Conor Jackson, Texas Rangers, 1B, OF
Don Kelly, Detroit Tigers, 3B, OF
Wilson Valdez, Cincinnati Reds, 2B, 3B, SS
Luke Hughes, Minnesota Twins, 1B, 2B
John McDonald, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2B, 3B, SS
Brandon Wood, Colorado Rockies, 3B, SS

The biggest name here is Bautista. He's ranked as the No. 1 third baseman and the No. 2 outfielder, so he could conceivably be drafted at either position. That said, considering he'll be a top-5 pick in most leagues this year, the position he's drafted at is somewhat irrelevant. Ranked as the No. 1 and 2 catchers, respectively, Napoli and Santana deserve to be treated as such. However, they're also both ranked among the top 10 first basemen, so it's at least possible they'll get some attention there, too. If that happens, however, it's probably because a fellow owner is intentionally trying to deplete the catcher pool by drafting one of them as a first baseman. Between the two, third base is safer in terms not having talent raided by other positions. As mentioned in the introduction, nine of the top 25 first basemen possess eligibility elsewhere, while only five of the top 25 third basemen have multi-position eligibility. And remember that many owners draw from first base to fill their corner and utility spots, so the position isn't always as deep as it appears on the surface.

[+] EnlargeMichael Young
Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty ImagesMichael Young played 40 games at 3B in 2011.

In terms of AL-only formats, it's important to note that four of the top 11 third basemen -- Bautista, Reynolds, Encarnacion and Davis -- are eligible elsewhere. Chances are they'll all be drafted at the hot corner, but the possibility they could be drafted as first basemen or outfielders should be taken into account. A guy like Young could be drafted as either a first or third baseman, though he's slightly more valuable at the hot corner, where he's ranked sixth (he's ranked eighth at first base). Overall, there are seven AL first basemen ranked in the top 50. Young barely cracks the top 100 at No. 98, and Lind (No. 135) and Pena (No. 192) are the only other first basemen in the top 200, so you're entering risky territory if you wait much past that. At that point, you'll be entering the realm of guys like Moreland and Carp, both of whom are outfield-eligible and could be targeted as outfielders by opposing owners, thinning your first base options even more.

With Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder now in the American League, first base in NL-only leagues looks barren compared to previous years. This means Berkman, Morse, Cuddyer and Lee should be treated as first basemen instead of outfielders. After all, Berkman, Morse and Cuddyer are all top four first basemen in the NL, and none crack the top 10 in the outfield. Still, they could all very well be drafted as outfielders if they stick around long enough on draft day, so don't wait too long if you're targeting one of them. Unfortunately, things only get trickier the farther down the rankings you go. Duda and Belt are ranked 10th and 11th at first base, respectively. They're also both top-25 outfielders and could be drafted as such. This means you'll have little margin for error if you decide to wait on a first baseman. Luckily, Wigginton (discussed more below) is the only NL first baseman also eligible at third, so we don't have to worry about the hot corner depleting first base even further.

Finally, they're not multi-position eligible yet, but two premier players -- Miguel Cabrera and Hanley Ramirez -- are shifting to third base (Cabrera from first base and Hanley from shortstop) this season and should pick up eligibility there in April. Many owners will draft them with the intent of using them at third once they're eligible, so that needs to be accounted for when analyzing the scarcity of first and third base, as well as shortstop.

The Jacks Of All Trades

Players who qualify at three or more positions

Emilio Bonifacio, Miami Marlins, 3B, SS, OF
Daniel Murphy, New York Mets, 1B, 2B, 3B
Sean Rodriguez, Tampa Bay Rays, 2B, 3B, SS
Ty Wigginton, Philadelphia Phillies, 1B, 3B, OF
Robert Andino, Baltimore Orioles, 2B, 3B, SS
Adam Kennedy, Los Angeles Dodgers, 1B, 2B, 3B
Jerry Hairston Jr., Los Angeles Dodgers, 2B, 3B, OF
Wilson Valdez, Cincinnati Reds, 2B, 3B, SS
John McDonald, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2B, 3B, SS

We've already discussed Bonifacio, Murphy and Rodriguez to some degree. Wigginton is the only other player in this group worth noting, as he has solid NL-only value given that he'll likely start the season as the Phillies' starting first baseman in place of the injured Ryan Howard. He's most valuable at one of the corner infield positions, but because he'll be drafted in the mid-to-late rounds, he'll be in the mix as an outfielder, too.