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Is September 13th the earliest the hot stove has ever been fired up? We have about a month and a half left of baseball, including the playoffs, and at the moment the biggest story in the game is an international free agent. Granted this is no average international free agent, it’s Shohei Otani, the 23 year old pitcher/outfielder/designated hitter, described by many as the Japanese Babe Ruth. In my opinion that’s a bit hyperbolic, he’s neither fat nor drunk, and his home run trot isn’t a full on shuffle. Do you people even know who Babe Ruth is? I scoff at you! All joking aside, with the rumor coming out of Japan yesterday that Otani will in fact enter the posting process, the offseason has unofficially started. Over the course of today’s post we’ll go over my novice take on the business side of his signing, and the MLB roster rules governing his free agency, his profile as both a hitter and starter, and we’ll close with a very early prediction of his pre-season ranking in both re-draft leagues, and dynasty first year player drafts. It’s important to view this from all angles, as there’s a wide range of possibilities for how Otani is handled next season by his future MLB team, the league, and fantasy sites. If there’s anything I missed or explained poorly (probably haha) hit me up in the comments, and set me straight. I promise I won’t bite… this time.

Despite the recently enacted CBA putting restrictions on the amount of money allotted to international free agents under the age of 25. Otani has chosen to put off a potential nine figure pay day to head stateside for 2018. This mean’s Otani will be subject to the posting system which caps posting fees rewarded to his current team, the Nippon Ham Fighters, at $20 million. Unlike the process at the time of Daisuke Matsuzaka, there’s no battle for highest bidder, leaving much of the choice in the hands of Otani, and not his soon to be former club. Ultimatley Otani’s choice will boil down to two things, where he wants to play, and what team has the most available international bonus pool bucks. As for the latter there’s 5 teams with bonus pools of $5.75 million to spend without restrictions on per player spending. Each of those teams can acquire more pool money, but cannot exceed $10.1 million in bonus pool cash. The full bonus pool group is comprised of the Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, and Pittsburgh Pirates, but no one in that group at this time is amongst the front runners for Otani’s services. From all reports the New York Yankees, Seattle Mariners, and Texas Rangers appear to be in the early lead, all with a pool of $4.75 million with the ability to push that number to $8.3 million through traded bonus money. The Boston Red Sox, Miami Marlins, Twins, Brewers, Rays, White Sox, Tigers, Angels, Mets, Phillies, and Blue Jays all have  bonus pools between $5.25 million and $4.75 million with the ability to acquire more, and allot it to a single player. So those are the players.

We’ll discuss Otani’s abilities and potential fantasy impact in the next few paragraphs, but I wanted to mention just how much of a potential deal this is for any team that signs Otani. Not only will he come for no more than a $30 million dollar investment up front, he’s going to go through the arbitration process. This means he’ll be on a baseline salary for at least his first three years of MLB service time. As Jeff Passan astutely pointed out in his Yahoo post yesterday, it’s obviously about more than the money to Otani. Maybe I’m jumping to conclusions here, but that speaks volumes about his competitiveness. He’s willing to forego 100’s of millions initially to get his first taste of the best league in the world, vs waiting two years and maximizing his return in 2020.

Young, talented, cheap, controllable, and hungry; this makes the two way star the score of the century for whatever team signs him. Oh, and by the way, he can play two positions so well that he’s going to potentially save you a roster spot. Meaning you can carry an extra bat or pen arm if you feel so inclined. We’re truly talking about a game changer here.  This leads me to my next point, if Otani is successful as a two way contributor does that open the door for players like Brendan McKay, Hunter Greene, and a host of others to pursue the same role? Perhaps, but time and Otani’s performance will tell. It’s certainly an exciting trend bubbling under the surface of baseball currently.

As for Otani the player, or perhaps better said players, you’re looking at a unique talent on both sides of the ball. As a pitcher Otani has been described by some as one of the top 5-10 arms in the world. Getting “ace” labels from several unanimous scouts quoted all over the internet. His arsenal is comprised of a 5 pitch mix led by his 80 grade fastball that has been clocked as high as 102, but mostly sits 97-100 MPH with late life and elite command. His secondaries are led by a splitter (swoon) that sits 88-92 with nasty diving action, giving him a classic swing and miss out pitch. Some have gone on record saying the splitter is better than compatriot Masahiro Tanaka’s, and that’s lofty praise. His slider also earns plus and plus-plus grades, and is reported to have two variations, one that’s more like a classic sweeping hard slider with tilt, and another version with more cutter type shape with shorter break. Both are clocked in the low to mid 80’s sitting 82-87, giving him nice separation between his fastball and splitter, his most frequently used offerings. His arsenal is rounded out by an average curveball, and reported changeup.

Now to address two of the bigger question marks attached to any Japanese pitching import. Can his arm handle the innings, and does he tend to nibble, driving up his pitch counts (i.e: see Darvish, Yu)? Despite a somewhat injury marred year in 2017 Otani has been viewed as handled with kids gloves by his current team the Nippon Ham Fighters. Unlike other recent successful imports Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, and Kenta Maeda, Otani has yet to exceed 160 innings in a season. While the aforementioned trio all had several 200+ innings campaigns prior to coming stateside. The thought within the baseball world was, this is a case of the team viewing Otani as an asset and trying to protect his arm, and value long term. As for the latter question of potential nibbling, I’ve been told he’s an aggressive power pitcher, going right at hitters, and rarely driving up his pitch counts.

While on the other side of the ball, Otani the lefthanded power hitter has been comped by some to Curtis Granderson, an athletic power hitter, with swing and miss concerns. Scouts have put 70’s on his raw power and 60’s on his game speed, that’s an exciting profile for any potential hitting prospect. Despite the high strikeout totals in Japan he’s not a hack at the plate, showing a patient approach, and ability to work counts, and find his pitch.

So to summarize he’s an above average hitter, but an absolute stud on the mound. Leading to by far the biggest question attached to Otani’s future; “What will his offensive role be?” I’m going to start this by saying, I don’t see him playing in the outfield (or DHing) everyday while acting as the team’s closer. Which has been suggested by some over the last 6 months. Starting pitching, and elite starting pitching at that, is so hard to come by. So in my opinion no team is going to let that slip by. Unless Otani insists of course, but I don’t see that happening either. The best case scenario is he signs with a good AL team, with a strong lineup, in a good ballpark (Yankees anyone), they make him part of a six man rotation, and DH him 3-4 times a week, with him seeing at bats in lieu of a DH in his starts. I reached out to Fantrax regarding how they would handle a player who sees 150+ innings on the mound, and 300+ PA. I’m yet to hear back, but I think there’s really only two options. The first, he’s a player listed with pitching and hitting eligibility you could only use for one or the other on a given day. Or there’s two Otanis available in the player pool. One being Otani the pitcher, and the other being Otani the hitter. Personally this is the option I prefer. Why? Because for all intents and purposes he is in fact two separate fantasy players. This hypothetical option could also lead to some fun scenarios, Otani for Otani trades, people drafting Otani the hitter by accident etc. I like quirky stuff like that in my fantasy leagues, mostly because it causes you to think.

Now for the only part of this post I’m actually paid to write about, his fantasy value! First for the easy question, yes, he’s undoubtedly number one in any first year player draft. He’s a supposed ace with the ability to step into the role from April on. I guess that means I view the bat as gravy in a one Otani in the player pool scenario. If we’re going with two in the pool, I’d take Otani the pitcher number one in first year player drafts, and would take Otani the hitter somewhere outside the top 5, but definitely in the 6-12 range of any FYPD. As for his 2018 redraft value as a starter only, I view him as having draft stock equal to someone like Gerrit Cole for next year. We know the talent’s there but there’s some uncertainty leading to me not fully committing to the ace grade. If he were to be a single player with two way starting eligibility he becomes a very intriguing and risky pick in round 3-4 for me. Maybe that’s aggressive but the upside justifies it. However it’s tough to value that kind of asset as it’s something we’ve never seen in  our virtual game.

In closing it’s going to be an interesting off-season, with a potential new wrinkle to our game coming. Get excited y’all!

Follow me on Twitter @ProspectJesus and Tune in Tuesday’s @ 9PM (EST) to my Live Baseball Show on Fantrax YouTube.  (and join the Crab Army in the chat)

   
  1. Raider says:
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    Ralph,
    My league allows us to keep 3 pitchers, and right now i’m keeping paxton(eh), then some combination of verlander, chapman, snell, duffy and lamet. is it worth adding either otani or alex reyes at the end of the season to throw in the mix?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Raider: I’d keep Verlander, Paxton, and Otani

  2. Son

    Son says:
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    Konami cheat code!!!

    Good stuff Ralph

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Son: Thanks Son! Seriously that splitter is the stuff of Konami cheat codes.

      • Son

        Son says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: So you’re saying it’s up, down, left, right, a, b, down, down, down, down, down, down……..

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @Son: And another A

  3. Redbirds says:
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    Flaherty has been awful so far, although it’s a dynasty you still see him about where he was on ur mid Season? Debating dropping him for an Allard type. Thanks R

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Redbirds: Yes, he’ll figure it out. Yadi is working on his sequencing and getting him comfortable throwing the slider more. Trust it.

  4. Duda Want to Build a Snowman? says:
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    Love it! I’ve resided to being the highest bidder for him in my keeper league drafts next year . . . if only for the fun of owning him.

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Duda Want to Build a Snowman?: Yeah it’s going to be a really exciting winter in dynasty leagues. This guy really looks like a monster.

  5. BillyBeaneIsNotMyLover says:
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    Good write up. He is going to be really interesting. I would already have him on my minor league list but our league requires them to be signed on a team before you can add them.

    Dynasty question :

    Would you trade Charlie Blackmon for Acuna straight up?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @BillyBeaneIsNotMyLover: If you’re in complete r build and your window is 2+ years out 100%. I would try and get a small piece added, but would take it If I couldn’t.

      • BillyBeaneIsNotMyLover says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: I am already competing. 2 points out of first with a solid team. Here are my keepers now:

        Rizzo
        Schoop
        Bregman
        JD Martinez
        AJ Pollock
        Charlie Blackmon
        Kyle Schwarber
        Rhys Hoskins
        George Sprimger
        Nomar Mazara

        And my reserve list is already stacked:
        Lewis Brinson
        Eloy
        Victor Robles
        Luis Robert
        Austin Meadows

        I rejected the trade yesterday thinking it didnt make sense because my team is already super young and Blackmon somewhat balances it out with right now elite production. I plan to win the next two to four years.

        With that I assume the advice would be I did right by holding tight?

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @BillyBeaneIsNotMyLover: Yeah no reason to make that deal if you’re competing

    • tony says:
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      @BillyBeaneIsNotMyLover:
      No man, thats crazy, blackmon is first round value right now.

      • Ralph Lifshitz

        Ralph Lifshitz says:
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        @tony: Really depends on team setup.

        • tony says:
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          @Ralph Lifshitz:
          Yeah you described a different background that the one i had in mind.

          i wouldnt do that trade either way, i think he could get more value from blackmon that just a super stellar prospect.

          Big fan pf your work tho’

          • Ralph Lifshitz

            Ralph Lifshitz says:
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            @tony: You might be right, and it’s the prudent take. I like to gamble hahaha

  6. Curious George Springer says:
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    I do wonder how the software providers are going to handle this if he does play the outfield and as a pitcher. I’m not sure how they’d make the same “player” in their system eligible as both an OF and a SP.

    I halfway expect that they’d create two separate “players” in the pool who could potentially be owned by two different teams in a fantasy league. So one guy would draft the Otani who is eligible as an outfielder (and would receive his hitting stats, regardless of where he is playing on defense) and another guy would draft Otani the SP (and would receive his pitching stats).

    Who knows, though. It’s fun to think about it!

    Fingers crossed the Twins find a way to land him. He’d make them legitimate contenders in the central next year if hes as good as advertised (though the Twins have been burned on Japanese players in the fairly recent past, so they might shy away).

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Curious George Springer: Hey George! Yeah I’m not sure how either. I will say I own Sam Hilliard and he has OF and SP eligibility on Fantrax, problem is he’s just a hitter hahaha.

      I’m going to lobby hard to Tim at Fantrax for two players. It makes the most sense to me, and as I said the possibilities really add a new and fun wrinkle to management. I mean if you draft the hitter in a dynasty league you know you can hold the guy who owns the pitcher over a barrel of he wants both. It’s really fun to think about, and write about. I wrote about twice as much as I expected to write.

      You never know! After the Dice-K fiasco I think the Sox might be fun shy too.

      • Curious George Springer says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: Yeah. I do love the idea that we could see true two way players. Think about what those guys would be worth in free agency! Hard to imagine a player more valuable than Trout? What about a guy who does 80% of what Trout does on offense and also pitches every fifth day. crazy. Hope the FML (sorry for the abbreviation!) is paying you by the word!

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @Curious George Springer: Hahaha no! I choose to write this much. It’s a disease.

          That’s what I think, not only the extra roster flexibility it provides. It’s almost the same as having a 26th man on your roster.

    • Trumps Wig says:
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      @Curious George Springer: fantrax already has an option to turn all statistics on for all players in the lineup. But it’s an all or nothing scenario meaning all pitchers in your lineup will accrue offensive stats when enabled.

  7. MattTruss

    MattTruss says:
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    Been noodling over this one since word of his posting this offseason came out. I think I’m in favor of two Otani’s in the player pool. It’s the only fair way to make it work I think. Although, we might be getting closer to my idea for the future of fantasy baseball where you’re given the option to replace any of your hitter’s stats with your pitcher’s hitting stats should they have a good game. Would drive up the price of NL pitchers a little bit. You’d hardly ever use it, but might make Bumgarner more attractive. Curious how ESPN and Y! will handle Otani as well. Curiouser and curiouser…

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @MattTruss: It’s a really interesting angle to next season. I will lobby Fantrax for two players, who knows with Y and ESPN.

      That NL thing would be nuts, might bring Mad Bum’s value backup to where it was pre-quad crash hahaha.

  8. Another Dan says:
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    Hey Ralph,

    Interesting stuff. When do you think he signs with an MLB team? My FYPD draft is Jan time, unsigned players are not eligible. Do I need to try and acquire the first pick for this year or next ?

    Have a player trying to acquire Mejia in a 12 team H2H. Have Realmuto. Also have Tom Murphy, Collins and Alex Jackson in the minors. Would you trade Mejia
    straight up for
    a) Bichette
    b) Kingery
    c) (there is no C, I’m trading them away)
    d) Rosario

    Also, have K Seager at 3B in the same league as well as Healy. Minors of McMahon, Senzel and Matt Chapman. Time to move on from Matt Chapman?

    Best wishes from this side of the pond,

    Dan

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Another Dan: My guess is he’s signed before Christmas, but that’s not based on anything but a gut feeling. Play it by ear but if it’s sounds like he’s signing go and get the pick.

      I’d go with Rosario and then Bichette. Bichette is the upside play and Rosario is he floor guy. Kingery is good but behind those guys long term in my eyes.

      I’d move Healy.

      Thanks Dan! You’re the man.

  9. OddBall Herrera says:
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    Now that Calhoun and Robles are up, who is your leader in the ‘didn’t get a call up but surprisingly breaks with the team out of spring training’ category? Basically your offseason MiLB stash priority list…Something like this?

    1. Acuna
    2. Senzel
    3. Gleyber
    4. Honeywell

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @OddBall Herrera: yes but I don’t think Acuna breaks camp.

  10. tony says:
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    What do you think about tseng the starter for cubs today?

  11. nick the dick says:
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    Too long;did read (for editing purposes…(3)).
    Words: encouraging. Smoothies, Rhys, Weaver, Arya, Caramello, Kack a Lack, Crab, hachie machie, Yard Goats, lake beach, real, love. Words, buzz: Mark Callaway, politics, Ross, rankings, Rio, Friends, Fagreg, sushi, ugly alibi.
    My way of saying nice write up, try responding to that!

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @nick the dick: Beach, truck, ice cream, big bites, pizza on a blanket, Friends, crack, wayne don’t pass, nate, keep, swimming, Arya, Rihanna, couch managers, doesn’t work, edamama, NOISE!

  12. Swfcdan says:
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    Otani’s going to just pitch I feel unfortunately. He’s not a stud hitter, so teams aren’t going to let their stud SP arm risk getting plonked just for a few DH’s ab’s each week. Would love to see it, but for the money invested in him to pitch I very much doubt it happens. And anyway fantasy systems would explode if he pitches and hits amiright! Could he possible be usable at both positions in fantasy at once? Haha. Best case is he goes NL and we can see him hit in the games he pitches at least and be the best hitting pitcher around.

    I think I’m done with Martes, too many good options around to stick with a short chubby (don’t make him try on the Ralph-shirt!) guy who’s still struggling with walks even as a reliever. My options as I see which, which you prefer:
    Ian Anderson, Colton Welker, Josh Naylor, Alex Jackson. This is going by your midseason top 100 list, there’s probably some recent breakouts you could suggest too?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Swfcdan: Not being a jerk but did you read the post? He’s not getting that much money up front, and he’s going to dictate terms to teams. He 100% is hitting. He’s 23 years old and gets 70 grades on power and 60 on speed, he would be a fantasy viable player with his bat alone. He’s coming over now because he has leverage to tell a team “I’m hitting too”.

      I covered the way fantasy sites would handle him as a two way guy too. :)

      Michel Baez available? If not I’d go Welker.

      • Swfcdan says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: Sorry man admit I didn’t have time to read much so just posted. Read it now and damn that was a fantastic article, Passan eat your heart out!

        I still believe MLB teams will strictly pitch him personally, in todays game a prized asset is a big risk to let hit as well. Would be really cool though to see a two way player, and especially a Otani for Otani fantasy trade! I strongly think he’ll go NL so he can hit, another reason also have to think regular hitting could lead to fatigue which could affect his pitching. FWIWerth, was his role in Japan to pitch and hit (DH?) on his off days?

        Fantrax need to respond to you about the two-way thing though pronto, it’s not like we haven’t known he would be coming! If they don’t get their asses in gear maybe you could approach the giants (ESPN,Yahoo).

        • Ralph Lifshitz

          Ralph Lifshitz says:
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          @Swfcdan: Cool no worries just busting.

          He pitched and did play the outfield on off days. He could still hit in the AL, you don’t have to have a DH. It seems like all the reports are he’ll do both. Then again who knows what happens.

          Haha the Giants don’t care what I think.

          • Swfcdan says:
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            @Ralph Lifshitz: You think teams would let him play OF in AL on off-days? Seems like it would take too much out of any player to me, if he then has a bad start the talk will be he’s gassed from playing the OF and I think that would soon stop at least playing regularly.

            Guess I shouldn’t be a doubter and see what happens though, it’s sure gonna be exciting! The org he plays for likely has a big say in how much he hits too. If he could pitch AL and at least DH some days that would be really cool to see.

            Finally am debating over whether to bring up Albies/Devers up next year. I think I will definately promoted one to create space in offseason minors draft, so who would be your preference right now? Both have been good! Both? Haha.

  13. Bucktail30 says:
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    Hi Ralph,

    Closing in on championship this yr. Trying to make an addition for the last two weeks. This is a dynasty keep forever obp league.

    Do I trade Ronald Acuna, Daniel Murphy and Xander Bogaerts for Trea Turner?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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  14. Jaaaaaake.crab says:
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    Dibs.

  15. Chucky says:
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    Dynasty keep forever, no contracts. Max, Sale, Nola, Godley and Castillo? Are all worthy of the desireable keeper status over some fringe keepers, i.e. Ian Happ, Didi, Lamb, Haniger, GPolanco, Pollock?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Chucky: I’d keep Happ over Castillo. Not a knock on Castillo though

  16. Jon says:
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    Need to keep 3 of the following players:

    Moustakas
    Peraza
    Villar
    Gregory Polanco
    Corbin

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @Jon: Moustakas, Polanco, Corbin

  17. 6Jesus says:
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    Where would you ranked him in a start-up dynasty, prospect draft? Top 5-10 prospect overall?

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @6Jesus: probably 1

      • Ralph Lifshitz

        Ralph Lifshitz says:
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        @Ralph Lifshitz: meh maybe two after Acuna

    • Ralph Lifshitz

      Ralph Lifshitz says:
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      @J-FOH: Nice jam

  18. Montezuma's Revenge... right now says:
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    dynasty league with OBP over AVG, sluggging over HR’s. 14 teams roto
    C chirinos
    1B goldy
    2B cesar H
    SS semien
    3B frazier (1B)
    OF (3) stanton/ozuna/margot
    util (1) gattis
    BN villar (2B/SS/3B/OF)/happ (2B/OF)/c.davis/cespedes
    NA (1) brinson
    SP (max 1500 innings, 3 RP slots) carmart/darvish/flaherty/salazar/wood/carrasco
    woodruff/gohara
    DL mccarthy/faria/pineda
    one of those silly ass leagues where players don’t show up in system till called up, drop anybody for big willie C? except 3B this team is already strong.

    also
    2. drop c.davis for any of mini donkey, duda, parra, carpenter (my OBP is cleary weaker than my slugging)? carpenter has played all year with a bum shoulder but still is more valuable than c.davis.

  19. Chris says:
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    Looking at adding an OF… should I take in free agency in my dynasty league?

    Renfroe, Soto or Hays?

    • Chris says:
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      Nvm…renfroe got picked up soon after, so decided on Hays

Comments are closed.