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Draft day

Joseph Monardo | Sunday, February 26, 2012

With spring training underway, pitchers are working off the rust in their shoulders, hitters are stepping back into the batter’s box and new faces populate the baseball fields in their respective major league parks across the country, preparing for opening day. At the same time, fantasy baseball managers are re-evaluating strategy, combing through stats and preparing for draft day.

For the millions who will take over the helm of a fantasy team this season, draft day represents the most important day of the fantasy schedule. The selection day brings with it the opportunity to manage a new team, to start from scratch as the long road to the championship begins. So why in the world would anyone prefer a keeper league to a fresh start?

For anyone unfamiliar with fantasy baseball, the premise is simple enough: Participants take on the role of manager in a league and personally draft a team from the list of Major League Baseball players. Each player’s stats count towards the fantasy teams that own him. Each fantasy team has one catcher, one first baseman and one of every other position in the field, as well as a number of pitchers.

In a keeper league, managers retain a set number of players on their team (e.g. no more than four) from the previous season rather than starting anew. The teams then draft from the remaining players, which are not kept by any of the teams. Not only does this process detract from the excitement of draft day, but it detracts from the excitement of the entire season.

Of the two leagues that I am playing in this year, one is a keeper league. I am keeping catcher Brian McCann, second baseman Robinson Cano, pitcher James Shields and outfielder Ryan Braun, who was definitely not caught taking performance-enhancing drugs last season. Phew. All four of these players are great, to be sure, but they are so … How should I say this? So last year. I already saw Braun rake in points, now I want to see another stud hitter carry my team. I already saw Shields go into the eighth inning almost every time out, now I want a new ace.

In a keeper league, the best players available to you are already on your team. When each team selects four players to keep, it is as if the top four rounds worth of players are accounted for. In last year’s draft in the same league (because it was the inaugural season there was no possibility for keepers), the top three picks in the fifth round were pitchers Josh Johnson and Matt Cain, followed by first baseman Billy Butler. Yuck.

Not that Johnson, Cain and Butler are yuck (although Butler definitely is), but this is what I am supposed to get excited for? The chance to draft Billy Butler as the top overall hitter is supposed to drive me through the final weeks of the fantasy off-season?

Fantasy baseball is exciting, fulfilling and enjoyable no matter what the system, but for an optimal experience and a meaningful draft day, ditch keeper leagues.

Contact Joseph Monardo at jmonardo@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.