I've said before that in fantasy circles, and especially in keeper leagues, players over the age of 30 tend to be treated like radioactive freaks. They have zero trade value, and it gets worse the closer a player gets to 40. This is understandable, of course, but the aversion to older players can sometimes border on the insane, especially since there are still players in their mid-to-late-30's who are still quite productive.
Teenaged punks like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper get all the love from fantasy players, but let's kick those whippersnappers off our lawn for the moment and celebrate some of the older players in baseball who were immensely valuable. I'll define "older" as 35-and-up. Here are my top five oldies-but-goodies in 2012. Keep your sensible shoe and cornmeal mush jokes to yourself, please.
As he has aged, Jeter's offensive value has been declared dead more often than Solomon Grundy, but darned if The Captain doesn't keep on pulling rabbits out of his hat. Every year fantasy pundits predict that Jeter will finally start showing his age and become an old albatross (that's A-Rod's job, thank you), but every year Jeter just keeps on chugging as one of the better fantasy shortstops around.
After a power outage in 2011, Jeter launched 15 homers this season to put some oomph back into his batting line. He also led the league in total hits, something he's only done one other time in his long and prolific career. His .791 OPS ranked, amazingly enough, fourth among shortstop qualifiers (he would have ranked third had the Rays not started playing Ben Zobrist at short mid-season). Jeter is bound to hit the wall at some point as he approaches 40, but I doubted him before this season, and I'm not ready to tell you he won't contribute once again in 2013.
Paulie actually fell off quite a bit from his previous two seasons, but he still managed to be a top ten first baseman. Heck, if he were in the National League, he probably would have been the best behind Joey Votto. Konerko has been a consistent contributor for over a decade now, but he's approaching that magical age where slow, slugging first basemen start to fall off cliffs. He's probably got another good year or two left in him, but tread carefully and seek younger sleeper options before settling on him in next year's draft.
Pierzynski was my favorite WTF player in 2012, as he demolished his career-high in home runs and magically became one of the year's top fantasy catchers. After averaging eleven home runs a season from 2001 to 2011, Pierzynski crushed 27 this year, placing him second among all catchers. Raise your hand if you predicted that. Put that hand down, you liar!
Pierzynski's strikeout rate was a career-high 15% this year. That's his highest since 2005, when he set his previous high in home runs. I've been following this guy closely (for whatever reason) for a long time now, and he's always been a quick-wristed slap/singles hitter who never hit as many home runs as he seemed capable of. The elevated strikeout rate indicates that he just might be taking bigger cuts and, consequently, driving more pitches over the wall. I understand this is probably a one-year power spike, but if he really has changed his approach, it's not out of the realm of possibility that he can come close to repeating this next season.
Beltran has hit that inevitable point in every former five-tool player's career where he has become just another slugging corner outfielder whose wheels have gone the way of the dodo. That's not a bad thing, of course, as Beltran topped 30 home runs for the first time since 2007, and even threw in 13 stolen bases, proving that his knees haven't completely turned to jello. His second-half slump is a bit worrisome, though. If you parse his season even more, you can argue that he had one monster month that inflated his overall line (1.116 OPS in May). He'll still probably be a productive piece in 2013, but warning signs abound and, as always, he can't be relied on to stay healthy.
Soriano had a resurgence of sorts, recovering from a horrendous April (.237/.250/.263) to eclipse 30 home runs for the first time in five years. I'm prepared to call this a dead cat bounce, since Soriano hasn't been a fantasy star since he stopped stealing bases in 2009. He also never walks and hurts you in the strikeout category. However, a 30-homer outfielder is nothing to sneeze at. Soriano won't be a popular pick in 2013 drafts because of his age and general skepticism about his resurgent power. That could make him a decent late-round source of power, as he's probably a couple years from completely going in the tank.