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The Final Keeper: A Journey Into the Soul

Please don't let this ball hit me in the face.  Please don't let this ball hit me in the face.  Please don't let this ball hit me in the face.
Please don't let this ball hit me in the face. Please don't let this ball hit me in the face. Please don't let this ball hit me in the face.

In the next week or so, most keeper leagues will have their deadlines for which players you're going to carry forward on your roster in 2012. For the fortunate among us, the decisions are either easy or already made. For the rest of us, it's a struggle up to the point you click the submit button -- and we all know why. The decision that you make before you send in that list can have a huge effect on your team's performance for the coming season. For the purposes of this post (and possibly another post or two as we make our way through draft season), I'm going to allow myself to be a little self-indulgent and see what we can learn through my experience and decision-making process in one of my most important leagues.

Our keepers are due two weeks prior to the draft, which would be this coming Sunday. Two more days of going back and forth. And back and forth. Last season, I made a last-minute decision to rekindle my faith in Gordon Beckham and keep him at $6 over Jordan Zimmermann at $1. I ended up getting Zimmermann back in the draft anyway at $10, but maybe that extra $9 would have pushed me over the top (I finished 3rd last season). We'll certainly never know now.

So let's get to this season's scenario. Some league background first. It's a 16-team mixed rotisserie with standard 5x5 categories, 22 man active roster (only one catcher), 5 man bench and 2 minor league reserve spots. You keep 7 players year-to-year, plus your two reserves and everyone counts against the $260 draft-day cap (my two reserves are Julio Teheran at $2 and Henderson Alvarez at $1). My first six keepers are already decided upon. Carlos Santana at $1, Starlin Castro at $1 and Eric Hosmer at $3 are all no-brainers and Jordan Zimmermann at $10, Jason Motte at $3 and Jordan Walden at $3 are the next group of three. But for my final spot, I have no fewer than six contenders that keep cycling in and out of my subconscious with varying levels of conviction.

The Favorites

Lance Berkman, $8

Berkman was one of my best pickups at the draft last March and I rode him all the way to the finish line. And in examining his underlying statistics, I don't see any good reason why he can't do it again. Well, besides health. And while the Cardinals will not have one Albert Pujols this coming season, their lineup should not be superlatively worse with the addition of Beltran and having Furcal for a full season.

So why is he not a slam-dunk keeper? It's a combination of his valuation compared to other OF and 1B, along with his age and the inherent risks that brings. It really is amazing that Berkman was able to stay healthy enough to play in 145 games last season while "manning" the outfield. Now that he's at first base, he should have a better shot at staying healthy -- but 36 year old bodies are 36 year old bodies. As far as valuation, he's consistently been between 25-30 among outfielders, and my ranks are no different (#27). Could I get him back at the draft for $15-18? Possibly.

Johnny Cueto, $4

Trust me, I'm well aware of the Johnny Cueto hate that has gone around this off-season. Last season's ERA isn't repeatable. He has trouble staying healthy. I'm not going to argue with either of those points, as they're both true. But just because they're both true, doesn't mean that Cueto will fall apart this year. I have him ranked #37 in my starting pitcher ranks and feel pretty good about it.

So why do I still like Cueto for this season? For those of you who read my post on Jaime Garcia, you're probably familiar with my concept of pitching's holy trinity (K/9 > 7.0, BB/9 < 3.0 and GB% > 50). Last season, Cueto had both the walk rate (2.71 BB/9) and the ground ball rate (53.7%), but had a K/9 rate of 6.00. If he can bring this up to his career rate of 6.97, he'll be right there -- and if he does, he can be a top-25 starter. But even without it, he can still be successful. The Reds will still boast an above-average defense which should allow him to outperform his xFIP, as he has done every year of his career so far.

The Other Contenders

Ervin Santana, $6

Santana I actually have ranked two spots behind Cueto in my starting pitcher ranks (#39), but then again, it's only two spots. The surface question here is whether Santana poses less injury risk than Cueto -- and I'm not so sure the answer is yes. While it's true that Santana has thrown over 220 innings both of the last two seasons, he also threw sliders 36.9% of the time in 2010 and 38.3% of the time in 2011. Those are crazy high numbers, and in fact it was the highest percentage in the majors last year. More sliders = more injury risk.

David Ortiz, $8

Big Papi's turnaround in 2011 was remarkable, particularly with regard to his plate discipline. To decrease his strikeout rate from 23.9% in 2010 to 13.7% was amazing, and it showed in his first season hitting above .300 since 2007. But can he sustain this? Most projections say no -- in fact, ZiPS projects Ortiz for a K rate of 19.4% and PECOTA projects a 19.0% rate. Not surprisingly, they also project a .266 and .270 average, respectively. The power and counting stats are certainly appealing, but when you factor in his DH-only eligibility,

The Dark Horses

Carlos Beltran, $9

Could he see a continued resurgence playing for the defending World Series champions? Certainly it's possible, but he's not getting any younger and his knees aren't getting less creaky.

Kelly Johnson, $6

KJ is one of my favorite sleepers at 2B this season, and he's becoming a borderline top-10 option again. The issue here is that I think I can get him back in the draft for a single-digit price -- and will definitely target him.

So we end there. Some of these guys are risky, some are old and some just probably won't go for that much on draft day. Two starters, two outfielders, a second baseman and a DH. Back and forth. At least I know it will be over by Sunday. So, if anyone has any persuasive cases they'd like to make in the comments, go for it. I don't think I could know these guys' FanGraphs pages any better if I tattooed them on my face. Back and forth. At least it's between six guys in case I need to resort to dice -- I don't want to have to dust off my old D&D set.