Dynasty Days of Christmas: Seven Swans A-Swimming (Late-Career players)
Recently at Pitcher List, we have been releasing a bunch of dynasty and prospect content because we know that side of fantasy baseball never rests! With the Holiday season now upon us, we thought it would be fun to put together a dynasty series based on the 12 days of Christmas. We are now on day 7, “seven swans a-swimming”, which we have labeled as 7 MLB players in the latter stages of their career. The idea is based on the idea of a “swan song” which is defined as a person’s final public performance or professional activity before retirement. Now, these guys aren’t all at the very end of their careers, but in dynasty leagues where ageism is a real thing, we felt it was appropriate. Makes sense? Good! Let’s hop right into it.
Yadier Molina – St. Louis Cardinals
At the age of 35 in 2018, C Yadier Molina put together a .261/.314/.436 batting line with just the 2nd 20 HR season of his 15 year MLB career. He doesn’t walk much, but he continues to show above-average contact skills with an 8.4% swinging-strike rate last season which is actually a touch better than 2017. His HR growth the last two years can be traced to a launch angle change in which he’s gone from 10.1 and 9.1 degrees in 2015 and 2016 respectively, to 14.5 degrees in 2017 and 15.4 degrees in 2018. The result is fewer groundballs and more flyballs which have meant more HR power! Interestingly, according to xStats, Molina actually underperformed in 2018 as his expected line of .298/.347/.490 far exceeds his real-life numbers. In a barren catcher market for fantasy baseball, Molina remains a strong short-term option with dynasty value that likely extends into 2020 which is the last year of his current contract.
Nelson Cruz – Free Agent
38-year-old Free-agent DH Nelson Cruz has been remarkably consistent over the last number of years, posting between 37 and 44 HRs each of the last 5 years while also posting a wRC+ no worse than 134 over that time. He’s clearly been one of the most consistent power hitters in recent years, but what sort of value can we expect going forward? While peripherals like swinging-strike rate and Hard Contact rate have remained steady or even improved slightly, I do see some signs of an aging slugger. His launch angle has risen each of the last 4 years, and yet his slugging% has fallen each year along with it, and he ended up posting a career-worst xSLG mark in 2018(to be fair, it only has 4 years of data). That along with a career-worst .264 BAPIP has me seeing a slugger that is increasingly becoming more power focused, and he’s slowly becoming unable to keep up to his peak pace. Still, he’s a nice power threat that you can count on 30+ HRs from. In dynasty leagues, I think he’s a guy worth holding at this point as other owners in your league are unlikely to part with valuable assets for the late-career of Cruz.
What a career that SP Justin Verlander has had, the now 14 year MLB veteran has accomplished pretty much everything you could ever dream of as a pitcher including winning a Rookie of the year award (2006), a Cy Young (2011), an AL MVP (2011), being named an MLB All-star 7-times, and even a World Series title (2017). Yet, at 35 years of age, Verlander may just have had his best MLB season in 2018. He posted a 2.52 ERA with career-best 34.5% strikeout and 4.4% walk rates along with a career-best 0.90 WHIP, career-best 2.78 FIP, and career-best 2.63 SIERA. Sense a theme? It’s amazing that Verlander has been able to reinvent himself at this age with an increase in slider usage and a decrease in changeup usage. Oh, and his fastball is still the elite of the elite as it ranked as the best pitch in baseball last year in terms of pVAL.
I think his current peak is so high that it makes sense to continue treating him as a top-tier SP asset in dynasty leagues.
Jed Lowrie – Oakland Athletics
The now 34-year-old 2B Jed Lowrie is another player on this list who had perhaps their best season in the majors. Lowrie posted a solid .267/.353/.448 batting line with a career-high 23 HRs, and 0 SBs last year. He supported that line with an 11.5% walk rate and 18.8% strikeout rate and overall his season was worth a 122 wRC+ which ranked 5th among qualified 2nd baseman. While this is incredibly valuable, I do see some concerning trends in Lowrie’s profile. His swinging-strike rate has taken steps back each of the last 5 years, and his batted ball profile hasn’t changed very much over the last 5 years (FB rates between 44.3% and 43.4% each of the last 5 years) which has me wondering how sustainable his 2018 23 HR season is going forward. I think he’s a guy that you may want to sell at his peak value if you can in dynasty leagues.
Nick Markakis – Free Agent
The now 35-year-old free agent OF Nick Markakis just keeps on doing his thing, making tons of contact and walking lots and therefore being an OBP machine. The rest of his offensive profile isn’t as exciting fantasy wise as his career 45.7% GB rate suggests that he won’t be a consistent power threat, and at this stage in his career, he’s no longer a SB threat. His real value in dynasty leagues comes from his ability to hit and get on base in front of others and maybe help make up for a low AVG/OBP slugger. The peripheral stats remain steady for Markakis and I think he has a few more years yet of this sort of profile. As he is a current free agent without the certainty of hitting in front of a good offense though, I’m just not sure how valuable he is at this point. Consider him a depth OF option in dynasty leagues!
Daniel Murphy – Free Agent
Free Agent 2B Daniel Murphy is an interesting case for value in dynasty leagues. He had a couple of big years in 2016 and 2017 with the Washington Nationals before suffering a major knee injury in which Microfracture surgery was required to repair articular cartilage in his right knee. Upon getting back into MLB action in June, Murphy predictably struggled initially. Fortunately, he bounced back in the 2nd half with an impressive .315/.346/.498 batting line with 11 HRs and was worth a 125 wRC+. That sort of bounce-back gives hope that the 33-year-old Murphy can continue to provide quality bat-to-ball skills and sneaky pop for fantasy teams out of the 2nd base position for a little while yet. Where he ends up signing will likely also greatly impact Murphy’s dynasty value, so keep that in mind.
Josh Donaldson – Atlanta Braves
Last up is new Atlanta Braves 3B Josh Donaldson who is reuniting with former GM Alex Anthopolus in Braves Country. Donaldson has missed time each of the past two years with calf issues and it led to just 219 PAs last year. When healthy, Donaldson has proven he can still hit as he posted a 151 wRC+ in 2017 and then posted a .280/.400/.520 batting line with even 16.7% walk and strikeout rates for the Cleveland Indians in September that was worth a 149 wRC+. The 2015 MVP just needs to prove he can stay healthy, and the move from the Rogers Centre turf in Toronto to the Grass of Sun Trust Park in Atlanta should help in theory. I think he’s actually a good buy-low option in dynasty leagues for those that are in win-now mode, especially if you have an insurance policy at 3rd base to support him in case his calf injuries return again. A motivated Donaldson on a one-year deal seems like a good short-term investment!