Winning this year’s fantasy baseball championship is undervalued in dynasty leagues. Yes, you read that right. I’m a firm believer that dynasty players almost always value winning a fantasy championship right now less than the possibility of winning a fantasy championship in future years. I don’t understand why.
Clearly, when you’re playing in a dynasty format that allows you to roster players year after year, the younger your star player is the better. That makes sense. But in my experience, the lengths that dynasty managers will go to acquire unproven and unguaranteed prospect capital is too far.
There seems to always be a discount on veteran players that will help your team win right now. Yes, the 25-year-old who has already shown himself to be a productive major league contributor is more valuable than the 33-year-old who is putting up similar numbers. However, when we’re looking at that same veteran player as compared to a high-upside prospect who hasn’t even played in the upper levels of the minor leagues, well, I’d generally opt for the veteran in that scenario.
This idea that prospects are inherently the most valuable player to roster in dynasty formats presents a great opportunity for fantasy managers looking to win right now.
With that idea in mind, I went looking for consistent veteran players in their mid-to-late-30s who have been consistent fantasy contributors for years and have shown no signs of slowing down.
While Father Time may be undefeated, these five players have done a tremendous job at holding him at bay.
Entering his 12th year in the big leagues, Paul Goldschmidt has been remarkably consistent — he’s posted a wOBA below .350 in just one season since 2012. The 34-year-old first baseman shook off any fears of age-related decline last year, as he stuffed the stat sheet with 31 home runs, 99 RBI, 102 runs scored, and 12 stolen bases all while hitting for a .294 batting average.
Through the course of his long career, Goldschmidt’s been able to avoid the injury bug. He’s played in at least 145 games in all but one season (2020 excluded) since his first full campaign in 2012. In fact, Goldschmidt’s played in 155 or more games in each of the last six full MLB seasons. Since the 2015 season, Goldschmidt’s 4,347 plate appearances are the second-most in baseball. Only Manny Machado has more.
The impressiveness of Goldschmidt’s consistency may best be shown in charts, so here’s his rolling wOBA and rolling Hard Hit rates since the advent of Statcast data in 2015.
It’s remarkable to see how reliable Goldschmidt has been at the plate. He’s consistently contributed well above league-average numbers as he’s aged into his mid-30s, and it doesn’t seem like he’s going to slow down any time soon.
Goldschmidt hasn’t just maintained his level of play, he’s actually gotten better in a couple of key areas — his 13.6% barrel rate and 20% strikeout rate last year were both the best marks he’s ever posted in a full season. Goldschmidt even looked very spry on the basepaths for a first baseman in his mid-30s. His 12 stolen bases in 2021 were the most he’s had since 2017.
In the entirety of Goldschmidt’s profile, the only thing that sticks out as a worrying sign is his sharply decreased walk rate. He walked just 9.9% of the time last year, well below his 12.8% walk rate he had averaged over the three previous seasons. Despite that, his batting average and on-base percentage still look good, so while it’s something to watch, it’s not necessarily something that seems like it would lead to a quick performance decline.
If an upgrade at first base or a corner infield spot is what it’d take to make your dynasty team a championship contender, Goldschmidt seems like an incredible option. His going rate in a trade is likely less than it should be due to the baked-in age discount, and I think Goldschmidt will continue to produce at a high level for at least a few more seasons.
A 38-year-old pitcher doesn’t seem like someone you’d want to seek out via trade in a dynasty league, but when they produce as well as Charlie Morton has, you might want to make an exception.
Morton’s first nine seasons at the MLB level were nothing notable from a fantasy perspective – he was a low-strikeout, reliable back-of-the-rotation type – but once he signed a two-year deal with the Houston Astros, Morton looked like a totally different pitcher.
Since 2017, Morton has been an ace. Over the past five years, Morton ranks 25th in ERA (3.34), 14th in FIP (3.25), 22nd in strikeout rate (28.5%), 15th in innings pitched (732), fourth in wins (61), and seventh in fWAR (17.4)
Morton has not-so-quietly established himself as one of the game’s best starters, and he’s a great candidate to bolster a dynasty fantasy team’s rotation as they vie for a championship over the next couple of seasons.
Yes, at 38 there’s a risk that at some point soon Father Time catches up with Morton and his production falls off a steep cliff, but to this point, the Atlanta ace has shown no signs of slowing down.
Since his breakout in 2017, Morton’s fastball velocity has remained relatively unchanged. He maxed out at 96.2 mph in 2018 and was still averaging 95.5 mph last year.
Morton’s pitch mix has changed slightly over recent years as he’s relied less on his sinker and more on his curveball, four-seamer, and his newly developed changeup. The repertoire changes have worked for Morton, as he’s hovered right around a 30% CSW% over the past four seasons — his 32% CSW% was the 16th highest mark among starters last year.
Emerging as an ace in your mid-30s isn’t the typical path for a pitcher, but that’s exactly what Morton has done, and he’s been able to do it while avoiding the injury bug. Over the last five years, Morton’s only suffered three trips to the IL and has started at least 25 games in all four of the full seasons that have been played during that period.
The last time baseball fans saw Morton on the field was when a comebacker fractured his fibula in Game 1 of the 2021 World Series. Fractured fibulas aren’t common in baseball, but the general consensus seems to be that the injury won’t have a negative long-term effect on Morton. The 38-year-old righty recently said he’s “mostly caught up” with where he’d be if Spring Training were happening like usual.
Last September, Morton agreed to a two-year contract extension keeping him in Atlanta for the next two seasons, pending a team option for 2023. Morton may be closing in on his 40th birthday, but if an MLB team is betting he’ll continue to be a great pitcher for the next two years, you probably should too.
Morton is one of the game’s best pitchers, but in a dynasty format, you may be able to acquire him for a lot less than he’s worth. There’s a good chance that the fantasy manager that currently rosters Morton in your league would be happy to move on from someone likely just a few years from retirement, and if your team is in a position to win now, Morton may be the piece that elevates your pitching staff to a championship level.
At 37 years young, Justin Turner is continually proving that he’s still a solid four-category fantasy contributor. His .278 batting average, 27 home runs, 87 RBI, and 87 runs in 2021 were all positives from a player you could get relatively cheap in drafts.
Turner has been putting up those kinds of numbers for a long time. He’s posted nine straight seasons with a wOBA higher than .350, and he doesn’t look like he’s slowing down.
As he’s aged, Turner’s actually improved his plate discipline skills. From 2009 to 2016, Turner had strikeout and walk rates of 15.5% and 7.6%, respectively. From 2017-2021, his age 32 through 36 seasons, his strikeout rate and walk rates were 14% and 10.2%. He’s actually gotten better in a skill that typically slips with age! His walk rate has reached double digits in four of the last five seasons, and over that period his 0.73 BB/K ratio is the 14th best in baseball.
Turner’s acquired a reputation for being oft-injured, but in fact, he’s only had one IL stint since the 2018 season. He’s played in 126 games or more in five of the last six full-length MLB seasons. Sure, some nagging ailments will sideline him every now and then, but with his continued strong production, the Dodgers will keep him on the field as often as possible. The seemingly likely addition of the National League DH should be a boon to the two-time All-Star as well.
While Turner should be a good addition to a team in any league format, he’s especially valuable in OBP leagues. Turner’s .388 OBP since the beginning of the 2017 season is the 10th best in the game.
Projection systems see another productive year for Turner in 2022, especially Derek Carty’s THE BAT X — it projects Turner for a .288/.369/.515 slash line, 27 home runs, 84 RBI, and 81 runs over 130 games. Using FanGraphs’ Auction Calculator set to standard 5×5 scoring swapping out AVG for OBP, Turner’s $15 valuation for 2022 is the fourth-best at the hot corner. At one of fantasy baseball’s shallowest positions, Turner could be a steal.
If you’re in an OBP league, acquiring Turner to man your corner infield or utility spot may be the under-the-radar move that ends up paying huge dividends. At 37, Turner’s production is continuing to outpace his trade value in dynasty leagues. If your league uses daily lineups instead of weekly, he gets even better as you can throw him on the bench when the Dodgers decide to give him a random day off.
After three down seasons in a row, Joey Votto re-invented himself as one of the best power bats in baseball in 2021. Although the former MVP combined for just 38 home runs from 2018-2020, he powered 36 balls over the fence last year, tied for the 14th most among all hitters.
As a 38-year-old with just one strong fantasy season since 2017, he may seem like an odd choice as a veteran player worth buying in dynasty formats, but I’m completely sold on the changes he’s made at the plate, willingly sacrificing some plate discipline skill in return for better power results.
Take a look at Votto’s power and plate discipline numbers since the beginning of the Statcast era.
As Votto was entering his mid-30s, he was experiencing a normal age-related decline – lower walk rates, higher strikeout rates, and slumping power numbers. In light of that, Votto took matters into his own hands. His strikeout and walk rates didn’t rebound to where they were during his prime years, but his power numbers did. From 2019 to 2021, Votto raised his slugging percentage .152 points, his barrel rate 10.8 percent, and added nearly five miles per hour to his max exit velocity.
We aren’t just talking about a former MVP. We’re talking about perhaps one of the best tinkerers of all time. Votto’s level of understanding what he wants to do at the plate and then making the appropriate changes to get the results he’s looking for is unparalleled.
Trading for a 38-year-old first baseman in a dynasty format may seem like folly, but I’m fully sold on Votto’s late-career transformation. He has two more years under contract in Cincinnati and then a club option for the 2024 season. If first base or corner infield is an area of concern for your dynasty team, Votto could fill that hole incredibly well over the next few years, especially in OBP leagues.
The youngest player on this list is also probably the riskiest, simply because of what position he plays. Yasmani Grandal is a rarity among catchers. He’s not only been consistently good fielding his position and managing a pitching staff, but he’s also brought well above average offensive output to a position that rarely sees plus-offense from a player who excels behind the plate.
As a 32-year-old in 2021, Grandal had the best offensive season of his career. His 159 wRC+ was the fourth-highest among all hitters with at least 350 plate appearances, bested only by Bryce Harper, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Juan Soto. That’s pretty good company.
Grandal hit .240/.420/.520 with 23 home runs, 62 RBI, 60 runs scored, and the best plate discipline numbers of his 10-year big league career.
Grandal has become more and more selective at the plate throughout his career, dropping his swing percentage in each of the last three seasons to a career-low 31.9%. That was the lowest swing rate in the league among all players with at least 350 plate appearances last year. Most players swing and miss more often as they age, but Grandal has been able to do exactly the opposite.
As a catcher entering his mid-30s, Grandal carries more risk than other players his age simply due to the position he plays. A torn tendon in Grandal’s left knee landed him on the IL for over 50 days last year, limiting the two-time All-Star to just 93 games — the least he’s played in a full season since 2013.
While it’s easy to see how that knee issue could drive down the appeal of rostering Grandal in a dynasty format, the silver lining is that it could make him easier to acquire via trade. The possibility of re-aggravating the injury may even cause the White Sox to plug Grandal in the lineup at DH or first base more often, hopefully keeping him and his aging knee healthier.
Grandal offers the biggest value over replacement level at his position than any other player on this list, but he could also be the biggest health gamble. If your starting catcher isn’t Salvador Perez, J.T. Realmuto, or Will Smith, Grandal would be a notable upgrade, perhaps enough to turn a good season for your team into a great season.
Photos by John McCoy/Icon Sportswire, Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire, and Dan Cristian-Padure/Unsplash | Adapted by Ethan Kaplan (@DJFreddie10 on Twitter and @EthanMKaplanImages on Instagram)