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Wednesday 26th Oct 2016

Each year, a number of us from Mastersball.com are fortunate enough to be included in the best Fantasy Baseball pre-season magazine. It is called "The Fantasy Baseball Guide - Professional Edition" and is edited by that Superhero, Rotoman. For many of us, the contribution is a list of "Picks and Pans" where we try to predict which players the readers should target or avoid.

Before attempting to objectively assign a grade to my own 2015 predictions, a few disclaimers are in order...

1) While the publication itself hits the shelves in anticipation of Spring Training, our lists need to be submitted well before the December holidays. At that point, numerous free agents haven't signed and many MLB roster roles haven't been determined.

2)  The Old Duck always attempts to focus on players that are more marginal than the obvious fantasy stars. You don't need me to tell you that Mike Trout is a good player. You need me to find you a bargain or to steer you away from an overrated player. Taking this approach is more fun but also more challenging.

3) One lesson to take away from this exercise is that being an "expert" has a price. Most of my opponents sitting around the draft table in March/April have read the magazine and already know my thoughts about many players. Having your name in print is a reasonable excuse for sharing information, but for those of you in home leagues, make sure you keep your opinions to yourself in the company of your mortal enemies.

So, without pulling any punches, let's see how the Quacker made out...first the prediction and then the post-season analysis.

> Cody Allen - PICK - Recommended him last year and he didn't disappoint. 91 K's in 70 IP tells you he's the closer for awhile. - Put up 34 Saves with 99 K's in less than 70 IP to earn about $20 in Roto value...Grade "A"

> Nolan Arenado - PICK - Improved his OPS from .706 in his rookie year to .828 in '14...and he's just 24. - 42 HR's & 130 RBI's equaled a $33 Roto campaign...Grade "A"

> Cody Asche - PAN - With an OPS under .700 in 559 MLB AB's in a hitter's park, he's not the answer at a corner infield spot. - Struggled most of the year and had only 39 RBI's in over 400 AB's while earning about $5...Grade "A"

> Javier Baez - PAN - Will he be a superstar or a slender version of Mark Reynolds? Baez hit 9 HR's with a .169 BA and .551 OPS in over 200 AB's...Reynolds hit 22 HR's with a .196 BA and .681 OPS in 378 AB's. - Baez didn't make the Cubs opening day roster and spent most of the year at Triple-A. Reynolds hit 13 HR's for the Cardinals and added $5 in Roto value to your team...Grade "A"

> Michael Brantley - PICK - This is no surprise, but I'm just rubbing in the fact that I was the only one who listed him as a "PICK" last year. - Nagging injuries kept him from repeating 2014 but he earned $27 with .310 15-84-15...Grade "B"

> Jay Bruce - PAN - None of the guys impacted negatively by defensive shifting have convinced me that they're capable of making the necessary adjustment. - Another disappointing season where his 26 HR's were offset by a .226 BA. Only earned $15 for his Roto owners...Grade "B"

> Asdrubal Cabrera - PAN - At age 29, his BA & OPS have declined for the last four seasons. - Improved his OPS to .744 and earned $14 in his walk year...Grade "C"

> Steve Cishek - PICK - One of those under-the-radar closers, but has 73 Saves the last two seasons and a lifetime ERA of 2.65. - Lost his job in Miami with a bad April and ended up toiling in the Cardinals bullpen...Grade "D"

> Alex Cobb - PICK - The next ace of the Rays, don't let the 10-9 record fool you...in his last 300+ IP, the ERA is 2.82. -Injuries to pitchers are part of this fool's game. He never pitched in 2015...Grade "NA"

> Nelson Cruz - PAN - Yes, he led the way with 40 HR's, but some team will overpay for that performance and very soon, he'll start looking like a mid-30's DH. - Well, not yet it seems. Produced a $30 season with 44 HR's...Grade "D"

> Khris Davis - PAN - You'll be tempted by the 22 HR's, but the K-to-BB ratio was 4-to-1, his OBP was under .300 and the OPS was only .756. - This looked spot on until the last six weeks of the season when he caught fire. Blasted 27 HR's but hit only .247...Grade "C"

> R.A. Dickey - PICK - Don't discount his contribution, especially in a AL-only format. He led the league in starts for three consecutive years while winning 48 games. - 33 starts, 11 Wins, 214+ IP, ERA under 4.00 for a division winner...Grade "B"

> Josh Fields - PICK - If the Astros don't invest in an established closer during the off-season, this could be the guy. Had 70 K's and only 17 BB in 54+ IP. - Houston signed both Luke Gregerson and Pat Neshek, so even though he pitched well (67 K's in 50+ IP), it wasn't in high-leverage situations...Grade "C"

> Freddie Freeman - PICK - 2014 was perceived as a "down year", but he's still only 24 and produced a .847 OPS. - Injuries limited him to 416 AB's, but still had a .841 OPS and produced $16 in Roto value...Grade "B"

> Matt Garza - PICK - At age 31, has gone from over-rated to under-rated...the 8 Wins and 3.64 ERA could have been much better. - A huge miss, he imploded with a 5.63 ERA...Grade "F"

> Jeremy Hellickson - PAN - His stuff won't play in Chase Field. - For $4.28 Million, the D'Backs got a 4.62 ERA. The team needs to admit their mistake and non-tender him this off-season...Grade "A"

> Kyle Hendricks - PICK - Seemed to come out of nowhere, but his minor league ERA's at two levels in '13 were 1.85 & 2.48 - Gave the Cubs 32 starts and earned $9...Grade "B"

> Derek Holland - PICK - Looked really sharp in a handful of starts at the end of the season. Don't forget that he pitched 213 innings in '13 with a ERA of 3.42 in a launching pad. - Got hurt again in Spring Training and only pitched 58 innings late in the year...Grade "C"

> Matt Holliday - PAN - Will be over-priced in every league due to reputation...he's on the decline at age 35. - 229 AB's and 4 HR's, he was only a $5 Roto player...Grade "A"

> Eric Hosmer - PAN - The post-season heroics will muddy the waters...9 HR's & 58 RBI's in 500 AB's isn't the 1B you want. -Then again, maybe it is. 18 HR's, 93 RBI's and a $26 Roto season...Grade "D"

> Austin Jackson - PAN - Only 28, but he really hasn't figured out how to maximize his tools...hit just .229 after being traded to Seattle. - Traded again, he hit .267 with less than 50 RBI's in almost 500 AB's...Grade "B"

> Desmond Jennings - PAN - No longer a prospect, he's now 28 with a lifetime BA of .248 in over 1,700 AB's. - Was injured most of the year and produced no Roto value...Grade "B"

> Francisco Liriano - PICK - If your league combatants only look at the 7-10 record, take advantage...might have the best "stuff" of any free agent pitcher. - Re-signed with the Pirates and produced a $15 Roto season with 205 K's...Grade "A"

> Russell Martin - PAN - Will get a boatload of money coming off a great year, but 2014 was the first time he's hit over .250 since 2008...a major league team will pay for last year's stats, but you shouldn't. - Smacked 23 HR's in a hitter friendly environment, but his BA was only .240 ...Grade "B"

> Brian McCann - PAN - Was panned in this space last year and it just got worse. Another stubborn sole who won't deal with the shift, his OPS was under .700. - Worth even less than Martin with 26 HR's thanks to Yankee Stadium and a BA of .232...Grade "B"

> Jake McGee - PICK - Is he a legitimate closer? How about 90 K's & 16 BB in 71+ IP with a ERA under 2.00. - Only had 37 IP due to injury, but be impressed by 48 K's & 8 BB...Grade" NA"

> Shelby Miller - PAN - This applies more to a 5x5 format, but he pitched 10 more innings than 2013 and struck out 42 fewer hitters and walked 16 more...that's not a good sign for age 24. -Despite a 6-17 record, his peripherals were solid and produced $11 in Roto value...Grade "C"

> A.J. Pollock - PICK - Injuries derailed a breakout season and he plays a gold-glove caliber CF, so he won't lose his job - With this kind of performance, he won't lose his job for a decade. Produced over $40 in Roto value...Grade "A"

> Colby Rasmus - PICK - A free agent at age 28, he'll be some team's CF and his lifetime .751 OPS with 20+ HR's would look nice. - This prediction belongs in a Twilight Zone episode - .789 OPS and 25 HR's produced $11 in Roto value for end-gamers...Grade "A"

> Tanner Roark - PICK - If you listened last year when I whispered in your ear, you got 15 Wins and a ERA under 3.00. - By the time the season started, he was no longer in the rotation and never had a significant role on the staff...Grade "D"

> Pablo Sandoval - PAN - The World Series performance and free-agent dollars will make him over-priced. The truth is that his 2014 stats weren't as good as either of the two previous seasons. - It appeared that he and HanRam spent most of the season at Golden Corral instead of Fenway Park. Hit .245 with 10 HR's and earned a whopping $4...Grade "A"

> Drew Smyly - PICK - His ERA in seven Tampa Bay starts was 1.70. - Injured early on in the season and only pitched 67 innings. His five Wins and 3.10 ERA were still worth $5...Grade "C"

> Drew Storen - PICK - The Nats replaced him in 2012 with Rafael Soriano even though Storen had 43 Saves in 2011? And, he's still three years younger than David Robertson. Who's in charge of playing time, Bryce Harper? - This was right on the money until his 29 Saves through the first four months weren't good enough and the Nats replaced him again - this time with "Rocky" Papelbon...Grade "B"

> Alex Wood - PICK - In 249 IP the last two seasons, he has 247 K's and a 2.89 ERA. Why don't the Braves just let him start every 5th day? - Evidently, the Dodgers felt the same way and traded for him, but the results weren't great with 12 Wins and a 3.84 ERA...Grade "C"

> David Wright - PAN - Hit 8 HR's and had a OPS under .700 for $20 Million...entering his age 32 season. - More injuries and only 152 AB's in another lost season...Grade "B"

Statistics can be manipulated to reach a number of different conclusions, but the Quacker did manage "A" or "B" ratings on 64% of the players. The overall GPA was about 2.76, which matches my blood alcohol level in college. The good news is that  Brantley, Hendricks, Liriano and Rasmus were helpful members on my fantasy squads...hope they helped you too.

Over the last few years, fantasy sports have morphed into a much different enterprise. Oh sure, there's still the die-hard, season-long players like The Old Duck who love being with friends and understand that you can't duplicate the camaraderie of a live auction draft table by playing the game any other way.

First, the Internet allowed people to play fantasy sports remotely and the dreaded "snake" draft became common place on sites like Yahoo, ESPN and the like. Then, real money became the lure with national contests such as the NFBC (National Baseball Championship) running live drafts in Las Vegas and other cities with huge pay-outs for the overall winners. Now, we are inundated with advertising for Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS), where participants can choose a new team each day (baseball) or week (football) and put up their money against a group of anonymous opponents. As a result, when you tune into satellite radio or look at your favorite fantasy website, a large portion of the advice is geared toward this type of game.

Scribes more knowledgeable than me have written numerous articles about the positives and negatives of DFS and I won't attempt to question their expertise on either side of the issue. One of the reasons is that as an Arizona resident, I'm not allowed to participate in DFS. Why, you ask? Because Arizona is one of only five states that consider this gambling, and therefore, illegal. In fact, residents of these five states can't even go to Nevada and play in the NFBC. Obviously, 45 states consider it legal to "wager" on DFS sites and the basic criteria is that the authorities consider it a game of skill as opposed to a game of chance. This is where the waters become murky and many of my Fantasy Baseball brethren have taken opposite sides in the argument.

With no stake in the discussion, here's my take. I've always thought of DFS participation as akin to going to the race track. You get a program, look over your research and place a wager on an athlete. If that athlete wins, you get paid an amount based on the wagering pool created by every other bet (pari-mutual betting) and the owner of the facility takes a percentage of the pool to cover expenses and make a profit. The "take" at most American tracks is an average of about 20%...DFS sites claim to take 10%. In either case, there is no "game of chance" involved such as a slot machine or a lottery ticket.

An ongoing discussion is the question of DFS being a game of skill. Some people argue that poker is a game of skill and those that feel that way more than likely think it takes more skill than picking horses or ballplayers. We've all known good poker players and bad poker players, but the real difference in the two pursuits is that you get dealt cards in poker before you even make a bet...that makes it different than sports betting. Your opponent may be dealt pocket aces at a Texas Hold'em table but nobody you're competing against in fantasy sports gets dealt Mike Trout or Aaron Rodgers. It seems that from a legal point of view, this may be the difference between a "game of chance" and a "game of skill". Let's not kid ourselves, it's all gambling, but the legal interpretation changes the landscape.

While DFS wagering or poker playing might fall out of my expertise, it is obvious to me that a form of gambling saved the baseball card industry and continues to drive the hobby today. After card manufacturers almost ruined the industry in the late 80's and early 90's by overproducing products and eliminating any type of scarcity, they were forced to reinvent themselves. Their method was to begin including authentic autograph and memorabilia cards randomly into packs. So, theoretically, you could purchase a pack of eight cards for $3 and pull a Derek Jeter autograph card worth $100 or more. Of course, the card companies also had to pay players to sign their signature and/or make game-used uniforms available and those costs increased the price of the product. Today, you can still buy $3 packs, but you can also buy products where you're guaranteed autograph cards. The Topps company recently came out with a product that sells for $125 a pack. Inside, there are only two baseball cards but each of them will have an autograph. The players are random, of course, and there are over 100 subjects in the run. A collector I know recently purchased a case (8 packs) for a little less than $1,000. The 16 autograph cards that were pulled included such players as James Shields, Rick Porcello, Micah Johnson, Raisel Iglesias and Marquis Grissom. The best cards were a Randy Johnson Auto numbered to 5 and a Javier Baez Auto and Uniform Patch numbered to 10. The value of the 16 cards won't be half of the original cost. On the other hand, another collector opened a 24-pack box of cards that cost less than $70 and pulled a Kris Bryant Autograph card serial-numbered to 66 that is worth $400+. If that isn't gambling, what is? Last time I checked, however, buying baseball cards was legal in Arizona...and everywhere else.

As with all endeavors, someone is always willing to push the envelope. Apparently, there is now a phenomenon known as an "online set break." Let's say you own a 250-card set of 1954 Topps cards and over the years, you've had all the cards graded. The grades range from EX 5 to NM 7 with an overall average of 6. The set has a book value of about $10,000 but finding a buyer at that price level might be difficult. In addition, if you tried to sell it on eBay or some other auction site, the fees could be 15% or more. Instead, you agree to break up the set card-by-card and sell shares in the endeavor. Would collectors pay $45 a chance to get one of the random cards from the set? After all, the possibilities include a Hank Aaron Rookie card worth over $2,000, an Ernie Banks RC valued at $750, an Al Kaline RC that books at $450 and cards of Ted Williams, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson and others. According to one recent story, the "break" for a set like this sold out in less than an hour. $45 times 250 cards equals $11,250...a nice haul for the owner and individually, a small investment for the collectors. You might end up with Solly Hemus or Rip Repulski for your investment, but you took a shot. How would this stand up to your definition of gambling? Or maybe, even though it is a random drawing, it doesn't qualify as a lottery because every player wins a prize? I'll bet you have an opinion.

Yogi Berra went 4-for-4 one night but when he looked at the box score in the newspaper the next morning, it showed him as 3-for-4. By the time Yogi arrived at the ballpark, he was significantly steamed and located the official scorer to complain. The scorer apologized and told him that it was a typographical error. Yogi's response? "No, it wasn't...it was a clean single up the middle."

One of the few advantages of being a baseball fan of a certain age is that you have the memories of baseball tucked into a special compartment in your brain. This is especially true of players and games you actually witnessed in person and whenever a record is broken or a milestone is reached, you can bring up those mental snapshots from different decades and enjoy looking at them again. This photo album also emerges when a legendary player passes away and it reminds us to always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't come to yours.

As a youngster who spent countless days and nights in the bleachers at Fenway Park, I admittedly hated the Yankees. My beloved Red Sox had Ted Williams and a few other decent players like Jim Piersall and Jackie Jensen, but the dreaded Bronx Bombers were a veritable All-Star team. Those old snapshots in my brain include Mickey Mantle hitting the hardest ball I've ever seen, Billy Martin getting his uniform dirty before the 2nd inning, Whitey Ford throwing a pitch that dropped three feet and Ryne Duren (wearing thick glasses) throwing his first warm-up pitch all the way to the backstop at 100 MPH. In the eight seasons from 1952-59, the Yankees won six AL pennants and four World Series titles. The Red Sox were also-rans and the crowds were sometimes thin because if people don't want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's going to stop them.

The most unique Yankee player of the time was Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra. The most interesting aspect for a kid watching the game was that he didn't look like the other ballplayers. At 5' 7" and 185 pounds, he certainly couldn't be described as athletic, but the results of his efforts were always amazing. Even Napoleon had his Watergate, but this player never seemed to strike out or not come through in the clutch. He also didn't look like a matinee idol but it didn't matter if he was ugly, because I never saw anyone hit with their face.

Even the most casual of fans know about Ted Williams and his military service during two wars, but most don't know that a 19-year-old Yogi Berra was on a rocket boat approaching Omaha Beach on D-Day. At that moment, he might have thought that the future ain't what is used to be, but if the world was perfect, it wouldn't be. At that moment, his professional baseball experience consisted of 111 games with Norfolk of the Piedmont League where he had a batting average of .253. Once he made his major league debut on September 22nd, 1946, he was 21 and he had already figured out that you can't think and hit at the same time. Ironically, he passed away exactly 69 years to the day after that first game.

Of course, this column could be filled with famous "Yogi-isms", but you can use your search engine to find those. It would sort of be like Deja Vu all over again. Or you could call the local pizza parlor and tell them to cut your pizza into six slices instead of eight slices because you can't eat eight slices. Or you could just take a two-hour nap from 1:00 to 4:00 before you decide not to answer that anonymous letter. For the rest of our visit, let's pair up in threes and look at the two peripheral items we discuss in this space most often...baseball stats and baseball cards.

Six Yogi Stats

> In 1948 and 1962, Yogi made the AL All-Star team...he also made the team every year in between.

> Yogi won three AL MVP Awards ('51, '54 and '55)...he also finished 2nd twice ('53 and '56).

> In a seven-year span ('50 to '56), he accumulated WAR (Wins Above Replacement) numbers between 4.5 and 6.3...in those same seven seasons, his OPS was never lower than .819 and was as high as .915.

> In 1950, this infamous bad-ball hitter had 28 home runs and only struck out 12 times...his homers exceeded his strikeouts in four additional seasons during the 50's. For his entire career, he only struck out in 5% of his plate appearances.

> Yogi was not a first ballot Hall of Famer. He received 67.2% of the votes in 1971 before getting 85.6% in 1972 (75% is necessary for election).

> His highest salary was $65,000 in 1957...he hit 24 home runs and had 82 RBI but he was cut to $60,000 the following season.

Six Yogi Baseball Cards

> 1948 Bowman #6 - This tiny black and white card is Yogi's Rookie Card. In Near Mint (NM) condition, it is currently worth $825.

> 1950 Bowman #46 - This time the tiny card is in color and shows him in his catching gear...it books for $515.

> 1952 Topps #191 - This iconic set was the beginning of modern baseball cards...Yogi's entry is valued at $1,100.

> 1953 Bowman Color #121 - One of the simplest and most beautiful sets ever, the front has nothing but a spectacular color photograph of the player...it could belong to you for $775.

> 1953 Topps #104 - This set utilized artist's renderings of the players and is unique to the hobby. It even makes Yogi look handsome and has a price tag of $200.

> 1956 Topps #110 - The second of Topps' horizontal sets, it features dual images on the front. The one you see with this article is from my personal collection and books for $150.

Well, that's about it for today. I'd like to visit my favorite restaurant for dinner, but nobody ever goes there anymore because it's too crowded. No matter where I go, my dessert will be pie ala mode, with ice cream.  

Jon Daniels, Jeff Luhnow and the Old Duck. No, the Jeopardy question isn't "Name three baseball executives who are likely to order Lox on a Bagel." It's more like, "Name three baseball executives who are experienced at re-building their teams."

The virtues of playing in a keeper league have been extolled in this space many times. Not only do you get to manage your roster 12 months a year, you also have the opportunity to find strategies that match those of major league teams. The Rangers have gone from a 2014 record of 67-95 to winning their division in 2015...without their best pitcher! The Astros have turned the worst team in baseball (they averaged 104 losses from 2011-2014) into a post-season participant. Now the question is, can Donald's Ducks do something similar?

For those of us who have played Fantasy Baseball for an extended period of time, the old cliché is that listening to someone else talk about their team is BORING! Even the Zen Master of this site reminds all of us at least once a year to be careful about spending too much time on the subject of our own team. The truth, however, is that we can't help ourselves because we take pride in even minimal achievements over the course of a baseball season. Now that you've been warned, here is a summary of the Ducks season with a re-building strategy. The rationalizations for this exercise are as follows...

1) For those of you who actually pay attention, this can be instructive. After having dinner recently with another avid Fantasy player, it became obvious that every time we spend a couple of hours comparing notes, we're both more enlightened about the subject.

2) The guys who play against me in these leagues love reading about my strategy. As George C. Scott (as Gen. Patton) said when he defeated the German tank corps in North Africa, "Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!"

3) After much success of my teams over the years, these same guys also love to hear about my failures.

4) Those of you who have trouble sleeping can just print out this column and keep it on the table at your bedside. Beats the heck out of counting sheep.

Bowling League of Rotisserie Baseball - 12-team, NL-only, 4x4, 23-man rosters (14 hitters, 9 pitchers), $260 budget, maximum of 15 keepers and three Farm players, established 1984.

Donald's Ducks have had great success in this league over the years but went "all in" down the stretch of 2014 to achieve a 2nd place finish. That approach left the cupboard bare and created a very weak keeper list prior to the draft. The Draft Day environment includes two types of inflation...1) the normal percentage allocated to keeper leagues (20%+) and...2) what has affectionately become known as "Duck Inflation", where teams aware of your past success play off your bids to some extent. That makes keeper decisions even more difficult because throwing back a "bubble" player usually means you won't get him back at that price. With those factors in mind, the Ducks kept Ben Revere at $31 and Aroldis Chapman at $24 to complement a few other players like Jason Heyward and Carlos Martinez, who were at more reasonable salaries. All told, however, there were only ten keepers worth rostering.

As always, the draft was challenging and the strategy was to be realistic about the team's chances. The basic approach was two-fold...1) look for solid veterans that wouldn't lose their jobs and 2) make sure they were projected to be on the same MLB team in 2016 (no pending free agents). That way, they could be possible keepers for the following year and would also be decent trade bait for contending teams during the season. The result was $28 for Ryan Zimmerman, $24 for Jonathan Lucroy, $24 for Jayson Werth and $21 for Carl Crawford. Those four players took up about two-thirds of the budget and their lack of performance and/or injuries doomed the squad from day one. The only positive pick-ups were Adeiny Hechavarria and Andrelton Simmons at SS and Trea Turner on the Farm.

Oh, there was more. Archie Bradley (activated from the Farm), started out with a few quality starts, then got hit by a line drive in the head and was never a factor again. The Phillies didn't trade "Rocky" Papelbon until late in the season, so keeper Ken Giles wasn't getting any saves. Tanner Roark (another keeper) lost his rotation spot in Washington and Rafael Montero got hurt while Arismendy Alcantara hit .077 before spending the summer in Iowa.  The Ducks did add Kris Bryant from their Farm in May, but it wasn't going to make up for this mess.

My long-time Fantasy Guru always says that this game requires extreme patience and that has certainly been good advice over the years. Numerous teams of mine have come back and finished strong after getting out of the gate slowly. On some occasions, however, it also pays to be realistic and the 2015 season was one of those exceptions.

Honestly, the Old Duck was already thinking about re-building as early as April. The team wasn't throwing in the towel or making trades, but every move was made with an eye on 2016. The first foray into the free agent pool added Marlins Catcher J.T. Realmuto on April 21 to replace a player sent to the Minors. He'll be 25 next season and a backstop with double-digit homers and steals is a keeper in this league at $10.

In May, Ben Paulsen was added and while he's not really a prospect (28 in October), he did hit 11 home runs in limited playing time, he plays in Colorado and Justin Morneau is a free agent.

By early June, the Ducks began their wheeling and dealing with contending teams. For the last 30 years, fantasy experts have told you to "go for it" if you're in contention. Smart owners understand this concept. Don't get hung up on next year (or the year after) and make aggressive moves. The ones that don't might still own that good-looking prospect, but they may never have a chance to win again...just ask the Washington Nationals. The first two concepts for a re-building team are to look at the minor league players on other rosters as well as players on the DL. The key for the contending team is that they can acquire talent for the pennant chase without giving up current value. And the re-building team can't worry about where they finish this season...it doesn't matter, so don't let your pride get in the way.

The first two deals involved trading Zimmerman and Heyward (on an expiring contract) for minor leaguers Jose Peraza and Corey Seager. Then, once Lucroy came back from the DL in early July, he was swapped for Devin Mesoraco (on the DL and out for the season). In early August, the Ducks put a package together to acquire the injured Matt Adams and then just before the trade deadline, they moved Khris Davis (on an expiring contract) for Pirates prospect Austin Meadows.

Another avenue for stockpiling potential keepers is the FAAB process our league uses after the All-Star break. Each team has a $100 budget and any bid over $10 creates a guaranteed contract for next season with stiff penalties. While the bottom rung teams will never be in the hunt for the likes of Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Reyes, many free agents can be had for $10 or less with the hope that their role changes in 2016. With this strategy, the Ducks added Cody Asche, Nick Swisher, Yonder Alonso and Darnell Sweeney.

Aggressively replacing injured or demoted players can also find you an occasional gem. Yes, the Ducks wasted money on the likes of Yorman Rodriguez and Tyler Cravy but also added Arodys Vizcaino in early July before he was the Braves Closer.

So, how does the Ducks roster look six months before the 2016 season begins?

1B - Matt Adams $12

1B - Ben Paulsen $10

1B - Yonder Alonso $10

3B - Kris Bryant $10

2B - Jose Peraza $10

2B - Danny Espinosa $10

SS - Andrelton Simmons $12

SS - Trea Turner $10

SS - Eugenio Suarez $10

C - J.T. Realmuto $10

C - Devin Mesoraco $11

C - Tom Murphy $10

OF - Nick Swisher $10

OF - Cody Asche $10

OF - Darnell Sweeney $10

OF - Tommy Pham $10

SP - Archie Bradley $7

SP - Jason Hammel $1

SP - Wily Peralta $1

SP - Kyle Hendricks $10

SP - Carlos Martinez $7

SP - Matt Wisler $10

RP - Aroldis Chapman $24

RP - Ken Giles $10

RP - Arodys Vizcaino $10

FARM - Corey Seager

FARM - Austin Meadows

One thing is certain. It will be a lot more fun having 25 choices for 15 spots than it was this past April when only ten keepers could be found. When does the 2016 season start? How about October 13 when the Arizona Fall League schedule begins and Meadows, Turner, Murphy and others will put their skills on display. Come join me behind home plate.

Our last visit took us through the history of rookie cards and the back story of collectors becoming investors in baseball cards. The evidence from 2005 indicates clearly that holding modern rookie cards anticipating the market to boom seems to be a fool's game. Of the 20 or so hot prospects reviewed, only four have shown an increase in value over the last decade despite the fact that many of them have been solid major league players. The logical conclusion is simple. Young baseball players almost never live up to the "hype."    

In today's Internet age, card speculators are checking every available source to find the next Mike Trout or Bryce Harper. In essence, they're doing what Fantasy players have done for 30 years...trying to get the edge on the market. From Baseball America's and MLB Pipeline's top 100 prospects to Arizona Fall League scouting reports, it's all there for the asking. Let's not forget, however, that our analysis of those 20 prospect cards didn't even include guys in the 2005 top 10 prospect list such as Ian Stewart, Joel Guzman, Casey Kotchman and Andy Marte. You can light your cigar with their cards.

Collectors often ask me whether they should sell or hold a valuable rookie card (often autographed) that they recently pulled from a pack. My advice is always the same...take the money and run. Then sit on the couch throwing cash around while watching Woody Allen's "Take the Money and Run" (1969) or listening to Steve Miller's "Take the Money and Run" (1976). Yes, it could be lousy advice...but not very often.

As our follow up case study, let's see how similar rookie cards have fared in a few other years, comparing their 2010 and 2015 values. Once again, we'll use the Bowman Chrome brand and the examples will be autographed cards ("A").

2006 Bowman Chrome

> Kenji Johjima "A" - $17.50 in '10, $10.50 in '15

> Prince Fielder "A" - $35 in '10, $35 now

> Alex Gordon "A" - $35 then, $21 today

> Justin Upton "A" - $90 in '10, $35 in '15

> Chris Iannetta "A" - $21 in '10, unlisted now ($7 estimate)

> Matt Garza "A" - $17.50 then, unlisted now ($7 estimate)

> Jon Lester "A" - $35 in '10, $35 today

> Jose Bautista "A" - $10.50 in '10, $27.50 now

> Evan Longoria "A" - $200 in '10, $55 in '15

> Clayton Kershaw "A" - $75 in '10, $325 today

For the 2006 year, obviously Bautista and Kershaw are the outliers. In Bautista's case, it took until age 29 for him to explode as an impact player while Kershaw has become the best pitcher in the game. We haven't even mentioned Cody Johnson, Kasey Kiker, Adrian Cardenas, Matt Antonelli and Pedro Beato, who all had '06 autograph rookie cards worth $15 or more in 2010.

2007 Bowman Chrome

> Tim Lincecum "A" - $137.50 in '10, $60 in '15

> Dellin Betances "A" - $21 in '10, $21 in '15

> Fernando Martinez "A" - $45 in '10, $10.50 now

> Jeff Samardzija "A" - $35 in '10, $17.50 today

> Chris Coghlan "A" - $17.50 then, $7 now

> Trevor Cahill "A" - $27.50 in '10, $7 in '15

> Joba Chamberlain "A" - $60 in '10, $8.50 today

> Hunter Pence "A" - $14 then, $27.50 now

If you'd chosen Pence over all the others, you'd be in the chips. If you'd hoarded all nine, no such luck. Unmentioned in this year's class were Wes Hodges, Cedric Hunter, Tim Alderson, Beau Mills and Michael Burgess. In 2010, all of their autograph cards were valued at $10-$20. Arguably the best investment was Todd Frazier's autographed card at $8.50, which now books for $42.50. Two others with slight upticks are Devin Mesoraco and Travis d'Arnaud.

The evidence seems clear, but the thrill of pulling a top prospect's autographed card out of a pack never gets old. Who should you invest in now? There certainly are "usual suspects" and a current baseball publication lists the 10 rookies to watch as Carlos Correa, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Joc Pederson, Yasmany Tomas, Jung Ho Kang, Maikel Franco, Chris Heston, Noah Syndergaard and Nathan Karns. Guess we've already forgotten about Joey Gallo, Matt Duffy, Addison Russell, Carlos Rodon and others. As for me, I'll be buying up every Keyser Soze rookie card I can find.

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