I've taken Miggy at No. 1 in two leagues this year, including mixed LABR, so this is a fun one for me.
Brains over Braun?
If I weren't concerned about MLB's crusade to punish anyone whose name appeared on a list without any clear context, I'd answer Braun in a millisecond. Unfortunately, that quest is out of fantasy players' control and seems to be gaining steam.
For many of the reasons suggested - BABIP, bulk, a ridiculously inflated performance baseline - Trout is risky there. I'd consider him near the tail end of the first round but wouldn't be strong about it.
Even with some drawbacks from his performance last year, including his vs. LHP splits, Cano promotes security. As Ryan noted, the potential drop in swipes has me slightly restrained on Matt Kemp, though I think he has the most upside of the secondary options in this discussion and would be glad to land him in any format.
In a vacuum, my No. 2 is Braun. A shortened season would still be elite for however long it lasts. At least outfield is the easiest offensive position to replace, even just for a warm body, if not the same level of numbers. Also, the players' union would engage in a long battle if MLB tried to wield the same axe over big-leaguers that they used to chop Cesar Carrillo.
Still, I find it discomforting to roster someone with your blue chip pick that has a legal bull's eye on his back, unless he falls a few picks to lighten the punishment a little. I doubt that'll happen, though. To avoid that potential mess, Cano's statistical consistency and his bonus of positional advantage makes the most sense. (Unless, of course, the quickly refuted reports of an impending Cano suspension turn out to be true, though that's highly doubtful at this stage.)
I'd do some research on Braun's legal situation before I drafted. As it is, I'll go with hypotheticals (and encourage readers to learn to fish because they'll enjoy the game more): If I poke around in some articles and some documents online and find that MLB is on a witch hunt, which is my kind of anti-establishment suspicion, I'm still taking Braun. Baseball may want more than anything to suspend Braun, but unless they come up with some serious evidence, the player is going to have the PA at his back and his personal resources (attorneys and moolah) at his disposal. Baseball won't be able to bully him the way it does a no-name minor leaguer. If I find something I really don't like, well, of course it doesn't mean that he'll be suspended, but I don't see the point in taking that chance. Gun to my head, at this moment, I'd probably just pull the trigger on Braun.
If I opted to pass on Braun, really, I think any number of players are on the table. Cano, Trout, Kemp, McCutchen, Votto, Pujols, Fielder ... sure. Any of them. Carlos Gonzalez? I think so. Buster Posey? Not me. Not because I don't play the scarcity game (although I don't do it much) but because catchers just tend to sustain significant injuries more often than players at other positions. But there's really no right answer, just plenty of kind of wrong ones, most of which people won't consider. There are things that make some players riskier propositions than others, magnified most in the first round, but you gotta take whom you think will help to make you the big kahuna. I'm a little more risk-averse. After Cabrera is gone, can your risk ruler tell a big difference between one guy's risk versus another's?
Lord Zola's Wrap-Up
Confession time: Underneath the cuddly exterior, I'm an SOB and this was a purely selfish question. In the name of full disclosure, I let the Knights know this before we began. I have been awarded the second overall pick in my National Fantasy Baseball Championship Main Event League, a 15-team mixed draft where we all have our sights set on that oversized $100K cardboard check.
While I don't know it for sure, I am assuming the owner of the first pick takes Miguel Cabrera. I am assuming this because if he doesn't, my choice is a cinch; Miggy is mine.
So I'm on the clock. Unless I change my mind, which is quite possible, I know what I am going to do. And one of my esteemed colleagues took the words right out of my mouth.
Was it Ryan, Brian or Perry suggesting Trout? What about Lawr and his little voices whispering Matt Kemp? Could it be Tim with his conclusion that Robinson Cano was safest? Or perhaps Ryan surmising that I plan on going to the Fielder well once again? And finally, maybe it was Nick with his gun-to-head choice of Braun?
Sorry Ryan, Perry and Brian, it's not Trout. I really had to think about this. I'm on record as expecting some regression from Trout, but I'm not predicting the doom and gloom some are. On the other hand, I have been adamant he is behind Braun and Cano on my board. But that was previous to the aforementioned report suggesting Braun is in MLB's cross hairs and half of Cano's teammates are on paid vacation as they nurse injuries. Am I afraid of my damaging my reputation and losing my credibility if took Trout? Ultimately I decided it was a strong belief in my philosophy and not a non-existent fear of taking Trout.
Next to be voted off the island is Tim and Cano. I am not a believer in position scarcity. When I said Cano was third on my board, it was on his stats alone. But I am concerned about his production. He could hit his normal .300 with 30 homers and fail to top 100 runs or RBI. I'd rather have Fielder with the same baseline average and home runs with the greater power upside and associated production. The handful of steals Cano will pilfer is not enough to overcome the runs and RBI deficit as compared to Fielder.
I'm going to go out of order and reveal that Lawr's little voices are my number two choice. Of everyone mentioned thus far, Kemp has had the best fantasy season - yes, even better than Trout's last season. I actually think Kemp will run a bit. He won't bag 40, but 20 is plausible.
So that leaves us with Ryan's clever deduction that I may once again call the name of Prince Fielder or Nick's Braun-or-bust declaration.
And the winner is…
Hey baby, Nick Minnix!
It's sort of ironic. I have been preaching all season that I need to introduce more risk into my game; I just never dreamed it would be in the form of Ryan Braun. Simply put, whether I feel Braun is using is irrelevant, I am basing my decision on the likelihood MLB is able to build a case that shows there is not even a smidgeon of reasonable doubt that he is guilty. Braun beat them once; you know he's in Lance Armstrong mode and will have to at least try to beat them again. He's at the point of no return. With respect to MLB, they already have egg on their face. There is no way they attempt to suspend Braun without an ironclad case. Between building the case and the inevitable appeal, I don't see anything happening this season.
But what if it does? I lose Braun for 50 games, but I get to use someone in his stead. Taking 110 games for Braun and adding in 50 games of a replacement level player, you end up with an aggregate player ranked eighth overall. I'll take that.
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.