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MLB Salary Cap Budgeting: Outliers in the Outfield

Choosing your outfield is one of the key undertakings for any competitor in the Fantrax Salary Cap Challenge games. The Fantasy salaries for 2017 have rendered an enormous number of outfielders playable choices for your squad. Because we are charged with selecting six Fantasy outfielders for our active roster each week, how you elect to play the outfield position will – to a great extent – dictate the potency of your overall hitting. With 18 position players on your active roster each week out of a total of 28 spots, your hitters occupy 64% of the scoring potential, and the six outfield positions represent one-third of your hitting spots. Clearly, the success of the strategy you choose to utilize will depend on to a large degree on how you configure your outfield.

One of the hardest tasks that MLB Fantasy owners face during the preseason is figuring out the cheap options on which to take a flyer. The advantage of searching for cost-efficient plays in the outfield is that the player pool is three times as large here as at any individual infield position. Hence, there are plenty of options to choose from that won’t make such a big dent in your wallet.

Implications for Roster Construction

Mike Trout (712) and Mookie Betts (697) were the top two scorers among hitters in 2016. After that, there was a dearth of elite level outfield production available during the 2016 season.  The next highest scoring outfielders were the 16th, 17th, and 18th ranked hitters – George Springer (609), Nelson Cruz (603), and Charlie Blackmon (602).  After Mark Trumbo (587) at 23rd among hitters, another outfielder does not appear on the 2016 list until the triumvirate of Christian Yelich (549), Matt Kemp, and Bryce Harper (546) at #35, 36, and 37.  There are legitimate questions as to whether Trumbo’s numbers are repeatable.  Was Harper playing through an injury most of 2016?  More importantly, should Fantasy managers be investing significant salary cap resources on expensive outfielders given the lack of production in 2016?

The Trout Conundrum

Is Mike Trout a must-have player for your Fantrax Salary Cap Points team?  The salaries of the elite outfielders in the game look like this:

  • Mike Trout – 3320
  • Mookie Betts – 3030
  • Bryce Harper – 2850
  • Andrew McCutchen – 2840
  • Charlie Blackmon – 2820
  • Nelson Cruz – 2770
  • Giancarlo Stanton – 2740

Trout’s salary is nearly 300 more than Betts’ and nearly 500 more than Harper’s.  I would expect that most Fantasy managers will be able to roster two of these outfielders.  The question becomes whether Trout’s production in 2017 warrants putting him on your roster ahead of both Betts and Harper.  In 2016 there were 4 other outfielders within $300 of Trout’s salary.  Over the past five seasons, Trout has been the most consistently excellent player both in real life and in Fantasy terms.  He has scored 698, 719, 698, 657, and 712 points over each of the past five seasons, respectively.

The verdict:  No player is indispensable and if Trout scores fewer than 670 points, he won’t be particularly cost-effective – a rather daunting threshold.  (For a discussion of cost-effectiveness see my previous article – Roster Construction.).  Trout’s enormous salary may also preclude you from playing him every week, but his consistent, injury-free production makes it difficult to leave him off any Salary Cap team.  That being said, there were successful Fantasy teams in 2016 who did not roster Trout.

Here’s a look at some of the other players you might consider for your outfield in the Fantrax Salary Cap games.



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Mookie Betts (3030)

An argument could be made that Betts was the most cost-effective player in the game last season.  He was the only player in MLB to hit 30 bombs and swipe 20 bags in 2016,

Bryce Harper (2850)

After his MVP in 2015 and a scorching start to the 2016 campaign, Harper was rather pedestrian in terms of cost-effectiveness for most of the 2016 season.  He was mostly unplayable from May onwards – leading many to conclude that he was playing through an injury.  Harper looks to be back on track this spring and appears primed to reprise his 2015 effort.

Charlie Blackmon (2820)

Blackmon had 29 bombs, 111 runs scored, and 17 steals in just 143 games in 2016.  He’s in his prime at age 30 and plays half his games in the launching pad that is Coors Field.  Because of his salary, you probably won’t be able to play him every week, so I like the fact that you know exactly when to play Charlie – i.e. home and seven-game weeks.

Giancarlo Stanton (2740)

Stanton hits a baseball as hard as anyone in MLB as evidenced by his multiple appearances on the Exit Velocity leaderboard at  Unfortunately, he has only twice played in more than 123 games in his seven MLB seasons and his swinging strike rate was unusually high at 15.2% in 2016.  He has the potential to be a top-5 Fantasy points player and he’s smack dab in his prime at age 27, but there’s certainly some risk here.


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George Springer (2690)

Springer scored 609 points in 2016, hits at the top of a powerful Astro line-up, is in his age-27 season, and played in all 162 games in 2016.  What’s not to like?

Jose Bautista (2560)

Joey Bat Flip had a horrendous June and July last season in which he had a sub-.700 OPS and played in just 18 games.  Bautista returned from turf toe and knee ailments to hit for a .848 OPS over the final two months.  His salary is the lowest it has been in years, but at age 36 he is also the oldest he has been in years.  He still plays half his games at the Rogers Center and still hits in a stacked line-up.

Yoenis Cespedes (2530)

Cespedes averaged 3.6 PPG and had an OPS of .884 for the Amazin’s in 2016.  If he can stay on the field and get to 600 points he could be a cost-effective play.  Yo doesn’t walk as much as Joey Bats, but there’s more tread on the tires.

Christian Yellich (2480)

Yelich is entering his age-25 season and is still improving.  He has always had that sweet swing, but improved his launch angle in 2016 and had a career-best 21 homers.  Yelich is improving his fly ball/ground ball rate and the Marlins moved in their outfield fences prior to the 2016 season.  The Marlins outfielder posted a career-best 549 Fantasy points in 2016 and is only going to get better.

Ryan Braun (2420)

Braun is the classic example of a player who is a better real-life player than Fantasy player – particularly in this format.  On a per-game basis he is a total stud at that salary.  At age 33, the Brewers like to rest him approximately a game per week to keep him fresh and that impacts his value greatly.

Starling Marte (2410)

The new centerfielder for the Bucs is coming off a career season in which he stole 47 bases in just 129 games.   Speed never slumps.  Unfortunately for the 28-year-old, 129 games played is all too typical as he has played more than 135 games just one time in his 4 full seasons in MLB.

A. J. Pollock (2400)

Pollock scored 623 points in his break out 2015 season and a repetition of that performance at that salary would make for an extremely cost-effective play.  Unfortunately, he has been extremely injury-prone since his career year – even straining his groin while rounding the bases earlier this spring!  He has the potential to be a stud, but buyer beware!

Mark Trumbo (2370)

Trumbo had 587 points during his 159-game, 47-homer career year in 2016.  If the slugging outfielder can repeat that performance, he’s a must-have for your team.  If he reverts to the 2013 output of 34 homers and 530 points, he’s a decent play.

J.D. Martinez (2330)

Martinez is a steal at this price, but if he starts the season on the DL, you shouldn’t start with him on your roster.

Jackie Bradley Jr. (2290)

The Red Sox centerfielder is a continually improving hitter entering his age-27 season who upped his batting average from .249 to .267 without the benefit of a corresponding increase in BABIP. Bradley’s counting numbers (26 HRs, 94 runs, 87 RBI) will again get a boost from hitting in the ridiculous Boston line-up and his elite fielding will keep him in games even when he’s slumping.

Gregory Polanco (2230)

Polanco started the 2016 campaign en fuego before putting up a mediocre second half that was largely the result of a series of nagging injuries. Polanco’s walk and strikeout percentages both showed modest increases from 2015 to 2016 while posting career bests in homers and RBI.  We should expect continuing power development and possible stolen base decline from the Pirate outfielder.

Kyle Schwarber (2120)

Last season’s World Series star might be the third best hitter on the Cubs.  Any extra ABs he might get as a lead-off hitter will likely be negated by his being lifted for defensive purposes.  With Zobrist, Baez, and Heyward all trolling for ABs in a stacked line-up the nagging question about Schwarber is this:  Will Maddon make him a 5-out-of-6 game player?

Curtis Granderson (2090) and Carlos Beltran (1890)

We have a pair of aging veterans here who can still rake.  What you see is what you get.  There’s not a lot of upside here but both are low ceiling, high floor guys.

David Dahl (1940)

The Colorado outfielder is suffering from a rib injury and is likely to start the season on the DL.

Adam Duvall (1870)

I made the mistake in 2016 of avoiding Duvall because of his fly ball tendency combined with high strikeout/low walk rates.  He has extraordinary power and plays half his games in a bandbox.  He might just be one of those guys who is a better player for Fantasy  purposes than he is in real life.

Yasiel Puig (1850)

The Dodgers absolutely want Puig to run away with the everyday job in right field.  The 26-year-old, uber-talented Cuban Missile Crisis should be entering his prime years and again showed his capabilities after his recall from banishment to Triple-A 2016 by slashing .281/.338/.561 in a September cameo.  Puig presents the polar opposite situation from Granderson/Beltran as he is the epitome of a high ceiling, low floor guy.

Michael Brantley (1750) and Shin-Soo Choo (1750)

Both are injury-prone former stars with a price tag that’s easy on the eyes.  Brantley has now started to play in spring games though he will likely see plenty of rest days early on as Cleveland eases him back from shoulder rehab.  I’m going to take a wait-and-see approach, but he’s definitely on my radar as an in-season pick-up.  The 34-year-old Choo is an on-base machine who has posted double digit walk rates in every season of his MLB career.  He is slated to hit second for Texas and may benefit health-wise from being the primary DH for the Rangers.

Joc Pederson (1690)

The Dodger centerfielder has been a Three True Outcome player whose contact rate increased from 66.6% to 75.1% in 2016.  He still struggles vs. southpaws (.125 batting average with 22 Ks in 64 ABs in 2016) but could be an intriguing option if he can stay out of a platoon situation.

Andrew Benintendi (1610)

The #1-rated prospect on many lists is likely to provide modest power/speed numbers and good plate discipline.  The Boston prospect has just 220 games of professional experience under his belt and hit just .179 vs. lefties in his cup of coffee at the close of 2016.  Should he stay out of a platoon with Chris Young and solidify the #2 slot in the Red Sox batting order, he will be a set-it-and-forget-it guy for 2017.

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These guys all have warts and/or question marks of one kind or another.  In a game where you have to play expensive stud hitters in your line-up, here is a list of potential salary cap savers.

Nomar Mazara (1530)

Mazara was the youngest player in MLB last season to hit 20 homers.  His achilles heel at this point is hitting lefties as he batted just .234 with only one of his 20 homers coming against a southpaw hurler.

Byron Buxton (1470)

Buxton had a terrific September last season – hitting 9 homers with an OPS over 1.000.  However, he still fanned more than a third of the time.  Buxton has an extremely high ceiling but there’s still too much swing-and-miss in his game.

Max Kepler (1370)

Kepler is a low ceiling/high floor guy who had 17 big flies, 6 steals, and a 9.8% walk rate in 113 games in 2016.

Michael Conforto (1320)

Until he has a regular starting gig without platoon restrictions, Conforto should not grace your roster with his presence.

Keon Broxton (1310)

Broxton’s 36.1% strikeout rate last season makes Buxton look like a contact hitter by comparison.  The soon-to-be-27-year-old did walk nearly 15% of the time, has blazing speed and is slated to be the regular centerfielder for the Brewers.  Whether he hits second or seventh in the order should greatly impact his value.

Hunter Renfro (1280)

Barring a complete meltdown, the right field job is Renfro’s to lose this season.  The 13th overall pick in the 2013 draft has light tower power and will swipe a few bags, but still needs to work on his plate discipline.

Aaron Judge (1270)

Judge had the highest average exit velocity in MLB last season – albeit in a 27-game cup of coffee.  He also had an alarming 44.2% strikeout rate.  He’s a classic high ceiling, low floor roll of the dice for 2017.

Domingo Santana (1190)

There’s a familiar storyline here.  Santana is a big guy (6-5, 200 lbs.) with lots of power, high average exit velocities, and a high K rate (32.4% in 2016).  He also can take a walk, but has missed time with injuries the past few seasons.

Mitch Haniger (1090)

Haniger came over to Seattle in the Taijuan Walker trade this winter and is slated to be the Mariner’s everyday right fielder.  The 38th overall pick in the 2012 draft is a late bloomer who put up good minor league power numbers in hitter-friendly ballparks.


[the_ad id=”567″]While space and the prospect of marital discord in my household preclude me from examining every possible outfield play in the Fantrax Salary Cap game, don’t let that deter you from rostering the likes of Dexter Fowler, Nelson Cruz or Jarrod Dyson if you feel they will add value to your roster.

Use the tools provided on the Fantrax site to sort players according to salary and PPG as a way of determining the relative cost-effectiveness of players.   The way you configure your Fantasy team will depend largely upon how you construct your outfield so don’t lock yourself into a single way of organizing your roster. Try different combinations using expensive and cheap outfielders, but make sure that you invest in the cost-efficient choices at the position.

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