Target Bryce Harper? How risk, new strategies factor into 2023 fantasy baseball drafts

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NEW YORK – Variety is frequently a pathway to success in fantasy baseball.

By altering your strategies and not being predictable at the draft table, it’s often possible to gain an edge on your opponents.

At the annual Tout Wars drafts this past weekend, I did something in my National League-only auction that I rarely ever do:

I spent big on not one, but two elite players.

I have Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Trea Turner as my No. 1 overall player for 2023. His ability to get on base, his elite speed and his surprising power (look at what he's done in the World Baseball Classic!) make him a fantastic cornerstone for any team.

And when a jump bid temporarily silenced the room at $36, I couldn’t let Turner go when he was a $40+ player by my values. A similar situation came up a little while later with Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts sitting at $34.

I went the extra dollar on both.

Trea Turner, left, and Mookie Betts were teammates on the Dodgers, Team USA and now Steve Gardner's Tout Wars squad.
Trea Turner, left, and Mookie Betts were teammates on the Dodgers, Team USA and now Steve Gardner's Tout Wars squad.

Generally in these leagues, the best players go for a little more than their projected auction values because industry participants are confident in their ability to find undervalued players later to make up the difference.

In NL LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) two weeks earlier, Turner went for $40 and Betts for $39.

But I’m the opposite. I prefer to spread the risk and get good values across the board. This strategy results in an unexciting roster, but one that usually finds a way to be competitive.

TOUT WARS RESULTS: NL draft grid, rosters, dollar values

ALL-SLEEPER TEAM: New arrivals Brandon Belt, Jesse Winker lead the way

With Turner and Betts taking up $72 of my $260 budget, I was in uncharted territory. The only question was: Had I outsmarted my opponents by being unpredictable … or had I outsmarted myself?

I spent the rest of the draft trying to build around those two pillars on offense. Although Turner and Betts are excellent five-category contributors, they both figure to lead off for their MLB teams – leaving me somewhat lacking in run production.

If I wanted my offense to be competitive, I needed power. And I didn’t have a whole lot of money to throw around.

That’s when one player’s name seemed to jump off the page on my spreadsheet.

Bryce Harper.

Bryce Harper helped lead the Phillies to the 2022 World Series, but he will begin the 2023 season on the injured list after having elbow surgery in the offseason. Could he return earlier than expected?
Bryce Harper helped lead the Phillies to the 2022 World Series, but he will begin the 2023 season on the injured list after having elbow surgery in the offseason. Could he return earlier than expected?

After having elbow surgery at the conclusion of the World Series, Harper isn’t expected to be ready to play until midseason. And even then, it’s reasonable to question whether he’ll be able to return to his (two-time) MVP form right away.

For my team, he was a gamble worth taking.

However, my opponents – many of whom play against me in other leagues – also know I’ve drafted Harper several times already this year.

They pushed me past the $14 I paid to get Harper in NL LABR, but only a dollar more. And while I’d love to say that got me where I needed to be in projected RBI, the ability to put someone else in the lineup while Harper recovers will help me get a little closer.

There’s also a chance he could be back sooner than expected. Harper has pushed to return from injuries before. Although he struggled last season coming back from a broken thumb, he was dominant in October while leading the Phillies to the World Series. I’m already looking forward to him pairing up with Turner and carrying my Tout Wars team in much the same way.

Rest of the roster

The Bryce buy also raises another more general question for fantasy managers who have multiple teams: Get as many shares as possible of players you believe in … or try not to draft the same player in too many leagues?

Harper is the player I’ve drafted the most this season. And yes, I’m confident I can find someone decent to fill his lineup spot until he returns. But I try not to go to the same well too often.

In Tout Wars, I added a couple more of my favorites this preseason in catcher Travis d’Arnaud and second baseman Jeff McNeil. I’ll try to get help in run production from Joey Meneses, Joc Pederson and Charlie Blackmon.

On the pitching side, I’m counting on the Phillies’ Zack Wheeler ($23) and the Padres’ Yu Darvish ($20) to lead my starting staff, while banking on the Giants’ Camilo Doval ($18) and the Mets’ David Robertson ($14, in the wake of Edwin Diaz’s season-ending injury) to carry me in saves.

It’s a lot easier to be agnostic with pitching preferences. There isn’t one ace who’s clearly above the others this season – and the sizable group of No. 1 or No. 2 starters make it easy to pluck a couple (maybe even three) that you like.

BATTERS    Pos    $

Travis d'Arnaud    C    12

Austin Barnes    C    3

Joey Meneses    1B    14

David Villar    3B    3

Rodolfo Castro    CI    4

Jeff McNeil    2B    13

Trea Turner    SS    37

Miguel Rojas    MI    3

Mookie Betts    OF    35

Joc Pederson    OF    12

Charlie Blackmon    OF    8

Austin Slater    OF    2

Bryce Harper    UT    15

Darick Hall    SW    4

PITCHERS    Pos    $

Zack Wheeler    SP    23

Yu Darvish    SP    20

Kyle Wright    SP    11

Nick Martinez    SP    4

Adam Wainwright    SP    2

Ryne Nelson    SP    2

Kevin Ginkel    RP    1

David Robertson    RP    14

Camilo Doval    RP    18

RESERVES      

Will Benson    OF  

Wade Miley    SP  

Orlando Arcia    2B  

Collin McHugh    RP  

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Bryce Harper could be the key to winning a 2023 fantasy baseball title