2024 Fantasy Baseball: Andy Behrens' potential 'league-winners' from recent Tout Wars draft

The most important thing to remember about “league-winners” in fantasy baseball is that they do not exist.

This is actually one of the things that makes the game so great. There are many ways to solve the baseball puzzle and none of them are easy. Fantasy football, of course, is a game in which outcomes are generally determined by a very small number of specific players. If you had Christian McCaffrey on a roster in 2023, for example, then you had a nearly 50% shot at making your league’s championship matchup.

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Baseball never works this way. Even in a historic and unprecedented 2023 season, Ronald Acuña Jr. didn’t single-handedly guarantee anyone a league title or a playoff berth. He finished atop the list of Yahoo Fantasy MVPs last season, appearing on 30.6% of the top 500 public league teams — an unusually high rate. But his impact on winning didn’t approach the level of McCaffrey, who was rostered on a ridiculous 57.4% of the top football squads.

These fantasy games are radically dissimilar.

Last year, I managed to narrowly win the Tout Wars 12-team mixed league championship without Shohei Ohtani, Spencer Strider or Acuña (or any other member of the Braves) on my roster, while relying on a pitching staff loaded with other people’s fades (notably, Freddy Peralta and Sonny Gray). That probably should not have been the roadmap to a title, yet it worked. Again, one of the primary reasons many of us find fantasy baseball so compelling is that team success is not necessarily driven by individual stars. It’s a messy and complicated ultramarathon of an endeavor, with many potential paths to success and failure. It’s certainly not for everyone.

If you’re looking for a fantasy game with shortcuts and cheat-codes, this ain’t it.

When the fantasy editors pitched me on the idea of a league-winners article, I enthusiastically agreed to write it, recognizing a tremendous opportunity to trash one of my least favorite concepts. I cannot stress enough that no single name in the baseball player pool is going to carry you to a winning season. Not gonna happen. Any baseball analyst who attempts to sell you on this concept is simply a grifter.

However, like any other fantasy blowhard, I do happen to have a list of favorite players for the season ahead, many of whom recently found their way to this year’s Tout Wars roster. While I won’t go so far as to call them league-winners, I definitely consider each of them to be very good fantasy ideas — potential building blocks for a successful season.

Juan Soto, OF, New York Yankees

Yeah, um … news flash: Soto, the best hitter in baseball, is a useful fantasy piece.

I feel compelled to discuss Soto here for two primary reasons: 1) at $55, he was my highest salaried player in Tout (possibly ever), and 2) everything is now in place for him to deliver the supernova season of which he is clearly capable.

Just in case you’d forgotten, Soto is still only 25 years old and he already has a batting title and 160 home runs to his credit. He’s led the majors in walks in each of the past three seasons and has never finished with an on-base percentage below .400 in any year of his career. (Tout Wars uses OBP in place of AVG, which of course elevates the guy who leads all active players in the category.)

This season, Soto will do his home hitting in the second-best MLB environment for left-handed power while batting immediately ahead of Aaron Judge. It’s a near-perfect situation for a near-perfect hitter. He should probably be considered the favorite to lead baseball in both OBP and runs scored, plus he has a clear shot at his first 40-homer campaign. You certainly can’t have the MVP conversation — in reality and/or fantasy — without mentioning Soto.

On my Tout squad, he’s functioning as the OBP ballast that allows me to roster multiple power/speed guys who rarely walk, including this bemulleted gentleman …

Bobby Witt Jr., SS, Kansas City Royals

Yup, I spent $100 combined on Witt and Soto, which is the sort of thing you can get away with in a mixed league, because so many of the $1 players are actually useful.

My one guiding principle for any salary cap league is to construct a roster that could never be built via snake draft. That is to say, I want at least two top-eight-ish overall talents. Witt and Soto certainly qualify. We can reasonably forecast 60-plus home runs and 60 steals from these two, with outrageous run production.

Scott Pianowski's salary-cap draft rankings: Catchers | Outfielders | Middle Infielders | Corner Infielders | Starting Pitchers | Relief Pitchers

You shouldn’t need a hard sell on Witt as a plausible league-tilting talent, because he’s a middle infielder who just gave us a 30/49 season with a not-at-all-fluky .275 average at age 23. Even if he’s already as good as he’s ever gonna get (which is far from settled), improved team context can absolutely result in a 110-30-100-45 season.

Blake Snell, SP, San Francisco Giants

Regrettably, the window to get a silly discount on Snell in fantasy drafts slammed shut on Monday night when the left-hander signed with the Giants (which always seemed to be the likely outcome). We’re talking about an in-his-prime two-time Cy Young winner coming off a 234-K season. He was always gonna play. All of his rumored suitors offered fair-to-favorable landing spots, too, so it’s ridiculous that we baked any uncertainty into the draft cost. He’s now paired with the game’s master pitch-framer, a huge win.

Snell just recently held a throwing session for interested clubs, so it’s not as if he’d been idle, locked in a dark room playing Fortnite — at least not all the time, but maybe most of the time. We shouldn’t assume he’s weeks behind every other pitcher. Snell went for $14 in Tout, which is $8-$10 less than his salary would have cost if he’d been employed last weekend.

Jackson Chourio, OF, Milwaukee Brewers

Chourio just turned 20 a few days ago, he’s defensively challenged at this stage of his development and, until this week, it wasn't totally clear he'd make the Opening Day lineup. But wow can he fly:

Milwaukee signed him to a healthy extension back in December, so he won’t be held back for reasons unrelated to on-field readiness. Last year, he went 22/44 with a .282 average as a teenager in the high minors, which basically never happens. He’s also more than held his own at the plate this spring, so his time is coming very soon. Chourio is exactly the sort of every-tool prospect who can boost a fantasy team across all hitting categories.

I was determined to come away from Tout with one of the elite high-level outfield prospects, and Chourio ($10) was ultimately more budget-friendly than Wyatt Langford ($21) and Evan Carter ($19). As a general rule, the outfield is the safest spot to take a swing on a high-variance rookie because replacement value is high at the position.