© 2010 MLB Advanced Media, L.P. All rights reserved.

02/08/10 8:00 AM ET

Earn your keep in keeper leagues

Spotting young talent, salary cap management keys to success

Those who have played fantasy baseball for a few years and are looking for more of a challenge could be ready for the next step by starting a keeper league.

Keeper leagues give participants the option of retaining players on their teams from one year to the next. Specific rules may vary across leagues, but owners are generally allowed to keep a maximum and minimum number of players before rounding out the rest of their rosters through an auction draft.

Naturally, there are advantages and disadvantages to keeper leagues.

The biggest drawback is the level of commitment involved. If you're put off by the idea of sticking with chosen players as opposed to getting to start with a clean slate every year, then this isn't for you.

On the other hand, if you're intrigued by the concept of drafting a relatively unproven player with enticing upside and making trades with salary figures in mind -- just like a real baseball general manager -- then perhaps this format will be right up your alley.

If you think you're ready to make the plunge, then here are a few basic pointers to follow:

Play with people you like: When it comes to wrangling up potential league mates, keep in mind that you'll be interacting with these people for a few years. It can be difficult dealing with the weasel who always tries to undermine the rules or completely overvalues his players to the point where trades are impossible, and you don't want to be stuck playing with someone who sucks all the fun out of the game for you.

Invest in young players: This is a good rule of thumb in all fantasy leagues, but it's especially true in keeper formats. The big reason is that young players can generally be obtained for no more than a few bucks. If you pay one dollar for an unknown player who becomes an All-Star, then you get to keep him at that price for the next couple of years.

Keep an eye on the future: Although the standard auction budget will dictate how you proceed on draft day, remember that you're not only bidding for the upcoming season. That gives extra value to players who are recovering from injuries, like Cincinnati's Edison Volquez. The fireballing righty isn't expected to return from Tommy John surgery until at least midseason and won't be an impact contributor this year, but that creates a buying opportunity for those who are thinking ahead. Investing a few dollars in Volquez now could turn into huge gains if he rediscovers his All-Star form in 2011.

Be conservative with long-term contracts: Keeper leagues generally come with a built-in salary-inflation system to prevent owners from holding onto bargain-rate stars forever. Usually, owners are required to "sign" their players to long-term contracts after a couple of seasons, with salaries escalating by a fixed amount every year. This is good if you're lucky enough to grab an ace-in-the-making like Clayton Kershaw for one dollar, but you should only commit long contracts to the most talented young players. You don't want to be stuck paying 35 bucks to a benchwarmer in 2013.

Don't underestimate the steady contributor: Every year, owners face questions about which players to keep on their rosters. The inexpensive stars are easy choices, but it's not a bad idea to hold onto an established, consistent source of top production. After all, you could cut loose Brian Roberts because he's eating up a good chunk of your budget, but you could wind up overpaying for another second baseman who isn't nearly as good. Hold onto trusty producers at key areas if you're harboring any hopes of competing in the season to come.

Use the salary cap to your advantage: If your guys are wallowing in the cellar by July, start planning for the next season by trading off some of your high-priced talent. Most owners in the playoff hunt will jump at the chance to bolster their team with a proven stud. If they're willing to part with a cheap, promising prospect like Washington's Ian Desmond or Detroit's Austin Jackson in return, you can start planting the seeds for future success.

Tim Ott is a fantasy writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.