Back in November, when I was writing my Rebuilding a Dynasty League Roster series, I had to jump from the team which was the focus of the first two-thirds of the series to a team in a different league which was further along in the process. However, as things progress with the original team, I’m going post addendums to the series so that the exercise of following one team through the entire rebuilding process can be followed to completion. Here are the previous entries in this series:
Just as a reminder, here are the league details that are helpful in following along. Active lineups are 17 players and break out as follows: C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, 3 OF, 2 Util and 7 pitchers. Teams also have 8 bench spots, 2 DL spots and 25 minor league spots – which makes the player pool pretty deep. Pitchers seem a little more valuable than hitters in general in this point system, so most competitive teams stock their benches with starting pitching (though there’s a 14 start limit per week). My other first thoughts from looking at the scoring system were that big IP, low WHIP pitchers are very valuable, with strikeouts being slightly devalued compared to other points leagues. From the offensive side, it seemed pretty standard for this type of format – pretty OPS focused, with some skewing based on walks and strikeouts. Steals are a factor, but not a huge one.
For the 2013 draft, I had the 9th overall pick in the 1st round (out of 16 teams) and the draft snaked for the second round. I had accumulated five picks in the first two rounds from trades during the season and was looking forward to using them to further stock my farm system. But, as I talked about in my post on the draft, sometimes things happen that you don’t expect and you have to adjust. Here are how my picks went:
“Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called ‘The Pledge’. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called ‘The Turn’. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call ‘The Prestige’.” – Cutter
This quote may not exactly be about managing a dynasty league roster, but there is a parallel here. Turning your team into a contender is a nice trick, but keeping your team a contender over many seasons is the hardest part, and what I’m referring to here as “The Prestige”. Anyone can contend for a season, or even two – building a perennial contender requires two continuing skills which we’ve been working on throughout this entire series. The first is the ability to restock the minor league cupboard without (for the most part) dealing away major league talent. The second is the ability to know your team’s weaknesses and act swiftly and decisively to remedy them. In order to give a real-life example of this, I’ll infuse some examples from the same 18-team dynasty league I’ve been referring to the last few posts which is now in the contention stage.
The final step of the rebuilding process can be a very difficult for owners to wrap their heads around, but in almost all cases, it’s absolutely necessary. You have spent a long time cultivating the right collection of young talent, both at the major league and minor league level, but you cannot become too attached to your roster. If you rely solely on the players in your farm system to fill the holes in your roster, you’re going to be disappointed.
Everyone has at least one owner like this in their league. They have meticulously built up a really great farm system and appear ready to contend, but can’t bring themselves to let go of the talent they’ve accumulated in order to improve their team. They ask for the moon and stars when you inquire about their prospects, as they’re so in love with their own process, they can’t see the likely disappointment of these “can’t miss” prospects right in front of their face. So as the minor leaguers in their farm system start to fail, they replace them with more high-end prospects, until it becomes a never ending cycle of near-contention.
Let’s go back just five years to see this materialize. Baseball America’s top 100 prospect list in 2007 included many stars, but let’s just take a look at the top-10 – the elite of the elite. Evan Longoria (7) and Justin Upton (9) are elite fantasy players. Alex Gordon (2) and Cameron Maybin (6) have been OK, but great disappointments based on their expectations. Same with Daisuke Matzuzaka (1), Phil Hughes (4) and Homer Bailey (5) on the pitching side. The other two we haven’t covered? Brandon Wood (8) and Andrew Miller (10). Ouch. It goes on further down the list. How about Reid Brignac (17), Andy LaRoche (19), Mike Pelfrey (20), Fernando Martinez (22) or Adam Miller (23)? Those didn’t work out so well. So yes, maybe Wil Myers and Jose Fernandez do turn into superstars. But if you can get an ACTUAL superstar for the two of them, you’re putting yourself in a better long-term position.
Before I get into my push towards contention in the 18-team league I began discussing in the previous post, I wanted to go back and discuss how I got the team ready to make the turn – as it’s now been long enough that it makes for an interesting perspective and, in most cases, for proper judgment. What I did not get into in the last piece was that the team I took over in early 2009 was the fourth place team in the league during the 2008 season, and I began my ownership trying to keep the party going. Here were all the players on that roster which were at least 50% owned in CBS leagues at the end of the 2008 season:
Brian Roberts, Jimmy Rollins, Garrett Atkins, Jason Bay, Lance Berkman, Jermaine Dye, Torii Hunter, Mark Buehrle, Johnny Cueto, John Lackey, Braden Looper, Andy Pettitte, Adrian Beltre.
Don’t laugh – how quickly we forget. Garrett Atkins was coming off a .286-21-99 age-28 season. Jermaine Dye was coming off a .292-34-96-96 season. Jason Bay was on the Red Sox and putting up studly numbers (.286-31-101-111-10 in 2008) and so was Lance Berkman with the Astros. John Lackey was still the pre-Boston John Lackey and Jimmy Rollins was one season removed from his MVP. In fact, even the two players who look the best now (Beltre and Cueto) were among the worst of this group at the time. And this was only four years ago!
Today, we’re going to go chronologically through the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons to see how I got to the point where I was ready to move toward contention in order for the last part of the series to be as instructive as possible.
You’ll notice that as we get further and further into this series, the time associated with each of these stages expands. The first seven parts all will happen within the first few months of owning the team. Then we discussed more nebulous concepts like how to best approach the waiting game which comes naturally after the initial flurry of activity and how to make the most out of your league’s draft. Those steps are all very important to the process, but it’s just as important not to fall in love with this part of the process. I’ll elaborate on this a little more in the next section (since it’s more relevant).
All that we’ve done so far has been an effort to put our roster in the best position to have a window of contention. We haven’t won anything. We likely haven’t even come close. That is why you throughout the entire rebuilding process, you need to constantly have one eye on the horizon – or what I like to call, the turn.
The turn is the point where the roster you currently have moves from future contender to contender. It happens at a different speed for every team and it’s not something you can force. It’s something which has to come organically from the hard work that you’ve put in over the previous seasons. Also, it may happen either before or after your initially constructed time horizon. All it takes sometimes is a couple of prospects and free agents to hit in a way which was unexpected at the time you picked them up to necessitate a shift in your time horizon. It is extremely important that you analyze this timing correctly because if you make a run for it too early, you can risk destroying the window you worked so hard to create.
Dynasty league drafts are awesome. They’re not quick hit events like a standard baseball draft – they seemingly move in slow motion, leaving you to obsess about the differences between a couple of players left on the board for hours (and sometimes days). And depending on the size of the league (or the nature of contracts), you could be looking at a huge pool of talent available. On the other hand, you could be looking at almost only the previous year’s draftees to choose from. What the expected player pool of your draft is can severely affect how you should plan for it.
In the example we’ve been using, 25-man minor league rosters with no contracts, there are going to be very few players of interest available in the draft who are not 2012 draftees. And with it being a 16-team league, that means picks in the third, fourth and fifth rounds are not going to carry very much value. This is why when I’ve been getting picks in trades, I’ve been getting first and second round picks. Plus, if you’re active on the waiver wire with minor league players, those third round picks are probably not even going to be worth the roster spot you’d need to clear for them. For example, some of my guys on the chopping block to make room for those later draftees are Adys Portillo, Christian Friedrich and Jose Campos. And thirty-something picks into the draft, I may be staring down an ugly draft board.
This brings us to the actual mechanics of the draft. The best advice I can give you for a dynasty league draft is ALWAYS BE ACTIVE. It’s one thing to sit back, wait and see who drops to you – but my M.O. is to create my own action like an antsy NFL general manager. I will generally make at least three to four trades during any given draft – whether it’s trading up, trading down or acquiring more picks to add to the pot. If you’re on the clock and have three or four guys you are having trouble deciding between, gauge interest in moving down in order to move up later on in the draft. If you have one guy on your list who you really like and you’re not picking again for another 6 or 7 picks, e-mail the team that’s on the clock – you never know what you might be able to work out with them.
Let’s be realistic, when you’re rebuilding a dynasty league roster, you’re going to be near or at the bottom of the standings – and that’s the point. There’s not much to be gained by trying to sneak up an extra 10 points in the standings or eek out another 2-3 wins. In fact, it may be to your advantage not to do so. By making that statement, I’m not saying that you should specifically tank in a way which will upset other league owners – that’s a good way to get kicked out of a league. But by knowing the constitution and settings of your league, you can take even further advantage of ways to accumulate talent.
There are two main aspects of your league rules you are looking for: rules on waiver priorities during the season and rules on determining draft order for after the season.
We’ll start with waiver priority. I’ve seen many different ways for this to be set up in long-term leagues, and first I’ll go into the league which I’m using as an example. In this particular league, waiver priority is determined by record and does not reset – that way the worst team always has the best shot at a newly minted free agent. Now, as the team with the worst record in the league (3-18 at season’s end), this is a great thing for me – and I took advantage of it. From the time of the trading deadline to the end of the season, I constantly had the #1 priority, so I used it any time a player was released by a competing team that I felt to be an upgrade over what I had. The important thing to remember when dealing with this is not to fall in love with your sleeper prospects – in fact, I had to drop a few in order to make these moves. Here are the waiver claims I made in the last two months of the season:
Let’s take a brief moment to go over something which doesn’t come up very often, but is exhilarating and scary when it does: The Challenge Trade. There’s a good reason why you almost never see two MLB teams trade a prospect for a prospect – neither team wants to be the one that misevaluated their own guy. Probably the closest thing we’ve seen to this in recent memory was the Yankees/Mariners trade last off-season which sent Jesus Montero and Hector Noesi to Seattle for Michael Pineda and Jose Campos. But still, not the same, since Pineda, Montero and Noesi had all logged major league time.
As the trading deadline approached in the league which is the focus of this series, I pulled off a challenge trade with another rebuilding team. When this happens in dynasty leagues, it’s almost always with guys whose stocks are falling – and this was no exception to the rule. You just have to keep the faith in your own evaluations and hope that the chips fall right for you. Here’s my challenge trade:
I dealt Brett Jackson and Ethan Martin for Shelby Miller and Brian Goodwin. (7/31/12)
You might think that Phase 1 (the initial trades/adds) is the most difficult period of your rebuilding process, but it’s not. Once you get used to that fast-paced, exciting time of new prospects and sleepers and guys you’re looking to dump, it’s tough to slow down – but that’s exactly what happens in Phase 3 of the process. You wait. Settling on the time horizon is one thing, but to then have to sit back while your time horizon gets here is an entirely different monster.
It’s the waiting game that can make even the most experienced of owners feel antsy. And when you’re antsy, you make bad decisions. You make decisions that are not focused on your long-term goal. And this is what can get you off-track. I’ve been guilty of this in the past as well, but one of the positives about being in 10 leagues (like I am right now) is that I don’t have as much time to get myself into trouble. Of course, I also sometimes don’t have time to set my lineups correctly in all 10 leagues, but that’s a different story altogether.
But, don’t take this advice to mean that you should be sitting still – there are always more ways to improve the makeup of your roster while keeping with the goals that you have in mind. For example, since I wrote about the initial trades in Part 4 of this series, I’ve made three more trades and even more adds/drops. As you’ll see below, they are still in the greater spirit of the rebuilding project as I’ve been able to unload four players I was not banking on to be integral parts of the 2014 roster for prospects and draft picks. The three trades were:
So what exactly does a “secondary target” entail? I equate it to being a hunter out in the wild. You need to do your research, figure out what your team needs, figure out what lengths you’re willing to go to acquire said needs and find the right time to pounce. It’s easy to say that a player’s value will not fluctuate all that much when he’s cold versus when he’s hot, since it’s a dynasty league and everyone should be thinking long-term, but it’s human nature to overreact. We are all guilty of it at different times.
However, the easiest time to pounce on a secondary target is when the player is injured – especially if the team that has him has hopes of contention. In these instances, you’re ideally looking for an injury long enough to keep the player out for a significant period of time, but not something which is going to linger into next season. These types of deals are easier to navigate the closer you are to the end of the season, as contenders get more desperate and players have less time in the season to recover from non-major injuries.
We’re going to break these types of trades into two categories: the rebuilders and the rehabbers. The rebuilders are deals in which you are going to deal your own prospects (ideally guys in positions of strength or guys you’re not very high on) for a player who you feel is undervalued. The rehabbers are deals where you take one of your active players (or minor leaguers in the right instance) and deal them for an injured player, who when healthy, has more value than the one you’re dealing away. In either scenario, when I look for a player to acquire, I always want to make sure that the player will have at least two years of his prime left once my time horizon starts. Since I’ve defined the last season of a player’s prime to be his age-31 season, that means anyone I’m acquiring needs to be no older than 29.