Dynasty Baseball

Tank to Win: My Rotowire Dynasty Invitational Draft

When BP’s Greg Wellemeyer invited me to participate in James Anderson’s 20-team industry dynasty startup (Razzball’s Ralph Lifshitz does a nice summary of the league format here) I only had one condition – we had to intentionally tank for two seasons. Greg is one of the best dynasty players I have ever competed against; he’s more than capable of beating 19 industry players, but he quickly agreed. Why? Perhaps it was because he’s seen what the insta-tanking dynasty startup strategy can achieve first hand.

Exhibit A: The Dynasty Guru Experts League 2017 standings (I’m MLB.com).

1 MLB.com 96.5 96.0 192.5 1.0 0.0
2 Greg Wellemeyer, BP 94.5 76.5 171.0 3.5 21.5

My 20-team dynasty league roster features Correa, Trout, Betts, Harper, Machado, Arenado, Vlad Jr., Jose Abreu, multiple first-round picks, multiple second-round picks, etc. It’s just an absurd, demoralizing collection of talent and I have not collected it because I have more dynasty evaluation acumen than the 19 other owners. It’s because I delayed gratification the most and intentionally tanked the first two seasons (2014 and 2015).

Not sold? Here’s Exhibit B from 20-team industry league known as Devil’s Rejects. (I am Trade Spam.)

1 Trade Spam 92.5 97.0 189.5 0.5 0.0
2 The Scioscia Network 95.0 88.5 183.5 3.5 6.0

This is a bit of a cheat, because I took over a Devil’s Rejects orphan team in 2012, but it was one that might have finished in the top five that year with a decent collection of pitchers and older bats. Instead of scratching and clawing, I burned to the ground. My co-owner, Craig Glaser, and I finished 2nd, 1st, 2nd, 1st and 1st between 2013 and 2017.

WARNING: Non-baseball tangent. I know a lot of our readers also play dynasty football and dynasty basketball – this strategy has worked for me in those formats, too.

In Laidback Legacies, a 2015 dynasty football startup, I tanked year one and then finished 4th in 2016 and 1st in 2017. In another dynasty football league, I tanked a 2016 startup and easily won this year. In my dynasty basketball 2012 startup, I tanked year one and have finished 1st in the regular season every year since with three championships.

Back to the latest baseball experts league, RDI – here are our picks so far (20 teams, 40 rounds):

1.13 – Ronald Acuna (TLDR: The best fantasy prospect I have seen since Trout n’ Harper)

2.8 – Vlad Guerrero (TLDR: Never been more optimistic about .280/.380./.500 mean outcome; much further along than Devers was at his age.)

3.13 – Eloy Jimenez (TLDR: for some reason I am not quite as excited as others, perhaps it’s the ground balls or the lack of speed, but can’t ignore consensus opinion this early. Was tempted to take…)

4.8 – Fernando Tatis Jr. (TLDR: … THIS GUY! Checks all the boxes – age-adjusted production, tools, Correa-like build, adoration from scouting community. Not really afraid of PETCO anymore, either.)

5.13 – Nick Senzel (TLDR: I wanted to take Brendan Rodgers, but Greg convinced me to go with the mature approach and absurdly high floor of Nick Senzel.)

6.8 – Kyle Tucker (TLDR: I am skeptical he runs into his MLB career, but tough to ignore the five category potential and ISOs at a young age in the high minors).

7.13 – Willie Calhoun (TLDR: The bat will have to carry him. I was impressed by his aggressive projections to go with his minor league resume with the stick.)

8.8 – Keston Hiura (TLDR: If left to my own devices I probably would have taken Robert since Hiura is awfully far away, may have no defensive home and won’t run.)

9.13 – Luis Robert (TLDR: 2017’s mystery box prospect. Reports of his tools and where his speed will net out at maturity are somewhat mixed, but he hit in Cuba as a teenager and continued to do so in rookie ball last year.)

10.8 – Taylor Trammell (TLDR: was hoping for Jorge Mateo, the closer, middle infield version of Trammel, but Greg preferred Trammell’s bat and power.)

11.13 – Clint Frazier (TLDR: if you believe in the stickiness in xStats in 100 PA then you shouldn’t be optimistic about Frazier, whose aggressive approach was exposed in his first taste of the show. On the other hand, he’s still so young that further gains and adjustments can be expected.)

12.8 – Estevan Florial (TLDR: 70 OFP type K’s a lot, but also offers superstar upside and a realistic path to achieving it.)

13.13 – Carter Kieboom (TLDR: Didn’t have the Bichette meteoric ascension, but I’ll lazily call him poor man’s Bichette.)

14.8 – Dansby Swanson (TLDR: hoping this brand name kid can make a random jump, because he was legitimately bad.)

15.13 – J.P. Crawford (TLDR: RT “hoping this brand name kid can make a random jump, because he was legitimately bad.)

16.8 – Luis Urias (TLDR: Surely you can’t be an everyday player and not run into 10 bombs, right? RIGHT!? Might be a 70 hit tool here.)

17.13 – Derek Fisher (TLDR: Post-hype prospect has serious hit tool question, but the power/speed combo is still there.)

18.8 – Kyle Lewis (TLDR: Doesn’t check a lot of boxes for us statistically, but pedigree plus 70/80 raw power carried the day.)

19.13 – Nick Gordon (TLDR: A floor guy we are confident will be a regular to compile solid counting stats in a deep-AF-league.)

20.8 – Wander Javier (TLDR: Our first of many teenaged, cross-your-fingers-they-pop bonus babies. Javier is a promising one.)

21.13 – Cole Tucker (TLDR: A personal favorite of mine; above-average raw speed, instincts and aggression on the bases. Has the frame to find more power at maturity.)

22.8 – Luis Garcia  (TLDR: Wander Javier, only a year before.)

23.13 – Akil Baddoo  (TLDR: Mature approach and good production with perhaps five average or better tools. Prospect people love Baddoo.)

24.8 – Shane Baz (TLDR: Pirates ’17 1st round pick is the high variance, upside prep arm I am willing to roll the dice on and hope he pops in ’18.)

25.13 – Chance Sisco (TLDR: Bat-first catching prospect lacks power, but hit tool and relative youth for his levels in his minor league career allow us to dream on a batting-average driven top ten catcher.)

26.8 – Ian Anderson (TLDR: Anderson lacks the upside of someone drafted third overall, but has three potential average or better pitches.)

27.13 –  Jose Siri (TLDR: Perhaps overshadowed by Trammell in the Reds’ system, Siri plays a mean center field, is a plus runner and has drawn some Nick Williams comps, which is a compliment this late into the draft.)

28.8 – Nate Pearson (TLDR: Could be dropped by July, but as Greg says, “he has some Kopech in him.”)

29.13 – A.J. Reed (TLDR: Post-hype first base prospect needs a lot of things to break right to get an opportunity to prove his not quad-A, but we can be patient.)

As you can see, we are light on arms, which is by design. We need to end up with nine to have a legal roster.

Here’s my hypothesis (take a deep breath ‘cuz things are about to get reallllyy smug and know-it-all’ish, even for fantasy writers): the dynasty community suffers from group think. Specifically, that established veterans are always more sensible, safer investments than prospects. Period. However, that as a blanket statement is not true. Yes, anyone who has won multiple long-term keeper or dynasty leagues has surely had success because they’ve sold prospects to over-eager league mates. Generally, I believe that prospects are for trading, particularly for contending teams. However, Ronald Acuna is not Jesus Montero. (In fact, I would have selected Acuna has high as fifth.) In other words, not all prospects are equally risky. Moreover, even if Acuna isn’t quite The Goods that we all hope he is, you still get his entire 20’s worth of production. I reference that because I’m sick of hearing things like, “why take Acuna over Goldy when you are HOPING Acuna turns in to Goldy?” Bruh, if Acuna can develop into Goldy, then you get an extra decade of that sweet Goldy-style production as compared to the actual (30+ year-old) Goldy!

Further, if you pursue a strategy that includes high volume of quality batting prospects, religiously seek 5-10% future profit whenever an asset’s present value is higher than its future value during your projected contention window, and tank for a top draft pick to get a steady flow of blue-chip reinforcements while your other seeds are growing, then you can start to turn the numbers dramatically in your favor.

Note: regarding the future profit reference, to give an example of that – if Clint Frazier hits this year, we will absolutely try to trade him for a prospect we like more for 2020 when we expect The Death Star to be fully operational. Ditto if we roster any closer specs and we hit on a closer. (Do not hold closers if you’re not contending that year, folks. I don’t care how good/young the closer is.)

The alternative to this strategy is that Greg and I go head-to-head with 19 other talented fantasy owners and hope we can pick the right players with the same goal (win now, try to stay young), the same information that others have, and no additional access to premium kids in future drafts. If the goal is to finish 1st as many times as possible, that strikes me as a far riskier strategy than tanking.

So next time you are drafting a startup, I recommend that you have some humility, delay gratification with furious dogma and Tank to Win ™ to put the odds back in your favor for future league domination.

The Author

Tom Trudeau

Tom Trudeau


  1. CJ
    January 15, 2018 at 10:30 am

    I’m joining a new 20 team dynasty league with randos, and would love to try this approach, but am nervous that it could break up a non-industry league. I feel like people would just look at your first example and say “why even play in this league?” Then you could risk losing all that investment time, effort, and money that you spent on it.

    I know that obvious answer is “play in better leagues”, but do you think there’s anything to be said about “breaking” the competitive balance of a league?

    • January 15, 2018 at 10:41 am

      Randos are better than friends, in my experience. They’re not participating bc they had their arms twisted.

      If it’s a paid league, can you advocate for a security deposit for future seasons? That way teams that leave can provide a paid for orphan team, which makes it much easier to replace owners.

      I’d recommend feeling out the group. Try to talk to everyone and gauge their intentions… maybe even make them aware of your strategy ahead of time.

      • CJ
        January 15, 2018 at 11:01 am

        Yeah that’s a good idea. Some of league fees are being set aside in advance to discount orphaned teams, so that’s at least some planning ahead that’s going on.

  2. tim8everything
    January 15, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    great stuff. I agree that ‘tank’ is, oddly, less risky than trying to win-now with roughly 1-in-20 odds.

  3. Jay
    January 15, 2018 at 3:50 pm

    What is your strategy if the inaugural draft is broken into two parts, a minor league draft and a major league draft?

    • January 15, 2018 at 4:17 pm

      I’d still tank, go all young bats and take minimum pitchers

  4. Fantasy Guru
    January 15, 2018 at 10:11 pm

    Why not draft an MLB player in the 1st and begin the prospect run with Acuna in the 2nd. Then flip the MLB player at the trade deadline; perhaps get something like an Ace SP who is injured, a young MLB hitter and a top prospect that has emerged.

    • January 16, 2018 at 7:33 am

      Acuna would have been drafted in the first round and I loathe draft-to-trade. I’d rather just lock in Vladito or Robles than hope to find the contender with a good prospect, an injured pitcher and a young MLB hitter they’re willing to trade.

      There’s a place for buying injured pitchers, but I probably wouldn’t try it until the second tank year unless the price was cheap. I bought injured Matt Harvey in TDGX startup draft… didn’t work out so well, granted an N of one.

      • Alex
        January 19, 2018 at 12:51 pm

        There should really be separate drafts for prospects and roster players. Having teams that are completely tanking is really bad for the league.

  5. Tony
    January 16, 2018 at 1:47 am

    My room-temperature take on this is that a hybrid approach would probably bear more fruit. Draft the most valuable players available (where “value” is expected production over the next N years) and then trade the MLB regulars for prospects. You’re still “tanking” the current year and maybe the next, but you’ll end up with a much better prospect haul, because you’re using the market’s overvaluing of current MLB players to your advantage instead of leaving all that money on the table.

    • January 16, 2018 at 7:35 am

      I could have taken Machado at 1.13. Acuna would have gone 1.15 and then I’m doing what… trying to squeeze a flier prospect or a late draft pick out of that owner to give me Acuna?

      That said, since almost no one else was taking prospects, we’ve been able to get good value. I don’t believe Greg and I reached on any prospects, Acuna included. He deserves to go where he did.

      • Tony
        January 16, 2018 at 11:37 am

        I didn’t realize others in the draft were going to go so prospect-heavy as to take the guys you took in the early rounds. It’s hard to follow this stuff when the players are only posting their own draft picks, and I haven’t seen any link to the full results so far. When the ITL podcast talked about this draft, it seemed like you guys were on your own in terms of taking prospects early, and they thought there was a lot more room for profit by waiting. Obviously not the case if you saw someone else in the room looking to go future-heavy.

  6. Alex
    January 16, 2018 at 4:59 am

    I did this when I joined a long time shallow points draft and hold dynasty league. I went heavy on young hitting prospects, and ended up with Correa, C Seager, Altuve, Machado, Harper, Myers, Buxton, and DomSantana.

    I still go high on prospects at our drafts, so I’ve been able to snag Acuna, Robles, Devers, Brinson, Mateo, Tatis Jr.

    However, my kryptonite has been identifying pitching prospects. I try to draft high upside/close proximity guys and be at the forefront of jumping on breakouts pitchers, but can never get a good enough rotation. My rotation has Arrieta, Quintana, Richards, Tanaka, Shark, McCullers, Nelson, Godley, & J Urias. They’re never healthy enough to make it happen in a draft and hold.

    Any advice on what to be looking for in pitching prospects?

    • January 16, 2018 at 7:38 am

      I do have pitching advice – don’t make it a priority and don’t pay for it. My TDGX team graduated zero pitching prospects. The entire staff was acquired via trade for young bats and picks. Bats, bat, bats. Then liquidate when it’s “go time” for veteran arms.

      When I do shop for pitching prospects, I want them cheap, high variance (e.g. far away, big arm with command issues, etc.) or very close to the majors so you can find out relatively quickly what you have.

  7. Jerry
    January 16, 2018 at 8:46 pm

    Interested to see how this pans out. 2 thoughts I had were:
    1. Can’t you tank and still draft young talented MLB players you may like in rounds 1-5 or so? Or even go acuna then young MLB players then back to prospects? Since others aren’t drafting prospects nearly as fast, i would think you would still get some of the same prospects later (possibly)?
    2. You already said you don’t like to draft to trade so that answered this point, but I’d be curious what your team looked like if you drafted best player available every round and spent the entire year trading for prospects.

    • January 16, 2018 at 9:07 pm

      I was drafting players at the top of my board. There’s no big leaguer I like more than Vlad where we took him and he would not have made it back to us round three.

  8. epos77
    January 17, 2018 at 4:42 pm

    Really interesting, thanks. Would you mind sharing who you used your first few draft picks on in the other leagues where you successfully used this strategy? I’d be curious to know how that all played out.

    • January 17, 2018 at 5:02 pm

      Sure. Last time I was younger and naive and sometimes drafted pitchers.
      Harper, Machado, Profar, Sano, Harvey, Lawrie, Castellanos, Taillon, Odor, Joc, Franco, Zimmer, C. Seager, Reed, Mookie Betts, Piscotty, J. Urias, Renfroe, Travis, McMahon, Greg Bird.

  9. January 18, 2018 at 6:30 pm

    I’m thinking of changing my team name to illegitimate son of Trade Spam.

    • January 18, 2018 at 8:25 pm

      Would be honored.

  10. Simon McPherson
    January 18, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    Great article and I think you executed your strategy perfectly.

    I’ve been tanking (rebuilding) in my league and I feel I am in a position where my hitters will be good enough to challenge in 2019. When should I be investing in pitching? I’ve been selling it and drafting exclusively hitters, and I know thats what you guys recommend for a rebuilder…..but when and what type of pitcher do i go for?

  11. JD Polk
    January 19, 2018 at 10:25 pm

    This was my exact strategy in my dynasty league of record. Head to head points league that is going into year 4. I went heavy on bats and prospects in the inaugural draft and then pieced my rotation together. First two years I hovered around .500 and snuck into the playoffs both times before exiting in the first round.

    Last year, it all began to bear fruit. League record for points, overall record, and winning streak. At the start of year 4, I’m a clear juggernaut. Current team, after many trades, and continued scouting and drafting of prospects is below. Great article by the way!

    Bats: C – Posey, 1B – Encarnacion, McKay, 2B – Odor, Moncada, 3B – Machado, Bryant, Devers, Guerrero Jr, SS – Correa, Seager, Maitan, R Lewis, OF – Harper, Springer, Stanton, Benintendi, Buxton, Acuna, Jimenez, Robles, Soto, Trammell.

    Arms: SP – Arrieta, Carrasco, Syndergaard, Verlander, Strasburg, Berrios, Lynn, Matz, McCullers, Nola, Urias, Reyes, Rodon, J Ross, Alvarez, Baker, Espinoza, Groome, Hankins, Kikuchi, Ohtani, Baez, Greene, Singer, RP – Jansen, Davis, Giles, Iglesias, Familia.

  12. February 5, 2018 at 12:13 pm

    I know this is an old(er) post, but can you go into your thought process as the league ages in time?

    I did something like this after my first year of a middling squad, where I still had some starting MLB talent (prospects that had just graduated/old guys I couldn’t get rid of, and sometimes the yahoo pool can be barren if others are tanking and stockpiling specs), and we’re now on a 4 year championship streak.

    At what point do you start to flip your aging players (someone like Goldy for example), and how do you consider rebuilding when you age out? Do you completely revamp your squad and tank for a couple of more years again (knowing that the pool will probably be less plentiful), or do you start to trade your older guys for prospects to keep the turnover as a more gradual process?


    • February 7, 2018 at 6:15 am

      I’m not totally sure I follow the question, but if you’re asking about rebuilding after you’ve had years of success I like to target the cleanest most appealing young dynasty assets (even tho they’re expensive) and trust i can backfill with prospect depth via scouting / waivers / and 2 years of tanking in the draft.

      Eg in Devils Rejects I sold Goldy and kluber for Acuna. I could have received packages of lesser guys, but roster spots are too precious to deconsolidate like that.

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