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Rebuilding the Topeka Tornadoes: Strategies for Dynasty League Heroes

For all of the thousands of dynasty owners who put in work endlessly searching for competitive edges on the competition, there are an equal number players who decide to join a dynasty league for about 12 minutes, only to abandon their brand new team. This is a pickle for invested owners who often enter into new leagues with the long-game in mind. The reasons for such disregard of league-mates are many: perhaps they are getting a new job, getting married, having a kid, moving across the country, or some other equally insignificant excuse. Anyone who has played fantasy for more than three years has heard it all. My understanding of these folks has always been that they simply want to ruin everything. And they often do! Leagues often collapse under the weight of these owners’ indifference. But every once in a while, a hero emerges. Our hero is a young man who bravely decided to try salvaging baseball greatness from a pile of ashes, allowing a league to play on.

Our Protagonist 

His name is Chris. Chris is a 16-year-old fantasy baseball player from Florida. Like many of us, he started his fantasy baseball career in earnest. At the young age of 13, Chris started playing fantasy for the first time. He drafted three teams that year and won two titles. Since that time he has continued to have success at this great game. Like many of us, Chris liked winning fantasy baseball. And like many of us, after a few years of dominating redraft leagues, he knew he was ready for the next challenge: building a dynasty.

This year Chris entered the world of dynasty ownership, but he didn’t start by building his team from the ground up. He decided to run headfirst into a burning building to save a league in need. Chris took over an abandoned squad in a fourth-year dynasty league after responding to an ad on Reddit’s /r/findaleague sub. It was in this fashion that our hero became a member of the 108 Stitches Dynasty League. He called his new team the ‘Topeka Tornadoes.’

The Topeka Tornadoes – The Past

In the three years before Chris entered the 108 Stitches his team had passed between two owners and had experienced only a single brush with greatness. The initial owner’s squad was known as Danks Yu. After a mediocre debut 2015 season, the 2016 iteration of Danks Yu took home a second place trophy after posting a 189-132-15 record.

2016 Danks Yu2nd PlaceRecord: 189-132-15  
HittersPitchersBenchDL
CRussell MartinPRaisel IglesiasTim AndersonJon Jay
1BPaul GoldschmidtPSean DoolittleJustin MorneauTyler Chatwood
2BDustin PedroiaPDan StrailyRaul Mondesi
3BAdrian BeltreSPChris SaleDenard Span
SSEduardo NunezSPJon LesterRyan Schimpf
IFJose PerazaSPMartin PerezMatt Moore
LFMatt KempSPTyler AndersonTyler Thornburg
CFCurtis GrandersonRPRyan MadsonA.J. Griffin
RFNelson CruzRPJoe BlantonMike Fotynewicz
OFMelky CabreraRPNate JonesAnibal Sanchez
UTILDavid OrtizRPJim JohnsonJimmy Nelson
UTILBrian McCannJarred Cosart

Led by Paul Goldschmidt, Adrian Beltre, Nelson Cruz, Chris Sale, Raisel Iglesias, and Jon Lester, the team looked poised for a return to championship contention in 2017. But something happened.

The successful owner of Danks Yu would not return for the 2017 season. Instead, the fate of the team was torpedoed by an owner who named his team ‘Slap Ass.’ A cursory glance through the 2017 transaction log reveals that this owner’s main aspiration with the team was either to emulate the sadistic Jeff Loria or “to catch fly balls and say ‘slap ass’ every single time.” In a flurry of vetoed, then re-submitted trades, Goldschmidt was dealt and the future of the franchise was cast into the abyss. After parting with their anchor, Slap Ass finished with the second-worst record out of 14 teams with the following roster. 

2017 Slap Ass13th PlaceRecord: 116-200-20  
HittersPitchersBenchDL
CRussell MartinPCarl Edwards Jr.Eduardo NunezDustin Pedroia
1BMatt CarpenterPJosh HaderJose PerazaNate Jones
2BN/APN/ATim Anderson
3BJake LambSPChris SaleAJ Reed
SSTaylor MotterSPJon LesterJesse Winker
IFAdrian BeltreSPCarlos RodonJaCoby Jones
LFMelky CabreraSPTaijuan WalkerDevin Mesaroco
CFChristian YelichRPRaisel IglesiasKoda Glover
RFCurtis GrandersonRPHunter StricklandBrent Honeywell
OFNelson CruzRPJake JunisYadier Alvarez
UTILHanley RamirezRPJhoulys ChacinAnderson Espinoza
UTILMatt KempZach Davies
Robert Gsellman

The team that Chris inherited was flawed largely because his keepers were pre-selected for him. And despite Slap Ass’s Goldschmidt trade, he did own some interesting long-term assets like Brent Honeywell, Josh Hader, Carlos Rodon, Jon Lester, and Carl Edwards Jr. Surprisingly–perhaps suspiciously–enough, none of these gems were passed on to Chris as keepers. Instead, players like Jhoulys Chacin, Eduardo Nunez, Melky Cabrera, Curtis Granderson and Hunter Strickland were.

Despite the burden of such worthless keepers, Chris took on the squad and prepared to draft on March 24th. During his first dynasty draft he was able to add some above-average pieces in Mike Moustakas, Max Kepler, Jose Pirela, and Tanner Roark.  He even hit a last-round jackpot by drafting Eduardo Escobar. With his roster was filled, Chris’s first season as a dynasty owner was underway.

The Topeka Tornadoes – The Present

Fast-forward to today. The Topeka Tornadoes are a bottom-feeder once again. Chris is sitting in 13th with a record of 64-122-6. Not exactly the Mighty Ducks miracle story you might have been hoping for, but this story is not over. In fact, it’s just beginning. Chris reached out to the kind folks of Reddit for help. His post was promptly downvoted to oblivion for not following proper ‘reddiquette.’ However, I noticed his post and, being a writer with an impending deadline and in desperate need of inspiration, I reached out in hopes of assisting him in turning things around in exchange for the use of his story in this very article.

I reached out because Chris’ story is not unique. Many players are enlisted to fill vacant spots in leagues due to management turnover year after year. Additionally, once a team’s championship window closes, they might choose to fade away gradually rather than immediately self-destructing so that a rebuild can begin. I wanted to use Chris’ team as a case-study in dynasty rebuild best-practices. To begin, let’s look at what he started with:

2018 Topeka Tornadoes13th PlaceRecord: 64-122-6  
HittersPitchersBenchDL
CFrancisco Cervelli- DL7PJhoulys ChacinAdrian BeltreRyan Zimmerman
1BHanley RamirezPTanner RoarkTim AndersonMatt Wieters
2BEduardo NunezPTyler AndersonJesse WinkerAdeiny Hechevarria
3BMike MoustakasSPChris SaleCurtis GrandersonTaijuan Walker
SSEduardo EscobarSPJakob JunisAlbert Almora Jr.
IFCJ CronSPNick Tropeano- DL10Jose Pirela
LFMatt KempSPChad Kuhl- DL10Adalberto Mondesi
CFMax KeplerRPHector NerisJake Marisnick
RFScott ScheblerRPBrad ZieglerCarlos Gomez
OFChristian YelichRPJoakim SoriaGregory Polanco
UTILNelson CruzRPN/AAndrew Cashner
UTILJake LambJaime Barria

Yep. That’s about what a team with a .349 winning percentage looks like. Which leads us to the first step in our rebuild.

Step 1: Admitting You Have a Problem

The first step for any rebuilding team is to acknowledge that their team is not as good as it needs to be. Whether or not owners believe that their team is better than they have performed is generally of little value in the real world. What matters is that an owner acknowledges something in their formula isn’t working and that steps need to be taken to overcome the deficiencies that are leading to losses. The millions of fans rooting for the Topeka Tornadoes can rest easy knowing their team’s GM took this first step towards recovery by reaching out to the trusted minds of Reddit. Way to go, Chris. The first step is the hardest!

Step 2: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There is a desire when a fire is raging out of control to put it out in hopes of salvaging everything one had. However, there comes a point when the fire is burning so hot and out of control that one can only salvage those things that are absolutely the most important, be it loved ones, pets, or family photos. Such is the case with a dumpster fire dynasty team. Owners need to figure out which pieces they absolutely can’t part with no matter what, and hold them tight. Prioritize each player on a scale of “From my cold dead hands,” to “I was going to torch that anyway.” In between those extremes owners will have average or slightly above-average players who are providing a pulse. These are often necessary pieces to have until one is able to find a better option. In Chris’ case, I bucketed players into five camps. In order of dynasty value they are: Keepers, Trade Chips, Serviceable Depth, To Be Improved, and Drops. Here is how I identified each player of Chris’s team from his initial roster:

KeepersTrade ChipsServiceable DepthTo Be ImprovedDrops
Christian YelichNelson CruzCJ CronFrancisco Cervelli- DL7Hanley Ramirez
Chris SaleMatt KempTyler AndersonEduardo NunezMatt Wieters
Mike MoustakasScott ScheblerChad Kuhl- DL10Jaime BarriaAdeiny Hechevarria
Jake LambAdalberto MondesiHector NerisNick Tropeano- DL10Jhoulys Chacin
Tim AndersonRyan ZimmermanBrad ZieglerAdrian Beltre
Eduardo EscobarJoakim SoriaCurtis Granderson
Gregory PolancoJake Marisnick
Jesse WinkerCarlos Gomez
Max KeplerAndrew Cashner
Albert Almora Jr.
Jakob Junis
Taijuan Walker
Jose Pirela
Tanner Roark

While one may disagree some classifications–I’ll admit some of those keepers sure ain’t pretty–the most important aspect of Chris’ rebuild is that it is officially underway as we have identified what’s good, and where the Tornadoes need to improve.

Step 3: Find the Untapped Resources

What’s fun about dynasty baseball is that there is a never-ending stream of talent eager to play in the big leagues. Our job as dynasty players is to find the best talent first. There are many ways to approach this challenge. Some rely on prospect lists, others on stats, some on scouting reports, and others seem able to just drunkenly stumble into players while vigorously clicking their mouses while guttural noises emanate from their big dumb heads. Whatever works for you. The thing to know is that there are ALWAYS good players available.

A forgettable movie from 2009 called The International had a brilliant quote that I think of often. The question is, “What do you do when there is no way out?” The answer: “When there is no way out, you find a deeper way in.” The challenge for players like Chris is that winning isn’t going to occur by trading his way back to relevance, but by digging in deep enough to unearth talent where everyone else assumed there was none. After doing some comprehensive scouring of the league’s free-agent wire, I identified roughly 22 keep-worthy free agent prospects in addition to about 100 other exciting players just waiting to be claimed.

108 Stitches Free Agent Highlights     
Catcher:1B:2B:3B:SS:OF:SP:RP:
Danny JansenRyan McMahonAustin BarnesNolan JonesDavid FletcherAustin HaysLuis CastilloAddison Reed
Austin BarnesRonald GuzmanChad PinderJake BurgerChad PinderDerek FisherDaniel Mengden- DLNate Jones- DL
Carson KellyJ.D. DavisMax SchrockChristian ArroyoKevin MaitanEstevan FlorialJose Urena- DLJose Alvarado
Daulton VarshoBobby BradleyIsan DiazMichael ChavisCole TuckerAnthony AlfordJordan Montgomery- DLWill Harris
Andrew KniznerJosh NaylorShed LongYu Cheng-ChangKyle LewisWilmer FontMatt Strahm
A.J. ReedEsteury RuizWilli CastroAustin SlaterDylan CeaseRyne Stanek
Edwin RiosJahmai JonesFernando RomeroAustin Gomber
Yusniel DiazJoe Ross- DLBrandon Woodruff
Corey RayDennis Santana- DLFrancis Martes
DJ PetersYonny Chirinos
Andrew TolesMax Fried
Oscar MercadoAdbert Azolay
Jose SiriHunter Harvey
Will BensonDomingo Acevedo
Trent GrishamJames Kapriellian
LaMonte WadeLuis Ortiz
Dillon Tate
Sean Reid-Foley

These players aren’t all in the major leagues yet, but they’re close. And they’re good. And they’re worth more to Chris than anyone else because his team needs to bring its accounts back into the black. Chris might have started out with no way out, but there is value available that he can find and use to play his way into contention.

Step 4: Trim the Fat

The next step to rebuilding is ridding one’s team of low-impact, low-upside talent. Matt Wieters and Adeiny Hechevarria immediately stood out. Carlos Gomez did too. Marisnick is interesting, but not a piece to build around. These were pretty easy cuts. The next round was more difficult, but only slightly so. Considering that Chris isn’t contending this year, it felt necessary to drop aging players like Adrian Beltre, Hanley Ramirez, and Curtis Granderson among others.

To keep any of these aging vets at the end of this year would have been a waste, and to hold them any longer on a dead-end roster over a potential keeper would have been equally as foolish. These players, while great in previous years, are no longer carrying the same perceived value as even a DJ Peters or Kevin Maitan. It’s time to pull the plug. With our list of quality young talent in hand, we’re ready to cut the rest of the dead weight that is limiting our franchise’s long-term outlook in favor of young blood. Let these greats finish out their careers on another man’s team, or watch them make their way into the cornfields of Iowa.

Step 5: Identify Trade Targets

Nelson Cruz – (June 21, 2018 – Source: Omar Rawlings/Getty Images North America)

Trading aging vets to contending teams in favor of young talent is the name of the game in real life and in dynasty. The important part for rebuilding clubs is to get the players you want, and not to accept offers that don’t align with your vision. A busted trade with one of a team’s last few valuable pieces could potentially set a rebuild back years. In Chris’ initial Reddit post, he suggested that he might try and move Chris Sale or Nelson Cruz. I hastily cautioned him against trading Chris Sale. In an era where ace pitchers are becoming more and more rare moving Sale, even during a rebuild, felt like a disastrous move.

Cruz, however, is the perfect trade chip. What contending team wouldn’t want to add his impact bat to their roster? Chris should be able to pull in one or two dynamic young arms from a team flush with pitching in exchange for Cruz’s extraordinary service. Beyond Cruz, if our hero is able to flip Kemp and another piece from his outfield logjam (Scott Schebler, Gregory Polanco and Jesse Winker) for more quality arms, then Topeka will be in a much better position to compete entering 2019.

Step 6: Roster Churn and Vesting Options

Even with all the work we’ve done, there is still more to do. Again, the best place to find values that will improve one’s team is on the free-agent wire. Whether one is unearthing prospects as they gain prestige, or adding a hot bat like Max Muncy, it pays to play the wire regularly. As the season progresses, many of an owner’s new adds will gain in value. Some will lose. It doesn’t really matter. The more active an owner is, the more they’ll be able to overcome even a significant mistake. During a rebuild, owners should be shooting for the moon early and often with low-cost investments. As owners continue to make decisions, they will continue to learn how to make even better ones.  

All owners, especially owners in Chris’ position, should keep their roster churning towards full-capacity. By that, I mean that they should work towards arriving at a place where they feel like any of the players on their roster will be immediately added should they be dropped. At that point, these owners should head back to the trading table to vest their options on the broader market. Will it matter to another owner that Chris added Bobby Bradley, Adbert Azolay and Estevan Florial on the free-agent wire? Probably not. What matters is that he is being offered a good deal. Value is value. Owners are wise to keep adding value to their own squads and to ensure that every slot on their roster is as good as they deem possible.

Step 7: Maximize the Value of Keeper Slots

This might not need to be said, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t be the guy keeping Neil Walker. As a hitter, he’s fine. Maybe he’s even worth calling OK.  When he’s on a roll, he could provide decent value. But he’s not worth keeping. Players should enter each season constantly working to maximize the value of their allotted keeper slots. Keeper slots should be reserved for players who could carry your team. Non-keepers are veteran players one can add and drop as they get hot and cold, and unproven talents that owners can take a chance on falling to them in next year’s draft.

Chris has 20 spots available to him, and if the season were to end right now he’d maybe have 20 players worth keeping. That’s including Tanner Roark. Not exactly the best outlook for the Topeka Tornadoes. Yet by continually churning his roster, trading for long-term assets, and uncovering gems on the wire, Chris should have no problem upgrading the players he’ll carry with him into 2019. His fans will thank him.

Step 8: Trust the Process

Sam Hinkie was fired in 2016 when Sixers ownership stopped listening to him say “trust the process.” Ironically enough, it was only two years later that the seeds planted in the aftermath of Hinkie’s epic demolition began to really show fruit. Apparently, the guy knew what he was doing, even if no one else could see it. Trusting the process means following your plan and building a winner from ashes. Trusting the process also means being open to innovation and unorthodox thinking–especially in light of Hinkie’s firing.

Everyone makes mistakes. It’s going to happen. In a rebuild, mistakes might feel more significant because a rebuilding team is dirt-poor at the outset. However, the good news is that the pressure is off irrelevant owners. Rebuilding owners are free to search for the winning combination, and mistakes won’t cost them as dearly as they will contending teams making a push for the title. One of the most active owners in TDGx2, Ryne Alber, is also one of the lowest ranked teams. Ryne is basically a trading fanatic. As far as I can tell, he trades non-stop, both to improve his team’s long-term outlook and to satisfy his own urges to make deals. While most teams at the top are holding tight, Ryne is creating chaos at the bottom of the ranks.

The same can be said for the Tampa Bay Rays. The team is flush with young talent, but lacks the payroll to hold onto most anyone beyond arbitration. Hence their need to innovate. From their industry leading commitment to exploiting the arbitration system, their reliance on signing unproven minor league players to low-cost, long-term deals, and their most recent use of ‘Openers’ are all great examples of a team thinking outside the box in hopes of getting better.

For dynasty teams like the Tornadoes, it pays to trust the process as well. Burn it down, start fresh, think outside the box, move forward, and have some fun along the way. As a team owner, trust the decisions that have been made. If there were crappy decisions made–which we all have done–then keep working to make it better. It’s the only way to succeed.

Conclusion: The Topeka Tornadoes of Tomorrow

The 108 Stitches Dynasty League caps weekly adds at seven, so Chris is currently waiting for Sunday night to pass in order to continue his roster churn, working toward building a winner. Until then, he is lying in wait to continue upgrading his roster. Will this young dynasty baseball neophyte overcome the great barriers of Slap Ass, questionable keeper picks, inexperience, and a dynamic rebuild to become a perennial dynasty champion? Only time will tell. But I am certain that if Chris–and the many dynasty players in positions like him–follow the eight steps I’ve outlined above then they will build successful, competitive franchises.

No matter what, I’m rooting for Chris, and all owners like him who enter a dynasty league as reserves. These brave souls enter into battlefields where the lines have already been drawn, crawl into fox-holes where the enemy lies in wait, and fight tirelessly with sticks against the bone-crushing wheels of fine-tuned war machines in hopes of one day tasting the glory of victory. These men sacrifice years of their lives so that leagues may play on. Let their sacrifices not happen in vain. Let this guide help these men to play well. And, Oh Wise and Powerful Baseball Gods, let these men win someday soon!

The Author

Jonathan Merkel

Jonathan Merkel

Top-20 TGFBI overall finisher and League 10 Champ, 2018 TDGx2 Champion, Staff Writer at The Dynasty Guru. Founder and resident hack at merkwords.wordpress.com. Author 'Our Carnage is Showing.' Amateur filmmaker.

Baseball is fun.

3 Comments

  1. Tyler Thompson
    July 2, 2018 at 11:41 am

    Nice work! It seems to me that you could slot Beltre in the ‘Trade Chip’ section though. I would think a contender in a 14-team league could use him as a CI or UT player. Even if you’re just getting a prospect better than the ones on the waiver wire, it would be worth exploring, no?

  2. The King
    July 2, 2018 at 5:11 pm

    Good article.

    I would suggest adding trades/pickups thats hes made ovet the year as well. Finding value deals is definitely the way to go when rebuilding, and it would be nice to put some examples out there for others thinking of doing the same. Right now its kinda just here was his shitty team at the start, and heres his still unfinished rebuilding squad.

  3. Rich
    July 4, 2018 at 1:46 am

    Very interesting article and I hope you will follow up with the team’s progress. I agree with the above poster’s comment on Beltre. A contender should be interested in him as a utility/CI option. In fact, I think everyone on this team should be available, besides Sale and Yelich. Burn it to the ground, this team is a mess. I’d also recommend following the lower levels of the minors in hopes of scooping up the next Soto or Acuna before they are well known to the rest of the world. Check on guys like George Valera, Alexander Canario, Eric Pardinho, Trent Deveaux, Kristian Robinson, etc. With so little in trade chips and a shallow free agent pool. it’s going to take someone who has a lot of minor league knowledge to turn this around. Pick up as many high upside/risk guys as possible and hope to hit on a few. Good luck to you both and again, very entertaining article.

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