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.
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 Yu||2nd Place||Record: 189-132-15|
|C||Russell Martin||P||Raisel Iglesias||Tim Anderson||Jon Jay|
|1B||Paul Goldschmidt||P||Sean Doolittle||Justin Morneau||Tyler Chatwood|
|2B||Dustin Pedroia||P||Dan Straily||Raul Mondesi|
|3B||Adrian Beltre||SP||Chris Sale||Denard Span|
|SS||Eduardo Nunez||SP||Jon Lester||Ryan Schimpf|
|IF||Jose Peraza||SP||Martin Perez||Matt Moore|
|LF||Matt Kemp||SP||Tyler Anderson||Tyler Thornburg|
|CF||Curtis Granderson||RP||Ryan Madson||A.J. Griffin|
|RF||Nelson Cruz||RP||Joe Blanton||Mike Fotynewicz|
|OF||Melky Cabrera||RP||Nate Jones||Anibal Sanchez|
|UTIL||David Ortiz||RP||Jim Johnson||Jimmy Nelson|
|UTIL||Brian McCann||Jarred 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 Ass||13th Place||Record: 116-200-20|
|C||Russell Martin||P||Carl Edwards Jr.||Eduardo Nunez||Dustin Pedroia|
|1B||Matt Carpenter||P||Josh Hader||Jose Peraza||Nate Jones|
|3B||Jake Lamb||SP||Chris Sale||AJ Reed|
|SS||Taylor Motter||SP||Jon Lester||Jesse Winker|
|IF||Adrian Beltre||SP||Carlos Rodon||JaCoby Jones|
|LF||Melky Cabrera||SP||Taijuan Walker||Devin Mesaroco|
|CF||Christian Yelich||RP||Raisel Iglesias||Koda Glover|
|RF||Curtis Granderson||RP||Hunter Strickland||Brent Honeywell|
|OF||Nelson Cruz||RP||Jake Junis||Yadier Alvarez|
|UTIL||Hanley Ramirez||RP||Jhoulys Chacin||Anderson Espinoza|
|UTIL||Matt Kemp||Zach Davies|
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 Tornadoes||13th Place||Record: 64-122-6|
|C||Francisco Cervelli- DL7||P||Jhoulys Chacin||Adrian Beltre||Ryan Zimmerman|
|1B||Hanley Ramirez||P||Tanner Roark||Tim Anderson||Matt Wieters|
|2B||Eduardo Nunez||P||Tyler Anderson||Jesse Winker||Adeiny Hechevarria|
|3B||Mike Moustakas||SP||Chris Sale||Curtis Granderson||Taijuan Walker|
|SS||Eduardo Escobar||SP||Jakob Junis||Albert Almora Jr.|
|IF||CJ Cron||SP||Nick Tropeano- DL10||Jose Pirela|
|LF||Matt Kemp||SP||Chad Kuhl- DL10||Adalberto Mondesi|
|CF||Max Kepler||RP||Hector Neris||Jake Marisnick|
|RF||Scott Schebler||RP||Brad Ziegler||Carlos Gomez|
|OF||Christian Yelich||RP||Joakim Soria||Gregory Polanco|
|UTIL||Nelson Cruz||RP||N/A||Andrew Cashner|
|UTIL||Jake Lamb||Jaime 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:
|Keepers||Trade Chips||Serviceable Depth||To Be Improved||Drops|
|Christian Yelich||Nelson Cruz||CJ Cron||Francisco Cervelli- DL7||Hanley Ramirez|
|Chris Sale||Matt Kemp||Tyler Anderson||Eduardo Nunez||Matt Wieters|
|Mike Moustakas||Scott Schebler||Chad Kuhl- DL10||Jaime Barria||Adeiny Hechevarria|
|Jake Lamb||Adalberto Mondesi||Hector Neris||Nick Tropeano- DL10||Jhoulys Chacin|
|Tim Anderson||Ryan Zimmerman||Brad Ziegler||Adrian Beltre|
|Eduardo Escobar||Joakim Soria||Curtis Granderson|
|Gregory Polanco||Jake Marisnick|
|Jesse Winker||Carlos Gomez|
|Max Kepler||Andrew Cashner|
|Albert Almora Jr.|
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|
|Danny Jansen||Ryan McMahon||Austin Barnes||Nolan Jones||David Fletcher||Austin Hays||Luis Castillo||Addison Reed|
|Austin Barnes||Ronald Guzman||Chad Pinder||Jake Burger||Chad Pinder||Derek Fisher||Daniel Mengden- DL||Nate Jones- DL|
|Carson Kelly||J.D. Davis||Max Schrock||Christian Arroyo||Kevin Maitan||Estevan Florial||Jose Urena- DL||Jose Alvarado|
|Daulton Varsho||Bobby Bradley||Isan Diaz||Michael Chavis||Cole Tucker||Anthony Alford||Jordan Montgomery- DL||Will Harris|
|Andrew Knizner||Josh Naylor||Shed Long||Yu Cheng-Chang||Kyle Lewis||Wilmer Font||Matt Strahm|
|A.J. Reed||Esteury Ruiz||Willi Castro||Austin Slater||Dylan Cease||Ryne Stanek|
|Edwin Rios||Jahmai Jones||Fernando Romero||Austin Gomber|
|Yusniel Diaz||Joe Ross- DL||Brandon Woodruff|
|Corey Ray||Dennis Santana- DL||Francis Martes|
|DJ Peters||Yonny Chirinos|
|Andrew Toles||Max Fried|
|Oscar Mercado||Adbert Azolay|
|Jose Siri||Hunter Harvey|
|Will Benson||Domingo Acevedo|
|Trent Grisham||James Kapriellian|
|LaMonte Wade||Luis Ortiz|
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
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!