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Thursday 21st Sep 2017

Part I – Background and A Freeze List

I am sure you have seen fantasy analysts, writers, and very good players talk about “rebuilding” a team.  I am even surer you have seen some posts about the subject on our message boards. BUT

Has anyone really explained the concept beyond the trite…..”trading current value for future value” or “trying to get players a year early”? I doubt it.

You see there just isn’t a manual on rebuilding fantasy teams in keeper leagues. Sadly, for one thing keeper leagues are not the most popular format. We can all understand that the inherent dangers for those leagues – “dump” trades and bad rules have broken more leagues than you have played in (for better or worse or just the better part of three decades of competition, I can’t say that). But we all acknowledge that the allure of FF (not sure I am allowed to spell out those dirty words during the beginning of baseball season when it is not even on the horizon, but it involves an oblong shaped piece of pigskin as opposed to a circular orb made of horsehide) is that there is immediate gratification. There is only one day a week when most of the action takes place.

In most weeks the games are on Sunday and Monday so after trying for some free agents to help your team and get your lineups in on Saturday or Sunday morning all you have to do is watch an entire day of (mostly) exciting games with great plays all around the dial. And by Tuesday morning (if not Monday) you know whether you have won or lost your game. Now you can go back to work, family, life until the cycle starts the following weekend.

Compared to baseball it is simple, clean,.and not “boring". And let’s face it folks just not as much work. And that is what millions of Americans who play fantasy baseball enjoy. They aren’t going to be happy with facing the fact that they have to forfeit the $100 or $600 or whatever they paid for their NL only team this year and have no hope of cashing in that league so they need to start tearing that roster apart and working on next year’s team.

And yes I have written that more fantasy baseball players need PATIENCE in the first few days, really weeks, hey even months of the season to not make rash decisions on their teams and the players on their teams. You don’t dump Mark Teixeira because for the first two weeks of the season because he is hitting less than his weight and still hasn’t cleared the fences with even one ball of his bat this year. Actually Tex might be a classically bad example there because we KNOW that he is usually a slow starter – his April stats are legendarily (sorry Noah) bad. But did we do a bad job of conveying that in our write-ups? Profiles? Projections? Or did you just not remember what happened last year or two years ago? The bigger picture is that he ALWAYS hits 30+ home run, he always has more than 100 RBI and for the last two years he has hit about .250. This year won’t be any different.

Besides we are not talking about Teixeira here – well at least not as a target.

What I want to examine for you here is how to rebuild a fantasy team. What happens if you look at your keepers and decide that even if you are brilliant in this year’s auction your resultant team is just not going to be good enough to compete in your league? That there are a couple of really stacked freeze lists and some of them have really good minor leaguers on their bench waiting to help them this year either by arriving at the Show or by being shiny trade chips to entice another owner to give up the extra closer they need or trade them an outfielder to replace their Jacoby Ellsbury or whatever. Or what happens if you tried your best in the auction but then lost key players who would have given you a shot at your league title in the first week of action?

Now truth be told I am going to use one of my own teams here (no matter how painful). One of the reasons for that is that I can give you the actual thoughts that I had before, during, and after the draft. I have on many occasions been critical of teams that I have seen trying to rebuild where they just miss the boat – and not by just an arm’s length.

Trying to rebuild is not just trying to buy a bunch of really cheap players that will look like good value next year. You will leave the auction with an ungodly amount unspent. You might say “so what” here but aside from the ridicule and anger coming from your league mates – they won’t understand and some will be mad because you will at the same time have distorted the auction pricing that is at the heart of your league values.  That doesn’t mean for example that if you thought this year that (let’s say) Josh Reddick or Juan Francisco (heir apparent to Chipper?)  was going to have a nice debut this year and would really be primed for his first big year next year but would of course cost $20+ next year so you bought him “a year early” for $9 that that would be wrong. But trust me; nobody can be right about half a dozen such players this year. And even if you argue that if you bought twelve of them that you would be right on six, what would you have next year? Six players who are good values…..and what else?

You would like to buy a couple of those, but you also NEED to buy some really good or at least very useful players that any team would be happy to trade for this year. That list runs the gamut from an established good player that has some questions about him BUT if Andre Ethier regains his form this year – hits .300 and batting behind Matt Kemp (as well as Dee Gordon) has a ton of opportunities to drive in runs – then he will be a very valuable trade chip this summer.

And just like other teams in your league you might look for guys who just seem to be undervalued in your auction – the reason doesn’t matter, and frankly (hang with me I haven’t lost the marbles yet) neither does the result. You need to enforce auction prices while hunting for some players to keep and some players to trade and some players to watch and frankly just some to fill out your roster. BTW as an aside a perfect time to buy a player just because you like him or because he plays for your home town team.

There is another category of players you want to buy in rebuild mode – players on the DL or just coming back off injuries. Ryan Howard was an obvious target in NL only leagues; Brett Anderson in AL leagues. And in AL leagues perhaps Justin Morneau should be on the list although personally I think the risk of injury with Morneau could take away his trade value and even if I got him for a reasonable (single digit) price this year would I really want to bet on that again next year? If not there is no point of putting him on a roster you are rebuilding while a perfectly acceptable risk as a CI in leagues where you are competing this year and could easily replace him.

I am suddenly thinking here that some of you may not have drafted yet – that with Passover and Easter last weekend that if you are in keeper leagues with good rules and thus can’t draft until opening day rosters are clarified that if only a Friday night, Saturday, or Sunday works for your league your first real opportunity may be this coming weekend so I will include some players who I thought about for this rebuilding effort or didn’t get or thought they went cheaper than they should have so you might look for them this weekend.

Okay let’s go back to my NL keeper league team – Hook, Line, & Sinker. Frankly my problems started before I even submitted my freeze list as I lost a critical part of my team when my $2 closer Ryan Madson went on the disabled list. Actually the seed may have been planted there as I decided to freeze Madson because if he was only out for a year he would be a great keeper at $2 next year. And of course as good rules would suggest I would have one final time to reconsider that decision when we would have to make a decision on DL and minor league players before the auction started.

I took another hit when the Cincinnati Reds signed Ryan Ludwick to platoon with my $5 Chris Heisey in left field and yet another when they decided top prospect Devin Mesoraco was ready for the majors, reducing my $6 Ryan Hanigan to a part time role. But let’s look at my freeze list and then get to the auction. Here is what I entered the draft with.

C – Hanigan 6C12 & Wilson Ramos 8D11 – fine there

CI – Gaby Sanchez 10C13 & David Freese 8C12 – good there as well

2B/MI – Daniel Murphy 2D11 – great cheap contributor

OF – Heisey 5D10 & Nate Schierholtz 10D11 – not strong here

SP – Tommy Hanson 15C13 & Brandon Beachy 12D11 – very good second tier SP

RP – Madson 2D11 & Heath Bell 22D11 – a great pairing for the price before Madson went down

Okay, no STUD players but a nice $42 projected profit on the hitters and aside from Madson, nearly break even on the pitchers.

Next I would face three decisions prior to the auction on players who had made their teams opening day rosters….to Keep or not to Keep? Brandon Crawford, SS, SF; Randall Delgado, P, ATL; and Ross Detwiler, P, WAS.

Next Monday we will look at those decisions on auction night and then how the auction went

Part III will detail any roster changes the week after the draft.

As in take what the auction gives you and don’t “Hop off the bus Gus”. So many times, especially in keeper league auctions where inflation rears its ugly head to disrupt your projected values and subsequent auction prices, players pull back from buying someone they need because “well that is more than he is going to earn”.

Yes, you aren’t going to get a profit from many of the players you buy before the end game in those auctions. But there is an invisible line there my friend and you need to see it to successfully complete your roster.

The profit should come from your keepers (or most of them, you are keeping Miguel Cabrera because it doesn’t matter that you would like to buy him back for less if you threw him back – your league mates won’t let you).  It can also come from nice players at several positions in the end game when nobody has any money left and you get Chris Parmalee as you CI for a buck. Or when you roster a decent starting pitcher like Philip Humber for a dollar.

But you can’t win with five or six of those players so you can’t save a lot of your money until the end game. And you can’t afford to get into a bidding war in the middle of the auction with the STUDS already rostered and have to go to $18 for an iffy Colby Rasmus.

No you NEED to buy some of the solid performers even at inflated prices – you need to buy their STATS.

In my twenty seven year old AL keeper league, I tried to buy Albert Pujols, but he went to a team with a wheelbarrow full of cash for $56. Prince Fielder also broke the fifty dollar barrier fetching $51 auction dollars from another team with a big wallet. Sure I could have tried to go an extra buck (trust me it wouldn’t have worked with either of those players) and stretch the rest of my ninety seven dollar budget but I would still need six more players and the critical positions, catcher and closer would be sadly lacking and I would be fighting for every player I needed until they were “nice” but wouldn’t help me win.

So I settled for the very hot Carlos Pena for $16. I rostered the best catcher available in the draft, getting Kurt Suzuki for $17. And then because I couldn’t pay forty plus dollars for Adrian Gonzalez or Josh Hamilton and because I didn’t like the mid-range outfielder/DH types Alexi Rios at $18+, Adam Dunn at $19+, Nelson Cruz, the huge playing time risk like Hamilton, at $36+, or even Raul Ibanez at $16+, I decided to shift that money to get the one STUD starting pitcher who went for less than the inflation priced C.C. Sabathia at $31 or Felix Hernandez at $34. That is how I got Dan Haren for $29 and thus spent more on pitching than I ever have in my fantasy career. That is how with Haren  joining Jeremy Hellickson, Ricky Romero, Matt HarrisonJustin Masterson and three closers (I froze Valverde at $17 and bought Hector Santiago for $13 and Fernando Rodney for $9 – and I still don’t understand why the bidding stopped there) I have the best pitching staff in the league.

And I will need it because while the Haren buy kept me out of auction dogfights – some already mentioned and others we don’t have the space for here, it did prevent me from getting either Cody Ross or Andy Dirks who both went for a dollar more than I had just before the end game (especially with one owner who failed to buy a better player earlier and was awash in auction cash).

But I have a salvation trying to swim upstream and get to Anaheim. While my minor league Mike Trout would have been a nice luxury if/when the Angels finally bring him up this year, he is now a necessity for my team to three-peat .

I did have one auction regret but I am still not sure that I could have rostered Yoenis Cespedes for $30-32. Only a rebuilding team was in at $29 and who knows how high he would have gone. Hopefully Trout will erase that recurring question and sleepless nights.

Frankly I wish I didn’t have to ask that question...or for that matter write this piece of advice. But we are all human – thus sometimes weak, even insecure. The best fantasy baseball advice I could give you before the season started would have been to not even look at the standings for at least the first two weeks of the season.

But heck I can’t follow that advice so I can’t blame you if you look at each of your leagues every day. But exactly WHAT is it you expect to learn after Week One? And a short week at that – teams playing only three or four games in the last ten days. YOU aren’t going to base your whole season on that are you?

I mean we are not talking replacing a DL player in your lineup – you have already done that whether it was sometime last week or yesterday or today for this week.

And those of you who had your first waiver wire run or FAAB have tried to replace the Victor Martinez, Ryan Madson, and Andrew Baileys of your fantasy teams.

And yes you should read box scores and game recaps and other fantasy relevant columns every day (or as often as you can).

But you shouldn’t be throwing your team away....it’s less than one single week of approximately TWENTY SIX. The time for real decisions about trades is IMHO at least a month away (barring the completely obvious you drafted two closers, inherited two more and lost a catcher and some guy wants to give you Wilson Ramos for your worst new closer).

But as I have written every year for the last decade…PLEASE do us both a favor and take a chill pill.

How about after you read this you forget about your fantasy teams for the rest of the day (assuming you have already set your lineups) and take your wife or significant other or best non partner friend  out for dinner…or dinner and a movie...or a movie and dessert.

Let’s talk next week...maybe later this week if you like...you know where to find me.

Shopping on Saves is generally the mode for many players who didn’t want to overpay for Saves at the draft. But if you go that route you must be very aggressive in your continuing pursuit of adding closers.

Whether they in fact can hold the job is the secondary consideration – adding some amount of immediate saves is often more important.

Let’s look at a few situations that have emerged. I suspect that many of you rostered Alfredo Aceves especially in early drafts where we hoped he might get a spot in the Red Sox rotation. (And PS Bobby V he should have – try making the decisions on who pitches better not who makes more money or has more seniority….you could easily DL the higher paid guy to try and get him right BEFORE you run him out there and not miss out on good pitching from the better skills NOW).  However if you weren’t in a huff, your potential starter turned into some save opportunities.

I don’t think that is Aceves best usage – he should be in the rotation. How much better would things look if the Red Sox had started with Aceves in the rotation and moved Daniel Bard to closer when Bailey went down.  (And PSS didn’t everyone think it was a question of when not if?)

Drew Storen landing on the DL wasn’t anywhere near as predictable. Who knew he had chips in his elbow? But an immediate add of Brad Lidge or Henry Rodriguez paid dividends. BTW there is a corollary to the strategy not to overpay for closers and that should give you SP with better ratios so that you can buffer Lidge’s efforts while you collect his saves.

And now we have another opportunity with the (again not so unexpected) news that Giant’s closer Brian Wilson will have to go under the knife. Fear the Beard no more. Instead RUN don’t walk to get a San Francisco reliever who will get some saves.

Personally I think Sergio Romo will get the first shot but even Giant’s manager Bruce Bochy has said he will use both Romo and Santiago Casilla (and PPS there may be situational opportunities for Javier Lopez or Jeremy Affeldt as the committee goes forward).

I think the “shark play” assuming you have the roster spots and necessary dollars is to get BOTH Romo and Casilla and if Romo does indeed get a couple of early saves this coming week, immediately deal him off to upgrade another position and keep Casilla who I think will have more saves over the rest of the season.

I generally see a lot of mistakes made the week before the season starts and have already seen some questions or moves that mean there are still some people out there reading a note and making a roster decision without looking at the big picture.

Don’t be the guy who saw late yesterday that Drew Pomeranz was cut by the Rockies and immediately put in a waiver claim for a lesser pitcher, dropping Pomeranz. Pomeranz has locked up a spot in the Colorado rotation but they don’t need him to start until Sunday, April 15 in Arizona, so they sent him down to the minors so he can stay on schedule to start that day. That gives them an extra spot for the first two weeks for an extra bullpen pitcher or to make a final decision on their bench.

Perhaps the same with the LA Angels Garrett Richards who is competing with Jerome Williams for the fifth spot in the Halos rotation, but that spot does not come up until April 15 and a game against the Yankees. So both Richards and Williams will continue pitching to be available that day and hope they get picked. Williams was slow coming back from a hamstring problem with his right leg but did pitch four good innings in a minor league game on Saturday.  Meanwhile Richards who has been pretty good this spring pitched a solid six innings against the Cubs. This one is too close to call so don’t drop either if you have them because the fifth starter for the Angels will be a valuable pitcher. If I had a free roster spot to pick one up and hope they got the call, I would choose Richards.

In some leagues these situations may present a different opportunity if you have a minor league draft after your auction/draft and the eligibility is based on opening day rosters. Grabbing a guy like Pomeranz in an NL only league or Richards in an AL only league as a minor leaguer might give you an extra pitcher just a few weeks into the season.

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