While Tout Wars is my highest-profile league, the XFL or Xperts Fantasy League is without question the most interesting format.
The 15-team mixed keeper league has a 23-man roster auction-drafted in November in person and without materials other than MLB 40-man rosters supplied to all. At the end of spring training, an auxiliary draft in which the other 17 roster spots are filled is held online.
One rub is that any player can be rostered, so a portion of those 17 reserve spots are filled with future prospects, both familiar and obscure. One owner specializes in picking players still in college and even high school. If you have read about Japanese pitching star Yu Darvish, he has been rostered in the XFL for the last several seasons. That should give you an idea what this league is about.
As in any keeper league, we are each faced with the question of whether to play for this year or build for the future. In past years, as soon as late April or early May, some owners have publicly announced they were bagging the current season. They offered current stars in return for prospects to hopefully build the base of a future powerhouse.
Other top-tier league participants are almost forced to follow suit to remain competitive, acquiring current stars in return for potential future stars. Prospects become the most valued currency in the league.
Though I have finished in the top six in each of the last three XFL seasons, I have not yet been able to win the league crown. In it until the final few days of the season two years ago, I had moved several of my very best prospects in return for immediate help that while immediate, was not help enough.
One such trade haunts me to this day as I see my former outfielders Jason Heyward and Austin Jackson resident on Ron Shandler’s roster, where they will remain at discounted prices for years to come. My take was Aaron Rowand and Brian Roberts. Let’s just say they aren’t on my roster anymore.
(The yearly appreciation value for players first acquired as minor leaguers is only three dollars per year, compared to five dollars for drafted players. This increases the allure of farm players.)
While the annual league rite of spring dump trade solicitations has not yet begun, we are getting very close. In fact, it is very close to home.
My colleague Lawr Michaels’ recent Tumbling Dice column at our partner KFFL.com, called “Competing When Out of Contention,” touches on this very dilemma. Lawr is trying to decide whether or not to flip his front line players for prospects with the hope of competing in two seasons from now.
In other words, Lawr is looking this as more than just a one-time shot. He acknowledges he may need to repeat the same steps in 2012 to build significant prospect depth.
There is one new wrinkle added to the XFL constitution for 2011 that Lawr did not mention, however.
In the past, the only way to pick up free agents during the season was at the beginning of every month. Up to three of the 40 rostered players could be dropped with replacements added via a reverse-standings snake draft.
For 2011, the prior artificial limit of three additions per month has been removed. Further, while in the past, these in-season additions carried an unusually-high keeper base price of $10, this base for subsequent seasons has now been dropped to $5, with a $5 annual increase both past and future.
Together, these changes could give teams in contention another avenue to add immediately useful players via free agency without dealing away their prospects.
It is yet to be clear whether or not these moves will modify the dump trade behavior of the past, however. Further, not all league members saw a problem that they felt needed to be fixed.
In my years in the XFL, I have resisted the approach Lawr outlined, instead preferring to build my team the old-fashioned way. As noted above, I have yet to make it pay off the few times I have diverted. That doesn’t necessarily make it the right avenue to follow, however.
I readily admit that the loss of my ace starting pitcher Adam Wainwright during the first week of spring training 2011 weakened my resolve.
Would I be content with another year finishing in the top 40 percent of the league or should I take a more drastic approach to make a strong future run for the top? The upcoming weeks of play should help me decide.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 13-year history. He is a 2009 NFBC league winner and finished in the top 25 nationally in both the NFBC and NFFC that season. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.