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Sunday 26th Mar 2017

In my opinion, the number one ongoing challenge in fantasy baseball leagues is keeping the maximum number of owners engaged and competing as long as possible.

If you are one of those who had a good draft and ducked injuries, you might disagree, but we’ve all been in the opposite situation. With three or four months remaining in the baseball season, it is still too early to look to football, but also tough to remain motivated if sitting 50 points out of first place, especially in a redraft league.

In his must-read column Tumbling Dice, appearing each Tuesday at our partner site KFFL.com, Lawr Michaels introduced a new rules change for Tout Wars 2012. Though it was not fully presented in the light of increased competitiveness, I see its greatest benefit to be just that.

First of all, the definition, quoted directly from the league’s announcement email:

“Roster Configuration: Instead of a fifth outfielder, we'll have a swingman hitter/pitcher. Your choice. So the rosters will be: 2 catchers, 1B, 3B, CI, 2B, SS, MI, OF OF OF OF DH SWINGMAN P P P P P P P P P.”

I am a big fan of deploying the carrot versus stick approach to modify behavior whenever possible. I see this new change as a positive incentive and a good move for the league. It also enables the fantasy industry participants making up Tout to continue to blaze new trails for other game players.

Prior to this new rule, the most recent major change in Tout was a “stick” approach. Unpopular with some Tout warriors, the rule defines a minimum number of points that must be obtained over a two-year period. The penalty for falling short is possible, though not certain, demotion or banishment from Tout. If that sounds specifically vague, that is because it probably is. All things considered, it is small matter given the privilege to compete in the predominant industry league.

Anyway, back to the carrot. At its essence, this new rule enables an owner to either carry a 10th active pitcher or start 14 position players in a standard 23-player league. In addition, if it is a position player, the swingman effectively becomes a second utilityman, offering greater positional flexibility.

All kinds of doors are opened wider for enterprising owners to accentuate results in certain scoring categories in an attempt to make up ground in the standings or increase a lead by altering one’s starting mix.

It also injects a measure of uncertainty into a somewhat predictable format from the very start. I have to admit that currently, I am unsure how I will approach draft day in 2012.

Will I come out of the chute with an extra pitcher or wait, acknowledging that in the early-season, hitting is often ahead of pitching? What will others do? Should I plan to zig when my competition zags?

There are other unanswered questions from a rules standpoint.

Like with any major rules change, there could be any number of related ramifications, either anticipated or unanticipated, that will need to be fleshed out and documented up front. After all, there is no more creative a group of fantasy players than those who participate in Tout. And I mean that in a most respectful manner!

In fact, I am clearly one of them. Upon being informed of the change, I immediately fired off several queries to the league leaders and held several others in reserve, depending on the initial replies.

Q: Can the swing player vary by week or is it declared once up front as pitcher or position player for the entire season?

The answer was that it is expected to be flexible. Owners can change the swing from pitcher to position player and vice-versa each week. That is what I expected to hear, but it led to my next question, not yet asked.

Q: Do owners have to declare before the draft their opening roster structure?

I would hope not as it shouldn’t matter. With four reserve spots today, I would hope that the only rule would be to exit the draft table with a legal roster.  Now, how about this one?

Q: Does the swing player have to keep the same designation in-week if an injury occurs?

This may require some thought as the Tout rules currently allow any injured or demoted player to be replaced the very next day.

Will the new rules allow for an injured swing pitcher to be replaced by a healthy bench swing hitter? Since players’ positions can today be adjusted mid-week if needed, this could essentially mean an injured second baseman on Tuesday could be replaced by a closer on Wednesday.

My guess is that this would be allowed. If so, the bottom line seems to be that Tout teams should have to endure fewer mid-week disabled list days for any reason. I don’t think that is a bad thing.

All in all, as I mentioned above, this new rule seems an intriguing way to potentially keep owners in the chase longer.

On a related Tout Wars point, the location of the 2012 drafts has not yet been announced, but it will be in midtown Manhattan on Saturday and Sunday, March 24 and 25. Spectator seating for locals as well as satellite radio coverage for those remote to follow along are in the works.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. He finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com andthecardinalnationblog.com and weekly in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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