Last week’s column regarding rule changes for September quasi-disabled list players evoked some further thoughts. Such a rule change is what I would term a gentleman’s rule. To put it simply, you want to win, but in what fashion?
I admit, I typically have taken the shark approach, using the rules to my advantage. If there’s a loophole, use it. If an action isn’t specifically prohibited, do it. You do whatever it takes to win, as long as it’s legal. Sometimes though, winning this way can feel a bit hollow, particularly with respect to injuries as they impact your competitors. This is applicable to just about any fantasy sport and like with the September injury rules, you want to at least give your opponent the ability to fix their roster and still compete.
So moving beyond September and just baseball to football, it is a common situation, team A loses Eddie Lacy to a concussion and he may miss a week. James Starks is coming off a good game replacing Lacy and is on the free agent wire in many, if not most leagues. You’re playing the team with Eddie Lacy the coming week and manage to grab Starks, who you can either use to improve your own roster for this week or simply to block your opponent from getting points.
On the one hand, you can say “That’s perfectly legal. Starks was up for grabs. You were quicker or put in a stronger bid and you got him fair and square.” You can pat yourself on the back for job well done, knowing you just increased your odds of winning this coming week.
On the other hand, what is the harm that the team or teams suffering an injury get first dibs on the player’s most likely replacement? By allowing first dibs to occur, you allow things to balance, somewhat anyway. Most likely, the team getting the replacement is already suffering from likely having lost a superior player for some amount of time. Whether you are competing in fantasy football or fantasy baseball, when you do not grant “first dibs”, you may create a downward spiral whereby they lose out on a player that could have saved or at least let them tread water. Then, if they have any further injuries, the problem can become more compounded until they are quickly out of competition and might in the case of redraft leagues, become a dead team.
Some leagues might go so far as to require that if team B has team A’s backup, that they might have to engineer a trade so everyone has a healthy/competitive roster. I don’t think I could advocate such a rule. Players already rostered, at least in my humble opinion, should be sacred.
I am not 100% sold on playing with a “first dibs” rule though I might be interested in testing it out as an experiment. I am not sold because there are legitimate counter arguments to be made.
The argument that stands out the most to me is research. This may typically be more apparent in AL and NL-only baseball leagues where having a deep knowledge of the player pool is paramount, but it is certainly a factor in mixed baseball and fantasy football leagues too.
If a team loses a player to injury, they should have to at least put in the time and effort to figure out who is likely to get the playing time. If a team owner automatically gets “dibs”, then that owner does not have to do any research at all and it levels the playing field in favor of more casual owners. Part of the glory of playing fantasy sports is being able to point towards your prowess of grabbing potential keepers or key players who put you over the top. There’s nothing exciting about some team lucking its way into an organization’s next stud rookie simply because he is getting called up to replace an injured veteran. That player should be on the free market for all to acquire.
So while I believe there is room for instituting some Gentleman’s rules, there are some boundaries that perhaps should not be crossed less civility trump competitiveness and the free agent market to a degree that it takes the fun out of playing fantasy sports. It is a matter of finding that fine line.