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Monday 24th Apr 2017

In 2014, due to the early major league games in Australia, a decision was made by the Tout Wars governing board to move the National League draft to the leadoff spot for the three-draft weekend. That was on Saturday morning, March 22nd. I was among the participants.

Once that draft was completed, the mixed league was next up. Able to relax a bit after a very hectic four or five hours, it was a great pleasure for me to catch up with friends and colleagues, many of whom I see in person just a couple of times each year. We discussed and debated a number of topics, including ideas for potential rules changes that may be the subject of a future column.

During the second of two breaks during the mixed league festivities, word from the draft room was that the Fantasy Sherpa, Scott Swanay, was in serious trouble. While the others at the table had $20-$30 remaining, Swanay still held nearly $100. Clearly, there were no longer enough quality players remaining on the board for him to secure full value for his remaining money.

As a group of us were discussing this, our own Lord Zola pointed out the only partial solution to a very bad situation would be for Swanay to use his remaining bankroll to purchase a player out for the season.

You might be asking yourself why that would help.

Tout has a very interesting rule that essentially provides an insurance policy against a season-ending injury. Any player’s original full purchase price can be reclaimed in FAAB dollars once he is placed on the disabled list.

Originally, this rule only applied to players “out for the season.” However, that is a nebulous term and if fact, conditions can change. Later, it was changed to the 60-day disabled list. That was not fool-proof, either, as clubs cannot use the 60-day DL unless their 40-man roster is full. So a player clearly out for the year might still not be eligible for FAAB reclaim.

The current rule drops the FAAB reclaim amount to 50 percent following the All-Star break.

One of the SiriusXM producers was within earshot of our hallway conversation. He liked the FAAB reclaim idea so much that he took it into the on-air hosts immediately. As coincidence would have it, Swanay was being interviewed at the time.

Whether or not it was his plan coming into that break, as the draft concluded, Scott spent $61 on Brandon Beachy. Of course, the Braves right-hander underwent Tommy John ligament replacement surgery and will not return until 2015.

Swanay readily admitted that he simply stuck with his too-low values too long without adapting to the table conditions.

Again, the Beachy purchase was no better than making the best of a bad situation. I could find no one who felt that the value of $1 of in-season FAAB is worth as much as $1 at the draft table.

If you are skeptical, look at it this way. If you were given $360 for the season and could deploy it in any way you would like, wouldn’t you be far more likely to spend more than $260 on draft day, not less?

Of course, you would.

The uncertainties of the free agent market add considerable risk to in-season buying.

Further, in a mixed league, the interleague trade deadline, a key source of in-season talent in mono leagues, is irrelevant. Instead, Swanay’s best hope may be that a squad of Jose Fernandezes emerge from the minor leagues in a hurry. Of course, he also has to identify them and outbid the rest of the league in the process.

The Vickrey system used in Tout could be Swanay’s friend. The approach helps stretch FAAB dollars to the maximum by lowering the winning bid for any large acquisition to $1 more than the second-highest bid. That could allow Swanay to bid more aggressively.

This raises a potential competitive balance issue. Is it fair to the rest of the league for one owner to hold 60 percent more FAAB than anyone else? (Actually, the gap is greater for part of the league because those owners who finish below a pre-defined point threshold each season are docked FAAB the next year.)

One could argue that everyone at the draft table received a benefit in the lower prices achieved, given that Swanay did not utilize his full stipend. Then again, did others recognize that and were the benefits spread evenly on draft day? I don’t know how I could measure that.

Another potential twist is that Tout allows trading of FAAB. In the process of trying to improve his team, Swanay could clearly affect others’ ability to acquire available players based on how he uses his money – either through his own bidding or by giving “the hammer” to another.

After a lot of thought about this matter from these and other angles, my take is that because this situation sits within the current league rules, it should be allowed to continue down whatever path it follows.

Others feel differently – that the entire process represents a loophole that should be closed by a rules change. Though it seems unlikely that anyone would actually implement such a bidding approach purposely, that isn’t the point. They ask why this escape hatch should be allowed?

Another line of thinking is that in an industry showcase league such as Tout, such a rule should not be required. A precedent has already been established that if participants do not demonstrate sufficient playing proficiency, they may not be asked back. After all, this situation is based on a mistake, not an intent to circumvent the rules.

As much as I almost always advocate constitutional changes to clarify any gray situations, I tend to come down on the side of letting this play out before making any decisions. In this case, it is not a rules issue, per se.

I could, however, be convinced to get behind lowering the FAAB reclaim percentage to something less than 100 percent. That has always seemed too rich for my tastes – an opinion I held long before the Sherpa took his wrong turn.

In reality, Swanay may be doomed no matter how this plays out. The prevailing wisdom is that his year is likely ruined based on starting with a $200 team. If, however, he is able to salvage his season somehow, the collateral damage to the remainder of the league could lead to discord among its members.

To that end, post-draft I asked several of the other mixed Tout participants their view of the FAAB imbalance. One mixed league warrior was especially succinct. “If I wasn’t so happy with the team I drafted, then yes, I would definitely be concerned about it,” he said.

History would tend to suggest that well before the season concludes, at least 10 of the league participants are going to feel a lot less confident about their rosters than they did on draft weekend. Rightly or wrongly, how many of them perceive that FAAB bids lost to Swanay will be a negative contributor to their title chances?

Clearly, Swanay has no choice. His only recourse is to compete like hell and not worry about anyone else. We will all be watching how this season plays out.


Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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