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Friday 28th Apr 2017

By the time a baseball season is nearing the completion of its third month, the realistic title chances of any team is pretty well understood. I am not suggesting any league race is over this soon nor that I have perfect predictive powers. Yet when you are good, you know it by now and when it just isn’t your year, well, that is painfully obvious.

The latter case is where I reside in National League Tout Wars for 2014. At some point down the line, I will revisit my fatal mistakes made on draft day, but not yet. I am still competing.

Saturday marked an important milestone for me as it marked the first day since April that my team was not in the league cellar. I am more than willing to celebrate any victory, even a small one.

The core of my roster remains the same - seriously underachieving veterans with solid prior track records. A few are starting to show life, but plenty continue to stink.

As recently as last week, I had eight players on the disabled list. I am grateful for the unlimited in size DL that is in place in Tout, but to be honest, most of my players on the shelf are not difference-makers.

Well, none of the members of my injured corps are difference-makers now, but I had hoped that the likes of Cliff Lee (older), Jedd Gyorko (younger) and Carl Crawford (injury-prone) would have been important contributors. It has not been $58 well spent on the trio.

Unlike some leagues, the inverse order of the standings has no relevance in Tout – other than to break ties in the weekly free agent allocation bidding process. Because trades are doubly-difficult to execute in industry leagues, the free agent market is my only hope of injecting fresh blood into a tired roster.

One major challenge is that most of the elite prospects likely to be called up this season across the National League are already rostered. Many have been since the start of the season, as I detailed in this earlier article.

What that means is that I have to dig deeper and search harder than my very knowledgeable competitors. That is far from an easy task, but I have few, if any, viable alternatives.

I need to digress for a moment and mention that Tout has an important feature that encourages players not to give up and to compete until the end. For the next season, FAAB money is docked from all finishers who end up below pre-defined point targets.

In my case, if the season ended today, I would be 10 points short of that minimum and therefore, would be penalized $10 from my $100 FAAB stipend for 2015.

I should mention that one of the Tout governing board insists that this feature is not a stick, but is instead a positive motivator. While I am fine with the feature and the reasons for its implementation, I strongly disagree with the happy-talk spin.

If FAAB rebalancing was really a benefit as he insists, the best teams would be given more money the next year instead of docking cash from the poorest-finishing ones.

At any rate, the rules are what they are.

They don’t encourage me to just walk away and sign up for second-half or monthly leagues. They don’t make me want to shift my attention to short-term gratification that can come from daily leagues.

Don’t get me wrong. If you favor those formats, go for it. In my case, I signed up for the marathon and I am going to finish it the best I can.

I am not just going to stop at getting 10 more points to protect my 2015 FAAB. I want to finish in the upper half of the league. That is my revised target for this season.

The way I will get there is by smart waiver wire acquisitions.

It was a small thing, really insignificant, except to me. A one-sentence e-mail from a competitor this Monday congratulated me. “Once again, you appear to be ahead of the curve,” he wrote. In this case, he was referring to my acquisition of Atlanta catcher Christian Bethancourt the night before.

The rumor originated from MLB.com’s Atlanta beat writer Mark Bowman on Sunday evening that the Braves are considering calling up their top prospect catcher.

If brought up, Bethancourt would not be nailed to the bench as are most MLB reserve catchers. He would need to play every day. To make that happen, the by-products of such a move would be the benching of a multi-million dollar player in B.J. Upton and the shift of incumbent backstop Evan Gattis to his spot in left field.

Though sitting the elder Upton would be dramatic, the Braves have stepped up to a similar underachiever by playing prospect Tommy La Stella ahead of expensive veteran Dan Uggla.

Further, the Braves have fallen behind the Washington Nationals in the National League East and if the season ended today, Atlanta would not be a Wild Card, either. So action may soon be warranted.

Though the Braves later denied Bowman’s story - an interesting set of circumstances since they all ultimately work for the same enterprise - when I read it on Sunday night, I decided to act.

While Tout allows $0 bids for major leaguers, any players still in the Minors cost a minimum of $1. This was intended to slow speculative bids for prospects. Another related penalty is that the claiming team has to absorb a week of no stats before the acquired minor leaguer can be moved to the bench.

Whether the reason was because I was the only one who heard the Bethancourt rumor or because no one else wanted to take the hit to acquire him, my $1 bid was uncontested.

I was willing to pay the price in hopes that Bethancourt can contribute in the second half at a position at which my team is especially weak.

I am not under the illusion that he is going to vault into consideration for the NL Rookie of the Year Award, but if I make enough small Bethancourt-like moves, I can still make something of this season.

As you look at your teams, I encourage you to do the same, not literally, but to assess what you can do to become competitive if you are not. And if you are in contention, identify and execute a plan to reach the top!

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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