It was Hall of Famer Branch Rickey who famously preached, “It is better to trade a man a year too early than a year too late.”
Having passed away in 1965, the Mahatma never played fantasy baseball.
If he had, perhaps his famous quote would have instead gone like this, “It is better to acquire a man a year too early than a year too late.”
In looking back to last season’s National League Tout Wars squad, that is sort of how I feel. Only because the Tout leagues are re-draft format, acquiring a player last year (or trading one, for that matter) has no relevance to this year.
That is the source of my pain.
Seeing players upon whom I took a chance in 2013 excel this season hurts, because they are not on my 2014 roster.
Many of my competitors expect me to have a soft spot in my heart for St. Louis Cardinals players because I cover the organization for a living.
That is definitely not the case. Like many others, I look for value on draft day over all and never want to overpay.
Therein lies the rub.
Players that delivered more than expected last year are more than likely going to carry a much higher place this year. That recent success also could mean more competition on draft day.
A review of my 2013 Tout roster reminds me of multiple players I wished I still owned today – but do not.
One Cardinal I did not acquire until after he left the club offers such an example.
Heading into 2013, Kyle Lohse was homeless, though the Scott Boras client was hardly destitute. Instead of playing golf in Phoenix with the likes of Mark Mulder, the right-hander wanted to be on a baseball diamond last spring.
However, his status as a free agent who had turned down a qualifying offer from his former team in St. Louis meant a signing team would have to forfeit an early draft pick that June.
On draft day, we had no idea when the former Cardinals right-hander would sign. Worst case, he would remain unsigned until mid-season as happened to his Boras stable-mate Stephen Drew this year.
Further, in a mono league like NL Tout, any buyer had only a 50 percent chance of getting any stats from Lohse. Joining an American League club would make him worthless in a National League format.
Others worried that being away from pitching guru Dave Duncan could lead to Lohse turning into a pumpkin at midnight. After all, prior to joining the Cardinals, he was an aggregate 11 games under .500 with an ERA over 4.50. With St. Louis, Lohse was a different pitcher, with a 55-35, 3.90 on his ledger.
I rolled the dice on draft day, raising the opening $1 bid to $2. The table went quiet, apparently surprised by my bid.
Fortunately, Lohse quickly came to terms with the Milwaukee Brewers on a three-year contract and delivered.
After logging a 3.35 ERA in his Milwaukee debut and in a secure situation, Lohse went for $7 this spring. Baseball HQ’s Phil Hertz has to be delighted with the 9-2 record and 3.08 ERA he has received to date in return.
All I have is remorse.
As soon as Jake Arrieta was acquired by the Cubs from Baltimore on this same weekend one year ago, I grabbed the then-27-year-old right-hander for the non-descript price of one dollar. The only reason I did not bid zero was that Tout rules would not allow it. Arrieta was initially assigned to Triple-A Iowa and did not join the Chicago rotation until mid-August.
The former Orioles top prospect demonstrated some of the promise he had long teased fantasy owners with by going 4-2 with a 3.66 ERA over his nine starts.
As much as I would have like to have had Arrieta back on my 2014 roster, he went to Peter Kreutzer instead. While Arrieta’s 5-1, 1.88 mark is impressive, even more so is his 74 strikeouts in 64 1/3 innings. It is the first time in his five-year career that he has fanned more than a batter per inning.
Oft-injured Chase Utley came into 2013 having played just 83 games the prior season, the fewest since his rookie year a decade earlier. The combination of bad knees and advancing age (now 35) playing on a declining Phillies team meant I scored the second baseman when others shied away.
Utley went on to bat .284, his highest mark since 2008. Playing in 131 games, the left-handed batter slammed 18 home runs and plated 69.
With the injury concerns diminished, Utley fetched $19 this season. Todd Zola has already received 81 games of production, a .287 average and enough RBI that Utley is on pace to top his 2013 total. He has been recognized by voters as the likely starter for the National League in the All-Star Game.
Seeing these players continue to excel helps remind me (and hopefully you after reading this) to forget about Rickey and not to be too hasty in leaving behind prior season players in a re-draft league the year after they had been a bargain.
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.