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Friday 23rd Feb 2018

Way back in 2003, when the Xperts Fantasy League had her inaugural season, I remember being so excited when Ron Shandler told me the format.

At the time, it was a 12-team mixed 5x5, a format I had played for a number of years in my first local league, and one in which I had been a dominant team with three titles over the first ten years--including back-to-back crowns in 1996-97--only finishing out of the money twice before I left at around the time the XFL was forming.

Since then, the league has expanded to 15 teams, and invoked a few rules that are both singular to the XFL, and which have been reviewed here over the past few weeks by Brian Walton and me.

The source of those articles involved a combination of dump trading, trying to keep owners active all season, but the bottom line was trying to ensure that all teams had a chance to compete each year.

In the end, after weeks of owner arguments ranging the gamut of human analysis, and spanning around 150 e-mails, we voted and changed almost nothing.

Part of the reason for this was indeed we all became weary of arguments upon arguments, and just wanted to play and be done with it. We could invoke the old"if it ain't broke, don't fix it" aphorism, but I think the words of this year's champ, Jeff Winick, says it best when he quoted Paul McCartney to us: "Let it Be."

What the ultimate lack of rule change really tells me is that the rules and format work just fine as it is, not that there are not owners who would like to see a change, but I think those guys are barking up the wrong tree.

And, I can use myself as a case in point, for I joined the league and made all the moves I always did in my local mixed league for a number of years, finishing worse and worse in the standings as the rules around minor leaguers stratified.

In such a mixed $260 cap format, I was happy to eat stars at premium prices and then forage for the $1 Barry Zitos and Mark Ellis's at the end game, thinking if I drafted shrewdly during our November auction, I had a chance to win every year.

After years of banging my head against the "why doesn't this work anymore" wall, I came to a few realizations.

First is that all the XFL players were simply better players all around than my local league. Not that there was not fine competition in WIFL (Western Internet Fantasy League), but as with most leagues, there were owners not as fixated on winning as the social event of the draft and going to some games. Which is both fine, and which makes up a percentage of most leagues.

Second, and more important, the good owners had learned to seriously exploit the rule of $1 minor leaguers whose salaries only increased by $3 a year as long as retained.

Now, there is a risk with owning too many such prospects, especially if the players need a couple of years to develop, for there are strict rules that do not allow such a prospect to ripen on the minor league vine: we either activate players with more than 20 innings or 50 at-bats, or we lose them.

What the subtext of that really is is that you have to gamble on maybe a handful of such prospects and add the bigger stars, a few at a time at reasonable salaries and ideally after two to three years, this platter will coalesce into a team that will be competitive for a few years before you get to start the rebuild process again.

Three years ago, I did indeed get it through my thick head that this was the way the successful owners did it, and I had to change my approach if I wanted to be a winner (which I really do, especially in this league).

This year, I feel pretty good that my cheap nucleus of Yoenis Cespedes, Mike Zunino, Nick Castellanos and Jedd Gyorko, coupled with some moderate stars like Leonys Martin, Kyle Seager, Matt Kemp, Yan Gomes, and closers Kenley Jansen and Sean Doolittle, will give me enough strength and core balance going into the draft taking place in two weeks at First Pitch Arizona, that I can even move up from the sixth place finish I enjoyed this year, and challenge for a title.

I have to admit that it has been hard both figuring out how to rebuild, and then actually pulling it off in a tough league, not to mention finishing at the bottom for a few seasons was equally difficult to swallow.

But, by being able to pull back and see that the path to success was not what I thought it should--and should, because it defines expectations, is the key word--be, but rather the reality of a different way to play the game.

In other words, like the game on the diamond, I had to adjust.

I do sort of think that the owners in the XFL who are the staunch advocates of those rule changes issue is largely that: that since the game is not conforming to their notion and experience of what a mixed somewhat shallow format should be, by retooling the rules, the end result would indeed make the whole season play out according to those expectations.

I also don't think that is going to happen, as it is pretty clear the bulk of the league likes things the way they are. And, as my team has been improving, I have to say I like them that way too.

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