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Sunday 17th Dec 2017

One of the realities of playing in higher-visibility leagues with industry peers is that we write about our teams and strategies. Personally, I always try to ground my writing in real-world examples.

In the case of my friends and competitors, some of them are even better writers than fantasy players, and that says a lot. In addition to enjoying their content - because they provide insight into their decisions made – I try to take advantage of the learning opportunities made available.

On one hand, no matter how good we think we are at these games, if we don't think we can gain some useful tricks from others, we will eventually fail, if for no other reason than our own arrogance.

Further, because I share leagues with many of these writers, I can gain a peek into the thought processes of my direct competitors. Consider this. In your home leagues, wouldn't it be cool if your top challengers had to submit an essay on their approach to try to beat you?

An example came up last week right here at Mastersball. While he is now a staff writer, Don Drooker has not always been "in" the industry. That does not say anything about his high level of proficiency in playing, though. As Don reminded readers in his most recent column, he has been the champion in our dynasty league, XFL or Xperts Fantasy League, four times in the last decade, including three in one recent four-year stretch – against some very tough competitors. (I am among the majority of the league still looking for a first title.)

In case you did not read Don's column, here is the link. Please check it out.

His subject was the XFL's spring supplemental draft, which follows our November auction. While Don recapped his own selections, he also considered the decisions each owner may have been faced with when his turn came up in the first couple of rounds.

That is when an old scab of mine was picked. It was nothing Don said specifically, but a rules change that is causing me pain. More on that in a moment after I set the stage.

Having blown up my team last year to re-invest for the future, I finished dead last in 2014 – a first in my decade in the league. As I have written before, I waited a year too long to step up and do it. As a result, despite a number of re-stocking trades made, the league's stats provider has my current roster in 15th place in its projected 2015 standings, as well.

Here's what got me going again now. As Don recapped the first-round selections in our supplemental draft, I re-lived exactly what I knew would happen coming in – the best investments for the future were long gone by the time my initial pick came up, 14th overall.

Any player who qualifies as a rookie when selected in this auxiliary draft will (until eventually dropped) enjoys a $3 salary increase each season instead of the usual $5 on top of a $1 base. That difference can add multiple years of control to a young player's roster runway.

Even though the household names on Baseball America's top 100 prospect list have been owned for years in this 40-man roster league, the recent influx of Cuban talent has increased the value of these initial picks in the supplemental draft.

To that end, in 2015, three of the first five players off the board were Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera and Yasmany Tomas. Looking back to last spring, as you might expect, Jose Abreu was that number one selection. This time around, by pick 14, the best option remaining was Minnesota designated hitter Kennys Vargas – not a bad player, but not a rookie and hardly a future franchise cornerstone.

You might be wondering why if I finished in last place last season was I picking 14th of 15 teams this year.

The simple answer is that to address one problem, the league's pendulum was swung hard – perhaps too hard - in the other direction.

Traditionally, the XFL was like many leagues, including yours perhaps, in that the lower-finishing teams were given earlier draft spots the following season. This was considered a way to assist those clubs in the rebuilding process and level out league competition over time.

However, the XFL's initial approach was in fact a hybrid, in which the top five teams in the standings were moved to the end of the line the next year with prior season finishers six through 15 picking first.

This oddity was defended by some, who insisted there was viable bragging value in finishing second, third, fourth or fifth, which I never understood. Either you win or you don't, in my opinion.

That is not what led to a rules change, though. One of the teams that looked to be set to finish in fifth place one season understood the huge benefit that would be realized if he could end up in sixth place instead of fifth. It would be the difference between having the first pick the next spring versus the 11th pick.

To try to help make that happen artificially, the owner fielded a late-season lineup consisting of as many reserves and injured players as he could activate.

While this was not explicitly prohibited by the league rules, it surely was not in bounds in the field of fair play.

As a result of that gaming, I was among the league majority who voted in favor of a rules change.

For the last few years, only the league's winner from the prior year is placed at the end of the draft queue. As an incentive to the other owners to finish as strongly as possible, the second-place through 15th-place teams are awarded the first through 14th spots in the next season's supplemental draft.

While the incentive to take a dive was eliminated by this change, it also meant the rich get even richer while the steepness of the challenge for rebuilding teams was increased since those clubs pick even later in the auxiliary draft than before.

I admit that when I voted in favor of the change, I did not seriously consider this impact on the cellar-dwellers. I was not one then and did not expect to be one later. The real world is far crueler, however.

The aforementioned Drooker, coming off three wins in the prior four years, came in second in 2013. His reward was the right to select Abreu as the number one pick in the 2014 auxiliary draft, gaining years of the Cuban's services at a bargain rate.

Another second-place finish followed for him in 2014, so Don had his pick of this spring's litter, too, claiming Moncada. The rules helped him to reload on the fly with premium, low-cost keeper talent, while I am destined to try to rebuild my leaky roster with scrap lumber.

I honestly do not yet have "the" answer to this dilemma. Those who play consistently well should benefit. Those who cannot compete should not complain – but that does not mean all rule changes necessarily work as hoped, either.

I bring up this example here both for therapeutic purposes and to remind you to evaluate the collateral damage that rule change proposals might cause before you execute them. Consider the reality that you will have to live with both the good and bad and it just may be you in the dunking tank next time.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-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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