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Sunday 17th Dec 2017

Playing in a mono-league format such as National League Tout Wars requires an owner to be flexible and creative. For example, consider my struggling club, which now includes a reserve roster full of speculative pitching bets.

With six reserve roster spots along with an unlimited-in-size disabled list, the in-season free agent pool at any point in time was incredibly shallow. Despite a drop from six to four reserve spots a few years ago, the problem is not much better now than before.

Take the offensive side as an illustration. Last week, just four National League free agents had more than eight at-bats and each was immediately snapped up at the next bidding opportunity.

This environment led to a devaluation of free agent allocation bonus dollars (or FAAB), in my opinion. Fewer available players means less money is spent, with large balances remaining deep into the season.

Two weeks ago, in an attempt to inject some youthful pitching promise into my struggling roster, I targeted Washington’s A.J. Cole. The 23-year-old was a rarity – a top prospect close to the Majors who was not already rostered in NL Tout.

On this latter point, if you think I am exaggerating, here are some of the players taken on draft day 2015, and therefore, long gone when they actually reach(ed) the big leagues: Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Kyle Parker, Tommy Medica, Addison Russell, Mike Foltynewicz. Unfortunately, I am not among the owners of any of them.

Their owners were quite willing to tie up one, and sometimes more, of their four reserve spots on players who were unable to contribute – at least initially. Of course, the promise is of a greater return once these youngsters receive “the call” and have the opportunity to literally show their stuff.

With so many of those potential big-money players unavailable, NL Tout owners still hold considerable amounts of FAAB. When I targeted Cole, he was not assured of even getting a start for the Nats, yet I felt I had to be bold.

Perennially being the second-highest bidder has created this mindset. After all, in free agent bidding, the old saying that second place is nothing more than first loser rings true.

League free agent balances at the time ranged from my high of $101* to include eight other owners possessing at least $68.

Tout deploys a Vickrey system in that the amount of a winning bid is reduced to $1 more than the second-highest amount. This enables more aggressive bidding and ultimately, stretches FAAB even further.

* Ways an owner could have more than $100 include trades and rebates for players out for the season. In the latter case, 100 percent of the initial price paid for an injured player is returned. Of course, an incremental $1 on draft day can buy much more than $1 in-season.

In my case, my total was swelled by a $12 rebate for the full-season loss of Cincinnati’s Homer Bailey.

I bid $56 for Cole, which was the lion’s share of my season allocation. To my surprise, I did not need most of it. The next-best offer was just $5, meaning the price I paid was reduced to $6. I was a bit pleased when a peer e-mailed that he wished he had gone “all in” on Cole.

As it turned out, maybe the majority of the league was right in their relative disinterest. Cole is now back in Triple-A after making one start and two relief appearances for the Nats. Five of his 11 runs allowed in 9 1/3 innings were unearned. Cole fanned nine and walked just one.

Still, if one believes Cole will return to Washington and eventually contribute this season, this gambit did not put me any worse off than those who drafted and are holding the likes of Matz, Parker and Medica.

Well, in all fairness, that is not quite accurate. Tout rules state that while just about any free agent player is eligible, including minor leaguers, he must remain active for the first week following his acquisition. Then again, for a team that is last or second to last in ERA and WHIP, getting seven days of zero stats might be a blessing in disguise!

Having at most three dependable starting pitchers and a deposed closer in Steve Cishek means I had been plugging roster spots with middling middle relievers. The pickings were so slim that I even ended up with a couple of these $0 bid players in my reserves.

Around the same time I added Cole, I picked up the Cardinals' Marco Gonzales in trade. Though I was hoping at the time the lefty would be in St. Louis by now, his only trip there was to get his aching shoulder checked out by team physicians. At this point, I am holding onto Gonzales until his three weeks of prescribed rest pass.

In an attempt to reverse my dreadful pitching, I then picked up two more speculative arms who are still in the Minors but could be positioned to be called upon this season – and hopefully will perform once there.

Jon Gray is a top-30 prospect nationally, but got out of the gates very slowly this season. He also has that Colorado stigma attached and is one of many options for the Rockies to consider. Still, since April’s 10.70 ERA, the 23-year-old right-hander has improved substantially, with a 3.45 mark in May.

My other recent addition is Reds prospect Jon Moscot. What the 23-year-old lacks in top prospect recognition compared to Gray, he makes up in opportunity. Between the departure of rotation members during the off-season (Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon) and injury (Homer Bailey), a starting five that now consists of Johnny Cueto and some other guys is a key reason Cincinnati is six games under .500.

With the club apparently going nowhere this season, it seems some kind of opportunity for Moscot could present itself. To date, the 23-year-old right-hander has an ERA of 3.45 with 31 strikeouts against 16 walks in 48 1/3 innings for Triple-A Louisville.

With four minor league starters rostered, I have no in-week reserves or opportunity to bench a slumping player. At this point, I am ok with that. It is time, or should I suggest past due time, to take some chances in hopes of improving my team.

Though your league’s rules are likely not the same as mine, take away the broader thought. Unless you have established a comfortable lead, look for creative ways to change the status quo for your squad, even if some risk is involved.

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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