Jon Daniels, Jeff Luhnow and the Old Duck. No, the Jeopardy question isn't "Name three baseball executives who are likely to order Lox on a Bagel." It's more like, "Name three baseball executives who are experienced at re-building their teams."
The virtues of playing in a keeper league have been extolled in this space many times. Not only do you get to manage your roster 12 months a year, you also have the opportunity to find strategies that match those of major league teams. The Rangers have gone from a 2014 record of 67-95 to winning their division in 2015...without their best pitcher! The Astros have turned the worst team in baseball (they averaged 104 losses from 2011-2014) into a post-season participant. Now the question is, can Donald's Ducks do something similar?
For those of us who have played Fantasy Baseball for an extended period of time, the old cliché is that listening to someone else talk about their team is BORING! Even the Zen Master of this site reminds all of us at least once a year to be careful about spending too much time on the subject of our own team. The truth, however, is that we can't help ourselves because we take pride in even minimal achievements over the course of a baseball season. Now that you've been warned, here is a summary of the Ducks season with a re-building strategy. The rationalizations for this exercise are as follows...
1) For those of you who actually pay attention, this can be instructive. After having dinner recently with another avid Fantasy player, it became obvious that every time we spend a couple of hours comparing notes, we're both more enlightened about the subject.
2) The guys who play against me in these leagues love reading about my strategy. As George C. Scott (as Gen. Patton) said when he defeated the German tank corps in North Africa, "Rommel, you magnificent bastard, I read your book!"
3) After much success of my teams over the years, these same guys also love to hear about my failures.
4) Those of you who have trouble sleeping can just print out this column and keep it on the table at your bedside. Beats the heck out of counting sheep.
Bowling League of Rotisserie Baseball - 12-team, NL-only, 4x4, 23-man rosters (14 hitters, 9 pitchers), $260 budget, maximum of 15 keepers and three Farm players, established 1984.
Donald's Ducks have had great success in this league over the years but went "all in" down the stretch of 2014 to achieve a 2nd place finish. That approach left the cupboard bare and created a very weak keeper list prior to the draft. The Draft Day environment includes two types of inflation...1) the normal percentage allocated to keeper leagues (20%+) and...2) what has affectionately become known as "Duck Inflation", where teams aware of your past success play off your bids to some extent. That makes keeper decisions even more difficult because throwing back a "bubble" player usually means you won't get him back at that price. With those factors in mind, the Ducks kept Ben Revere at $31 and Aroldis Chapman at $24 to complement a few other players like Jason Heyward and Carlos Martinez, who were at more reasonable salaries. All told, however, there were only ten keepers worth rostering.
As always, the draft was challenging and the strategy was to be realistic about the team's chances. The basic approach was two-fold...1) look for solid veterans that wouldn't lose their jobs and 2) make sure they were projected to be on the same MLB team in 2016 (no pending free agents). That way, they could be possible keepers for the following year and would also be decent trade bait for contending teams during the season. The result was $28 for Ryan Zimmerman, $24 for Jonathan Lucroy, $24 for Jayson Werth and $21 for Carl Crawford. Those four players took up about two-thirds of the budget and their lack of performance and/or injuries doomed the squad from day one. The only positive pick-ups were Adeiny Hechavarria and Andrelton Simmons at SS and Trea Turner on the Farm.
Oh, there was more. Archie Bradley (activated from the Farm), started out with a few quality starts, then got hit by a line drive in the head and was never a factor again. The Phillies didn't trade "Rocky" Papelbon until late in the season, so keeper Ken Giles wasn't getting any saves. Tanner Roark (another keeper) lost his rotation spot in Washington and Rafael Montero got hurt while Arismendy Alcantara hit .077 before spending the summer in Iowa. The Ducks did add Kris Bryant from their Farm in May, but it wasn't going to make up for this mess.
My long-time Fantasy Guru always says that this game requires extreme patience and that has certainly been good advice over the years. Numerous teams of mine have come back and finished strong after getting out of the gate slowly. On some occasions, however, it also pays to be realistic and the 2015 season was one of those exceptions.
Honestly, the Old Duck was already thinking about re-building as early as April. The team wasn't throwing in the towel or making trades, but every move was made with an eye on 2016. The first foray into the free agent pool added Marlins Catcher J.T. Realmuto on April 21 to replace a player sent to the Minors. He'll be 25 next season and a backstop with double-digit homers and steals is a keeper in this league at $10.
By early June, the Ducks began their wheeling and dealing with contending teams. For the last 30 years, fantasy experts have told you to "go for it" if you're in contention. Smart owners understand this concept. Don't get hung up on next year (or the year after) and make aggressive moves. The ones that don't might still own that good-looking prospect, but they may never have a chance to win again...just ask the Washington Nationals. The first two concepts for a re-building team are to look at the minor league players on other rosters as well as players on the DL. The key for the contending team is that they can acquire talent for the pennant chase without giving up current value. And the re-building team can't worry about where they finish this season...it doesn't matter, so don't let your pride get in the way.
The first two deals involved trading Zimmerman and Heyward (on an expiring contract) for minor leaguers Jose Peraza and Corey Seager. Then, once Lucroy came back from the DL in early July, he was swapped for Devin Mesoraco (on the DL and out for the season). In early August, the Ducks put a package together to acquire the injured Matt Adams and then just before the trade deadline, they moved Khris Davis (on an expiring contract) for Pirates prospect Austin Meadows.
Another avenue for stockpiling potential keepers is the FAAB process our league uses after the All-Star break. Each team has a $100 budget and any bid over $10 creates a guaranteed contract for next season with stiff penalties. While the bottom rung teams will never be in the hunt for the likes of Yoenis Cespedes and Jose Reyes, many free agents can be had for $10 or less with the hope that their role changes in 2016. With this strategy, the Ducks added Cody Asche, Nick Swisher, Yonder Alonso and Darnell Sweeney.
Aggressively replacing injured or demoted players can also find you an occasional gem. Yes, the Ducks wasted money on the likes of Yorman Rodriguez and Tyler Cravy but also added Arodys Vizcaino in early July before he was the Braves Closer.
So, how does the Ducks roster look six months before the 2016 season begins?
1B - Matt Adams $12
1B - Ben Paulsen $10
1B - Yonder Alonso $10
3B - Kris Bryant $10
2B - Jose Peraza $10
2B - Danny Espinosa $10
SS - Andrelton Simmons $12
SS - Trea Turner $10
SS - Eugenio Suarez $10
C - J.T. Realmuto $10
C - Devin Mesoraco $11
C - Tom Murphy $10
OF - Nick Swisher $10
OF - Cody Asche $10
OF - Darnell Sweeney $10
OF - Tommy Pham $10
SP - Archie Bradley $7
SP - Jason Hammel $1
SP - Wily Peralta $1
SP - Kyle Hendricks $10
SP - Carlos Martinez $7
SP - Matt Wisler $10
RP - Aroldis Chapman $24
RP - Ken Giles $10
RP - Arodys Vizcaino $10
FARM - Corey Seager
FARM - Austin Meadows
One thing is certain. It will be a lot more fun having 25 choices for 15 spots than it was this past April when only ten keepers could be found. When does the 2016 season start? How about October 13 when the Arizona Fall League schedule begins and Meadows, Turner, Murphy and others will put their skills on display. Come join me behind home plate.