Coming into the National League LABR and Tout Wars drafts this spring, I had decided that I would try to acquire one top prospect pitcher to hold among my reserves until his MLB debut. This is an approach relatively new for me, forced upon me by my very savvy peer owners stashing away the very best prospects long before their call-ups and long before I could get them.
In the NL this year, three young hurlers’ names were on my radar screen – all top 10 prospects in MLB and all close to the majors. One, St. Louis’ Alex Reyes, put himself at the back of the pack due to his suspension for the first 40 games of the season.
That left Tyler Glasnow of Pittsburgh and Lucas Giolito of Washington on my short list. Though both youngsters had their supporters, I expected greater bidding interest in the former, due to the perceived excellence of pitching coach Ray Searage and potentially earlier and greater opportunity with the Bucs.
To make a long story short, I executed my plan, ending up with Giolito in both leagues. I was delighted to get him, though it cost me $2 more ($6 vs. $4) in Tout, which drafted several weeks later this spring. I was content to hold onto Giolito the last three months despite him taking up a precious reserve spot, with hope for an inexpensive performance boost to my rosters whenever he would arrive.
A close friend who has enjoyed greater success in industry-level competition than I, and who happens to live in Nationals territory to boot, felt otherwise. In fact, he advised me as recently as 10 days ago that my keeping Giolito was a complete waste of roster space. With Giolito’s uneven performance at Double-A, a stable rotation in DC, and others ahead of him, my pal did not see Lucas in the bigs until September, likely in very limited relief duty.
The seemingly annual injury to Nats’ ace Stephen Strasburg changed everything. Yet it did not evolve as I had expected, due to unfortunate timing and league rules that worked against my plans.
Even when the news surfaced that Strasburg’s upper back pain was more than a strain (including two dislocated ribs - ouch!), it was not clear if a disabled list trip would be required, and if so, it remained unclear who would replace him.
My best Sunday night assessment was that Triple-A hurler Austin Voth would receive the call. The 24-year-old was lined up to pitch on Tuesday (same as Strasburg and Giolito) and was carrying a 2.99 ERA to go with 75 strikeouts and just 18 walks in 81 1/3 innings for Syracuse.
Here is where it got tricky.
I only own Strasburg in LABR, as I was outbid for him this spring in Tout. However, LABR’s rules do not allow acquisition of minor league players. As of Sunday night, Voth had not been promoted. Therefore, he remained ineligible for weekly bidding.
So, I did all that I could, spending $34 (on a $1000 base) to acquire Voth in Tout. I have to admit that I was concerned when Strasburg’s Tout owner, another DC-area resident who often makes speculative prospect bids, passed on Voth entirely. My worthy competitor did not even make a $0 bid!
Mid-afternoon Monday, things got really interesting with the disclosure that Giolito would be promoted to make Strasburg’s Tuesday night start. Voth would just have to wait longer, it seems.
Of course, I was fine with that, and quickly moved to activate Giolito in both leagues.
In LABR, it was easy. With Strasburg moving to the DL, a roster spot was open for the call-up and I could make the change without incident. Without that injury, however, LABR rules would have required me to drop an active pitcher entirely to clear space for Giolito – a slightly more difficult decision, but one I surely would have made given his upside.
In Tout, I had to bench an active pitcher to make room, hardly a major issue. In all –only leagues, we invariably have no choice but to carry several borderline players on our rosters. In my case, Reds pitcher Dan Straily was the easy call to bench. Not only had he been bombed in his most recent two starts, yielding 10 runs in 10 1/3 innings, Straily had to face the best-hitting team in the game in the Chicago Cubs on Monday night.
Sure enough, Straily went on to be lit up by the Cubbies – to the tune of seven runs in just 3 2/3 innings. I was relieved to have him out of my lineup – or so I thought. After Giolito’s rain-shortened MLB debut on Tuesday night, I checked the league stat site on Wednesday morning. (Only in the final month do I obsess over daily results in full-season leagues.)
To my dismay, I noticed Straily and his 17.17 ERA for the week was still active and Giolito among my reserves, where he had been all season to date. Checking the league transactions, I saw my moves were reflected – but with an effective date of one week in the future!
I had missed one very important fact. This Monday, there was an afternoon game between the Dodgers and Pirates. While it did not affect Straily or Giolito personally, league rules state that all transactions must be completed by the first pitch of Monday’s first game. In other words, I was a couple of hours late – and waited too long to bring my concern forward.
From there, discussion about the situation with league officials moved into interpretations of when exceptions are allowed, intention, and ultimately, integrity – generally unpleasant gray areas that could be avoided entirely with a more reasonable rule.
That is where we get to the lesson to be learned. Not only is this column (usually) about rules, but a common theme is encouragement for you to push to get them changed if they are not working for you.
I am going to take a dose of my own medicine and try this with Tout Wars. I am requesting in future years that weekly moves be allowed until the start of each team’s Monday game, rather than the first pitch of the first game.
In today’s world of instant information, doing it any other way seems really old school. A side benefit is removing potential ambiguity and need for exceptions.
In what is news to no one, the fantasy world has changed. I know that my approach has changed, too. I learn things setting daily lineups that I would use setting weekly lineups, too – but I don’t get serious about daily until late afternoon, when the best information becomes available.
In this particular example, the combination of the Nats’ roster announcement made on Monday afternoon and my digging into Straily’s matchups for the week formed a perfect match. Only the seemingly unrelated Dodgers-Bucs early start time and a rule that I firmly believe needs to be modernized got in the way.
Even if you have yet to run into a Monday activation issue like I did, consider whether you would prefer the flexibility of later deadlines or are content in continuing to do it the way it has always been done.
If you would like the former and your league constitution does not yet allow it, bring your case forward! If it will help, tell them I sent you!
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.