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Saturday 16th Dec 2017

Just as Major League Baseball teams have been taking stock of their position in the standings and assessing their championship potential leading up to the non-waiver trade deadline and beyond, so should you with your fantasy teams.

I am doing that in my two non-mixed leagues where I am in contention – National League Tout Wars and NL LABR. However, while at first blush, the situations may appear similar, in reality, they are very different.

One thing is the same – the leader in both leagues is Derek Carty of ESPN. Despite owning the injured Clayton Kershaw in both settings, Carty has maintained his scoring edge.

In Tout, I am in fourth place, but 20 points out of first. My club leads in just one of the 10 categories, a slim edge in on-base percentage. At the other end of the spectrum, due to a flawed draft strategy and some bad luck rather than a decision to punt the category, I will finish either last or second-to-last in saves. Essentially, that means I have just eight categories in which to make up 20 points, while passing three other teams. The feat is not impossible, but the hill is steep.

In LABR, my position is more admirable. My squad, drafted three weeks earlier in March than Tout and while I was battling the flu, led the league for the first two months before sliding into second. Still, it remains my best shot for overtaking first. Team Mastersball is just nine points away from a share of the lead.

Equally important is the fact that my roster has a nice lead in both home runs and RBI. That provides an opportunity to deal from my strength to improve my weaknesses. A simple analysis of the standings shows 10 points of low-hanging fruit, ready to be plucked.

With just a bit of help, my squad can easily pick up one point in runs and two in steals. The pitching side is where the leverage resides, with two points each in ERA, WHIP and saves plus one point in strikeouts close at hand.

So, how could I pull that off?

I began by sizing up my competitors with the ideal partner being a team willing to trade steals, a closer and an ace starter. Realistically, I was going to have to make multiple deals.

I am very much against the broadcast e-mail approach of trading. Yes, it saves time. However, not only is it lazy, but it tips off the competition to your plans. I am not just being paranoid here. Like I said above, Carty may be looking for a top starter as well, having lost the best there is in Kershaw.

Fortunately, one of my peers doesn’t mind sending general trade solicitations. In my e-mail one morning was a note from Doug Dennis of BaseballHQ, offering to deal NL steals leader Jonathan Villar and Seung-hwan Oh and wanting power. Though Dennis was in third place, his squad was a full 10 points behind me. Last in saves with no realistic chance of picking up points in the category, Dennis had little use for St. Louis’ tentative new closer. He also had a 20-steal lead over his next-closest rival, which is why Villar was available.

As a result, our teams appeared to match up very well as prospective trade partners.

With a balanced roster position-wise, I decided to offer Dennis a shortstop-for-shortstop swap, putting up Oh’s teammate Aledmys Diaz. The rookie All-Star had 13 home runs and 60 RBI at that point. Dennis countered, wanting Pirates outfielder Matt Joyce along with Diaz for Villar and Oh.

I had two worries. First, would the Cardinals acquire a new closer via trade and/or could the unproven Oh fail? The second concern was an oddity caused by LABR rules. Joyce had special value only to my roster. As one of my six reserves taken on draft day, Joyce carried the privilege of being able to be moved back and forth between the active roster and the reserves at will. Other players cannot be demoted – they must be released.

After not being able to substitute another player to suit Dennis, I decided to walk away from the deal, telling him to see what else he could find.

In parallel, I set out to locate an ace. The fifth-place team, 25 points behind me, is pitching-heavy, but needs power. Derek Van Riper of Rotowire had four good starters, with Jose Fernandez my preference and Adam Wainwright the fallback.

My initial probe was met with encouragement, but with DVR in the process of moving his residence, I was going to have to do the heavy lifting in our trade talks. He seemed most interested in Cardinals infielder/outfielder Brandon Moss, but I was having trouble coming up with a package to pry Fernandez loose. Another player he wanted was Phillies outfielder Odubel Herrera, but I was reluctant to deal away steals.

When I saw I could get a Wainwright for Herrera trade done with Van Riper, I went back to Dennis and pulled the trigger on the four-player deal outlined above. With the addition of Villar, I felt I could give up Herrera.

In the pair of deals, I picked up the ace and closer from a contending team plus the league’s best basestealer, giving up a power-hitting shortstop and two outfielders – a good steals source and a reserve. I received Wainwright + Oh + Villar for Diaz + Herrera + Joyce.

I felt great. It took a lot of work, but I feel like I have set my team up for a strong push over the final two months.

As a postscript, I dodged a bullet when Diaz suffered a fractured thumb when hit by a pitch last Sunday. Dennis lost his new shortstop a day before he could even be activated on his new NL LABR team. I felt badly for Doug, but considered it may be the break I need to go all the way. We shall see.

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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