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Saturday 1st Oct 2016

For some reason, I wound up in more football leagues than ever before this season: even more than those in which I play baseball. 

Football is a lot easier to manage than baseball in that there are games only once a week per team coupled with general roster limitations--such as size of roster, or max at a position one can even have on a roster, and this generally keeps things manageable. And in two leagues, things are oddly parallel, and yet nothing alike.

Both leagues--A SiriusXM Experts, and a SiriusXM Keeper--include pretty much the same humans, although my teams are as different in makeup and format as they are in record after two weeks. Both of these drafts were hosted by our good friends at Fantrax

In the Throwback league, ten players are active each week, including defense and a kicker, out of a 16-man roster, while in the Keeper league (just for the archivists, this too was a draft since this is the first year of the league), we start 11 a week with a 30-man roster.

It is interesting how similar my teams are in some ways yet different in others, but more to the point, my Throwback team is 2-0, while my Keeper team is 0-2.

Pos Throwback (2-0) Keeper (0-2)
 QB  Cam Newton/David Carr  David Carr/Tom Brady/Alex Smith
 RB  David Johnson/DeAndre Washington  David Johnson/Fozzy Whittaker
 RB Theo Riddick/Empty  Theo Riddick/Matt Asiata
 WR  Kelvin Benjamin/John Brown  Jermaine Kearse/Breshad Perriman/Gabriel Taylor
 WR Jarvis Landry /Pierre Garcon  Jarvis Landry/Seth Roberts/Eddie Royal
 WR Willie Snead/Markus Wheaton  Cameron Meredith/Andre Roberts/Cecil Shorts
 TE Richard Rodgers/Empty  Jason Witten/Jared Cook/Richard Rodgers
 FLX Bilal Powell/Empty  Bilal Powell/Marcel Reece
 PK  Steven Hauschka/Empty  Steven Hauschka/Mason Crosby
 DEF  Oakland Raiders/Pittsburgh Steelers  Oakland Raiders/Pittsburgh Steelers

I have to say the presence of Benjamin and Snead have made the major difference, but I am curious to see how the Keeper team evolves, where I had the prescience to draft both Whittaker and Asiata, who will now get some serious touches for a few weeks at least. But, more significant, my faith in Theo Riddick as a solid #2 in every league, for better or worse, has some real promise.

But, even though the squads are similar, where I drafted players varied a lot. In the Throwback league, Newton and Johnson were my first and second selections while in the Keeper league, Johnson and Landry were my top two picks. Further, I selected Carr in the fourth round in the Keeper set-up, and the seventh in the throwback, while the Raiders Defense was my last pick in both.

Naturally, the player pool in the Keeper league, where 12 teams each drafted 30, is pretty thin. The rule is we are each allowed to select five players in a draft following the NFL selections, and by Opening Day we will chop five names from the total of 35. And, we are allowed to trade the draft picks in advance of the next three years, which is a nice variable.

The thing, though, is I tried to go against the grain in the Throwback league, drafting Newton and Johnson, and then exploiting Wide Receiver, so the fact that I landed both Landry and Benjamin in a receiver dominated format is a little odd to me.

Then again, those players went that much sooner in the Keeper format where I did try to go young and draft to sort of win now, but more to build around a solid core, and maybe make trades depending upon the flow of this season and my success rate. And, surely I am thinking both Asiata and Whittaker will have some value to the teams that lost AP and Jonathan Stewart.

Additionally, I went three-deep at Quarterback, figuring someone in the Keeper league is going to need an arm due to a combo of bye weeks and injuries, so again, I have a serviceable signal caller and the potential to nab a couple of future draft selections as well.

Since this is the first Keeper league with this type of format in which I have played, I am trying to stay competitive, but also learn just how to rebuild in an Ultra Football league.

I will keep you posted.

 

As I have written often, the Dodgers were my baseball team as a kid.

I did grow up in Northern California, where the Giants had only played in San Francisco for a couple of years in 1959, when baseball caught my eye. It was the year the Dodgers beat the White Sox, although that did not have nearly as much to do with my identification with the team as did my notion to be different. Not that I meant to be contrary. I just always gravitated to the underdog/other side of whatever.

Since everyone else in my universe was a Giants fan, I took a fair amount of guff from my brother and his friends and even my friends, because I preferred Willie Davis and Maury Wills to Willie Mays and Jim Davenport.

As a picked on little brother, the smallest of the pack, I found my childhood consolation with music, movies, books, and then baseball, and the Dodgers were the leaders of the pack. The NL was a tight consortium in those days, with just eight teams, all loaded with one star or another. The Reds had Frank Robinson, the Pirates Clemente, the Cubs Banks, the Braves Aaron and Mathews, for example. And that meant any time we went to see a game, there were stars abounding.

But, the Dodgers, with Koufax and Drysdale, were so special to me during a time that was particularly tough all over, for the 60's were indeed that time of unrest, and they were also the years of my formative schooling. They were also the years, from 1963-1969, that I suffered the most from Crohn's disease. So those things, books like "The Catcher in the Rye," movies like "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," songs like "Please, Please Me," and the Bums having a good day were all of importance that was magnified to say a 12-year-old.

Many was the night I went to sleep, adjusting the clock radio that sat on my night table, pulling in a scratchy KFI, the Los Angeles flagship station that carried the Dodgers. And it was there I heard Scully, and his partner Jerry Doggett, wax on about Union 76 Oil and Farmer John's sausages between innings.

I remember the pain of the Dodgers collapse in 1962, and the blitz of the Yankees in 1963, victory over the Twins in 1965, and the thumping handed over by the Orioles in 1966, when girls and hippiedom entered my universe.

Of course, the common denominator of the Dodgers at the end of their days in Brooklyn, to their first days at Chavez Ravine, to the days of the Lopes, Garvey, Russell, Cey infield to the present is Scully, who is indeed retiring at the end of this season, at age 88, following 67 years of tracking Dodger Blue.

A few years back, when I was still chasing stats for MLB.com, I was walking out of the press dining room at ATT when I spotted Scully, perfectly attired in a blue flannel sport coat with charcoal gray slacks. He was leaning against a wall outside the door to the Dodgers radio room, talking on a cell phone. 

I had actually seen Scully in the dining room before games for a number of years, often even sharing meals with my friends like David Feldman and Michael Duca, who were Official Scorers. But, I was always too shy to ever want to crash their table and pay any respects.

But, with a good 40 minutes before first pitch, and the voice of the Dodgers right there, I waited till Vinny's call was finished.

I approached Scully, somewhat shyly, and he looked up and I told him just how important his voice and that team was to a sick kid, struggling to make sense of an increasingly crazy world. How I lived as a sole Dodger fan in the midst of Giants fanatics, and that I tuned him in on my radio at night to make me feel some kind of connection to something on the planet.

Vinny looked me right in the eye as I blurted all these incidentals to him, rambling for a minute or so, then sighing, and the voice of the Dodgers graciously took my hand and shook it, thanked me for sharing these details with him, finishing with "it's stories like these that validate my years of work."

It was all kind of surreal: the best voice in baseball thanking me for simply listening to and acknowledging him. 

It certainly made my day, and it is one of those moments I will treasure in my memories always.

Thank you Vinny, for being an anchor to a distraught kid during many years of uncertainty, and then validating the same kid, grown up, 50 years later with your kind words.

I will miss your voice, and spirit, but do enjoy your well deserved retirement!

 

A few years back, I was out eating dinner with my friends Michele and Leslie. We were going out to eat before heading off to see Yo La Tengo. The three of us wanted noodles, and the Japanese Center is right near the Fillmore. We picked one. There was a wait, however, so I sat down and put our name on a list while Michele and Leslie looked at the shops.

As soon as I sat down, I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket to check messages and play Words With Friends and essentialy kill the time waiting wherein I used to sit and think, or read a book (I always do have a book, but the iPhone is so damn tempting) and noticed the other handful of folks waiting were doing the same.

And that made me think about the time before our hand helds and smart phones, when there was no texting or e-mail and though we somehow survived, well, it is hard to imagine letting the phones go, no? 

I did start playing roto ball before I got a computer: you know, those old giant computers that were not half as powerful as our phones are now? Amazing. Actually, I have played or watched some form of baseball for as far back as I can remember. Made up games with baseball cards, the Cadaco spinner game, APBA, and Strat-O-Matic in the old days with cards (I still play Strat as most of you know).

And, before our phones got too sophisticated, I bought an XBOX trying to figure out baseball and football, but the game that caught us was the Simpsons Game, wherein Diane was Homer and I was Bart. And, as an aside, Diane is a wicked EGames player, having once beat an arcade Pac Man game and currently playing level 1236 at Candy Crush and 832 on Candy Crush Soda, levels I can only imagine.

That is because I generally use my phone to check scores and transactions and teams and play a few games, and though Candy Crush is one, I am hardly the player my mate is.

But, the other day, while surfing and looking at scores or something, a little trial for Tap Sports Baseball '16 which featured a hitter with the user simply trying to hit pitches for an inning. Of course I got nowhere, but I repeated the trial once, then again, and after the third time I somehow wound up downloading the app to my phone.

And, since that fateful download, I have played a total of 65 games (23-42) and I have to admit that Tap Sports Baseball is a pretty good distraction.

Within the game, you only hit: There is a pitcher, but the results of your time on the field is reported to you between at-bats. As with most such games, timing is everything, for if you can judge and time the pitch, you can hit.

The thing that makes Tap Baseball interesting is that you start with a crap team. As in real crap. My initial roster included Jacoby Ellsbury and a rookie Madison Bumgarner, with Stephen Drew as a power source, and then a bunch of dreck a la Jordan Pacheco, Allen Craig, Matt Harrison and Sean Nolan.

Players get star rankings, and aside from the threes Ellsbury and Bumgarner held, the rest of my guys were at best 1.5 stars, meaning not very good. So, if my team faced a three star pitcher, with my squad throwing a one star hurler out there, chances are my tail would be handed to me, and that indeed did occur for the first 20 or so games.

But, with goals, like hitting five doubles in a game, or scoring ten runs, you get points and gold (you can also buy these commodities via the Apple Store) and using these accomplishments, it is possible to upgrade, and thus improve your team. And, with said success, you climb league levels, something I am still awaiting having just started climbing the amateur ranks of the game.

It takes about ten minutes or so to play (and you can pause, and leave the app, and the game will auto save) and, well, once you get started.

I have taken some lumps, as the 42 losses suggest, but ten of my wins have come over my last 12 games. Odder, I have a sudden attachment to Drew (who has hit 33 homers), Ellsbury (who is hitting .297-12-37 with 52 runs scored and 17 steals) and even the guys who seemed like useless toadies such as Christhian Adames (my shortstop) and Zach Walters have worked into a soft spot in my heart.

Of course, since I have been improving and gaining points, the face of my team has improved. I now have Kendall Graveman (three stars!) as one of my starters, and Cesar Hernandez is killing for me at third base. I have some gold savings and a lot of points from winning little low level tourneys.

But, uh, well, I am kind of into it and well, it is a pretty fun time and game and well, if you are reading this, you too probably love baseball and its variations. So, I am just saying.

I mean, I know, I can delete the app any time I like. Right?

One of the tougher leagues in which I play is the Strat-O-Matic "Summer League of Champions" (SLOC) league, curated by the ever venerable Larry Denicola in a setup that includes 24 total participants.

Using the great Strat format, SLOC allows a throw back draft every three years which allows teams to build a basic roster using the Strat Hall of Fame set. From there, each year we pick a season to exploit and the Hall of Fame set is augmented by the players and rosters for a particular year (for this season, the chosen year was 1948).

So, we keep our Hall of Famers for three seasons, and then redraft from the specific season each year, and play it out. It is important to note that players like Dwight Evans and Orel Hershiser--excellent players who fell short of actual HOF status--are included within the HOF set, and the league does have fairly tight usage rules. That is, players can only play in the assigned position, and there are penalties for overuse of a specific player.

Well, I have struggled over my three years in the league, trying to balance defense and speed and power and pitching. But the longer I play, the clearer I am that pitching doesn't help that much when Bob Gibson goes 8-18, 4.94 and David Wells 8-10, 5.71. So, next season that means I will look more to hitting than pitching.

But, if I ever wondered how much difference it makes for a very good team to match up against a great team, this lesson was drilled in this final month of our season when I played eight home games and went a sad 1-7.

Because I got knocked out of the playoff picture by mid-season, I used the bulk of my starters like Ozzie Smith and Ed Delahanty and Eddie Murray up until our September play, and then subbed out said stars for the likes of Howard Johnson (Strat-O-Matic averages stats over three-year periods in HOF-type contests, so Johnon's numbers reflect a .255-25-80 season), Bobby Brown (.300-3-48 with a .383 OBP) and Birdie Tebbetts (.280-5-68 with a .371 OBP) over the likes of Ron Santo, Frankie Frisch, and Bill Dickey.

In just about any Strat or sim matchup, Tebbetts, Brown, and HoJo would be excellent bench support, but in a league that features Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson as the top arms, and where guys like Frank Chance can simply kill your squad whether Nolan Ryan or Webster McDonald is hurling is the norm, not the exception.

That does indeed make things very tight, but also, I have found, very depressing. For, in a league where indeed the toughest three outs are those in the ninth, where a seven-run lead is nothing to feel safe about, and where Rogers Hornsby and Dave Parker can easily come off the bench and bounce a pitcher around, this is the way of things.

I can indeed adjust next year, where I will freeze Gibson and Hershiser and McDonald (if you do not know him, he is a great reliever in such a setting), focusing first on hitters, then pitchers. And, ideally, some success will follow and I can sub the likes of HoJo for Santo once a week to spread out the usage impact.

But, even with that, it was shocking this year during my final round of games to see that for the most part, my team never stood a chance with a contingent of very good and respectable players trying to stay on equal footing with Hall of Famers.

I suppose this was much like the old winter barnstorming days when American All-Star teams would tour Japan and win 19 of 21 games, for the one game I salvaged this time was a close one where Nolan Ryan held our opponents to just two runs, and Mr. Johnson belted a two-run jack in the eighth to give me a lead that McDonald successfully protected.

However, I feel sure had Johnson hit his dinger in the sixth, that game too would have fallen by the wayside as the late-inning pressure and players would have dropped my Berkeley Radicals onto the losing end of the scoresheet.

Mind you, I am not complaining. Fantasy and Sim games are good fun, and for me they are an opportunity not just to play a game, and a baseball game at that. But they also afford a chance to play out situations and see just how the hits and strikeouts fall, and which side of the diamond said stats live by the last out.

I frequently like to advise fantasy players to try a lot of formats and styles of play, for what we learn in one league can often help us learn what to do in another seemingly different league (remember, the league might be different, but the game of baseball remains a constant).

So, I can only suggest you have at it. After all, games are fun! And baseball games are the most.

Any of you watch the Matt Moore just about no-hitter on Thursday night, when Moore came within an out of tossing that all elusive hitless game?

Before you get too excited and trade for Moore with an eye on a title or looking for an ace next year, remember that going into Thursday's start, Moore was 0-3, 4.69 over four starts and 23 innings over which he managed a decent 22 whiffs to go with an indecent 1.52 WHIP.

To get to two outs in the ninth, Moore needed 133 pitches while walking three and striking out seven. I did watch the final five innings of the game and Moore was spotting his curve well, but he was similarly making good pitches at the right time, something that usually indicates a good pitcher who knows what he is doing.

I do remember how in love with Moore we all were when he arrived in 2012, but unfortunately his pitching line has not been much better than that of another tantalizing-then-disappointing Florida prospect, Jeremy Hermida. Ineffectiveness and injury made Moore expendable, and the Giants, in desperate straights for arms, bit on the 27-year old.

And, while I don't want to knock Moore while on a high, who remembers that Chris Heston hurled a no-no last year and now is buried in the minors? Or, who remembers Mike Warren, who tossed a no-no for the Athletics September 29, 1983--before pitch counts were logged--and wound up 3-0, 4.11 that year completing his career at 9-13, 5.06 over 27 starts?

I was in the crowd first when Jose Jimenez blanked the Astros on 101 pitches and no-hits (Randy Johnson faced him, allowing just one) on June 25, 1999, when he finished the year 5-14, 5.85 finishing 24-44, 4.92 over 521.3 frames. And, I was in the press box scoring for MLB.com on May 9, 2010 when Dallas Braden needed 109 pitches for a perfecto, but again, poor Braden was injured and completed his career 26-36, 4.19 over 491.3 frames.

The diciest no-no, though, I think must belong to Tim Lincecum, whose 2013 no-no against the Padres took 148 pitches, probably takes the cake (Lord Z made a compelling case for Johan Santana, BTW), with Lincecum sadly on the down side of what was such a promising and fun career.

But, at least in that game, Lincecum whiffed 13 compared to Moore's seven. The thing about Moore's game was that he was hittable: Sadly, all the Giants hurler's pitches seemed a lot fatter over this series with the now front running Dodgers than when the season began.

I think the main issue, however, is that irrespective of the end result, the no-hitter Jake Arrieta twirled at the end of last season was a completely different animal than the nickel-and-dime nibble affair Moore delivered yesterday (and again,  Moore lost his bid with two out in the ninth on a squib hit by Corey Seager) when the pitch count lost to the single and Moore delivered his last pitch in what would have been.

It is easy to get excited, as noted, when a guy like Moore tosses a solid game and even better, boosts our totals late in the season giving us hope. Just try not to confuse the hope of Moore's game with the general excellence of a pitcher like Arrieta, who is good game after game, and excels within that construct, as opposed to Moore, who is iffy game after game, and managed to assemble 130 good pitches (14 more than his previous season high) and give us an evening's worth of excitement.

In 1957, Nevil Shute penned a novel called On the Beach about a post-apocalyptic world that became a film starring Gregory Peck. In 1974, Neil Young released his fifth studio album, also entitled On the Beach, this time covering the insanity following his break with Carrie Snodgress, the death of Crazy Horse mate Danny Whitten, and the angst of a country finally extricating itself from the insane Vietnam conflict.

Later today, probably around the third inning of the Saturday games starting at 1:00 pm, Pacific Time, my best friend Diane Walsh and I are going to be married on the sands of Stinson Beach, a lovely teeny little town just outside of San Francisco.

If you have followed my adventures here at Mastersball (nee CREATiVESPORTS) over the past 20 years, you have certainly seen the strange path of my life, then as my partner Cathy Hedgecock went from vital to suffering from the breast cancer that took her from us in 2005 at the age of 44. Six months later, my son Joey passed away at the age of 22, and though both my family members were ill for many years, I have to admit, after the pair left this planet, I went through arguably the darkest time of my life. 

Through all this, I made my main living working as a Project Manager for ATT, and in 2002, when in Chicago for company business, Diane and I met and began a working relationship, she as a vendor liasion, me as the manager of the interface the vendors accessed to process DSL orders.

Diane had dogs, and was a bright and fun person to manage teleconferences with, and though we started as colleagues, we became good friends and she was among the kindest and most supportive within my circle when Cathy, and then Joey passed away, even though we had met face-to-face just once, and I did not even remember her from the first meeting.

Just after Cathy left us, in July 2005, Diane found herself in New Orleans, as a member of the Illinois Doberman Rescue, pulling pets out of flooded and destroyed homes in an effort that changed both of our lives. For Diane, who had been a Director at ATT, and worked at the company for 27 years, the rescue lit a flame under her to seek some other occupation through the remainder of her working days.

For me, though I liked Diane as a friend, it showed me a depth of character that ran way beyond what I had previously experienced in our discussions. 

Diane, who has certainly travelled the world some having visited the Carribean, the Amazon, Alaska, and a chunk of the eastern seaboard, had never really been to California, and as our friendship deepened, a couple of years following the passing of Cathy, I innocently invited Diane to California.

"I have a guest room" I reassured her, adding that "I had just bought a house by Lake Tahoe. We could go there, we could go to the wine country, to San Francisco, and all over the beautiful haunts I knew in Northern California."

We discussed this over and over, and finally, as I was in New York for Tout Wars in 2007, Diane made a plane reservation to the Bay Area, and as we anticipated her arrival in late May, we suddenly realized that maybe we "liked" one another.

Diane's visit kicked off four years of long distance relationship for the two of us whereby she got to know the Bay Area, and I got to know northwestern Chicago, and though I kept working at ATT, Diane retired with all of her benefits, and began working on an AA at Harper College. Two years later, Di finished her tenure at Harper, applied to UC Davis, and amazingly got into the school as a 53-year-old Junior.

Since my home in El Cerrito was just 50 miles from Davis, and Amtrak had a station at the University, we decided it was time to put our relationship to the test, and Diane sold her home in Algonquin, packed up her four cats (her German Shepherd, Mahi, actually rode across country with us the previous summer, and he just stayed in the Bay Area in anticipation of Diane relocating the following year) and moved in with me for good.

We settled in, and I retired from ATT, allowing me to focus on writing here at Mastersball, while writing some ficiton and playing a lot of golf, and Diane did indeed graduate from Davis with a degree in Animal Biology and began a business--Endless Pawsibilities--and things moved along swimmingly.

We became registered Domestic Partners in California, allowing us to access one another's health care and such personal information, and though marriage came up a couple of times, we had both been there before, and simply felt no compelling need to officially formalize much of anything.

But, since Diane had graduated, friends suggested I throw a graduation party for Diane, and since her best friends, Cherie Dudek (from Chicago) and Dee Dee Huebner (living in Fairbanks, getting a PhD there) were coming out in August for a girls week in the mountains and at the beach, I figured I would arrange the soiree for when Diane's pals were out here.

In the interim, Diane and I went to New York for the FSTA Summer Conference, and I thought Di would like a nice fancy dinner one night, so I made reservations at Tavern on the Green, and then decided that she might like a carriage ride through Central Park after dinner. I am not sure why, but I then thought as long as we were doing something romantic, I might as well see if Diane wanted to get married, targeting the August 20 date when we would be partying anyway, and with her best friends in our neighborhood.

So, at 2 pm, today, Diane and I are getting married on the beach at Stinson, with a cluster of our closest friends surrounding us at one of the most beautiful spots in the area.

It is hardly Nevil Shute, nor even Neil Young, but I think we are both sort of happy with how things have worked out: moving from colleagues to friends, to partners, to best friends, to ideally married best friends.

Weddings and all the trappings is a stressful process, and though we have tried to keep the process low-key, we both reasoned that this is a bigger deal than we wish to admit, so we are both simply trying to go with the flow and enjoy the ride.

Neither of us expects much to change, for we have known one another for 15 years now, and been a couple for nine, but I think we are indeed both happy with the path life has tossed our way. 

For every moment of every day is the best of adventures for us. This act just enhances the storyline.

This is indeed such a fun time of the fantasy baseball season if your team is in the hunt for those of us who love the season-long contests.

In my two most visible leagues--AL LABR and AL Tout--my squads are sitting pretty much where I love them to be this time of year, with my Tout Team in fourth, 12 points behind Seth Trachtman, while my LABR team rests in fifth, albeit with a much larger gap of 30 points to make up.

For certain, in Tout, the points are right there for me to grab and all I need is for my team to really get hot, something as a squad they have really not done all year.

But, my team is finally healthy on offense, and if David Price and Craig Kimbrel can simply buckle down through the stretch, and with Devon Travis now batting leadoff, if he and Ketel Marte can steal some bases, we should be right there down to the wire.

The big issue with that team is I drafted pitcher heavy, grabbing Sonny Gray along with Price to anchor my staff, but $25 spent on Gray seems to pretty much be down the crapper which is the strategy let down. That is because part of my plan in obtaining the two big arms was anticipating swapping one arm for whatever I might need down the stretch.

Oddly, while in Tout, my team seems solid enough to hold on through the end of the festivities, in LABR, though the points are there, injuries and unrealized power have been my enemies.

In the past, when my teams have actually won such extravaganzas, the Tout plan worked well as I made big swaps--one involving then closer Keith Foulke, and another sending off CC Sabathia, both for hitting--that indeed spelled a pennant for my teams.

So, in LABR, I did manage the big swap with Rick Wolf and Glenn Colton, trading off Chris Sale in exchange for Edwin Encarnacion in a league where my team is among the leaders in pitching, but lackluster in power numbers.

Ideally, Steven Wright, Marco Estrada, Matt Shoemaker and Hector Santiago as a core can keep my innings and strikeouts atop the heap while Encarnacion just helps push five points in runs, homers and RBI, which makes up half the deficit. Wins, steals and average hold the key to the remaining points that might help me catch Larry Schechter's team.

If you are in a similar situation, and have the surplus to swap, irrespective of type of league or format, whether it is a throw back or keeper setup--then give serious thought to what you need to let go of and what you need to get to win.

For example, in the XFL, which is indeed the toughest of my roto-style leagues, I am out of it. But, I offered Zack Greinke, Roberto Osuna, Kyle Seager and Angel Pagan to another owner for Wil Myers and Christian Yelich in a deal that never did consumate. This was a keeper format, and I was essentially dump trading stars for cheaper stars with upside. 

And, the reason the deal did work was not so much because of the players involved, but due to salary cap considerations.

However, the bottom line is that life does imitate art, and while the Majors were juggling players at the deadline, dump trades now offer the same opportunity for you to either get the players who will help you win, or on the other end, get the players who can get you there next year.

In essence, this is not a game for the sentimental. An owner who has his or her eye on the title, and not who to keep in 2017, will more than often wear the victory wreath.

Over the past weeks, I have written about mocks and actual drafts along with playing different varations of fantasy games. Nothing gives us a better feel for the player pool and respect--or lack thereof--players receive, and varying the formats often gives insight to tactics in all fantasy formats than does participating in mocks.

Since I have been playing Fantasy Football, I have played in a number of two-QB leagues where at best one can play a Quarterback at Flex, and at worst where we have to start a pair of signal callers each week.

This is a tougher challenge than it might seem, for in a 12-team league, when we consider bye weeks, it means that 36 Quarterbacks are required for every team to have the slot filled every week to maximum efficiency. 

Similarly, the closer we get to the actual 2016 draft season, the less comfortable I am becoming with loading up on Wide Receivers in the first few rounds. Although I do want to grab a couple of good pass catchers as soon as I can, I am still happy to grab a top Quarterback or Running Back amidst the first four rounds, depending upon who I can nab and my position in the draft.

In just a regular league, with 12 teams, grabbing Aaron Rodgers or Cam Newton by the third round simply makes sense, as suggested before. Last year, for example, Newton logged 373 fantasy points while Rodgers bagged 286 according to ESPN's scoring system. By the same token, #1 ranked Antonio Brown scored 243 and Odell Beckham Jr.'s 242 make him the #2 draft selection. All four players are projected to put up a similar number of points this coming season, yet Newton is ranked #35 while Rodgers is #49.

Huh?

Let me make sure I get this: The guys who touch the ball virtually every down, and who generally land 75-100 more points a season are ranked that many slots lower? This, I do not get.

To me, drafting Newton in the first round is like drafting David Johnson in football, or perhaps Clayton Kershaw in baseball in that you are simply looking at the best possible producer period, irrespective of position. In other words, the hell with scarcity.

But, in a league where we can use--or more strictly must play--a second signal caller, if points are the name of the game, it makes total sense to draft two top players at the spot as soon as is reasonable, for in such a league, a combination of Alex Smith and Russell Wilson can be deadly and in general more predictive than Antonio Brown and Tyler Lockett.

To further the equation, if you are indeed drafting in a format where you must play a pair of Quarterbacks weekly, grab a top one right away, a second within the fourth round, a third by the sixth, and if you can, a fourth.

This might sound insane, but I can promise you even three in the wake of injuries and byes can leave your team thin.

But, more important, the faster you empty that pool (remember that there is an actual scarcity at the position when you play two with 12 teams), suddenly in the middle of the draft your opponents will be scrambling for a QB and you can pick over receivers and running backs while your leaguemates are settling for Josh McCown.

Additionally, once the season begins, those teams either without a third QB, or worse, a squad suffering an injury at the helm, will be happy to swap for your surplus.

Finally, you might need the fourth arm in the event of an injury to your squad.

Draft day is big fun, and it also sets the tone for your season. It is also a time to be deliberate in our moves and selections, and simply going by ADP or fashion does not always bring a championship. And, well, if I can get Cam in the first round, and Lockett in the fifth, what I stick in between those rounds should be good enough to make me competitive, and out of the draft, that is all I can hope for.

By the way, if you are in a deep Dynasty format, grabbing the fourth QB there is similarly not a bad idea.

 

I have written often, and for as long as I have been playing fantasy games, that I think playing a lot of variations of the game(s) that tickle your fancy is a smart move.

For example, I play in a couple of AL-only leagues, in a 15-team mixed dynasty contest, as well as Scoresheet and Strat-O-Matic, and then DFS games. Strat-O-Matic, being a sim, and Scoresheet are wildly different in structure from the traditional rotoball, and DFS is a subset of that classic game that started all this lunacy. 

Though it is a bit tricky at first, navigating around and between different formats of the same basic game, I liken Fantasy Ball to Poker in that the cards/game is the same, but how the players/cards are exploited differs from parameters to parameters.

Supporting this, I have long written that though I started my Roto Ball journey playing Strat-O-Matic in 1978, it is through that game that I learned to appreciate both WHIP--which was not even a recognized statistic in those days--and OBP, and both those numbers govern a lot of my play today.

But, as with changes in our games, like moving from 4x4 to 5x5, or dropping AVG in favor of OBP, playing one variation over another expands our vision. Ideally, it allows us to see things in all formats we might not have ordinarily spotted.

Over the last couple of weeks, I participated in both a 2017 Mock (which I wrote about last Saturday) and now I am in the midst of a 2016 Dynasty Football Draft that includes two leagues, with 15 teams each, and will boast a roster of 30 players per team. Both of these draft formats are new to me.

Drafting from scratch is always a dicey prospect, whether you are in a year-to-year throw back league, or speculating for Opening Day next year when we are barely halfway through the 2016 season.

Does that mean J.A. Happ is a pick worthy of the third round or better, or that Aaron Rodgers slips to the later rounds because as good as he is, the Packers signal caller has a shorter shelf life than does Teddy Bridgewater?

The answer is I am not sure, but in contrast, who among us felt that Happ was worth more than a look in all but the deepest of formats?

 As with most of these speculative and also often rhetorical questions, we don't ever really know the truth until the respective season is over, but participating in these two new set-ups has made me really think about who has value now, who will have value in six months and who will in six seasons.

Of course, one of the things I try to balance is knowing that Tyrod Taylor might indeed be a killer QB in two or three years, but in the meantime, Rodgers will probably be better. So, if I want to compete, do I draft Rodgers now and stash a Jared Goff hoping that by the time Rodgers is nearing the end, Goff will be moving into his peak years?

Similarly, does A.J. Pollock, as a ninth rounder for 2017, become a steal? Or was he already a quasi one-year wonder, and rounds nine through 11 is the logical home for a guy who might hit .280-11-70 with 15 swipes?

Once again, if any of us actually knew these answers, things like the lottery would be a cakewalk. But, in drafting now for next year, I do have an idea of not just how my fellow drafters view Happ and Pollock at this moment in time and space, but the exercise gives us all a chance to see where players we favor might fall, or be sniped out from under our respective noses.

It is well documented that I am not a huge fan of ADP, save it gives me a skeletel idea of how ideally my fellow drafters rate a Pollock. But, when I draft, I try to ignore such external noise, as it feels to me like I am building a team to produce a set of stats according to those parameters noted.

That means it is the stats I am drafting, rather than the player, and any exercise that I can embrace that helps me assemble a roster of those best possible stats should theoretically make me a better player.

It is difficult for many of us to move out of our comfort zone, but that is what playing in many leagues with many formats can bring to us.

So, if the opportunity arises to play a game that seems out of the box for you, try to let go of preconceived notions and run to the differences, not from them. 

Your stats will thank you. So will your teams.

We are in the midst of the mock draft season, full on. But for the most part, that means football. However, last Monday, Tim McLeod, who among other things writes for our friends at Pattonandco, invited me to do a 2017 baseball mock, which was curated by yet more of our mates at Couch Manager.

It might seem like drafting a 23-man team for next year mid-season prior to the next Opening Day would be a piece of cake, but we were all surprised by how really hard the decision process for picks was. And, the exercise was fun and interesting and you can see the draft and results here.

As for me, I drafted in the 13-hole in a 15-team, 5x5 setup, and here are the results.

1.13  Starling Marte: Power and speed and getting better.

2.3  Chris Sale: Best pitcher in the American League.

3.13  Christian Yelich: Not unlike Marte, but younger.

4.3  Yoenis Cespedes: I think he is as good and productive as Giancarlo Stanton, so a fourth-round pick is a steal.

5.13  Jason Kipnis: More power and speed up the middle.

6.3  Nick Castellanos: At .295-17-52, I think the 24-year-old slugger has arrived.

7.13  Brandon Crawford: 61 RBI to date means Crawford's hitting prowess is real.

8.3  Kole Calhoun: Cannot believe Calhoun, who at worst is proving himself to be consistent, was still out there. 

9.13  Steven Wright: OK, who saw this coming? But, the guy seems to be good, and knuckleballers get whiffs and rarely hurt their arms.

10.3  Kenta Maeda: Another guy who I could not imagine in my rotation, but the numbers are good. (The fact is all my hurlers after Sale are kind of like that.)

11.13  Tanner Roark: More of the same, but I have always liked Roark and hoped last year was a bump. Ideally, this year proves that so.

12.3  Stephen Vogt: Dude can hit, and he is more than likeable as a person, too.

13.13  Jeff Samardzija: If the Shark can replicate his 2016, that will be fine.

14.3  CJ Cron: I think Cron was just getting into his "I belong here" groove when he got hurt (he was hitting .364-5-17 for the month when he got hurt).

15.13  Danny Valencia: Nice steady hitter who seems to have found a home.

16.3  Hector Santiago: Another strikeout arm who I think is mastering his craft and will get better.

17.13  Alcides Escobar: Just fine with ok average and swipes up the middle.

18.3  Yordano Ventura: Last starter, again one I am hoping takes a step up.

19.13  Joc Pederson: What the? OK, I can crapshoot on Pederson this late.

20.3  Yadier Molina: I worry about durability, but Yady can indeed hit and I do have a pair of starting catchers.

21.13  Kevin Pillar: My Utility spot gets filled by Pillar? OK with moi.

22.3  Hunter Strickland: I am gambling the next Giants closer is Hunter.

23.13  Ryan Dull: And the next Athletics closer as well.

Questions? Concerns? Thoughts? It was a weird draft, so feel free. And, don't forget you can get me @lawrmichaels.

 

I've never done a marathon as a runner, though I did a half once, and it took a week for my body to recover from the pounding. And, that was after plenty of regular running and training.

So, here we are. The second half has begun, starting that part of the baseball season marathon that makes the season so tough as we head into the Dog Days, which got its name because the dog star, Sirius, hangs on the horizon at night from August into September.

It is a hot lazy time: one when a lot of us go on vacation, and truth for me is once we go away, my schedule and routine are blown and I tend to forget to set rosters and make moves. Add in if we change time zones, then I am really in trouble.

Similarly, it is tough because football is looming and mocks and preparation are all over the place, so keeping that focus on your fantasy baseball team is a challenge.

On the other hand, with the Rule 4 Amateur Draft just a month behind us, there are shiny free agent prospects waiting to be gobbled up and placed on our ultra rosters. And, with the trade deadline looming, there is a potential influx of promising players in AL and NL-only formats to whet our appetites.

Just within the pre-All Star cycle, Aaron Hill and Brad Ziegler made their way to the American League, and now Drew Pomeranz joins the collective. There are rumors of Josh Reddick and Rich Hill going to the Dodgers, and Yasiel Puig moving to the Athletics, making for even more FAAB speculation.

That means there is the possibility for hope for most teams despite half the season being gone. But perhaps that is the beauty of not just baseball and fantasy games, but games--for baseball is just as much a game as is fantasy--are fun.

I play Words With Friends and Hanging With Friends on my iPhone, and I still have the Candy Crush Soda app on my phone, even though I have mostly become bored with the game. Diane is a genius at said game, and is somewhere around the 800th level after getting near 1000 in plain old original Candy Crush. (Diane also beat an original Pac Man arcade game back in the 70's when that game was as hot as Pokemon Go seems to be today.)

The truth is we all love playing games of one kind or another it seems. My friend Mark favors Go as a board game and when his reflexes were younger, tennis and softball. Now he plays hoops once a week. Diane likes the vids, but she does not really like spectator sports; however, she loves hiking with the dogs and riding her bike all afternoon, not to mention her time as a gym rat.

My pal Stephen swims and plays strategy and tactics games. My music mate Jeremy Steinkoler plays the drums for a living, but goes seriously after golf and archery along with playing in a couple of fantasy football leagues with me.

I am not sure what the allure of games and competition is, but the desire to play and come out on top seems to be both very old, and pretty much in our DNA since long ago.

The Greeks, after all, began the Olympics, and the Romans, I guess ironically, referred to their chariot races and gladiator combats as "games." Chess is thought to be 1500 years old, but Go is anywhere between 2500 and 4000 years of age.

There are those who scoff at fantasy games, even though the realm of fantasy's tentacles touches all of us one way or another, no matter what game or sport or even hobby one has. 

After playing golf with my "senior" group with whom I play every Tuesday and Thursday morning, there is a cluster of us who go out to lunch and discuss god and life and golf and sports and politics and stuff while stuffing our beaks and relating how much fun being retired really is (and how lucky we all are to be able to enjoy it).

All of the guys know I am tied to the Fantasy industry, and the notion of whether the game is gambling or not always seems to come up. Personally, I suppose it is if one is betting money, but similarly, though luck plays a factor, fantasy games are certainly games that take a knowledge of the game and players, as well as being able to abstract which players might indeed perform well enough to comprise a solid roster. So, in that sense, skill becomes a factor.

But, I try to shy from all of that. For me, simply getting up each day is a miracle, and surviving 24 hours without airplane tires falling out of the sky and crushing me, or cars smashing me, or errant golf balls striking me, is just as much luck as anything else on the planet.

I made this case to my golf mates, just as I would anyone, including you, dear readers. 

But, the bottom line is we like to play games because they challenge our brains and bodies, and they are fun. Especially when we win. And that is what I am trying to convey to my golf mates. That is what I try to convey to everyone.

And, after all, all those guys already play golf.

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