Articles of Configuration

Pros and Cons of the Low-Ball Offer PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 25 July 2015 00:00

This is the type of year when any of us, no matter how experienced we are, can benefit from useful tips on trading. No matter what we say, dispensing advice is easier than actually being able to execute it successfully. Challenges in pulling off deals are not fundamentally different in industry leagues than in local leagues. Diverse people with diverse approaches essentially guarantee that.

My story this week is about low-ball offers.

We’ve all seen them. Some live and die by them. Others consider them the fantasy equivalent of the plague.

As in most cases, I land somewhere in between the two extremes. I don’t make low-ball offers (at least on purpose), as I respect my peers too much for that. On the other end, I prefer not to burn bridges after receiving such inquiries, even if they are initially insulting.

Trying to improve my starting pitching in National League Tout Wars recently, I looked for potential trade partners who might value one of my stronger categories, on-base percentage, in return.

I contacted one of my peers, who has a good staff and is among the leaders in the pitching categories, asking about his two top starters. Surprisingly, he came back with an offer for his best pitcher, one of the hottest currently in the game. That was the good news.

The bad news was that his offer was essentially a four-for-one – my team’s best power source, a strong OBP contributor, a very good starting pitcher almost ready to come off the disabled list, plus free agent allocation dollars (FAAB).

The price seemed so rich that my initial reaction was to send an angry response. Instead, I sat on it for a day and eventually replied with a two-fold answer. First, I thanked him for responding. So many offers that disappear into the ether lead me to appreciate any replies received. Second, I said that we were so far off on a trade that I did not want to counter because I did not want to insult him.

Walking away was made easier since in the meantime, I had quickly found another trade partner in ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft. Unwilling to deal his top two starters, Cockcroft made his third, Jason Hammel, available. I offered one of the top shortstops statistically this season in Brandon Crawford in return.

Almost no one accepts a first offer, and Cockcroft was no exception. He countered by expanding the deal to a 2-for-2. The inclusion was a swap of pitchers tilted in his direction.

I replied by making that observation along with an assertion that the initial deal as proposed is fair to both teams, in terms of value and risk. He agreed and the deal was done.

The next day, league leader Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus, commented on Twitter about the trade. That led to a public dialogue between the three of us, which included our views of low-ball offers.

Here is a subset of the exchanges.

Cockcroft (@SultanofStat): Indeed, @B_Walton made a good opening offer. Big fan of that move. Sometimes the first pitch is the best pitch.

Gianella (@MikeGianella): I'm a big fan of starting with a fair offer. Life is too short.

Cockcroft: Builds good rapport with the trade partner for future dealings, too. If needs are cut and dry, no need to haggle.

Walton: Agreed. Had one incredibly one-sided offer from a peer. Didn't know how to counter without being equally insulting.

Cockcroft: I hear you. That's the pitfall of the opening lowball offer. Makes climbing out of said pit more challenging.

Gianella: if someone starts with a really poor offer, chances are good I won't respond.

That latter point is the only one with which I disagree. I respond to every e-mail, though as noted above, I let the ugly ones age longer than the others. My take is that I will play in leagues with these same owners over and over and I want to remain as positive as possible with all of them.

As it turns out, my lowball offerer came back and said that he would not be insulted by any proposal. That is not my style, but still serves as a good reminder that not everyone looks at these types of trade negotiations the same way.

We were still too far apart on my initial inquiry, but I decided to try again with a different angle. I went back to this same peer with a new proposal for a couple of much lesser deals, which he is apparently at least considering. Another downside of dealing with this particular individual is that he must read his e-mails about every third day – but communications methods will be the subject of another column down the road.

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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Sunday, 26 July 2015 17:54
Creative Use of FAAB Reclaim PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 18 July 2015 00:00

Now and then in this column, I actually touch on its intended purpose – to discuss interesting rules variations. Whether or not you use them in your leagues, you may come across some ideas to consider for the future.

One very topical area right now is free agent allocation budget (or FAAB) reclaim. As deployed in Tout Wars, the basics are as follows, taken from the league’s online constitution.

“If a player who was bought in the auction is placed on a major league disabled list, 7-day, 15-day or 60-day, his Tout Wars team may release him and ask his SWAT to add the player’s auction salary back to this year’s FAAB.”

(If you clicked on the above link to check out the Tout constitution, don’t mind all the red ink there. It isn’t all my blood spilled, though some of it probably is. The red text denotes changes made for the 2015 season. Even with a long-running group like Tout, the rules are continually kept fresh. So it should be in your leagues, too.)

Here is why the subject is pertinent now, especially in non-mixed leagues. Player reclaim values just dropped in half. Says the constitution…

“If the redemption occurs prior to Thursday 5 pm EDT of the All Star Break, the team may reclaim 100 percent of the player’s salary. If the transaction occurs after Thursday, 5 pm EDT of the All Star break, the team may reclaim 50 percent of the player’s salary.”

The timing works out well. Even though owners have to wait a week before re-using their FAAB, there is still time to build one’s cash reserves before the flurry of interleague trading creates some heated bidding wars. Per the league rules:

“FAAB units acquired in this manner cannot be used for bidding purposes until the following week’s transaction period.”

One of the National League owners, BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz, bought a very solid team at auction, but one that has since been badly bitten by the injury bug. Still, he was just 16 points out of a share of the lead at the All-Star break.

“I came out of the NL Tout draft lacking starting pitchers,” Hertz said. “As a result, I literally wasted half my budget before the season began acquiring starters (Trevor Cahill and David Buchanan) who were out of the rotation by May. Then I got hit with more serious injuries than I can remember before.”

San Diego’s Wil Myers went onto the disabled list in mid-June for the second time. The outfielder elected surgery to remove bone spurs in his wrist. An eight-week diagnosis meant a second-half August return at best. There would be no guarantee as recovery from wrist problems can be slow.

As a result, Hertz decided to reclaim his $16 paid for Myers.

Here is where it gets interesting. Back to the Tout constitution:

“If a DLed player is released in this manner, he will be placed back in the free agent pool and will be available for FAAB acquisition.”

With Father’s Day festivities taking my time, I missed a nice opportunity, but both Tristan H. Cockcroft and Peter Kreutzer noticed Myers on the waiver wire. The two were willing to take a week of zero stats in order to stash the outfielder on the DL starting the following period – until he comes back. Cockcroft made the more aggressive bid, $8, but only had to pay $2 to win. This move could pay off down the road, and even if not, the risk is minuscule.

Once Hertz noticed this, he decided to insert an extra step into the process when he lost another top contributor, Josh Harrison. Knowing he was assured of an $18 reclaim and suspecting another bidding war ahead when Harrison became a free agent, Hertz offered Harrison for sale himself first. Collectively, the league has considerable cash remaining, and sure enough, USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner landed Harrison for $20 FAAB sent to Hertz.

Down with a thumb ligament, Harrison is going to be out until at least late-August, giving Gardner a month of the infielder’s services at best. Still, compared to other alternatives, Gardner likes his move.

“The reason I was willing to do it is two-fold,” he explained. “First, I don’t have as much FAAB as several other owners in our league, so I’m far enough down in the pecking order that my chances of landing an impact player are slim. The second reason is that I don’t see a major influx of talent coming over from the AL at this year’s trade deadline anyway. There are maybe three AL teams you could consider ‘sellers’ at the deadline this year, compared to as many as eight in the NL.

“Getting Harrison for $20 (of my $65 remaining) is a good deal for me because I know he’ll play regularly when he comes off the disabled list, hopefully in another month. Plus, he qualifies at second base, third base and outfield,” Gardner said.

In other words, this has the early appearance of a win-win for both owners.

They say bad luck comes in threes. That seems the case for Hertz’ 2015 NL Tout squad. His third major bad-luck player, David Wright, originally cost $25. The rest of the league is apparently too wary of the third baseman’s back problems, officially spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column – to pay at least $26 to Hertz. As a result, Wright was cashed out.

Surprisingly, Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus made the only bid on the new free agent Wright this week and secured his services for a paltry $1.

In all three cases, Hertz decided to let others take the risk.

“In each of the three cuts, I was reacting not only to the length of time missed, but also to whether the injuries would impact the player when (if?) he returned,” Hertz said. “Information available indicated that performance would be significantly impacted when they were activated.”

In your leagues, if you haven’t considered FAAB reclaim, please do. However, before you jump in the water, also think through how and when they should be allowed.


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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 July 2015 08:45
Annual All-Star Aggravations PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 11 July 2015 00:00

I don’t want to be grumpy about Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, but I readily admit that I am.

No, this isn’t going to be another diatribe about the ridiculousness of the “this time, it counts” decision that is one of the bellwethers of the Bud Selig era. I do think it is incredibly stupid to tie home field advantage in the World Series to the results of an exhibition game, but I have yet to see an average fan who likes this idea. So there seems no reason to preach to this choir.

None of my individual All-Star concerns are big, but instead are a series of paper cuts that together, draw too much of my blood and ire.

The voting process: The good old days of sitting at the ballgame, punching out the perforated circles in the paper All-Star ballots have gone the way of Selig. In a process that generates millions and millions and millions of clicks to the website, the lords of the game decided all votes would be cast on-line.

By releasing interim voting results, MLB generates even more attention and subsequent increases in voting from fans eager to see their hometown heroes in the starting lineup.

It also leads to many trying to game the system.

The controversy of the interim American League lineup consisting of eight Kansas City Royals led to ridicule from some corners and cries from others to take the voting away from fans.

In protecting its baby, MLB made the unusual move of disclosing that it nullified 60-65 million ballots, or about 20 percent of the annual total, because it was determined the votes were made illegally.

Even so, the old rule of “one man, one vote” is completely meaningless in the world of MLB.

All-Star snubs: This is the stupidest term I can think of, yet it is increasingly overused each year when All-Star rosters are announced. Fans of literally every team play this card when one or more of their hometown favorites are passed over for the Mid-Summer Classic.

The implication is that the fan voters - or players or managers - purposely passed over their favorite player because of some unspoken prejudice. In reality, the whining usually has nothing to do with the comparative value of the players and everything to do with homerism.

With the possible exception of Alex Rodriguez, who very well may in fact be the victim of a 2015 snub, this just isn’t true. Some cannot deal with the fact that other teams have deserving players, too.

Speaking of A-Rod, I am going to take a sidestep and a short bow. I came into the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) draft last November with the express intent to secure the services of the Yankees star, who was coming off his year of suspension.

Throwing out his name relatively early in the draft at $5, not only did I receive crickets, as I had hoped, but I also had to absorb a number of snide remarks from my peers.

It looks like I am going to get the last laugh, though. Despite having been in a slump the last two weeks, as of July 9, the 39-year-old leads my team in four of the five offensive scoring categories – home runs (16), RBI (47), runs (45) and on-base percentage (.382).

A-Rod was not invited to this July’s Mid-Summer Classic – and did not even appear among The Final Vote nominees - almost certainly because of his high levels of PR-toxicity.

Speaking of which…

The Final Vote: One way MLB cleverly continues to draw attention (and millions more clicks) after the rosters are announced is to hold further voting for the final player on both the American and National League rosters from among a group of five from each league.

Unlike in the regular voting, there are no daily limits in the number of ballots per person that can be cast in The Final Vote process, creating a true free-for-all.

Teams go all out to draw attention to their nominees. Tactics include offering gifts to voters via drawings, teaming up with clubs in the other league to create a favored AL-NL ticket and incentivizing voters to spam Twitter with special hashtags, again with the allure of trinkets given to selected participants.

Never has there been such attention lavished on such a relatively insignificant act.

Final Vote snubs: Combining two of the above irritants leads me to The Final Vote ballots for 2015. Already mentioned is the obvious omission of Rodriguez. Further, this time around, pitchers and position players were thrown in together.

Among the NL five was Clayton Kershaw.

There is no doubt the three-time Cy Young Award winner and reigning National League Most Valuable Player is having a sub-standard 2015 season – by his lofty standards. Kershaw has “only” a 2.85 ERA to go with an MLB-leading total of 160 strikeouts.

This leads to my most irritating issue with the entire All-Star process – ignoring the second half of each season. Today’s process only considers the first halves with anything that happened after the prior year’s Classic through the end of that season completely ignored.

One of my to-dos each summer is to write a column listing who the All-Stars should be had full-year performances since the last game been considered. Every year, my friend Steve Gardner of USA TODAY beats me to the punch.

Not surprisingly, Gardner notes that from a statistical view, Kershaw leads the way for all NL pitchers from last All-Star Game until now. Relegating him to The Final Vote ballot is embarrassing, in my opinion.

It also doomed the lefty to miss the game since Los Angeles fans do not seem inclined to ballot stuff to the extent of those from the heartland. In the closing Final Vote results announced Friday evening, Kershaw finished a disappointing and unfair third of five behind Carlos Martinez of St. Louis and the Reds’ Johnny Cueto.

Now, that’s an All-Star snub if I have ever seen one! Whoops!

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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.


Last Updated on Saturday, 11 July 2015 09:07
Good Trade Idea Fails in Execution PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 04 July 2015 00:00

This isn’t about an earth-shaking trade that would have turned a league on its ear. In fact, it isn’t even about a deal that was actually executed. It is about a player exchange that never was – and likely never will be.

The reason it is being outlined here is to provide a reminder than making trades requires time, diligence and a bit of aggressiveness. And when you don’t have those elements working for you, you may end up with nothing other than wasted time tinged with frustration.

This past Monday, I received an unsolicited trade inquiry from a long-time industry friend. Our league is a 40-man keeper format with only monthly free agent moves. Because so many teams stockpile away multiple prospects in hopes for the future, when players are injured, some owners get caught with no MLB-eligible reserves in the time between when free agent acquisitions are allowed.

Such was the case for my friend, who needed a corner infielder when one of his starters unexpectedly hit the disabled list. Scanning league rosters, he noticed Kennys Vargas of the Twins among my reserves.

The designated hitter with first base eligibility had struggled early in the season, was sent down to the Minors to get his game back together and had recently returned to Minnesota.

I had acquired Vargas as my first pick in our league’s supplemental draft this spring, 11th overall. I needed a fill-in for Josh Hamilton at the time and Vargas was the best option available. He hasn’t done much for me, but with a $1 contract, Vargas represents a potential keeper for next season – if he steps up his performance, that is.

Here are the time stamps of our communication, which began late Monday morning. The weekly transaction deadline was 7:05 p.m. (I am not mentioning the other team, as I am not trying to point a finger at anyone.)

11:34 a.m., Him to me: “We're down a corner and see you have Kennys Vargas on reserve. Do we have something you would trade him for?”

I should have known this situation was doomed when the first e-mail did not identify which team had sent it. I only figured out who was asking when looking at the address when sending a reply.

Since I wasn’t even sure who was asking when I prepared my reply, I decided to come back with what I felt I needed from any prospective trade partner – pitching.

11:51 a.m., Me to him: “Which pitchers might be available? Another option might be a scrub going my way and a swap of picks next spring. As a point of reference, Vargas was my #1 pick this spring, late in the first round, so I am not going to give him away. He is a potential keeper at $6 next year."

I wanted to set the bar relatively high in terms of Vargas’ value, at least initially. It was an opening statement.

12:03 p.m., Him to me: “Totally understood on giving him away. For our part, we only have the hole for two weeks and aren't going anywhere this year, anyway, but we would trade the right pitcher, that is someone without a future on our team. Which ones work for you?”

“It's fine if you'd rather hold onto Vargas, too, but if you see a fit let me know."

I felt this reply was more lazy than cagey. Yes, my potential trade partner is not contending for the lead, but still, he is the one looking for a trade, so I thought he should be doing the leg work. How would I know which of the 18 pitchers on his roster might be available?

As a result, I decided to push him into putting some names on the table.

12:29 p.m., Me to him: “How about you throw out the names of those futureless pitchers and I will see if any catch my eye?”

At this point, the line went quiet. After over an hour had passed, I assumed my potential partner was looking elsewhere to make a deal or just lost interest.

If I was someone important, I would say that I was “out on assignment.” In reality, I had to disconnect from the internet to mow my six-inch high lawn, a job that generally takes a half-day with good conditions.

1:45 p.m., Him to me: (Listed the last names of six pitchers.)

I did not see this reply for about four hours, around 6:00 p.m.

It was an interesting group offered, not insulting at all. Two were among his nine active starting pitchers. Two were reserves, guys not throwing all that well currently, and two were name-brand pitchers currently on their team's disabled list. None were probably keepers, but he already said that coming in.

I knew one of the two DL’ed arms was very close to returning to active duty. While his performance was down compared to his peak, there was more upside there than with Vargas, in my opinion.

After a quick check, seeing that no other trades had been announced, I formally put up a trade offer on our team website, sending him Vargas in return for Pitcher X. With one click, he could accept the offer quickly.

6:32 p.m., Me to him: “Sorry, I had to go out for a few hours. If you are still interested, I will take a gamble on Pitcher X. I put up a trade in the trade center. If you are going in a different direction, no problem.”

With slightly more than a half-hour remaining until the roster deadline, nothing happened. This time, the four-hour delay was on his side of the failed deal.

10:57 p.m., Him to me: “I was out after about 6 p.m. so I didn't see this until just now. I don't think we can do it now until next Monday.”

"I would have accepted the trade earlier tonight, but will have to reevaluate come next weekend, just to see how the wind is blowing.”

“I'm sorry I missed it earlier.”

Again, this was not a huge trade. Good thing, since it failed. In my opinion, had we gotten down to specific names two e-mail exchanges earlier, the deal would have gotten done.

As it turned out, it was probably good for my aborted trade partner that the swap was not made. The Twins gave up on Vargas again a few days later, sending him back to the Minors a second time this season. It may take longer for him to earn another shot.

The veteran Pitcher x offered to me was in fact brought off the DL this week but did not do well in his first outing. I would not have activated him anyway, so I did not miss anything initially, either. Of course, the hurler could still improve down the road.

When everything is said and done, I cannot be too upset. After all, the Twins player called up to replace Vargas on their roster is none other than top prospect Miguel Sano. It just so happens the third baseman is on my team in this league.

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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 04 July 2015 09:20
Cardinals Make the Best of Red Sox Deals PDF Print E-mail
Articles of Configuration
Written by Brian Walton   
Saturday, 27 June 2015 00:00

I have no idea how the investigation of St. Louis Cardinals front office employees who illegally accessed the Houston Astros baseball operations database will conclude. I do know that the sparkling reputation of one of Major League Baseball’s most successful franchises has been tarnished, and especially St. Louis’ baseball ops organization, headed by general manager John Mozeliak.

That reputation had been earned through strong drafts, good player development, and smart player personnel decisions. This article will document several of the latter, made at the expense of the Boston Red Sox.

As I type this Friday evening, John Lackey is pitching in the seventh inning while holding the Chicago Cubs to two runs despite not having his best stuff. The 36-year-old came into the night doing what he has done his entire 13-year career - eat innings and deliver consistent results. In 2015, the right-hander has been pitching over 6 1/3 innings on average while logging a 3.41 ERA.

Just 11 months ago, Lackey was a member of the Boston Red Sox. With the Cardinals in need of a veteran starter down the stretch in 2014, they sent two younger players, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly, to the BoSox in return for Lackey and a minor leaguer.

Fast forward to today. Lackey is plugging along most Lackey-like, while Craig and Kelly are still teammates – but now with Triple-A Pawtucket.

Still, when the trade was announced, a sizeable segment of St. Louis fans were anguished. Saying goodbye to homegrown players stings badly for some, but especially in the case of Craig, the Cardinals’ move was brilliant.

Not far removed from two consecutive 90 RBI seasons but having lost his mojo apparently due to a foot injury, Craig had become a major liability. Batting .237 for the 2014 Cards, he was still due well over $30 million on his contract with no turnaround in fortune seemingly in sight.

As it turned out, the change in scenery did nothing to fix what ails Craig as he batted .128 for the Sox after the trade. This season, he was hitting .135 when taken off the 40-man roster and sent down.

A successful college reliever, Kelly was made a starter as a professional. Despite his mid-90s sinking fastball, Kelly has never been able to locate his pitches and miss enough bats consistently enough to excel. Yet with St. Louis, he often seemed to find a way to win.

When demoted this week, Kelly took heat from some corners due to his widely-quoted spring prediction that he would win the 2015 Cy Young Award. Knowing Kelly, it was likely a joke, but his 5.67 ERA in 14 starts is no laughing matter.

On the other hand, Lackey’s base 2015 salary is at the major league minimum level due to a clause in his Red Sox contract that kicked in when he missed the entire 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery.

Ironically, named to take Kelly’s place among the Boston starting five is Justin Masterson. The former Cleveland standout had also joined St. Louis at the same time as Lackey last summer, but after Masterson pitched ineffectively down the stretch, he was removed from the rotation and ultimately left off the postseason roster, As such, few were surprised when the Cardinals made no attempt to re-sign the 30-year-old for 2015.

In stepped the Red Sox, who are paying Masterson $9.5 million this season in return for an ERA that is even worse than Kelly’s, 6.37 in seven starts.

The Red Sox have multiple years of control of Kelly and Craig remaining, so they still could win the trade over the long haul. Further, unless the development of young starter Marco Gonzales stalls, the Cards could let Lackey walk this fall.

But in the here and now, in this series of moves in which the two clubs intersected, St. Louis pushed all the right buttons. Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, last-place Boston struggled into Friday with a 32-42 mark, while St. Louis has logged MLB’s best record at 48-24.

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 and Follow Brian on Twitter.

Last Updated on Saturday, 27 June 2015 10:28
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