I had the pleasure of getting to know Jeff Luhnow during his years running the draft and the farm system of the St. Louis Cardinals. While I admire him greatly and would love to have his current position as a major league general manager (After all, who wouldn’t? Isn’t the desire to be a GM why we play this game?), Luhnow’s challenge is unenviable.
As everyone reading this probably knows, the Houston Astros team Jeff inherited prior to the 2012 season was a non-contender. In fact, it was the worst in the game in 2011. Perhaps even more painful was that it appeared that little of any impact help was on its way through the farm system.
Luhnow’s bold strategy was to blow up the Astros, flipping most of the best veteran major league talent for prospects. A string of last-place finishes meant a gaggle of number one draft picks ensued as well.
Because of the string of futility, the GM was given some rope by a number of frustrated Astros fans. Though respectability is still ahead, top prospect George Springer has reached the bigs with many others expected to come up behind soon.
Since the Astros had pretty much hit bottom and Luhnow inherited the mess, he may not have felt as much personal angst over making the tough decision to rebuild. There, I said it!
I have played fantasy baseball for…a long time now…and have never given up. In the case of a re-draft league, that is hardly a noteworthy comment. However, in the case of a keeper league such as the Xperts Fantasy League, it is another matter entirely.
2014 marks my 10th year in the XFL and I have yet to admit defeat by pulling a Luhnow – dumping my top contributors in return for younger, cheaper future keepers – until now.
You don’t need to look at the calendar to realize we haven’t even yet hit Memorial Day. As you well know, as we pass the holiday marking the opening of summer, it is the customary time to take stock of one’s team.
Instead, I am already pretty much done dealing. It happened all within a 48-hour period. Before getting into the details, a bit of background, though.
If I graphed my history in the 15-team XFL, it would track pretty closely to a traditional bell curve. A couple of early 10th place finishes were left behind, as I enjoyed four years of serious contention in 2008-2011. Going for a title, I dumped a number of my prospects, but unfortunately, my best placement was a very close third.
The last two years, I skidded to eighth and then 14th. Whether I wanted to admit it or not, my pitching anchors, Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright, were getting too expensive to keep, requiring almost $60 of my $260, and the next generation was weak in comparison.
Though I was in last place in mid-May 2014, I wasn’t overly concerned. Certainly, I was not in a hurry to take action, but my competitors felt otherwise.
It seems like each year, the XFL dumpers make their moves earlier and earlier.
By the time I made the difficult decision to join in, here are some of the players to have changed teams in a gaggle of trades in the few days heading into last weekend:
Veterans – Ian Kinsler, Pablo Sandoval, Prince Fielder, Adam Jones, Joe Nathan, Troy Tulowitzki, Brett Gardner.
Prospects – Alex Meyer, Marcus Stroman, Garin Cecchini, Dominic Smith, Gregory Polanco, Miguel Gonzalez.
Watching all this unfold, I knew in my heart that I had to jump into the fray and do it quickly. The pump had been primed and it was my turn to drink. Contenders were analyzing the moves made by their peers and several felt they needed to respond.
The final spark was an innocuous inquiry from 2011 and 2012 league champion Don Drooker. Donald’s Dux already took me on a trade in which I received Josh Hamilton for Starlin Castro and wanted more. In this case, it was speed in the name of Ben Revere. Knowing my interest in the Cardinals, he offered St. Louis pitching prospect Alex Reyes, still cutting his teeth in Low-A.
Revere, whom I had purchased for $15 in the November draft, was not part of my future plans. Yet, he wasn’t going to bring enough in trade to improve my long-term health, so I went bold. I asked Drook what it would take to get Matt Harvey.
I had decided my best approach was to acquire a handful of top players, some of the very best. I already had eight prospects on my 40-man roster, but none of them were name brands. I now preferred quality over quantity.
In the meantime, another contender, Lawr Michaels, approached me – get this – asking for Revere, among others. Who could have guessed that the Phils’ outfielder would be in such demand?
Drooker balked at making Harvey available, not a surprising initial reaction. I told him that I was looking at another bigger deal that included Revere, which was absolutely true.
The next day, I contacted the Dux again, specifically teeing up Verlander. Don again declined, referencing the Tigers’ ace’s last four starts. In my final attempt before moving on, I tossed out Wainwright for his consideration.
That did the trick. Drooker offered Harvey and Reyes for Wainwright and Revere. To make this work, however, I had to extract Revere from what had grown to a 10-player deal with Michaels.
Having one Tommy John rehabber in Harvey lined up, I decided to target two more from Lawr – Matt Moore and Miguel Sano. Lawr wanted Kenley Jansen and preferred Mark Teixeira over Nick Swisher. He was willing to exclude Revere.
I let Drooker know I accepted his offer and did the same with Michaels.
It will take another six years of $3 per year salary escalation for Harvey (and Moore) to reach the current keeper price for Wainwright (and Verlander). That gives me a lot of runway to make hay with my two new young aces.
While this was all going on, I had a third deal still percolating. One by-product of being in last place is to own the first spot in the monthly free agent draft. Since I am now playing for next year, that first pick isn’t that important to me. To a contender, however, the selection had real value.
Defending champ Trace Wood was the eager buyer. It took an on-base leader in Asdrubal Cabrera ($14) to couple with my first pick in June to shake loose the top middle infield prospect in baseball, Oakland’s Addison Russell. Fortunately, Wood did not target Revere.
Russell, though not sidelined with Tommy John like my other three acquisitions, has been out all season to date due to a hamstring injury. As a result, he isn’t likely to get a real chance in the bigs until 2015. That is just fine with me, however, so I made the deal. I also received a fourth-round pick in our supplemental draft next spring.
In summary, I added four well-known names in Moore, Harvey, Sano and Russell and gave up Wainwright, Jansen, Teixeira and Cabrera. I shed about $50 of salary and with keeper prices, should have all four new players for the next five or six years for sure.
To say I am delighted is an understatement. Once others started to move, I got into the action and moved strongly and swiftly – and I may not be done yet, after all. Once Hamilton is back, his power would help a contender, as would Verlander’s strikeouts.
The message to you is don’t hesitate. If you have to break down and pull a Luhnow, get on with it. When you are ready to move, be as decisive in trading as you are in drafting your initial roster and acquiring free agents. Determine your targets and go out and get them!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 16-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.