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February 10, 1999

Rotisserie Turns

The Early Bird

by Keith Law

It's never too early to start preparing for your rotisserie or fantasy draft. OK, December is probably too early, but now is the perfect time to get started. Pitchers and catchers haven't reported yet, but before you know it, draft day will be upon you, and that day can be made less stressful (and more fun) if you start your preparation early.

Here are a few suggestions on how to start your draft-day prep now. Depending on how much time you have, you may not want to follow the entire prescription, but you might want to do a little of everything to cover your bases.

1. Study offseason transactions

You wouldn't believe how frequently owners bid on the wrong players on draft day, such as players who have left the league, or worse yet, players whose situations have changed for the worse during the offseason. Although you may be up-to-date on the major moves, such as big-time free agent signings and trades, plenty of minor deals that took place over the course of the winter will or could have an impact on draft-day values. For example, Ralph Milliard went from completely buried in the Mets' system to having a ghost of a chance in the Reds' system. True, the presence of Mark Lewis (now a Red if you caught that one) doesn't help Milliard's cause, but we all know that Lewis is a grade-A stiff.

2. Identify position battles

Not every lineup, starting rotation, and bullpen is set in stone when spring training opens. In fact, many teams won't decide on some starting positions until the last few days of spring training; for example, in 1998 the Expos didn't choose their starting second baseman until two days before Opening Day. Knowing the participants in each battle and having some sense of which player is the best option can help you put more accurate bid values on each man.

In addition, knowing the losers of the battle can be more important than knowing the winners. Juan Acevedo, Chris Peters, and Omar Daal all lost spring training battles of one sort or another, and all turned out to be outstanding fantasy bargains last year.

3. Do your freeze lists, identify your needs, and project your competitors' freeze lists

This should go without saying. If you're in a keeper league, you should already know about 75% of your freeze list. Keep it fluid by writing a list down now and re-evaluating it every week or so. With that list, write down what you consider your three main weaknesses, and begin to contemplate how to address them. If you're short on speed, you may just decide to punt the category, or bid high on Rickey Henderson. Taking the time now to think through the pros and cons of each approach will give you fewer headaches in the final days before your draft.

Finally, those of you with lots of time on your hands should go through the important exercise of projecting the freeze lists of your competitors. This can give you a sense of what the player pool might look like, allowing you to iterate through the process of evaluating your own needs in a more informed manner. It's time-consuming and never 100% accurate, but it can provide all sorts of insights into what your competitors are thinking as they value their own players.

Keith Law is the Baseball Prospectus fantasy editor. Feel free to drop him a line at roto@baseballprospectus.com.

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