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May 15, 2014

Fantasy Freestyle

The Middle of the Road

by Wilson Karaman

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As a wise fellow named “Rowdy” Roddy Piper once said, the middle of the road’s the most dangerous place to drive. And this philosophical nugget is astute indeed when it comes to fantasy baseball, particularly for managers in keeper leagues. May is moving month. You’ve had some time now to see how your squad looks in uniform and analyze early returns, and you should have a decent handle by now on your strengths and weaknesses relative to the league. A picture is hopefully starting to emerge as to whether you’ve got the foundation in place to compete this year. And now is the time to take those next steps and craft your strategies to acquire the pieces you’ll need to push you over the top or set you on a course for contention next year.

…except what if a picture hasn’t started to emerge? What if you’re stuck in that grey area between contending and pretending? And worse yet, what if others in your league have already started wheeling and dealing to address their own needs? It’s a tough spot to find yourself in, and failing to handle the situation properly can have dire consequences that alter the trajectory of your franchise for several years to come. So for the sake of avoiding catastrophe, let’s take a deep breath together and break down what you should and should not do next.

Don’t Panic
Nothing good ever comes of panicking. Usually, something very bad comes of panicking. If you jerk your knee and send your best player(s) to a competitor because it’s the thing that everyone else seems to be doing, chances are you’re doing it wrong. While it’s true that you’re going to need to act at some point it is of critical importance to avoid reactive decisions. In re-draft leagues fortune will generally favor the bold. There’s no next year to wait for, and regardless if you’re struggling or thriving out of the gate you’ll need to be decisive early and often in acquiring players for whom you project greener pastures ahead than the ones currently on your squad. But in dynasty and keeper leagues there’s generally a very finite window where trading your best players away makes sense. In order to get full value from a contending team looking to upgrade you need to move players early enough that the acquiring team will benefit from as much of the players’ statistical output as possible. And usually it is the first teams willing to move those cornerstone pieces who set themselves up to reap the greatest hauls of prospects and future assets in return. If you don’t move a franchise piece early, you’re likely best served not moving him in season, as every day that goes by is another cent on the dollar that player’s value is losing in the eyes of an acquiring GM in “win-now” mode.

Calculate Value
Create a rankings list of your assets, in which you’re assigning both short- and long-term value to each player on your squad. It may seem like a mundane and basic exercise, but it’s helpful in determining how to best allocate your resources. If you’re buying, you’re obviously looking to load up on players who address areas of weakness without sacrificing too much strength. But if you’re selling you should figure out where your strengths are and then sell off pieces where you’re weaker. This may sound counter-intuitive at first glance, but what you want to try to do when you’re gearing for next year is build the strongest foundation possible and allow yourself to address weakness later, either via the draft or by trading from a position of excess. Evening out your squad as you enter a rebuilding phase is a ticket to perpetual mediocrity. The players on the outer extremes of your list—that is, the players with the most present value but very limited long-term value and the players with only the longest of long-term value—are the ones that will be of greatest interest to you.

Move Your Future Stars and Be Mindful of Your Spare Parts
Once you’ve figured out how your core pieces optimally fit together, put everyone else on the table and shop them aggressively. If you’re buying, prospects with little chance of making an impact this season not only have no place on your do-not-trade list, but they realistically represent your strongest assets in attempting to acquire MLB-level help without sacrificing topline depth. A guy like Joey Gallo may very well be a future fantasy monster in the making, but if you decide you’re going to go for it this year he and others of his ilk are the guys you move. Prospects are fungible assets; where one prospect blows up with staggering early season performance, five more will emerge in his helium-infused space after the Rule 4 Draft and again when top-100 lists emerge next off-season. Don’t fall in love with guys that won’t make an impact this year if your goal is to make an impact this year.

On the other end of the spectrum, standard operating procedure would suggest that if you’re selling you look to peel off any veteran weight that projects to be worth less next year. It’s not that simple though, and there’s a danger in undervaluing this type of player. For example, Mike Napoli’s a perfectly solid player. Guys like him are the guys that help you win championships with their stability and the depth they give your roster. If I’m not contending Mike Napoli’s likely a moveable asset, and the conventional wisdom is that I trade Mike Napoli for an on-the-cusp player who’s more likely to get his shot next year. But it’s important to not forget that though Mike Napoli might be worse next year, what with another full season on his odometer and another year of his prime years in the rearview mirror, he’s still likely to be a valuable fantasy player next year. And though a given prospect may be in Triple-A this year and poised to get his shot next year, it’s very much an open question as to whether he’ll be able to match Mike Napoli’s likely production in Year One. Remember: don’t panic. Take your time with player evaluations, particularly in trade scenarios such as this, and move your pieces only once you’re comfortable with the match. Patience pays, even when action is required.

Wilson Karaman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Wilson's other articles. You can contact Wilson by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Dynasty Leagues,  Keeper Leagues

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