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We’ve all been there. For all the best-laid plans, there are years where the team we drafted doesn’t look like it’s going to get there. I’m not talking about seasons where you’re in second or third, close all year long, but just miss. I’m talking about years where you’re languishing in the middle of the pack for most of the season and nowhere near first place. Your team isn’t bottom-of-the-barrel bad, but something’s missing from your squad.

A common mistake that a number of fantasy owners make is assuming that all sixth-place teams are created equal. There are some years when a middle-of-the-pack team is going to stay firmly entrenched in the middle, but other years where there is an opportunity to move up in the standings. Identifying the opportunities when they come is the key to determining whether you’re going to stay mired in the middle or turn the tide and win your league.

On July 15 in Tout Wars, I had 68.5 points and was 24.5 points out of first place. Out of context, it would seem as if I was dead in the water. However, I looked at the league, sized up the teams ahead of me, studied my team and thought that I still had a chance.

  • A number of early season injuries (Hanley Ramirez, Aaron Hill, Ryan Ludwick, Lucas Duda, Pablo Sandoval, David Freese) had put my offense in a weaker, more compromised position at the All-Star Break than I had anticipated. The upside of this deficiency was that most of these players were back and performing in July. Not only was I at or near the top of the standings in HR/RBI, but I had an opportunity to trade from categorical strength.
  • A closer look at the top two teams revealed some cracks in their respective foundations.

o Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN was in first place with 93 points. His pitching looked ironclad, but his offense had some holes before Ben Revere and B.J. Upton got hurt, and he had already traded Jay Bruce.

o Todd Zola of Mastersball (87.5) had a pitching staff that looked as strong as Cockcroft’s, but Jeff Locke (2.15 ERA on July 15) and Jordan Zimmerman (2.58 ERA) were both regression candidates at the front of a thin staff.

o The rest of the contenders ahead of my team all had holes/ deficiencies that weren’t as obvious as Cockcroft’s/Zola’s but didn’t necessarily leave much room for improvement

On July 16, I decided to take my excess in power and trade for speed. Throwing caution to the winds, I traded Carlos Beltran, David Freese, and Aaron Hill to Scott Wilderman (On Roto) for Everth Cabrera, Starling Marte, and Travis Snider. Cabrera was a significant risk due to the potential of a suspension, but it was a risk I had to take.

Of course, we know now on August 25 what wasn’t entirely clear on July 16. With the exception of Alex Rodriguez, every player penalized by Major League Baseball took a suspension and did not appeal. Almost as bad as the suspension was that Cabrera did little on the basepaths while in my employ. After stealing 34 bases in his first 377 plate appearances, Cabrera stole a measly three bags in 58 plate appearances for my team before the suspension.

I could have pouted, moped, and screamed to the baseball heavens that life wasn’t fair, blaming my season on circumstances beyond my control. Instead, after zigging I decided to zag. I turned around on August 14 and traded Marte and Tyler Clippard to Phil Hertz (Baseball HQ) for Todd Frazier and Brad Ziegler. Edward Mujica was the only closer I had in the fold, but I saw an opportunity to move up in saves.

Adding Frazier for Marte on offense allowed me to trade even more power to shore up my deficiencies elsewhere. Darin Ruf was a rare NL-only reserve pick who had paid off, while Alfonso Soriano’s bat found life with the Yankees (Tout Wars allows you to keep players traded to the “other” league). This allowed me to trade Hanley Ramirez and Matt Belisle to Brian Walton (Mastersball) for Francisco Liriano, Jorge de la Rosa, and Ed Lucas. I was dead in strikeouts, but could make a push in ERA, WHIP, and wins without losing much on offense.

After another hot week or two from some of my hitters, I still felt like I had another hitter to trade. Last night, I flipped Alfonso Soriano to Cockcroft for Patrick Corbin. Now my team looks like this.

The Tout Wars Mike Gianella team: August 26, 2013

C Wellington Castillo
C Dioner Navarro
1B Adrian Gonzalez
2B Brandon Phillips
SS Starlin Castro
3B Pablo Sandoval
CO Todd Frazier
MI Ed Lucas
OF Andre Ethier
OF Darin Ruf
OF Ryan Ludwick
OF Lucas Duda
UT Tony Campana
SP Matt Latos
SP Francisco Liriano
SP Patrick Corbin
SP Travis Wood
SP Andrew Cashner
SP Tyson Ross
SP Jorge de la Rosa
CL Edward Mujica
CL Brad Ziegler
MR Jordan Walden

With seven starters in the fold, the hope is that I can make a big push in wins without impacting my ERA. Ziegler allows me to push for saves, and even without Soriano, there are still enough impact bats on offense that I should be able to maintain my lead in HR/RBI and not lose significantly in runs.

All of this trading isn’t merely a hopeless quest to win or an attempt to play merely for pride, but a realistic attempt to push for the title. Heading into today’s action, I am a mere six points out of first place. If I had sat back in July and been content to finish sixth or seventh, that’s probably where I’d be. Always gauge your opportunities and act accordingly. Just because you’re buried in the standings doesn’t necessarily mean it’s too late to act.