The Jose Quintana trade this week is a great example of the kind of scenario that players in deep AL-only and NL-only leagues wait for all season. An impact player, imported into your league as if materializing out of thin air. Free money, basically.
Of course, you’ll have to outbid other owners in your league to acquire a player of Quintana’s caliber. Lots of owners in these leagues spend as little as they can on FAAB pickups during the first few months of the season so they’ll be in pole position when that big fish shows up in their pond. It definitely can be a successful strategy—the owner in your league who picks up Quintana this weekend will have a much stronger team next week than he did this week, adding a stud pitcher without losing a player
I typically don’t do this with my FAAB dollars, though. My colleagues Mike Gianella and Bret Sayre usually don’t, either. The main reason we don’t save our FAAB dollars for one of the studs switching leagues at the deadline is that some years, no studs get traded at the deadline, or at least not into your league. Trying to guess whether big-name players will flow from the AL into the NL or vice versa is a fool’s errand. So is trying to predict which players will end up switching leagues beyond the general knowledge of which players are approaching free agency or have contracts that don’t align well with their team’s stage in the success cycle.
Even if you can land that big-name import from the other league with a big FAAB bid, you’ll typically be getting only two months of stats, three months at most. Spending those same FAAB dollars earlier in the year can squeeze four, five or six months of stats out of those same dollars, even if the players bought with those dollars aren’t as good as a star brought in sometime in July.
Spending your FAAB early also mitigates risk, since you’ll be spending those scarce dollars on multiple players rather than concentrating them in a single body. One fastball off the hand, or one twinge in the shoulder, could land your newly acquired player on your reserve list, never to be activated again.
To reiterate, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t save your FAAB dollars for imports at the deadline or that doing so can’t be successful. Roto players who landed C.C. Sabathia when he was traded to the Brewers in 2008 got more than they could have hoped for, much like owners who ended up with Manny Ramirez when he ended up with the Dodgers that same year. I simply prefer the more risk-averse approach of using my FAAB early to fill gaps in my roster and pursue more modest but more reliable value. FAAB is one of the resources you have at your disposal to win your league, and if nobody worthwhile ends up being imported into your league, you’ll be left with a stack of fake dollars you won’t be able to turn into value that will help your team. If you’re willing to take on that kind of downside risk for the upside potential of landing a stud, by all means, go for it.