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Most fantasy baseball columns written this time of year are targeted towards the front-runners, the owners who are fighting for titles and spots in the money. But what about everybody else? What about the poor huddled masses yearning for fourth place? Is there any advice that can be given to them, to wring some last little bit of enjoyment out of a lost season?

Of course there is. Enjoyment, in a very basic sense, comes from the accomplishment of goals. The goal of winning the league is obviously out of reach, so a wise owner will simply shift their goals to something a bit more feasible. In keeper leagues of course, the fall-back goal is always “Stock the cupboard for next year.” Acquire all the cheap keepers you can, and put together a core that won’t disppoint you in 2006. If you’re not in a keeper league, though, or your main avenues of talent acquisition have all been exhausted, then it’s time to look for other goals to fulfill, and other ways of having fun. I’ve listed some suggestions below.

Be Someone’s Nemesis

If you’re in a head-to-head league, it’s fairly easy to play spoiler. Check your schedule for the final weeks and see which teams you’re facing that are still in the hunt. Pull out all the stops the week you play them–if scoring is category-based, analyze their roster for weak spots and try to exploit them. You can also play a hunch or two, or a lesser player with a favorable match-up (Seth McClung, for instance, has pretty much owned the Blue Jays this year, and faces them again this coming week) so that if you do pull out the victory your taunting will have even more sting to it (“Ha ha! You got hosed by Seth McClung!”)

In a traditional rotisserie league, you can still be a factor in the race. Odds are you’re battling for position with some contenders in at least one or two categories. Tweak your roster to maximize your production in those categories, regardless of what it costs you elsewhere. In most leagues it really doesn’t matter whether you finish in eighth or ninth, so you truly have nothing to lose.

Picking whose nemesis you want to be can be just as important a decision. If you can, select a team or owner you have a “history” with. Maybe the other owner is impossible to make a trade with, always dithering and overvaluing his own players. Maybe they always go after the same players you do at the auction, resulting in some semi-legendary bidding wars. If there’s a history there, make use of it–the best ongoing leagues are always those that keep people involved, and developing a rivalry with another team is a great way to encourage involvement.

If you do go the nemesis route, make sure you’re vocal about it. Rivalries only work if there is plenty of trash talking fueling it from both sides.

Experiment With Different Strategies

The final month of a ‘wasted’ season is a great opportunity to experiment with your lineup. Build a LIMA-style pitching staff for September (say, two good starters and seven relievers) and see just how much you can shave off your ERA and WHIP. If your league doesn’t have transaction fees to worry about, see how much of an impact swapping players in and out of your lineup based on their matchups can have. Treat your roster like a bunch of lab rats, and see what you can learn by running them through various mazes. The information you glean now could be invaluable next time you’re in the hunt for a championship.

Lay Some Groundwork

It’s never too early to start getting ready for next year. Keep the lines of communication open with the other owners in your league, and try to get a sense of what they might do in the off-season. Because you’re not in the hunt, owners still in contention might be more inclined to tell you things they wouldn’t tell the “competition.” Which players are they happy with (and likely to keep), and which have disappointed them? Maybe you’ll be able to lay the foundations for an off-season trade or two, and pick up some of those disappointments on the cheap. If it seems like a lot of star players at one position are likely to be protected or dumped, that could impact your own protected/dumped lists, or what areas you target in potential deals. You might be able to get them to spill their secret strategies if you butter them up enough…

It can be tough to stay interested in a league when you’re buried in the second division. Setting and achieving secondary goals simply makes economic sense, though–you paid for six months worth of entertainment when you signed up for your fantasy baseball league, so you might as well do everything you can to stay entertained for the full six months.

Erik Siegrist is a beat writer for RotoWire, covering the Marlins, Nationals and White Sox. He can be reached here.

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