Image credit: Syndication: The Enquirer

My Tout Wars recap was the fun one. As I chronicled yesterday, I took over first place in mid-July, opened a double-digit lead in early August, and never looked back. LABR was the nail biter. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

(As a reminder, LABR is an NL-only, “traditional” 5×5 Roto format)

“We plan and god laughs” is a Yiddish proverb that sounds like it was written with fantasy baseball in mind. This is true in any given season but assembling a fantasy team in mono league in early March during an owner-imposed lockout made planning for salary-cap drafts this season even more daunting than usual. The problem was that the lockout left several free agents unsigned. Even in a normal offseason, each league handles this differently, but in LABR you are permitted to add these types of players to your team with the understanding that you lose them if they sign in the “other” league.

The LABR mono leagues added a wrinkle that kept the top-12 free agents based on NFBC ADP out of the draft pool entirely. To refresh your memories (and mine) about who these players were:

Freddie Freeman, Trevor Story, Nick Castellanos, Kenley Jansen, Kris Bryant, Carlos Correa, Kyle Schwarber, Carlos Rodon, Eddie Rosario, Nelson Cruz, Anthony Rizzo, Clayton Kershaw.

A special FAAB lottery would be held before the regular season started in each mono league. However, our FAAB budgets in LABR would remain at $100, with $1 minimum bids.

This was (and still is) a lot of information to digest. I tweaked my strategy somewhat because of this unprecedented rule. I usually just abide by the strategy of “go where the value takes me” but in LABR this often leaves me with a Stars and Scrubs team that is one or two big injuries away from being uncompetitive. This mattered because I wanted to be aggressive in the FAAB lottery and with players traded from the AL to the NL after our draft but before the regular season started, who would also command big FAAB bids. There were two theories at play:

  • A full season of an elite or near-elite FAAB buy is better than 2-3 months.
  • While I wasn’t afraid of buying a $30+ player, I wanted to strive for more balance than usual since I suspected I would blow through most of my FAAB before the season even started.

Did it work? Below is the team I drafted on March 6.

Catchers: Keibert Ruiz $12, Austin Barnes $1
Corner Infielders: Paul Goldschmidt $28, Nolan Arenado $22, C.J. Cron $20
Middle Infielders: Willy Adames $21, Brendan Rodgers $18, Robinson Cano $5, Michael Chavis $3
Outfielders: Tyler O’Neill $25, Nick Senzel $12, LaMonte Wade Jr. $11, Rafael Ortega $8, Clint Frazier $5.
Starting Pitchers: Corbin Burnes $32, Jacob deGrom $24, Tony Gonsolin $6, Adrian Houser $2, Edward Cabrera $1, Michael Pineda $1
Relief Pitchers: David Price $1, Robert Stephenson $1, Chris Stratton $1
Reserves: Gerardo Perdomo, Genesis Cabrera, Austin Gomber, Chris Stratton, Nick Martinez, Vladimir Gutierrez.

I got Burnes 12 players in but otherwise stuck to my plan and let all the $30+ hitters go. On offense, my core (Goldschmidt down to Rodgers in terms of price) cost $134 for six hitters. This left me feeling like I had to be conservative the rest of the way, but I was probably too cautious, and would have been better off combining the money I spent on Senzel and Wade or Frazier and Cano into a more useful player and closing my eyes and grabbing a “scrub” for $1. However, while I had some issues with my endgame, I thought the offensive core was solid, even though I was a little light on speed.

Pitching is where I really didn’t feel great about my team. That was as high as I was going to go on deGrom. A week later when he looked healthy in Spring Training people thought I was a genius, but I suspected that vibe wouldn’t last, and it didn’t. Gonsolin and Cabrera were great upside plays but I was an arm short. And I completely missed on closers. Even if everything went my way, I was already in the hole in two categories.

This is where the FAAB lottery and the first FAAB period came in. As I mentioned above, I decided to be aggressive. If that meant I was left with $10 in FAAB in a league with very few trades and no $0 FAAB bids allowed, so be it. In the FAAB lottery, I got Nelson Cruz for $38. I wanted to get someone for $49 or lower in the lottery, and he was the only player who fit the bill.

That left me with $62. I pushed for one of Chris Bassitt, Sean Manaea, or Craig Kimbrel (in that order) and got Bassitt for $51. I was surprised. Some teams didn’t get anyone in the FAAB lottery, and I thought both starters would go for $55-60 apiece. But where I was shocked was when David Robertson fell to me for $7. That was a “keep them honest” bid and almost no one else bit. Getting Robertson was huge; it pushed me from being dead in a category to into the game and would influence many of my later decisions.

I also got Alex Dickerson for $1. Given our FAAB limitations, it was a terrible unforced error.

But the atypical nature of the abbreviated offseason allowed me to capitalize and turn a good team into one that was competitive for the entire season. By necessity, I was also far more aggressive on the trade market than usual, making seven deals.

1) April 6: Traded Michael Chavis to NFBC for Carter Kieboom.
Why? Well, Cruz left me with a DH-only hitter, and I had to trade a middle infielder. Moving Cano would have been ideal, but no one really wanted him. Given what Chavis did and what Cruz did, I would have been better off keeping Chavis and having $38 of FAAB to play around with. But that’s not quite right because I was able to move Cruz later to fill a need (more on that below).

April 17: Traded Kieboom to Colton and the Wolfman for Bryan de la Cruz
Amazingly, I was able to get something for Kieboom thanks to LABR’s strict reserve/IL rules. The Marlins outfielder didn’t play too much, but in NL-only getting some stats for the then-injured Nick Senzel mattered.

May 23: Traded Robert Stephenson to Colton and the Wolfman for Travis Jankowski
I don’t think either of these players graced our active rosters post-trade.

May 26: Traded Tony Gonsolin to Fantasy Alarm for David Bednar
Ouch. Gonsolin turned into my ace-in-the-hole and took the pain away from the deGrom injury. However, I still was well out of first place at the time of the deal and needed to be aggressive. Adding Bednar to Robertson was supposed to push me from toward the bottom to toward the top in saves and I had such a big ERA/WHIP lead that losing Gonsolin didn’t matter. The trade didn’t hurt me much because I dominated ERA/WHIP, but I wish I had acquired a superior (or healthier) closer.

June 26: Traded Clint Frazier to The Athletic for Austin Slater
Frazier was already off the Cubs but I’m certain Derek VanRiper’s hope was that he’d catch on with another team. Slater was like de la Cruz. He didn’t do much but getting any kind of counting stats in a mono league was a big deal, particularly because I had virtually no FAAB.

July 15: Traded Cruz, Genesis Cabrera, and David Price to ESPN for Kyle Gibson and Merrill Kelly.
And this was where Cruz came in. The power was never there for him this season, but from May 7 until the day of this deal Cruz slashed .284/.364/.428 and was contributing in runs and RBI. I had such a sizable lead in ERA/WHIP that it allowed me to take on the volume in Gibson and Kelly to push for Ks and wins and not worry too much about the damage those pitchers might do elsewhere. Kelly took off. Gibson was OK for a while and then struggled, but once again I had the magic touch and shipped him out before the wheels came off.

August 29: Traded Gibson to Baseball HQ for Devin Williams
Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ needed a starter to meet the innings requirement and I still needed saves to try to top out at 10 points in the category. Williams wasn’t a superstar in the category, but in 2022 the six saves he picked up for me loomed large in the race.

And what a race it was.

On the day of the Williams trade, I was behind Derek Carty 99.5 to 95.5 points (out of a possible 120). The trades I made, along with deGrom returning from injury, pushed me into the lead in early September and I held that lead for nearly an entire month. On September 25, I was leading 101 to 94.5. But I never felt great or certain about the outcome because injuries on offense had begun to mount, and I ran out of FAAB in early August when I picked up Brandon Marsh for $2.

Carty passed me in late September. Heading into the final three days of the season he was ahead by half a point, 98.5 to 98. There’s also a tiebreaker in LABR, and I was on the wrong end of it. I needed not only to tie Carty in points but beat him outright. Thankfully for me, I managed to hold on despite losing another point in the standings. My offensive collapse due to injury and Goldschmidt and Arenado disappearing for a month cost me a few points but I managed to hang on by the skin of my teeth and win my second LABR crown and first NL-only title.

One difficult thing about this recap is that I have absolutely no idea how actionable most of this information is. The free agent lottery LABR employed was unique. My strategy worked, but in a season without that lottery and far more major league trades in March than usual, I would have managed my team differently in season. I believe I chose the correct path in LABR – and the results back this up – but I doubt this is particularly useful as a viable strategy going forward.

Thanks as always to Steve Gardner of USA Today for allowing me sit at the table in LABR and for all the hard work he does to make sure all the LABR leagues run smoothly.

You can find the results of Mike’s winning season here.

Thank you for reading

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