Cleaning Up Another’s Mess: Taking Over Abandoned Teams

Ever since ottoneu was developed, I have played exclusively in dynasty leagues, and primarily in leagues that I started. But twice in the last three years, I have had a chance to jump into an already-active dynasty and take over an abandoned team. And so far, nothing in fantasy baseball has proven as challenging as taking over another owner’s roster.

This time of year, leagues that have lost owners are looking for replacements and since I am going through a take-over myself, I thought I’d look at what it takes to start a turn-around.

By far the most difficult part of taking over a team is understanding the quirks of the league you are joining. Even if it is a relatively standard league, there are going to be some oddities that have formed over multiple years of the same owners playing together. For example, in a match up league I joined two years ago, I was surprised to learn how undervalued SP was. It seemed (and seems) to be standard practice to basically assume you can build a rotation on the fly, and while I know a lot of fantasy owners feel this way, this league took it to an extreme. Last off-season, I was able to trade Anthony Rendon for Max Scherzer and Jarrod Parker. I made a couple other trades, giving up assets I felt were over-valued to add pitching and quickly took a team that was last to a playoff berth this year.

In the league I joined this year, a 20-team, 45-man-roster monstrosity, I am quickly discovering that almost every owner is focused on acquiring young talent, including prospects, with the hopes of hitting it big. This makes a lot of sense in a league with no restrictions on keeping players (draft Mike Trout as a rookie? Enjoy playing him in your outfield for the next 15 years), but it undervalues established players who are a bit older. I recently added Michael Cuddyer and Edwin Encarnacion is another guy I plan to target. Sometimes it’s odd scoring instead of unique player valuations, but there will always be something about the new league that you will need to take time to figure out.

The next most challenging part for me is you typically take over a not good roster. The owner you are replacing was disinterested or not very good (yes, there are exceptions, but I’d guess those descriptions cover most cases) and either way, you are building without much of a foundation. Just like an MLB team without much of a foundation, you need to get younger and you need to add pieces. Over the few weeks since I took over my most recent team, I traded James Shields for Lance Lynn, Yusmeiro Petit, and Jenrry Mejia. I then swapped Josh Hamilton and Jeremy Hellickson for Asdrubal Cabrera, Jason Castro, and Matt Dominguez (before using Cabrera as part of the Cuddyer package).

All told, I traded away six players and added seven, but that six-for-seven was more important to my depth than may appear just by the numbers. One of the things I try to do when I take over a new team is add players I like and shed players I don’t. I would have kept Hamilton, but I was down on him before the season and nothing has changed for me. I’ve never been a Hellickson fan (I traded him prior to the 2013 season in the ottoneu FanGraphs Experts League), either, so of the six players I traded away, two were guys I was happy to be rid of. Another, A.J. Ellis, became expendable when I acquired Castro, giving me four good catchers (Carlos Santana, Evan Gattis, Castro, and Ellis). In this case, adding Casto and subtracting Ellis was a case of not only improving the team, but of adding a player I have been high on for a while and moving on from someone I have no attachment to.

For me, this is one of the big advantages of taking over someone else’s teams. Because the roster was designed by someone with different preferences, there are likely players on your roster who you typically would not own, and who other owners value higher than you do. These guys are ideal trade bait. Shields, Hamilton, and Hellickson all fall into that camp for me. In the meantime, I have made this team far more enjoyable, from my perspective, by adding players (Castro, Dominguez, Mejia among others) who I am bullish on and who I am excited to put in my lineup.

The last thing I try to do is avoid “irreversible” decisions. Right now, I don’t know enough about the league or my team to have a good gauge for how competitive I will be. So far, other than Shields, the guys I have traded away are players I feel I can relatively readily replace, if needed. But I have avoided trading Jean Segura, Carlos Santana, or Max Scherzer – all players I like and who I am not sure would be quite so easy to replace.

If you’ve never taken over an abandoned team, I strongly encourage it (you can find abandoned ottoneu teams here) – it is a great way to test your fantasy acumen and really push yourself. As hard as it is to build a winner from scratch, building it from someone else’s base is even harder.

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Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

4 Responses to “Cleaning Up Another’s Mess: Taking Over Abandoned Teams”

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  1. mcbrown says:

    I picked up an abandoned team in 2013 for my first taste of Ottoneu. I thought it was a pretty fun experience, for all of the reasons described here.

    I’m adding another abandoned team for 2014. For the slightly jaded fantasy player there is something really refreshing about jumping into the middle of a half-formed and uncertain situation to see what you can make of it over whatever time horizon you set (“win now”, multiyear rebuilding, etc.).

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  2. Hendu for Kutch says:

    I took over an abandoned team in a $100M salary cap (with $10M available in season) league several years ago. Imagine my surprise when I found out that my salary for the coming season was already at $100.5M with multiple gaping holes to fill. With rules in play that forced you to eat half of any contract you release, it wasn’t as simple as just releasing a bunch of guys, either.

    It was a lot of fun taking those guys I hated and spinning them off. Trading Joe Saunders, who I wanted absolutely nothing to do with, for James Shields will always be one of my fondest memories. Typically trading is tougher because you have to part with a player you obviously like.

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  3. pepper says:

    I started doing this about three years ago. Really enjoy the challenge. The other nice thing is I am a hyper-active trader, so being the new kid of the block means all the other teams are coming to make me offers. I like the activity that comes from that.

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  4. Gee's Up, Hoes Down says:

    I took over in a keeper H2H league two years ago. The team I inherited had won the championship the previous two years by trading all of its long term keepers and minor leaguers to losing teams for stars in their last year of keeper eligibility. The owner didn’t want to rebuild again so he quit. I inherited a depleted roster with an overpriced Reyes and an under priced Bumgarner as my only stars.

    I finished second that year and lost in the first round of the playoffs (no $$$), and first this past year, losing in the final round ($$$). Some lessons I learned along the way:

    1. Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t compete right away or that you should be rebuilding. In a shallow league (10-12 teams), there is no reason you can’t compete every year, even building from scratch. In a deeper league, you need to do your own analysis.

    2. Figure out the exploits in your leagues rules and abuse them. Other players may have been in the league so long that they just run with the crowd and become complacent. In this league, there are 10 pitching scoring categories and overall, they favored counting stats over ratios. I soon realized I could compete even with a poor offense by having a solid core of SP and streaming three or four times a week. I streamed so much that the commissioner tried unsuccessfully to change the rules mid season to make streaming harder. I also started carrying 12-13 SP (on a 25 man roster) all the time. Pretty soon the other competitive teams had to carry large staffs as well just to keep up.

    3. Keeper leagues tend to value extreme youth over veterans. (I had someone tell me “Adrian Beltre? Eww, he’s old.”) If I am competing, I don’t care how old a player is as long as he can produce. New, hot, young talent comes up every year, and you can always replenish from the waiver wire or minor league draft. Most of those guys fizzle out anyway. Give me a cheap veteran who I can milk for a couple more years of production (Soriano anyone?)

    4. You should know by mid June if you can make it to the playoffs or compete in your roto categories. Start aggressive trading then. If you are a losing team, contact the top teams and try to get their $1 dollar stars and rookie studs for your stars that you can’t keep next year. If you are a winning team, do the opposite, even if you are comfortable in the standings, because the other teams won’t stand pat.

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