If it feels like you have spent every moment of Spring Training 2014 hoping that the next article you read is not about a pitcher you own (or one who plays for your favorite MLB team), you are not alone. The Braves have been hard hit, but they are not the only ones, and the latest pitcher to go down hit close to home for me.
Patrick Corbin has been a personal favorite for about a year now. It was just over two months ago that I implored you all to buy on Corbin and since I only give advice that I intend to take myself, the Diamondback hurler has found his way onto the majority of my teams. This seemed like a great thing until the last 24 hours or so, and suddenly I am left trying to figure out what to do with him.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I know that Corbin has not been ruled out. I also know that I cannot think of a time a pitcher heard a recommendation for Tommy John surgery, went for a second opinion, and the second opinion was, “yeah, you are totally fine, go throw 200+ IP, no problem!” But that isn’t the point.
What I want to do is look at, in general, what you should do when a player you own in an ottoneu league gets ruled out for the whole season.
My advice is to think of this player as if they were a prospect. Just like a prospect, this player has a range of possible outcomes, but with the added benefit of knowing their MLB history to date.
Using Corbin as an example, we all know what he did last year. And based on what I wrote in January, you know that I see potential for him to be even better in the future. So, for me, I see little difference between him and a AAA prospect who I think a) will spend the full year in the minors, b) has top-20 SP upside, c) has a floor that is still useful, and d) is most likely to end up somewhere around Corbin’s 2013 performance.
If you are going into an auction and a pitcher like this is unowned, you should think of them and value them the same way you would a prospect, but this line of thought goes beyond just how you pay for the player. When you are looking to make in-season trades, you can use an injured player in much the same way you would use a top prospect to acquire talent. You can also acquire an injured player much the same way you would a prospect. In some ways, they are even more valuable.
Let’s say Corbin goes down for the season, with every expectation that he’ll be back on the bump for Opening Day 2015. You are selling in July and have a choice to acquire him at $5 or a pitching prospect for the same $5. The first consideration is obviously the potential and likely outcomes for the prospect compared to Corbin, but also keep in mind that Corbin, if he is on the 60-day DL, doesn’t take up a roster spot. Remember that prospects bust at a very high rate and that Corbin has already proven himself as a viable MLB SP. Those things both have very real value.
If you already own a player who finds himself out for the year, you have other considerations to think about. One is whether or not they will actually be placed on the 60-day DL (teams are often not as quick to make this move as those of us playing fantasy would like). If you need a roster spot, that transaction is a big one for you.
The other is salary and this is a double-edged sword. If you own the player for a high-price – let’s say $25, you can cut them and open up $12 in cap space; but that $25 player can now be auctioned by your opposition starting at $13, and if they act fast, you will be barred from bidding. If the player is cheap (like a $5 Corbin I have in one league), you almost have to keep them – you’d be giving them away for $3 or maybe a bit more if you let them go, and the only benefit is a $5 ($2 when you cut him, the other $3 when another team buys him up).
The hardest case, of course, is what you do if your auction is this week and we don’t get more definitive news on Corbin. How do you evaluate a player who may be lost for the season? Let’s say you think a pitcher is a $15 pitcher right now, and would bid as such at auction. Let’s say that if the same pitcher were out until 2015, you’d bid no more than $8, figuring that $10 this year plus $9 next year is about a fair price to pay for one season considering the discount you get in 2016 and beyond. What do you bid if you don’t know?
The best answer is probably that you should take a weighted average of those prices – if you think it’s a 60-40 shot that he pitches this year, you pay about $12, reflecting that split. But it is a risky play. My advice, particularly for pitchers, is that you only pay the discounted price. Even if an injury doesn’t require surgery immediately, the chances are that arm won’t be as healthy as you would like.