Last week, I admitted I was conducting something of a fire sale in my FanGraphs staff ottoneu league. This is a big deal for me, I’m usually a harsh opponent of any kind of fire sale – they’re boring (once completed) and rarely pay off half as well as the seller expects. Mike Trout is a rare beast who has elevated everybody’s expectations of a top prospect. Most are like Jason Heyward or Domonic Brown or (gasp) Fernando Martinez – something goes wrong with either health or the skill set and leaves the owner with less than they expected.
The circumstances of my roster pushed me off the fire sale cliff. Last fall, I inherited my team from a former NotGraphs writer. It was an ugly little thing consisting of Adam Wainwright, Adam Jones, and lots of blah. I kept Wainwright, I got rid of the rest, and I somehow acquired a good veteran players on not-so-good veteran contracts. There’s nothing wrong with Miguel Cabrera for $58 or David Wright for $28, there just isn’t a ton of surplus value left in the tank beyond those prices. It was enough that I could take a shot at this season. And if I had happened to catch a couple more guys like Michael Brantley, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Blackmon, Brian Dozier, or Corey Dickerson, I might still be gunning for it. Instead, my big find was a $1 Justin Morneau. A cheap Morneau is great and all, but it meant I had to sit one of Joey Votto, Wright, or Cabrera in order to use him.
My roster is still alive. It’s twitching, but it isn’t dead yet. I’m ranked seventh in the league. I’m only 350 points behind third place, and I have the third biggest innings pitched deficit of the top seven owners. Jumping from 12th to seventh isn’t very impressive, but I’d be quite happy with a 12th to third showing. Eighth place is 500 points behind me. So I’m closer to passing four rivals than I am to dropping one spot. I always tell owners to keep struggling forward until their team is dead-dead, so why am I ignoring my own advice?
Simply put, it’s because my roster will probably be in the same position next season. My team lacks a coherent core – I have some high priced stars, a couple full price adequate players, and a bunch of cheap scrubs. Some of those scrubs will make for nice keepers. Others are trade fodder at best. A few are prospects I’m hoarding because Brandon Warne and Marc Hulet have nearly all of the top 50 prospects between their two teams. If I really want to win next year, I need to acquire more undervalued assets. I have to accept reality.
With that in mind, I’ve targeted players on cheap contracts who are near or have reached the majors. You may recall I discussed trading my Craig Kimbrel for Archie Bradley last week only to be rejected. Several commenters reaffirmed my feelings on the matter – Kimbrel for Bradley is a very friendly offer. I’ve since consummated an actual blockbuster, sending my Votto, Ryan Braun, Bartolo Colon, and cash for $2 George Springer and Mookie Betts. I also picked up $3 Ervin Santana as an upside play over Colon.
The return is light for the talent I dealt. I think Springer can maybe match Braun, but he definitely can’t replace any of Votto’s production. Betts is really just a hope and a prayer – he’s probably going to look a lot better in traditional fantasy leagues than an ottoneu points format. However, $43 Votto probably won’t be kept. I’ll have a chance to redraft him next season. A $39 Braun may or may not be kept given his various health woes. The other parts don’t matter.
Ottoneu has a fun offseason arbitration system where rivals get to bid up players on your team by a small amount. Part of the allure of Springer is he’ll take a large chunk of the arbitration money that gets sent in my direction. If he can maintain three-quarters of his current production, he’ll still be valuable with a $20 price tag. My less cost effective keepers won’t get hammered to oblivion. Most keeper leagues have some sort of wrinkle to the keeper mechanism. It’s usually not as complex as ottoneu’s arbitration period, yet you should definitely hold your keeper rules in mind when conducting trades.
There’s one last point to be made – I’m not actually throwing in the towel. I’m merely readjusting my window of competitiveness from just 2014 to also include 2015 and beyond. Swapping away Votto and Braun for Springer pushes Morneau into my lineup full time. That’s a small on-paper downgrade, and it’s possible I’ll even come out ahead (Braun and Votto do have nagging injuries). Other deals I’m discussing won’t leave me with any black holes, I’ll just earn slightly fewer points than I do now. Weird things happen, and I could still sneak into third place.
Let’s tie it all together. You should have learned these lessons three from my 800 words. First, do not shirk a course of action just because you believe it’s almost always the wrong thing to do. Sometimes honest self-assessment is necessary for future success. Second, it can be ok to overpay for keeper stars if they’ve been vetted. Springer still carries risk – scouts could find a Ryan Howard sized hole in his Swiss cheese swing. But he’s looking pretty reliable going forward. Third, a savvy owner can (and will) rebuild while still competing. Trust me, it’s a lot more fun that way.
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