Ongoing Fire Sale Coverage – Lessons

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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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

14 Responses to “Ongoing Fire Sale Coverage – Lessons”

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  1. Calvin says:

    Just did a reassessment of my NL only team and have deemed a fire sale my best course of action as I’m too far out of placing and would need multiple teams ahead of me to suffer catastrophic roster injuries. I will be keeping a $20 Wainwright, $21 Posey, $18 A. Craig, $7 Matt Adams, $1 Chris Owings and look to jettison McCutchen, Cueto, Fister, Cargo, Morse, R.Soriano in exchange for great keeper contracts and prospects as potential keepers. The guys i’m looking to trade away are all too expensive to keep in our league (McCutchen, Cargo are both $61, etc..). We have a keeper budget and my advantage is to help a few teams who are up against that budget gain some flexibility.

    While this sale should be fun… I do know the rest of this season will be mostly watching for breakout candidates to keep into next year and beyond.

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  2. Babyspittle says:

    Heyward was fairly beastly in his rookie year (134 wRC+).

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  3. jasen74 says:

    My two leagues have devolved into absolute nightmares. No participation spawned by rude, uninterested managers.

    With that being said, do any of you know of leagues that need to fill a vacancy? Love the concept of the game, just not the member participation.

    Thanks in advance.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Doesn’t look like there are any abandoned teams at the moment. Fall and winter are usually the best times to look, I think you may even get a chance to tinker with the roster before it’s time to pay.

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    • Aaaron says:


      It’s mostly football this time of year, but I was able to pick up a couple of abandoned teams after my league went south for similar reasons.

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  4. byron says:

    No one can even sell in one of my leagues because the same guy is running away with it for the third straight year. 4×4, he finished with 86.5 points in 2012 (2nd had 77), 93 last year (2nd had 68), now he’s up 77-68 with no signs of slowing down.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Chad Young does this in the league I mentioned. He’s technically in second place right now, but he’s only down like 400 points with something like a 400 IP deficit. Yea, he’ll have to figure out how to make up that deficit, but any ol’ pitcher will do the trick – even below replacement level guys.

      I’m trying some kind of new meta-strategy against him. I’m attempting to hand him the title this season in exchange for all of his best under-priced players. If nobody busts his top keepers (cheap Goldy and Donaldson), then he’s just going to be at the top again and again. I’ll happily ensure him this season if I get to take his place next year.

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      • byron says:

        But see, the winner in my league doesn’t need to trade any of his assets to stay ahead, and no one else will trade any of theirs because they still won’t catch him.

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  5. novaether says:

    Can you explain how the offseason arbitration system works? It sounds intriguing.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Each team has a fixed budget of dollars they can use to bid up other players. The maximum bid you can make against a given team is $3. With 11 other teams, that means your players will be bid up between $11 and $33. You can spread those dollars around on three players or allocate them all to one player.

      So my rivals could make Springer cost up to $37, but that would leave a bunch of other interesting players cheap.

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  6. Lucky Strikes says:

    Only 350 points out of 3rd place? The raw Ottoneu standings are a little difficult to translate sometimes when trying to make roster decisions about this year or next, so I’ve been using this tool ( to get a better picture of where teams stand as we enter July.
    Also, as an avid Ottoneu player, though I don’t know Kimbrel’s price, I can’t justify trading Kimbrel (+ PLTB?) for A. Bradley. Kimbrel is arguably one of the most valuable players in Ottoneu period. Going completely against the grain of most Ottoneu owners and league mates this off season, I built my entire strategy around having an elite bullpen, and have had excellent success maintaining a near league-best P/IP with it, despite decent SP contributions. I’ve been tracking it all season long and plan to write up an article supporting my claim about the value of RP in Ottoneu (FGPoints) this off-season, but I can tell you first hand having elite RP makes a huge difference over the course of a season. Kimbrel is incredibly valuable in that format, and unless he’s $20+, I’d either hang onto him or target significantly better (healthier) prospects than Bradley.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Without doing the math, I’m about 200 adjusted points back since I have some extra innings in hand. But we’re all miles behind 1st and 2nd.

      Kimbrel is $21. I agree with the elite RP strategy, yet Kimbrel will be available in the draft again if the league history is any indication. Don’t worry, I’m not in a rush to make a swap and an official offer was never made. We never got past the “would you consider…” stage, which is before I run the numbers.

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  7. Kloggo says:

    You got absolutely taken on that Springer/Betts/Santana trade.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Perhaps. I certainly didn’t win, but I did accomplish a few goals and snagged the current keeper in the league.

      Our league’s a little crazy on the future value thing and those players (Votto/Braun) were expendable/liable to be injured any day.

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