Exploiting your league’s rules

I wanted to relay a story about a series of moves I made over the past two weeks in one of my favorite leagues. My home league, which I discussed last year, has become significantly more competitive this year with the addition of a few new owners and some radical rule changes. It is now a keeper league with a really cool contract system, plus a minor league system with rules governing arbitration. It’s a lot of fun.

By knowing all the rules of my league, I was able to exploit them to carry myself just a little bit closer to my goal: winning the league several times over.

The Liriano situation

I won Francisco Liriano
at auction for $14 which was, at the time, a pretty decent bargain in my estimation. Looking at it now, maybe not so much. The rules state that auctioned players receive two-year contracts at the price at which they were won. During the inaugural year of the league, though, all contracts are just one year long. If an owner wishes to extend a player beyond one year, he must pay an additional $5 per year, each year.

So for Liriano, to keep him next year, I would have had to pay $19. To keep him for the next two years, it would have cost $24 for each. This wasn’t a scenario I was drooling over to begin with, and certainly not after his awful start to 2008. Luckily, I was able to exploit my league’s rules to improve my potential future equity on Liriano.

The rules also state that a player picked up through the in-season FAAB process—assuming the owner decides to keep said player the following season—will have a contract of $7 the following year. After that, he may be extended per the usual $5 per year, each year rule.

The first move

Knowing that it would be difficult to keep Liriano at $19 or $24 unless he turned in a monster second-half and knowing that I had a dominant pitching staff to fall back on should something go terribly wrong (which they didn’t in regard to Liriano, but I did lose Yovani Gallardo and John Smoltz a little later… ugh), I spent the week spreading anti-Liriano propaganda (context: this was the week Liriano was sent to the minors, so it was pretty well disguised).

I would talk to owners about how I wasted $14 on him and how he looked abysmal to start the year. I’d talk about how the Tommy John surgery clearly didn’t work and how he got sent to the minors. At the end of the week, when our transaction deadline arrived, I dropped him.

The second move

The following week, I didn’t say a word to anyone about Liriano unless they brought it up (they didn’t) so as not to draw attention to him. At the end-of-week transaction deadline, I placed a $12 bid for Liriano and won him back. Yes, $12 seems high, but the rules also state that the winning owner need only pay the second highest bid plus $1. With how bad Liriano had struggled, I figured that the chances of me actually having to pay $12 were slim, but if it did happen, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Since all of the top minor leaguers are already owned in our minor league systems and since the league uses players from both the American and National League (no mid-season cross-overs), there really wasn’t anybody I needed to save a good chunk of money for (not that I advocate spending the majority of your FAAB budget on a single player most of the time anyway). Nobody else bid, and I ended up getting Liriano back for $1.

By making this move, I can now keep Liriano next year for $7 as opposed to $19. It was timed perfectly, at the point when Liriano’s value could conceivably be the lowest it will be all year. If he has a good second half, I have a great keeper. If not, I cut bait on him. All it will have cost me is $1 FAAB and a roster spot, the price of which I actually managed to minimize with a corresponding move.

The third move—and a separate but equally good move to capitalize on the rules

Here’s a little background on the corresponding move, which further shows the importance of paying careful attention to your league’s rules. In our minor league draft, all players under contract with a major league team as of Opening Day who do not exceed the eligibility requirements (200 plate appearances for hitters, 50 innings for pitchers) may be drafted. In the second-to-last round of the minor league draft, I grabbed Hiroki Kuroda, who likely went overlooked because he came from Japan and wasn’t really a “minor leaguer.”

I figured this would be a minimal investment, but one that could pay big dividends. I don’t see Kuroda as a high-upside guy, but players drafted in the minor league phase receive three-year contracts at $0 for each year. So I could conceivably fill one of my pitcher spots with a $0 Kuroda for three years since he began 2008 in the majors.

Back to the Liriano talk. While he exceeds the 50 inning requirement for minor league eligibility, a team may demote a player who does not meet this requirement if his real-life team demotes him. So after re-signing Liriano, I demoted him to the minors and called up Kuroda to make room. Not only does this give me the flexibility of stashing Liriano, it also accomplishes something else for me.

Added benefits I considered

I’ve recently been in trade talks in which Kuroda’s name has come up. By promoting him to my major league squad, his trade value gets an instant boost. Most people in the league consider me a pretty strong competitor (I know I said this isn’t the best thing, but it’s kind of unavoidable in my position), so when I call Kuroda up from the minors, it is perceived as a reflection of my approval of Kuroda.

From my own trading experiences, I know that the minute someone comes to me and says, “What will it take for Felix Hernandez?” or “I want Adam Dunn,” I have them exactly where I want them. I know that they like these players, and that player’s trade value immediately increases in my mind.

Promoting Kuroda deals with essentially the same concept. By me saying, “Hiroki Kuroda is good enough for my big league team,” his trade value increases at least a little to anyone paying attention. This, combined with his excellent contract status in our league and his current 3.95 ERA, should make him a pretty valuable commodity.

The “R” in WAR
How a person can be a hero by being a zero.
Concluding thoughts

The lesson here is to always be aware of your league’s rules and to always be looking for ways to exploit them to your advantage. In competitive leagues, we need to be looking for every advantage we can get. Whether this move works out isn’t the point. Whether you think Liriano will be awful the rest of the year doesn’t matter. This move was made with nigh zero risk. I gave up almost nothing to make this move, and the potential future profits are surely greater than that.

Even if you can make a move in this vein on a smaller scale or with a lesser player or using different rules, the concept remains the same. If it doesn’t cost you much but the potential for future reward is large in relation, do it.

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