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.

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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.).