‘Tis the season

Who’s laughing now? (Icon/SMI)

Now’s the time of year for mistletoe, embarrassing incidents at Christmas parties and rule changes to your league. People naturally have opinions about the various rules that are needed to set up a league. I’m sure there have been thousands of e-mail exchanges and gigabytes of blog space devoted to everything from draft versus auction all the way down to two- versus three-day consideration periods for trades. The best leagues—the stable, friendly leagues where players enjoy playing with each other year after year—earn and maintain a consensus on the rules. The important rules are discussed and decisions are made as democratically as possible.

Rule changes are easiest when the only thing at stake are your league-mates’ opinions on the matter. Once there is actually fantasy success on the line, it becomes much harder. Just try changing from a draft to an auction league after the draft order has been set. Depending on the rule change you want to make, interests can become entrenched quite soon. Keeper leagues basically have no easy window in which to change rules, but things only become harder once players start signing with new teams in the offseason, much less when injuries information starts coming in during spring training.

I’ve written a bit about this last offseason. So this offseason I want to throw in something more fun. In leagues where the competition is as much about fun as it is about pride, there are little things you can try to mix things up a bit. I’m just throwing out a few—this list is not exhaustive. Having just thought of them, I’ve never tried any of them myself and so would naturally be curious if you do try one of these (or something like it) out.

The Secret Santa, Version 1 (for draft leagues):

Pick a round after the draft randomly (say the 10th round). After the draft, every team’s 10th round pick gets put into a hat (either literally or digitally) and then each team picks a new 10th-round pick blindly from the hat. Maybe you were laughing at one of your opponents who picked Oliver Perez during the draft and maybe now you are not. You may or may not want to limit which rounds can be chosen (for instance, not the first five rounds).

The Secret Santa, Version 2 (for auction leagues):

Pick a dollar value randomly after the auction (say $15). Each team must put a player that he auctioned for at least $15 into the hat. It is up to each owner to choose which player from his roster that he wants to put in. Then each team draws blindly from the hat.

Note that for each of these, it is important to pick the round or the dollar value after rather than before the draft/auction. Otherwise, for instance, each team would just pick the trashiest player it could find for the chosen round and each team would cut its Secret Santa player as soon as possible. It might be fun to see the picks for trashiest player, but basically all it would really mean is that your draft would be one round shorter (or the auction money that you had to spend would be $15 lighter).

The DL Dump:

On a random day during the season, every team has to cut any player on its DL. Those players go to waivers. This is a bit tougher since you will definitely need a random-number generator. It would help if it were publicly observable so that all your league-mates, wherever in the world they are located, could see the random number. I suggest using the last two digits of the close of the Dow Jones Industrial Average on any given day. These are numbers from 00 to 99. If the number were either, say, 00, 01 or 02, then that would be the day or week in which everyone would dump their DL. Obviously you’ll have to work out the details to make sure folks don’t cut lesser players and then stash their DL players safely on their bench.

The Closer Swap:

Same as the DL Dump, except that instead, on the chosen day, each team’s leading closer (the one with the most saves at that point of the season) gets put into the Secret Santa hat.

Needless to say, all of these fun things are the equivalent of wild-card poker. They don’t really add to the skill element of the game. Instead they just introduce lotteries—randomness that can make the luckiest man the winner. Generally speaking, I’m for rules that reduce the luck element of the game. But a little bit of luck, if structured in a fun way, can make the league more social, particularly at points of the season where there’s not much talking going on.

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