So you’ve joined a new, established keeper league. Or maybe it’s a dynasty, ottoneu, or some other deep format. The team that was abandoned has a couple good guys on it. Or maybe it doesn’t. Clearly, it’s not ready to contend. You have some rebuilding to do.
I bet I know the very first thing you’re going to do – shop your best veterans. In fact, if my experience is any guide, you’re going to really rush into the trade market. Both feet in, taking the best offer on the first day without getting to know your leaguemates, shopping offers, or researching past trades. You’ll swing deals with the zest of A.J. Preller, except instead an ill-fated attempt to contend, you’ll probably acquire a bunch of prospects who are one to five years from any fantasy contributions. And we all know how heartbreaking prospects can be (oh, hello there Fernando Martinez).
I’ve seen it happen again and again and again. There’s something about that new, broken roster that screams for attention. You have to fix it now. Never mind that tomorrow or six months from now would probably offer similar opportunities. The catharsis of now is too much to pass up.
Let’s ponder a dynasty scenario. You inherit a roster with Nolan Arenado and Manny Machado. Those are franchise assets in a deep format. You also have Cole Hamels, Glen Perkins, and Jose Bautista. That’s the extent of your major league roster, the rest of your team is an array of prospects and glue.
You probably do need to trade Hamels, Perkins, and Bautista ASAP. The probability that any of them help your next contending roster is low. Perkins is already hemorrhaging trade value while Hamels and Joey Bats can only go down too. Perkins should be worth something like a B prospect. Hamels and Bautista could each return your next franchise star.
Once you tell teams you’re looking to trade, the inquiries come pouring in…for Arenado and Machado. No need for surprise. You’re the new guy, fresh meat, and all the contenders want to raid your roster. Maybe you’re patient and tell people to look at the older guys first. Maybe you see some hyped prospects thrown your way and decide you can trade Arenado and Machado.
The thing is, those two elite third basemen will probably be a part of your next contending roster. They’re young, and they’re immensely valuable. You’re also wasting some of their best years so you shouldn’t be entirely opposed to trading them. But first, you absolutely should wait until you have leverage. When your rivals are feeling pain, that is when you put Machado on the block. And that’s when you can legitimately expect to land a serious package in return.
While Ruben Amaro Jr. was GM of the Phillies, he drew a lot of flak for hanging onto Hamels. Surely he should have been dealt in 2014. If not then, the winter before 2015. Every day that passed was a chance for him to get hurt, decline, or otherwise shed trade value. But Amaro was patient. He knew he had a top pitcher, and he also knew Hamels had to turn into serious future value. If he worked another trade like Cliff Lee to Seattle or Hunter Pence to San Francisco (both deals flopped miserably), then the franchise would have been better off just hanging onto Hamels.
Draw a lesson from Amaro. If you’re trading Machado for prospects, you should be getting a shot at a prospect with a comparable projection. Probably one of those Top 5 guys. You should also receive several additional players of value. A player who looks like a future Machado is not the same as a future Machado. We all understand the risk associated with prospects, but too often, it gets priced out of a conversation.
Sometimes, a deep dynasty league will reach a point where a lot of teams are only focused on prospects. This can screw with the supply and demand curve, making risky, younger assets equivalent to older, stable veterans. My dynasty league is in such a state at the moment. Rebuilding in such an environment can be a challenge.
Instead of taking the prospect driven approach, sometimes it’s best rebuild with major leaguers. Buy low on Justin Verlander in the hopes of swinging a profit. Give some Quad-A types a home just in case they break out. Try to scrounge up the next Carter Capps before he’s given a chance to be a closer. Be the first to the wire for Aaron Altherr, Derek Dietrich, or Odubel Herrera.
Pursuing such an approach can be frustrating. You won’t get to rosterbate for the next several seasons over your future outfield of Nomar Mazara, Lewis Brinson, Bradley Zimmer, and Nick Williams. Instead, you’ll be agonizing over which un-hyped call up to roster. Sometimes that un-hyped nobody turns into Altherr. He wasn’t a top 30 Phillies prospect last year. Now he’s a valuable dynasty asset.
If you’re lucky, you can then convert Altherr and parts into Kyle Seager. Then Seager and parts may become a star player. Rinse and repeat often enough and you’ll have rebuilt your roster without having gone through a full tear down. Chad Young and I did that last season. We still finished sixth out of 20. After a summer and winter of condensing value, we now have a legit shot at second place.
One big advantage to maintaining a major league roster during a rebuild is the chance for opportunism. While your pure prospect rebuilders won’t have midseason reinforcements available, you can take your pick of the best prospects left on contenders. Usually, they’ll have already dealt the most hyped stars – or they’re completely unwilling to do so. But they could have rostered a guy who broke out in High-A and is just now gaining notoriety. Victor Robles comes to mind as an example from last season. You’ll have a chance to acquire the next Robles at a reasonable price specifically because most other rebuild teams won’t have the right pieces available.
There’s a time and a place to go the full tear down route to rebuilding just as there’s a time and place to rebuild with major league gambles. Your strengths as an owner and the actions of your rivals will dictate which direction is best. But before you dive down either rabbit hole, take your time getting the lay of the land and learning about your new leaguemates. Your patience will pay off down the road.
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