Successfully “rebuilding” your fantasy team into a contender is an epic challenge that requires vision, skill, patience, and a little bit of luck. Since there is no perfect blueprint that ensures success (some people say never rebuild), it’s not surprising that owners take a lot of different routes to the same ultimate goal.
I recently polled a group of savvy, successful fantasy owners to get their advice for rebuilding in Ottoneu, asking five key questions that are related to the idea of effective rebuilding. Regardless of whether you play Ottoneu, much of the (anonymous) feedback below should be relevant to a wide variety of fantasy baseball leagues and may be helpful if you find yourself in a rebuild this season.
What is the best advice you would offer an Ottoneu owner who is rebuilding their roster for the future?
“Talk to every owner in your league so you can to maximize any trade return. If you can’t find a trade you love just sit tight. Communication and patience are very important.”
“Find ways to acquire surplus value. There are lots of ways to do that but, like an MLB team, you need the cost-controlled talent in place before your expensive free agents really put you over the top.”
“Don’t feel like you must trade your star for future pieces. Even if you decide to move a Trout or Harper, take your time and get the best deal. And, consider the value of moving that player instead of just jumping to sell. A well priced Bryce Harper or Paul Goldschmidt could easily help you over the next few seasons, so make sure that if you do trade them, it’s because the deal is great for you and not because you felt the conventional wisdom is that you need to sell indiscriminately to rebuild.”
“What I always tell owners is that they should not shy away from contending. Yes, you’re rebuilding, but everyone is rebuilding every offseason. All teams should be paring their rosters down to the bare minimum, which leaves plenty of players available to carve out a contender from the auction glut.”
“Stockpile values — regardless of whether those values are 18 years old or 38 years old. Rebuilding doesn’t necessarily need to be a youth movement.”
“Look to trade aggressively. Give up fairly priced stars for anything that’s undervalued. Then cut aggressively at the deadline and go into the draft with the big pot. Never look more than two years out. Rebuilding shouldn’t take more than a year.”
“Take risks. Whether that’s on prospects, post-hype sleepers, bounce back candidates, or guys coming off injury. Stick your neck out on guys that everyone “hates”. This is where you unearth the value that you need to contend.”
How should Ottoneu owners evaluate and use prospects when rebuilding a team?
“I’m a firm believer that there are two types of prospects: name value and fantasy value. Both are better served as currency. There’s always someone trying for a long rebuild. Prospects have more trade value than most $2-3 bench players.”
“I tend not to invest in prospects at all, but when I do, I completely ignore the top-ranked prospects. People go crazy for the top 10 prospects, but the hit rate on even top prospects is very low. I constantly see people spend $10-15 on 20-year-old prospects, which seems totally wrong to me. In most leagues you could roster four prospects outside the top 20 for $1 each. Even if the top-5 guys are twice as likely to turn into MLB stars as the 20-40-ranked prospects, your value per dollar is way higher casting your prospect net wider and saving your big money for guys who you actually know will produce fantasy points this year.”
“Prospects are part of every team’s strategy, but their importance, especially this year–post-Correa, post-Lindor, post-Pederson, post-Sano, post-Seager–shouldn’t be emphasized over players that can contribute to the overall goal: winning your league. Ottoneu isn’t truly dynasty baseball; you can’t keep a prospect for their entire career. If you can acknowledge this as true, the focus shifts to players that can make an impact, not just occupy a roster spot for years. Yes, it’s worth having a small farm team, but don’t get attached to names, get attached to value and what that player can either return to you in trade or provide you in the standings. Be willing to cash those chips in–don’t hoard them. Use them like a poker player, bullying the table by jumping in when someone wants to move a valuable piece, not sitting back and waiting for those prospects to mature. There are always interesting players to grab throughout the year, be flexible.”
“Prospects are important because they can deliver huge profit once promoted. Even if not yet promoted, if a rebuild goes better/faster than planned, they can become great trade chips. As far as evaluation goes: When prospecting, I try to weigh ETA more heavily than the prospect rankings do. For a rebuild, the 85th-ranked prospect with near ETA may have more value (to you) than the 15th-ranked prospect with distant ETA.”
What is the biggest mistake owners make when rebuilding a team in Ottoneu?
“I think teams are too quick to trade their stars, feeling like their only option is to sell. Take your time and make sure a deal is good for you, don’t just make a trade because you feel like it’s ‘what rebuilding teams do.’ I also think teams look too far into the future. Try to keep your rebuild on a short timeline. This will help you target players who are more useful (and avoid extremely far off prospects), and also encourage you to think about holding onto options that still have a lot of value in the near future.”
“I think investing lots of money in prospects is a disastrous plan. I understand why people’s intuition makes them spend $15 on 20-year-olds, but ottoneu is not like MLB. In the pros, prospects have value because they’re cost controlled, but in ottoneu you have to buy them at auction and then watch their salaries increase immediately after they break out.”
“Having too long of a rebuild horizon.”
“Overvaluing prospects who are 2, 3, 4 years out from fantasy relevance.”
How does the annual arbitration system impact your rebuilding strategies in Ottoneu?
“I don’t think arbitration plays that big a role in a rebuild, except that you do need to be aware that cheap players won’t stay the same forever. This is another reason to rebuild on a short timeline, instead of planning to compete several years in the future, because by that point your cheapest players will go through several cycles of arbitration, and you’ll already need to think about unloading them for a new wave of cheap talent. If you try to rebuild quickly, though, your players will still be in the prime of their ottoneu careers – at the cheapest prices they’re likely to see until far into the future.”
“It doesn’t. I keep players that are under valid and I cut players who are overvalued.”
“Honestly, it doesn’t. Arbitration is more a means to an end, allowing market forces to adjust prices slightly, rarely significantly. Again, Ottoneu isn’t a dynasty league, so you should not have expectations of keeping players forever. Focus on value first and foremost. If your cheap, young star becomes your overpriced, young star, you have options, including trading away all of those allocation dollars to another owner, or simply cutting the player, nullifying those dollars. You have to find and keep values, even if some of that value is eaten away by allocations. Don’t fear arbitration.”
“It doesn’t. If your default is to stockpile values with profit potential, that helps you across the board, including with arbitration, where you are diffusing arbitration dollars across multiple profit guys.”
You are entering your annual Ottoneu player auction with cash to spend and full knowledge that you cannot compete in the current season. How does this information impact your auction strategy?
“In this situation, I would prefer to draft two types of players. First, it never hurts to grab some stars you can trade later in the season. Even if you over pay a little, you can include a loan, and restock on prospects or cheap players with upside. Don’t spend TOO far above their value though, since you can use that money to target your own players with upside too. The other type of player I like to target are post-hype sleepers. These players might be ignored by a contending team, who needs guaranteed production to win, but a rebuilding team can afford to take chances on a player who just had a poor season, or a former top prospect who hasn’t broken out yet. Many times these players will rebound or will grow into their talent at a later age, and if your team is rebuilding, it can be valuable to own a few of these guys and try to hit on one who becomes a late-blooming star, or reclaims his former glory. As with prospects, if your post-hype sleeper fails to deliver, don’t be afraid to cut him loose and bring in someone else!”
“I’d be looking to pay whatever it takes to draft two or three of the best available players with the intention of trading them (with a hefty loan attached) for whatever value I could later in the season. With the rest of my money I’d target cheap guys with some breakout upside.”
“It doesn’t really change anything. You still need to target players that can provide value, either financially because they are underpriced or standings-wise because they help you win. Ideally you find both, but if realistically you can’t compete be willing to outpace inflation in order to acquire stars. Worst case, you might find you can compete…best case, in keeping with your rebuilding strategy, you can move those stars for young MLB talent or top-shelf, well-aged prospects.”
“If your rebuild strategy is to stockpile values, annual (i.e. not initial) auctions are not the ideal place to do that. So my strategy then would be to think two steps ahead: What players can I win who I can flip for values later in the year? I think the answer to that question is superstars who can swing a title chase. Since contenders won’t care too much if those superstars cost $38 or $58, I would pay top dollar for them with the intent of flipping them in-season.”
“Again, take risks and get a read on your league mates so you can try to take an approach that leaves you alone to do what you want. If everyone is using the same calculator, that is great for you. Don’t use it. Also, don’t be afraid to overpay for a couple of superstars. These can yield great returns on trades during the season when contenders are able to take on loans.”
“I’ve never entered an auction with the thought I can’t compete. I think that’s a fatal error. If you cut the right players keep the right players and draft the right players you can compete. I always enter an auction with the strategy of building a team for that season to try and win. Period. Otherwise you get too cute. Have the balls to build a winner.”
Special thanks to many of the owners in the Ottoneu Champions league for their advice. Do you have other rebuild strategies that have worked for you?
Trey is a 20 year fantasy veteran and a five time Ottoneu champion, including the 2015 winner of the Ottoneu Champions League. He currently administers the Ottoneu community, a network of ~1,200 fantasy baseball and football fans talking trash daily. More resources here: http://community.ottoneu.com