If I had a Game of Thrones style house mantra, it would be “Retool, not Rebuild.” I had just such an opportunity in The Devil’s Rejects, a long-running 20-team, deep roster dynasty league filled with industry folk. We have 45-man rosters and keep 28 players at no cost. Scoring is 5×5 OBP roto.
In my opinion, the results of my retool were mixed. Shall we?
Heading into 2019, I built a roster I believed would have a strong chance to contend. Sadly, I either forgot to take a screenshot of my post-draft team, or I misplaced it. The offense had cornerstones like Charlie Blackmon, Trevor Story, J.D. Martinez, Anthony Rizzo, and Jose Altuve. They were surrounded by plentiful core performers like Yuli Gurriel, DJ LeMahieu, David Peralta, Travis Shaw, Joey Wendle, Miguel Cabrera, Mallex Smith, Chris Taylor, Adam Eaton, and Niko Goodrum. As a cohort, they underperformed expectations with only Gurriel, DJLM, Smith and Eaton playing at an acceptable level.
On the pitching side James Paxton, Patrick Corbin, Sean Doolittle, and Felipe Vazquez headlined a fairly typical pitching staff for my dynasty clubs. I picked up schlubs like Jeff Samardzija, Jordan Lyles, Homer Bailey, and Wade Miley off waivers. I kept Nate Eovaldi (yuck) and Kyle Gibson (eh).
In retrospect and with perfect foresight, my 28 keepers were somewhat misspent. When trade season rolled around in late-July, my team was mired in ninth place. Moreover, a careful analysis of the standings revealed only a small chance of climbing back into the money (top five spots pay). I estimated it as between 10 and 20 percent. And I considered myself to have almost no shot to do better than fourth.
This left me in an interesting position as the only non-contender holding premium present value assets. All of the rebuilding owners had already sold anything shiny. That left me as the only person on hand who could reasonably demand top future talent. I intended to take advantage of this.
My efforts to acquire elite prospects were uniformly thwarted. I did have a deal lined up for Royce Lewis, and I don’t remember why it didn’t happen. I probably got cold feet over his stat line. Likewise, attempts to make a Godfather offer for Cody Bellinger or Alex Bregman fell short. They were too instrumental to their owners’ success.
This left me to refocus on injured players. Joey Gallo in particular. Gallo’s owner was battling for first place despite missing his top slugger. And Giancarlo Stanton. I aimed to build a kingmaker offer for this duo of scrumptious power. Yet, there was also a third player who formed the linchpin of the trade.
I acquired: Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, Cavan Biggio
I lost: J.D. Martinez, Anthony Rizzo, DJ LeMahieu, Patrick Corbin
Of the four players I dealt away, Rizzo is the youngest at 30 years and four months. In deep dynasties and this league in particular, a 30th birthday is a crushing blow to trade value. Opportunities to trade their statistical production for a corresponding return are few and far between.
Stanton too is a month past his 30th birthday while Gallo (26) and Biggio (24) are much younger. Obviously, the jury is still out on Biggio, but they (i.e. the jury) hope to provide a verdict by mid-2020. The floor seems to be a solid mix of power, speed, and on base skills that tantalizes at times but never really turns into a star.
Once one domino falls, the others start to topple. My next trade, a few days later, involved a statcast darling and a closer for a quartet of dart throws.
I lost: J.D. Davis, Sean Doolittle
While shopping my players, I decided I would hang onto one of my two closers. I perceived greater risk with Doolittle since he has a near yearly visit to the shoulder doctor. Doolittle did hemorrhage trade value later in the season for non-shoulder reasons. However, my choice to hang onto Vazquez… backfired.
Davis is an interesting player who gives every appearance of being a core producer. I think we all anticipate an expanded role for him in 2020. I tend to shy away from hitters who provide most of their value via hard, low angle contact. Davis’ near-50 percent ground ball rate is a red flag for me. The profile as a whole tends to underperform for fantasy purposes, although there are plenty of exceptions.
My dart throws have panned out decently. Things could have gone a lot better. I’m locked into a dice throw on Rojas who appears to have a starting job despite tepid production. If he puts it together, he’s a 20/20 monster with OBP for days. More likely, he’ll turn into a utility man and a future cut. VanMeter was dealt a blow for 2020 and beyond when the Reds signed Mike Moustakas. The fantasy traits, especially during weeks when he faces a full slate of right-handed pitchers, are still too good to cut. Like Rojas, there is upside for better than 20/20 output with plentiful OBP. For now, he’s blocked.
Solak emerged as a pleasant surprise in that I got a free look at him in the majors. I wasn’t expecting that. He did enough to merit a chance at a starting job in 2020. He also flashed enough utility to suggest he’ll gain multiple eligibilities. For now, he’s DH-only in CBS leagues. Once again, we’re looking at a mix of power, speed, and OBP skills. Solak does have the high ground ball profile I tend to quit.
I didn’t expect a third trade to be finalized even though I still had plenty of present value to package. Ultimately, one of our most active owners managed to convince me I wanted Bryce Harper (it is OBP).
I acquired: Bryce Harper, Trey Mancini, Travis Shaw
I lost: Charlie Blackmon, Yuli Gurriel, Jose Altuve, James Paxton
It hurt to trade Altuve who at age 29 is still young enough to build around. The others were on the wrong side of that age 30 line, although I’d happily reacquire them if an opportunity arose. I still have second thoughts about this swap. While I got younger, the cost was a big chunk of my roster flexibility along with my last good pitcher. Staff ace Kyle Gibson isn’t going to cut it.
Harper is Harper. He’s an OBP league stud with consistent five category output. I’ve talked trash about Mancini for years including in the player cap on his page. My Quick Opinion:
Mancini’s extreme ground ball rates aren’t widely talked about in the baseball community, but they’re a big reason why he’s an underwhelming hitter. He needs to completely overhaul his swing to achieve success.
I don’t know how much he overhauled his swing, but he did trade just enough ground balls for fly balls to take a giant step forward as a fantasy asset. One word of caution: despite an increased walk rate, his plate discipline shows no signs of improvement.
As for Shaw’s inclusion, I had previously dealt him as a throw-in earlier in the season. This was my attempt to reacquire an option on him. Depending on where he signs, I might yet keep him. Or not.
I’m pleased with the execution of my plan. I traded a bunch of older players for a bunch of younger players. That’s Dynasty 101.
I do worry that perhaps I shouldn’t have put together the plan in the first place. Remember how I was mired in ninth place at the time of these trades. My revamped and retooled club surged into fourth place on the final day of the season, earning me a 2X return on my buy-in.
While I’d like to credit my wheeling and dealing, there’s no question that the players I dealt away performed even better than those I acquired. However, the gap between third and fourth place was 11.5 points – a considerable gulf. Had I stood pat, I likely would have coasted to an easier fourth place finish. Incidentally, the second
third place club was the one that sent me Gallo et al.
Now… how does one go about building a pitching staff from scratch?
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