Last week, Brandon Warne reviewed his FanGraphs Staff League ottoneu team, and noted my second place team (man, I hate typing that) was a hard-to-explain $295 over the cap, pre-arbitration.
A commenter wondered “how badly CY mortgaged the future with that payroll.” I responded that I didn’t, really – but the question is, how? Every year, ottoneu owners go for broke, swapping their farm for elite talent, assuming the next step is a rebuild. This is my look at how spent big but feel set to reload rather than rebuild.
My team, as you’d expect with that kind of salary, is littered with high-priced stars. Three over $60, another over $50, and two more over $45. The list of minor leaguers on the roster is short (four) but has a couple big names.
But my 2016 lineup won’t be weak – I have elite talent at many positions and good options at others. That is before making tougher calls on some MI and picking amongst my high-priced stars, of whom I have room for at least one…maaaaybe two. The rotation is shallow but strong, the bullpen is stacked.
Some patterns as to how this came to be emerge when you look at my acquisitions.
My first trade of the year was all about adding Anibal Sanchez to solidify my rotation (ugh) and Howie Kendrick to start at MI. I gave up youth to get it done, but I held my favorite prospects and got back pieces with keeper potential.
I waited until June to deal again. I paid a high price to add an overpriced Robinson Cano, but before agreeing to part with Kyle Schwarber, I required $9 Todd Frazier come my way. Not only I (again) improve my broken MI, I replaced a struggling Nick Castellanos at 3B, and solidified 3B for the future. Would I rather have Schwarber? Sure. But I made my 2015 much better while adding a 2016 asset.
My other June deal was a catcher swap. I gave up a broken Devin Mesoraco and added Russell Martin. Martin is the second highest paid C in this league – but he also scored the second most points, and he’ll still cost less than $20 in 2016.
In early July, I made two deals within a week, adding Chris Davis and Jose Abreu. Davis hadn’t fully heated up yet, so he only cost me Aaron Judge. He was also only $27. I gambled a bit, but the potential was there for Davis to be a no-doubt keeper. Now he is getting arbitration allocations. Abreu cost more, but I focused on making a quantity over quality offer here. I’ll miss Joe Ross and David Dahl has plenty of potential, but nothing I gave up significantly hurts my 2016 chances. Also, Abreu was the 20th highest scoring bat in ottoneu, 7th among 1B. $38 in 2016 is not cheap, but he is a keeper.
In August, I got active, knocking out four deals. I targeted Troy Tulowitzki and Buster Posey, and gave up the frustratingly-unable-to-stay-healthy Corey Dickerson (which hurts, quite a bit), but finagled Michael Taylor as an add-on – not a guy I had to have for 2015, but one with future value. Adding Patrick Corbin in the second deal was about the future – cashing in on assets I was not high on and adding a guy I like long-term. The fourth deal (we’ll come back to #3) was about stealing Miggy and making sure he didn’t go elsewhere – he pushed Frazier to the bench, but while I’ll miss Corbin, I couldn’t justify leaving Cabrera out there for another owner.
That third deal, though, was all about the future. In the midst of buying, buying, buying, I saw a chance to add some keepers. Dellin Betances and Ken Giles, at $3 each, immediately became the long-term backbone of my bullpen. Curtis Granderson isn’t young, but he had a huge year, finishing 11th among ottoneu OF in points. The big piece I gave up, Starling Marte, was 22nd, scoring 115 fewer points in four fewer games. Going into 2016, I’d rather run out a $3 Granderson than an $11 Marte. Plus, while Grandy is flying under the radar in arbitration, Marte has attracted $2 so far. His overall fantasy value, buoyed by 30 SB, is sky high (rightfully so in 5×5) and drives arbitration attention, but his low walk rate and relatively limited pop (28 OF hit more HR) depress his ottoneu value.
Almost all of these trades were enabled in part by FA pick ups. During the season, I picked up and later traded: Aaron Judge, Rafael Devers, Joe Ross, Gerardo Parra, Jeff Hoffman, Ryan McMahon, Alex Bregman, Clint Frazier. Just as an example, I added Parra and Bregman via auctions, swapped them for Corbin, added McMahon via auction and swapped him with Corbin for Miggy.
Four key lessons here:
- Speculate via auctions. Make sure you have a couple roster spots you can use to cycle through upside guys, prospects, etc. You don’t have to keep those guys, but who knows when a pick-up will turn into a future cog (a la Zimmer) or a key trade chip (a la McMahon). Don’t over-index on immediate outlook – if he flops, if a need arises, or if someone more intriguing comes along, you can always cycle the spot again.
- Buying doesn’t mean ignoring future value. You may be targeting the overpriced Cano, but if you can also get the cheap Frazier, it’ll go a long way. You may prefer the overpriced McCutchen, but if you can get the fairly priced Davis, even if he doesn’t produce as well (not a problem in this case, but still), you can improve your team and help your future.
- Trade assets you can live without. You’ll see that I traded a number of good young OF, but my OF is still deep and I have two high ceiling OF prospects. Ozuna, Marte, Dickerson are gone, but by trading from depth, my OF should remain a strength.
- Buying doesn’t mean you can’t sell. Don’t focus exclusively on win-now moves. If the opportunity arises to build for the future without hurting your present (like the Marte deal), take advantage. If you see a buying team offering pieces you want, don’t be afraid to get in the mix.
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.