Never Rebuild

Never rebuild – that’s my mantra. As a hard and fast rule, it’s a little too rigid to work in reality. However, as a rule of thumb, it’s a useful code of conduct. I have six leagues that can be described as a dynasty format. Occasionally, I do rebuild. Rosters break. We’re here to talk about those scenarios as well as why I believe rebuilding is for suckers.

Perhaps I should begin with a caveat. Avoiding rebuilds works for me. It’s a battle tested strategy that maps to my strengths and weaknesses as a fantasy player. Not every owner is like me. It’s possible that you should rebuild because it better fits your personal approach.

The goal of the Never Rebuild philosophy is to constantly and consistently field a contending roster. It starts by entering the season with a full fantasy lineup. In my deepest dynasty and ottoneu leagues, there are always at least a couple teams without a complete roster. They’ve reassigned those spots to prospects.

Simply by having an active roster, you’ve put yourself in a position to get lucky. John Buck could pop 10 home runs by May 3 – as he did in 2013. Even if you don’t benefit from a fluke like Buck, you could accidentally grab a high caliber major league asset like Zack Godley, Chris Taylor, or Tommy Pham. All three of them were freely available at one point in my weekly dynasty. We roster 900 players leaguewide. Those guys weren’t considered to be top 900 talents.

Alternatively, if you stack prospects, not only do you have no chance to place in your league, you also are unlikely to participate in the market for fringy major leaguers with upside. The guys who get the Godley or Taylor are the ones who need a short term roster patch. Then they prove themselves to be uncuttable.

Beginning the season with a contender-eligible lineup is not the same as committing to that roster for the full campaign. Sometimes, even a good roster falls apart. In my deepest dynasty, I went into the season with what should have been a first place candidate. Then Miguel Cabrera, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Santana, Aaron Sanchez, Ben Zobrist, Jose Quintana, Trevor Story, J.D. Martinez, Danny Salazar, Sam Dyson, Brandon Maurer, and others failed to show up for April. At least Martinez had an excuse. Not only did those players fail to play to their (mostly) lofty norms, they actively hurt our stats.

Rather than continue flailing in 12th place, we pivoted to younger talent, trading our older stars and others for Anthony Rizzo and Mookie Betts while taking cheap fliers on Justin Smoak, Taylor, Godley, Dexter Fowler, Jed Lowrie, and a small army of scrubby pitchers. This was our rebuilding effort, but it’s more accurate to call it a “retooling.” And we clawed our way back to third place on the very last day of the season. We were very lucky.

The reason we spent a lot to acquire Rizzo and Betts is that prospects are exceptionally dangerous assets. Every player, even Mike Trout, could suddenly disappear. It’s a risk for everybody. That risk is massively higher for players who have yet to taste the upper minors. Prospects also tend to cost way more than they’re worth in fantasy baseball leagues. It’s all about the upside with nobody paying attention to the median and downside realities.

Recently, an owner paid Paul Goldschmidt and Corey Kluber to acquire Ronald Acuna. That same owner then offered a lesser package for our Betts (we also paid less than that when we acquired Betts). When I called him out on valuing Acuna higher than Betts, he said that was correct. Acuna is around five years younger than Betts which obviously matters in a keep forever format. As I put it, Acuna aspires to be Betts. If he reaches or betters that level of performance, this owner comes out looking smart. However, a large percentage of the possible outcomes involve Acuna never even approaching Betts’ level of output. One must willfully ignore the risks to prefer Acuna to Betts.

I should also point out that Acuna is actually a bad example. Acuna is a couple standard deviations better than a typical “good” prospect. Most “good” prospects either never establish themselves as fantasy regulars, or they take several years to cut their teeth in the majors. Even Byron Buxton – an Acuna-esque prospect – finally delivered his first useful season in 2017 – his third attempt in the majors. It’s still uncertain that he’ll produce in 2018.

Owners who invest in a complete rebuild often over-sell themselves on their own prospects. When you spike a couple guys – think Nolan Arenado, Francisco Lindor, and Gary Sanchez – it’s time to start cashing in your other quality prospects for MLB talent. You may need to settle for a transition year or two. Unfortunately, most rebuilders fail to make this important pivot. Instead, they sell their Arenado for more highly regarded prospects.

This is an approach I employed in a 12-team keeper league. After struggling to start the 2016 season, I bulked up on minor leaguers like Andrew Benintendi, Alex Bregman, Dansby Swanson, and others. Very early in 2017, I traded them for players like Joey Votto and Charlie Blackmon. I jumped from 10th in 2016 to second in 2017.

Parting Thoughts

Here’s the short version of the above:

  • Avoid rebuilding
  • Trying to contend often leads one to surprising rewards
  • Retooling is better than rebuilding
  • If forced to rebuild, plan to convert minor league talent into major leaguers once you spike a couple prospects

You can follow me on twitter @BaseballATeam

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5 years ago

Shout out to Wilson for completing the biggest sell high in the history of fantasy baseball with that Acuña trade.

I know both owners know their stuff, but I think it’s a pretty laughable trade. That’s what I’d expect for a top 5 player, let alone someone who’s never set foot on an MLB roster.

Robert J. Baumannmember
5 years ago
Reply to  Eddy

This question might sound sarcastic, but it’s not: For a top 5 player you’d expect two top ten players? (Maybe Kluber slightly outside the top ten …)