The Anatomy of a Ottoneu Dynasty Rebuild: Part 1

The process. Taking a step back. Tanking. However you put it, nearly every team in Major League Baseball has been faced with the decision to rebuild at some point in the recent past. Sometimes it’s a quick retool lasting a year or two or maybe it’s a full tear-down with a multi-year cycle before sniffing the playoffs again. Dynasty fantasy baseball — and Ottoneu in particular — is no different, where the decision to build for the future is one of the core experiences of the format.

When Ottoneu was established, it was designed to try and emulate the job of an MLB general manager as closely as possible within the confines of a fantasy baseball setting. That meant deep rosters, access to the full minor leagues, and the ability to truly build for the future. I’ve played fantasy baseball for over 20 years and have been playing Ottoneu since 2011 when it was first established. It’s my favorite format I’ve played in all those years, and luckily, I’ve managed to avoid a major rebuild in any of my leagues until now.

My very first Ottoneu team was in League 32 – Fantasy Field of Dreams and I’ve held onto this team ever since. I’ve finished as high as second in this league and never lower than sixth until 2021. The prospect of rebuilding was never really all that appealing to me. I preferred to draft and wheel and deal my way into contention every year even if that “always compete” strategy never resulted in any championships. I thought it was more fun to try and push for that top-three finish than to “waste” a year (or years) rebuilding. Unfortunately, without a strong foundation to stay competitive every year, the tank has finally caught up with me.

I thought it would be helpful and instructive to walk through this rebuild to impart any lessons I learn to you, dear reader. My hope is that a guide to rebuilding in Ottoneu should be different enough thanks to the quirks and nuances of the unique format while still having some value for those of you who don’t play Ottoneu. Perhaps it’ll make your decision to start rebuilding a little easier or help you along the way if you’re already knee-deep in your own step-back cycle.

Making the Decision

I finished the 2021 season in seventh place and foolishly tried to run it back again last year. There were tons of holes on my roster but I thought I had enough pieces to be competitive with a good draft. It didn’t work. I quickly fell into last place once the season started as injuries and poor talent evaluation both dragged my team to the bottom. By May, the writing was on the wall — this team stunk and I’d need to do a lot of work to turn it around.

And that’s one of the first lessons I should have learned: you need to be brutally honest with your position. From 2017–‘19, I finished in sixth place for three straight seasons. That should have been a huge warning sign that my strategy of trying to compete every season wasn’t working. Those teams had some nice pieces like MVP-era Christian Yelich, Coors-era DJ LeMahieu, Whit Merrifield, and J.T. Realmuto. What they didn’t have was any sort of keepable pitching what-so-ever. That should have been evident in the final points-per-game (P/G) and -per-innings-pitched (P/IP) each season but I (arrogantly) thought I could overcome that hindrance.

League 32 Points, 2017–19
Year Total Pts P/G P/IP
2017 16399.9 (6th) 5.17 (10th) 4.34 (10th)
2018 16772.4 (6th) 5.33 (4th) 4.81 (9th)
2019 18145.2 (6th) 5.91 (3rd) 4.71 (6th)

To be fair, I did a pretty good job of building a competitive offense (thanks to the juiced baseball!) but I just couldn’t figure out an answer for my pitching staff. It regularly sat in the bottom half of the league by points-per-innings-pitched and was the downfall of those offensive powerhouses in 2018 and ‘19. A more honest evaluation and reflection after each of those years could have resulted in a decision to start rebuilding a lot sooner.

Evaluate Your Roster and Develop a Plan

These next two steps really go hand-in-hand. Once you’ve decided to start rebuilding, laying out a rough roadmap towards contention is your next step. A rebuild without an exit strategy hews too close to how the Marlins approach each season in the big leagues. It’s too easy to push the goalposts back each year if you’re not making progress so having a concrete plan in place helps you break out of that cycle.

You can’t really build that timeline until you’ve evaluated your roster and figured out who is coming along for the ride and who is dead weight. Rebuilding teams aren’t just deciding to keep players for next year, they have to take into account their timeline back to contention. Because of salary inflation and arbitration, the players you keep today will be that much more expensive down the road. If you’re looking at a quick one- or two-year retool, keeping a player with $1–$5 of surplus value makes a little more sense than if you’re looking to rebuild for multiple years. Those borderline keepers should turn into easy cuts if their salary in a few years prices them out of your roster.

Players with tons of surplus value — $10 or more — make sense as long-term keepers because they’re the players that will be contributing on your next competitive roster down the road. These are your centerpieces to your team — usually young major leaguers who have already established themselves but who have a cheap salary right now.

For my team in League 32, those centerpieces are probably these four guys:

League 32, Roster Centerpieces
Player Salary Projected Value Projected Pts/G
Wander Franco $32 $30 5.72
Ian Happ $12 $21 5.10
Sean Murphy $12 $17 4.95
Jorge Polanco $8 $13 5.13
Projected Values per Steamer Projections (FG Auction Calculator)

Even though Wander Franco doesn’t necessarily have a projected surplus value in 2023, the potential in his bat is off the charts. Even if he ends up not hitting for as much power as expected, if he’s healthy and continues his upward trajectory, he should be worth the large hit to my salary cap. The other three players all have plenty of surplus value and would likely fit on nearly every roster around the league at their price, even if their projections aren’t that gaudy.

Making those keep or cut decisions with a two- or three-year outlook can be pretty tricky. It’s hard enough projecting for next season, let alone a few years into the future. Luckily, ZiPS projects three years into the future so you can at least get an idea of how your roster might look in 2024 or 2025. Those long-term projections aren’t perfect, but they’re a good baseline to start from when determining which players to keep and which to cut.

On the other hand, if you’re just starting your rebuild, you’ll need valuable pieces to trade off during the season to continue replenishing your roster. This isn’t as important as determining who the long-term core of your team is, but they’ll be a critical part of moving your rebuild forward. Think of them as the MLB veteran signed to a one- or two-year deal to be used as trade bait during the summer. For my roster, that’s someone like my $25 Max Muncy or $21 Teoscar Hernández. Those two are projected to be solid contributors, and if they have a strong season in 2023, they’d both make fantastic trade pieces during the summer for a team looking to upgrade for the stretch run. They’re cheap enough to be keepers in 2023 and good enough to be a significant upgrade for a team during the summer.

Determining which players are long-term keepers and which players are sellable keepers might seem like they’re at odds. It depends on where you’re at in your rebuilding process. Since my team is still towards the beginning, I’ve still got sellable pieces on my roster that I can keep this year with the intention to move them for more valuable pieces later on.

Now we need to talk about prospects. For a rebuilding team, you’d expect that prospects are the bread and butter of the process. While that might be true to some extent, I’m here to argue that prospects are a trap. Yesterday, Lucas Kelly did a great job breaking down much of my argument in his piece on keeping minor leaguers. With prospects, you’re hoping that their development path and introduction to the majors is as smooth as Juan Soto’s while trying to keep them on your roster with a low enough salary if/when they hit snags along the way.

For example, Marco Luciano has an average salary of $5 in Ottoneu right now (and I happen to currently roster him in League 32). His ETA on his prospect profile says 2024, but he hasn’t played above High-A yet. Even if he does hit that ETA, it’s unlikely he’ll make an immediate impact until a year or two later. At that point his salary will be at least $7 and maybe higher if he gets any major league playing time. Will he be worth that salary then? Maybe, but it’s a risk you have to weigh and Luciano’s timeline might not line up with your own cycle. Lucas made the same argument with Jack Leiter in his article yesterday. With prospects that are multiple years away, are they even going to be contributing in the major leagues when you’re aiming to break out of your rebuilding cycle? I’m choosing to keep Luciano at $3 because the salary is low enough I can take the risk to see if he pans out and he might even make an enticing trade piece this summer if his minor league season is more successful than last year.

With that said, there are some prospects who do make sense to try and build around. With the new CBA incentivizing teams to promote their top prospects earlier in the season, it’s easier than ever to figure out which prospects are going to be given a full-season opportunity in the big leagues. These MLB-ready prospects are usually deep into their development process and can usually be trusted to return some modest value now while hopefully bringing back even more value later on. My team in League 32 has four guys like that: George Kirby ($10), Ezequiel Tovar ($3), Grayson Rodriguez ($3), and Shane Baz ($3). I’m betting that these guys will develop enough to become centerpieces on my roster in a few years and they’re close enough to the majors that I can make a call on whether or not they’ve developed sufficiently fairly quickly in my rebuilding process.

That’s it for now. My next installment in this series will examine my opening moves of this rebuild from last summer and dive into a potential draft strategy.





Jake Mailhot is a contributor to FanGraphs. A long-suffering Mariners fan, he also writes about them for Lookout Landing. Follow him on Twitter @jakemailhot.

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Jimmember
2 days ago

Outstanding job, Jake.