MLB Deadline/Fantasy Points
As I laid out in my April Fantasy Points most big-name player movement takes place on or around the July 31st non-waiver trading deadline. That was the case again this year, as the two biggest fish on the block, Mark Teixeira and Eric Gagne, changed uniforms mere hours before the deadline passed. Braves general manager John Schuerholz decided that two years out of NL East contention was unacceptable, and got aggressive, landing the ex-Rangers slugger. Theo Epstein of the Red Sox, meanwhile, who was skewered for standing pat at the deadline last year just a few weeks before the eventual “Boston Massacre”, also showed some fangs at the deadline, acquiring from Texas the former great-Dodgers closer, Gagne.
The goal of every general manager in April is to be a prospective buyer at the end of July. Being in that position is the most obvious indicator that the team a GM has built is a contender. However, contenders want to improve, which is why they become buyers. GMs who are looking to add talent fall into two categories. The first is for those like Schuerholz, who have assessed the landscape of their division and league, in addition to the weaknesses of their own team, and determine that one big piece can be the difference between a second place finish and a spot in the postseason. Suffice to say Schuerholz believes Teixeira will solidify the middle of the Braves lineup and give his offense the kick it needs to run with the the likes of the Mets and Phillies down the stretch. The second category is reserved for GMs of the top couple of teams in baseball, who conclude that one major addition can put their already-playoff bound teams over the top. Epstein’s rationale was that with a deep lineup and consistent rotation, sticking a guy like Gagne in between Hideki Okajima and Jonathan Papelbon would officially vault the Red Sox into “team to beat” status.
For each Schuerholz and Epstein at the end of July, there are a few GM-counterparts that find themselves either unwilling to part with prospects or unable to present a viable package to suitors, and are forced to begin the month of August with a bit of an empty feeling, reflecting and vexing about missed opportunities. Brian Cashman of the Yankees and David Dombrowski of the Tigers have assumed those roles this summer, as Cashman wanted to get a deal done for Teixeira and Dombrowski made it no secret that he coveted Gagne, given the injuries to Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney. Of the Tigers and Yankees, probably only one will make the playoffs this year, which means come October one of the those GMs will have to be answering some tough questions about his lack of deadline-activity (and if it’s Cashman, will probably have to be finding a new day job).
In case you opted not to take a look my original fantasy points, the gist of my argument was that like real GMs, we fantasy owners should look to emulate the modus operandi of the guys getting paid the big bucks to wheel and deal. Which is to say making a blockbuster trade early in the season is careless, because you have no bead on the vibe of your league or even your own team. By now, however, you do have that clarifying knowledge. You know the top teams in your league, and have analyzed the depth and caliber of their rosters; you see what kind of fluctuation has occurred in the standings, which is a good indicator of the prevalence of parity within a given league. And you’ve had ample time to see what your own squad has to offer. So now, with most fantasy trade-deadlines on the horizon, it’s time to start critically evaluating the big picture for your team.
Ideally you find yourself in either Schuerholz’s or Epstein’s shoes (which is a nicer way of saying hopefully your squad doesn’t stink). At this juncture a fantasy owner’s strategy is two-tiered, depending on if the league is rotisserie or head to head. If you’re part of a rotisserie league with no playoffs and only a league champion at the end, your work is waiting for you within the individual league standings. If your team has been middle to top-third of the pack throughout, chances are there is a marked imbalance between the statistical output of your offense in relation to your pitching staff. Injuries and off-years are the prime culprits for such an imbalance. Any fantasy GM of a mediocre team should be hoping for this, because it means you have a surplus of marketable commodities on one side and an underachieving/overly injured contingent on the other. If not, then you just have a very mediocre team.
I reiterate; if your team has been languishing in the middle of the standings you are in much better position if you have either a dominant offense or pitching staff as opposed to decent versions of both. Why? Because now you can afford to package one of your best players and be in line to get in return two very good players to supplant your weakness. For example, if your staff has been exemplary, say with the likes of C.C. Sabathia, Roy Oswalt and Dan Haren as your top three, while your offense has been woefully unproductive you can afford to trade one or even two of those big guns for some big-time offense back (guys like Carlos Lee or Ichiro or Ryan Howard). Since only about thirty percent of the season remains, the categories that you’ve been at the top of the league in shouldn’t fluctuate too much, because of the hundred games over which you’ve had that production. On the flip side you’re now positioning yourself to make a run at the categories that have held you’re team back, and if you can find a way to acquire any of those handful of late-season performers, well then, you just might be in position to make a league-leader start sweating.
As for fantasy owners who are in head to head leagues, the strategy is far more authentic. As opposed to rotisserie leagues, where the sole objective is to finish in first place, for head to head you want to finish in the top four to six of your league and gain a playoff spot. Playoff position doesn’t matter so much as building a team that is capable of winning three consecutive head to head showdowns in September. Divisional races can greatly alter strategy; that is if a team is running away with its division in September (like the Mets and Yankees last year), managers will look to rest their players over the insignificant stretch run to gear up for October. This is the double edged sword that characterizes head to head leagues; the fact that a championship-caliber fantasy team can be derailed because its players are on real teams that are contending for a World Series and care far less about September than fantasy junkies.
The good news is that it doesn’t appear there will be any team shutting it down early this season, as all divisional races are tight (no more than four games), with the exception of the AL East (Sox up seven), which will likely become closer as the season winds down. In other words this is a good year to be in a head to head league. So how does a fantasy owner’s strategy differ? First and foremost what’s happened to this point doesn’t mean a whole lot. If your team is in playoff position you have to be projecting towards September. Check out the September track records of your players and relevant competition. Who’s likely to heat up? Who’s likely to cool off? Who’s shown a tendency of going down with an injury late in the season? When making a significant deal at this stage of a head to head league, the fantasy owner who can most thoroughly answers those three questions should get the better of the deal nine times out of ten.
For the record, I’m participating in one head to head league and one rotisserie league. I’m currently in second and sixth place respectively. So naysayers, my claims are not unfounded…
Now go deal!!!!! And enjoy all those pennant races in cyberspace.
(Prepare for a few in reality as well.)