There comes a pivotal point in everyone’s life where one must undergo deep introspection and admit things can’t stay the way they are. This applies to my uncertain career path and complete lack of social life, but I’m talking specifically about a fantasy baseball dynasty squad in desperate need of a complete rebuild.
Apathy is a fantasy baseball manger’s greatest detriment, and I let it bog me down for years. That, however, was when I actually had stuff to do in college. Now I’m home watching Netflix, twiddling my thumbs and staring into the abyss of a barren roster that bottomed out.
I don’t have many talents. Maybe this isn’t one of them either, but I know I’m not terrible at fantasy baseball. In this 18-team head-to-head league, missing the eight-team playoffs constitutes my idea of failure. So when I finished the 2015 season stuck in dead last—I can’t remember finishing last in any league since I joined my dad’s annual re-draft league in middle school—I was smacked in the face with a call to action. It’s time to turn this sucker around.
I also, however, don’t want to make quick, dirty fixes to instead place 12th, so patience is necessary. If I’m going to suck, I’m going to suck while blooming a future winner. After idly watching my roster age for years, it’s time for change. Other than Paul Goldschmidt and Madison Bumgarner, young stars in their prime who will take Godfather offers to move, anyone is fair game.
To show I mean business, I already executed three deals with Opening Day two months away. Here’s my thought process behind each maneuver.
I Give: Starlin Castro and Hunter Strickland
I Get: Steven Souza, Mat Latos, Carson Smith, Miguel Castro, Matt Boyd and 5th-round prospect pick
I opened the offseason by rearranging seats rather than burning the building for insurance money. This isn’t necessarily a rebuilding move, as Starlin Castro and Hunter Strickland will be 26 and 27, respectively, on Opening Day, but I landed 20-something talents at positions of grave need.
I’m also getting a lot of spare parts at the tail end. A Round 5 pick in a five-round draft is virtually a scratch-off ticket, but one I can use on a high-upside prospect a year or two away from rising up the rankings as someone a year or two away from making an impact. It’s no guarantee Miguel Castro and/or Matt Boyd make the final cut, but they definitely weren’t making the other guy’s final cut. I didn’t give anything extra to seize them.
A bit early to give up on Starlin Castro in a dynasty? Perhaps, but his value relies heavily on name recognition and a move to the Big Apple. Even after a late surge last summer, he hit a paltry .265/.296/.375 with 11 long balls and five steals. After stealing 25 bags in 2012, he has poached 18 bases in three combined seasons. Sorry if I’m not excited about a guy who can record 13 homers and seven steals.
As for Yankee Stadium fixing him, there’s only so much a small ballpark can do. Playing on a little-league field won’t cure last season’s 54.1 ground-ball percentage and 11.3 pop-up rate. He’s not going to exploit Yankee Stadium’s short porch if he can’t direct the ball beyond the infield.
Besides, I’m not quitting on him as much as investing in other guys I like. I ended the season with Joc Pederson, Nick Markakis, Ben Paulsen and Chris Coghlan as my outfielders, so Steven Souza offers an immediate upgrade with 20-20 upside. If he can fake his way to a .240 average and stay on the field in light of the Tampa Bay Rays acquiring Corey Dickerson—which happened after I got Souza—he’ll match or exceed Castro’s value.
Strickland has a clearer path to a closer’s role than Carson Smith, but Smith sported a 2.31 ERA, 11.81 K/9 and 64.8 ground-ball percentage. He’ll help out my ratios as an elite middle reliever as I cross my fingers for him somehow, somewhere finding his way back into the ninth inning.
Don’t sleep on Mat Latos. I got him as a throw-in, but I’m hoping he makes this exchange worthwhile. The 28-year-old’s stock is way down after accruing a 4.95 ERA and 1.31 ERA in 2015. In a free-agent market where Ian Kennedy netted a $70-million deal, the righty hasn’t found a new home.
He’s an ideal low-risk gamble for fantasy and MLB franchises alike. Despite the down year, he recorded a 3.72 FIP while masking red flags from 2014. While he wasn’t the ace of old, he upticked his average fastball velocity, strikeout percentage and swinging-strike percentage after enduring career lows in all categories the previous years:
- 2014: 90.7 MPH FB, 17.6 K %, 8.1 SwSt %
- 2015: 91.5 MPH FB, 20.2 K %, 9.9 SwSt %
I don’t have much in my rotation beyond Bumgarner, Taijuan Walker and Rick Porcello. (At least I’ll get another few months of Bartolo Colon on the Mets.) In the right environment, Latos can make a solid No. 4 or 5 starter in an 18-team league. Just keep him away from the Braves.
I Give: Brandon Phillips
I Get: 2016 3rd round pick (No. 52 Overall) and 2017 4th
A successful fantasy manager weeds out personal biases, operating as a cold-calculated machine rather than an irrational fool. Then again, fantasy baseball is a silly game. It’s supposed to be fun, and rooting for people whom you don’t like is no fun.
I don’t like Brandon Phillips.
It’s baffling to see a professional baseball hitter—albeit a successful one—say he doesn’t pay attention to on-base percentage. This is no longer an advanced stat for Moneyball nerds blogging in their mom’s basement—I have my own room upstairs, thank you very much. It’s a rudimentary stat included in TV broadcasts and traditional box scores.
My league uses the traditional five-by-five categories, but reaching base more means more base-stealing and run-scoring opportunities. Phillips drew walks in 4.3 percent of his plate appearances. Then there was callously cursing out a Cincinnati Reds reporter doing his job by pointing out the veteran’s his indifference to plate discipline. What a class act that Brandon is.
Phillips’ .315 weighted on-base average (wOBA) and 96 weighted runs-created plus (wRC+) both depict his 2015 campaign as slightly below average at the plate. From a fantasy perspective, however, he provided considerable value by hitting .294 with 12 homers and 23 steals.
I’m not buying it. Don’t think a career .274 hitter flirts with .300 again. Can’t see him sniffing 20 steals again during a season in which he turns 35. He poached seven combined bags in 2013 and 2014 and averaged 15 from 2010-2012.
How did I end up with a guy I obviously dislike? He was part of a convoluted trade last July where I parted with a few veterans (Matt Holliday and Dan Haren among others). He wasn’t the key return, and I planned to flip him all along. So I shipped him out to the first willing buyer, acquiring two picks in our five-round prospect draft. (Available MLB players are also on the table. Other than a reliever stumbling into a closer’s gig, there’s usually no veterans of significant interest.)
Neither the No. 52 pick this year nor a fourth-rounder next year is much of a loss for a contender looking for a stop-gap upgrade. Yet I have nothing better to do than copiously research prospects in hopes of hitting the jackpot late. Some names taken outside the top 50 last year: Alex Reyes, Brett Phillips, Manuel Margot, Gleyber Torres and Orlando Arcia.
In retrospect, I’m worried I might have made this trade just for the sake of doing something. When you know something needs fixing, taking any action feels better than remaining a hopeless spectator. Of course, not every move is for the better.
Yet inaction has put me in this pickle. If I held out and didn’t receive a suitable offer, a .265, 12-12 season would rob the veteran of any remaining luster. On the other hand, I mistakenly thought Ketel Marte or Asdrubal Cabrera still had second-base eligibility, and I also sent Castro packing. Looks like I may open the season with Wilmer Flores (part of the trade where I acquired Phillips) as my starting second baseman. Whoops. This was my most Sam Hinkie move of the trio. Trust the process.
I Give: Adrian Beltre
I Get: Jorge Soler
*I also give a conditional 2017 3rd round pick if Soler hits more than 22 home runs this season
From both a real-life and fantasy perspective, Adrian Beltre rarely receives the respect he deserved. A career .285/.377/.477 hitter with a stellar glove at the hot corner, he’s a deserving Hall of Famer who found new life as a top-shelf fantasy third baseman from 2010 onward. He spent all those years raking for my club, and for that I am truly grateful.
He’s also an old man. Beltre will turn 37 in early April, and I’m not contending any time soon. His slugging percentage and home-run tallies have dipped each of the past three years, and he hit below .295 (only .287) for the first time since 2009. As a productive veteran with existing, yet gradually diminishing value, he had to go. Given my lack of marketable veterans, getting a significant return for him was crucial to my rebuild. I hope to have found my man in Jorge Soler.
The Chicago Cubs outfielder likely wouldn’t have been available last year after generating a .573 slugging percentage in 97 rookie plate appearances. Yet in a larger sample size, he clubbed a tame .262/.324/.399, hitting 10 homers in 101 games with an alarming 30.0 strikeout percentage.
I used those season setbacks as a buying opportunity. A small sample size tricked re-drafters into overpaying last year, so they’ll treat his postseason dominance (9-for-19, 3 2Bs, 3 HRs, 6 BBs) with skepticism. But hey, it happened. Blend those stats with his 404 regular-season plate appearances, and his slash line soars to .273/.340/.434.
He doesn’t get cheated at the plate, belting a 27.8 line-drive percentage and 35.9 hard-hit percentage during the regular season. Although he won’t hit for a high average without fixing his strikeout woes, he’ll make the most of his batted balls, which puts him in line to hit around .270-.280.
That conditional third-round pick—an interesting idea issued by my trade partner—is no mere throw-in. The first two deals demonstrated my desire for accumulating assets, and another horrid season will make that an early third. Joe Ross and Raisel Iglesias were among two of the last winter’s opening third-round selections. Then again, if Soler smashes 23 or more dingers, I’ll be too ecstatic about landing a young building block to mind the loss.
So long, old friend. Hello, new pal. Hopefully we form a strong bond over the years as you one day lead a new battalion back to the Promised Land. Or at least the playoffs.
Note: Advanced stats courtesy of FanGraphs