Fantasy Strategy: Keep on moving

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Last time we took a look at the dynamics of keeper leagues from the point of view of the team looking toward the future. This week, we will focus on the approach for those teams that are looking to compete for the championship. But before we dive into that, it is worth reviewing some general points that have been discussed with respect to keeper league.

Perhaps the most important reminder is this advice is most apropos for those participating in true keeper leagues and not dynasty or quasi-dynasty leagues. The delineation is in true keeper leagues, there is a churning of the player pool to yield a rebuilding process that should only take a year or two. It is characterized by a system that features players with expiring contracts or renders them too cost-prohibitive to retain. It also helps if there is a minor league draft that does not run excessively deep, so help from the farm is not too far away.

Another point that deserves some reiteration is there is really no means to measure fairness in a deal that involves exchanging present value for future value. Equity is dictated by what the market will bear. This is often a divisive concept in keeper leagues, as the skill involved transcends "fantasy baseball" as it entails good old-fashioned horse trading. It is basically a combination of being a great used car salesman and tournament poker player. It is definitely a skill, it is just different than the more conventional fantasy baseball skills like knowing how to gauge peripheral stats in terms of player performance or how to properly value players. Keeper league participants need to accept one of the qualifications of being a championship owner is having this ability to gauge and take advantage of the trading market a well as recognizing a player is underperforming because his BABIP is unlucky.

The final general point that will be reviewed is that it is a fallacy that the major pratfall of a keeper league is that one giant, wholly unbalanced dump trade decides the league. If that is the case, there were a whole lot of teams that could have challenged for the championship that shied away from dealing away their future and a whole bunch of weaker teams that failed to add stronger keepers to their foundation. The best keeper leagues are defined by a series of deals and counter deals, where the top teams need to adjust and then readjust to what their competition is doing. This one and down perception is usually a result of a set of owners that really do not buy into or understand the dynamic involved with the compete-rebuild-compete-rebuild cycle.

Okay, with that as a backdrop, let us delve into some of the tricks of the trade from the perspective of the owner looking for the proverbial Yoo-hoo shower. Remember, flags fly forever.

The most important aspect of making a run is if you are going to make a run, shoot the moon and dump everything resembling a keeper for present help. Do not try to play both sides of the fence, trying to win and still retain some keepers for next season. No matter how good you think you are and very well may be, there will be someone willing to dump everything to fortify their squad to stay ahead of you this season, then several teams that solely focused on keepers so they will have a deeper foundation than you next season. With all due respect, you are likely going to have to spend next year rebuilding, what difference does it make if you freeze a handful of keepers that are not strong enough to compete in the upper-echelon next season?

While dumping a particular category like saves or stolen bases is an effective, winning strategy in redraft formats, it rarely works in keeper leagues as someone is bound to be able to compete across the board, maximizing their points potential. As such, even if you are way behind in a category, do not ignore it totally; try to get any help you can. Something to help in this regard with respect to stolen bases might seem counter-intuitive, but sometimes is the best way to attack things. While it seems like the best way to make up ground in steals is to acquire a stolen base specialist, you do so at the expense of the more power-driven categories. Unless you can vault close to the top of steals without losing any other points by acquiring a Carl Crawford or Jacoby Ellsbury, it is usually more effective to focus on the likes of Grady Sizemore of Brandon Phillips, players that will pad not only your steals, but also your power categories as well. Realize you are trying to rise from the lower portion of the pack to the middle. You are still leaving some stolen base points on the table, points you need to make up in other categories. Then, towards the end of the season, maybe using a stolen base specialist for only a month or 6 weeks will net you the extra push necessary without impacting anything else. And depending when your trade deadline is, chances are there will be a steals specialist available.

Early on in your quest to fortify your squad, if you do not already have it, look to dot your squad with players eligible at multiple positions. This will maximize your ability to acquire a player at any position as well as manage the categories to attain the maximal points. Even something seemingly innocuous like 1B/3B eligibility or 1B/OF can be extremely useful.

The most difficult players to deal away are the young studs, especially hitters, which you have cheap, likely as a result of their being a minor league draftee for you. But as hard as this is to do, trading away these players is what wins championships. Of course, these players should command the most in return. So if you are going to end up dealing the player anyway, why not get it over with early and at least realize the best return for your asset? The earlier you deal, the longer you accrue the stats of the king's ransom you collected to part with the player. The worst thing you can do is haggle, then at your trade deadline decide to make the deal, reducing the weeks you can collect the stats for the players you receive. Something that might help soften the blow is to ask for something like a pick in next year's minor league draft or for a minor leaguer still a few years away. The other team may be willing to part with this, as next season they will seemingly be focused on winning and not the future. The shrewdest of owners will then turn this chip into more help for this season. But if you decide to indeed keep it to help your next title run, that is fine as well.

One of the most effective tricks to dump trading is to always save a little something for the end. This is not a contradiction to 'dump everything' as the plan is to indeed rid yourself or every morsel of keep-ability. The point is, often a team that intended to compete runs into difficulties and decides at the last minute they don't have what it takes and thus decide to pick up whatever keepers they can. Your goal is to be there for them at their moment of need. Granted, you no longer have the prize keepers available, but neither does anyone else. You only need to have the cream of the remaining keepers. Remember, the market is driven by supply and demand. What was fair 3 weeks ago is thrown out the window. The market has changed. You have the best available keepers, you are entitled to the best available non-keepers. To this end, keep on top of the players available via waivers or free agency. Often, someone appears from the minors, seemingly out of nowhere that could be a keeper next season. You have as much of a right to claim that player as someone rebuilding. You can then deal that player to the rebuilder.

The final topic will be pitching. There is a stigma in this hobby that pitching is risky and you should not invest a whole lot to acquire the top hurlers. This is the time to throw this out the window and deal for the stud pitchers. And as it happens, some of the lesser teams often are weak because they overspent on the likes of Johan Santana or Roy Halladay. And you are probably in the running because you are pretty good at identifying cheaper pitching. Now is the time to feed off of this, and turn that protectable asset into some serious help for this season. Sometimes the truth hurts, but some teams are perennially rebuilding because they are enamored with this cheap, young pitching. Young pitching is integral to a foundation in a dynasty league. Keeper leagues are won by taking advantage of the weakness of the lower teams and acquiring their available stud pitching for much cheaper than it would cost at the auction last spring. And you have the additional advantage of a couple months worth of production to help separate the wheat from the chaff.

So there you have it. Here are some tips if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to make a run at the gold. And if you happen to be at the other end of the deal this season, take heed, this time next year your fortune will be reversed and you will be looking to fortify your squad for the 2010 title.