KEEPERS: The Art of the rebuild

Fantasy baseball offers plenty of different formats, venues and competition levels for all levels of baseball fan out there, from the barely casual to the intensely passionate. On the one side and extreme, draft-over leagues provide owners the competitive thrill of auctions, drafts and building a team from scratch, as well the ability to disappear into the summer if their teams suckand return again the following year, wash/rinse/repeat.  

But for those planning to spend any appreciable time playing in a competitive keeper league (KL) or dynasty format, one certainty applies: You will most certainly be faced with a rebuild or two during your ownership tenure. They will take some time, discipline and effort, and sluffing off isn't an option. You might even have to begin your off-season research before February. Particularly in deep leagues, if instant gratification is your thing—and prospect evaluations are not—then you might want to pass on this opportunity.

Long-time involved KL owners usually know when their team needs a face-lift. They can often spot their problems early and "re-load", thereby avoiding a full-on rebuild. With a little effort, knowledge, discipline, and yes, luck, a year of tweaking can bring one back to competitiveness. But any significant absence of the aforementioned will create a situation in which a complete reevaluation and tear-down are in order.

​And owners coming in new to existing dynasty leagues/formats usually don't have a choice. The previous owner has frequently abandoned the franchise for at least a year—sometimes effectively longer—and leaving it in no condition to compete. For these owners and even exisiting owners looking for a fresh start, you'll need a plan, patience and a template. As we note frequently in this space, one size doesn't fit all, and every league's rules/depth/expertise and constraints are different. But the following 10 point guideline should prove helpful.

1. Know the immediate MLB landscape... ​if you don't already. Serious competitors understand this regardless of format, but it's critical for leagues in which your teams are carried over. Keeper league owners need to be aware of the changing landscape constantly. For example right now, SBs are scarce, HRs are plentiful, BA is down. Reliable starting pitching is more oxymoronic than ever, high-strikeout multi-inning relievers are viable options. Catching is a black hole, 350-400 AB second-base options are plentiful, we're in a golden era of shortstops, and legitimate first-base prospects are few and far between. If you don't understand all of this and more already, get to work. Because without this type of knowledge, you're lost—and prone to valuation errors.

2.  Assess your current roster condition, and strategize from there. In my primary deep 20-team / 30+ player dynasty format, a start-from-the-bottom rebuild into competitiveness will take two full years before you're competitive. A reload or shallow-league rebuild might take only one season. Regardless, set a realistic time-frame, building around a young MLB/prospect offensive core—particularly if you're looking at a bat-deficient MLB roster and a lengthy rebuild. (If you're uncertain as to why, ask the rebuilders who've been sitting on Alex Reyes and Lucas Giolito since last season and before). Have a price in mind for everyone on your roster, i.e., what would it take to move them.

All pretty basic stuff. Now we get serious.

3. Gather competitive research.  ​Review the league history usually provided by the fantasy site, at least five years if you have it. Review both the standings and tractions, particularly in a money league that charges for the latter. Figure out who spends the most time and money, who finishes consistently in the money, and who consistently does neither. Who is trading frequently, who is trading with who, and what are their competitive histories. In short, get an early understanding of your competition and the competitive landscape.

4. Identify the sharks and the marks. ​If you're new to the league, then there's a good chance you're a mark until you prove otherwise. The sharks will find you—but you've likely already identified them via your competitive research. They'll be the first to welcome you to the league and offer a trade that will "help you out." They're more than solicitous and willing to explain how the league works, what's valuable and what isn't, etc. as they make their pitch. Don't be in a hurry to push the trade button, particularly without talking to other owners first. And don't be in a hurry to impress your new fellow-owners by making The Big Score; this usually backfires. For the record, if you've been in the league for a year or more and you can't identify the marks ... then you might very well be one of them.

5. Identify what is available via trade, and when.  ​Instead of responding to the first shark-extended trade offer, familiarize yourself with the needs of all the teams before you deal. Understand the forces and strategies in play for both pre-season vs. in-season trading. For example, our league works with team salary caps that invariably forces the previous season's money-winners to shed players. We also give players with less than three years of MLB service time steep salary discounts. The combination of these two things create a robust February and March trade market, as winners attempt to trade in their excess salary from the previous season in exchange for cheaper players whose best years are likely still ahead.

Get a feel for how owners are valuing certain players and prospect types, and what it will take to roster them. If you can't deal for significant upside, play small-ball; go for doubles and singles. Even 35-and-olders that won't be part of your championship team down the road may have interim value as trade chips in-season. Practice excruciating patience. Again, your rebuild will take some time, and don't force a deal that may have been better made in-season, when a competitor needs something.

6. Assess the availability on your free agent list and/or in your supplemental draft or auction.  ​In deep leagues, the cupboard can be pretty bare, but a sharp eye will still find late-season prospect pop-ups, and even MLB-player drop value and overlooks from the previous season. Sift through the off-season MLB trades and free-agent signings that often create new roles and opportunities either for that player (yeah you, Jarrod Dyson) or perhaps players left behind (and you, Cory Knebel).

Review all of the winter Top 100 prospect lists, and organizational reports by team. Identify which of these names are still available, and compile a list of both near-MLB readys and longer-term project / high-upside help. Our fantasy league requires that all new MLB signs go through a pre-season supplemental draft before they can be rostered. For ours and leagues like it, the entire 2016 MLB draft class is available. Understanding your league's available FA talent is even more important if your team allows draft-pick trading.

​7. Understand your FA waivers/FAAB process​, so that you can better figure out how to make it work for you. Our league uses a last-pick back of the line process that moves whoever picked last to the end of the waiver sequence. Obviously there can be strategic advantages to skipping a waiver day at the right time, and there can be disadvantages to adding two or more players on any given waiver run. Choose wisely.

8. Finally, as we admonish often in this space, play out the entire season. If you've done your competitive research, you'll likely find one common trait among the few teams that have regularly and repeatedly finished at or near the bottom of the standings every year: They virtually disappear in August and September, at a critical time when roster depth can be added.

Any also-ran talent-needy team that takes a rebuilding break during a time when pop-up headlines are being first being generated out of the rookie leagues (and elite prospects like Victor Robles are first being noticed) isn't likely to improve. Any owner who sleeps through late-season MLB performances from the likes of Andrew Toles, Alex Dickerson and Robert Gsellman likely isn't going to have the talent with which to deal for salary cap casualties or compete the following season.

Rebuilding isn't for everyone, but it can be immensely rewarding for fans with patience, an interest in prospecting and the process. So get to work!


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.