StrategyJuly 24, 2005


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Fish or Cut Bait?

By Arlo Vander

It’s late July, and just as Major League Baseball’s trade deadline is fast approaching, so is the last day to swap players in many keeper and dynasty leagues. As always, this stage of the season brings a flurry of MLB rumors; lots of fantasy trade offers, counter-offers, and intense haggling; and a tough decision for teams in the middle of the standings: fish or cut bait?

If your team is already at or near the top of the standings, the decision is easy. Sacrificing minor league prospects, taking on a contract or two, or dealing for players whose keeper eligibilities run out at the close of the season are all small prices to pay for a shot at a title (just ask George Steinbrenner for his two cents – or, more likely, two million dollars – on the subject).

On the other hand, if you’re stuck at the bottom of the heap with no chance of competing for this year’s crown, you also know what to do: trade away overpriced stars, expiring contracts, and players getting up their in age to contenders, and pad your roster with up-and-comers who will help you reach for a championship next season.

But what should you do if you’re neither a clear contender nor a cellar-dweller, but a team in the middle of the pack?

The first step, of course, is to take a look at the standings to determine how realistic your title hopes are. In straight points leagues, this means projecting the number of points you’ll need to make up per game to catch up with the league leader. In head-to-head formats, you’ll be trying to predict the approximate record you’ll have to post down the stretch in order to finish at the top (or reach the postseason, in leagues with playoffs).

Roto leagues are a bit trickier, since you’ll need to examine each category separately, paying particular attention to those categories where several teams are grouped close together and considerable ground can be won (or lost) quickly. Sometimes one or two transactions, such as trading for a speedster or picking up a couple of middle relievers off the wire to boost your holds total, can be enough to lead to a significant upswing in the overall standings.

Studying the standings isn’t enough to tell you whether you’re a contender or a pretender, however. You need to analyze each team in your league in order to project whether that team is likely to maintain its current pace, improve, or drop off. Is a rival’s ace due to return from the disabled list? Did another opponent’s closer just lose his job? Will an owner be going away on vacation, perhaps limiting his ability to manage his team? And above all: if you’re playing with an IP cap, how many innings pitched does each team have left? If some owners have conserved their innings while others are already approaching the limit, there will probably be significant changes in the standings between now and the end of the season.

Naturally, any projections you make won’t be one hundred percent accurate, but they’ll give you a fairly good idea of what it will take for you to compete for your league’s title, and whether that goal is realistic or not. But if you’re still undecided on whether to fish or cut bait, follow this rule: when in doubt, play for this year. Rebuilding is never a sure thing, and in an evenly matched league, the chance to play for all the marbles should never be discarded lightly.

 
Arlo Vander’s dynasty team may be in the running for his league’s title this year, but unfortunately, he’s running low on prospects to deal to rebuilding franchises. Oh well.

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