The season is over.
You are probably ready to spend the month of October lazing on the couch, drinking Jack 'n Cokes and studying the Belmont Sportsbook but mostly forgetting your disappointing fantasy season. That is not a bad plan but you may want to slot in some time for building your 2011 Championship team.
I have stated on more than one occasion that I think re-building is for the Pittsburgh Pirates and other wussies. You should play to win. Your fantasy team does not require a five-year, two-year or even one-year re-building plan. All it really takes is a willingness to work on your keepers during the off-season and devoting more energy than your rivals to having a great draft.
The deeper your fantasy league the more difficult it is to recover from a down season. However it can be done without sacrificing your chance at winning in any given season. If you are committed to winning, following these steps will keep you in the money year after year without ever re-building. But be aware, this is not a one-day plan it is an off-season plan. It should be enacted over the course of the entire off-season.
- Investigate What Went Wrong (and Right) - You can not successfully move on from a disappointing season without calculating where it is you went wrong. While doing this it is important not to get too caught up in the player names. Instead examine your process and the types of players you acquired in the last draft, your waiver and FAAB Transactions and your trades. Was it your process or the result of the process that fell apart. If you drafted 17 sleepers than you did not have a good process. Was your team hit hard by injuries? If so it may have just been bad luck. However, if your roster was filled with the traditionally injury prone and others coming off bad injuries it might be your process that needs work. Also look at what you did right and try to remember what you were thinking when you made those decisions. Was it just luck? Take your time with this. Spend a week or two just looking at your team and thinking about how you put it together.
- Inventory and Value Your Resources - Now that you are more aware of what happened and why you need to value what you potentially own going into next season. Rotowire.com is a great place to get dollar values for free. It is a bit pricey but BaseballHQ.com is my favorite source. If money is an issue they frequently have free trials and special discounts. But in addition to collecting early dollar values you also want to make an accounting of draft picks, minor leaguers you may own and any other potential assets to your team building. Again, you should take your time. Look up every player on your roster. Measure their strengths and weaknesses while looking for trends that may portend increased value in the near future.
- Contrast and Compare - Measuring your keepers and assets against those of the other teams in your league is essential. You need to know how you stack up against the competition, without this knowledge you'll be just flailing in the dark when it comes to building your championship team. Remember you are building a team meant to beat other teams not just putting together a roster of favorites. Do not skip the teams at the bottom of the standings, these are the teams that probably made dump deals to put them in contention in 2011 - your primary competition in some cases.
- List Your Needs - Now that you are more intimately familiar with both your own team and those of your rivals you are in a much better position to make a list of your team's needs. It is impossible to go into your draft with a completed roster so you will obviously not be able to fill every need. However, some needs are more glaring than others. Perhaps your team is hitter heavy and you could use a few quality arms going into the draft. Or perhaps you need to acquire some speed to make up ground on your steals hoarding league mates. You cannot put together a winning strategy or have a truly great draft without knowing your needs going into it. Take your time and do it right. Do quick but careful projections for all of your players (don't skip anyone) and measure the results against the season totals of the top three teams. If you have this done before the end of the World Series you will be in excellent shape.
- Look for Potentially Undervalued Talents - With your list of needs in hand go through the rosters of every other team in the league. Look for undervalued players that may fit your needs. These are players that can be acquired for very little, such as a late draft pick, a scrub minor leaguer or over-priced veteran or anything extra you have to give up. The players you want are players with mediocre or worse numbers but with upside. It could be a young player that had a difficult season before adjusting at the end. It could be an at-value veteran player that lost time to injuries or was traded to a team that used him off the bench. Keep in mind the ideas and plans of the MLB teams. The closer you are to their thinking the easier this will be. The key is having reason to believe they will see their value rebound in 2011 and that they can be cheaply acquired. Make a list of these players and the teams holding their rights.
- Check Your Timing and Then Go Value Shopping - If you have reached this point in the offseason and you still do not know if the New York Yankees will beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series (or if they'll even advance past the Minnesota Twins) you need to slow down. Relax, you have some time to kill. Watch some football, bet on baseball, do some drinking, these are all great pastimes in moderation. When the Baseball Writers have finished announcing their awards and the Hot Stove is heating up this will be your moment to strike. Before making a single offers, rank your list of undervalued players from best to least and starting at the top begin making offers. Be casual about it, you don't want to stress out the owners that went into off-season mode as soon as the calender flipped to October.
- Re-Value Your Roster - When the Hot Stove starts to cool, the NFL Playoffs are at the Superbowl Party planning stages, Fantasy Magazines are popping up in the 7-11 and the Greek Grocery on the corner, it is time to re-value your roster. What you should notice is that the values and projections you noted in October and November have changed as MLB teams re-formed. Projections and dollar values should be a cinch to find. It is probably better to understand the consensus opinion on your players than to follow any individual set that you did not create yourself. Any excess picks or players that you can not fit on your keeper list should be considered trade bait.
- Trade Quantity for Quality (or Vice Versa) - If you feel you have a strong roster of players now is the time to start trading your excess of riches to upgrade to the very best keepers. For example, you might have a roster with two A keepers, seven B keepers and three C keepers. In this case you would probably want to package one or two B's with a C or two and try to acquire another A-level keeper. However if you have two A-level keepers and not much else you should try to do the reverse. Trade an A for two B's and two C's if possible. The object is to build as much talent into your roster as possible. Those A-level keepers may be great but if you go into the draft with nothing else you will have a difficult time putting a top level roster together in most leagues.
- Re-List Your Needs and Look at Options - Hopefully you have been able to make a great trade or two and your keeper list is strong. Either way you need to look at your roster and make an honest assessment. List the needs that are priorities in the draft. And do not just say you need speed or power. Calculate how many steals or homers or RBI or Saves you need to place in the top three or better in every category (I always aim to win every category but that makes it a bit more risky). Compare your needs to the players available in the draft and use projected values to slot them into your roster. Try to have three or four options for every roster slot. I spend a ton of time on this and it is worth it. You end up with a very solid idea of the talent available and how much of it you can fit onto your team. I'll be writing more about this process in the weeks to come.
- Study Up, Make Lists, Pack Up and Have a Good Draft - In the week or two before your draft, when you are done trading and your keeper list is submitted, you have nothing to do but make lists. Make as many or as few lists as you are comfortable using at the draft. List your options for each roster slot. Try different salary combinations until you hit on your favorite and most doable strategy. Be prepared with a few alternatives. Don't do any serious drinking in the days leading up to your draft. Make a list of everything you will need at the draft and pack those items. At the draft relax and follow your plan and winning should come easily.
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