Alex, Victor, and the infinitely complex

After almost two years of writing weekly columns here, I’ve both dispensed and consumed a substantial amount of fantasy baseball advice, from salient quips to voluminous diatribes. But, no situation is as simple as a quip, and no piece of strategy is nuanced enough to apply perfectly to a real life setting. Still, that doesn’t stop these thoughts from swirling around my head as I think through an actual dilemma.

Today, I’ll commit one of the cardinal sins of fantasy baseball writing and talk about my own leagues and teams, but only to illustrate that even great advice is often incomplete and that there are often several potential solutions to a problem—and sometimes the problem isn’t even one to begin with.

One of my main leagues is a relatively shallow mixed snake-draft league. Among my keepers from last season was Victor Martinez. I was optimistic that his nearly full-time DH role would clear the way for a 600 AB season and sterling production from the catcher spot. I was bummed when V-Mart injured himself toward the end of April, but his DH standing gave me a replacement gift in the form of Alex Avila. Avila was displaying a bit of pop at the time of Martinez’s injury, so I decided to take a chance on him as my replacement catcher. Avila distinguished himself in V-Mart’s absence and he’s continued to flourish—to the point where he is a starting catcher in shallow league material. I needed to move him though, my horse was on the way back and I kept hearing the inner geek repeat that he who plays a catcher at his utility spot doesn’t understand the concept of positional value.

So, a few days before V-Mart’s return, I began floating some offers for useful but non-star-caliber pieces. Nobody bit. I also remember another “rule” of fantasy baseball, which is to avoid dropping value outright. Avila was an immediate upgrade for several teams in the league; those owners were just not yet believers in his abilities. There’d be a market, perhaps it just didn’t exist yet. So, I resigned myself to platoon Avila with Coco Crisp in my utility spot while actively looking to deal Avila.

Next, the injury bug intervened again and I lost another one of my keepers from the prior season, Nelson Cruz. Playing a catcher at my utility spot didn’t seem like such a sin if he was just filling in. Of course, this sounds like one of those absurd sexist “guys’ rules” that dictate exemptions to vows of fidelity. As Cruz neared return, I tried to shop Avila again, and this time I actually even lowered the asking price. I thought for sure Jorge Posada’s owner would take Avila for Mark Melancon, who had been promoted to closer less than a week prior to the offer. To my surprise, my offer was rejected. This caused me to reconsider my strategy.

If nobody but me believes in Avila, then I’ll just have to make Avila my starting catcher. I shouldn’t have any trouble trading V-Mart, after all. So, I started shopping him around. No dice. Buster Posey goes down for the season. I need a closer and a third baseman. I’m making all kinds of offers. Avila for bottom tier closers, V-Mart for stud closers, V-Mart-including packages for mediocre closer and mid-tier 3B packages. I’m looking at other teams and taking their needs in account in these offers. And, I’m still not getting any takers. I’m reformulating offers, trying other teams—and, I’m getting more “no”s. And. I’m. Exhausted.

Why isn’t anybody biting on my offers? Well, this question reminds me of another discussion we’ve had in this very place; Contrary to the implications of the writing in many fantasy writers’ columns, I’m the first to say that making trades in fantasy baseball is quite difficult. The market is highly imprecise and inefficient.

So, where does this leave me? I was looking to move Avila. I was fine with moving V-Mart. But, now I must entertain suboptimal solutions as well. What else can I do?

Can I use positional-eligibility another way? I could start Avila as my full time catcher, move V-Mart to 1B and trade one of my other 1B-eligible players – Justin Morneau or Ryan Howard. Well, if you own Morneau, you’re pretty much stuck with him for better or worse going forward, and I don’t feel like trading Howard is in my interest right now. Besides, this “fix” would just largely be rearranging the cards already in my hand, because I’d getting the short side of V-Mart’s positional eligibility just so I can get the long side Avila’s.

I guess I could also expand what I’m looking to get back for either Avila or Martinez. For example, I’m under the innings pace, and while I was planning to pick up my spot-starting pace, I could try to add another quality starter. That’s an area where I can just add value, as opposed to the fully closed system that is offense (which forces you to improve only by upgrading assets but not actually adding them). If Avila couldn’t get me a bottom tier closer, I didn’t expect he’d get me a starter that would offer much value beyond innings, as replaced by a composite of favorable spot starts.

However, just to add more data my anecdotes for Jeff Gross, maybe I’ll see if I can get Bud Norris for him. V-Mart, on the other hand, probably could fetch a useful starter, and now I’m down two of them after Jorge De la Rosa’s abrupt end of the season and Wandy Rodriguez visit to the DL. All in all, this would improve my team because I’d still have a legit Utility option and an additional quality starter. However, my team’s true holes (closers and a starting 3B) would remain unfilled. This is a course of action worth consideration, but I’m not eager to go for it.

However, I have been neglecting another option – to reassess my initial stance. Alex Avila has ostensibly outproduced Victor Martinez over nearly equal plate appearances. Why can’t he be my primary Utility bat? Sure, playing him this way doesn’t optimize his value, but he is pulling his weight, and that is the most basic indicator of all. Sometimes we can get a little carried away with wanting to exercise our advanced strategies, and in doing so we overlook very simple truths. I’m on the wing with the defender giving me a clear path to the basket with Alex Avila, so I can keep him at my utility spot and execute a fundamental (and boring) lay-up for two points, or I can try to throw down a dunk by trading him for a pitcher—which is likely only worth two points as well. What I “really” want to do is pull up and shoot the three—trade V-Mart and fulfill the true needs I can’t patch together from the waiver pool. Right now, I guess I’m okay with attempting a few more pump fakes. I’m secure in how my game plays, and not as concerned with how it looks.

It’s important to remember that I got Avila for nothing, so the fact that’s he producing as a regular for me—in any position —puts me ahead of the game already. It would be great to turn one found dollar into two, but found money is found money. This isn’t as if I drafted Joe Mauer and then drafted V-Mart to be my starting 1B.

I’m sure the case I presented here is a fairly common dilemma for fantasy owners, and, as you can see, there are many ways to resolve it—including the decision to not regard it as a problem after all. However, think again about how many fantasy sports rules or dynamics this one common and fairly simple situation touches upon.

  • How do I make best use of positional eligibility?

  • Should I hold on to a player primarily because other teams will pick him up if I drop him?
  • How easy or difficult is it to make trades?
  • If I can’t fill my needs, should I just “stockpile value” instead?

While there are usually stock answers for these questions, and general lines of advice one can offer in relation to these issues, every situation is unique and each owner needs to find the solution that is best for him or her, given the overall team dynamic, place in the standings, and categorical point spread. It’s always best to think critically about your own needs and decide whether your priority should be getting the deal you want, even if it will take time, or getting what you can get when you can get it—and getting out.

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  1. Ralph Kramden said...

    Does the fact that it’s a shallow league make a difference?  I think it might – the waiver pool is much bigger and owners can often find value (or perceived value) out there, thus they might be reluctant to give real value in a trade.

    The major exception to this is relief pitching.  You’ll almost never find closers on the waiver pile – you gotta draft ‘em.

  2. Kevin Wilson said...

    I couldn’t disagree more about finding relief pitching on the wire, Ralph. You can’t find it if you look into players once per week, but if you follow the league closely, and monitor specific situations, you can grab a closer regularly. How many opening day closers are still closers? I bet the rate is a lot lower than any other position.

  3. Braves Fan said...

    I’m not surprised that Alex Avila has been hard to move. He has a rather short track record and there have been several catcher-eligible players who’ve had decent starts this year. I think it’s unfortunate to have extra catchers on one’s roster this year due to the surplus in decent options at the position in shallower leagues. Of course this situation could change in a month or two, if the position turns into a barren wasteland again.

  4. Jeffrey Gross said...

    so how did the situation resolve itself? I’m surprised you can’t find a taker. Is it a 10 tm, 1 C league? Any league that employs only 1 C, even 14 tm lgs, the C will be undervalued. In 2 C leagues, they are likewise overvalued, but not always.

    I drafted Mauer/McCann in my 2 C lgs this yr, and I couldnt move any of them for proper value in the preseason. I came close to moving McCann for Holliday at one point, but the wheels fell off that trade quick. Guess I’m glad in the lg i drafted 3 C’s (Santana/Mauer/McCann) I was able to flip Santana for Choo for Wright….

  5. Jeffrey Gross said...

    I also feel like trying to trade AWAY players always puts you on an inherent disadvantage in trading. Particularly when you need to get rid of a player and are consolidating

  6. Derek Ambrosino said...

    even though it probably isn’t the correct strategy to carry 2 SS and play 1 in the utility slot, it’s a heckuva lot better than selling for less than fair value.

    Hey, Hunter, can I hire you? You can reduce my column length by 95% and enable me to watch the first half of NBA Finals games by doing so!

    Yeah, that’s where I’m netting out here. For now.


    I think that I will eventually resolve this by either moving V-Mart for a top closer (I still think this is possible) or by pulling a package deal that includes one of these 2 and gets me back one of the 2 pieces I really want (quality 3B or good closer) along with either a replacement for the other piece in the deal, or an extra good quality starter.

    Starters are a way to go because , as I mention here, you can often use an “extra” starter, whereas offensive rosters are zero-sum. But, at the same time, I’m not all that eager to cash in chips for a starter because in a shallow league, I’m confident (hubristic?) enough to think that I can make good spot starting decisions and make my innings up that way. …Basically, I think I can make a composite SP3 out of well-timed waiver wire picks, but I can’t fill my holes at closer or 3B that way.

  7. Hunter said...

    Jeffrey, thanks for sharing your experiences.  I had something similar happen in one of my leagues where I accidentally drafted both Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes (don’t ask!)

    My needs were 1st base, 3rd base, and OF, so I tried multiple times to trade either Tulo or Reyes for one of those pieces.

    I either had nobody biting or people counteroffering with absolute garbage.

    Finally, I just bit the bullet and have been playing Reyes in my utility slot until when (if?) someone is prepared to give me fair value.

    Long story short though, my point was that I had experienced the same thing you did, and came to a similar conclusion….even though it probably isn’t the correct strategy to carry 2 SS and play 1 in the utility slot, it’s a heckuva lot better than selling for less than fair value.

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