I traded Jesus.
Montero, that is. There. I said it. I have confessed my sin. I am prepared to repent. But not quite yet. There’s still seven weeks left in the baseball season.
Jesus Montero and I go way back. It was March of 2008. I had returned to fantasy baseball after a nearly two decades hiatus in which I wandered the wilderness, got married, had kids and worked like a dog. Invited by a colleague to join an American League-only roto league, one with keepers and a deep reserve list, I agreed, then spent the few weeks I had trying to make up for spending more time changing diapers than watching what makes a good change-up.
My cram skills, finely honed by 20 years of schooling, were badly rusted. So when I walked into the basement of Dan Grindstaff’s basement, which would soon be filled with pizza and beer, I sat down having done an admirable job studying the available major league talent. But the minor leagues — whoa Betsy — I came armed with nothing more than someone else’s ranking sheet and some vague notion that I would target catchers because they were so scarce (and so speedy to develop — not).
I braced myself for the ride that is an auction and survived with only one inexcusable blunder, out-bidding a smarter rival for Richie Sexton when I didn’t really need another first baseman (I guess that’s two blunders).
Then I turned my focus, or what remained of it, to the reserve draft, a snake draft with each team to have 17 picks. I began with minor leaguers closer to the the Show, but soon they were gone and I had crossed out most of the top-rated prospects. Not willing to simply give in to random guesses, I looked at what was left on my list and noticed something striking: There were a few guys with really strange names, at least in my part of the world.
Beau Mills. Got ‘im
Lars Anderson. Check.
And finally Jesus. No, not Jesus Rafael Montero, who has since batted 340 times and swatted one home run for the Cardinals organization — quick aside: If you can afford a dead roster spot next year nominate this Montero and see if anyone bites. No, I drafted the real deal, the one with no middle name, who had played all of 33 games the year before in rookie ball.
It was only later as the season would unfold that I had picked him a year or two early: While ours is a keeper league, we can only keep a player for three years at their auctioned or drafted price — or boost the salary by signing a long-term contract before the third year. I had the golden boy but it was too early, a case of premature anticipation, something I’m told is treatable.
So I dropped Montero by season’s end, then grimaced when the following season, he was taken in the reserve draft a few slots before my turn by a rival sipping tropical drinks drafting from a cruise ship via an Internet connection.
By July I had decided to trade for the following year, swinging deals for bargain-priced Sin-Soo Choo and Adam Lind. Then I turned my gaze toward Montero and pulled the trigger, giving up a moderately-priced Hideki Matsui along with Ronny Cedeno and Mike Moustakas.
Jesus had returned. I was saved. (Quite a feat as I’m Jewish.)
I kept Montero for this year, one of the building blocks for my dynasty along with Desmond Jennings, Justin Smoak and Brian Matusz. I began the year as a heavy favorite, confident because of what seemed an unparalleled keeper list. Over-confident, it turned out.
By the time Morales was carted off it was clear my dream of dominance was illusory. I turned to the one owner in the league whose circumstance seemed a perfect match for my own. His team appeared out of contention and he was openly talking to trade. He had a struggling and moderately-high priced Mark Teixeira and two studs in the last year of their contracts, Justin Verlander and Dustin Pedroia. I had Morales locked up for another year at a bargain basement price of $6. The proposal was straight forward: Teixeira would replace Morales and Pedroia would replace Cabrera in my lineup while Verlander would shore up a staff that was chronically short of wins. My rival would get the best-priced slugger for next year and, if that wasn’t enough, I’d add a prospect — I had half of the top 20 prospects in the league.
What followed wasn’t negotiations. My rival was ambivalent. He didn’t have the time to do the research needed to come to a conclusion about what he wanted — he had just too much going on his life to slavishly devote himself, his pursuit of fantasy hobbled by more trivial things like work, family, friends and hobbies. Our non-talks stretched out weeks. Time was running out for me: One of my other rivals had quietly assembled a team that was starting to blow away everyone else. With a Internet-less trip looming to Italy, I stepped up the pressure, but there was to be no exchange of players or vows. I left the continent with the light of first place growing ever dimmer, my only solace weeks of wine, food, natural beauty and invigorating history.
I returned resigned to second only to realize even that consolation prize was slipping from my grip. Dumping season had begun, a few rivals had strengthened their squads, and then my bad luck with injuries tag-teamed with a nasty and unexpected turn of events at the trade deadline: Ron Gardenhire decided John Rauch, my second closer, wasn’t mediocre enough, and traded for Matt Capps.
There weren’t a lot of dance partners left: Most teams were still in contention to finish in the money. I didn’t have excess to trade except prospects. I sent out offers to two team owners I thought had given up the current season, one a blockbuster that was lost in email — he traded instead with a rival. A second owner was slow to get back. I sat by the computer, awaiting a response. It was my high school prom all over again.
Then, just to stir the pot and vent, I placed all my studs for next year on the trading block. At long last the second owner replied. Over the course of a day we hammered out a deal: I traded away Lonnie Chisenhall and Tanner Scheppers for two months of Josh Beckett, injury risk and all.
Later I was to swing a deal with the rival that leads the field by 30 points, trading Max Scherzer and Jemile Weeks for Colby Lewis, Alexei Ramirez (who is in the last year of his contract) and Mitch Moreland.
Neither trade upset me: I don’t think Chisenhall or Scheppers will contribute too much next year, Lewis and Scherzer are a wash and I really like Moreland’s chances to surprise as a poor man’s Billy Butler.
But between those trades I pulled another. With Rauch out as closer I needed another and I still had to make up ground in wins, batting average and steals just to hold on to second place.. I called the only owner in our league who seems always cool, and said Hey Jude (he gets that a lot), let’s deal. He asked me who I wanted. Brian Fuentes, Brett Cecil, Nick Markakis and Jacoby Ellsbury, all either in the last year of their contracts or over-priced. Now who would I give back, he asked. Marco Scutaro, I said, J.D. Drew. And then the words came tumbling from my mouth like a Mookie Wilson ground ball slipping through the wickets of Bill Buckner.
In the back of my mind I was already rationalizing the move: He was entering his third year next season and probably would begin in the minors, he still couldn’t catch all that well, first base wasn’t an option and the Yankees seemed intent on trading him. He had only been hitting well for a couple of weeks. I already had Matt Weiters on my squad and could get by without a second stud catcher. I liked Eric Hosmer, only in his first year of a contract, even more.
But for the second time in two years I had lost Montero and it still feels like a kick in the gut, a self-inflicted one at that, no small feat when you consider my lack of flexibility. Ellsbury going down for likely the rest of the year, a risk I knowingly assumed, makes it even worse.
Which brings me to this: In your time playing fantasy baseball, which one move caused you the most anguish? And for those whose wound is not so fresh, what, if anything, have you learned?