Strategies To Handle The A-Rod Injuryby Eriq Gardner
March 11, 2009
The unexpected news that Alex Rodriguez will miss April, and potentially more time this season, after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a labral tear on his right hip, has thrown a proverbial monkey wrench into fantasy baseball leagues across this nation. It's not every year that those who play fantasy baseball must figure out how to evaluate, draft, and manage a player of A-Rod's caliber and injury status.
In real life, the New York Yankees have already committed themselves to paying A-Rod’s salary for this season and beyond. The club’s management has seen his MRI results, undoubtedly consulted with a phalanx of doctors, and will make ongoing decisions on A-Rod’s treatment, care, and eventual return to the baseball diamond as circumstances see fit.
In fantasy leagues, fate is beyond anybody’s command. Surely, many will roll the dice on A-Rod for 2009, hoping the star player lives up to the odds in Dr. Marc Philippon’s hopefully sincere proclamation that his patient has an "85 to 90 percent chance'' of playing the rest of the season after his return.
The money that Alex Rodriguez commands in fantasy baseball auctions and his post-injury draft position will be determined largely by the optimists of this world, the glass-is-half-full members of leagues currently in draft mode. A couple weeks from now, A-Rod’s stock will be largely conventional wisdom as people in fantasy baseball leagues defer decision-making to draft averages, pre-set rankings, and anything they can use as a guide towards evaluating the huge X-factor known as Alex Rodriguez.
But even beyond a draft or auction, A-Rod’s true value will continue to be fluid. As the superstar’s return date draws more and more near, many may see him as a target in trades, perhaps the salvation to a stumbling start out of the fantasy season’s gates.
With all that in mind, and a nod to the fact that seasons may be won or lost on this dice roll, we present some strategies to handle the A-Rod situation:
If you have already drafted Alex Rodriguez … Trading him at this moment doesn’t make much sense. For the past week, everyone has been inundated with bad news concerning the guy. Trade negotiations work best with the winds of leverage at one’s back.
Instead, even if you’re a pessimist who recoils at Dr. Philippon’s set odds, hold steady. Realize that much of March and April will be occupied by little substantial news on the A-Rod front. Instead, expect to see press releases like “A-Rod’s Surgery A Success, Team Says.”
Sure, you can trade A-Rod now. But those who wait will likely have a much better trade window to get value from A-Rod. Plus, you might just luck into an up-and-coming third baseman who breaks out in 2009. April showers make May flowers.
If you are within a week or two of your draft … We’re at the high point of volatility concerning A-Rod in drafts. By our estimation, he’s so far slipped on average to a late third/early fourth round pick, but variability from draft to draft is quite high.
If A-Rod plays 75-80% of the season at his previous elite level, he can certainly be worth a third-round pick, especially when factoring in some at-bats from a replacement. However, that’s a big “if”—a gamble whose upside may not outweigh the risk involved.
If you’re a risk-taker and wish to bet on A-Rod, you may be wise to draft him as a utility guy. From David Wright to Adrian Beltre, third base is a position that is expected to have some pretty good producers in 2009. Drafting a second third baseman high and marking A-Rod as the utility guy will allow you to have the waiver wire at your disposal. You'll at least then have the widest possible pool of players to make up A-Rod’s missed at bats.
Another tip: Pay extra attention to position scarcity by doing things like forgoing an elite closer. If you decide to draft A-Rod, you’ll be sending him to the DL and opening up a temporary roster spot. Use the extra position to test out some players at any deep position like relief pitching.
If your draft is more than two weeks away … This will give you a much better idea about the consensus view on A-Rod’s fantasy value in 2009. You’ll be able to consult Average Draft Position (ADP) guides, offered by most of the major fantasy league providers, to see the wisdom of crowds concerning A-Rod.
It won’t make much sense to “reach” on A-Rod considering the big risks involved. But those in fantasy baseball leagues might take a chance on A-Rod if given the opportunity to draft him at any discount below his ADP. As stated above, A-Rod’s perceived value will likely go up as his return draws more and more near, and newspapers print insubstantial, but positive, updates on A-Rod. If you manage to draft him below the March valuation of A-Rod, you may be able to flip him at the April valuation. “Buy low, sell high” is the standard motto for anybody in financial markets and real estate.
If your auction is approaching … Alex Rodriguez makes the perfect player to nominate at the very start of an auction.
Out of the gates, everyone’s impulse is to bid and spend at auction. One thought above all others holds the wallet in check: Hold on, maybe there’s someone better out there more worthy my bidding.
Nominating an injured guy may freeze the auction room as few will wish to spend big money on a guy they can’t count upon. Doing so may open up a bargain. How can you tell if you are getting one? I recently posted a comparison between average draft position and average auction value. Use that as a guide to help determine whether A-Rod is slipping below his ADP.
If you're in an auction keeper league … remember that a cheap Alex Rodriguez will make a stellar keeper heading into 2010.
In summary, Alex Rodriguez is a huge unknown this season. Dealing with intangible variables like volatile playing time presents both challenges and opportunities to smart fantasy baseball managers. Many may wish to avoid the headache altogether—certainly not an unreasonable thought—but there's also profit in having a risk threshold on your team. Just make sure you exploit it wisely.
Eriq Gardner is a New York-based writer and founder of Fantasy Ball Junkie, a website for advanced fantasy baseball enthusiasts.
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