Resisting the panic play

Today, I’d like to turn to a subject that came up last week in an exchange between two of our staff writers on our listserve. The brief discussion centered on the relative weight one should assign to category-specific skills versus all around talent and production when trading for players at this stage in the season. In short, my position is that at this point in the season, only those in extreme situations should heavily privilege category-specific skill over all around talent.

Chances are your league’s standings have reached the point where they look generally similar from day to day. Relatively dramatic climbs and falls still occur but they are more likely to take place over the course of a week or two than a day or two. In most cases, this superficial stability should not be mistaken for firmly established position. Simple math will tell us that with about 55-60% of the season remaining, you have more time to close any of those gaps than those at the helm had to create the existing separation. And, yes, perhaps you need to alter your roster to gain that ground, but it’s too early to start consolidating your eggs into fewer baskets.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t be cognizant of your team’s strengths and weakness, or to imply that your team’s production thus far is not actually indicative of true strengths and weaknesses. In fact, I do think it is appropriate to begin to think about trading from your positions of strength, especially in the cases where you have capable reserves on your roster. But, I think this applies positionally more than production-wise.

My primary goal for my teams is to have capable and contributing players filling every roster spot. This holds even if I implemented a “stars and scrubs” approach in an auction league—though I tend to be more of a “spread the wealth” type of owner. It’s just that in the case of a stars and scrubs team, the threshold for what I consider productive and contributing is lowered a bit. So, when looking to improve my team via trade, my first thought is whether I have duplicative assets. Do I have a 4th OF caliber player on my bench while starting one of the weakest shortstops of any team in my league? None of this is rocket science, of course.

The next question that emerges is who to seek in the pursuit of upgrade. The two directions in which one can go at this point are to seek either the best overall player you can land or to focus specifically on impact points in the standings and personal team weakness. Do you want a Dee Gordon or an Asdrubal Cabrera?

I think we are generally too early in the season to be prioritizing limited, concentrated skill set players over all around better assets. There’s still a lot of uncertainty and opportunity for improvement and league balance and team complexion shake-up this year, so I’d rather have players who don’t hurt me anywhere. You are also likely not finished tinkering with your team and therefore it’s nice to have pieces that are of broad overall interest to potential future trading partners as opposed to niche players who are of interest to fewer parties.

I’ll admit that Dee Gordon may have not been the best example to use in my hypothetical because he does somewhat fit the type of scenario in which I’d be willing to consider making an exception. If you are considerably behind in a fairly scarce category and you can acquire a player who will be a one-man difference-maker for your entire team, then it may be worth considering the move. However, you need to also consider what you are losing in the process. Digging out of hole isn’t always worth it if you are digging yourself another one in the process.

In the proper situation, one-trick-ponies can be saviors. But, ideally, you don’t want to find yourself in a position in which you have to rely on one. Try to chip away and get yourself in striking range now. Taking on a one-trick pony this early often exposes their liabilities in a way that begins to undermine other areas of your team’s production. The more cushion you establish in your other categories, the better you can absorb one of those players’ composite production if you need to go that route later.

It’s relatively rare that a team wins a league by going wire to wire. More often, a few teams flip flop atop and remain in striking distance throughout the second half of the season. The art of changing the composition of your team can often come down to timing. You want to choreograph your moves so that the newly constructed roster pays statistically meaningful dividends in your choice categories before it begins to erode your existing strengths. If orchestrated correctly, you surge past or distance yourself from your opponents toward the end like a race horse in the stretch run. But, launch into full-on sprint to early and you’ll be pulling up before the race is over.

The next few weeks of the season are still dig-in time. Outwork and out-maneuver your opponents, gain smaller edges that still have time to mount over the rest of the year. If you are confident about your team’s general power quotient, don’t make the panic play for a speedless, average-destroying power bat just yet.

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