One of the most important aspects of playing fantasy baseball is a team owner’s ability and skill at making transactions and adding free agents before and during the season. In most cases, the team you draft is not the team with which you will ultimately end up. Undoubtedly, regardless of how many teams are in your league or how many roster spots are required, there will always be players that go undrafted and emerge as viable fantasy options later on. The key to success in a fantasy baseball league is the ability of teams to make those moves at the right time. But the analysis of whether a transaction is good or not will be left for another day. Instead, this edition of “The Verdict” takes a deeper look into the various procedures for how transactions are processed.
For some background, I have been the commissioner of an 18-team, head-to-head, points league since 1999. For the first 10 years of the league, team owners would submit their add/drops to me and I would process them. All transactions had to be submitted to me by a certain time, and then I would manually go through the lists and figure out who got who. In the event two teams claimed the same player, the team with a worse win-loss record or on the short end of a tiebreaker would have the rights to that free agent. Upon moving my league to CBS in 2008, the free agent process was handled automatically with a waiver priority order based on overall record. Generally speaking, the process of handling transactions this way worked.
The reason for handling transactions in this manner was obvious: to help the less successful teams get better and make the league more competitive since they had a better chance of obtaining the best free agents. However, this also had the detrimental effect of penalizing the more successful teams and preventing them from bettering their team as well.
In 2010, I decided to even the playing field and change the way transactions were handled by implementing a free agent auction bidding process (“FAAB”). I assigned an arbitrary budget for everyone ($250) where each team could bid on available free agents. The team that bid the most money on a player was awarded him, regardless of where that team stood in the standings. This afforded the best teams and the worst teams the same opportunity to make improvements while not handicapping or penalizing anyone else. It also required people to make strategic decisions on how they wanted to spend their fake money. Despite being met with some skepticism and trepidation, my league members enjoyed this new process and have embraced it.
As the commissioner of the league, FAAB made my life infinitely easier since I no longer had to manually handle any aspect of doing add/drops. The bidding process is completely blind, so no one will know what you have bid on a player. This means, in theory, that you could spend $25 on a free agent when no one else even bid $2 on that same player. But that is the nature of the process, and I personally approve of the fact that the process is entirely blind. It really adds another element of strategy and competition when pondering what the appropriate value of a free agent is in the context of your league and fellow league members. Since the bidding process is completely blind, I didn’t have to worry about any improprieties when I made my own transactions. As a word of advice for you fellow commissioners: anything you can do to remove ANY semblance of impropriety is beneficial. This means relinquishing control over certain things that can be handled automatically.
Another positive aspect of FAAB is the fact that it does provide checks and balances to prevent teams from dominating the entire process. Once a team wins a bid on a free agent, that team is then moved to the bottom of the waiver order. This means that they would essentially lose a tiebreaker to another team bidding the same amount on another free agent. Of course, if a team chooses to bid enormously high on multiple free agents in the same week, then they would win all of those players. But that is a conscious choice by a team to spend their money in such a way.
No matter what format or style your league uses, transactions are going to be an important factor. How you choose to handle transactions is also one of the most critical decisions a commissioner can make because it has a significant effect on all league members and the way they play the game. The verdict is that implementing an auction process to bid on free agents is the fairest, most efficient, and most thought-provoking manner in which to handle transactions. If your league has never tried it before, it is something you should seriously consider.