As we all know, the Houston Astros are now members of the American League West after spending their first 50 years in the National League. Houston transitions to the AL to create two 15-team leagues with three divisions of five teams each. They are the first franchise to switch leagues since the Milwaukee Brewers moved to the National League over 15 years ago.
Despite the Astros being one of the worst teams in baseball and having a limited number of relevant fantasy baseball options, their move will have an impact on fantasy leagues.
Because there are two 15-team leagues, there now must be interleague games every day of the season. This means that each team will play 20 more interleague games throughout the season, not just during two specific periods, as we have been accustomed to since 1997. This will have a profound impact on fantasy teams that rely on designated hitters who will potentially lose at-bats due to more games being played in National League parks.
In addition, NL Central pitchers will not get the benefit of facing the Astros, a poor team destined for more than 100 losses, several times during the year. On the other hand, AL West pitchers now reap the benefits of having Houston in their division.
There’s an even more important issue in fantasy leagues arising from Houston’s move to the AL. This has a direct impact on AL or NL-only leagues. NL-only leagues now lose an entire team’s worth of players and minor leaguers. Granted, second baseman Jose Altuve is probably the only Astro worth drafting in many formats. But plenty of deeper leagues would necessitate going further into the Astros’ organization for fantasy help, including players such as Bud Norris, Carlos Pena, Justin Maxwell, Jose Veras, Lucas Harrell, Brett Wallace, Fernando Martinez, or Jason Castro. Now these players are off-limits to NL-only leagues and all of a sudden available for AL-only leagues.
Taking this a step further, AL or NL-only keeper leagues have a dilemma on their hands. If a team in an NL-only keeper league had Altuve, chances are he would be kept since the pool for second baseman is relatively thin. Now that team will lose its second baseman because the Astros are in the American League. Fantasy commissioners need to come up with a plan to handle the transition. While we have known about this for quite some time, we cannot expect all fantasy league commissioners to have implemented a process for dealing with this situation. Now is the time to act before drafts take place.
One option is to offer a one-year extension or grace period where NL-only teams can better prepare for losing a player such as Altuve, or even minor leaguers in dynasty leagues. This would allow everyone an opportunity to set themselves up for the future without being unduly prejudiced because of the move by maintaining ownership of Astro players knowing they will be lost at the end of the 2013 season. Or you could set up some sort of arrangement that would allow trades with other AL-only teams to even things out.
There is more than one way to handle this unique situation, and they are all equally meritorious. But whichever one is selected, fantasy league commissioners need to have the answers immediately. All league members should know how to proceed if the Houston transition directly affects their league. As long as the commissioner is specific, expeditious and rational in his decision-making, then the league can smoothly handle any questions or issues that may arise.