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Monday 27th Jun 2016

In his brief time in the Major Leagues, barely three and a half seasons, Yoenis Cespedes is already wearing his fourth uniform. The most recent change was the Cuban's non-waiver deadline move from the Detroit Tigers to the New York Mets.

The outfielder was also primed to move to his second National League Tout Wars team in just two days last weekend – until the deal unraveled due to a rules violation that surprised some and angered others.

With the second-most money remaining last weekend, Lenny Melnick acquired Cespedes for $78 of his remaining $82 for the season. Tout’s free agent period ends each week on Sunday evening at midnight Eastern.

Inside of 24 hours, Melnick had participated in a major trade, sending his newest star to Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ on Monday. His take was young Pirates ace Gerrit Cole.

There was a problem, however. The Tout Wars constitution specifically states that the weekly deadline had passed. In fact, the trade and weekly FAAB deadlines are the same.

“All free agent bids and trade transactions must be communicated to the SWAT by 12:00am ET Mondays (midnight Sunday),” the rules state.

While the trade could still be executed, in effect the two players, Cespedes and Cole, would have to remain on their old teams for the next seven days.

Melnick appealed, noting that the SWAT for his league had allowed Monday trades to stand in the past.

However, there is a higher court. Four Tout leaders make up the leagues’ governing board, called the LLC. They backed the constitution and nullified the swap – for that week.

One of the LLC members, Peter Kreutzer, admitted that, “This rule may not have always been followed in the past, but these have been the rules for some time. Editorial note: I'm not sure why. It doesn't make sense to me, but that's a discussion for another time,” he concluded.

At that point, rather than wait a week for the trade to go into effect, Melnick called it off entirely. A bewildered Hertz still wanted to proceed.

Though Melnick’s decision was initially represented to me as being based on concern over potential injury during the upcoming seven days, there was more to it than that alone.

“Never know what develops during week,” Melnick replied in shorthand. “Cespedes is who was requested so deal took 3 minutes to make. Also, since I’m only interested in K and wins, another 1 or 2 pitchers may emerge. Also have an offer for another pitcher who may be (a) Cole equal at a lesser price.”

After further discussion between Hertz and Melnick, the two decided to let the Cespedes-Cole deal stand, after all - unless there is an injury before Sunday, that is.

Interestingly, another trade - between Patrick Davitt and Cory Schwartz in the Tout Mixed Auction league - was pushed back last Monday for similar reasons.

Due to the attention on this rule, Kreutzer says he will work to change it during the offseason. He believes the weekly trade deadline should be either noon or the first game on Monday.

After thinking about this some more, I am not so sure, however. In re-reading the Tout rules further, I think I understand why the deadlines are as they are – at least in this specific case.

All players acquired for FAAB are required to spend a week on the active roster of the acquiring team. An immediate trade, such as with Cespedes, would nullify this.

That does not mean that almost all other trades could not occur on Monday, though.

As always, my thought in sharing details from my league is for you to look at your leagues’ rules to potentially avoid such problems by making changes ahead of conflict.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter

 

With the trade season upon us, those of us in non-mixed leagues wait with anticipation for deals that move stars into the American and National Leagues from the other circuits. These top players added into our available pools could be the difference maker for contending fantasy clubs trying to reach the top - or offering hope for non-contenders trying to become relevant.

This past Sunday, the on-and-off trade of Johnny Cueto from Cincinnati to Kansas City was finally consummated. Two of the players heading the other way are young pitchers John Lamb and Brandon Finnegan.

Several of us in National League Tout Wars are in need of pitching and hoped to acquire the new Reds hurlers during our weekly transaction period Sunday night at midnight. Tout rules allow the addition of players currently in the minor leagues for a $1 minimum bid.

Phil Hertz of BaseballHQ made a bid for Lamb and I took a shot at Finnegan, as both players were listed on the league website among available minor leaguers.

While both winning bids were successfully processed by the league software, they were nullified on Monday because of conflicts with the Tout constitution.

“There is no restriction on the types of players who may be bid on: Majors, minors, foreign leagues are all okay, with the exception of players on another Tout Wars active or reserve roster, or players on the 40-man roster in the opposite league (for the AL-Only and NL-Only Tout Wars leagues)…”

Both Lamb and Finnegan were 40-man roster players with both organizations. Though they moved from the AL to the NL on Sunday, the stats provider does not run its updates until overnight. As a result, it is generally accepted that Sunday MLB transactions are excluded from Tout transactions that evening.

Yet the prior point was not rendered fully explicit in the constitution. And there was a further complication. At some point, the league software had been explicitly modified to ensure that all minor leaguers in either league appeared on the site as eligible. No one could recall when and why this change was made.

In effect, even after the MLB trade, in Tout Wars, the players remained in their old leagues through the Sunday midnight transaction deadline. Lamb and Finnegan should not have been listed as available.

So when all was said and done, the league leaders ruled that Lamb and Finnegan (as well as Cueto in the American League) will not be available for acquisition in Tout until the following Sunday.

The message for you and your leagues is to not only understand the rules, but when in doubt, err on the side of action versus inaction. In this case, even though Hertz and I did not end up acquiring Lamb and Finnegan, we did not know that for sure at the time.

Further, our action helped drive a needed clarification to the league constitution and change to the player eligibility lists. Simply put, Sunday transactions will be ineligible for Sunday night inclusion in the bidding process.

Take a look at your leagues to determine if this subject could lead to similar confusion and if so, look to close the gaps before they turn into points of contention.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Now and then in this column, I actually touch on its intended purpose – to discuss interesting rules variations. Whether or not you use them in your leagues, you may come across some ideas to consider for the future.

One very topical area right now is free agent allocation budget (or FAAB) reclaim. As deployed in Tout Wars, the basics are as follows, taken from the league’s online constitution.

“If a player who was bought in the auction is placed on a major league disabled list, 7-day, 15-day or 60-day, his Tout Wars team may release him and ask his SWAT to add the player’s auction salary back to this year’s FAAB.”

(If you clicked on the above link to check out the Tout constitution, don’t mind all the red ink there. It isn’t all my blood spilled, though some of it probably is. The red text denotes changes made for the 2015 season. Even with a long-running group like Tout, the rules are continually kept fresh. So it should be in your leagues, too.)

Here is why the subject is pertinent now, especially in non-mixed leagues. Player reclaim values just dropped in half. Says the constitution…

“If the redemption occurs prior to Thursday 5 pm EDT of the All Star Break, the team may reclaim 100 percent of the player’s salary. If the transaction occurs after Thursday, 5 pm EDT of the All Star break, the team may reclaim 50 percent of the player’s salary.”

The timing works out well. Even though owners have to wait a week before re-using their FAAB, there is still time to build one’s cash reserves before the flurry of interleague trading creates some heated bidding wars. Per the league rules:

“FAAB units acquired in this manner cannot be used for bidding purposes until the following week’s transaction period.”

One of the National League owners, BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz, bought a very solid team at auction, but one that has since been badly bitten by the injury bug. Still, he was just 16 points out of a share of the lead at the All-Star break.

“I came out of the NL Tout draft lacking starting pitchers,” Hertz said. “As a result, I literally wasted half my budget before the season began acquiring starters (Trevor Cahill and David Buchanan) who were out of the rotation by May. Then I got hit with more serious injuries than I can remember before.”

San Diego’s Wil Myers went onto the disabled list in mid-June for the second time. The outfielder elected surgery to remove bone spurs in his wrist. An eight-week diagnosis meant a second-half August return at best. There would be no guarantee as recovery from wrist problems can be slow.

As a result, Hertz decided to reclaim his $16 paid for Myers.

Here is where it gets interesting. Back to the Tout constitution:

“If a DLed player is released in this manner, he will be placed back in the free agent pool and will be available for FAAB acquisition.”

With Father’s Day festivities taking my time, I missed a nice opportunity, but both Tristan H. Cockcroft and Peter Kreutzer noticed Myers on the waiver wire. The two were willing to take a week of zero stats in order to stash the outfielder on the DL starting the following period – until he comes back. Cockcroft made the more aggressive bid, $8, but only had to pay $2 to win. This move could pay off down the road, and even if not, the risk is minuscule.

Once Hertz noticed this, he decided to insert an extra step into the process when he lost another top contributor, Josh Harrison. Knowing he was assured of an $18 reclaim and suspecting another bidding war ahead when Harrison became a free agent, Hertz offered Harrison for sale himself first. Collectively, the league has considerable cash remaining, and sure enough, USA TODAY’s Steve Gardner landed Harrison for $20 FAAB sent to Hertz.

Down with a thumb ligament, Harrison is going to be out until at least late-August, giving Gardner a month of the infielder’s services at best. Still, compared to other alternatives, Gardner likes his move.

“The reason I was willing to do it is two-fold,” he explained. “First, I don’t have as much FAAB as several other owners in our league, so I’m far enough down in the pecking order that my chances of landing an impact player are slim. The second reason is that I don’t see a major influx of talent coming over from the AL at this year’s trade deadline anyway. There are maybe three AL teams you could consider ‘sellers’ at the deadline this year, compared to as many as eight in the NL.

“Getting Harrison for $20 (of my $65 remaining) is a good deal for me because I know he’ll play regularly when he comes off the disabled list, hopefully in another month. Plus, he qualifies at second base, third base and outfield,” Gardner said.

In other words, this has the early appearance of a win-win for both owners.

They say bad luck comes in threes. That seems the case for Hertz’ 2015 NL Tout squad. His third major bad-luck player, David Wright, originally cost $25. The rest of the league is apparently too wary of the third baseman’s back problems, officially spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column – to pay at least $26 to Hertz. As a result, Wright was cashed out.

Surprisingly, Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus made the only bid on the new free agent Wright this week and secured his services for a paltry $1.

In all three cases, Hertz decided to let others take the risk.

“In each of the three cuts, I was reacting not only to the length of time missed, but also to whether the injuries would impact the player when (if?) he returned,” Hertz said. “Information available indicated that performance would be significantly impacted when they were activated.”

In your leagues, if you haven’t considered FAAB reclaim, please do. However, before you jump in the water, also think through how and when they should be allowed.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

This is the type of year when any of us, no matter how experienced we are, can benefit from useful tips on trading. No matter what we say, dispensing advice is easier than actually being able to execute it successfully. Challenges in pulling off deals are not fundamentally different in industry leagues than in local leagues. Diverse people with diverse approaches essentially guarantee that.

My story this week is about low-ball offers.

We’ve all seen them. Some live and die by them. Others consider them the fantasy equivalent of the plague.

As in most cases, I land somewhere in between the two extremes. I don’t make low-ball offers (at least on purpose), as I respect my peers too much for that. On the other end, I prefer not to burn bridges after receiving such inquiries, even if they are initially insulting.

Trying to improve my starting pitching in National League Tout Wars recently, I looked for potential trade partners who might value one of my stronger categories, on-base percentage, in return.

I contacted one of my peers, who has a good staff and is among the leaders in the pitching categories, asking about his two top starters. Surprisingly, he came back with an offer for his best pitcher, one of the hottest currently in the game. That was the good news.

The bad news was that his offer was essentially a four-for-one – my team’s best power source, a strong OBP contributor, a very good starting pitcher almost ready to come off the disabled list, plus free agent allocation dollars (FAAB).

The price seemed so rich that my initial reaction was to send an angry response. Instead, I sat on it for a day and eventually replied with a two-fold answer. First, I thanked him for responding. So many offers that disappear into the ether lead me to appreciate any replies received. Second, I said that we were so far off on a trade that I did not want to counter because I did not want to insult him.

Walking away was made easier since in the meantime, I had quickly found another trade partner in ESPN’s Tristan H. Cockcroft. Unwilling to deal his top two starters, Cockcroft made his third, Jason Hammel, available. I offered one of the top shortstops statistically this season in Brandon Crawford in return.

Almost no one accepts a first offer, and Cockcroft was no exception. He countered by expanding the deal to a 2-for-2. The inclusion was a swap of pitchers tilted in his direction.

I replied by making that observation along with an assertion that the initial deal as proposed is fair to both teams, in terms of value and risk. He agreed and the deal was done.

The next day, league leader Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus, commented on Twitter about the trade. That led to a public dialogue between the three of us, which included our views of low-ball offers.

Here is a subset of the exchanges.

Cockcroft (@SultanofStat): Indeed, @B_Walton made a good opening offer. Big fan of that move. Sometimes the first pitch is the best pitch.

Gianella (@MikeGianella): I'm a big fan of starting with a fair offer. Life is too short.

Cockcroft: Builds good rapport with the trade partner for future dealings, too. If needs are cut and dry, no need to haggle.

Walton: Agreed. Had one incredibly one-sided offer from a peer. Didn't know how to counter without being equally insulting.

Cockcroft: I hear you. That's the pitfall of the opening lowball offer. Makes climbing out of said pit more challenging.

Gianella: if someone starts with a really poor offer, chances are good I won't respond.

That latter point is the only one with which I disagree. I respond to every e-mail, though as noted above, I let the ugly ones age longer than the others. My take is that I will play in leagues with these same owners over and over and I want to remain as positive as possible with all of them.

As it turns out, my lowball offerer came back and said that he would not be insulted by any proposal. That is not my style, but still serves as a good reminder that not everyone looks at these types of trade negotiations the same way.

We were still too far apart on my initial inquiry, but I decided to try again with a different angle. I went back to this same peer with a new proposal for a couple of much lesser deals, which he is apparently at least considering. Another downside of dealing with this particular individual is that he must read his e-mails about every third day – but communications methods will be the subject of another column down the road.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

I don’t want to be grumpy about Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game, but I readily admit that I am.

No, this isn’t going to be another diatribe about the ridiculousness of the “this time, it counts” decision that is one of the bellwethers of the Bud Selig era. I do think it is incredibly stupid to tie home field advantage in the World Series to the results of an exhibition game, but I have yet to see an average fan who likes this idea. So there seems no reason to preach to this choir.

None of my individual All-Star concerns are big, but instead are a series of paper cuts that together, draw too much of my blood and ire.

The voting process: The good old days of sitting at the ballgame, punching out the perforated circles in the paper All-Star ballots have gone the way of Selig. In a process that generates millions and millions and millions of clicks to the MLB.com website, the lords of the game decided all votes would be cast on-line.

By releasing interim voting results, MLB generates even more attention and subsequent increases in voting from fans eager to see their hometown heroes in the starting lineup.

It also leads to many trying to game the system.

The controversy of the interim American League lineup consisting of eight Kansas City Royals led to ridicule from some corners and cries from others to take the voting away from fans.

In protecting its baby, MLB made the unusual move of disclosing that it nullified 60-65 million ballots, or about 20 percent of the annual total, because it was determined the votes were made illegally.

Even so, the old rule of “one man, one vote” is completely meaningless in the world of MLB.

All-Star snubs: This is the stupidest term I can think of, yet it is increasingly overused each year when All-Star rosters are announced. Fans of literally every team play this card when one or more of their hometown favorites are passed over for the Mid-Summer Classic.

The implication is that the fan voters - or players or managers - purposely passed over their favorite player because of some unspoken prejudice. In reality, the whining usually has nothing to do with the comparative value of the players and everything to do with homerism.

With the possible exception of Alex Rodriguez, who very well may in fact be the victim of a 2015 snub, this just isn’t true. Some cannot deal with the fact that other teams have deserving players, too.

Speaking of A-Rod, I am going to take a sidestep and a short bow. I came into the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) draft last November with the express intent to secure the services of the Yankees star, who was coming off his year of suspension.

Throwing out his name relatively early in the draft at $5, not only did I receive crickets, as I had hoped, but I also had to absorb a number of snide remarks from my peers.

It looks like I am going to get the last laugh, though. Despite having been in a slump the last two weeks, as of July 9, the 39-year-old leads my team in four of the five offensive scoring categories – home runs (16), RBI (47), runs (45) and on-base percentage (.382).

A-Rod was not invited to this July’s Mid-Summer Classic – and did not even appear among The Final Vote nominees - almost certainly because of his high levels of PR-toxicity.

Speaking of which…

The Final Vote: One way MLB cleverly continues to draw attention (and millions more clicks) after the rosters are announced is to hold further voting for the final player on both the American and National League rosters from among a group of five from each league.

Unlike in the regular voting, there are no daily limits in the number of ballots per person that can be cast in The Final Vote process, creating a true free-for-all.

Teams go all out to draw attention to their nominees. Tactics include offering gifts to voters via drawings, teaming up with clubs in the other league to create a favored AL-NL ticket and incentivizing voters to spam Twitter with special hashtags, again with the allure of trinkets given to selected participants.

Never has there been such attention lavished on such a relatively insignificant act.

Final Vote snubs: Combining two of the above irritants leads me to The Final Vote ballots for 2015. Already mentioned is the obvious omission of Rodriguez. Further, this time around, pitchers and position players were thrown in together.

Among the NL five was Clayton Kershaw.

There is no doubt the three-time Cy Young Award winner and reigning National League Most Valuable Player is having a sub-standard 2015 season – by his lofty standards. Kershaw has “only” a 2.85 ERA to go with an MLB-leading total of 160 strikeouts.

This leads to my most irritating issue with the entire All-Star process – ignoring the second half of each season. Today’s process only considers the first halves with anything that happened after the prior year’s Classic through the end of that season completely ignored.

One of my to-dos each summer is to write a column listing who the All-Stars should be had full-year performances since the last game been considered. Every year, my friend Steve Gardner of USA TODAY beats me to the punch.

Not surprisingly, Gardner notes that from a statistical view, Kershaw leads the way for all NL pitchers from last All-Star Game until now. Relegating him to The Final Vote ballot is embarrassing, in my opinion.

It also doomed the lefty to miss the game since Los Angeles fans do not seem inclined to ballot stuff to the extent of those from the heartland. In the closing Final Vote results announced Friday evening, Kershaw finished a disappointing and unfair third of five behind Carlos Martinez of St. Louis and the Reds’ Johnny Cueto.

Now, that’s an All-Star snub if I have ever seen one! Whoops!

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

 

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