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Thursday 25th Aug 2016

It will not go down as the biggest trade of all time – Pedro Strop for Marco Gonzales. In fact, far from it. Yet, I am hoping the move will help jump-start my floundering Tout Wars squad.

We are still two weeks away from Memorial Day, that time when traditionally, we should take serious stock of our fantasy baseball rosters.

I am not waiting that long in this league. The realities of a weak pitching staff, accentuated by the struggles of (former) Miami closer Steve Cishek, have come home to roost. My club is currently last in ERA and second to last in WHIP, so improvement is mandatory.

Here is how one approach came about.

Roughly three weeks ago, St. Louis Cardinals prospect left-hander Marco Gonzales, arguably the club’s best pitcher during spring training, strained a lat muscle and went on the disabled list of Triple-A Memphis.

Because I cover the Cardinals system for a living, I often receive questions about players in the organization from fantasy-playing friends. In this case, the friend is also a competitor in NL Tout, BaseballHQ’s Phil Hertz.

Phil asked me if there was any reason he should not cut bait on Gonzales, a player he mistakenly rostered on draft day for $5, while thinking the player on the table was Gio Gonzalez, instead. (As an aside, I bought Gio later for $16, and he has become one of my leading underperformers.)

With just four reserve spots in Tout, roster management is crucial. In this case, holding onto a minor leaguer while waiting for a call-up, and then hoping they will be effective upon their arrival, was a valid consideration on Hertz’ part.

In all honesty, I told him that I thought it was too early to discard Gonzales. I did, however, offer to acquire the pitcher for a few dollars of free agent budget (which can be traded).

Phil countered with what I felt was an unrealistic offer, pairing Derek Norris with Pedro Strop in return for Gonzales and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the latter who had already been designated for assignment. After I declined his offer, he said he would hold Gonzales. Yet, a few days later, Hertz sent a broadcast e-mail to the league, offering the lefty in trade.

Why did that happen? Opportunity had been created. Adam Wainwright’s injury caused an immediate roster opening for the remainder of the season. Further, two other Cardinals lefties already tried and had not impressed – Tim Cooney and Tyler Lyons.

The Cardinals’ wild card is oft-injured lefty Jaime Garcia. The veteran is trying to work his way back to St. Louis in parallel with Gonzales, who was with the big league club as a reliever through the 2014 postseason.

I also own Garcia in this league, so having him and Gonzales both would seemingly give me a very good chance of eventually ending up with a starter with a consistent job for a very good St. Louis team.

There were no takers in NL Tout to Hertz’ offer, but after Gonzales was tagged in his first rehab outing and just before Garcia took the mound for his first turn, Phil came back around. He offered me Gonzales for Strop plus $3 FAAB.

With no up-and-coming prospects among my reserves, I was willing to execute a buy and hold on Gonzales. Only time will tell if it will be a good move or not, but I like Gonzales’ upside, especially in return for a setup man.

Therefore, I countered with the two players straight up and no cash involved. I was anxious to close the deal before we saw how Garcia would perform in his rehab outing that same day. Weak results could have strengthened Gonzales’ perceived value.

Hertz agreed to the one-for-one trade, while making several interesting comments. One is that he pledged to stop playing marginal starting pitchers. Another is that he is worried why I wanted Gonzales.

I too made a decision to get rid of a pair of stat-draining starters in Arizona’s Jeremy Hellickson and Colorado’s Jordan Lyles. Both were drafted, but primarily held in reserve until now. Their replacements were a group of middle relievers who may or may not become the next Strop, but at least I can plug them into openings with less fear of a terrible outing hurting my pitching stats even more.

The fact that Gonzales has now had two rough starts since being activated in Triple-A is concerning, but he has shown his ability before. Perhaps he can offer a boost later in the season, though it may be unrealistic to expect him to be the next Noah Syndergaard in 2015.

My advice to you is to consider every move, no matter how minor, in your efforts to address your roster weaknesses.


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.

When assembling my National League Tout Wars pitching staff for 2015, I had built my plans around securing four front-line starting pitchers plus a couple bargain starters with some upside.

I thought I executed this fairly well with my top four of Francisco Liriano, Gio Gonzalez, Julio Teheran and Homer Bailey. On the bargain side, I bought two guys from whom I was hoping for a return to past glories in Jeremy Hellickson and Jaime Garcia.

In reality, Hellickson has never been the same since 2012, but the change of league at least looked intriguing at the time. In reality, he has been on my bench since week two and will likely be released.

I fooled myself again by getting Garcia, a pitcher who has great stuff when healthy, but can never seem to stay off the disabled list. The left-hander had looked very good in early spring training, so I paid $4 on draft day.

With the Tout drafts in New York City a full two weeks ahead of the regular season, I did not make my annual trip to spring training in Florida until the week after Tout. That is the reverse of my usual March plan of seeing the players before I draft them.

Literally as I was pulling into the parking lot of the Cardinals complex in Jupiter, Florida for the first time this spring, on the morning of March 24th, I saw a large crowd at the nearest minor league field.

It turned out Garcia was throwing a simulated game, as the last step toward his return to St. Louis’ rotation. I ended up catching most of his 80-pitch outing as my first official action in camp.

It was too much, too soon for Garcia, who suffered a setback as a result of that outing that continues to this day.

Just this week, I returned to Jupiter to catch the Cardinals extended spring training camp during the day and their high-A team in the evenings. Déjà vu was too much for me as when I pulled into the parking lot upon arrival, who was throwing but Garcia. The lefty was completing his final side session in preparation for his first rehab start at Triple-A Memphis this Sunday.

Tout has a rule that allows full FAAB reclaim for any player injured before the All-Star break (and half afterward), but for Garcia, I have decided to hold on. It isn’t like four more FAAB dollars will make my season. I believe that even if I get just seven or eight starts from Garcia before he gets hurt again, at least they will be good ones.

With the season-ending injury to Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals need a fifth starter. It will likely be Garcia if he can prove his health. Of course, that is a huge “if”. Otherwise, top prospect Marco Gonzales is on a similar trajectory, making his first Triple-A start on Saturday coming off the DL.

On the other hand, I did take my $12 back for the loss of Bailey, not that it will get me $12 value now on the free agent market.

As in the case of Garcia, I ignored the warning signs and drafted Bailey anyway.

In my defense, the Reds starter already had surgery. Last September, he went under the knife to repair a torn flexor tendon in his forearm. How did I know a healthy prognosis would turn into Tommy John surgery this spring?

In any case, one pitching gamble in Bailey clearly failed and one in Garcia still has a chance to beat some pretty long odds. Given that I don’t have a Noah Syndergaard or similar starting pitcher stashed on my bench, my 2015 season could end up being Jaime or bust!

I don’t really have much of a lesson for you in this story, other than the obvious - be diligent in your potential interactions with injury risks and don’t load your rosters with them unless you intend to play the longshots.

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.

Some of us – perhaps even you – have problems stepping away from a bad decision – compounding the mistake with incremental related moves.

It is a natural behavior, believing in the reasons you made your initial decision, sticking with that plan, hoping for future validation - even as the idea more quickly circles the drain.

Such is the case in a saga that began with a Fall 2013 trade I made in the Xperts Fantasy League, or XFL. As is often the case in this column, I outline my foibles in hopes that you might avoid a similar pitfall.

The XFL is a dynasty league in which we are allowed 15 keepers against a 40-man roster. One unique challenge is the requirement to declare our keepers for next season before the current World Series is done. The draft follows at the start of November.

In the process of analyzing one’s roster, the wise owner also looks at potential difficult keeper decisions his competitors may be facing.

I’ve written about the continued success that fellow Mastersball staffer Don Drooker has demonstrated in this format. One reason why is his approach in trading. Don does not send out the lazy broadcast note to the entire league offering up his borderline players, nor does he send out general communications about his needs.

Instead, he takes the time to craft specific one-on-one trade proposals, considering the position of the other owner. I don’t always trade with Don, but when we do talk, it is never a waste of time, nor does it take long to do an evaluation. I respect that.

In October 2013, Don contacted me with an offer for a player coming off a bad season that he suspected he could buy low – Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro. Making a potential trade easier for me was the fact that I had some young infielders coming up who could provide a lower-cost roster replacement.

Drooker correctly noticed that my potential keepers for 2014 lacked outfield talent and power.

In return for Castro, he offered another player with a +$3 contract (compared to the usual +$5), but with even greater questions in Angels outfielder Josh Hamilton. Despite Hamilton’s contract being higher ($23 vs. $13, as I recall), I accepted the deal.

As the 2014 season played out, Castro had a solid bounceback campaign, while Hamilton played in just 89 games while battling rib cage and shoulder ailments in what became his worst season in eight as a Major Leaguer.

Preparing for 2015, Drooker had a strong keeper in Castro, while Hamilton was clearly getting thrown back into the free agent pool.

Anyone can make a bad trade, which I did, but here is where I made matters far worse.

When Hamilton was nominated in the XFL auction last November, I made a $12 bid. I am not sure why. No one said, “$13,” so in a matter of a few seconds, the troubled Angel was back on my squad.

Instead of cutting my losses, I went against the odds and gambled that I could recoup some of my lost 2014 investment in 2015.

It was a questionable decision at best in November 2014. By early February, the downward slope increased with news that Hamilton had waited until then to have shoulder surgery, a decision that would cause him to open the regular season on the disabled list.

The icing on the cake was the late February news that Hamilton had come forward with an admission that his alcohol and substance abuse problems had returned. That put not only his 2015 season, but potentially his entire career, in jeopardy.

In most leagues, at least those with March drafts, Hamilton became a persona non grata. That was further reinforced in April when Angels owner Arte Moreno cast doubt upon whether Hamilton would ever return to his team. Now it appears the outfielder will be returning to the Rangers, but has rehab time still ahead.

I am not complaining about the timing of the November XFL draft. I love the challenge it presents. The problem is my own – the refusal to cut my losses on an obviously-flawed player left a major hole in my 2015 lineup.

So, please learn from my mistake. Leave the decisions of the past behind. Make today’s decisions based on today’s facts. Had I done that, Hamilton would be someone else’s XFL problem, not mine.


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.


It seems that a common theme in my writing recently has been to call attention to my own specific mistakes while trying to make the example generic enough that it could be of value to readers in your own leagues.

And, here I am again.

xflOne of my two leagues that are the most important to me is the XFL, Xperts Fantasy League. No money is on the line, but my 14 competitors are industry leaders and some of the best players around, providing more than enough incentive.

The format is most interesting, with 40-man rosters including 23 active each week. We begin with a $260 budget used in November’s 23-player draft, which includes a maximum of 15 keepers including farm players. As I covered recently right here, there is also a supplemental snake draft in early April for 17 additional players. Drafted players’ salaries increase $5 each year, while salaries of farm players increase just $3 each year - once they are activated.

Other than trades, the only way to improve one’s roster within the season is via monthly in-season free agent acquisitions. The snake process begins with the last-place team.

Believe it or not, that is my problem.

A year after blowing up my team and finishing last for the first time ever, my 2015 roster got out of the gates surprisingly quickly. As I write this, I am in third place, which means I would pick 12th in our first monthly free agent draft.

I have accomplished this with mirrors, as my roster is embarrassingly out of balance in favor of hitting. Despite the aforementioned 17 reserve spots, I have no pitchers on my bench who are currently active in the Major Leagues. In fact, I am already one short.

New York Mets reliever Jenrry Mejia, in line to be the closer to start the season, was slapped with an 80-game PED suspension before contributing any stats in 2015. He is not assured of a defined role upon his eventual return.

While I did snag Cuban Raisel Iglesias in the supplemental draft, by the time I could activate him, he had already made his lone Major League spot start and was sent to Triple-A Louisville for seasoning.

My only other Major League pitcher on reserve was Tigers closer Joe Nathan. Despite the fact that Nathan went onto Detroit’s disabled list almost immediately after picking up an opening day save – which I did not get – I have had to keep Nathan active ever since. The sad reality is that I have no one else to replace him, with no one to blame but myself.

The remainder of my pitching roster includes three minor league prospects and Matt Moore, whose return is targeted for the second half.

Here is where my balance problem is so severe.

On the hitting side of the roster, I needed two immediate fill-ins from the supplemental draft – replacements for injured outfielders Denard Span and Josh Hamilton. Of course, the latter comes with a considerable amount of pre-packed baggage.

To replace them, I went to town, snaring Kennys Vargas, Anthony Gose and Michael Saunders, two of whom I already cannot play for a lack of openings. Other MLB players on my bench are Joe Panik and Chris Johnson.

On the pitching side, my only viable addition was Mike Leake, immediately plugged in for Mejia.

To make matters worse, my bench includes emerging players Addison Russell, Blake Swihart and Alex Guerrero. All these XFL farm players have made (or in the case of Swihart will soon make) their MLB debuts this season, but are blocked by others in my XFL lineup.

For those not keeping score, that leaves me with seven viable bench hitters and no reserve pitchers. In fact, I have a total of “negative one” pitchers, with an injured Nathan still in my lineup.

Having been on the road the last 2 ½ weeks, I did not have time to craft personalized e-mails to selected league peers to solicit a trade of one or more of my outfielders for pitching help. In a major disappointment, I did not receive even one reply to my mass communication.

Now that our monthly free agent window is just ahead this weekend, I will come to the table with a list of desired free agent pitchers – fully well knowing that all of the plums will be gone by the time I pick 12th.

The lesson to you is one that may seem so obvious it need not be stated. Yet, during the supplemental draft, I fell into the trap of chasing the best talent available instead of stepping back and ensuring I had the basics – enough reserves to even get me through the first month.

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.

One of the realities of playing in higher-visibility leagues with industry peers is that we write about our teams and strategies. Personally, I always try to ground my writing in real-world examples.

In the case of my friends and competitors, some of them are even better writers than fantasy players, and that says a lot. In addition to enjoying their content - because they provide insight into their decisions made – I try to take advantage of the learning opportunities made available.

On one hand, no matter how good we think we are at these games, if we don't think we can gain some useful tricks from others, we will eventually fail, if for no other reason than our own arrogance.

Further, because I share leagues with many of these writers, I can gain a peek into the thought processes of my direct competitors. Consider this. In your home leagues, wouldn't it be cool if your top challengers had to submit an essay on their approach to try to beat you?

An example came up last week right here at Mastersball. While he is now a staff writer, Don Drooker has not always been "in" the industry. That does not say anything about his high level of proficiency in playing, though. As Don reminded readers in his most recent column, he has been the champion in our dynasty league, XFL or Xperts Fantasy League, four times in the last decade, including three in one recent four-year stretch – against some very tough competitors. (I am among the majority of the league still looking for a first title.)

In case you did not read Don's column, here is the link. Please check it out.

His subject was the XFL's spring supplemental draft, which follows our November auction. While Don recapped his own selections, he also considered the decisions each owner may have been faced with when his turn came up in the first couple of rounds.

That is when an old scab of mine was picked. It was nothing Don said specifically, but a rules change that is causing me pain. More on that in a moment after I set the stage.

Having blown up my team last year to re-invest for the future, I finished dead last in 2014 – a first in my decade in the league. As I have written before, I waited a year too long to step up and do it. As a result, despite a number of re-stocking trades made, the league's stats provider has my current roster in 15th place in its projected 2015 standings, as well.

Here's what got me going again now. As Don recapped the first-round selections in our supplemental draft, I re-lived exactly what I knew would happen coming in – the best investments for the future were long gone by the time my initial pick came up, 14th overall.

Any player who qualifies as a rookie when selected in this auxiliary draft will (until eventually dropped) enjoys a $3 salary increase each season instead of the usual $5 on top of a $1 base. That difference can add multiple years of control to a young player's roster runway.

Even though the household names on Baseball America's top 100 prospect list have been owned for years in this 40-man roster league, the recent influx of Cuban talent has increased the value of these initial picks in the supplemental draft.

To that end, in 2015, three of the first five players off the board were Yoan Moncada, Hector Olivera and Yasmany Tomas. Looking back to last spring, as you might expect, Jose Abreu was that number one selection. This time around, by pick 14, the best option remaining was Minnesota designated hitter Kennys Vargas – not a bad player, but not a rookie and hardly a future franchise cornerstone.

You might be wondering why if I finished in last place last season was I picking 14th of 15 teams this year.

The simple answer is that to address one problem, the league's pendulum was swung hard – perhaps too hard - in the other direction.

Traditionally, the XFL was like many leagues, including yours perhaps, in that the lower-finishing teams were given earlier draft spots the following season. This was considered a way to assist those clubs in the rebuilding process and level out league competition over time.

However, the XFL's initial approach was in fact a hybrid, in which the top five teams in the standings were moved to the end of the line the next year with prior season finishers six through 15 picking first.

This oddity was defended by some, who insisted there was viable bragging value in finishing second, third, fourth or fifth, which I never understood. Either you win or you don't, in my opinion.

That is not what led to a rules change, though. One of the teams that looked to be set to finish in fifth place one season understood the huge benefit that would be realized if he could end up in sixth place instead of fifth. It would be the difference between having the first pick the next spring versus the 11th pick.

To try to help make that happen artificially, the owner fielded a late-season lineup consisting of as many reserves and injured players as he could activate.

While this was not explicitly prohibited by the league rules, it surely was not in bounds in the field of fair play.

As a result of that gaming, I was among the league majority who voted in favor of a rules change.

For the last few years, only the league's winner from the prior year is placed at the end of the draft queue. As an incentive to the other owners to finish as strongly as possible, the second-place through 15th-place teams are awarded the first through 14th spots in the next season's supplemental draft.

While the incentive to take a dive was eliminated by this change, it also meant the rich get even richer while the steepness of the challenge for rebuilding teams was increased since those clubs pick even later in the auxiliary draft than before.

I admit that when I voted in favor of the change, I did not seriously consider this impact on the cellar-dwellers. I was not one then and did not expect to be one later. The real world is far crueler, however.

The aforementioned Drooker, coming off three wins in the prior four years, came in second in 2013. His reward was the right to select Abreu as the number one pick in the 2014 auxiliary draft, gaining years of the Cuban's services at a bargain rate.

Another second-place finish followed for him in 2014, so Don had his pick of this spring's litter, too, claiming Moncada. The rules helped him to reload on the fly with premium, low-cost keeper talent, while I am destined to try to rebuild my leaky roster with scrap lumber.

I honestly do not yet have "the" answer to this dilemma. Those who play consistently well should benefit. Those who cannot compete should not complain – but that does not mean all rule changes necessarily work as hoped, either.

I bring up this example here both for therapeutic purposes and to remind you to evaluate the collateral damage that rule change proposals might cause before you execute them. Consider the reality that you will have to live with both the good and bad and it just may be you in the dunking tank next time.

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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