At the beginning of the year, my friend and mentor, Brad Johnson, invited me to join his dynasty league “The Devil’s Rejects.” The owner of the West Reading Phillies had left the league, leaving a team without an owner. Without more than a moment’s hesitation, I leaped at the opportunity to join. And in case you were wondering, the team has since been renamed to Sutelans of Swing (any Dire Straits fans out there should be able to appreciate the reference).
The league is a 20-team dynasty league with 45 rostered players during the season and 28 keepers permitted per team. You can trade draft picks and own players who have yet to sign with a professional baseball team. Basically, this league is about as close to realism as you can get.
Little did I know, this league featured many heavy-hitters in the fantasy baseball industry. Fangraphs’ Eno Sarris and Paul Sporer (now Sarris and Dan Farnsworth), Yahoo! Fantasy and The Wall Street Journal analyst Michael Salfino, Baseball Prospectus’ Bret Sayre, MLB.com’s Tom Trudeau and Roto Baller’s own Kyle Bishop, just to name a few.
The team I was taking over had a few solid pieces on it, but it was clear this team was far from contention. Though Anthony Rizzo, Sonny Gray, Charlie Blackmon, Derek Norris and Randal Grichuk could all call themselves members of my esteemed team, they were essentially all by themselves on this team that lacked depth. So, I went into seller mode.
And I certainly made my fair share of trades. I was a bit reluctant at first, but I was jumping into this league during the beginning of the draft and I had to start making some moves to keep my team going. So without further ado, here are the moves that I made.
Wow! What a blockbuster right?! A little side note on this, I had to decide between this offer and one of Rizzo for Bradley Zimmer and Nomar Mazara. I probably could’ve gotten more for Rizzo if I had waited long enough, but I was still very new to my first ever dynasty league and I was feeling the pressure of making a move so I took this one. But wait, I thought you were selling? Oh don’t worry, I most certainly am.
Though this move was met with criticism at the time, I don’t feel too bad about this move. My team needed to get younger and I feel that Zimmer has the potential to provide about as much as Pollock. This move was made before Pollock’s injury which was quite a relief to me because the last thing a rebuilding team like my own needs is to be stuck with an injured superstar player with an all-time low in fantasy value.
This is a move that I felt particularly proud of. Originally the deal was Kimbrel for Bickford, Newcomb and two draft picks, but I requested Thomson be thrown in instead of one of the draft picks. I had been really high on Thompson and insisted that he be added in lieu of a draft pick. He wound up having a great first half. I didn’t hang on to see how the second half of his season went (more on that later).
This is one of those moves that is such a high risk / high reward type deals. Travis was just coming off of shoulder surgery, Paxton has struggled to reach his potential in the past and Dalton Pompey has been a Quad-A player to this point in his career. But I have never been very high on Kolten Wang, I had a lot of outfield depth (Zimmer, Austin Meadows, Clint Frazier, Domingo Santana, etc.) and could afford to part ways with Charlie Blackmon (though that was particularly painful). But in retrospect, Travis proved to be quite spectacular coming back from surgery and now appears to be my franchise second baseman. Pompey had a pretty decent season at Triple-A and could be a starter in the outfield next season while Paxton rebuilt his fantasy value quite a lot (more on that later).
Wow! I got the number one prospect in the game for Sonny Gray, who turned in an awful year, Wall, who scuffled a bit in the minors, and Rondon, who was really more of a throw-in than anything else. I feel I came out of this one really well. Sure, Gray could turn it around, but these players looked like mainstays on my team (you will unfortunately notice the past tense). Of course, Moran turned out to be more of a dud than a stud and I wound up dropping him later this season. But Bregman and Almora will be great right?! (more on that later).
Eduardo Escobar for Rhys Hoskins
A minor deal at the time that may have given me a stud first baseman for the future, this deal saw me deal utility man Escobar for the explosive power bat of Hoskins. Hoskins, of course, turned in a 38 homer season while also batting .281. Scouts aren’t sure if he will be able to bat against righties in the future or if he will be more of a platoon guy, but he certainly has the upside to provide more value than Escobar. Chalk this one up as a win.
I always get scared of power-hitting outfielders who strike out a ton, so naturally I was more than willing to deal away Grichuk. Arroyo doesn’t necessarily look like a future fantasy stud, but at the time I was really high on Bradley and I needed some pitching depth. And with regards to Arroyo, he at least looks like a guy who can become a big league regular. Bradley struggled this season, but Arroyo was solid at Double-A and Grichuk really only hit for power while swinging-and-missing far too much for his own good. I’m not quite going to count this as a win, but it did not turn out as bad as it could have if Grichuk had been able to put it all together.
Regular Season Moves:
We revisit Mr. Thompson as he finds himself the subject of another swap of bats for arms. I am high on Stephenson (partially because I’m a Reds fan) and I feel his stuff will eventually translate into enough to keep him in a big league rotation. Meanwhile, Thompson’s BB/K ratio had scared me despite the decent batting average and power numbers. I pulled the trigger on this deal and Thompson seemingly fell off a cliff. Meanwhile, Boyd has been productive in the second half and Stephenson has at least made it back to the big leagues. I still have faith in Stephenson, but he is the key to this deal.
James Paxton for Tyler O’Neill
At the time, Paxton was on a roll. My gut was telling me that there was no way he was going to continue that level of production and I feared that his value would quite possibly never be higher. Paxton continued to be really solid, but O’Neill looks like a future middle-of-the-order power bat. I always worry about batters in Seattle, but I think O’Neill will be fine.
This one on the outside doesn’t look all that great for me. I gave up a solid utility man in Chris Owings and a potential ace in Aaron Sanchez for an at-best innings eating number five guy in Voth, a decent shortstop prospect who is a year or two away from the bigs in Jackson and a mediocre second base prospect in Young. But the way I looked at it, Sanchez doesn’t look like a high strikeout guy given his track record and Owings is not going to be much more than a utility guy. Not to mention he is someone I could probably pick up in this year’s draft. Plus, I really like the upside of Jackson and Young. Young is not highly regarded by evaluators, but all he has ever done is hit and I think he could probably reach the big leagues and become another Chris Owings with a better batting average. I like Voth too, but he needs to be traded out of Washington if he is to have any value moving forward.
It will probably come as no surprise that this trade happened before Bundy was moved into the rotation. Norris had been struggling and I had been trying to move him since I took over the team because I don’t like his future prospects in San Diego. As soon as I was offered Bundy for Norris, I mashed that accept button as I knew Bundy was going to be headed back to the rotation. In retrospect, this is one of the most clear wins for me, especially later when I flip Bundy for more arms!
Before you immediately close this tab, you all need to hear me out on why I accepted this trade. This is the one trade I am going to go a little bit more in-depth with just because this is certainly one that requires justification. First, know that I was not planning on trading Bregman unless I was hit with the absolute right deal, which I believe this to be. Second, take a look at Bregman. Sure, he was the number one prospect in baseball, but at the time I made this deal, it looked like he was headed for third base or the outfield where his bat does not play out quite nearly as well as it does at shortstop.
To me, it came down to Bregman or Devers and Frazier or Benintendi. I like Bregman a lot mostly because he was big league ready, but as a rebuilding team, I wanted someone with the higher upside. From everything I’ve heard about Devers, he is going to be something special if he pans out. Brad Johnson told me once that if he reaches his full potential, he could be the next Manny Machado. Wouldn’t you want to take that risk? Now, on to Benintendi and Frazier. I like Frazier a lot, but his strikeout issues have always had me a bit concerned. He did a lot to ease those worries this season, but not quite enough. Benintendi to me looked like a far more polished prospect with as much power/speed upside as Frazier. You put him in arguably the best lineup in the American League and he could really rack up some gaudy RBI and runs scored totals to go along with a reliable OBP and 20/20 upside. Yes, this was a very tough deal to make, but I like the long term upside of Devers a lot and I think Benintendi has the potential to be a left-handed Mookie Betts for Boston (okay, maybe not quite that high).
Unless you follow college baseball, two of those names may be unknown to you. Obviously, you all know Matt Moore, one of the streakiest pitchers in baseball (but still possesses some two or three starter upside). But McKay and Bukauskas are a little bit more unknown. McKay is the ace of the Louisville Cardinals and Bukauskas is the Friday night starter for the UNC Tar Heels. As the beat writer for The Lantern covering Ohio State baseball, I got to watch McKay shred through the Big Ten Champions like they were nothing with possibly elite stuff from the left side. I have not seen as much of Bukauskas, but scouts love his high-octane stuff and most believe he should be a top ten pick in next season’s draft. I feel that come next season’s midseason MLB.com top prospect ranking, both will be in the Top 100 and both should be quick to move through the minors. It wasn’t easy to give up on the upside of the 23-year-old Orioles’ starter, but this deal could swing lopsided in my favor if McKay and Bukauskas develop how I believe they can.
I like Almora. I think he is a really solid outfielder. But could you say no to a deal like that?! Adell is considered one of the top high school outfielders in next year’s draft and Guzman is considered one of the best first base prospects in the minors who could possibly break out next season as a decent source of power. Almora is a glove-first outfielder who may be able to hit for a respectable average, but not much else. In case you were wondering, Johnson is really just a throw-in. I’m not particularly high on him, but there is no doubt that he has some decent speed and could probably swipe a few bags for my squad.
Not much to talk about here. I picked up Dull off the waivers hoping he would become a closer and have immense fantasy value. He did not, so I let him go for a mediocre hitting prospect who I’m not expecting to keep in the offseason. Ho hum.
Plans Moving Forward
Looking ahead to the offseason, my team still has some serious work to be done before it is ready to contend. It should come as no surprise based on whom I traded away and whom I received in return, but my team finished second-to-last in the league and I am clearly a squad that needs to continue to make some improvements over the past few weeks before the draft. My outfield is a sure strength moving forward and I have a franchise second baseman in Devon Travis, but with only Tyler Stephenson and Sandy Leon qualifying at the catching position, I need to get an upgrade there. My pitching staff is also in dire need of revamping, but that will really come last as pitching is relatively easy to acquire and as we have seen with all the injuries to pitchers over the past few seasons, it is not wise for a non-contender to give up potential impact bats for arms.