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RotoAuthority Unscripted: Walking the April Line

If you’re like me, you just quit a full-time job. Possibly one that you did while at your full-time, job. You’re all done with your fantasy drafts. You have all your teams and you won’t be drafting, or auctioning anymore, no matter how many times you see the draft room in your sleep. You won’t be ranking players in your head, on paper, or on your computer. Sure, you can check out RotoAuthority’s rankings…but why would you? Your teams are drafted. No more mock drafts, no more mock auctions, no more thrills of nabbing Kyle Seager for $2 even though you already have two third basemen. No more wondering how to evaluate injuries to Clayton Kershaw or Yu Darvish. No more getting a great deal on Cliff Lee…just enjoying his first disaster start of the year.

There is no more preparation, and no matter how much Draft Day feels like Game Day…it’s no more than half the battle. (Unless your league’s talent level is really low, I guess.)

What should you do with yourself now that you aren’t mock drafting, prepping rankings, scouring injury reports, and the like?

Well, you can start with getting a healthy hobby. I suggest watching baseball and setting your various fantasy lineups. Because, by healthy, I mean healthy for your fantasy teams. But you should also rest.

Rest from the urge to fix every roster hole now and with a trade. Sure, keep an eye on who drops whom, look over the waiver wire to see if anyone stands out, but don’t go blowing up your team. Hoping for Tanner Scheppers to be this year’s Chris Sale—or at least, C.J. Wilson? One bad start doesn’t torpedo his chances. Hoping for Billy Hamilton to steal you a title (sorry—no choice)? He isn’t getting send down after one oh-for-four with no steals. Breathe easy.

Every league seems to have someone send out a million trade offers before the season or in the first week. If you’ve really got a glaring need (like, you didn’t draft a shortstop), it’s smart to put some feelers out there, but don’t be the owner that offers trades just to offer trades, just to be doing something. Remember, you’re the fantasy owner, not the fantasy player. Yes, it’s an adjustment to being out of control, but that’s what we are for the moment. An offseason’s worth of preparation is more trustworthy than a game or two worth of at bats.

There’s a second thing to do, though, and that one, you’ll enjoy more than an admonition to take it easy. You need to become best friends with the waiver wire. What does that not mean? It doesn’t mean picking up and dropping players left and right, or streaming like crazy, or shuffling out half your drafted team. Instead, it means knowing the available players in your league(s) and what they’re doing. This is where opportunity comes from, and this is the large part of what will win and lose your league(s) from here on out.

The first week is a quandary for me (and every other fantasy player). On the one hand, you’re dealing with small samples and rule-exceptions. You’re dealing with players who’ve only played against two opponents, starters who’ve only faced one or two lineups, closers who’ve only had one chance to blow it. There is absolutely nothing concrete to be learned in the season’s first week. (Statistically speaking, that is. If Jose Reyes hits the DL, or Jim Henderson gets pulled from the closer’s role, that’s a different story.)

And yet, you still have to make your move on this information. It may not happen every year, but it’s a common enough story that plenty of fantasy leagues have been won with help from a plot like this: unheralded player or seemingly-low-upside-prospect wins a starting job in Spring Training. Nobody notices. Said player has a monster first week and jumps from 1% owned to 30% owned. Said player continues to produce all year long and becomes an early-round draft pick for years to come. Think I’m kidding? Last year it was Jean Segura. Before that, it’s been Ben Zobrist and Dan Uggla—the good Uggla, not the version we have now.

The story has gone other ways too: über-prospect gets surprisingly early callup and probably isn’t ready. Dominates all season. (Think Jose Fernandez.)

Player with some promise but a game full of flaws (and strikeouts) clubs several homers in the first week. Doesn’t stop. I’m not actually sure if this is how Chris Davis burst onto the scene two years ago, but it seems to fit.

Some guy you never heard of gets tabbed to fill in for a closer who needs to “regain his stuff”…and then goes on to lead the league in saves. (This is a natural part of the life cycle of the closer.)

All of these things happen. They don’t all happen each year, of course, and the false promises always do. Sometimes that closer does regain his stuff, sometimes the strikeouts overcome the homers, sometimes the prospect goes back to the minors, and sometimes that great first week (or month) becomes the highlight of Chris Shelton’s career.

The upside is worth it, though. The first couple weeks should be your most aggressive on the waiver wire, because they can have the biggest impact. Getting the Seguras, Fernandezes, and Davises of this year (if there are any) will make or break most fantasy leagues. Dropping your backup shortstop or seventh starter will probably not.

No, I don’t know who will break out this week or next, and I certainly don’t know which breakouts will be for real. Like everyone else, I’ll be gambling with my first few free agent moves. The key here is to go for the longest-term upside. You’ll still be able to find almost-competent replacement players later on, but April is your best shot to make a bold addition to your team. Go for it.

But not at the expense of players you trusted enough to target. Drop the fliers, the fillers, and the had-to’s—but don’t ditch your sleepers or your cornerstones, either for the waiver wire or the trade market.

So, it’s a paradoxical bit of advice to start the season: trust the planning you already did by sitting back and relaxing—but keep your eyes open for potential breakout players and jump on anyone who might qualify.

That’s the line we walk in April. Good luck staying on it.

And yeah—be glad baseball’s back.



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