One of the allures of playing fantasy baseball is the opportunity to act like a real-life baseball GM with control over roster moves and player personnel. Who hasn’t at one point or another criticized a move their team’s GM made and said “I would’ve done this instead,” or “I’d sign this guy over this guy.” And of course, we’ve all blurted out something along the lines of, “What the (Censor) is this GM doing?” While re-draft leagues are a good start to getting our own personal general manager fix, dynasty leagues are truly where it’s at. You have total control over your roster, prospects, and trades. Your say, no one else’s. That’s where this Fantasy Baseball dynasty strategy article comes in. While they’re incredibly exciting to be a part of, dynasty leagues are a lot of work. I’m here to help make things a little easier on you.
If you aren’t playing your dynasty leagues on Fantrax, you’re missing out on the deepest player pool and most customization around. Just starting out in a dynasty league? Then check out Eric Cross’ Top-400 Overall Fantasy Prospects and Top-500 Dynasty League Rankings.
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Fantasy Baseball Dynasty Strategy
Before we get going, it’d be foolish to not mention fantasy baseball dynasty rankings. Whether you create your own rankings or go off some industry list, rankings always help. We have two sets of dynasty rankings here at FantraxHQ that you can use depending on your league format.
Top-500 Dynasty Rankings (Eric Cross)
Top-500 OBP Dynasty Rankings (Chris Clegg)
Both Chris and I update these rankings periodically throughout the calendar year with more frequent updates happening during the season.
This might seem obvious, but preparation is key when starting a dynasty league. Coming into a dynasty draft unprepared is a cardinal sin and can set your team back for years. I’ve also been in leagues where a manager quit after the first year due to their team being so bad from poor initial draft prep. Don’t be that person. Those people are mocked for all of eternity and bring great shame upon their ancestors. You don’t want to do that, do you?
Now, there are many different ways to approach a dynasty draft. Okay, really there are three main ones. You can use a win-now approach, win-later with plenty of prospects, or somewhere in the middle. While I have my preference, all three of these methods can bring you success if done correctly. Choose your path and stick to it. Me? I prefer the middle ground. I want to try and build a competitive team for my first season while setting myself up well for the future. It might sound difficult to do but it definitely can be done. Here’s how.
In the first 10 rounds or so, I like to target 3-4 prospects with at least two of them being Major League ready. For example, if I was in a dynasty startup draft right now, I’d try and grab a few prospects like Josh Jung, Josh Lowe, or Grayson Rodriguez who all have incredibly bright futures and can also help me in the short-term as well. Mixing a few guys like this in with your core MLB assets gives you a strong chance of competing right away and sets yourself up nicely for the next few seasons as well.
Going with the win-now or build for the future modes are fine too, but just try not to go too far on those ends of the spectrum. Going into full win-now mode can win you a championship your first season, but if you ignore prospects, the future will likely not be as rosy for your team. Building some sort of prospect core in dynasty leagues is always key, no matter what your initial strategy is. Wow, what a perfect segway into the next topic. It’s almost like I planned that or something…
Approaching Prospects & FYPD
How you approach prospects can make or break your dynasty team. Whether you’re looking to be a contender right away or building for the long haul, establishing a solid core of prospects is crucial. It’s hard to sit here and tell you exactly how to build your prospect roster though. Every single dynasty league and draft are different, so it’s not exactly a linear process. You could be in two concurrent dynasty drafts and see Adley Rutschman go 45th in one and 93rd in the other. It all depends on the people in your league. But with prospects, here are some areas that I like to focus on initially and throughout the duration of my dynasty leagues.
1. The Ideal Times to Buy or Sell
Knowing when to maximize prospect value is important. I’ve always said that the three best times to sell a prospect (if you want to) are right after they’re drafted/signed, right before they make their Major League debut, or after they’ve debuted in the Majors and found success. Current examples of these would be Jack Leiter, Adley Rutschman, and Joe Ryan. That’s not me hinting that you should trade any of those three though. But imagine if you had traded Jasson Dominguez back in the fall of 2019 after he was signed and had that incredible magnitude of hype surrounding him? But funny enough, Dominguez also fits the mold for the other end of this spectrum as well.
Knowing when to sell is only one-half of the battle. You have to know when to acquire prospects as well. Again, there’s no concrete roadmap here, but the three situations I like to attack frequently are right after they have debuted and struggled, when they’re on the rise and could rise higher (buying high), and after a talented prospect goes through a rough patch. Three examples of these are Jarred Kelenic (not a prospect anymore, but it fits), Anthony Volpe, and Garrett Mitchell. That first grouping has a plethora of candidates right now too, including Alec Bohm, Nate Pearson, and Gavin Lux.
Prospect fatigue has a tendency to run rampant in dynasty leagues with struggling young players falling out of favor with dynasty managers quicker than they should. Remember, baseball development isn’t linear and can take a bit longer for some prospects. Not everyone can come up and set the league on fire like Juan Soto or Fernando Tatís Jr. Those are the exceptions to the rule, not the expectation.
Buying high is also a viable strategy. Some will shy away from this because that prospect’s value has already risen due to their performance. Well, what if it’s not done rising? Sure, if you had acquired Anthony Volpe before 2021, you’d be doing a happy dance so ridiculous that people would look at you funny. But acquiring him now isn’t a bad idea. Volpe’s value has skyrocketed over the last 12 months but there’s a good chance it could rise even more in 2022. Don’t be afraid to buy high on these types if you believe their value will remain rising.
2. Put emphasis on hit tools (hitters) and command/control (pitchers)
This doesn’t mean avoiding the shiny upside prospects, but don’t put all your eggs in that basket. If you do, you’re more likely to get burned. I’ve seen plenty of hitters with huge power or an enticing power/speed blend fizzle out at the Major League level or not even make it there at all due to a poor hit tool and approach at the plate. Lewis Brinson anyone? How about Will Benson? Those are just two random examples that pop into my head, but the list is endless. Power and speed are obviously important. Just take a look at the first round of fantasy drafts each and every year for evidence of that. Putting emphasis on prospects with good hit tools doesn’t necessarily mean targeting Luis Arraez types. It means putting more stock into the Nick Yorke and Colton Cowser types. Hit tools drive everything when it comes to hitting prospects.
On the pitching side of things, command and control need to be valued equally or more than stuff. Obviously, a pitcher needs to have good stuff to succeed, but having a 98 mph heater with life or a nasty 87 mph slider are less effective if you can’t command and locate them worth a damn. Case in point, Forrest Whitley and MacKenzie Gore. Both of these arms were considered “can’t miss” pitching prospects that were destined to compete annually for Cy Young awards. As of now, neither have thrown a single pitch in the Majors and both are freefalling down prospect rankings. Why? Well, among other issues, both Whitley and Gore have struggled with command over the last year or two and it’s cratered their fantasy value.
3. Layer your prospects
This is a strategy I’ve used for as long as I’ve been playing in dynasty leagues. And the deeper your dynasty league is, the easier it is to do. This all circles back to trying to attain long-term success in your dynasty leagues. You always want to have a group of prospects nearly ready to contribute. The younger upside prospects like Cristian Hernandez are great and definitely worth targeting, but we’ve seen talented prospects fizzle out in the higher levels. Mixing closer to ready prospects with the younger upside plays is a safer route to take, and hopefully, once your closer to ready guys are contributing for you in the Majors, that next wave is now in the upper minors and you can draft your next wave.
4. Build Around Hitters
While pitching importance is on the rise in fantasy drafts, hitting still reigns supreme in dynasty leagues. This is true both in the Majors and with your prospects. Hitting prospects have a higher success rate in the Majors and carry more value for trading purposes. TINSTAAPP is in the minds of every dynasty manager. And yes, hitting prospects are no guarantee either. No prospect is. But putting a bigger emphasis on hitting prospects is the way to go.
5. In FYPD, go for talent, not positional need
I’ve had many people ask me something like “I already have a lot of shortstops so should I pass on the top shortstops in favor of another position?” My answer to this question each and every time it’s asked is a resounding no. Always draft the best talent, regardless of position. If you’re worried about a positional logjam, that’s what trades are for. Also, there’s no guarantee that a prospect will stick at their position due to their defensive skills or other players at that position in their team’s organization. Get the best talent. End of story.
When/How to Rebuild
Nobody ever wants to have to rebuild in a dynasty league, but unless you’re Bill Belichick over there, you’re going to need to do so at some point. Heck, even Belichick is in the middle of rebuilding the Patriots. Point is, it’s difficult to have a championship-caliber team year after year. You can sustain success for several-year stretches, but rebuilding or retooling is bound to happen at some point. It’s best to get ahead of that and accept it. Maybe not a full-fledged rebuild will be needed, but it’s difficult to continuously remain a dynasty juggernaut.
So, when will you know it’s the right time to rebuild? The answer is actually pretty simple and easy to recognize. It’s when you start finding yourself in dynasty league purgatory. That means your always fighting for the playoffs year in and year out. Whether you make the playoffs is actually a moot point. But if you’re fighting for playoff contention as a middle team, it’s time to rebuild, or at least shake things up.
Being a middle-of-the-pack team for multiple seasons in a row is terrible. Now say it with me in a Charles Barkley voice… T-U-R-R-I-B-L-E. A middle team has a better chance of staying in the middle than making enough moves to get up into dynasty contention. It’s not impossible but usually involves trading off many young assets and setting yourself up poorly down the road. If you don’t mind years of crap finishes following MAYBE a league championship, be my guest and go this route. It’s just not one I advise taking. I’d much rather rebuild with young players and enjoy a much longer stretch of success down the road. And with how quickly prospects are succeeding at the Major League level these days, your rebuild time might not be as long as you think.
The next step is knowing your roster and figuring out just how much of a rebuild you need to do. If you have a solid core and think you can contend in a couple of years, a whole ton of moves don’t need to be made. Find a contending team or two and trade off the appropriate number of veterans for some prospects or young MLB pieces in return. An ideal time to do this is right around the trade deadline in your league. Those contending teams are more likely to give you a bit extra in return as they attempt to acquire the pieces needed to win a championship that season.
This can often be a sore spot for managers and cause rifts in leagues. Don’t be a you-know-what during trade negotiations. Dynasty trades are completely different animals than re-draft trades. Obviously, you want to improve your team or fill an area of weakness, but so does the other manager. Do yourself a favor and take a look at the other team first. Could they use a position you have a surplus in? Are they looking to rebuild while you’re looking to contend or vice versa? Finding a trade partner that can use something you’re willing to trade is half the battle and a great place to start.
Don’t just blindly send trade offers back and forth either. Have a discussion. Even if it’s in a league where you don’t personally know any of the other managers, there’s usually some form of messenger on the league platform or some leagues will use other websites for league discussion. Having that conversation can make trade talks much easier and build relationships for future trade negotiations. And the more trading partners you have, the better.
Respect Your Elders
Actually, embrace them. Target them if you will. Older players make for great short-term targets due to the fact that most managers have already written them off and moved on to the next young star. Players like Joey Votto, Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, and others might not be the sexiest names in dynasty league due to their age, but their price is likely to be reasonable and they can give you solid short-term production if you’re in win-now mode.
This ties back into a previous point I made about trying to build balance in your initial draft. While drafting high-upside young players is great and all, snagging some veterans that slide down the draft board is a major key in remaining competitive early in your dynasty league.
Don’t go to this well too often, but sprinkling a few in will help keep you competitive in the first couple of years and act as stopgaps until your younger prospects are ready to contribute at the Major League level.
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I would also say to research every prospect your other owners drop. Often times they are making room for the latest shiny object. chances are they are not watching their prospects too close. You can tell this when they still have a “Kristian Robinson type” player for 3 years still. Also, never stop reading about prospects. My season never really ends. We don’t lock our add/drops and trades till December 31st. After the season I was able to pick up Matos, Volpe and Espino (my other prospects are: Julio R., Grayson R., Gabriel Moreno). The fight never stops.
Nice piece. I’ll try to let go of Frank Thomas this year…..lol
Interesting perspective. In an established Dynasty with 10 keepers and no contracts, would you opt to keep a Luis Robert over a Giancarlo Stanton? My team has finished 1st and 2nd the past four seasons, with ZERO championships. I know the allure of Stanton but it seems like everyone can hit home runs nowadays
I would. It’s a fine line determining whether to keep the veteran or the hot young prospect, but with how beat up Stanton has been, I’d lean Robert here.