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Leveraging the Lockout

As you may be aware, there is currently a lockout in MLB that has stopped any major league activity from occurring.

And so – how does, or should, the lockout impacts your fantasy plans?

A fair response you might offer to the question could be – it doesn’t. It’s December. Sure, the winter meetings didn’t happen. Sure, the billionaires don’t want to share fair amounts of revenue with players. Sure, this whole thing is awful. But hey before the lockout we got a TON of signings, apropos of other sports free agency, and that was pretty fun. Marcus Stroman rushing to LAX to get to Chicago for a physical. Cohen opening the piggy bank and dropping over 250 million in commitments to four players in the span of a few days. The Rangers are trying to contend? Raisel Iglesias returns to the Halos, Dylan Bundy is a Twin – cool? The Red Sox signed Michael Wacha, James Paxton, and Rich Hill . . .(but why?)

And besides, typically in an offseason you get moves slowly trickling in for both signings and trades. So, is this really that different?


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And yes.

First of all, no – you’re still likely doing the things you’d be doing at this time of year. You’re preparing to draft, you’re doing drafts – hitting some Fantrax best balls, maybe some Best Ball Bonanza, Dynasty Start Ups, or redraft. You’re doing some mock drafts. The trade fires are heating up in your dynasty and keeper leagues and players are moving, talks are happening – the lockout hasn’t impacted those managers, at least not in most of my leagues! And besides, you often have to draft and make moves in the offseason when you are unsure where a player will sign or if a trade will happen. You may not know for sure what some players’ roles will be. Is that pitcher going to get a chance to start? Or is the team going to use him as a swingman? Does that team sign a free agent or make a trade to add another second baseman, or is the current guy running with the job? All of those questions still exist – but in a different way.

And of course, you should be doing all of those things! Trading, drafting, drafting, trading, researching. I’m fairly confident we will have baseball in 2022 and you should be preparing and equipping yourself and your teams to be the best they can possible be heading into next season.

But also – yes, yes it is different. Yes, this should and does impact some things, and they may just be things that you can take advantage of, or be aware of, as you prepare for next season. So, what is the difference between the lockout and normal offseason waiting for things to happen, especially since we generally don’t get the flurry of activity we did before the owners issued the lockout in most offseason?

First, there is, to a degree, less clarity on how teams may be proceeding this offseason. While the signings that have happened offer a roadmap of sorts, we still can’t say for sure. For example, say the Cubs hadn’t finalized the deal with Stroman pre-lockout. You’ll recall that shortly before they added Stroman the moves the Cubs had made deals to sign Clint Frazier, bring back Michael Hermosillo, and bring in Yan Gomes on a 2-year deal. While you can look at Frazier as an attempt to rediscover or reinvigorate what made him a top prospect and Hermosillo was at least interesting in his time on the North Side in 2021, neither of these moves are deals that suggest the Cubs “retool not rebuild” and the idea to spend intelligently and aggressively was happening. All of that meant that the Gomes signing left some questions – would Willson Contreras be traded as the final core piece to be sent out, or was Gomes actually a backup catcher to give Contreras some more time off (and hopefully DH if we have a universal DH and so raise his fantasy value)? Before the Stroman signing, trading Wilco looked far more likely. Now it looks like the Cubs are making moves to contend, or at least contend-ish. In the same way you get moves like the Rangers rebuilding their middle infield among other signings. The White Sox brought back Leury Garcia, but is he really the solution at second for them?

We are left with many of the same questions, and perhaps even more, than we had before the flurry of signings. But now we are left to speculate without rumbles of anything happening since teams can’t talk to players and players can’t talk to teams. So how does this vacuum impact your approach?

First, it creates opportunities to find value. In a recent Best Ball draft I did, Nick Solak went 355, and while Roster Resources projects him to start still in the outfield, the Marcus Semien and Corey Seager signings bring Solak’s playing time into question. If you can ensure Solak every day at-bats then 355 is great value, and that savvy manager decided they think that he is going to be traded to another team. And Solak is not the only player who you could get in a draft, or perhaps in a trade, for a better value than you could if there were currently Winter Meeting generating rumors of a Solak trade to the White Sox centered around Craig Kimbrel. Indeed, Kimbrel is another example of a player in this boat. While many rightly expected the Sox to pick up Kimbrel’s option (as they did), and then trade him (as they probably will – though sorry to our own Mike Carter – I’m not seeing it to the Dodgers for Lux), right now we don’t know what will happen, where Kimbrel may go, and who might come back. Solak and Rangers? Blue Jays for prospects (or Cavan Biggio)? Somewhere else? Admittedly, Kimbrel has been being drafted more as a closer in early drafts so perhaps the seemingly obvious trade there and the Sox adding Kendall Graveman makes Kimbrel a moot point as it seems many view him as a likely closer again in 2022, but there are other players that could either lose or gain playing time or roles. AND – if you think you can project correctly what will happen in trades, signings, or playing time distribution then you can gain that advantage in your drafts and trades since the hot stove is currently as cold as the Michigan winter outside my window, and so you could find some value there. So spend some time looking over roster breakdowns over at Roster Resources/Fangraphs, spend some time studying what you think the best and worst approaches might be for teams to take and – given what we know, the rumors from before the lockdown and, more importantly, the actual moves made before the lockdown, what will teams do? Some Mets bats may be on the move (though not nearly for the return that Mets Twitter thinks), so if the person currently rostering Jeff McNeil or J.D. Davis is worried about the current roster resource projection of them being a bench bat – that may be an opportunity for you.

Second, the lockout can give you time to bear down in trades yourself. Given nothing can change, even if you can’t capitalize on a projected shift that you foresee happening after the lockout is done, you can still dive in on trade talks. One of the benefits of the offseason in general is that you have more time to figure out deals, and that is magnified with everything calm here. There are no trade rumors that can interrupt the trade talks, no changes happening so that the astute manager can realize even the most minuscule of value shifts in a player. Now, this time does not mean dragging out trade talks unnecessarily, but you also need not freak out about time. If you know and trust your (or I guess someone else’s?) player evaluations then you can work on deals, and if it fails, work on other deals, build your roster up. As I’ve talked about in my last two articles on offseason plans (here and here) and, especially if, as I talked about here, you just took over a roster in a league, you should be using this time well to strengthen your roster in whatever direction strength looks like given your current build. This lockout gives you time to reshape your roster in the direction you want to go, and not simply because it is the offseason, but because nothing in real baseball is going to disrupt your plan. Now, I readily admit that this may not work in some leagues or with some managers, who may draw the same conclusions that you do, and that is always true in any situation – if your league mates draw the same conclusions you do, then you’re not gaining an edge on that, and that’s fine – sometimes that just makes trade talks more fun.

Finally, the duration of this lockout could have an impact. We aren’t at that point yet, but as this continues to drag on, you could see some managers get nervous about a short season, and so begin to try to make adjustments in drafting or trading, trying to learn from 2020. As @Ztmeyer56 recently noted on the Commissioner’s Office, as the season shortens, the value of relievers in Best Balls goes up – so if this drags into late January or February do we see managers reacting? Do we see the trade cost of some older players in dynasty leagues drop as managers worry about losing half of an age 38 or 39 season? We might – and that could create an opportunity to trade for those players, or to keep building the roster you would normally in a draft (assuming of course you think the season will start on time at that point). So, stay alert, and see in this odd lockout world what edge might be able to be gained, even the tiniest of ones, to help you win your leagues as you enjoy the very not locked down fantasy leagues.

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