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The Art of War: Rebuilding

Brian gives a reality check to dynasty owners hoping to start a decade-long run of championships.

Bob Levey

"There is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare." - Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Dynasty league owners, like horses chasing a carrot on a stick, are all after a dream that can never be realized: building a sustainable, championship roster year after year. While this is a goal worth chasing, reality (and lady luck) seems to always keep it at arm's reach. Given a competitive league, with rational decision makers, continued dominance for one manager is out of the question. Understanding this eternal truth is critical for helping us position our roster for the best shot at a championship season. The best we can aim for is a stretch of dominance, one whose length depends on league rules. Trying to build a championship roster every single year of a dynasty league is a non-sustainable approach and will ultimately leave you with an empty cabinet and multiple years away from contending again. Understanding your timeline for competitiveness and raising the white flag early, can decrease the time needed to re-build and get you back in the playoffs years ahead of schedule.

So how do we determine if next year is an opportunity for us to re-build or chase a championship banner? Unfortunately the answer is league-specific and requires a deep understanding of all league rosters, but a good place to start is at the results of 2013. How does the champion's roster look heading into next year? Is his core getting older? Did he get a few lucky breaks that won't repeat next year? Is his minor league stacked and ready to make his active roster stronger? Thinking in this manner will help you formulate a strategy for the upcoming season. I would say as a general rule of thumb: if you aren't positive you can compete next season, you probably can't compete and should consider building the roster for the next year.

My main focus with this article is in the rebuild, but if you decide you can make a run at the championship this season, I suggest making a serious run and take the approach that any player not helping you this year, should be on the trade block for some way to improve your roster THIS season.

For the remainder of the article, we'll assume you've decided to re-build, or maybe you're taking over a struggling franchise in a dynasty league and 2014 is not going to be your season. What are your goals for 2014 to move your team closer to a championship in a future season? I've outlined a few below with a brief justification for each.

1. Acquire Fungible Assets

It might be difficult to determine exactly when you will be competitive again, but it's a certainty that when you are, you'll need assets that you can trade in order to bolster any weaknesses that develop that year. These fungible assets usually come in the form of minor league prospects or draft picks. A common error I see here is managers acquiring only minor leaguers that fit their current roster construction and a refusal to stack up on top prospects in a similar position. Don't worry about positions or how these players might fit into your big league roster. Fantasy players (top prospects in particular) are far more liquid than the real contracts we see in the MLB so if you run into a positional logjam in the future, you're a few quick e-mails away from flipping that player for someone who can cover up a weakness. Your goal during a rebuild is acquire as much talent as possible.

2. Stack Your Roster with Low Risk Players coming off a down or injury-riddled campaign

The easiest place to find these guys are by comparing ERA to FIP or xFIP and finding players with the largest gap in peripherals. By no means is this a guaranteed method for finding undervalued players, but if you used this routine in 2012 you would've tried to acquire guys like Adam Wainwright, Luke Hochevar, Jon Lester, and Justin Masterson. While some of these guys didn't set the world on fire, their value at the end of 2013 is more than double what it was at the end of 2012. Finding players like this to trade for more prospects or fungible assets mentioned above will help us load up our roster for the season we decide to be competitive. Taking a look at 2013 results, some guys I would be trying to acquire on the cheap are: Edinson Volquez, Edwin Jackson, Jeremy Hellickson, CC Sabathia, and Jeff Samardzija. While these guys might not come dirt cheap, they are worthy investments because their values are clearly at their lowest and their peripherals all suggest improvement is likely.

3. Empty Your Active Roster at the Trade Deadline

Unless you're holding on to a young stud a la Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, etc. you should be selling off every moveable asset on your active roster. Whether you're acquiring draft picks, minor leaguers, or younger big league talent, your goal is to get younger and move all your value of this year in to future years. There is no excuse for not trading every reliever you currently own. The value of relievers is so volatile from year to year that if they hold any value in the present, ship them off for anything you can get back. My rule of thumb when deciding whether to trade a player is to ask myself whether I expect a player's value to increase or decrease in the next 3 years. If the answer is decrease or stays relatively stable, I'm going to deal them. Otherwise, I will likely hold on as the player could play a critical role in a future championship run. An important result of this goal is to improve your draft position in the off-season rookie draft. Flirting with a .500 record and barely missing the playoffs is far more detrimental to your future than finishing with the worst record. I can't recommend intentionally tanking a season by not starting a complete roster, and I think a manager should always start their optimal roster considering the players they own. However, I think it's more than appropriate to transfer current value to future value by making a move that clearly makes you worse off in the present with an obvious upside for the future.

4. Re-Purpose Your Bench During the Season

We all grow accustom to maximizing the value of our bench by loading up on SPs if we have no innings limit, or only carrying one backup of each offensive position if we carry any at all. These tendencies are irrelevant during a season when you aren't competitive. Instead, these bench spots should be treated like speculative stock adds to a portfolio. No hot streak can go overlooked. If 3 second basemen catch fire one week, add them all and see how it shakes out. Don't hang on to a backup catcher if he isn't performing well, and don't worry about extra arms in your rotation, hold players who are at their highest values. The reason for this is two-fold: 1. The player might actually be breaking out and you have the opportunity to hold on to him while you wait and find out if he's for real. 2. A more competitive manager may find himself with an injury at any moment, and being able to offer a hot bat for relatively cheap (since you presumably just picked him up off the waiver wire) is big. Use it as an opportunity to get another late draft pick or long-shot prospect - anything that will hold some value longer than the remainder of this season.

These are just a few things to consider when going through a re-build. The important part is embracing the re-build and understand that you will need to go through one of these every once and a while. Feel free to share any personal re-building stories or ask questions on the best re-building tactics to employ this off-season and I'll be happy to answer.

Follow me on Twitter (@BrianCreagh)

Previous Art of War Posts

Gaining Intelligence

Prospect Strategy

Mock Drafts