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The cost of "playing for this year"

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Ray looks back at the trades he made in an effort to win his NL only keeper league in 2014, and what could have been had he stuck to his plan to rebuild.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

I play in a NYC-based 12 team, NL only, 4 x 4,  auction keeper league, and I have referenced the league quite a bit here over the years. It is the league which I have referred to as the UBA league. UBA stands for Universal Baseball Association. It is one of the oldest leagues in existence from what I am told. The league was formed back in the early 80's, and in this blog post written by one of the league members, Andy Bohjalian, he wrote the following:

I have been playing in the UBA since 1986. So while I won't claim to have been present at the creation, I was just 3 blocks south and 5 years late. There can't be more than a couple of hundred guys who have played this fanatical game longer than I have. In fact, I do believe that the UBA founder actually has an aging sheet of paper, laced with the requisite faux self-importance, certifying the UBA as one of the first ten, or dozen, or hundred, rotisserie leagues ever formed, and signed by the game's inventors.

Yeah, so the league has been around for quite some time. Probably longer than many of my readers have been alive. I joined the league about 8-9 years ago, and have to say it is the league I enjoy the most. Why is that?

There are several reasons:

1. It is an NL only league, and "only" league require so much preparation, in my opinion. You have to know who the 4th and 5th outfielders are on every team, who the back up closers are, what prospects are on their way to the big league team, and so much more.

2. The league is an $260 salary cap auction league, so there is strategy involved with how much you want to spend on that superstar pitcher or hitter, how much you want to allocate to pitching, how much you want to allocate to a closer. Closers are very expensive in this league. Case in point - Craig Kimbrel went for $39 and Kenley Jansen went for $36 in the auction last year.

3. In addition to the auction, we have a two round minor league snake draft, where we get to draft prospects from each National League team. This league values some prospects as much as some star hitters in trades.

4. There are plenty of offseason and in season trading activity. Not all leagues I participate in are as active as this league.

5. The owners in this league are very knowledgeable and could do well in some experts leagues, in my opinion.

So, two years ago, after I dealt a $5 Bryce Harper in an effort to win the league, and finishing in second by 1.5 points, I decided to rebuild. I traded all of my productive hitters and pitchers for farm picks and draft picks. After plenty of trades in the 2013 season, I went to the draft table last season with the following keepers and prospects, of which we are allowed to keep 5:

2B - Kolten Wong - $5

SS - Chris Owings - $10

3B - Nolan Arenado - $5

OF - Ryan Braun - $49

OF - Christian Yelich - $5

OF - Charlie Blackmon - $10

P - Homer Bailey - $15

P - Jeff Samardzija - $2

P - A.J. Burnett - $2

P -  Nathan Eovaldi - $1

P - Tyler Clippard - $4

$5 Javier Baez

$5 Oscar Taveras

$5 Corey Seager

$5 Joc Pederson (2014)

$5 Raimel Tapia (2014)

$5 Trevor Story

$5 Roman Quinn

Going into the draft, I felt I had the opportunity to possibly finish in the money and had the currency (prospects) to deal if I felt I could challenge for the league title. But, in the back of my mind, I wanted the rebuild to play out, especially with guys like Arenado, Yelich and others rostered at cheap prices.

Note: I wrote about this league last year, but wanted to include this detail before I get to the point of this article.

So, I believe it was mid-to-late May and I found myself in first place or near first place, so I decided to play for this year, and forego the rebuild. I began to deal my prospects for players that could help me in 2014. Here is a summary of the trades I made:

Trade #1

Rays gets: Jason Grilli Atl from Hinz 57s
Kyle Lohse Mil from Hinz 57s
Clint Barmes SD from Hinz 57s
Hinz 57s round 2 draft pick from Hinz 57s
Hinz 57s gets: Adrian Gonzalez LAD from Rays
Aaron Harang Phi from Rays

My team name is the Rays. I know. How original.

I needed a closer and Grilli was cheap at $10. We all know what happened after this trade, right? Grilli blew up and Mark Melancon kept the job for the rest of the season. Grilli was traded to the Angels in a change of scenery trade. Yay.

Trade #2

Rays gets: Justin Upton SD from Robber Barons
Paul Goldschmidt Ari from Robber Barons
D.J. LeMahieu Col from Robber Barons
Yadier Molina StL from Robber Barons
Robber Barons gets: Gerald Laird Ari from Rays
Wilmer Flores NYM from Rays
Javier Baez ChC from Rays
Clint Barmes SD from Rays
Dan Uggla Was from Rays
Raimel Tapia Col from Rays
Corey Seager LAD from Rays
Hinz 57s round 2 draft pick from Rays

I felt my team needed power and batting average, and I got just that in Goldschmidt, Upton, Molina and LeMahieu. Yeah, so after this trade, Goldschmidt gets hit in the hand and misses the rest of the season. Upton was fine, but Molina was injured and missed significant time. I gave up two stud prospects in Baez and Seager, but the return, while good on paper, wasn't enough. You can't predict injuries.

Trade #3

Rays gets: Aroldis Chapman Cin from Scorpions
Scorpions gets: A.J. Burnett Pit from Rays
Oscar Taveras StL from Rays

Unfortunate for everyone in baseball, Oscar Taveras lost his life tragically this offseason, so I will spare comment on this trade.

Trade #4

Rays gets: Sergio Romo SF from Silver Tongues
Silver Tongues gets: Nolan Arenado Col from Rays
Mark Trumbo Ari from Rays
Tony Cingrani Cin from Rays

Yeah, I need another closer to help close the gap i the saves category, so I dealt an injured Nolan Arenado, an expensive and injured Mark Trumbo and Cingrani for a $7 Romo. Yep. A few weeks later, Romo lost the closer job for the rest of the season. So it goes.

Trade #5

Rays gets: Cody Ross Ari from Robber Barons
Ryan Zimmerman Was from Robber Barons
Sam LeCure Cin from Robber Barons
Jean Segura Mil from Robber Barons
Robber Barons gets:
Trevor Story Col from Rays
Joc Pederson from Rays
Tony Gwynn Jr. Phi from Rays
Patrick Corbin Ari from Rays
D.J. LeMahieu Col from Rays
Tyler Clippard Oak from Rays
Rays round 2 draft pick from Rays

I felt I needed a little more speed and power, so I dealt for Segura and Zimmerman. After the trade, Segura was just awful and I will never draft him in any league ever, while Zimmerman missed significant time to a hamstring injury. So it goes.

So, by late July, my team had actually dropped from first place to seventh or eighth place, depending on the day, mainly due to injury to several hitters and a lack of pitching. As a result, two months after dealing all of my prospects and cheap talent, I decided to bail. In the bail deals, I picked up a cheap Billy Hamilton, Johnny Cueto, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Noah Syndergaard and a $27 Zack Greinke, who I deemed retainable for 2015.

Another reason for bailing, is I wanted to see if my team could finish slightly out of the money, as the team that finishes in sixth place gets the #1 pick in the minor league draft in 2015. You want to know who the #1 pick will be in this years draft? How about one of Addison Russell or Yoan Moncada, assuming he signs with an NL team (Dodgers!!).

Well, that didn't work out either.

After all of the bail trades, I shored up my pitching staff, and you know what happened? I started moving up the standings, and if things had gone my way here and there, I had a chance to finish in second place. In the end, I finished in fourth place, in the money, but the cost was expensive.

After not finishing higher than fourth, I can't help but remind myself about what my roster would look like had I not "played for this year". So here is a quick look:

$15 Nolan Arenado

$15 Christian Yelich

$15 Devin Mesoraco (traded prior to 2014 draft along with out of time Giancarlo Stanton for Oscar Taveras - UGH)

$15 Anthony Rendon (traded prior to 2014 draft for Homer Bailey - UGH)

$10 Charlie Blackmon

$10 Kolten Wong

$5 Javier Baez

$5 Joc Pederson

$5 Corey Seager

That would be some kind of roster to head into my 2015 auction draft, but my insistence on going for it last season was pretty expensive. I finished in fourth place, when I probably could have finished there without making any trades and still had this fantastic list of keepers.

There is no telling how these players will pan out in 2015, but the future looks bright for most of them. Sometimes, sticking to your rebuild plan is worth not going for it one year. Maybe the rebuild takes two years instead of one year. The cost of not finishing in the money for a year or two is worth the possible league championship when your roster is full of young talent.

Sometimes it pays to be patient. It is not easy to look at your first place team and not trade the prospects you own to stay in first place, and possibly win your league. Looking back, it didn't work out for me.

All I can do is look at what could have been.