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The Invisible Hand: How I won the rights to Mike Trout in the Rotowire Dynasty Invitational

Fantasy baseball’s newest expert dynasty league is about to kick off and its draft selection process is a whole strategy in itself

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Los Angeles Angels Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

In late September, Rotowire’s lead prospect analyst James Anderson extended an invitation to 19 writers in the baseball world to join the Rotowire Dynasty Invitational, a new 20-team roto dynasty league hosted on CBS set to kick off in late December. While James doesn’t want to call it an expert league, the majority of the managers involved are industry pros whom we all read often. Suffice to say there’s some stiff competition.

I want to highlight the manner with which we decided the draft order because it’s a unique system that I strongly advocate for startup dynasty leagues and it’s one I wish I knew about before I started my own a couple of years ago. It’s called The Invisible Hand and if you remember from your high school history book, it’s a reference to Adam Smith’s phrase in ‘Wealth of Nations’, a 1776 book that among other things spoke about how an economy works in a free market scenario where individuals act in their own self-interest.

Here’s how it works: We have 40 roster spots. From one year to the next, we’ll always keep 35 of those spots. But if we want to a specific draft slot for the inaugural draft, we submit bids using 2019 keeper slots. Do you want Mike Trout first overall? Then bid as many slots as you think necessary to win him, but keep in mind that if you bid 10 keeper slots on the first overall pick, heading into 2019 you only keep 25 players. This is because you lose five to begin with, and then add the 10 you bid if you won the draft slot. Make sense? Here are how the bids shook out.

And the final draft order with keeper bids next to each name:

  1. Me (18 keepers)
  2. Justin Mason, Friends With Fantasy Benefits (15 keepers)
  3. Matt Modica, CTM Baseball (9 keepers)
  4. George Bissell, Baseball Prospectus (7 keepers)
  5. Rob Silver, 2016 NFBC Main Event Champion (7 keepers)
  6. Clay Link, RotoWire (3 keepers)
  7. Ryan Bloomfield, Baseball HQ (3 keepers)
  8. Derek VanRiper, RotoWire (2 keepers)
  9. Chris Blessing, Baseball HQ
  10. Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus
  11. Matt Winkelman, Phillies Minor Thoughts
  12. J.P Breen, Milwaukee’s Tailgate
  13. Tom Trudeau/Greg Wellemeyer, The Dynasty Guru & Baseball Prospectus (1 keeper)
  14. Matt Thompson, Friends With Fantasy Benefits
  15. James Anderson, RotoWire
  16. Melissa Lockard, The Athletic San Francisco
  17. Josh Katzenstein, The Times-Picayune
  18. Chris Welsh, In This League
  19. Ralph Lifshitz, Razzball
  20. Craig Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

Not everyone was required to bid. If they didn’t, a random number generator decided their draft slot. Because James, the commissioner, was the one compiling all the bids, he did not bid.

If you look at my bids for the first eight slots, you could tell I was very aggressive. I decided that I wanted one of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Trea Turner, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Mookie Betts, Nolan Arenado, Kris Bryant. The next bunch after that were really good players that I liked, but I wouldn’t shout happily from the top of a mountain that they’re my first pick in a dynasty league.

If you’ve followed industry leagues, you might have immediately picked up that this was the same draft selection format used for The Dynasty Guru Experts league (TDGX), a very similar league as RDI that began in the 2014 season. There, the top overall pick went for 15 keeper slots. I knew that was the absolute lowest I could bid because some of the managers in TDGX are also in RDI. I was initially shooting for the third overall slot, figuring at worst Trout and Altuve/Harper would be gone and I’d still land a great pick anyways. I decided 17 was a good enough bid to keep me in the race. I upped it by one for the first overall pick just for the hell of it.

I did not expect to win Mike Trout.

Call it my naïveté with this selection format, but I assumed more managers would be more aggressive with the top ten picks. Heck, only 11 managers even attempted a bid for Mike Trout. It’s almost a relief I bid only three more than Justin, who bid 15 slots for the first spot. Had I lost out on the first spot and won the third with my 17 picks to someone else with just over half as many, I’d have regretted it. And to be even more transparent, If I had known that bidding four keepers for the sixth overall slot would have won me the position, I would have gone that route. You keep 31 players heading into 2019 and you still have one of the elite names I mentioned earlier.

But another thing to ponder is year to year, just how many of those 35 players are really that valuable to your roster in a 20-team league? There will be a minimum of 10 minor leaguers. If I want to be uber aggressive in 2018, then I can say I wouldn’t bother keeping a single one heading into 2019. That gets me down to 30 major league players, 13 of which I then cut. There’s certain to be plenty of platoon bench players, 6th and 7th starters, and relief pitchers who won’t sniff saves.

The million dollar question now becomes how well can I do in 2018 knowing that heading into 2019, I will only keep 17 of 40 players from my roster? It’s an almost all-or-nothing year for me as I’ll have a Marlins style firesale after the season ends and boot the majority of my roster. I can already tell that I’ll more than likely lean heavy on older players who should provide immediate value in 2018. Because we will draft minors and major leaguers in one draft, I can also tell I won’t be drafting guys like Hunter Greene, Eloy Jimenez and Vlad Guerrero Jr. These players won’t play for me in 2018 and will fall second in priority to a Dexter Fowler type of player.

I’m hoping this is an active group on the trade front because consolidating my lineup will be a must. I’m already cringing at the thought of paring down to 17 players a year from now. There’s a real chance that losing so many roster spots will handicap me for two or three years beginning in 2019.

But you know what? I’ll have Mike Trout for life in a dynasty league and in fantasy baseball, there might not be any sweeter words than those. He presents himself as someone who’s floor is a top 25 performer and in a league with 800 players, his value cannot be overstated.

The Invisible Hand is a really neat idea. Think about this draft selection format for any new dynasty leagues you’re in. It removes randomness out of the equation and lets managers act in their own self-interest to control their destiny.