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2014 Draft Prep: Dynasty strategies

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If playing the game of Fantasy Baseball makes you a nerd (a line of thought I don't subscribe to, but just play along), playing in a dynasty league makes you ... something way beyond nerd. I'm not even sure there's a word for it. You not only have to know every player in the majors, but at least 100 prospects -- and then you have to track their stats over the course of the season. On top of that, playing in a dynasty league requires a constant struggle with the ages-old, "Do I play for this year, or do I play for the future?" question, while living with the paranoia that any add, drop, trade or draft pick you make could have decade-long ramifications.

It's not for the weak of heart. But it's a pretty awesome format if you have the time for it. Fantasy Baseball is a grueling exercise over a 162-game season. A dynasty league is that, multiplied by 25, cubed, divided by .001 and then multiplied by 25 again. Which makes victory so much sweeter.

What follows are some guidelines for dynasty noobs (and perhaps some fresh perspective for the dynasty pros among us).

1. Get to really know the prospects. I know that sounds obsvious and trite, but don't just take MLB.com's Top 100, print it out at work (because it's free!) and work off that. Study the list, check out Baseball America's top 10 for each team, read Scott White's list of 50 top prospects and then go to milb.com and take a look at who led the minors in home runs, steals, average, ERA last season -- all that fun stuff. Then cross-reference the players you like with Baseball Reference to get a better idea of what they've done to this point in their careers. Then take a look at the parent club and figure out where there's a crack in the lineup. Age, experience and success in the minors all play a role. As does opportunity (Aaron Hicks got his shot last year, maybe a little early, because the Minnesota center field job was open).

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In most dynasty leagues, the top prospects are already owned (because we're hoarders), but there's plenty to mine as far as prospects who slip through the cracks (like Kole Calhoun or Patrick Corbin). Don't make the mistake of drafting based solely on top prospects lists. They're well-researched and solid places to start, but they are based on talent and skill, not necessarily proximity to the majors. Take some risks with players you like, and you may be rewarded halfway through the season with a callup.

2. Dig a little deeper to find some fringe prospects you like. Jeremy Jeffress is a great example of this (despite being just one major league inning away from losing his "rookie" status). He was lights out with the Blue Jays last season, with a 0.87 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings. And in 32 1/3 minor league innings in 2013, he had a 1.39 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, with 30 strikeouts. But he has a career 4.10 minor league ERA -- something didn't add up. I googled him, looked through news articles, read old updates ... and stumbled upon a gem. Jeffress had been misdiagnosed and wrongly medicated for an anxiety problem, when he actually had juvenile epilepsy. He'd been taking the wrong medication for years. In June, the Blue Jays sent him to a doctor who figured it out. The new diagnosis and prescription (along with a tweak in arm slot) changed everything. Heading into 2014, Jeffress, 25, looks like he has a real shot to relieve for Toronto, and could be converted to a starter (although the Jays have already squashed the starter idea for spring training) down the line. I will own him in most of my dynasty leagues, and can get him with a late-round pick.

Similarly, in January, I was shuffling through pages of winter league leaders and came across Mitch Lively, who has spent seven seasons in the minors and has never thrown a major league pitch. As a reliever, Lively has just one season with an ERA over 3.25, with a sub-2.15 ERA in three seasons. He was named this season's Venezuelan Winter League Pitcher of the Year, with a 1.70 ERA and 1.25 WHIP. So I went back and looked at his 2013. The Giants were stretching him out to be a starter (he hadn't started a game in his professional career before last season), and he struggled in the Pacific Coast League, with a 4.72 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. But over his last eight starts, Lively had a 2.54 ERA and 0.91 WHIP. The Giants look to have a full rotation heading into 2014, but injury (or regression) could strike at any time. Lively will probably find his way onto all of my dynasty league teams, probably as the pick right after Jeffress.

For a minor investment, I could have two very cheap starters by July 2014 (this is being very optimistic). And if Jeffress stays in the bullpen and Lively never gets a shot, there's still hope for 2015, assuming they keep up their recent success. These types of quiet minor league gambles can be huge boosts to the fortunes of a dynasty league team. I'll get my top prospects early, but these late picks could be difference-makers, especially in deeper leagues.

3. You don't have to go fully into "play for next year" or "play for this year" mode. In a 24-team Head-to-Head dynasty league last year, I lost in the championship game. But while I sent out some young talent for playoff push help, I also made a couple smaller trades that jettisoned veterans (where I had roster depth) for some younger talent. In a league this size, with eight teams making the playoffs, you can be both buyer and seller to plenty of other teams. The result is a mish-mash of keepers that have me in a great spot for this season's auction. Adam Eaton, Ryan Zimmerman, Kole Calhoun, Jon Lester and Michael Pineda (among others -- we have unlimited keepers, as long as we're under budget) are on my roster. I'm keeping them all.

While it's tidy and time-honored to have one strategy for a dynasty roster, variety is going to allow flexibility for the following season. If I traded away all my bats for young, cheap talent, I would have to wildly overspend at the auction to get veteran bats for this year. If I went all-in for a playoff push, I'd be stuck with overpriced veterans and no future talent. Keeping a nice mix, though, allows me to control my own fate at the draft, with the flexibility to take the best value picks, instead of having to scramble to pick up certain players who I would otherwise want to pass on. As a bonus, I enter 2014 already owning youth to trade to rebuilders, and veterans to trade to contenders.

4. Don't go overboard with drafting youngsters. We get it dude -- you know your prospects. But the way to really prove that is to win, not to use all your picks to show your friends that you read a few articles. It isn't so much reaching for a Francisco Lindor in the fifth round. I can understand that as part of a balanced strategy. But going Lindor in the fifth, Bubba Starling in the seventh, C.J. Edwards in the eighth, and Kyle Zimmer in the ninth is a bit much. You're passing up a chance to win in 2014 for a core of unproven -- but promising -- commodities. Look at the 2011 top prospect list, for example -- Bryce Harper and Mike Trout led off Baseball America's top 20, but Jesus Montero was third, Jeremy Hellickson was sixth, Mike Moustakas was ninth, Dustin Ackley was 12th, John Lamb was 18th and Mike Montgomery was 19th. These players could all still turn a corner, but if you were reaching for them in dynasty drafts, they aren't looking like great picks three years later. And taking all of those players probably caused the owner to pass up on veterans who could contribute that season.

I like to force myself to take prospects only in certain rounds. It's a strategy that has worked well for me the past few seasons. I'll pre-determine some rounds for prospects -- in one league last year, I targeted the first (technically the ninth after eight keepers), eighth, 10th, 16th, 21st, 22nd, and 23rd as my "prospect" rounds -- and I promised to not stray from that strategy. It resulted in me being a more focused drafter, and allowed me to worry about building a team at certain points, and building a farm at others, instead of playing ping pong with the two strategies and having to decide between a prospect and Brandon Belt as the draft clock ticked down.

5. Go look at old prospect lists for post-hype sleepers. That 2011 list may have produced some disappointment if you chased them that season, but Lamb (who hasn't been the same pitcher since Tommy John, but did make it to Triple-A last season) and Montgomery (who peaked at No. 19 on Baseball America's top prospect list but hasn't been able to get his ERA below 4.80 the last three seasons in the minors) still have some hope, and could make decent late-round gambles in dynasty leagues. All it takes is one astute pitching coach to tweak one thing in a delivery (maybe Montgomery changes where his foot lands on the rubber) and all that talent just comes rushing back.

The 2012 Top Prospect list features plenty of possible diamonds in the rough. It includes: Trevor Bauer (who worked through mechanics changes last season), Danny Hultzen (who will miss 2014 after undergoing shoulder surgery), Bubba Starling (whose progress has stalled in the minors, but has been a top prospect in the organization), Manny Banuelos (a former top prospect who could make the Yankees in relief this season), Brett Jackson (who took a major step back in 2013 but still has a good deal of talent) and Gary Brown (like Jackson, took a big step back, but was a top-40 prospect in 2012). It's likely owners of these prospects in dynasty leagues discarded them after patience wore thin. But it sometimes just takes time for talent to win out. Look at Domonic Brown last year, or even Khris Davis. Smart baseball observers deemed these players top talents, and there may be reasons (swing tweaks, arm slot issues, injury) that stalled the progress. Swooping in with late-round dynasty picks on former top prospects is a gamble worth taking, and allows you to focus your early and-mid-round endeavors on established major league players.

6. Don't propose crap trades for top prospects. Say you own Miguel Sano in your dynasty league. You've had him since 2011 and you've been waiting for this big break -- there's a very real chance he could open the 2014 season with the Twins, at which point he will hammer home runs all year. But your buzz is now worn off, because a fellow owner in your dynasty league just offered you Coco Crisp and Yovani Gallardo for him.

Lowball offers for prospects don't just get rejected -- they get the owner of the prospect legitimately angry. I know, because I've been on the receiving end of these offers. And I view anyone who has given me a lowball offer with a level of scorn and venom unmatched in my everyday life. When future deals are proposed from this other owner, not only will I reject the deal, but I will wait three days to reject it, just to play aloof and leave the trade offerer in a state of will-he-or-won't-he anxiety. If I drafted Sano two years ago, I know the kind of player he is and what he's capable of. I've watched him destroy the ball in the minors. I am genuinely excited about what he can do this year. Sano is not a mystery to me; if anything, I am more intimate with the potential of Sano than anyone outside of the Twins organization and, probably, the makers of Ballplayer: Pelotero . So when you come knocking with two players you probably weren't going to keep anyway, I take that as either an insult to my intelligence or laziness.

So don't be that guy. If you want my Sano, be prepared to give up something significant for him. Don't insult owners with offers that you would laugh away with a swift rejection. You have to play in a league with them for many more years.

7. OMG! Have fun!! The most important tip of them all!

Dynasty leagues are awesome. It's basically like getting a puppy, and then having to feed and care for it correctly in order to nurture it into a healthy dog. Except it never has to die! The more work you put into your dynasty league team, the better it will be. It's one of the more fulfilling rewards in the Fantasy universe, expanding the sample size of your Fantasy expertise from one season to several seasons.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Nando at @NandoCBS .

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Player News
White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija willing to listen to long-term deal
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:32 pm ET) New White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija's agent, Mark Rodgers said Sunday he and his client "owe it to Chicago to consider an offer" on a long-term contract, according to Jim Duquette of MLB Network Radio.

However, Rodgers also said they would need to see how things go for at least half of a season before deciding whether to stay with the club.

Samardzija was traded to Chicago in the offseason from Oakland and has one-year remaining on his current contract.

Samardzija finished 2014 with a 7-13 record between the Cubs and Athletics, posting a 2.99 ERA with 202 strikeouts in 219 2/3 innings.


Scott Boras: Andruw Jones hopes to return to majors in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:18 pm ET) Agent Scott Boras said outfielder Andruw Jones wants to return to the majors for another season in 2015 and that at least two teams are interested in signing him as a designated hitter.

Jones has spent the last two seasons playing in Japan. In his major-league career, Jones totaled 434 home runs and 1,289 RBI.


Royals' Luke Hochevar nearing return from Tommy John surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(12:00 pm ET) Royals pitcher Luke Hochevar has been able to throw off a mound and expects to soon be at the full strength, reports The Kansas City Star.

Hochevar is recovering from Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss the 2014 season and said he expects to be at full strength once spring training is underway.

"I'm conditioning my arm," Hochevar said. "Once spring training comes around they're going to monitor me for a little while, but once they cut me loose I become a regular guy again."

In 2013, Hochevar produced a 1.92 ERA in 58 games. While Hochevar said he's looking forward to returning, he wants to be cautious with his body.

"Hopefully, I'm ready in two weeks," Hochevar said. "But you never know and I'm not going to put a timetable on it. I'm going to listen to my body. I need to look long term, not just career-wise but season-wise. Me on the shelf is no good. If it takes me an extra two weeks, a month, whatever it is, I need to be mindful of that."


Report: Padres 'in touch' with Phillies regarding Cole Hamels
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:09 am ET) The Padres are "in touch" with the Phillies in an attempt to land pitcher Cole Hamels, FOX Sports reports.

The Padres have made plenty of upgrades across the roster since general manager A.J. Heller took over, and it's possible they don't have the ammunition to land the Philadelphia ace in a deal. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said last week that he didn't expect Hamels to be traded before the start of the season. Hamels went 9-9 with a 2.46 ERA and 198 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings in 2014.


Report: Orioles sign Mark Hendrickson to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) The Orioles have signed Mark Hendrickson to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training, CSNBaltimore.com reports.

Hendrickson, who last pitched in the majors in 2011, spent 2014 with York of the independent Atlantic League, posting a 1.54 ERA and 34:11 K:BB ratio in 52 2/3 innings over 55 appearances.


Rangers' Matt Harrison expects to open season on 60-day DL
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Rangers pitcher Matt Harrison said Saturday that he expects to open the season on the 60-day disabled list as he continues to recover from spinal fusion surgery, the Dallas Morning News reports.

"My job is to just get as healthy as I can and get myself right so I don’t have something happen like it did last year when I tried to come back," Harrison said. "I’m just going to focus on that and get ready to contribute whenever it may be."

Harrison is dealing with some stiffness in his right side, which will cause him to throw from a distance of 90 feet for a second consecutive week rather than progress to 105 feet. He hopes that he'll get his hips to rotate more and loosen up with more stretching and more throws from the 90-foot distance.


Report: Rays sign Ronald Belisario to minor-league deal
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) The Rays have signed pitcher Ronald Belisario to a minor-league deal with an invitiation to spring training, the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Belisaro made 62 appearances with the White Sox in 2014, posting a 4-8 record, 5.56 ERA and 47:18 K:BB ratio in 66 1/3 innings. He'll compete for a bullpen spot during the spring.


Dodgers SP Zack Greinke hasn't decided whether to opt out
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Dodgers pitcher Zack Greinke said Saturday that he's yet to decide whether to opt out of his contract at the end of next season but added, "There's not really better options anywhere besides here," the Los Angeles Times reports.

Greinke is set to make $23 million in 2015, and he's due another $71 million over the following three seasons if he remains under his current contract. The Dodgers said earlier this offseason that they wouldn't discuss a contract extension with the pitcher during the winter.

Greinke went 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA and 207:43 K:BB ratio in 202 1/3 innings in 2014.


Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez hoping to bounce back in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Orioles pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez can't wait to get on the field and get past the 2014 season.

"I can’t wait," Jimenez said at Saturday’s FanFest event. "Whatever happened in 2014 is in the past. There's nothing I can do about it now. I can just look forward and now I’m going to do everything in spring training to get myself ready the best I can for the season and help the team."

Jimenez, who signed a four-year, $50 million deal with Baltimore in 2014, went 6-9 with a 4.81 ERA in 125 1/3 innings pitched. 

"It was pretty hard, coming in with a new team and signing a contract like that and not to do what everyone is expecting you to do, it’s hard," Jimenez said. "It’s hard not to be there for the team, but regardless what happened, I fought a lot. I think I was trying to find a way to survive to be there for the team and do whatever I can do the best. We got really far. I didn’t help a lot, but I tried to do whatever I could with whatever I had."


Royals' Alex Gordon plans to take it slow in recovery
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/31/2015) Royals outfielder Alex Gordon is still recovering from his wrist surgery this offseason and plans to take it slow in his rehab.

"We really don’t have a timetable," Gordon said. "We’re just going to see how it feels. Obviously, it’s spring training. So we don’t want to rush anything. If it feels good, we’ll be aggressive with it. But if it’s not feeling good, we’ll take it slow."

Manager Ned Yost wants to continue to take things slow with Gordon.
"We’ll just take it slow," Yost said. "We’ll see how he feels. We’ll play him one day. Then we’ll give him a day off. Play him another day, five or six innings, then give him a day off. We’ll just see how he’s doing."
Gordon hit .266 in 2014 with 19 home runs and 74 RBI.

 
 
 
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