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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
Report: Rangers showing interest in Brandon Beachy
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:57 pm ET) The Rangers have shown interest in pitcher Brandon Beachy, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Beachy is coming off Tommy John surgery, but multiple teams are said to have interest in signing him. The 28-year-old has a 3.23 career ERA over 267 2/3 innings, but underwent his second Tommy John surgery in March. Beachy's representative, Robert Martin said Beachy has multiple offers, but doesn't believe a decision is imminent. 


Report: Athletics sending Derek Norris to Padres
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:46 pm ET) The Athletics have agreed to trade catcher Derek Norris to the Padres, according to the New York Daily News.

After dealing Yasmani Grandal to Los Angeles in the Matt Kemp deal, the Padres were in need of a new backstop. It didn't take long for them to replace Grandal, as the team acquired Norris shortly after the Kemp deal went through.

Pitcher Seth Streich will also head to the Padres in the deal, according to FoxSports.com The 23-year-old posted a 3.16 ERA over 114 innings in High A last season.

The 25-year-old Norris is coming off a season in which he hit .270/.361/.403 over 385 at-bats. Norris is under team control through the 2018 season.

The Athletics are expected to receive pitchers Jesse Hahn and R.J. Alvarez in the deal, according to Yahoo! The 24-year-old Alvarez posted a 1.25 ERA over 43 1/3 innings at Double-A last year.

Hahn, 25, posted a 3.07 ERA over 73 1/3 innings in the majors last year. He was excellent in Double-A, posting a 1.91 ERA in 42 1/3 innings before being called up.


Padres, Rays and Nationals complete Wil Myers trade
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:45 pm ET) The Padres, Rays and Nationals have completed a trade that will send Wil Myers to San Diego, according to CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman.

The deal had been in the works for a few days, but was finally agreed to late Thursday night. Myers, 24, will head to the Padres in the deal. He hit .222/.294/.320 over 325 at-bats with the Rays last season. Myers also missed time due to a wrist injury. 

The Padres will also receive catcher Ryan Hanigan and pitchers Gerardo Reyes and Jose Castillo in the deal. 

Tampa Bay will receive outfielder Steven Souza and pitcher Travis Ott from the Nationals. Souza, 25, hit .345/.427/.577 in 357 at-bats spread over three levels last year. 

The Rays will also receive catcher Rene Rivera, first baseman Jake Bauers and pitcher Burch Smith from San Diego.

Washington is set to acquire pitcher Joe Ross from San Diego. The team will also receive infielder Trea Turner in the deal. Turner was a 2014 draft pick, and cannot be traded until midseason, so he's currently considered a player to be named later.


Phillies to send Jimmy Rollins to Dodgers
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:20 pm ET) The Phillies have completed a trade that will send shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. News that the deal was finally going through was initially reported by Yahoo!

The deal has been in place for some time, but was dependent on a separate Dodgers deal going through. The Dodgers will send pitcher Zach Eflin to Philadelphia as part of the Rollins trade, but first needed to acquire Eflin from the Padres in the Matt Kemp deal. The Dodgers and Padres finally reached an agreement late Thursday night, meaning Eflin could finally be sent to Philadelphia. The 20-year-old Eflin posted a 3.80 ERA in 128 innings at High A last year.

Rollins, 36, hit .243/.323/.394 over 538 at-bats last season. He's in the final year of his contract, and is set to make $11 million next year.


Dodgers complete Matt Kemp deal with Padres
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:16 pm ET) The Dodgers and Padres have agreed to a deal that will send outfielder Matt Kemp to San Diego, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. News that the deal had finally come together was first reported by Yahoo!

The trade has been in the works for some time, but was dependent on Kemp passing a physical. It was reported early Thursday that Kemp's physical revealed arthritic hips. The Padres had to to figure out insurance on the contract, which is why it took so long for the deal to go through.

Catcher Tim Federowicz will also head to San Diego in the deal. The Dodgers will send $32 million over as well. 

In return, Los Angeles is set to receive catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitcher Joe Weiland and Zach Eflin. Eflin is expected to be flipped to Philadelphia for shortstop Jimmy Rollins.

The 30-year-old Kemp hit .287/.346/.506 over 541 at-bats last year. Kemp is set to earn a little over $21 million in each of the next five seasons. 


Rockies seeking veteran right-handers to fill out rotation
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:53 pm ET) The Rockies are looking at a number of veteran right-handers to fill out the rotation, according to MLB.com.

Kevin Correia, Aaron Harang, Josh Johnson and Kyle Kendrick have all been considered by the club. With Johnson reportedly signing a deal with the Padres, that leaves the other three as options for the club. Though the team is said to be interested in all three players, it has not engaged in serious conversations with any of them. 


Cubs agree to sign Anthony Carter
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(7:26 pm ET) The Cubs have signed reliever Anthony Carter to a minor-league deal, according to MLBTradeRumors.com.

Carter spent last season in Japan, pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters. He posted a 3.97 ERA over 45 1/3 innings. 


Padres to sign Josh Johnson
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:48 pm ET) The Padres are set to sign pitcher Josh Johnson to a one-year deal, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. Yahoo initially reported the two sides were on the verge of a deal.

Johnson will make a base salary under $2 million, but can earn as much as $8 million due to incentives. Given his recent injury issues, it's assumed those incentives will revolve around both his numbers and his ability to remain healthy. Johnson signed with San Diego last season, but was unable to pitch after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The team declined his option during the offseason, but showed interest in re-signing Johnson to a lesser deal.

Johnson posted a 6.20 ERA in 81 1/3 innings with Toronto in 2013. 


A's C Stephen Vogt expects to be ready for opening day
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:18 pm ET) Athletics catcher Stephen Vogt believes he'll be ready for opening day, according to MLB.com.

Vogt had foot surgery in October, but had his walking boot removed Thursday. Vogt admitted that he may not be 100 percent by spring training, but said he expects to be ready for opening day. After playing multiple positions due to the injury last season, Vogt said he's eager to get behind the plate again. 

The 30-year-old Vogt hit .279/.321/.431 over 269 at-bats last year. 


Josh Johnson on the verge of signing with Padres
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(6:03 pm ET) The Padres are on the verge of a one-year deal with pitcher Josh Johnson, confirms CBSSports.com Baseball Insider Jon Heyman. The deal was first reported by Yahoo!

The two sides are still figuring out the details of the contract, but it's assumed it will include incentives based on games started. Johnson signed with the club last offseason, but did not pitch after undergoing Tommy John surgery in April. The Padres declined an option on Johnson following the season, but expressed a desire to bring him back at a cheaper price. 


 
 
 
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