Early Season Waiver Wire Strategy

I love profiling players, but what really gets the juices flowing is talking about the strategy that goes into fantasy baseball.  I love the gamesmanship; trying to outsmart your fellow league mates, and there is no better feeling than being one step ahead of them.

One way to make up for a bad draft or to further separate yourself from your competitors is by being a “waiver wizard.”  First of all, I recommend watching lots of baseball.  If you are more of a scoresheet scout because you have kids or responsibilities, don’t worry – we’ve got you there too.  My main man, Jim Finch, does a waiver series every Friday, Marc Goldstein follows that up with a streamer/waiver article on Sunday covering pitchers, and I have a weekly series where I put player through my “eye test”.

Other than evaluating talent, I also have some theories on ways to approach the wire and FAAB to get the maximum value out of it. Here are some of my tips and strategies.

Don’t Overreact

The first and most important piece of advice I can give you is to trust your preseason analysis.  You likely put weeks, if not months, into your preseason analysis.  Don’t let one fluky start or slump make you overreact.  I’m glad that Bundy and Wacha had great starts and I am hopeful they can make a huge leap, but I’m going to keep valuing them where I already had them.  The same goes for Liriano who got bombed in his first showing, as well as Bregman.  Maybe I’ll end up being wrong on them, but I am not going to make that assertion after one lousy week!

Spend Early

This is a piece of advice for you folks that use FAAB.  Make sure you spend early.  If you think a guy might be a stud, make sure you get him.  There are several reasons for this.  First of all, if you hit on a waiver pickup, you want him to be on your team for the maximum amount of time.  Secondly, there are rarely people worth overspending on much later in the season.  

I’m not saying to blow your wad on Clayton Richard.  What I am saying is this: if Yoan Moncada, Julio Urias or any other potentially team changing talent comes up – spend the extra dollar or two to get him.  You’ll regret being cheap later on when you’re dropping and adding Jason Hammel for the 24th time this year.

Have Fluid Roster Spots

While you should trust your pre-season analysis for the most part, you do not want to get overly attached to the last handful of spots on your roster.  If there is someone out there that you view as a must-add, you need to have some players that you’re willing to cut for them.  If you bought into the rebound in Toronto last year then don’t cut liriano just because he had one bad start.  But if he is honestly you’re worst pitcher, and for some reason Dylan Bundy or James Paxton are out there… pull the trigger!

Pick Up High Upside

This sort of ties in with the spend early blurb.  I believe, especially in shallow leagues, that you want to supplement your studs and dependable players with high upside guys.  This is how you win or even run away with a league.  There will almost always be playable guys on waivers in 10-12 team leagues.  If you have a choice between filling your last spot up with Beltran or Mazara – It’s Mazara every time.  Same goes for Haniger, Puig, or Gomez.  Take the chance on something great rather than something you know will be just okay.  I learned this the hard way in a keeper league when I picked up Josh Reddick over Mike Trout before Trout exploded onto the scene.  It’s the kind of mistake you never forget.

Stash DL Guys

One of my favorite things to do is to pickup and stash DL guys if you have at least 2 DL slots on your team.  I play in some leagues with 3 slots and this becomes an invaluable tool.   It allows you to horde talent.  It’s kind of like getting a player in a trade later on when they come off the DL.  It can also give you a favorably priced player in keeper leagues.  Finally, it allows you to potentially “lose” a 2-1 trade if you have a guy coming off the DL to replace on of your outgoing pieces.

Pickup Guys “the Homers” Will Like

If you are 50-50 on a pickup, pickup the guy that plays for the team with the most fans in your league.  I own Zack Wheeler in several Mets heavy leagues.  Sure, he may bust, but he has been touted throwing close to triple digits and was a big Mets prospect a few years back.  One or two good outings in a row and you might be able to trade him for more than he is worth to a Mets fan.  It’s always good to think like this.  Try not to overestimate it, though.  Don’t pick Wheeler up over Bundy for example, but if it’s more of a 50-50 shot in the dark… go for the home team favorite.

Use a Waiver Pickup as a Trade Sweetener

This is a really useful trade tactic.  If you have someone on your team that you picked up that your trade partner wanted, you can tack him onto the deal at basically no cost to push him over on a deal. Or…

Keep the Waiver Guy and Trade the More Established Guy

This is the one I’ve found to be most useful.  It’s nearly impossible to get fair value on a breakout candidate before the masses accept them as a star.  Last year I could not get close to fair value on a $4 Mookie Betts that needed to be traded when guys were overpaying for a hurt Harper, bad Stanton, and bad 2nd half Arrieta.  

The easier way to do this is, if you are aware of a waiver or sleeper already being a breakout – deal the brand name to get the resources you need.  If you have James Paxton and Danny Duffy, feel free to deal Cole Hamels instead for the bat that you need rather than trying to get the low-end ace value you deserve for those breakouts.  This will get the deal you need done more often and will help you create the most powerful roster configuration possible.

Use Waivers to Replenish Lineup After a Deal

As you’ve heard me say time and time again, I love trading 2-1 or even 3-2 where I get the best player in a shallow league.  Using the waiver wire to fill in your new gaps is a great way to do this.  Say you trade Brian Dozier and Hanley Ramirez for Anthony Rizzo or Paul Goldschmidt.  If they take that deal, you now need a second baseman.  Maybe Devon Travis, Logan Forsythe, or some other usable player is on the wire.  I think this becomes a huge win for you, especially in shallower points or H2H categories leagues.

Don’t Blow Your Wad on a Bad Closer

Don’t go spending 10% of your FAAB on Jeanmar Gomez.  It’s just not worth it.  It’s also just as bad to spend $5 on one guy and then $5 again to pick up the other guy – and then again when they switch back.  I learned this lesson the hard way many years ago with the not so studly, Ernesto Frieri.  You will regret spending big dollars here and find you are better off speculating on a really good middle reliever that might be able to snake a job later on.  Maybe try to get someone to add an unspectacular closer like K-Rod to a deal to push it over.

Try to Predict Hot Streaks

If you are watching lots of baseball and see a guy is having good at bats or a pitcher is getting unlucky with soft contact, make the speculative pickup.  Getting the hot player for a dollar and having him on your bench the week before he gets hot makes a huge difference.  It’s a big advantage over having to pay the extra FAAB for a hot streak that’s already started.  

Scouting the schedule can help this endeavor quite a bit as well.  For hitters, I’d recommend looking for good parks like Coors (obviously), but also look for bad pitching staffs.  It is more than worth streaming hitters against the Padres this year for example.  They have one of the worst starting pitching staffs ever assembled.  Feast while you can, and predict hot streaks that way.  You can also apply this same logic to trades.  If you’re down on someone, you can trade them after a hot Coors series or stellar performance that you saw coming.

Pick Skills Over Playing Time in Deep Leagues

This is hard to do since playing time is so valuable in the deeper leagues.  Still, you’ll get a lot more out of stashing a potential star like Michael Conforto in a deep dynasty or even a redraft league than you will out of stashing a useful, but unspectacular guy like Freddy Galvis or Jorge Polanco.  If you can’t field a lineup and you need to cut a guy like A.J. Reed or Byung Ho Park, I get it, but try to stash the guys that can be difference makers as opposed to guys that barely tread water.


Hope these tips help you from a strategy and perspective standpoint on how to attack the waiver wire early in the season.  I’ve made so many terrible mistakes on the wire over the years, so hopefully you can learn from my pain.


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Mike Sheehan

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Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.