Prospects: Building Blocks or Trade Chips

There’s an expression that goes “You only get one chance to make a good first impression.” In real life, that’s pretty true – for example, a job interview. It’s truly hard to come back from a bad first job interview. However, in the words of Queen “Is this real life, or is this fantasy?” Fortunately for all of us, this is fantasy: fantasy baseball to be exact.

I don’t know what my role will be here going forward, what exactly I’ll cover on a regular basis, but I do that know everyone gets one first column. One first chance to prove that we have something to say (hopefully), that we’re not an idiot (less hopeful about this one, if I’m honest), that we can give good, relevant advice (pretty confident here – after all, make enough mistakes and you can at least tell people what NOT to do, right?).

This brings me back to first impressions – you only get one: except in fantasy. If you play keeper league, or dynasty league baseball for enough years, you eventually end up joining a league you weren’t a founding member of and taking over a team that you didn’t create. So your first impression isn’t really your first impression. It’s not your team, they are not your players, so in a very real sense, any initial trades you make or any wins or losses you take aren’t yours either.

I’m currently in 2 long-term leagues, both of which I joined on the fly, taking over bottom tier teams. Guided one through the rebuild and into the playoffs last year. Guided the other . . . to identical results as the season I took over. Hey, it’s a work in progress. I mention this because drafting and rebuilds are my particular specialties in fantasy. You want someone to tell you what moves to make to stay on top? I’m not your guy. I played a 30 team dynasty league in its founding season – and won it. I thought to myself “it’s all downhill from here”, and quit while I was ahead. That was a mistake, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I deprived myself of the chance to learn something.

So let’s jump ahead to what I have learned: everyone makes a mistake with their first rebuild. That’s fine. The problem is that most people also make the same mistake in year two of the rebuild. Then again in years three and four. Then a new owner comes in and makes the same mistake in year five of that rebuild. So I’m going to try and short-circuit that cycle and tell you the single truth I am most confident in about fantasy baseball:

Prospects. Don’t. Pan. Out. (So don’t be afraid to trade them)

For every Vladimir Guerrero Jr, or Ronald Acuna Jr, there’s a Alex Reyes or Jurickson Profar – who will set you back years with injuries (though both obviously still ooze talent and could still be major contributors).

More than that, for every Acuna, there’s a Scott Kingery (who again, can still pan out, but certainly didn’t help you last year and may or may not have a regular job this year).

Or worse yet, for every unexpected rookie stud like Juan Soto, there are dozens of highly regarded prospects, top 100 prospects, organizational top 10 guys who become Jed Lowrie or today’s Nick Markakis or Mike Fiers, or hundreds of other perfectly talented and useful major league baseball players – who are legitimate starters, but not stars and they can’t carry a team.

As you tear down, it’s logical to trade for prospects. After all, you’re building for the future, and the guys who want your current players are in it for the present. They need the complimentary pieces your roster represents.

But here’s the catch to employing a prospect-heavy strategy long-term: unless you are one of the lucky few to own a Vlad Jr or Acuna, even should all your prospects pan out, you’re most likely to end up with a roster full of good players with steady jobs – but lacking in stars.  It’s the most common mistake dynasty owners make – they get tight-fisted with their prospects. They hold on to the dream that all their top 100 guys are going to pan out as the stars their lofty rankings suggest they should be.

Don’t believe the hype. Prospects are fantasy baseball’s bitcoin. They are an investment in the future that may or may not pan out in the future. They are never an investment in the now. Spend them. Don’t spend them recklessly, but spend them nonetheless. Spend the higher ranked ones for current stars. Spend longer shots for current Lowrie’s and Markakis’. You will lose some trades this way – it’s inevitable. But you’re going to lose trades anyway – might as well lose them in the present.

The team of the future is always going to remain in the future. The team of now, the team that will end your rebuild, isn’t hiding on your bench or in your prospects. It’s on other teams, and you have to go and get it.


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Seth Bias

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I'm Seth. I love baseball, especially the Braves, and rock n' roll on vinyl. Books, sandals and tacos too, though I find most of my money for those things going to vinyl these days. Once turned Prince Fielder into Justin Verlander and Paul Goldschmidt in a dynasty league. Also ashamed to say I once cut Jose Ramirez. I don't hate your favorite team unless your favorite team is the Nationals or Phillies. May or may not have cried when David Justice hit that home run in game 6 of the 95 World Series - though if you actually ask me, I'll claim I did not.