Dynasty: Building for Next Year, This Year (Fantasy Baseball)
Beyond our fantasy baseball content, be sure to check out our award-winning slate of Fantasy Baseball Tools as you prepare for your draft this season. From our Cheat Sheet Creator – which allows you to combine rankings from 100+ experts into one cheat sheet – to our Draft Assistant – which optimizes your picks with expert advice – we’ve got you covered this fantasy baseball draft season.
As a Cubs fan growing up, I got used to the phrase “wait ’til next year.” The difference between yourself as a fantasy player and the Cubs fanbase is that you can actually believe that phrase. As much as we try to avoid being caught in between, sometimes teams in dynasty or keeper leagues are not in a position to win now — or even to win down the road.
This article will focus on turning your team around in one year to get into contention the following year, based on your current roster construction. You probably have a limited number of rounds in your upcoming draft, so each pick is crucial. Below, I go through how to approach your draft and take the steps towards building a “win-now” team in the near-term.
Approach 75% of the draft as “win now”
If you are building for next year and want to contend in a 2-3 year window, the best bet is to approach this year’s draft as “win now.” Taking young prospects early in the draft will not help you in your contention window, so let others take the prospects with the hype but without track records. If you’re holding prospects, trading them for additional draft picks makes a lot more sense than hoping they pan out.
If you don’t trade those prospects for additional draft capital, I recommend trying to obtain consistent veterans with a limited injury history, or for pitchers who have solid ratios and/or high strikeout rates that could see their role increase within the next year.
In a keeper league, the draft pool is likely better than in a dynasty league. In these keeper leagues, you’ll be battling with other owners for a lot of guys that you like, and the easiest way to get your guys is to draft them a round or two early. However, reaching for them may result in less bang for your buck, and it could set you behind in your strategy to go all the way next year. A sneakier way (at least in a deep keeper league) to get these players is to dump some of your keepers for additional draft picks, radically upping your chances of getting those players.
For the other 25% of the draft, focus on taking high-upside young players (Double-A or lower) that you could deal at the trade deadline this year or next that could result in additional “win-now” players down the road. When you trade these players in six months or a year, you’ll have a better idea of your specific player needs to get you into the playoffs.
Take pitchers who have displayed dominance
If you are in a keeper or dynasty league, your draft pool probably consists of above-average big leaguers who are injured for an extended length of time, fringe major leaguers, or solid prospects that are years away from contributing to their big-league clubs. Trying to win next year will require identifying those guys that will regain their roles after coming back from injury, or have above-average underlying metrics with the potential to contribute in fantasy-relevant roles.
A good example of this in 2020 would be Jordan Hicks, the former closer for the Cardinals. Hicks had Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2019, and he’s slated to be due back later in 2020. Depending on team and league context, there’s a chance that Hicks is available in your draft. By the time you are ready to compete, Hicks should be entrenched as the Cardinals closer.
The best way to search for players who have hidden potential is to scour FanGraphs and Baseball Savant leaderboards and look for players with above-average metrics like swinging-strike rate, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate who don’t have a full-time role in the lineup, rotation, or are just set-up men for now.
It seems that almost every pitcher has had, or will have, major arm surgery within the last five years. As a result, I wouldn’t let previous arm surgery significantly impact my outlook for a pitcher. The farther they are out from the surgery (and with no subsequent setbacks), the healthier they are likely to be — especially when comparing against a pitcher with chronic arm trouble who has never signed up for surgery.
Trade for Boring (Read: Consistent) Veterans
Vets will not win you your league outright, but they can certainly get you into the playoffs. You can typically trade for these types of players (think Mike Moustakas, Paul DeJong, Khris Davis circa 2019) at a greater value than in a typical redraft league, as your other league-mates will be chasing the prospects and specific needs to put them over the top.
This particular type of strategy works well when the veteran’s fantasy profile is not based on speed, as stolen bases can decline quickly. Players with a stable hitting profile (above-average batting average with a place in the middle or top of the order) provide a solid floor on which to build. Balancing your portfolio with these types of players will allow you to take chances on the players described above.
Boom or Bust?
By now, you can tell that there are multiple ways to build a team for next year. At the foundation, it’s all about balancing your roster with a stable base and the higher-upside players who could have significant roles within a year. This draft approach allows for a two-to-three-year window of contention, rather than loading up on veterans and hoping they all stay healthy for one year.
If you went all-in on Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge in 2019, for example, you likely were on the outside looking in when the playoffs arrived. Oft-injured players are tough to count on when trying to win it all in just one year, so giving yourself a solid chance over a few years is a more viable strategy.
Having a plan for keeper and dynasty leagues is key, and setting up that plan to be successful in a year from now will help you get an edge up on your league mates. If nothing else, it will help you from becoming a sappy Cubs fan caught in limbo for over 100 years.