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Analysis, Advice and Comments you never asked for on Scoresheet Baseball

"Trade for keepers, draft for depth"?

That’s a catchy quote from Baseball Prospectus’s trio of Scoresheet experts: Ian, Ben, and Jared pulled from their April 22nd chat. 

As with most truisms, there is some truth to this one, but it ought be taken with more salt than most truisms. . . and with braised onions and cumin. Their point (I believe) is that unless you have the first overall pick or so of the winter draft, there isn’t a huge amount of talent to be had. The vast majority of it is already protected. Building your talent base is generally done amongst those players worth keeping. A winning trade amongst those players is worth more than a winning draft pick amongst the rest.

Well, if you are no better than your colleagues, then your chance of losing bigger with a trade of protectable players is the same as winning bigger. Yes, a trade can help both teams, but that’s more a matter of improved talent distribution than talent accumulation. If you are the team with the hole to fill and/or the pennant to chase, the expectation is that you will give up a little more than you take.

Where the adage makes the most sense is when you are in a building mode and you can trade a veteran to a desperate contender for an outstanding prospect who is maturing as hoped. It is nearly impossible to draft a mature overall top 10 prospect - they were likely hoarded since earlier in their minor league career.

In all my two and a half decades of Scoresheet playing with usually two leagues, I have only once had a team slip under .500 - an injury riddled season so, that my teams have pretty well always been contenders. So, I do not have much experience in the trade veterans for prospects game (although I traded Austin Jackson for Bryan Buxton on one team last year - we’ll see how that pans out . So far, I still made the play-offs, but don’t think I realistically had a chance for the championship). I can speak about building a dynasty and maintaining it. My A.L. Robinson started in 1991 - and, yes, I pulled off some sly trades that helped bring a division winner in my first year, the league’s best record in the second year, and championships for the next 6 years. The first phase of my inaugural draft was very strong, too. However, after my first championship, I avoided making unseemly major deals with the weaker managers - just minor deals to patch up a hole or add depth. Most of the weaker owners dropped out, anyway. I was able to sustain that dynasty for 15 years predominantly through the draft. If I made a big trade or two that was particularly helpful during the latter dozen years, it was mainly luck.  My rebuilding phase lasted three years (three 2nd place finishes, but no wild cards) and now I’ve won my division for another five years in a row and counting - all mostly through the draft.

My secret? There isn’t one - just diligence, a working understanding of the more basic up-to-date sabrmetrics, and keeping everything in the appropriate perspective. Concerning depth: yep, it is important, but you might as well take a slightly worse player as a back-up, if he has far greater potential to turn into a keeper. So, I draft with both in mind.

“Trade for keepers, draft for depth” was the last line of Ian, Ben, and Jared’s answer to “what is the biggest mistake people make with Scoresheet”. From what I’ve seen mostly in the other leagues that I’ve played in, the most obvious common mistake is failure to maximize assets over the winter. Solidly protectable players are left up for grabs with no compensation. A good prospect or any pick - even if it is just a supplemental pick (which are often undervalued) is worth something. Going by the adage, a two-for-one deal of keepers can bring even more value.  You could make a two-for-two deal if the other manager doesn’t want to give one player for two and just discard the 2nd player that you pretend to want. There are many things that can be done, whether you are a buyer or a seller of excess talent, although I do understand some leagues have more stubbornly stand pat owners than others.

With supplemental drafts now coming every month, having plenty of depth is a little less critical than it used to be. In the long run, it is important to have a few prospects, too. Even if your team is always strong every June when each new wave of Rule IV draftees become available, there are almost always a few enticing minor leaguers to be found at any time. Mike Trout was my last pick of the year in his first professional season. Prospects make the best trade bait - especially later in the season. Another team with a player you need far more than they do will not necessarily need a player at a position where you have excess depth, but almost every team can use a good prospect no matter what position he plays. 

So, team building can come from trades or picks. Depth can be shored up either way. Scoresheet is a complex game. I’m sorry I don’t have a catchy rule of thumb that would steer you well. Just to repeat what I think has made the difference for me: diligence (preparing for the drafts, making the necessary trades, adjusting line-ups weekly), sabrmetrics (knowing how to interpret statistics for predictive power and line-up maximizing), and perspective (weighing in scouting reports, player histories, and how things change).

- John Carter

Questions? Comments? Share them on scoresheet-talk or with me directly.

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