FB201: Free Agency Basics

05/20/2007 11:17 AM - 

FantasyBaseball.com University Series
Contributed By: Andrew Hibel

In 1975, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally filed a grievance with the Major League Baseball Player’s Association that set in motion the ability for players to become free agents.  No one in this disco era could have imagined the impact  this grievance from two starting pitchers would have on fantasy baseball players three plus decades later.  When you think of fantasy baseball free agency, you need to consider your primary strategy, the rules of free agency, and how to track free agents.

Before a discussion of the details of free agency can start, it is important that you understand what free agents are.  All players who are not drafted in the preseason draft become the initial pool of free agents.  As players are added, they are removed from the free agent pool.  And, as players are dropped, they are added to the pool.  During the course of your typical baseball season, players can be added and dropped many times.

It is important to note that trades are always an option.  But, it takes two to make a trade.    Most trade offers, whether fair or not, are not accepted.  You can spend time and energy carving out the most mutually beneficial trade in the history of fantasy sports only to wait two weeks and get declined.  Meanwhile, that free agent you had your eye on, may get taken.  While trades should always be considered, it is imperative to not rely on them to the detriment of free agency moves. 

Your primary strategy offers you a template for making decisions that benefit your team in the league you are playing in.  Primary strategies should vary greatly from league to league and person to person.  In a perfect world, you would implement your primary strategy in the initial draft and ride out the season to your championship.  However, sometimes your primary strategy will be a bit off.  Injuries happen, situations change, and slumps get prolonged.  All these factors and many more may require you to make a managerial move.

You may need to modify your primary strategy during free agency.  If a certain statistic turns out to be more critical than you first thought (e.g. drafting closers when you also need holds), you should consider modifying your primary strategy.  Do not consider this a defeat.  It is simply on the job training which happens frequently when you play different types of games (like being a points player and trying your first head-to-head league).

Free agency needs can also arise due to injuries and a change in status.  While injuries don’t require you to change your primary strategy, they will affect how you play the game.  Being active and proactive in free agency can help lessen the risk of injury.  Sometimes, picking up a solid player in free agency, who you may not need immediately, can prove valuable later in the year.  Players who lost Alfonso Soriano to injury late last year needed to have a solid back up at second base to win their championship. In addition, free agency needs can be caused by changes in status (e.g. moving from closer to middle relief status).  You need to stay on top of the status of closers (especially in head-to-head leagues) more than any other position due to the uniqueness of the save statistic (baseball teams usually have only 1 closer) and the fact that many closer situations change frequently.

It is important that you understand how free agency works in your league.  Many leagues have a waiver priority and waiver system to manage newly dropped players (and sometimes newly added players like rookies) to allow for a fair distribution of prime pick-ups.  Some leagues limit the amount of free agent moves you can make in a year.  Understanding these rules and preserving limited resources can be very important for managing unanticipated situations like injuries and prolonged slumps.

Finally, it is important that you have a complete system to manage what free agents you are interested in.  This process will enable you to better locate limited free agent finds (i.e. good strikeout pitchers) and know when to expend limited resources.  In addition, this process will allow you to see what else is available in case of injury.    Also, if players get added to your league throughout the season, it is important for you to regularly check where those are posted.

Fantasy baseball championships are won and lost in free agency.  If you do a great job in free agency, you will able to atone for the sins of your draft and overcome injuries to key players.  If you forget to work on free agency, you will be able to look forward to a longer off-season and a higher draft pick (in a keeper league).  Thanks to Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, the choice is yours.

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