Saturday, August 27, 2011

Beating the Deadline: Prepping for Vote Offs

One of the unique rules in the ottoneu universe is the arbitration process. At the end of each season, every owner in each league has the right to vote for one player on each other team, and the player from each team with the most votes is booted from the team and enters the free agent pool. When the annual auction occurs, the team that previously owned that player gets a $5 discount on him. 

For example, last year, in the original ottoneu league, I picked up Jose Bautista early in the season for $1 hoping to ride his hot streak and then cut him or use him as a useful backup at 3B and OF. Instead, weak-hitting Jose Bautista became MVP-candidate Jose Bautista, and by the time the season ended, Bautista was widely considered a top 5-10 OF. 

Whether he was a one-hit-wonder a la Brady Anderson or a Raul Ibanez-style late bloomer was up for debate, but what was not up for debate was my fellow owners allowing me to keep Bautista for $3. His value was clearly far greater than that and, sure enough, Joey Bats was voted off my team. When the pre-season auction came around, bidding on Bautista went up past the $30 mark, another owner bid $35, I bid $36...and that was it. But, because Bautista was the guy voted off my team, I got a "hometown discount" and have him on my roster at $31, instead of $35. 

Pretty simple, right? But this actually creates an interesting strategic opportunity for ottoneu owners. With the season winding down (and the trade-season REALLY winding down), what is the best way to take advantage of this rule? I've basically seen three strategies:

1) Collect as many arbitration-worthy guys as possible. This is by far the most common move for owners falling out of contention. You are collecting guys who are under-priced and worth keeping - guys who are likely to get voted off are the cream of this crop. Since each team only loses one player to arbitration, not only does having, say, 5 of these guys mean that you get to keep 4, but it also increases the variability in the voting and makes it more likely that something odd happens. Last season, ottoneu founder Niv Shah had a number of guys worth voting off, which spread the votes thin and allowed Jhoulys Chacin to sneak away as his arbitration player. A number of other highly underpaid players slipped through and, while Niv is still in a rebuilding mode, having Chacin voted off was barely a blip for him (he re-signed Chacin for $8).

2) Trade away vote-off candidates to stock up for the current year. Less common, but quite effective when it works. Last year, I did just this, moving Shin-soo Choo and Nelson Cruz, both of whom were signed for under $10. Interestingly, I probably could have kept both of them with no risk, since Bautista eventually became an obvious arbitration candidate, but I needed help in other areas and at the time those guys a) had high value to other teams and b) were likely to be voted off anyway. The reinforcements I received helped me win the league.

3) Hold onto (or trade for) one obvious arbitration candidate in order to protect other guys on your team. This is maybe a version of #1 above, but a bit different. Rather than spreading your risk over a number of guys, this is about getting one guy who you are 100% sure will be voted off, and using him as a sacrificial lamb, protecting your other players. If you have Justin Verlander for $5 (and I am sure you do), he WILL get voted off. There may be some temptation to trade him since he is gone anyway, but holding him guarantees that your $15 Curtis Granderson is safe. 

I bring this up in part because I find myself in a strange position in the original ottoneu league right now. I am in 4th place, just outside the top three and within spitting distance of a second place finish. There seems to be consensus that my two most valuable trade chips are the aforementioned $31 Bautista and a $12 Jered Weaver. If I were willing to part with one of these two, the return would be huge.

Bautista, while easier to trade (he is a good deal at $31 but not an incredible deal), is also almost guaranteed to not be my arbitration player for a second straight year. Yes, he would go for more like $45 in auction next year (just a guess), but even if I paid him $45 (meaning the auction ends at $50), this would only represent a $12 increase in price vs. what I would otherwise have paid. If Weaver goes for $45, this is a $31 increase over the raise he would naturally receive.

Weaver, however, is not the guy I think should be voted off my team (for competitive reasons, I am going to keep my opinion quiet, although you can feel free to guess in the comments). As a matter of fact, I think he is, in some ways, the sacrificial lamb I mentioned in strategy three above. He will get voted off and protect at least one and maybe two players I think are more worthy of that particular honor.

So what strategy do I take? With about 3 days left before the trade deadline, do I move Weaver for the biggest haul I can get, possibly add a guy like Verlander, plus another piece or two that would put me over the top in 2011? Or do I hold him, let him get voted off and keep my more valuable players in place?

As of right now, I am leaning towards the latter. I think my team can get over the hump and into the money without reinforcements and I would rather protect my team a bit for 2012 if I can. 

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