KEEPERS: The Changing 2017 rules landscape, part 2

Last week in part 1, we examined the ramifications of the new 10-day MLB DL, the new considerations fantasy leagues need to ponder, and both the changes and ripple effects on one deep 20-team / 34-roster-spot quasi-dynasty format (it's complicated) commished by yours truly. As explained last week, we think our decision to largely decouple MLB DL moves and minor league demotions from our active roster spots is the best way to go for several reasons. But the fallout on our league's free agent pickup transactionswhich generate most of our winners kittyand league competition over a full season now need some attention.

Maintaining fantasy league interest and competition over the six-month season is an ongoing issue that's rarely ever resolved satisfactorily but still requires constant consideration, particularly in a KL/dynasty format. Brad Kullman's recent two-part STRATEGY / ROTISSERIE series Making your league a true test of SKILL is a valuable pre-season recap, not just of the odiousness of "tanking" or "taking a dive" so thoroughly recapped in part 1. But also for the reminder that love of baseball and our competitive natures are why our leagues are formedand why we play these games.

As Brad suggests, trading is a big part of most formats. Owners who can swing in-season deals that both help augment a championship run while not hurting savaging their long-term core rosters are showing off enviable mad skills. But their trading partners who might over-facilitate these moves, i.e., dumping productive players for picks and prospectsthe equal of which or better might well be found on the free agent list with just a little analysisand consequently falling from mid-standings to the bottom? If their "effort" here move isn't a legitimate piece of a sound rebuilding strategy, it's a mindless, anti-competitive exercise that requires zero savvy or proficiency whatsoever.

Successful rebuilding is always eventually rewarded in some fashion, but few formats identify and penalize perennially unsuccessful franchises that can unwittingly contribute to toxic situations and an ongoing gulf between league Haves and Have-Nots. Even while taking new-and-early rebuildswhich can take a couple of yearsinto consideration the bottom line is that owners should be competing all the time. As Brad noted, "finishing as high as possible should not only be a matter of pride, it should be a structural aspect of your fantasy league. Finishing second should be better than finishing third... finishing ninth should be better than finishing tenth... and anything should be better than finishing LAST! Finishing LAST should suck!"

As noted last week, over the years our deep league has made a number of efforts to reduce incentivized losing. We award the top picks in our March supplemental draft to the teams that finish just out of the money (eighth place and beyond) instead of those at the bottom of the standings. And we introduced a system of "bonehead fees" to assess owners who weren't paying attention to our rules and allowing their rosters to go unattended for extended stretches. But now with MLB-DL changes that will likely reduce our overall winners kitty, finding new ways of generating transaction fees and re-focusing on top-to-bottom competition becomes paramount.   

For KL/dynasty purposes, "rebuilds" or reloads" should be the objective for struggling owners, not "dump trades." In the short-term there will always be disagreement among owners as to what is a good or bad trade and which owner got screwedand we don't legislate or veto individual trades, partly for that reason. Owners manage their teams as they see fit; everyone is permitted to make a bad deal. But if an owner continually makes more bad trades over time (and particularly with the same trading partners) without showing any improvement... well, the truth lies in the year-over-year standings. Changes are necessary in the form of year-end fees, with the early commish ideas as follows. Again, keep in mind that this is a 20-team league:

  • Disengagement / Inactivity Fee: Bottom-five finishers (Team X) assessed the difference between [Team X TA$] and [team average TA$ minus Y$]. A combination performance/effort penalty on owners who showed little in-season urgency in improving a mediocre team. Two consecutive years triggers an automatic franchise review.
  • Stagnation Fee: $50 penalty on owners finishing in the bottom five for three consecutive seasons. Automatic franchise review.
  • Bottom-Feeder Fee: $75 fee on owners finishing in the bottom three for two consecutive seasons (applies only to owners finishing at least their third year). Automatic franchise review.
  • Golden Goat Fee: $X on last-place finisher (applies only to owners finishing at least their second year).
  • Aggregate season penalties can't exceed $100 (excluding disengagement fee). Owners with $100 or more in penalties must advance $50 in transaction fees for the next season.
  • The commissioners may reduce but not raise year-end amounts charged to any owner based on extenuating circumstances.

These ideas speak for themselves, but are worth some explanation. The disengagement fee assumes that owners with mediocre clubs may not be attending to their DL or demotion spots, and should be at least spending somewhere near team-average transaction fees in an effort to improveor be assessed the difference. Since this could conceivably be part of a decent rebuilding strategy, i.e., having non-performing minor leaguer players in active lineup spots, we need to think about the exact formula. And of course, that final rule/caveat here could come in handy.

Regarding the stagnation fee, expecting any team to finish somewhere above the bottom five clubs in one season out of five doesn't seem like too much to ask. Ditto for the bottom-feeder fee, which wouldn't apply to any owner with just two years in the league. They have likely inherited rebuilding projects, and deserve a chance; two years is a reasonable time-frame in which to get at least a little lift-off.

The Golden Goat or last-place fee will need some league discussion. Apart from first-year rebuilding owners, "LAST should absolutely suck!", and our constitution should reflect this. In some local leagues, the last-place owner paying for a season-ending party or bar meet-up is traditional. This is obviously more difficult for on-line, geographically-dispersed owners, but for competitive reasons something similar should still be considered.

Obviously the amount of this last-place penaltyand all of the aforementioned penalties for that mattercan be a source of contention. Perhaps not for a 12-team AL-only big-money league of high-rollers or industry types (once again, context matters), but certainly in a 20-team league in which the financial demands have been less. Discuss it with your fellow owners, and at least float the idea that the Golden Goat fee should be high enough to make everyone want to avoid finishing last.  

Too heavy-handed? Perhaps, and frankly, just the discussion of such could result in owner departures. Still, the fact remains that in deep, non-industry money leagues such as this one in which most owners have varying degrees of skill, interest and time, some turnover is almost inevitable. We've been fortunate in this regard, in that this past off-season was the first in eight that we've lost more than a single owner. But during this time, an almost infallible forecaster of departing owners has been their recent history of finishes and/or transaction expenditures. Of our last six available franchises, five of them came off either 19th or 20th place finishes with their previous owner.

This suggests an added benefit to making the bottom of the standings more competitive, in that chronically non-competitive and only marginally interested owners may be incentivized to depart sooner as opposed to hanging on for another season or two. Which means that the league gets another opportunity to infuse new blood into the mix. 

Anyway, these are ideas that we're considering. I'm curious as to your initial reactions, so fire away below. In the next column, now that yours truly may have irritated some of the the league's bottom-fivers and newly-recruited owners with this piece, we'll take a detailed look at deep-league rebuilding strategies.

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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.