ROTISSERIE: Considering amnesty

Labor strife, like that which threatened to derail the current NFL and NBA seasons, brings little joy to the average fan. "Wake me when the games start" is a common sentiment.

However, fantasy players can salvage one benefit from all the rancor over how to divide up millions (or even billions) of dollars. After all, at least some of the issues owners and players tend to squabble over, like competitive balance and freedom of player movement, are also concerns for fantasy leagues.

This past fall's NBA negotiations yielded one such nugget for fantasy owners to consider: the concept of "amnesty," which found its way into the final collective-bargaining agreement and has already resulted in a couple star players finding new homes.

The way amnesty in the NBA works is this: A team can waive any player prior to the start of the season, and the player's salary will not count against the team's salary cap. In essence, it is a "get out of jail free card" for a team that has signed a player to an albatross of a contract. Other teams can use their cap space to acquire the amnestied player at a reduced rate, with the player's original team responsible for the balance of his salary. If no one bids on the player, he becomes a free agent.

If you aren't convinced that a similar "get out of jail free card" would be attractive in a fantasy league, just talk to the owner of Adam Dunn or Carl Crawford in 2011. All that is needed to adapt the amnesty concept for fantasy baseball are a couple of tweaks.

For one, while it makes sense for the NBA to have the decision point come before the season, fantasy owners generally don't assemble their teams until either shortly before or shortly after the start of the season.

Also, cap relief -- at least from our in-season salary caps -- is a benefit that already comes with waiving a player. What we need to do, then, is move the decision point to a more sensible date and also provide some sort of added incentive to make amnesty an attractive option.

Proposed rule: On or before May 1, a fantasy team may waive one player from its active roster as its "amnesty player" and receive a credit, in FAAB bidding dollars, equal to the player's full draft-day auction price.

Why such a rule might make sense: While it is true that paying the price for one's draft-day mistakes is a time-honored principle in fantasy play, a limited amnesty clause would hardly be a cure-all for the hapless drafter, particularly when there are no guarantees about future performance. An owner may well wind up cutting a player right before he breaks out of his early season slump.

It should result in a few more interesting names finding their way into the free-agent pool, which is always a concern, especially in deeper leagues.

The rule also adds another layer of strategy, however small, to an owner's in-season decision making. Do you "amnesty" one of your highest-priced players and reap a larger FAAB reward, or do you cut the more modestly priced player who had been a long shot from the start and is arguably less likely to turn things around?

And while you should not necessarily be trying to skew your league's rules in a manner that will enable you to profit more from the intelligence provided here at BaseballHQ.com, the fact of the matter is that, as a subscriber, you are uniquely equipped to discern slow starts stemming from bad luck as opposed to poor skills.

You also have access to the research, referenced in the Forecaster's Toolbox, about whether April performance is a "leading indicator." (In short, you might be more inclined to use your amnesty designation on a pitcher and perhaps be more willing to take a chance on a another team's hitting castoff with a history of strong skills -- Dunn and Crawford notwithstanding.)

One criticism of an amnesty rule in fantasy baseball might be that there is no reward for teams that drafted well and thus have no need or desire to use their amnesty provision. In the NBA, in which only one player can be "amnestied" over the duration of the collective-bargaining agreement, the well-managed team benefits by being able to carry over its amnesty card into a subsequent season. While such a solution might work in fantasy baseball keeper leagues, perhaps a better idea would be to devise some other reward, such as a modest FAAB credit ($5 or so) for teams that have made it to May 1 without resorting to the amnesty process.

Even if you decide amnesty is too radical of a rule change for your league, it's always a worthy exercise to ruminate on new wrinkles that can add a new gut-wrenching in-season dilemma or two while also rewarding sound assessments of players' skills. The inspiration for such wrinkles can come from anywhere, even those depressing stories on work stoppages in other sports.


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