I had hoped never to write this column. I had hoped both sides would view the cancellation of games as untenable, the repercussions of the last such incident still looming large almost 30 years later. I had hoped our sneak peek into this insanity two years ago, when so much negativity bubbled to the surface at a time when absolutely nobody wanted to hear it, would allow cooler heads to come together for a common goal.
My hopes have been dashed. The MLB-imposed deadline for the regular season starting on time came and went Monday (and then again Tuesday) with no agreement between the league and the players association, which means that for the second time in three years, the season will be shortened.
And the clock is still ticking. So far, only the first week has been canceled, but with each passing week, there goes another.
I'm not here to convince you which side is wrong, even though it's become clear in recent days that only one considers it a negotiation. The consequences are the same no matter who's to blame, and already too much of the internet exists to stoke anger for anger's sake. So instead of wallowing in disappointment, I'd like to do something constructive now. I'd like to advise you on what it means for your Fantasy Baseball league.
Like, what else am I going to do?
The MLB canceled the first two series of the season! What does all of it mean?! The Fantasy Baseball Today team tackles the lockout news in an Emergency Pod!
I have a few thoughts on the matter, and we'll go through them item by item. The most significant by far, though, is this one ...
Schedule and conduct your draft as usual
I understand the temptation to play it by ear and wait until we know something -- anything, like the actual day the season will begin. For goodness' sake, the offseason was only half over when things shut down in December. We're still waiting to find out where Freddie Freeman and Carlos Correa, among many others, will sign. Shouldn't we wait to find out?
Sure, in a perfect world, where leagues stick to schedules and plans, it's better to wait until all that reasonably can be known is known. But our world is not that world, and when it gets right down to it, what's more important than being maximum prepared for the draft is ensuring it happens it all.
We're all creatures of habit. We know the rhythms of a given year. We know what the day after Thanksgiving represents and what marks the figurative midpoint of summer. Many of us take Groundhog Day as our cue to plan something nice for someone, and if the calendar keepers randomly bumped Valentine's Day to Aug. 23 one year, suffice it to say there would be a lot of disappointed sweeties when that day arrived.
We know firsthand how this phenomenon works. Remember two years ago, when the pandemic delayed the start of the season until late July? A large percentage of leagues didn't bother to start up, perhaps even yours. And you could argue people's minds weren't on baseball at that point in time, but that's precisely my point. It was late July. Of course, they weren't thinking about baseball.
A routine creates expectations. A lack of routine subverts expectations. A healthy league is one that expects Fantasy Baseball every year, and when that expectation is dashed, the routine needs to be established all over again. This is how leagues unravel. Sticking to your league's schedule ensures everyone has skin in the game and betters the chances of full participation whenever the league starts up again.
Besides, a lot could change between now and late March, which is probably when you were looking to draft in the first place. By that point, it might not seem too early to draft, which brings me to my next point ...
Expect things to ramp up quickly
I just gave the psychological reason for drafting within the usual timeframe, but there's also the practical one: Whenever an agreement is reached, things will ramp up quickly. Within four weeks of the announcement, the season will start. It may even be closer to three.
It doesn't leave much time to pull everything together if you've left it up in the air. It also doesn't leave much time for all those transactions to happen. Maybe the majority will have happened by the time we're a week from the new opening day, but the point is that waiting for all the free agents to sign will be like threading a needle. Better just to make the best of a bad situation and hope we never see anything like it again.
Consider also what actually changes when those last-minute moves go down. Some fringe players may lose playing time. Some fringe players may gain it. Our evaluation of a free agent may change if he lands in a particularly favorable or unfavorable situation. Things will change, yes -- even over the course of a typical spring training, without any of that offseason maneuvering folded into it, things change -- but it's not landscape-altering stuff.
There is one exception. OK, there are two. The first is a league-specific format like AL- or NL-only. Where a player signs is of far greater significance when it determines his eligibility for your league, and I can support putting off the draft for as long as possible in such a format. It helps that those leagues tend to attract the sort of diehards who aren't deterred so easily.
The other exception -- and the one most relevant to the majority of people reading -- is the relief pitcher position, which is stuck in a state of disarray with so many bullpens only halfway formed.
Don't give into the temptation at closer
The way relief pitcher works, at least in traditional scoring formats, is that most everyone who gets saves matters and most everyone who doesn't -- doesn't. As of now, there are only 10 surefire closers -- or precisely one-third of the league -- and one of them is Mark Melancon, a particularly suspect closers on a particularly suspect Diamondbacks team. For the other two-thirds of the league, the best closer candidate may not be on the team yet.
The price for those 10 surefire closers is skyrocketing as a result. The top two, Josh Hader and Liam Hendriks, are being drafted in Round 4 on average, ahead of a reigning Cy Young winner (Robbie Ray), a perennial 40-homer guy (Pete Alonso) and the player widely regarded as the next breakout stud (Wander Franco). It's uncharted territory for a closer, and a feeling of unparalleled scarcity is driving it.
But is it not uncertainty more than scarcity? Eventually, all 30 teams will have a closer, or at least a couple of guys sharing save chances, and at that point, those who paid for certainty won't have a clear advantage over those who didn't. And here's the kicker: Even if the offseason played out as usual, with all trades and signings done by this point, we wouldn't know much more than we do now.
Managers aren't in the habit of anointing closers anymore, not officially. They're increasingly noncommittal about bullpen roles, which gives them less to answer for when things go awry. It doesn't mean they no longer subscribe to roles. It's just that they reveal them through their actions rather than their words.
It's safe to assume Kenley Jansen will sign somewhere to close, and it's reasonable to assume Craig Kimbrel will be traded somewhere to close. They're both already being valued as such, so nothing really changes when it happens. But otherwise, every unknown at closer will likely remain an unknown into the early days of the regular season.
We can make a reasonable guess for most teams, and I have here. Hedging your bet with two or three of those guys seems like a better use of draft capital than paying up for a sure thing.
Anticipate a universal DH
One of the earliest reports from the labor negotiations was that the universal DH was a go. Both sides had agreed to it, and it was just a matter of putting it into law. It obviously hasn't been put into law yet, and there's a non-zero chance It's left out of the final agreement for some petty reason. But because it wasn't considered one of the hot-button issues and didn't face much resistance from either side, it's safe to proceed as if it's a certainty.
I don't know exactly what it means for your plans because I don't know your plans, but there's obviously no reason to favor NL pitchers anymore. And of course, more at-bats have opened up for 15 NL teams. I've already outlined who I consider the biggest beneficiary for each, but you'll need to take it with a grain of salt with so much of the offseason having yet to play out.
Stock up for Ronald Acuna
Acuna's ADP has been rising with every rehab video posted to social media, to the point he's back to being a consensus first-rounder after previously residing in Round 2. It's worth noting, though, that at last report way back in November, he was aiming to have his torn ACL ready to go in May. And in these situations, the player himself tends to be the most optimistic of anyone.
Still, whether it's May or mid-April, he won't miss as big a percentage of the season if the season starts later. I don't know how much it should change your approach, particularly if you're drafting sooner than later. There's still so much we don't know about the state of his recovery or, again, the start of the season. But the longer this drags out, the greater the justification to take him in Round 1, recognizing that only Fernando Tatis has as much upside in leagues that use 5x5 scoring.
Keep your finger on the pulse and your head in the game
I can say this much with certainty: There will be a 2022 season, and it won't start as late as the 2020 season did. The silver lining for this lockout is it gives you more opportunity to brush up on player outlooks, sharpen your game plan and dive into the piles of content we've already produced for the 2022 season, with much more to come.
Apart from the obvious Sleepers, Breakouts and Busts, here are some other noteworthy reads that you may have overlooked the first time:
- Strategy guides by position, beginning with SP
- ADP review, both most underrated and most overrated
- Two rounds of name brand vs. generic
- Introducing the Zero-SB strategy
- Why exit velocity matters more than ever
- Format specialists: H2H vs. Roto
- Tiers by category, not position
- 56 amazing stats from 2021
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