Roster spots are precious, particularly at a time of year when every possible outcome is still on the table.
I want to stress that one part: every ... possible ... outcome. We don't know anything yet! Only 3 percent of the season is in the bag. We may see some positive or negative signs for certain players, but whatever observations we're making right now are the most super of superficial.
I'll tell you why: Because if you don't, someone else will.
But who cares, right? Let them act irrationally. You'll make the move when the move actually demands to be made, and then you'll have fewer mistakes you can point to.
That line of thinking seems correct. It seems measured and reasonable. It sounds like the right thing to say. But it's wrong -- oh so wrong. Really, it's built on two fallacies:
- When a move demands to be made, it's too late. Someone else has already made it. If you want to be the one who gets The One, you have to act on less information, not more. And you do want to be that one. So many great players emerge on the waiver wire every year. Even over the course of just two months last year, there was Teoscar Hernandez, Framber Valdez and Trevor Rosenthal, to name a few. Of course, there was no shortage of fakeouts along the way, so to secure the best ones, you have to expect to burn through a few bad ones.
- A successful waiver wire strategy is less about being right or wrong than maximizing your opportunities to be right. Nobody's keeping score of how many misses there were along the way, and in most leagues, the number of moves you can make is infinite. In leagues that use FAB dollars -- i.e., a bidding process for free agents rather than a pure waiver wire -- there are limits to how often you can jump ahead in line, and obviously, you have to reserve the bulk of those dollars for the moves that you're most confident will be impactful. But regardless of the method of distribution, you should be making a lot of moves. A lot of them.
The key to succeeding in Fantasy Baseball, as I tell everyone who asks (even if they don't seem to believe me), is activity. Being diligent about entering your waiver claims and casting a wide net for anyone who shows an inkling of potential will do more to set you apart during the six-month grind than a strong draft will. At worst, it's 50/50.
It's one of the reasons I've resolved to go so aggressively after starting pitchers the past two years. Given the imbalance between pitching and hitting in the league right now, I know bunches of impact bats will emerge on the waiver wire, and I'm confident I'll corral enough of them to make up for whatever shortfalls resulted in the draft. When you view your draft as just the foundation of a cathedral you'll be building over the course of six months, you can zero in on the most immovable assets.
But the draft is in the past and the waiver wire is now. Here's what to keep in mind as you wrestle with those decisions.
Everybody sees the same thing
The "roster trends" page is an essential tool for playing the waiver wire. You can find it under the "players" drop-down in your CBS Sports league. The default view is "most added/dropped," but the most useful is actually "most viewed." There, you can see with your own eyes where everyone's eyes are, and it's generally where you'd expect them to be.
They're on the players getting the most airtime on Fantasy Baseball Today, the ones generating all the GIFs on Fantasy Baseball Twitter. The ones at the top of your mind are there for a reason, and it turns out the rest of your league is circling them like sharks, debating whether or not to take the bait.
It doesn't have to be such a debate.
Most people hesitate
You do see the other end of the spectrum, of course -- participants who'll pull the plug on a genuine asset like Andrew Vaughn or Brandon Lowe for some flavor-of-the-day type -- and I have trust I'm not compelling anyone to behave so recklessly. It's worth stressing, just in case, that the players you should be looking to forfeit in these transactions are the ones least likely to be picked up by someone else -- i.e., the ones who required a low level of investment in the first place. The time may eventually come to cut bait on a Vaughn or Lowe type, but it'll be more like after six weeks than six days. Believe me, there will still be plenty of worthy players emerging on the waiver wire beyond that point.
As a general rule, though, Fantasy Baseballers play fearfully, second- and third-guessing every move so as not to appear the sucker. "Who is Yermin Mercedes anyway? No one was touting him coming into the season. Shoot, I'd never heard of him before yesterday. I should know better, right?'
But you know what? It's OK to look a little stupid in the moment because nothing looks smarter than winning in the end. Maybe that Mercedes or Baddoo pickup fizzles in a week and you have to move on to something else. Big deal, as long as you didn't blow a bunch of FAB dollars on him -- which you shouldn't be doing with any of these moves. It just gives you an easy drop for the next pickup, which is always welcome.
Granted, it's easier to take advantage of others' hesitance in a league where waivers run daily. A weekly waiver run buys everyone more time to mull things over, which typically ends with a bid being placed. But if you can take advantage of time and are willing to react a little sooner than everyone else, you can corral many of the big-ticket pickups without even blowing a bunch of FAB dollars on them.
Out of sight, out of mind
You know how I said the players you should be looking to forfeit are the ones least likely to be picked up by someone else? That's the key to this whole thing, the way you can keep cycling through flavors of the day without losing your shirt in the process.
It's tricky to know exactly where the line is -- and again, I wouldn't want you to drop anyone of genuine value -- but for players on the fringes, the longer they go without making headlines, the less inclined anyone will be to make a play for them. It doesn't matter how good you think they could be or how excited you were to get them three weeks ago. If they haven't been doing anything to show up on that "most viewed" list, then they're out of sight and out of mind.
And that's how you sneak them through.
It's sort of a game within a game, gauging public perception and trusting the rest of your league to fall in line with it, and it'll burn you sometimes, causing you to forfeit a player that you genuinely like. But in the interest of casting a wide net and corralling as many waiver wire gems as you can, you have to play odds sometimes and trust that because that fringy player hasn't given the commentariat anything to talk about in weeks, your league mates will shrug him off when they see him hit the waiver wire. And then when he starts to make some noise again, you can scoop him right back up.
A great example for me is Logan Webb, who I loved coming out of spring training based on some glowing reports about his changeup. His first against the Mariners on Saturday, was ... meh. He gave up 10 baserunners in 5 1/3 innings and didn't have an eye-popping swinging-strike rate or anything. So even though that start was meaningless in the grand scheme of things, telling us virtually nothing about Webb on its own, its lack of sizzle afforded me a chance to exchange him for a pitcher I was more at risk of losing to someone else, such as Carlos Rodon.
Dropping a player doesn't mean 'giving up on him'
It's an idea that's difficult to wrap your head around. When you have a bird in the hand, the natural inclination is to make sure it's a no-go before letting it go, which means passing up countless other prospective pickups.
But unless that bird continues to chirp, it's just not necessary to devote a valuable roster spot to it. You need to keep those spots fungible to maximize your chances of scoring big with a pickup, and the best way to do it is to lean into the ebb and flow of perception.
You don't need to have made up your mind about the player you're dropping. You just need to acknowledge there's a more pressing use of that roster spot right now -- i.e., that flavor of the day who's in everyone's crosshairs right now. Now is probably your only shot at him while you may still have a chance at the one you're letting go, provided that he, in the minds of so many, is yesterday's news.
Again, you'll get burned sometimes, but it won't be most times, particularly if you're careful not to drop anyone too high-end. One way to determine if you are is to see how widely rostered he is. If it's above 90 percent, OK, you should probably hold on to him. But if it's below 80, he might be your ticket to expanding your reach.