This Is Not Fantasy Baseball

I’m a recovering addict.  (Hi, Kevin.)  I’ve been clean for 4 years now.  I was addicted to…fantasy baseball and football.

In my leagues, there was always a guy that would wait for an injury to happen and then pounce on that owner like a lion on a wounded gazelle in the Sarengeti.  It was predictable and everyone knew it was coming, yet that owner who just lost a key guy would inevitably trade another star player for 70 cents on the dollar to fill a hole somewhere else.

Unfortunately, that fantasy sports mentality has carried over to the way people view the Pittsburgh Pirates and how Neal Huntington and Friends should run the team.  When Kevin Correia pitched a great game earlier this year, you would hear the hue and cry of “Trade him now!  Let’s get our next starting shortstop!”  Every GM in the league knows what Correia is and what he isn’t.  What he isn’t is a pitcher you give up a Top 100 level prospect for.

 With the rash of injuries to closer around the league, culminating with the loss of Mariano Rivera for the Yankees, the message boards are all aflutter with people thinking we should trade Hanrahan to the Yankees and rob them blind.  It’s like the Duke brothers from the Eddie Murphy movie Trading Places — “Sell, Mortimer!  Sell!”

We have just flipped the calendar to May and the Pirates are 11-15 after finishing off a brutal April schedule.  The Cardinals have gotten off to a fantastic start and sure don’t look like they miss Albert Pujols, but they’ll come back to earth soon enough.  You don’t think that Lance Lynn and Jake Westbrook are going to have sub 1.50 ERA’s all season do you?  The Pirates held their own and the rest of the NL Central looks mediocre at best.  The Cubs seem to have already given up on the season.  Jeff Luhnow, new GM of the Astros, is itching to rid himself of any of Wandy Rodriguez, Brett Myers, and Carlos Lee.  That team will wilt in the summer.  The Brewers do look like they miss Prince Fielder, especially with replacement Mat Gamel injured long-term and Aramis Ramirez off to a bad start.  The Reds, my pick to win the NL Central, have not hit on all cylinders yet.

What I’m saying is that the Pirates still have a chance at the division because IT’S ONLY MAY 5th.  Something else to keep in mind — this year there are 2 wild cards up for grabs.  That means that more teams will be hesitant to trade off assets thinking that they have a chance to make a run at a wild card.  This will result in a very bleak seller’s market.

In my mind, there are 4 states that a baseball team can exist in, but only in 1 state at a time.  There is Rebuilding, Building, Reloading, and Contending.

Rebuilding is when a team knows it has to tear it down and start over again from the ground up.  For 2012, these teams should be the White Sox, Twins, A’s, Mariners, Mets, Astros, Cubs, and Padres.  These 8 teams should be looking to offload salary anywhere they can in the hopes of improving their teams 3-4 years down the road.

Building is when a team has stripped down, identified their core, and is augmenting that core in the hopes of becoming a contender either that season or the next 1-2 years.  Teams in 2012 that fall here are Orioles, Blue Jays, Indians, Royals, and Pirates.  These 5 teams should see where the season takes them and determine if a wild card is viable at an earlier time period than other teams — perhaps in mid-June.  At that point, then they should decide whether to add a veteran or offload one for a piece that may bring more immediate help in a 1-2 year timeframe.

Reloading is the trickiest category to define and hard for many teams to admit.  It’s when a veteran team has fancied itself a Contender, but things may not be working out for them that year.  They don’t want to fully commit to Rebuilding, so instead they try to re-allocate salaries to fill other holes in an attempt to still stay Contenders for as long as possible.  In 2012, the Red Sox, Phillies, Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers, and Rockies fall into this category.  These 6 teams are all going to do what they can in 2012 to go with the main core of their team this year and try to make small to medium-size moves to stay in the race. 

That leaves 11 teams in the Contender category — the Rays, Yankees, Tigers, Rangers, Angels, Nationals, Marlins, Braves, Reds, Diamondbacks, and Giants.  These are teams that made their big moves in the offseason and feel that their arrow is pointed due north.  The wild card is not their mission; rather they fancy themselves as division contenders thanks to either big free agents and/or shrewd acquistions.  These are teams that adopt the “flags fly forever” mentality and will trade pieces of the farm system if need be.

But major trades are not going to happen on May 5th and teams are certainly not going to hemorrage key pieces of their farm system.  Most teams will try to fill voids from within or shop for low-cost solutions that don’t involve giving up major assets.  Only in mid-July does the market start to come into focus on big trades typically. 

For the Pirates, nothing has changed on their outlook of their own team from Spring Training to now.  They know it’s an incomplete team and they still need more pieces, but they’re not going to start jettison key players like Hanrahan one month into the season.  Being a GM is not like day trading stocks; you don’t have to squeeze every last penny out of a stock after 1-2 good games.  Believe it or not, the Pirates are actually trying to win games at the major league level in 2012.  The time for rebuilding is past — the Pirates are now building towards a wild card. 

But if I were still playing fantasy baseball, I would definitely be sending an email to the guy that owned Rivera.

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