Most leagues provide teams with some kind of farm system or reserve roster to supplement the active roster. Reserve players (which we'll use as the generic term here) provide a source of free talent, since you can place them on your roster at some point during the season without having to spend auction dollars, FAAB dollars or other scarce resources.
Generally, there are two kinds of players who you look for in the reserve round. At one extreme are the prospects, players at Double-A ball or lower who have the potential to be major league stars but are at least one or two years away. At the other extreme are the non-prospects, who have talent and even major league experience but presently lack the opportunity for a major league job.
There are many different kinds of strategic choices you can make when building your roster. Obviously, we all want players who will join the big club three weeks after they land on our team and then proceed to dominate the league. But most of the time you don't get those kinds of players. How do you make the most of your reserve picks?
Strategic choices should be dictated by the rules that govern the reserve roster in your league. Because there are so many variations in the rules governing these reserve picks, there's no single model for guiding your selections. This essay describes some of the factors affecting reserve strategies. Identify the factors that apply to your league and use them to guide your choices.
Eligibility. This is obvious. If your rules don't allow you to draft, let's say, players who have lost their rookie status, then the rule is clearly forcing you to pick minor leaguers. If your rules allow you to take players on the 25-man roster, then you can pay more attention to second-stringers and players who might step into expanded roles.
Keeper leagues. This is another obvious one. If you are playing in a non-keeper league, then you have to pass up the next Ted Williams if he's tearing it up at Augusta, because the Red Sox probably won't promote him three levels in one year. Concentrate on players who can help you this year, since this year is everything.
Keeper salary. How much will it cost you to carry a reserve player into the following season? If the salary is low, you can afford to invest in low-level prospects with higher ceilings. If keeper salaries are prohibitively high, then you should focus your efforts on those who will have more value this year.
Trading rules and trading culture. The more you trade, the more you should lean toward prospects. This applies whether trading habits are the product of the rules or of owners' personal preferences. Prospects are attractive as trade bait; you can trade them without sacrificing an important part of your current squad. But if there's not much trading in the league, concentrate on players who will produce right away.
Ceiling on the number of players you can maintain. The higher the ceiling, the more you can invest in prospects. Because it takes a while for these players to pay off, it's only worth choosing them now if you get to keep them in the future.
Number of picks available annually. The more picks you have each year, the more you can diversify your reserve choices. If you are playing Ultra, for instance, you are effectively selecting a 15-man reserve roster. You should take at least 5-7 players who can contribute this year and 5-7 prospects.
Your auction strategy. If your strategy depends on your finding certain kinds of players, then you may want to use your reserve picks to extend your auction strategy. For instance, if you are running a no-power/all-steals-and-BA offense, draft pinch hitters and speedy fourth outfielders. Conversely, you may want to use the reserve picks to protect yourself in the event you abandon the strategy. If you punt saves, for example, you might emphasize potential closers in your reserve rounds.
Your roster. It makes sense to protect a risky player or two. If you end up with an uncertain commodity as your closer, then draft someone else to protect you in the event he loses his job. If you're worried that a player will be traded, draft his likely replacement.
Call-up rules. If you are allowed to move players in and out of the lineup at will, you should place a greater emphasis on in-season support from non-prospects and less on prospects. You can focus on NL players who will DH during interleague games, Rockies pitchers who do well outside Coors Field, platoon players who can go in and out depending on the pitchers they are scheduled to face that week, and so on.
Finally, as always, keep your goals squarely in mind. Are you trying to win this year, or aiming at future contention? And if you are going for this year, how can you best achieve your goal? Will prospects help as trade bait, or will non-prospect standbys give you the direct support you need?
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