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Late-season strategy: How to clinch the title
When thinking about what to include in this article on late-season fantasy baseball strategy, I kept coming back to the same basic idea: Don’t be afraid to cut people.
You have a little more than four weeks left until the end of the season, and if you’re chasing a fantasy title, patience is no longer a virtue. If you wait a week to fill a spot on your roster, it could be fatal. September will probably be your busiest transaction time of the year – if you’re doing things the right way.
So, who should you get rid of in pursuit of fantasy immortality? Below are a few categories. While most of this advice is more relevant in non-keeper leagues, if you want to win you should do what you need to do in any format. For instance …
Waive stars in locked-up categories
The second-place team in my AL keeper league has 79 saves, and the second-place team in that category has 57. The title contender owns Rangers closer Neftali Feliz for $5, and inexplicably decided against trading him before the August 31 deadline. This team leads the strikeout category by two over its nearest pursuer, and needs three wins to gain a point. Does he dare waive Feliz? In a league as deep as ours, probably not.
But in a mixed league, where starters like Oakland’s Brett Anderson (owned in 28.6 percent of FOXSports.com leagues), Arizona’s Daniel Hudson (19.2 percent) or Baltimore’s Brian Matusz (8.2 percent) are widely available? Abso-freaking-lutely.
Saves and steals are the categories where this strategy applies to the most. If a guy can’t help you gain any more points, get rid of him and find someone who can, no matter how good (or cheap) your guy is.
Let go maybe, maybe-not injured studs
We’re looking at you, Justin Morneau. We feel bad about your concussion, but we’ve got fantasy titles to win. If you don’t know when you’re coming back, and your team can’t provide us with any good answers, how are we supposed to count on you for anything?
The answer is that you can’t count on Morneau, or guys like him that suffer injuries that linger for any length of time, this month. If a player misses a week starting today, that’s about 25 percent of the rest of the season, and the percentage will get larger as time goes on.
Alex Rodriguez is scheduled to come off the DL Sunday, but if you hear news about a delay, you might have a tough decision to make. We haven’t heard any bad news about Cliff Lee’s back issues yet, but if we do, some of you might have to hunt for a pitcher. Don’t waive a guy at the first sign of a health issues, but the word “lingering” is your enemy at this time of year. Since hardly anyone gets officially placed on the disabled list in September, MLB teams won’t help you make the tough decisions.
Players with less severe injuries or histories of fragility on runaway division winners could also be expendable for you. The Rangers have a big lead in the American League West, so they could give Josh Hamilton (knee) and Nelson Cruz (three trips to the DL this season with hamstring issues) some extra days off down the stretch. The Reds could rest some guys – like 35-year-old Scott Rolen – to keep them fresh for the playoffs. Watch the news if you own players on big winners.
Release young starters reaching their inning limits
Brandon Morrow will make his final start of the season against the Yankees on Friday, and then take the rest of the season off because the Blue Jays want to cap his innings at about 150.
If you own any first-, second- or third-year starters, keep an eye on news about them once their 2010 innings totals approach 30 innings more than their career highs. That’s the point at which they’re in danger of being shut down. I’d keep a close eye on Clayton Kershaw if I owned him, because with the Dodgers out of the National League West race, I wonder if they’ll try to save some of his bullets for 2011.
Avoid veterans on non-contenders
MLB rosters were allowed to expand from 25 players to 40 on September 1, meaning that all sorts of minor leaguers will spend the final month crowding big-league dugouts. However, some of them will get long looks as their teams prepare for 2011, meaning that they’ll swipe playing time from the incumbents. John Buck will almost certainly spend some time on the bench in Toronto, with J.P. Arencibia (32 HRs in Triple A) having been called up.
There are currently 17 or 18 teams (with Colorado on the fence) that have no chance to make the postseason. Players on every one of those squads are in danger of losing some at-bats or starts to younger, cheaper talent. Be vigilant about watching your players on those teams, and if they’re sitting more than one day a week, think about ditching them.
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