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Chronicles of a Rotowire Staff Keeper League Champion

On Tuesday night, April 3, 2018, I joined 17 other Rotowire staff members for the annual Staff Keeper League auction. The draft began at 7pm EST and typically lasts 6-7 hours, so I made the decision in advance to call off work the next day since it was going to be a late night. I wake up for work everyday at 5:30am and can't imagine being productive after only 4 hours sleep. Rotowire's Chris Liss would probably say a "real man pulls an all nighter" which is exactly what he did starting the draft at midnight Western European time. You can read Chris's recap here.

A quick run-down of the league for those who aren't familiar: 18 teams, $260 auction/keeper budget, you can keep up to 15 major leaguers and 10 minor leaguers. $100 in-season FAAB budget. The in-season salary cap is $360, which gives you flexibility to add pieces via FAAB or trade after the auction.

As the defending champion, let's recap my history in the league and some of the notable trades that put me in position to win last season:

  • I joined the league in 2015 when Kevin Payne was looking for a co-owner
  • In 2016, I took over Derek Van Riper's franchise and entered the season with a really solid base of major league keepers that included Kyle Schwarber, Corey Seager, Carlos Martinez and an expiring Johnny Cueto. My minor league eligible keepers were Lucas Giolito, Jose Berrios, Matt Olson, Rafael Devers, Ryan McMahon, Tim Anderson and Jorge Mateo. Needless to say, DVR put me in great position to make a run at the league championship as soon as I inherited the team.

Notable 2016 Trades:

Naturally, when you inherit a team from someone, you want to make it your own. I was pleased with the roster I inherited from DVR, but made the decision to overhaul the team just 2 weeks into the season. After spending $83 in the 2016 auction between A.J. Pollock and Michael Brantley, the two outfielders COMBINED to play 23 games that season. Rusney Castillo ($17) was another draft bust, so I embarked on a trading spree to set myself up for the future.

  • I made my first notable trade with former co-owner Kevin Payne and his new co-owner, Vlad Sedler. They needed a 1B, so I sent Brandon Belt packing for Luis Severino, who only had 11 big league starts under his belt and was still minor league eligible at the time.
  • A few weeks later, I approached Payne and Sedler again with a proposal for Francisco Lindor. After some negotiation, I sent Corey Seager and the expiring Johnny Cueto contract for Frankie and Aaron Nola (also minor league eligible).
  • In late April 2016, I approached Jeff Erickson with interest in a Nationals minor leaguer who I knew would be up for good later that season. I sent Mat Latos (who was pitching the light out in early 2016) & Welington Castillo for Trea Turner.
  • Bret Cohen (Tuffy's Goats) and I had been talking for weeks about Sonny Gray. After playing hardball, I finally agreed to flip him for Tribe minor league Bradley Zimmer and 2017 1st and 2nd round picks. Those picks turned into Cal Quantrill and A.J. Puk, who I ended up trading last year.
  • Last but not least, I traded Jose Berrios & Zack Wheeler to Michael Rusignola (Casale Industries) for Masahiro Tanaka, who was a keeper target of mine for 2017.

Notable 2017 Trades:

  • I dealt Travis Shaw, Adam Duvall and Lucas Giolito to Casale Industries for the expiring contracts of Starling Marte and Kyle Seager. All the players I dealt away were on contracts of $5 or less, so this one certainly stings, especially since Marte ended up missing half of the 2017 season due to suspension.
  • I traded Rafael Devers to Shannon McKeown (One Brother, One Cup) for the expiring contract of Justin Verlander.
  • I dealt my 2018 2nd round pick, Kyle Schwarber & Ryan McMahon for Andrew McCutchen, Jay Bruce and Travis d'Arnaud.
  • I traded my 2018 3rd & 6th rounders and Cal Quantrill to Jan Levine (Frozen Ropes) for the expiring Ken Giles.
  • I dealt my 2018 4th round pick, Tim Anderson, Reynaldo Lopez to John Clemeno (East Coast Bias) for expiring Anthony Rizzo, expiring Andrew Miller and Charlie Morton. This trade put me over the $360 in-season budget due to Rizzo's contract, so the pressure was on to swing another deal before the next scoring period.
  • Fortunately, Howard Schindel (Schin Kickers) and I reached an agreement that got me back under the salary cap. I sent Rizzo's big contract and my 2018 1st round pick for the expiring Freddie Freeman and Danny Salazar.
  • Finally, I dealt a keepable David Price, Austin Barnes and Adalberto Mejia to Peter Schoenke (High-A West Madison) for two expiring position upgrades: Brian Dozier and Salvador Perez.

I was very fortunate that all my wheeling and dealing paid off. My team sat in 2nd place for weeks until I surged ahead of Bret Cohen's squad during the last week of the season to narrowly capture my first Rotowire Staff Keeper League title. Here are the 2017 final standings:

With a solid base of keepers (listed below in black) including Bryce Harper, Francisco Lindor, Trea Turner, Matt Olson, Luis Severino and Aaron Nola, I entered the 2018 SKL auction knowing I'd be among the league contenders again this season. With my corner and middle infield positions occupied, I had voids to fill at both catcher spots, second base, outfield and pitcher (including one closer).

Clayton Kershaw ($65), Corey Kluber ($62) and Jose Altuve ($59) were available, but I only had $118 to play with in the auction, so realistically I could only draft one of them. I really wanted one of the pitchers, but I ended up passing on all three players and landed on ace that "only" cost me $36, Gerrit Cole.

Cole was the only player I purchased during the first few hours of the draft, knowing I'd need to save roughly $20-25 for my second closer and $18-$20 for one of the good catchers that was available. Buster Posey ($35), Salvador Perez ($19) and Brian Dozier ($49) were too rich for my blood. I was in the bidding on all the closers - Kenley Jansen ($32), Aroldis Chapman ($30), Raisel Iglesias ($29), Cody Allen ($28) and Brandon Morrow ($27) - but I couldn't pull the trigger on any of them when the bidding got too high. Before I knew it, the only closers left were Brad Boxberger, Hunter Strickland and Brad Ziegler. I didn't want Ziegler, and while I was definitely in on Boxberger, Brian Huss and Fred Meyer outbid me at $22. Strickland was in my queue from the very beginning of the draft and I waited until we were approaching the final stages of the auction before nominating him, as I think some owners forgot that he was available. I was pretty happy to get him at $19. Here's hoping he keeps the job all year long.

At the catcher position, Welington Castillo ($14) was someone I targeted all along and paired with Devin Mesoraco ($2). I missed out on all of my 2B targets, including Scott Kingery ($21), who I got into a bidding war over with Clay Link and subsequently lost. Javier Baez ($23), Ian Kinsler ($18) and Jason Kipnis ($12) were other second basemen I was in on, but I ultimately spent a buck for Jed Lowrie as one of my last picks.

Hanley Ramirez ($7) was one of my favorite buys of the entire draft and others commented in the chat window that they should've been more involved in his bidding. I think HanRam was a huge steal at that price and the early returns look promising. CarGo ($14) was a target of mine that I ended up spending a few extra dollars for. I thought I might be able to grab him for $8-10 but I still think he can provide value at $14. Last but not least, Nate Pearson was a prospect I really wanted that I knew wouldn't last in the Reserve Draft (I didn't pick until Round 5). Not to mention, I traded most of my prospects last year en route to the league championship, so I wanted at least one that has some upside. Unfortunately, Pearson will tie up one of my 7 bench spots until he's promoted to the big leagues, which may be a few years away. Here is who I picked up in the Reserve/Minor League draft:

Feel free to let me know how I did in auction and reserve rounds on Twitter. Will I repeat as the Rotowire Staff Keeper League champion?