When Major League Baseball makes decisions on whether to institute a new health protocol or postpone a game due to possible coronavirus cases, fantasy baseball probably isn’t even crossing officials’ minds. The league and its players union are attempting to hold a season in the midst of a pandemic while doing whatever they can to preserve the health of those involved.
That’s exactly what they should be doing, of course. These are real people with livelihoods and families that are directly affected by every positive test. Their health should be of paramount importance. But while Rob Manfred has worked to put on a season, so have fantasy baseball commissioners.
It’s been a difficult year for such commissioners, who have been tasked with keeping play fair while trying to accommodate teams hit hard by postponements and cancellations. I’ve experienced this firsthand, running a dynasty league called Sabermetric Sandlot on ESPN with 12 total players. We’ve had to adapt to the constantly shifting baseball landscape, trying out different ways to make it work.
Three weeks in, we’ve worked out a method that’s put frustrations at ease.
When the Miami Marlins’ outbreak kicked off the first wave of cancellations, I went to our League Manager tools to see what our options were. ESPN doesn’t allow LMs to adjust IL or bench spots once the draft is completed, so expanding rosters was out of the question. The games were also only listed as postponed, so most of the players didn’t have an injury designation that allowed owners to put them in existing IL spots either. Couple that with the increased number of pitching injuries MLB has seen so far and you have teams with five, six, seven players unable to play and sitting in active spots.
So we decided to put together a “restricted free agents” list. Teams could drop players whose games were postponed due to COVID-19 and those same teams then have dibs on picking them back up once their respective clubs return. To make sure teams stayed on top of it, we came up with a rule that players who are not reacquired by first pitch of their first game back are then fair game to be picked up by the rest of the league. Also makes things pretty interesting.
If you use waivers, you may have to use LM powers to bypass the 24-hour waiting period so that teams can add back players (although that hasn’t been required often). We use a Word document that I screenshot and send in our group chat each morning to keep track of which free agents are restricted, but a separate group chat or shared note on iCloud/Google Docs would work too. For dynasty leagues, you can include players who opt out on the list as well.
Yes, it’s a little bit extra work outside the normal bounds of a fantasy commissioner. But at the same time, this is no normal season. Given that commissioners have no control over how MLB proceeds, the only thing they can do is adapt on the fly.
At the Sabermetric Sandlot, that’s exactly what we’ve done. We switched to rotisserie scoring for this year because there were just so few head-to-head matchups this “season.” Our minor-league rosters, which we track offline, have become rookie taxi squads with players that can be shuttled on and off active rosters. It’s required some creative thought and—aside from a few initially frustrated team owners—been a lot of fun.
It also hasn’t hurt that my team has been playing well. Kyle Lewis just might be the waiver pickup of the year.
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