The DEL help pages merely tell you how to accomplish certain tasks needed to run your team. This advice page attempts to go beyond those basic necessities, and gives advice on how to put together a solid program. Because it is designed for all pro leagues, specific issues regarding what type of players to try to get will not be covered here; instead they are covered in the sport-specific hints pages. Be aware that this does not take the place of the standard help files; you will be just as hard-pressed if you know how to scout but don't know the mechanics required to free agent bids as if the reverse were true.
Our hope is that the information here will help you get your program off and running more quickly, and hopefully enjoy your first seasons more. However, you should not expect to succeed instantly, as it takes time to get a feel for scouting and coaching, acquire the players you want, and have them mature.
A caveat for this tutorial is that much of what is contained is the opinion of some veteran coaches rather than absolute fact. Part of this is because of the trial-and-error nature of learning to coach; part is because different coaching philosophies result in different "optimal" players as well as different coaching strategies. This tutorial tries to show some of the options that are present; undoubtedly other valid options have been omitted (and will be filled in over time).
Developing a Team Philosophy
When one thinks of running a pro team, the first thing that jumps to mind is signing a bunch of free agents, making trades, and drafting. However, that is jumping the gun. Your first job is to develop your team's philosophy.
We'd all like to have a team stocked with all-stars at every position. Reality is that, starting out, you've got a team with few good players and need to build your franchise from the ground up. If you're coaching football, do you want to emphasize offense or defense? Do you want to emphasize running or passing? In baseball, are you primarily looking for pitching or hitting? In all sports, choices like these have to be made and will determine what players you make a priority to go after.
Your philosophy will influence your decisions two ways. First is how much effort (money, trade value, or high draft picks) you want to obtain players of various positions. If you're looking to build a ground-attack football team, you probably want to spend whatever you need to get a great runner while settling for a usable quarterback. Secondly, it will affect your evaluation of players. Receiving and blocking skills would be more important for a tailback on a shotgun-oriented team than for one on a power football team.
The first mechanism by which you can try to mold your team is trading. I list this first because it can be done at nearly any time of the season.
The goal of every trade is to give away things (players, picks, and/or money) you value less for things you value more. There is a fine subtlety here -- your goal is NOT to obtain "better" players (in an absolute sense) for "worse" players; it is to bring your team closer to meeting your end goal. This is why trading works. If I want player B on your team more than I want player A on my team, while you want player A more than B, a trade is in both of our best interests. It is important to realize that not every trade has a winner and loser; it is possible for both teams to come out ahead in a good trade and also for both teams to come out behind in a really bad one.
Cash and draft picks are a perfect example of this. Some teams prefer to build through the draft, while others prefer to build through free agency. The former will value draft picks more than cash; the latter will value cash more than draft picks. So if you want to have a strong farm system supplying you with major leaguers, you'll want to find a free agent-heavy owner and buy his picks. With good drafting and development, you'll get your farm system filled with solid prospects, some of whom make your team and some of whom perhaps can be traded for more draft picks. Trading of young prospects is similar to trading of draft picks.
Another common trade is when a team is one or two key players away from contending, and trades draft picks or young players to get those missing pieces. The ideal trading partner is a team in rebuilding mode that has a couple 30+ year old veterans. This is very risky business, and caution is warranted. A lot of teams think they are one piece from the title when, in fact, they are five pieces away. This is a recipe for disaster, since they tend to give everything they can afford to get that one piece, only to find out they still aren't contending and have nothing with which to try to get the remaining missing pieces. In short, you should only trade your future for the present if you are 100% sure that what you are getting will make the difference.
Finally is the possibility of trading veterans for veterans. Suppose you have a good player that either isn't working out, doesn't fit into your team's philosophy, or is behind someone better. Another team has a good player in a similar situation at a different position or with a different skill set. A good trade can be made. However, these types of trades are usually the toughest to make since they require one team with an excess at one position and a need at another and another team in exactly the opposite situation.
The bottom line in any kind of trade, once again, is to make sure you are gaining more than you are losing.
Signing Free Agents
Free agent signing should be approached similarly to trading. Specifically, you are using money to obtain players. Since money is a limited resource determined by your annual budget, you have to make hard decisions about how much value each free agent would have for your franchise. The temptation is to spend whatever it takes to bring in the best players; the smarter move is to spend whatever you can afford to bring in the players who will most help your team.
There are two differences there. First, depending on your team's financial situation, you may simply be in a position where you you badly need a new goalie but cannot afford the price for a star. Or, more likely, getting that star free agent goalie would use up your entire budget, thus preventing you from obtaining any other players. Such a move would be unwise; you always need to work within the limiations of your budget and adjust your expectations accordingly.
The second difference is that the best free agents may not be the ones that most help your team. For example, there's no use spending a ton of money on a good offensive lineman when you've already got five that are even better. When scouting the free agent list, therefore, I always make a note as to whether the player would be a starter or backup and make my contract offers accordingly. This means that I'll miss out on some great free agents, but it also means that I avoid having too many overpriced backups.
The bottom line when it comes to free agency is to carefully evaluate your budget and be disciplined in how you spend it. Don't waste too much money on a few stars.
If you took a poll of DEL coaches about the importance of the draft, you would probably find that most owners have one of two responses. One set of owners would wonder why anyone would bother with the draft, since free agents can be picked up in their prime and ready to contribute. These owners are the ones who are more than happy to sell you their draft picks.
The others feel that smart drafting will not only provide the occasional instant impact player, but will stock your team's farm system with a plethora of future major leaguers. These owners are the ones buying up draft picks as fast as they can.
I fall into the latter category. The primary benefit of the draft is that you don't have to compete for players. When it's your turn to pick, you choose any player available. No need to outbid everyone else for a player; if I want him he's mine.
There are three classes of players that are drafted: instant impact, sure-fire prospect, and long-term project. The first of these classes, instant impact players, are the players that would start for your team as rookies. Depending on the sport, there are perhaps 5-15 such players in the draft. In general, the worse your team, the more likely you are to have a position where a rookie would be your starter. Since the worst teams tend to be the ones picking early, it follows that the instant impact players tend to get picked right away. There's not a whole lot of difficult scouting that goes into this -- if it's your turn to draft and there's a rookie who would start for your team, don't hesitate to draft him. Not only do you improve your team in the present, but he's only going to be getting better for at least 6 years.
The second class is the sure-fire prospect, someone who is a year or two from starting but is young and has a sufficiently low training level that you know he's going to make the big leagues and may turn out to be an all-star. The biggest question here is whether to draft for a position you need players, or to pick the best available player. My rule of thumb is to always take the best available player in the first round, and then work to fill my needs. The rationale for this is that, if a player is good enough, you will be able to find a use for him (or someone willing to give you a lot in a trade). However, if you have a very big need (for example your entire starting rotation is 32 or older) you may want to address it from the start of the draft.
Finally are the long-term projects. These are the guys you pick up, hoping that some day they may be major league material. I would also classify 18-year-olds as long-term projects, since so much can happen between when they are drafted and when they finally make the major leagues. The issue here is that, while it's almost guaranteed that some late-round picks will become stars, you don't know which players it is. Good scouting (pay careful attention to age and training level) will help, but a fair amount of it is dumb luck. Consequently, it's always good to draft as many players as possible -- fill your roster to the absolute maximum -- so that you have a better chance of getting lucky.
A word about scouting. You need to be realistic in your expectation of what the draft contains. In basketball, there are 29 teams with 5 starters and 12 total players each, for a total of 145 starters and 348 total players league-wide. Assuming that the typical player has a 10-year career, this means that each year's draft contains only 14-15 future starters and only 35 players who will last more than a year or two. In other words, you can only be assured of getting a future starter if you have a lottery pick. Getting a starter lower in the draft requires a combination of good scouting, poor scouting by teams with earlier picks, and good luck in developing your player. That isn't to say that this never happens -- DEL is full of countless all-stars picked up in the second round or later -- just that you shouldn't expect it to happen.
written by Andy Dolphin
additional suggestions by Benjamin Fischer, Darrell Johnson, and Tom Williams