"Now that I have a team, what do I do?" This tutorial attempts to answer this question by stepping you through a sample season and telling what you need to be doing at each point (as well as some of the considerations you will want to take into account). We begin with a discussion of what makes a dynasty.
As opposed to college coaching, you can make significant personnel moves at nearly any time in the season through trades and free agent signings. What this means is that you can make up for any offseason mistakes by unloading bad players and bringing on better ones, or by trading an extra player at one position for a needed player at another. Thus, although the first round of free agent signings and the first draft round are the best ways of getting good players, you aren't doomed if you do poorly the way you would be in the college game. This also means that if you take over a team mid-season, you are still able to pull off some personnel moves before the next offseason.
Now about dynasties. There are three elements that go into keeping a team at the top of the league for many seasons. First is the most obvious - you need quality players filling every role on the team. This doesn't mean that you need a lineup of future hall-of-famers; merely that you have everything covered. A basketball team, for example, will need some combination of inside and outside shooting and defense, rebounding, and ball handling; but not necessarily five players who can do it all.
Second, you need depth - your starters may need someone to come in while they are tired, or more importantly, should they sustain an injury. Thus you not only need your starting lineup that can do it all, but you need a second string that also can do it all. For this I prefer to have either players who are nearly good enough to start or role-players (somebody who does one thing extremely well). In all, a solid starting lineup or bench will probably make the difference between being a good team and being a great team.
The third element, necessary to build a dynasty, is to plan for the future. In other words, you need to be able to keep up your cash flow and talent base. Keeping a good cash flow requires carefully budgeting your money every time you sign new players, and ensuring that you will have enough to make ends meet. Some teams try to save up lots of money for a few years, and then spend it for a few years, but the luxury tax makes such a strategy extremely difficult to implement. Maintaining the talent base generally relies on drafting well. The top teams generally find their superstars through free agency, but obtain their other starters and bench through their farm system. Baseball, hockey, and soccer have true minor league teams; football and basketball have training squads that play "pickup games" against each other during the season. Needless to say, trading future draft picks will probably end up hurting more than it helps.
In summary, your goal is to be in a position where you have a very good starting lineup, a solid bench, a positive cash flow, and a promising farm system.
Running A New Team
Joining a league will almost always give you a team that has few, if any, stars. You also usually begin with a very low payroll. (As in real-life, teams being sold usually lose most of their expensive players.) Thus you start off, more or less, with a clean slate, and what you do from their depends on your skill as a GM.
If you are in a real hurry to win, you may be tempted to trade all of your draft picks and mediocre players for a set of superstars, filling the rest of your team with journeymen off the free agent list. I don't recommend trying this - the most common outcome is a team that makes the playoffs (or misses in baseball) but can't win it all because it is lacking the second key ingredient - depth. Additionally, the owner probably generally goes into debt quickly, and spends many seasons trying to trim the payroll while keeping his stars around. More likely than not, the team gets increasingly worse until the owner overhauls the team or quits in frustration.
The more sound way to build a team requires setting realistic goals and having the patience to see them come to fruition. This is also more rewarding, as you can see your hard work pay off. Your first goal is to look over your team and eliminate players who are not worth what you are paying them. Hopefully the trimming that happens when you join will ensure that there are not too many of these. Then set out with three goals: (1) find 1-2 stars to anchor the team, (2) sign as many promising young (24-27) players as you can, and (3) fill out the rest of the team with journeymen. You will also need to pay attention to the draft, the only place where you essentially get players for free.
At this point, your team probably consists of a few very good players near their prime and a mix of future stars, old journeyman, and rookies signed in the draft. You then need to turn your attention to coaching. A good job coaching, and you will finish above 0.500. More to the point, a team that does well earns more money. Assuming that you can do this, and that you built your skeleton team on a shoestring budget (except for the few stars), you will have plenty of savings in the coming season.
Now comes the patience part. Your old journeymen will leave the team in the next few seasons, hopefully replaced by the players you drafted. At the same time, the young prospects you found will be developing, and some may even turn out to take over the role of franchise players. Regardless of the details, a team-building approach that emphasizes saving money and finding and developing young players is sure to give you a solid base into the future.
At some point, you may want to make the "push" for the title, when you feel that the core of your team plus a few good additions would put you in contention for the championship. When this occurs, it is time to spend the money you've been saving all these seasons on contracts and free agents, trade away some (not all) of your draft picks and prospects, and try to get a roster with solid players starting at each position and capable reserves. Depending on how carefully you built your team up for this moment, this burst might last anywhere from one season to a long time. Whatever you do, though, don't mortgage your team's whole future for this.
Each team has a roster page that shows various information about the team:
- Roster size - number of players on your roster. This number may never exceed 55 in baseball, football, or hockey (180 in slow pro baseball); 50 in soccer; or 18 in basketball. Slow pro baseball teams have an additional limit that they cannot make any transaction that pushes them above 130 players. (As they carry 175 players into the offseason, this requires a minimum of 45 players to be cut before the first free agent signings.) This means if you want to draft or trade for some more players, and this transaction would put you over the limit, then you must get some players off your roster first. Additionally, it is your responsibility to give your team a legal roster. When games come, a team without a legal roster will forfeit games.
- Budget and cash flow at a glance. The first number tells you how you are doing with regards to your budget. If you are at or over budget, your free agent signing and trading privileges are severely restricted. The financial outlook has no impact on the rules of the game, but tells how much money you are likely to earn or lose in a season.
- Finances: the team's balance at the start of the season, adjustments from press rewards or other gifts, salary paid, postseason salary paid, TV revenue, ticket revenue, and current balance.
- Ticket price and recommended ticket prices.
- Annual budget: the amount of money you are allowed to spend on salary, bonuses, and trades.
- Payroll: the amount of money paid to players throughout the season, prorated per game. This includes regular salary and pro-rated bonuses.
- Salary including up-front bonuses: Payroll plus the face value of up-front bonuses. This number is used to determine your luxury tax. (Note that up-front bonuses are no longer accepted, but some players with old contracts have those bonuses.)
- Luxury tax: amount taxed because of having a very high overall team salary.
- Whether or not autocoach and autogm have been set.
- Your franchise player (football) and captains (all pro sports). The assistant captain is used if the captain is injured.
- Your roster cohesion factor. This awards teams with little roster turnover, aside from drafting, signing, and trading for rookies with no experience. In hockey, the cohesion factor is also influenced by the captain - optimal is a good player who remains captain for a long time.
All player stats, abilities, and salaries are shown (explanations may be found for the information contained here: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer), and the team's schedule is shown below player information.
In some cases, you may want to co-own a team with a friend of yours. DEL gives the opportunity to have a pair of coaches running a team, one as the owner and the other as the assistant. The assistant is not listed on the roster page, but has full control over the team through his coach login.
One last note before you begin. Your freedom to sign and trade for the players you want/need depends on having a knowledge (preferably, a mastery) of the DEL financial system. I highly recommend committing these rules to memory, as once they become second-nature you will have little problem maneuvering through budget and salary considerations. Now for the step-through of the season...
The off-week comes in the week between the end of one season and the beginning of the next, and although the season has not officially begun, it is an important time. Your finances will be recalculated at the end of the season, so the off-week is your first chance to work with your new budget and money available for the upcoming season. As unsigned players become free agents during season initialization, you must get contract negotiations done during this off-week for any players whose contracts are expiring, and who are either 26 or older (27 in the upcoming season) or have experience in the major leagues. Players may also be traded during the off-week, until the trading deadline late in the season.
Note that not all players will be willing to re-sign, and there are some who are willing to re-sign but only if given a lot of money. All players will be willing to sign through age 27, however.
In football, you may also designate your franchise player, ideally a very good player who is refusing to renegotiate a contract.
Initialization is when the new season officially begins. Schedules are generated for the teams, finances are updated, old players retire, new draftees are generated, and so on. Soccer leagues run a little differently; instead of a draft, 18-year old players are added to your team from an unseen junior team. This happens during season initialization as well, essentially the same way as walk-ons in college leagues.
Following initialization, there are a number of things you will want to be considering. First, and most importantly, is that all leagues except for slow football leagues have the first round of free agent signings on the Friday after initialization. With few exceptions, the best players are signed in this first round, so it is critical that you get your free agent orders submitted on time. Also, there are a few options available during the offseason that aren't available at other times - changing your ticket prices, and changing your field (baseball and soccer). You may also find it worthwhile to cut players during this time, mainly minor leaguers without potential, or occasionally players under contract who you can't afford and can't trade. Finally, position changes may be made at any time, but the offseason (before training camps) is the best time.
Waiver Wire Signings
The waiver wire is created at season initialization, with players removed when signed and added when cut. A cut player is not immediately available for signing; instead he will become available after the next waiver wire signing period. In addition to the importance of getting players signed, make sure that you have decided on a budget before submitting signing orders; otherwise you risk filling your budget on your first three players and not being able to make further pickups, or underbidding and not getting anybody worthwhile. I am asked frequently how much a player should be paid; it is better to figure out how much you can afford to pay him.
A player who is not signed during the waiver wire signings goes to the free agent list, where he may be picked up for league minimum by any interested team. Waiver wire and free agent signing will continue throughout the season, but it is unlikely to get anyone of great value later on.
The use of the draft depends on the quality and depth of your team. If you have a weak team, or if you have one or two big holes, you stand a good chance at using a high draft pick to get an instant starter or even one of your more important players. If you have a very good team, (1) you won't have many holes and (2) you'll have a low pick, so you should be focusing entirely on the future. Depending on how many players you have returning and which sport you are in, you will probably have 2-5 draft picks.
In slow pro baseball, two levels of minor leagues are kept empty throughout the offseason and are used for the draft. The draft happens during the first half of the regular season, and rookie league ball begins after the end of the draft.
At the end of the draft comes training camps. At this time, some of your players will improve in ability (although usually not tremendously as they also improve when they age and throughout the season). You may also find abilities of your rookies to improve or diminish significantly when training camps are run - an effect of the uncertainty of guessing how good a pro player that a college player will be.
Training camps signal the start of the season - after training camps, the next thing that comes is your first game. Another key change happens after training camps, in that position changes carry a penalty. It takes a player a few games to learn a new position if moved after training, so if you know that you want to make certain changes, you are best advised to make them prior to training camps.
After training camps, you may begin running scrimmages (baseball, basketball, and football), assigning players to training squads (5 in football and 3 in basketball), and must divide major and minor league teams (soccer, hockey, and baseball).
Football and soccer leagues have three-game preseasons, during which games are played normally except that records and stats are erased after the games. Basketball and hockey have six-game preseasons (lasting 10 game days), and also have records and stats erased afterwards. Baseball has no preseason, so the opening games count.
Before the first game (and before other important games or whenever you want to try something new), you should send in your coaching settings for your team. This selects a number of things, from which players start to what strategies your teams will use. You can also run scrimmages in any college sport, which gives you the opportunity to experiment with various combinations of players and different coaching strategies. Coaching orders can be quite complex, so a new coach may want to spend some time reviewing the options. Information for each sport can be found: baseball, basketball, football, hockey, and soccer). There is also an autotemplate command that you can use to have the computer generate coaching orders for you.
Whether you have minor leagues or training squads in your sport, your roster must be trimmed down to size by the first game of the regular season: 45 (football), 25 (baseball/hockey), 22 (soccer), and 12 (basketball). You are allowed one extra player per injury on your team. Any player with excess players (or too few players) will be fined when it plays.
Each sport has the appropriate postseason. Soccer follows the European system (rather than the American system), in which the tournament (cup play) happens throughout the season. Other sports feature postseason tournaments, based on the American systems for the major leagues in each sport.
In football, the all-star (actually all-pro) teams are announced at the super bowl. In other sports, this happens mid-season. Either way, you will be sent a ballot shortly before the announcement, and votes will be tallied and results mailed out. In order to make the vote as fair as possible, a coach's vote for his own players are replaced by the average vote from other voters. (In other words, a vote for a player of yours that is deserving of an all-star spot counts, while one for a player that is undeserving is wasted.) All-star votes are sent with the "All-star Votes" (non-football) or "All-pro Votes" (football) button in your team control menu.
End of Season
The end of the season marks the deadline for all league activities for the year. At the time of the end of season, the injured reserves (extra roster spaces for injuries) are eliminated, and any players over the maximum normal roster sizes of 25 (baseball, hockey), 12 (basketball), 45 (football), 22 (soccer) will be cut. Since you can never know who will be cut by the computer, it is highly recommended that you make the choices yourself. Minor league teams will also be trimmed down to size. Finally, all minor league players (baseball, hockey, soccer) and training squad players (basketball, football) will re-join their parent organizations. Players also become a year older at this time.
The DEL Cup is a part of all pro leagues, except for slow football, and is a DEL-wide tournament to decide the best team in DEL in a given sport. The tournaments last for up to seven rounds (depending on the number of teams entered), and each coach is automatically given his best team in the sport.