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Game Theory and the Cubs: An SB Nation Exercise

A fun exercise resulted in some big losses for the Cubs and a few nice gains, like White Sox righty Carson Fulmer (pictured above).

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Major League Baseball decided to take a radical step to introduce some real chaos into the offseason? Me too!

Last week, I participated in a game theory exercise involving the 30 SB Nation MLB sites, each representing their team, hosted by Beyond The Boxscore. You can see the elongated parameters here, but the basic rules were simple: each team selected five players from the MLB professional ranks. If another team selected the player, nobody got to steal him. If only one team chose the player, the selecting team got to poach him from his current spot, be it the Majors, the minors, or free agency. International players were not included.

One key catch that especially impacted clubs like the Cubs and Mets: you could not select a player from your own team. Otherwise, I would have taken Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber, Anthony Rizzo, and Jake Arrieta. What's the fun in that? One other complicating rule: the acquiring team had to feasibly fit any acquired players into their 2016 budgets. While this wasn't a big deal for a team like the Phillies with seemingly $100 million to spend, it was a serious complicating factor for me.

If you enjoy baseball, economic theory, and strategy games -- as I imagine many of you do -- this would have been right up your alley. Initially, I was ecstatic about participating, but truth be told, the experience was a bit of a mind job for me. I have a tendency to overthink things from time to time, and with an exercise such as this, it was easy to get lost in thought.

With all of that said, I'd encourage you all to take a look at the results page again before reading on.

Done? OK. Let's take a quick look at what happened, starting with the current Cubs selected by other teams and following with my selections and the thought process that led to them.

First, the following Cubs were selected by other teams, with the number of selections in parentheses:

SS Addison Russell (4)
3B Kris Bryant (2)
1B Anthony Rizzo (2)
OF Kyle Schwarber (2)
OF Jorge Soler (2)
OF Jason Heyward (1)
SS Javier Baez (1)
RP Hector Rondon (1)
2B Ben Zobrist (1)
C   Willson Contreras (1)

There's a lot to unpack here, but I came away with three primary takeaways.

First, the rest of the baseball world really, really loves our roster, maybe as much as most of us do. That's a good thing.

Second, Jason and Ben, we hardly knew ye.

Third, the Cubs are built so well that they could afford to lose all five of the players listed above who were picked just once -- Heyward, Baez, Rondon, Zobrist, and Contreras -- and still push for 90 wins this year and moving forward. Wow!

Before moving on to my own picks, I do want to draw attention to the selecting strategies of three other teams. The Phillies nearly tripled their payroll, but stuck Giancarlo Stanton in the middle of their lineup and tinkered with their rotation by adding Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Max Scherzer, and Zack Greinke. Woah.

Milwaukee stayed entirely within the division, nabbing Contreras, Pittsburgh starter Tyler Glasnow, and St. Louis righty Alex Reyes while being blocked on Bryant and Rizzo.

And then there's St. Louis. I think that St. Louis might be the tiniest bit jealous of what went down last October and this winter: they used all five picks on Cubs, retaking Heyward while being blocked on Rizzo, Russell, Schwarber, and Bryant. I think that there may be a tiny bit of envy emanating out of St. Louis.

Let's shift gears and look at my strategy. I spent a good chunk of time trying to figure out the best strategy. Naturally my list started with names like Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, and Chris Archer, but I instead settled on targeting a couple of young MLB starting pitchers and more easily obtainable prospects who I love. After putting together a target list of about 15 names that included guys like Corey Kluber, Marcus Stroman, Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson and Brady Aiken, I settled on Gerrit Cole and Andrew Heaney as my ambitious MLB targets and the prospect trio of Brendan Rodgers, David Dahl and Carson Fulmer as my high-impact young trio.

In the end, Heaney was also selected by the A's whereas Cole tied Russell for the title of most selected player. Turns out I should have gone with Archer, Carlos Correa, or Noah Syndergaard. But that's the nature of the exercise.

Perhaps I should have targeted some higher cost talent. Perhaps I should have targeted even more prospects. Maybe I should have focused my efforts on exclusively top-flight arms, figuring that I'd come away with one or maybe two of the young elite arms in the game.

Let's spin it around: given the same situation, what would you have done? Who would you target and why would you choose your preferred strategy?