Things can get real in the Jays’ fantasy football league


Echoes of “Slap Francisco” — the fantasy football dispute that led to Cincinnati Reds outfielder Tommy Pham slapping Giants outfielder Joc Pederson last week — still reverberate throughout baseball. Fantasy football is a popular topic among clubs and relievers. The Blue Jays, like just about every other team, have their own league.

“It’s fun,” said reliever Tim Mayza, whose team went 13-1 last season but lost in the first round of the playoffs to southpaw Steven Matz. “It gives you something to look forward to on Sundays, there are banter between the guys you play with that week.”

And, yes, it is competitive.

“It’s a big deal,” said right-hander Ross Stripling, who beat Matz in the final. “Don’t get me wrong, I never felt like slapping one of my fellow fantastic footballers in the face, but it’s getting hot.”

For some of them, anyway. Five months later, David Phelps is still shaking his head.

“I had the best team I’ve ever built in fantasy football history,” the veteran reliever said. “I lost to Strip in the first round, I lost to Tim in the (third place match), so I ended up with no money.

“The first thing I said to (Stripling) in spring training this year was, ‘I’m still mad at you.’ ”

But no slap?

“Certainly not.”

Stripling’s fantasy league victory over the Jays was his first in the major leagues.

“The Dodgers (league) was a bit more intense,” said the swingman, who returns to the Jays’ starting rotation with Hyun-Jin Ryu’s forearm injury. “There was (team president) Andrew Friedman and (general manager) Farhan Zaidi when I was a Dodger and they always won it, so we always wanted to beat them. Farhan won it three years in a row before moving to San Francisco, which always got the guys excited.

One of those not particularly excited in San Francisco was starter Kevin Gausman.

“I’m all about the draft,” Gausman said, “and then I’ll forget to set my roster. I’m bad. Some guys (are) up at 1 a.m. for the opening of the (waiver thread) They’ll set an alarm at 12:59 p.m.. I’m not one of those guys.

That doesn’t stop him from getting in on the action, though there are consequences to his lack of intensity.

“One year, I came in last,” Gausman said. “I was supposed to be the bat boy for a spring training game with the Orioles. Actually, it was against the Blue Jays in Sarasota.

It’s such a good time that last football season the Jays brought a fantastic newcomer to their league, closer to Jordan Romano.

“Living in the United States for a few years now, everyone loves football and talks about fantasy every day,” the Markham native said. “So I’m like, ‘Hey, let me get involved.’ I had (companion relief) Trevor Richards and Adam Cimber in my war room.

A war room? It sounds intense. This was not the case.

“I was bored and there was pizza,” Cimber said. “So I went downstairs and ate pizza, sat next to (Romano) and watched him do his thing. He asked me a few questions about what to do, and I’ve never played fantasy football, so I had no idea what I was doing.

Romano started the season on fire and it went to his head. “I was getting a little cocky when I was 5-1. I was sending messages to the league like “I don’t trade with you if you have less than .500”. I only talk to good teams, I only talk to good GMs. I think I ended the year below 0.500.

If Romano was sometimes a reluctant business partner, Alek Manoah was quite the opposite.

“The second Manoah came through the door last year, he’s trying to (trade Eagles running backs) Miles Sanders and (Chiefs running backs) Clyde Edwards-Helaire and those good players – but secondary players “said Stripling. “He offered me his second- and third-best running backs and his fifth-best receiver for Christian McCaffrey, who is the best fantasy asset in the world… He’ll keep coming and harassing you.”

Manoah said it was all part of his grand plan. When called for making a lowball offer, he says, “I just sent another (terrible) one. I hope the offer is so low (that) even if I come into the negotiations, it’s still (a) bad (trade for the other guy).

The strategy didn’t work, as evidenced by Manoah’s two fantasy football wins last season.

The stakes in the Jays league are relatively low. “Some (of the leagues) cost around two thousand dollars per team,” Gausman said, “and the winner walks away with around twenty thousand dollars.”

Phelps, who was in a fantasy league with the Yankees in 2014, confirmed that the registration fee in the Bronx was much higher than in Toronto, although he did not reveal by how much.

“I think one of the cool things about it is it gives you the opportunity to talk to a lot of your teammates in the offseason,” Phelps said. “For me, last year when I was injured, they always included me in it, so it gave me a way to feel part of it.

As for Mayza and her 13-1 team that finished in third place?

“I’m always salty.”

Mike Wilner is a Toronto-based baseball columnist for The Star and host of the “Deep Left Field” baseball podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @wilnerness


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