Last week I wrote a piece in defense of throwing in the towel and playing for next year: i.e. dumping. But what if you don't want to dump?
As much as playing for next year is almost always generally the best course of action once you've realized you can't win, there are certain situations where you might be better off standing pat. This almost always happens when the teams with the best future chips have already traded them away or won't trade them away because the team in first place has a commanding lead and doesn't want to hand over their cheap Giancarlo Stanton and Buster Posey in order to finish in 2nd or 3rd. You can still dump, but trading away your non-keepers for marginal keepers is often a recipe to finish in the second division again next year.
While it isn't a blueprint for success, in certain circumstances you can avoid dumping and still try to keep enough of a core together to contend for the following season. I've done it before...though usually by accident. This accident has consisted of me trying to win a league, not having enough chips to dump into a winning team, and finishing fourth or fifth. I've walked into two of my American League home league auctions the last five years with some pretty thin teams after fourth or fifth place finishes and managed to walk away with a hard earned title.
If you go this route, your goal isn't simply to sit back and hope to get lucky the following year. You need a plan.
The most obvious part of this plan is Don't Play for Second. What I mean by this is don't trade your cheap young studs so that you can finish second and gut your team for next year. If it's too early on May 15 not to trade your chips in an attempt to win, on July 15 it might be the best course of action. Flipping a cheap Eric Hosmer in July so you can finish 10 points out of first instead of 20 points out of first is pointless (You probably should have flipped Hosmer earlier, but that's another story). If you can't win, keep your core intact.
Once you've committed to not-dumping-but-not-winning the next thing you want to do is Trade to Your Strengths. If you're not dumping it is very unlikely that you're going to walk in to your auction in April with the strongest freeze list. Your team will probably have some strengths and some weaknesses. It is also possible that you might have to toss at least one category overboard in an effort to win next year.
While a lot can change between June 2012 and April 2013, if you can come up with a blueprint now you'll be better off for it. If you have a strong pitching staff but a weak offense, think about a strategy where you only spend a certain amount on offense and blow off steals if you're already low in steals. If you have two closers and no starting pitchers, consider a four starting pitcher strategy where you try to finish in the middle of the pack in wins and strikeouts instead of winning both. If you can set your team up now for your next auction your putting yourself ahead of the other "contenders" who are too far out to make noise but are refusing to look at next year.
My final piece of advice is harder to follow in savvier leagues. But in less advanced leagues you can always Try to Trade for Better Contracts/Salaries. These need not be dump deals, but if you can get a somewhat undervalued hitter for a pitcher in the last year of his Rotisserie contract, you win. In my leagues, deals like this are next to impossible to make, but even if you can get a player at his perceived inflation value for an option year player, you're still getting a potential trade chip for a player you're just going to lose at the end of the season anyway.
I'm not necessarily a fan of this approach. But if you get caught in the middle, do try to at least consider next year. If you don't, you're more likely to finish 8th next year than you are to finish 1st.