An Intro to Ottoneu: So, You Want to Play Ottoneu?

Mark McElroy introduces the Pitcher List Ottoneu Rookie League (Ottonewbs) and outlines the rules and some of the ways that Ottoneu is different from other fantasy formats.

For years, I have heard people in the fantasy baseball community talk about Ottoneu. It’s time to find out what all the fuss is about. Here are my starting points:

  1. I love fantasy baseball and have been playing it for years.
  2. I have heard the name Ottoneu.
  3. I don’t know anything more than that.

For help, I have rallied together 11 other Pitcher List writers, with similar experience, to form Ottonewbs: The Pitcher List Ottoneu Rookie League. For your reading pleasure, Ottonewbs will be learning about Ottoneu and bringing what we’ve learned to Ottoneu-related articles.  Please keep in mind that the information presented here is a summary and the information presented in the Ottoneu FAQ and Rules take factual precedence. Please refer to the Ottoneu website for gameplay regulations.

Preface applied, let’s see what Ottoneu is all about.


Begin at the Beginning

After registering and logging in, the FAQ is a great place to start and immediately reveal some of the nuances of the game:

  1. Rosters are deep.
    1. Though they are only 12-teamers, the rosters are deep thanks to the 40 roster spots per team.
    2. Managers can roster all MLB and MiLB players.
  2. This is a keeper league.
    1. With access to MiLB players, managers can play for now or for the future.
  3. Player salaries increase year-to-year.
    1. If the cost of players rises, strategy decisions and trade possibilities will come.
    2. Tied to rising player salaries is a team salary cap.
  4. Playing Ottoneu costs money every season.
    1. The base cost for every team is $20.
    2. Managers can play in more expensive leagues with cash prizes given to the top three finishers.
  5. Teams are chosen by auction.
  6. There are many game types and league setup options.

With my appetite whetted, the next step was to explore these points in the Rules section.



What fascinated me immediately in the Ottoneu rules is that Ottoneu seeks to address some of the major issues that impact keeper and dynasty leagues.

In the preamble, Ottoneu’s constitution is:

  1. To create an environment that mimics actual baseball.
  2. Create competitive leagues each year.
  3. Create a competitive league in the following years.
    1. There must be a reason for “owners who find themselves in the bottom half of the league in a given season [to] return for the next year, or else the league will collapse.”
  4. League longevity is always an issue in fantasy.
    1. Finding twelve people who love the game and are dedicated participants can be a struggle.
    2. This can be especially difficult in dynasty leagues.
    3. Ottoneu seeks to address this by creating rules that are fun and can engage all managers all year and into future years.

Let’s look at some of the rules that do that.



Size. Rosters have 40 slots. Twenty-two active roster spots for major league players. The remaining 18 spots are for MLB or MiLB reserves who can be swapped into the active lineup as desired.

Salary Cap. The salary cap is set at $400 per team. Each roster spot is worth a minimum of $1, so empty roster spots add to the team salary. You can’t, for example, have 37 players with a total salary of $398 because the three empty roster spots are $1 each, pushing the total salary to $401. Managers may not willingly exceed salary cap limits. The commissioner can levy penalties for players who do.

This seems problematic to me because how can a league determine a manager’s “willingness”? In practice, it might become obvious, but as the commissioner of the league, it may become a troublesome rule. We will likely address this at some point in the season and will discuss it if/when it becomes an issue.

Auction. Rosters will be filled by auction to be held before the start of the MLB season.

Starting Lineups. Roster slots differ depending on the league format, so please refer to the Ottoneu Rules for details of other formats. Our league will be 5×5 roto and the breakdown of the 22 active roster spots are:

Ottoneu Rosters


Positional Eligibility. Positional eligibility has some unique caveats:

Ottoneu Positional Eligibility Rules

*Pitcher eligibility rules are largely moot and are used mainly to aid player search. What is vital to know is that pitchers can be slotted into SP or RP spots regardless of eligibility because they can only earn stats when they are placed into the same roster slot as the MLB team. For instance, if I have Kenta Maeda in an RP slot and he starts a game for the Dodgers, he does not earn stats. If I want him to earn stats, I would have to put him into an SP slot. If Ryan Yarbrough is used as a false starter, he would need to be rostered in an RP slot to earn stats as a bulk reliever. However, if he starts the game, he must be in an SP slot to earn stats. Managers can move pitchers into SP or RP at will, so eligibility doesn’t matter.

Lineup Lock: Lineups lock five minutes before the player’s game start and five minutes before the first game of a doubleheader and cannot be adjusted for Game 2 of the doubleheader.


The Auction

Rosters are filled by auction. Each manager has $400 to spend to fill their 40-man roster. The minimum bid is $1 with no reserve draft, so the minimum total team salary is $40.

In subsequent years, players that are kept have their salaries included in the $400 budget, therefore bringing down the total that each manager has to spend at the auction.

Players on the 60-Day Injured List can be nominated and bid upon in the auction, but they do count towards the 40-player roster maximum. After the auction, however, players on the 60-Day IL do not count toward the roster limit and managers can add a player to replace the one on the IL.

Our auction is set for February 15th at 6:30 p.m. EST and, if needed, Sunday, February 16th at 4:30 EST. The plan is to stream the auction. Alex Fast will be the moderator, so be sure to tune in to watch some Ottonewbs make a few mistakes, but have lots of laughs. I will update this article (and post in the comments) with the stream details as we approach the auction date. Look for a recap article in the days following the auction.



Only players in MLB games accumulate stats and the stats collected depend on the categories and league’s scoring system. There are six scoring option formats including two different season-long roto formats and two different points formats (points formats can be both season-long and H2H). Our league will be using Old School (5×5): The standard, season-long 5×5 rotisserie set-up with AVG, HR, RBI, R, SB, W, ERA, WHIP, K, and S.


In-Season Rosters

Commissioners have the choice between daily or weekly lineups. In non-H2H leagues, there are limits on games played for all positions:

Games Played Limits

There are no minimum or maximum limits for games played in H2H leagues. In the 4×4 Ottoneu Classic format, there is a 1250 IP minimum.

A “game played” is any game appearance, regardless of whether the player starts or comes into the game for any type of late-game substitution. Once hitters reach the games-limit, they can no longer accumulate points (hard limit), whereas pitchers can exceed the limit on the day in which it is met (soft limit).

One of the new features in 2020 is an “auto-eject lineup option” that, when chosen, “will automatically remove players in your starting lineup if their MLB team is playing and they are not in the starting lineup.” This will help reduce the chances that a non-starting player will lose a game played if they come in for a late-game pinch-hit or defensive replacement on an off-day.


Adding and Dropping Players

To add a player, a manager must start an auction. That manager must make a bid and all league-mates have the opportunity to bid on the player. The auction winner will be the team with the highest bid with ties going to the team lowest in the standings (in the case of a standings tie, the system will flip a coin).

The rules state: “The player is awarded to the team who made the highest bid, and his salary is $1 more than the second-highest bid.” If there are no other bids, the nominating team wins the player for $1 (or their salary cap penalty: 50% of the original salary, rounded up). The auction ends 48 hours after it begins.

The winning bid on the player becomes their salary and will count towards their team’s salary cap. Managers may bid on players in an amount that would exceed their salary cap, but if they are the winning bidder, they must rectify their salary problem before they can accumulate more stats.

Dropped players will be available for 24 hours and can be added by any team for 100% of their salary. After 24 hours, of all the teams who have made a claim, the player will be awarded to the team lowest in the standings. The full salary will be removed from the team who dropped the player and will be added to the new team.

If there are no claims made in the initial 24 hours, the player has passed through waivers. As a penalty, 50% of the player’s salary is assigned to the team who dropped the player. The player remains available to any other managers who may want to claim him, but the starting bid must be equal to half of his initial salary. When the player is assigned to a new team or the current season ends, the initial owner’s penalty is removed. The only exception to the drop penalty is if a player dies; they are then removed from the player pool.

Players who are dropped cannot be nominated or bid upon by the dropping manager until at least 30 days after they were dropped.

Transactions can occur from the conclusion of the auction until the final day of the season, but auctions must be completed by the regular season’s end. So, that means that add auctions must be started 48 hours before the end of the season.

If a manager leaves a league and is replaced with a new manager, they are allowed to make a round of penalty-free cuts. If you take over a team, it is best to cut all unwanted players at once because this would be a penalty-free action. For example, if you take over a team and cut two players immediately, but then a month later you cut seven more, you will receive the first two cuts without penalty, but will have to pay the penalty on the other seven cuts.



Trades are allowed in Ottoneu and can be made from the end of the annual auction until the trade deadline. Trades can resume in the offseason between the end of the arbitration vote and the keeper deadline (see Important Dates image in the next section). Before the keeper deadline, try to trade valuable players that you are planning not to keep.

Uneven trades (i.e. 3-for-1) are allowed, but players must be added/dropped by teams to meet the 40-man roster requirements.

Managers can also trade salary cap space. These salary loans expire at the end of the MLB season.

Accepted trades will be available for a veto vote for 48 hours (or 24 hours, depending on league settings) after they are agreed to. If fifty percent plus one of the owners veto the trade, it is canceled.



There is no offseason in Ottoneu. Sure, there are no MLB games and therefore players aren’t accumulating stats, but managers can still work on improving their teams. Here are the important deadline dates in Ottoneu:


After the MLB season ends, players may not be added and available players will be auctioned at the annual auction before the start of the regular season. Shortly after the end of the MLB season, arbitration begins (see below for details). Offseason trades/cuts can be made between the end of arbitration and the keeper deadline (~2.5 months). After the keeper deadline, rosters are locked until the completion of the auction. The above are deadlines for 2020, but notice that the Auction Draft Day is specific to our league and can be adjusted by your commissioner to suit your league.

Inflation. Players can be kept, but a player’s salary rises based on their previous year’s salary. There are two ways that this happens:

  1. A player without MLB service time will have their salary increased by $1.
  2. A player with MLB service time will have their salary increased by $2.

Arbitration. There are two ways a player’s salary can increase in Ottoneu:

  1. Vote-Off: Every manager votes for a player on another team and the players on each team with the most votes become free agents (worst team in the standings’ vote breaks any ties). The players are removed from their rosters and will be a part of the annual auction. The team that loses the player will get a $5 discount towards that player.
  2. Allocation: After player salaries are increased due to inflation, each manager has a $25 budget that they can allocate to players on other teams. Each team must allocate at least $1 up to a maximum of $3 to every other team. After allocation, player salaries increase according to the amount allocated to them. If a manager does not meet the requirements of allocating at least $1 to every other team and does not allocate their full $25, their allocations will be forfeited.

Since our league is using Allocation, let’s create an example: In February 2017, Walker Buehler was drafted to a team for $8. At the end of 2017, his salary was bumped to $10 because of the $2 MLB service-time inflation. At the end of 2018, his salary increased to $12 ($2 MLB service-time inflation) and he had $10 allocated in arbitration (by the other managers in the league), bringing his salary to $22. At the end of the 2019 season, the $2 service-time inflation was added, along with an additional $14 arbitration allocation. Buehler’s salary heading into 2020 is now $38. The manager will have until the keeper deadline to decide if he/she will keep Buehler on his/her roster.

Auction. The auction is the same as it was in the first year of the league, but managers must be below the salary cap to participate.

This is the section that I find most exciting. The salary restrictions and increases will create so many trade options and should help keep all managers engaged even through the long offseason. It is also fun that there is an annual auction, so it provides the opportunity for all managers to come together for an online (or live) event.


Final Thoughts

Obviously, it takes time to fully understand all the Ottoneu rules. Ottoneu does have an excellent community page in which there are places to find answers to any questions. The page has many categories, a search bar, and includes a forum where managers can ask questions. I know that it will be a beacon for me throughout this adventure.

For our league, I am lucky to be joined by Michael Ajeto, Dylan Burris, Colin Charles, Dave Cherman, Zach Dobroff, Joe Drake, Adam Howe, Zach Lindgren, Donny Moskovits, Myles Nelson, and Daniel Port. We have decided to play daily lineup, 5×5 Old School scoring, with the allocation arbitration system, and a 24-hour trade waiting period. This should let us draw on our experience in other leagues to really appreciate the nuances of the Ottoneu game. We also decided to play the basic $20 entry, so we will be playing for bragging rights.

Again, the auction takes place on February 15th at 6:30 p.m. EST. Dave Cherman and Daniel Port will be joined by Alex Fast (and other participants) in a live stream (on Twitch) of the auction. Looking forward to a great season!

Featured image by Justin Paradis (@FreshMeatComm on Twitter)

Mark McElroy

When I am not watching baseball or writing about fantasy baseball, I can usually be found cycling in and around Victoria, BC. I am a manager at Pitcher List and can be found on Twitter @markmcelroybb.

7 responses to “An Intro to Ottoneu: So, You Want to Play Ottoneu?”

  1. Josh says:

    Enjoy, ottoneu is great. About the salary cap limit and roster size limit…in practice both can be freely violated but doing so prevents a team from setting rosters. This is to allow for wire claims, trades, etc. Since rosters can be set in advance some leagues adopt punitive rules (particularly important once teams fall out of contention), but generally “don’t be a jerk” is rule enough.

    • Mark McElroy says:

      I think you are right. It seems like the commissioner only has to step in in extreme cases and I think my job as the commish will be an easy one with this group… thankfully!.

  2. Ethan says:

    One fun “trick” with cutting players is that you should always re-nominate your cut players after the 30 day period is up. Either someone else will bid on that player and the full cap penalty is removed, or you re-win the player at 50% of their salary and can then either keep them at the lower number or re-cut them to cut your penalty in half. For example. If you cut Joey Votto at $40 last year you would have a $20 cap penalty, and then if you re-won him his $20 cap penalty disappears because he’s now on a roster, and then you can re-cut him for only a $10 penalty.

    It’s also worth noting that there are 2 Catcher spots in your starting lineup to help with platooning, but there is still a 162 game cap at the position.

    • Mark McElroy says:

      I read about this as a way to reduce the impact of bad salaries. I like how you used Votto in your example. I expect that many players did exactly this with him over the past couple seasons!

  3. Ethan says:

    A quirk to in season player auctions is that the tiebreaker for equivalent bids goes to the team lower in the standings. Fundamentally that means that the team in first place can’t win any $1 bids that have been started by another team because you’re required to bid on every player you start an auction for. In some leagues, the first place team will take advantage of that by bidding $1 on everyone so that no player will go for $1 if another team has put in a higher bid to ensure they get their guy.

    • Mark McElroy says:

      Excellent points. These are good tips that we will explore throughout the season. Interesting how the tiebreaker rules provide both a benefit and a drawback for the first-place team. Looking forward to seeing this in practice this season.

  4. Mark McElroy says:

    Auction (or part of it) will be streamed live on on Saturday, February 15 at 6:30pm EST.

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