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A.L. Tout Wars recap: Jennings, Darvish, Bautista, sketchy closers, possibly too many Mariners

Andy Behrens
Roto Arcade

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Yu Darvish, $20 pitcher (US Presswire)

"Oh, man, I would REALLY love to read a first-person account of some other dude's fantasy draft!"

-No one, ever.

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We began hosting fantasy games at Yahoo! in 1999, and, to date, nobody has contacted our customer care department with the request above. Doesn't happen. If there exists any demand at all for such features, it has escaped our notice.

However, despite the total lack of user interest in lengthy draft recaps, some of us still insist on publishing them. We do this for a variety of reasons, but these are the big three:

1) Readers can hopefully use our results to help gauge player values for their as-yet-undrafted leagues;

2) We invest a ridiculous amount of prep time in our industry drafts and auctions, so it seems wasteful to not share a few of the opinions and strategies that emerge from the process;

3) These recaps provide our commenting community with a perfect opportunity to ridicule the supposed "experts," mercilessly.

I'm cool with whatever use you have for this particular draft review. Dissect it, criticize it, praise it, ignore it. Or print it at home, then set fire to it. Burn it to keep warm. Use it however you like. Or don't use it. Your call.

If you have zero interest in reading about another man's draft — which, again, is perfectly understandable — then this would be the time to click away. Maybe go sign-up for another team, since you're obviously a master of the fantasy arts. But if you can tolerate a couple thousand words about Tout Wars, read on...

A collection of fantasy industry luminaries (plus Chris Liss and myself) gathered on Saturday at the offices of Sirius XM for the AL Tout auction. It's a 12-team format, $260 auction budget, in which we start at least 13 hitters and nine pitchers, with a swing position that can be filled by either an everyday player or hurler. (More on the swing spot right here). I'm new to AL Tout this season, having participated in the mixed league for the past three years (winning in 2010, barely. Luckily. Miraculously. With a team that needed every last inning from Tim Stauffer, and could not have survived another day). If my debut in AL-only doesn't go well, I'll likely be relegated in 2013. So there's unusual pressure to get things mostly right this season.

Here's the full league lineup, for those who care:

Larry Schecter, Sandlot Shrink (defending champ)
Jeff Erickson, RotoWire
Rob Leibowitz, Mastersball
Matthew Berry, ESPN
Rick Wolf & Glenn Colton
Jason Collette, DRaysBay, Baseball Prospectus
This tool
Ron Shandler, BaseballHQ
Chris Liss, RotoWire
Steve Moyer, Baseball Info Solutions
Mike Siano, MLB.com
Lawr Michaels, Mastersball

It's a loaded field, and a deep format. You can find each manager's full roster via this link.

In an only-league like this, with so many starting roster spots (276), you're really chasing playing time more than any individual 5x5 category. Not every name in every lineup is going to be a star; sometimes (or most of the time), you're just looking for dull, low-level production. This is very different from you priorities when constructing a roster in mixed leagues, where you can generally spend without fear on top-tier names, knowing that most $1 players will be tolerable. It's fine to rely on a platoon player or two in AL/NL-only (though not ideal), but if you end up rostering an excessive number of non-starters, it's tough to keep pace in certain counting stats. Injury coverage is particularly difficult in these leagues, because the free agent pool isn't exactly rich with talent. And trading can be difficult, if not impossible — again, unlike mixed.

So there are unique issues facing only-league managers, and severe mistakes at the auction table are difficult to overcome. Pricing really matters in only-leagues; in mixed, not as much.

But that's enough preamble. Here's my full roster, position-by-position, with prices...

Catchers — Jesus Montero ($14), AJ Pierzinski ($9), Lou Marson (reserve draft)

In Tout, Montero actually qualifies at catcher on opening day, thanks to eligibility rules that consider minor league usage. That's a pretty big deal, because he'll spend most of his year as a DH. There's clearly less injury risk with Montero than you'd normally find at this position, and you have to like his chances to appear in 150-plus games — he could easily see 100 more plate appearances than the average healthy backstop. I priced him at $17 on my cheat sheet, so he felt like a value. He went for half the price of Carlos Santana, $6 less than Matt Wieters and $3 more than Ryan Doumit.

Obviously in a mixed league, Piezynski should cost only a buck or two, even in a two-catcher format like Tout. But in AL-only, there's a clear advantage to be gained from rostering a pair of catchers who have starting gigs in real life. Remember, this league starts a total of 24 catchers each week, and we're drawing from a pool of only 14 teams. One of my pre-auction goals was to own two full-time MLB starters at less than $25, so that went reasonably well. Pierzynski offers little power at this stage of his career, but he's a .284 career hitter coming off a .287 season, so that should play. He's also a relatively durable backstop, having played over 125 games in 10 straight seasons. Marson? He was the last of my four reserve-round picks. Nothing to see there. Move along...

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Jose Bautista (US Presswire)

Corner Infielders — 3B/OF Jose Bautista ($32), 1B Carlos Pena ($17), 1B/3B Chris Davis ($11), 3B Alex Liddi (reserve)

As a group, my corners could hit .240 this season — in a down year, .215. I guess that would be the first obvious problem. However, my top-three could also combine for 100 homers, and I had certain power objectives to meet. Bautista was a somewhat unexpected purchase, as I didn't anticipate buying a $20-plus name to fill either first or third. But I tend to be a noisy, active bidder on elite players when they aren't yet at full value; I'm willing to add any top-of-the-ranks fantasy asset if the price is right. To me, $32 is a great number for a guy who's led the circuit in home runs in back-to-back years, going 100-40-100 each season. For comparison's sake, Miguel Cabrera went for $39, Evan Longoria for $31, Brett Lawrie for $29. Bautista was the eighth-most expensive player in the auction (tied with Curtis Granderson), but he ranked third overall on my board.

I cannot defend Carlos Pena at $17 and won't even try. That was just me chasing a power projection, well past my recommended price. I certainly should have stopped bidding at $15 $13 $11. There were better bargains (and better hitters) available later in the auction. For example, I would have preferred Mitch Moreland at $14 or Kendrys Morales at $13. I suppose part of the reason for my reckless pursuit of Pena was the fear of ending up with Adam Dunn in yet another league — I own him in two already, and that's my limit. So instead I get a guy who's basically just like Dunn, but with a lower power ceiling. And for $2 more than Dunn's price. [Expletive].

In a nutshell, the Pena buy was not a shining moment, although that expenditure didn't significantly change my end-game auction management. Of course it's a worry that I've paired him with Chris Davis, another player with high-end homer potential and, in all likelihood, a disastrous batting average. If I'm going to be competitive in AVG, one or two of my young middle infielders will need to reach their .300-plus years ahead of schedule.

Before we get to that group, though, here's a quick thought on Liddi: He's a strikeout/flyball power hitter who's had a terrific spring for Seattle (15-for-35, 10 RBIs, 1,214 OPS). I won't make any statistical promises here, but he has a fair chance to make a fantasy impact this season. Liddi hit 30 bombs in the PCL last year. (He also struck out 170 times, so he'll fit right in with my corners).

Middle Infielders — 2B Dustin Ackley ($18), SS Elvis Andrus ($26), 2B Gordon Beckham ($9)

Ackley is one of those players who's been so universally labeled as an overrated fantasy commodity that he is, at this point, almost underrated. At this particular auction, he went for the same price as Jason Kipnis, a buck less than Kelly Johnson, $2 less than Jemile Weeks and $7 less than Howard Kendrick. I think he can give me a 12/15 season, with an average of .280 or better — potentially much better. I'll acknowledge the fact that he had a rough September in his rookie campaign, as long as you'll acknowledge that he had an excellent June, July and August. Ackley finished with the same line-drive rate as Robinson Cano last year (22.3). The kid can hit a little.

Beckham is a classic post-hype candidate, still only 25 years old with partial-season success in his past. He has the pedigree, he does his hitting in a friendly park, and he's an unrivaled starter. This is another case where you'd expect the player to go for $1 in a mixed league (as he did in Tout), and $8-$12 in AL-only. I'm just happy that my MI slot is occupied by a guy who's guaranteed to see at-bats, and who has some identifiable upside (we hope).

The Andrus purchase was a lot like the Bautista buy, a case where I made some early noise in the bidding, then the room let me have the player. Andrus' name was tossed out at $24 or $25, I believe, so there wasn't much of a skirmish. He's the top shortstop in nearly everyone's AL ranks, and he has to be considered one of the players most likely to exceed 40 steals. True, I've been touting Erick Aybar as a low-cost alternative to Andrus for mixed leaguers, but in AL Tout, the difference between those two was only $6. (In an average Yahoo! draft, Andrus and Aybar are separated by 115 picks — nearly 10 full rounds). For a few extra auction bucks, I'm getting a 23-year-old who's already put three useful seasons on the resume. When you consider Andrus' speed, his contact ability and his batted-ball rates (23.1 LD%, 55.8 GB%), it's easy to imagine a few .300 seasons in his future. And I'll probably need that streak to begin in 2012.

One of my goals for this auction was to be sure to get steals from players who could contribute across multiple categories, because the cheap-speed guys are quiet killers, liabilities in four stats. Andrus works in this regard, as does the next name on my roster...

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Desmond Jennings (US Presswire)

Outfielders — Desmond Jennings ($27), Alex Gordon ($25), Julio Borbon ($1), Grady Sizemore ($1), Andruw Jones ($1), Endy Chavez (reserve), Ryan Sweeney (reserve)

That's a serious investment in Jennings, a second-year player, and it could easily make or break my team. But remember that Jennings had been parked at Durham at least a full season beyond what seemed reasonable, 2009-2011, so he's actually about to enter his prime. (Hell, he's almost two full years older than Andrus, a three-year vet). Jennings split his time between Triple-A and the majors last season, hitting 22 homers and stealing 37 bags across two levels. His ceiling is perhaps as high as 20/50, which would make him the player that Carl Crawford was always supposed to be (and was, for at least one season). Jennings has Round 1 fantasy potential. Before you hammer me for his price, consider that BJ Upton went for $33. Desmond was definitely a risk/reward buy, and I'll need it to go well.

My usual approach in auctions — even in only-leagues, depending on the number of teams and active roster spots — is to spend myself into a position where my final 3-4 players are from the $1 bin. There's obvious risk to this approach, and it leaves you with no leverage at a point in the auction when...well, when all the names are bad, but some are less bad. The key is to map out the player pool and identify the position(s) where the $1 names are acceptable. Usually, outfield is one of those spots. (Note: This would absolutely not have worked in a 15-team AL-only league with the same specs as Tout, but it's manageable with 12 squads). I'd expected guys like Andy Dirks ($2), Josh Reddick ($5) and Bobby Abreu ($2) to be available for a buck apiece, because I expected more owners to fill their swing position with pitchers. Alas, it didn't happen. But Borbon, Sizemore, Sweeney, Jones and Chavez were on the approved list, too, and I should only need to start three of those five in any given week.

I would have liked to team Borbon with the Rangers' other center field option, Craig Gentry, but he was a $1 flier for another team. At least I've got the guy who's currently healthy, and having the much better spring. Grady? He can sit on my DL indefinitely. I have no expectations. We'll see him in June, maybe. Or not. It's a reasonable $1 gamble.

Utility — DH Travis Hafner ($1)

The Tribe will give him plenty of off-days and of course he's likely to break at some point, but he's also been on a tear this spring (1.054 OPS, 12-for-34). We know he can provide power. This may have been my best purchase at the dollar store.

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Grant Balfour (US Presswire)

Pitchers — SP Yu Darvish ($20), SP Jonathan Sanchez ($6), SP Henderson Alvarez ($6), SP Rick Porcello ($5), SP Hector Noesi ($4), SP Brad Peacock ($1), RP Grant Balfour ($12), RP Matt Thornton ($11), RP Jesse Crain ($3)

I intended to spend no more than $70 on my pitching staff, snagging a low-end closer or two, and I ultimately came in at $68 with Balfour and Thornton/Crain. That's just fine with me. Before you rush to tell me that Fautino De Los Santos and Addison Reed are the smart plays for saves in Oakland and Chicago, I'll just remind you that they don't actually have the closing gigs right now. Where the ninth inning is concerned, possession of the job means a lot. It won't be enough for the kids to simply pitch well; the incumbent closers would need to implode, and Balfour, Thornton and Crain aren't bums.

Someone in the room actually stage-whispered "Wow!" when Darvish went for $20, so that's probably the buy I need to explain. Around here, we had the Darvish conversation back in January, with input from an international scout who's watched him pitch multiple times, so you should know where I stand. And you know where the scout stands. Darvish has allowed three runs and six hits over 9.0 spring innings, striking out 10 batters and reaching the mid-to-high 90s on the gun. I love the team context in Texas, love the repertoire, love the ratios he's delivered every season in Japan. He's easily the best pitcher to have made the jump, and he spent last season focused on the transition, while pitching 232.0 innings. I'm buying wherever I can at this price; other experts are not. So it goes. Darvish was one of nine starters who went for $20-plus in AL Tout.

I sketched in the rest of my rotation with low-cost, semi-upside starters, per the pre-auction plan. Going in, I expected to own Sanchez, Alvarez and/or Noesi, if not all three. Porcello is a former high-end prospect who just turned 23, so a case can be made for growth potential...though it would be a much easier case to make if his infield defense were less awful. I chased Francisco Liriano to $13 based on his spring surge, but I could go no further. The downside risk is both terrible and well-documented.

And that's all I care to say about this year's Tout roster. If you've made it this far...um...maybe it's time to reevaluate certain aspects of your life. That was way too many words about any fantasy team. Commenters, do your worst...

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