March 30, 2010
Warning: You're about to get roughly 1,500 words detailing another person's fantasy draft. If that sort of thing doesn't appeal to you, then I completely understand. You should click away right now. No hard feelings. To be totally honest, I don't want to read about your fantasy team, either. But if you're at all interested in the Tout Wars scene, please read on. The auctions were held on March 26 and 28 at Citi Field.
That quote within the headline was actually lifted directly from Sunday's Tout Wars live blog. At the time (and perhaps now), it was not an unreasonable thing to ask. The auction was only a few minutes old, and I'd already spent $218 of my $260 budget.
The exchange between chat moderators went like this:
10:01, Jonathan Norman: What the hell is Behrens doing?
10:01, Jason Mastrodonato: He's spending. He doesn't seem concerned.
First of all, that's some solid live-blogging right there, given the crushingly dull nature of the event itself. It's almost impossible to make live coverage of a fantasy auction at all interesting. Those two did not lack strong opinions.
And secondly, Jason was right. I wasn't too concerned. I'd scripted most of my early buys and nominations – not the specific players, but the dollar amounts and positions. A few minutes later, after purchasing my third closer, I had just $27 remaining and a maximum bid of $14. If memory serves, there were owners at the table who still had more than $200 available.
But I'll remind you: there was a plan. Not a live-blogger-approved plan, but a plan nonetheless. There had only been modest improvisation in my bidding to that point. Here's what I'd managed to purchase in descending order of price:
Before discussing those specific buys, we should probably review the Tout settings. You can't fairly evaluate anyone's roster without knowing the format and the player pool. Tout Mixed is a 15-team league, and managers are required to fill 23 starting positions: two Cs, one 1B, one 2B, one 3B, one SS, one corner infielder, one middle infielder, five OFs, one utility spot and nine Ps (starters or relievers). There's an innings minimum for your pitching staff (950), but not a max. (This obviously makes K/9 less of a concern than it would be in a Yahoo! public setup). After the auction, we hold a serpentine draft to cover four bench spots.
It's a deep league, sure, but not excruciatingly so. If you've played in an 18-team or 20-team format – or you're an AL/NL-only snob – then there's nothing too intimidating about a 15-team mixer. The problem is that Tout, by design, is loaded with ringers. The competition is certainly tough enough to warrant a thoughtful pre-auction strategy.
Clearly I had decided to take a stars-and-scrubs approach, though I'd spent a fair amount of time vetting the scrub population. I've participated in enough 14-team and 16-team industry auctions to understand what the $1 scraps look like at each roster spot. In a league where only 210 hitters will be purchased, the end-game outfielders are useful. If you're lucky, they're useful and they have upside. But the $1 middle infielders – and quite a few of the $10 MIs – are a powerless, speedless group.
So when the Tout bidding began, I'd long since decided that I'd be aggressive when the elite shortstops and second basemen were nominated. Same approach at third base, where I'm on record as having little interest in the middle tiers. I'd planned to sketch in my outfield for $20 or less, and the two catcher spots for a total of $10 or less. (We've already talked catcher pricing, here and here. The position rarely returns a profit at the high end – and Mauer is an abnormal catcher, so you can't toss McCann or V-Mart into the discussion with him).
Pitching was somewhat more complicated. There are leagues where you can rely on the free agent acquisition process for saves, and there are others where you simply can't. Last year, speculating on potential closers exhausted my time and my FAAB resources, and it netted me Jason Frasor(notes). You can trade for saves in theory, but in practice, it can be like trading for water in a drought. This year, I had decided to purchase respectable closers. We can all agree that I didn't get any bargains – but again, that's not where I intended to look for them.
Santana was really the only unplanned purchase among my first nine buys, and that was about perceived value. Lincecum had just gone for $32 and Halladay for $29. The post-surgery discount on Johan was a little too tempting. He might very well have been my best early buy (Reyes at $21 is a candidate, too), but the pre-auction plan was to shop for starters exclusively in the $3-$9 bin. That's where guys like Oswalt ($8), Zambrano ($5), Slowey ($7), Scherzer ($9), Lilly ($5), Strasburg ($5), Kuroda ($3), Harden ($7) and Price ($6) could ultimately be found. (Non-sleepers like Nolasco, Hanson, Jimenez and Anderson went for quite a bit more).
When we hit the first beverage break, I owned nine players and had no real auction leverage. In an AL or NL-only league, this would have been a disastrous position – this is how you end up with, say, Omar Vizquel(notes) in your starting lineup. But mixed is different. Still, it was apparent that I wouldn't be in a position to purchase anything of substance for quite a while.
This was the full extent of my buying over the next 90 minutes or so:
Yup, that's it.
Now I happen to think Huff was a respectable purchase – he'll begin the season as a cleanup hitter, after all. But it wasn't particularly satisfying to sit through other people's bidding wars, even if I didn't need what they were buying.
During this self-imposed lull in the middle of the auction, I did manage to shape the end-game outfield pool to a certain extent. That was a small victory. I nominated a handful of lower-ceiling players who were likely to command follow-up bids. It was selective outfield pruning. You'll see the results below. I also tossed a series of middle-tier closers and cheap-speed options on the block, as a way to price enforce and protect earlier investments without actually bidding myself.
When we hit the second beverage break, I was no longer in an unusual cash position relative to the league, and I still had 13 spots to fill. Thus I was relatively active in the final hour. Here are the results:
$5 John Danks(notes)
$5 Nick Swisher(notes)
$4 Jarrod Saltalamacchia(notes)
$2 Dexter Fowler(notes)
$1 Ramon Hernandez(notes)
$1 Mark Buehrle(notes)
$1 Ricky Romero(notes)
$1 Erik Bedard(notes)
$1 Carl Pavano(notes)
$1 Chase Headley(notes)
$1 Cameron Maybin(notes)
$1 Scott Podsednik(notes)
$1 Gaby Sanchez(notes)
My catchers are awful, of course, but that's not a position where I'm ever likely to invest. It became imperative that I not spend $4 on the difference between Hernandez and someone like John Baker(notes). Publicly, I'm hoping for 220 games, 20 homers and a .250 combined average from Jarrod and Ramon. Secretly, I'm hoping that Saltalamacchia can finally justify the '07 hype.
Here's a fun fact about Nick Swisher: He hit 21 of last year's 29 home runs away from Yankee Stadium. If he can find a way to clear the fence in baseball's most homer-friendly park, then he'll get seriously interesting.
I'm thrilled with my $10 outfield, though you might disagree (vehemently, violently). Fowler was a lucky buy. I happened to be quick and loud with my $2 bid; no one else had cash and/or open roster spots. In the NL-only auction later that day, he went for $18. And so did Maybin. And Headley went for $17. If any of those players fail horribly, I'll only have to replace an outfielder in a 15-team league. That's not overwhelmingly hard. This year, unlike last season, I'll have speed to deal.
My reserve draft went like this:
The lottery ticket in that bunch is Jennings. The Rays' prospect stole 52 bases and hit .318/.401/.487 across two minor league levels in '09. Joe Madden has called him, "a guy who can help us at some point in the season, there's no doubt in my mind." Teahen and Kennedy are simply roster depth, and they happen to offer multi-position eligibility. (They're more like scratch-off tickets than Lotto tickets; you can't win a million, but you might win $15). Wells is a placeholder while I wait (and wait) for Bedard. At various points, he and Romero and Pavano will sit in favor of two-start pitchers. It's that sort of league.
And that, for better or worse, is what the hell Behrens was doing.
You'll find full league rosters here, thanks to the tireless efforts of Scott Swanay. Pick a winner. Pick a steal-of-the-draft. (For me, it was clearly Carlos Gonzalez(notes) to Trachtman at $10. I tried to bid-jump. Nearly snagged him at $9, but I could go no higher. Everyone else in the room was waiting to bid on Jay Bruce(notes)). Feel free to debate various auction strategies in comments. Or you can simply look upon my $1 Maybin with awe and envy.
Photos via AP Images