Immediately upon finishing the A.L Tout Wars auction on Sunday afternoon, I was feeling upbeat. Pleased. Confident, even.
And then my roster began to break like so many Rich Hardens.
At almost the exact moment the auction concluded, one of my pitchers (Matt Moore) was drilled in the face by a line drive. Minutes later, my second baseman (Jurickson Profar) was scratched from a spring game with shoulder soreness, which quickly escalated to a torn teres major muscle. And not long after that, one of my starting catchers (Geovany Soto) tore the lateral meniscus in his right knee.
[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Add those three injuries to Craig Gentry's back strain — the one preexisting condition on my team that was fully understood at the time of purchase — and you really have a giant mess of health concerns. So yeah, timing is everything in fantasy.
Moore actually managed to escape serious injury, a small miracle, but Profar and Soto are both likely to be sidelined for three months. In a league where nearly all the part-time hitters are owned already, a three-month DL stint is a brutal thing to manage around.
I've got work to do, no doubt. Rosters don't repair themselves. Many of you have been similarly Profar'd, too, so we'll try to get through this thing together.
Here's an annotated look at my A.L. Tout squad, just so you understand the hand I've dealt myself...
C – Geovany Soto, $8
C – Mike Zunino, $4
When both Carlos Santana ($28) and Joe Mauer ($27) were off the board, I resolved to go bargain-bin at this spot. (Embrace the non-catching catchers. Unless they crush your budget.) Zunino was a nice-enough value according to my cheat sheet. He's only 23 years old and coming off a season in which he homered 16 times in 373 at-bats, splitting time between Triple-A and MLB. His spring has gone relatively well, too (.263/.383/.474). Even with a damaged Soto on the roster, at least I've still got one respectable backstop.
Now that, my friends, is a little thing we like to call TOTAL CORNER CONTROL™ . I'm not unhappy. I paid full-price on Fielder, sure, but managed to purchase Beltre and Napoli for a few bucks less than I was willing to spend. Before you hammer me for the Napoli buy, check the league settings. Tout is using on-base percentage in place of batting average this year, a change that results in significant value swings for several players, Napoli included. He's a lifetime .259/.357/.502 hitter coming off a .259/.360/.482 season. That should play.
2B – Jurickson Profar, $17
SS – J.J. Hardy, $14
MI – Mike Aviles, $4
This Profar injury is such a staggering, maddening, horrible, no-good buzzkill. He'd dealt with a medley of aches and pains and dental woes this spring, but appeared ready for the opener. Then he tweaked his shoulder on Saturday ... and one day later, it was revealed to be something more serious than a tweaking. Here's hoping he's ready to contribute in June. Profar was a high-OBP player in the minors, despite always being young relative to his level, so I felt particularly good about his potential in Tout. Obviously he has little chance to deliver $17 in value if he plays just half-a-season.
J.J. Hardy, we should note, is a chronically under-appreciated fantasy asset (though not an on-base machine). He actually leads all major league shortstops in homers over the past three seasons (77), a fact that might win you a few bar bets.
Heading into the auction, my plan/hope was to build around either Miguel Cabrera — he went for $45 to the team co-owned by Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf — or, preferably, Mike Trout. Ultimately, I landed Trout at a price that was well above list — the bidding felt like an attempt to buy Palo Alto housing. Defending league champ Larry Schecter chased Trout to $48, but no rational person was going to go to $50. In my pre-auction budget, I'd carved out a spot for a $44 player; this one early purchase forced me to revisit the plan.
Still, if you're going to get involved in a bidding catfight, do it for a great player. Don't do it for a lousy hitter, during the third hour of your auction. That's how you end up with a $10 Chris Parmelee.
Part of the appeal of Dustin Ackley, clearly, is his positional utility. The fact that he remains second base-eligible is going to help me in no small way, following the Profar news. Instead of searching for a replacement middle-infielder in a 12-team only-league (a ridiculous predicament), I really only need to dig up an outfielder and a utility option. It's a bad situation, but not crushingly bad.
P – Yordano Ventura, $9
P – Jim Johnson, $15
P – Hiroki Kuroda, $15
P – Matt Moore, $16
P – Tanner Scheppers, $3
P – Ricky Nolasco, $3
P – Josh Fields, $1
P – Darren O'Day, $1
P – Junichi Tazawa, $1
P – Jarred Cosart, $2
Pitchers don't get much buzzier than Ventura, which of course is why he went for $5 more than he did at A.L. LABR three weeks prior. But he's earned a rotation spot for KC with a stellar spring (0.93 WHIP, 18 Ks, 20.1 IP), plus the kid has both a blistering fastball and a swing-and-miss curve. Check the tape. I'm in.
My original intent was to purchase a luxury starter — I'd budgeted $27 for an ace-like arm — but there were few obvious steals among the brand-name guys. Yu Darvish went for $31, Max Scherzer and Chris Sale for $29, Justin Verlander for $27. Looking back, I regret not throwing an extra dollar at Alex Cobb ($18) or Danny Salazar ($17), but I'm not too broken up about the reallocation of that $27. Both Nolasco and the hard-throwing Scheppers should return a profit; I'd have gone higher on each pitcher. Cosart is a decent flier at $2, and he'd just delivered an excellent spring start.
I might be the only member of the fantasy expert community who will admit to not hating Moore, a pitcher who A) lost velocity last season, B) continues to deal with wildness, and C) caught some breaks on balls-in-play last year (.259 BABIP). But the lefty still remained one of baseball's hardest-throwing starters (92.4 mph), his K/9 was outstanding (8.6), and he's still just 24 years old. He also pitches for a quality team in a friendly home environment. Sometimes the anti-buzz players are the best buys. Zig when the everyone else zags, as they say. And then hope the zaggers are wrong.
As for the non-closing relievers on this roster, Fields is the only share of a sketchy Astros' bullpen committee that I'm allowing myself. O'Day and Tazawa are simply on the roster for ratio suppression. If either poaches a save or three, great. If not, fine. I'm primarily using them for ERA and WHIP maintenance.
BN – Kyle Zimmer
BN – J.P. Arencibia
BN – Zach Britton
BN – Bruce Chen
Had I not snagged Arencibia in the reserve draft, my catching situation would really be dire. Of course it can be easily argued that my catching situation is now dire because of Arencibia. He always seems like a nice idea when he's on your bench, but a terrible problem when he's in your lineup. Still, he'll serve as a primary replacement for Soto in Texas, offering respectable power. Arencibia's presence on my roster means that I won't have to throw FAAB resources at an awful catcher, which certainly helps.
And so we return to the Profar dilemma. It's an unfortunate opening week situation, but it could really be far worse without Ackley. He's a much better placeholder at second than anything I could have found in this league's free agent pool. In a standard 12-team mixer, you might find middles like Jonathan Villar (55 percent owned), Kelly Johnson (48), Brian Dozier (53), Erick Aybar (40) or Omar Infante (25) available for pick-up. In Tout Wars, the cheapest of those guys went for $9 at auction (Infante), and the priciest sold for $15 (Johnson). Yunel Escobar went for $11. Scorching-hot Chicago prospect Marcus Semien went for $6, and I'm still cursing Lawr Michaels for it.
The point is, you can cover for an injured third-tier MI in mixed without great difficulty. But in a league with Tout's size and shape, you're probably hosed — unless you already own players with multi-position eligibility. Even then, you'll find yourself hoping Ackley can carry his exceptional Cactus League performance into the regular season, for once in his professional life. (He hit .365 last spring, let's not forget. When it mattered, he hit .253 with little pop.)
If I were desperate for a middle in Tout right now, I'd probably have to look to the in-house replacement options in Texas. The team is not expected to throw top prospect Rougned Odor into the mix, at least not initially. Odor is a talented, interesting young player coming off a terrific minor league campaign, but he's only 20 years old. He's played just 30 games above Single-A. The Rangers are prioritizing his development, which hardly seems like a bad thing.
Texas, for now, is facing a possible Josh Wilson-Kensuke Tanaka platoon. Wilson is 1,000 years old, he offers little power or speed, and he rarely reaches base. Tanaka is just as old, but he may bring modest speed and on-base ability to the table. Or he'll faceplant and the team will deal.
But again, my Tout team won't need to take a shot with a sketchy veteran middle infielder, because I shrewdly purchased a sketchy young ex-middle infielder. That's graduate-level roster construction right there, you guys. I do need to add a pair of bats, however — there's just no getting around it. My roster reverted to an unfinished state only minutes after I considered it finished. Thus, I'll be FAAB-shopping for any hitter who could possibly see 10-12 plate appearances per week. That's how the deeper leagues shake out.
Early trade proposals have resulted in exactly the sort of counter-offers you'd expect from a competitive group, so that route doesn't seem promising. You really shouldn't make panic deals at any point in your season, and certainly not in March. I've fielded a few inquiries on Scheppers, Cosart and Nolasco, but I won't pretend that league-wide interest is intense. A better term might be "tepid" or "muted." An even more accurate term might be "charitable."
So now you know my team and its quandary, commenters. I'm open to suggestions. As always, I'm also open to derision, taunts and general mockery. Let's get to it.