First, some history: Back in 1887, at the inaugural Tout Wars auction (held at an opium parlor, now defunct), the first player nominated was Pretzels Getzien, staff ace of the Detroit Wolverines. Pretzels was coming off a 30-11 season. He went for $13, sold to Ernie Lanigan of the nascent Sporting News. It wasn't a great buy, but tolerable. Getzien won 29 games in '87, third highest total in the league, but his ratios were merely adequate.
Fortunately for Lanigan, he also spent $24 on right-hander John Clarkson of the White Stockings, who proceeded to lead the N.L. in wins (38), Ks (237), complete games (59) and innings pitched (523.0), posting a WHIP of 1.16. The Pretzels-Clarkson combo proved unbeatable. Lanigan claimed the first Tout title, narrowly edging Hugh Fullerton in a rotisserie race that captured the nation's imagination.
[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]
Today, more than 125 years after that first season, Tout Wars is a mighty global brand. Auction weekend is a huge deal. Biggest event on the fantasy calendar. Media everywhere, squealing groupies, intense security. It's basically like a Zeppelin summer tour meets the ESPYs, times a billion.
Thus, I'm assuming you want to hear about my Tout experience. Of course you do. Here's the deal...
For the last two years, I've been involved in the A.L.-only league, competing against this ridiculous roster of a dozen experts. Heavy hitters, all. Tout Wars uses the standard 5X5 categories in the N.L. and A.L., while the mixed league has replaced AVG with OBP. (Discussion here). Starting rosters in Tout consist of 13 position players (C, C, 1B, 3B, CI, 2B, SS, MI, OF, OF, OF, OF, Util) and nine pitchers (any combination of relievers and starters), with one swing position which can be filled by either a batter or a pitcher. This year's auction, like last year's, was held at the New York offices of SiriusXM. My entry last season was a middle-of-the-pack finisher, mostly because my non-Darvish pitchers were terrible at pitching (Noesi, Porcello, other horrors).
But 2013 is gonna be different.
These were my primary objectives entering the auction room:
• To compete in all categories, punting none;
• To buy a pair of solid (if not elite) catchers for less than $30;
• To spend ~$90 on pitching, without repeating the failed ace-and-scrubs approach of 2012 — the goal was five useful starters and an upper-tier closer;
• To field a roster that consists entirely of players who are slated to receive regular playing time, immediately — no far-away prospects, no pinch-runners;
In a mixed league of standard size, there's rarely a significant cost involved in stashing prospects, because the free agent pool will yield plenty of acceptable placeholders — full-time players who can pile up stats while you wait for Wil Myers. But in A.L.-only, there's a decent chance that your three-month replacement for Myers will be someone like, say, Eduardo Escobar or Lou Marson, or another severe liability. If your stashed prospect isn't great upon arrival, or he never arrives at all, it can be difficult to recover. So in only-leagues, I prefer not to be the guy who hoards farmhands. (And then Mike Trout happens, and I'm full of self-loathing).
While I certainly have pet players, like any other fantasy owner, I don't generally approach deep auctions with a list of targeted names, guys I absolutely must build around. (I had maybe one such player in mind for Tout this year, and I failed to land him. Details below). Instead, I'm an active bidder on a large number of players when prices are reasonable. Not everyone approaches fantasy auctions this way; you'll find that in every league, there are always one or two quiet owners who acquire most of the players on whom they bid. With these managers, you can play the price-enforcing game. With anyone else, it's dangerous.
Had enough preamble? Yeah, me too. Here's my squad for 2013:
C – Mike Napoli ($18), Tyler Flowers ($8)
Not everything went exactly according to the pre-auction script, but my catching situation is better — and a few dollars cheaper — than expected. To me, Napoli seems a bit undervalued in most 2013 drafts and auctions. Maybe it's last year's tragic batting average (.227), or perhaps fantasy owners are concerned about the hip-eating disease that delayed his signing with the Red Sox.
But the guy is feeling good at the moment, and his set-up is ideal for fantasy purposes: Napoli is eligible at catcher, yet he'll play first base. Less wear and tear, less injury risk, more plate appearances. I'm in. He went two bucks cheaper than V-Mart in A.L. Tout, and one dollar less than both Matt Wieters and America's sleeper, Salvador Perez.
So I'm happy enough with the buy. Between Napoli and Flowers, I've got a shot at 40-50 home runs. At these prices, I wouldn't trade my catcher pairing for anyone's, though I also like what Larry Schechter (Arencibia & Avila) and Rob Leibowitz (Pierzynski & Castro) managed to do, each spending less than $25 on the position.
1B – Brett Wallace ($5)
3B – Evan Longoria ($28)
CI – Mike Moustakas ($18)
The one player I genuinely expected to purchase, I didn't get. Going into the auction, I thought it was highly probable that I'd own Prince Fielder, one of the most reliable names in the player pool. I've drafted him in multiple leagues, including the F&F, so I seem to value him higher than most. Prince never misses a game (160-plus in four straight seasons), he goes 30-100 every year, and he lives on base (career .393 OBP). He's a no-doubter, an excellent foundation piece in a league like Tout.
But I didn't get him. I fell into a bidding skirmish with Joe Sheehan, driving Prince's price to the same number that had been paid for Albert Pujols ($35), and then I tapped out. At that point in the auction, I was beginning to feel confident in the power categories, yet light on speed. So $36 for Fielder didn't seem like the best possible allocation of resources.
Still, I'm not unhappy with my corners. Wallace is obviously a low-ceiling player who isn't likely to reach the position averages in ... well, in anything. But at least he'll play. That's half the battle in this league. Wallace figures to hit high in the order for the Astros most days, and he'll offer modest power with a non-disastrous average.
Even if you're a bit frightened by the perceived injury risk with Longoria*, you can't hate him at $28. That price leaves room for a small profit. He's entering his age-27 season, having already reached the 30-homer and 100-RBI plateaus twice. Moustakas banged out 15 home runs before the break last season, then dealt with a knee issue in the second-half (and was terrible: .211/.261/.325). He's a clear candidate to make a value leap in 2013, assuming better health.
*After Eric Mack bought Longoria for $33 in the Tout mixed auction, our hosts at SiriusXM Fantasy tweeted the following: "Evan Longoria went for $33 in #ToutWars when more durable players like Beltre & Wright all went for less." You guys, David Wright is dealing with an injury RIGHT NOW. Today. This minute. Returning from an intercostal strain. He's looking good for opening day, sure, but at the moment he's dinged. If you think a healthy Longo is somehow dicier than a player who's currently injured, then I hate the way you're playing the minimize-risk game.
2B – Dustin Pedroia ($29)
SS – Asdrubal Cabrera ($20)
MI – Dustin Ackley ($14)
Nope, no great bargains here. I probably wouldn't have gone another buck on any of these guys. But I'm happy enough to have three credible starters in these spots, all of whom should deliver double-digit power and speed totals. (Even Ackley, in a forgettable and injury-marred 2012, still managed to clear the fence 12 times and steal 13 bags).
I actually spent more on my middle infield than anyone in the league — $1 more than Wolf & Colton spent on Robinson Cano ($35), Elvis Andrus ($22) and Brian Roberts ($5) — so I'm obviously hoping to gain a significant statistical edge at the talent-scarce positions. More than one team in this league will open the season with non-starters on their active rosters at second, short and/or MI.
OF – Brett Gardner ($19), Chris Parmelee ($11), Nolan Reimold ($4), Nate McLouth ($3)
OK, so my outfield is not an overwhelming team strength. Gardner was a necessary buy for a roster that was, at the time, light on speed. Earlier in the auction, I'd pushed the bidding on Michael Bourn and Shane Victorino into the mid-20s, but wasn't willing to pay too great a premium for their reliability. When healthy, Brett Gardner is a 40-50 steal player who can score 85-100 runs — we saw it in 2010 and 2011. No reason he can't do it again.
Parmelee has become something of a standard purchase for me, but that's not really the reason I chased him to $11. I'd left my outfield spots open until late in the auction (intentionally), and, by the time Parmelee's name was tossed, he was pretty clearly the best available first baseman and the best available outfielder. So it was almost inevitable that someone else would pursue him. Ron Shandler and I went back-and-forth on Parmelee longer than any two people should. In the end, I, um ... well, I won. (If you can call a $4-over-budget bid a "win," which maybe you can't).
Having mapped out the player pool prior to the auction, I knew there was a decent chance I'd snag either Reimold or McLouth, if not both. (One of my post-auction regrets is skittishness on Boston's Jackie Bradley, a rookie with obvious talent and a somewhat uncertain role. I whiffed on Bradley at multiple points, including my final OF bid). When Wilson Betemit suffered a 6-8 week knee injury on Monday, post-auction, it cleared a path to regular at-bats for Nolan and Nate. So presumably they each enter the season with something close to everyday roles. Until Reimold breaks, which seems inevitable.
Util – Chris Getz ($2)
SW – Luke Scott ($1)
I placed a $2 opening bid on Getz no more than a minute after the KC Star's Bob Dutton tweeted that he'd claimed the opening day gig at second for the Royals, beating out the Triple-A bound Johnny Giavotella. I'm sure I wasn't the only person in the room who had the news, but, for at least a moment, I was moderately pleased with myself. Of course it's also possible that no one else in the league was even slightly interested in Getz, at any price. But if Getz appears in 100 games, he'll steal 20-something bases and easily justify his $2 salary.
Luke Scott seems like a uniquely unlikable dude, and I don't really have anything good to say about him. Except this: He can hit the occasional home run. Scott has three 20-homer seasons on his resume, and he cleared the fence 14 times last year in just 314 at-bats. In an A.L.-only league, he'll earn $1 or more. That is, as long as he doesn't shoot himself in the leg while cleaning one of his guns, prepping for the imminent assault on his hidden underground compound. [Expletive] lunatic goof.
P – Mariano Rivera ($19), Jose Veras ($8), Brett Anderson ($14), Hiroki Kuroda ($15), Anibal Sanchez ($14), Scott Kazmir ($1), Jason Hammel ($7), Ubaldo Jimenez ($1), Philip Humber ($1)
Again, the plan for my pitching staff was to spend close to $90 and somehow come away with five reliable starters and one high-end closer. Instead, I spent only $80, buying four good-not-great starting pitchers, two closers (one of whom might be awful), two terrifying Cleveland Indians, and Humber. So I may have some work to do here.
I've got no complaints about Rivera, Anderson, Kuroda, Sanchez or Hammel, not at these prices. My top-four starters are legit, and Mo is the best closer there ever was. Everyone else on this staff, however, is a dice-roll. Jose Veras hasn't had the cleanest spring (6.35 ERA), though his last two innings have been acceptable (2.0 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 K). Kazmir and Ubaldo are the probably most non-expertly picks imaginable, but each was only $1, plus they offer strikeout potential. If just one of 'em bounces back to the fringes of respectability, I'll be satisfied. I don't expect to dominate any pitching category — OK, maybe saves, if Veras can simply tread water — but hopefully this group can deliver 7s, 8s and 9s.
One tactical note: Rivera was the first player I purchased in this year's auction, in the opening minutes, so all of my early nominations were closers. Typically in a fantasy auction, I like to fill a roster spot, then nominate it. This way, you spend other people's resources while hopefully guaranteeing that no one gets an end-game bargain.
After each team filled its 24-man starting roster, a four-round reserve draft was held. Here's my ghastly bench:
BN – Jason Bay, Wesley Wright, Jose Molina, Nick Castellanos
Nothing too appealing there, obviously. By the time you auction off 276 players, there's not exactly a mountain of talent remaining.
Molina was one of the few projected starters still on the board (because he's a lousy fantasy option); Bay was a desperation heave, an aging player well past his prime, yet miraculously still under consideration for a roster spot with the M's. So in Tout Wars, he was a faint blip on the radar. Castellanos was my lone prospect indulgence in this year's league, the top minor league name in Detroit's system. He hit .320/.365/.451 across two levels last season at age 20, but there's no clean route to the bigs for him this year, except via injury (or injuries).
And that's that. I'm relatively pleased with the roster, particularly its depth: three Cs, three 1Bs, two 3Bs, four MIs. I took a post-injury discount on multiple players — Longoria, Gardner, others — which wasn't necessarily by design, but could certainly work out. Or blow up. I didn't drop $30 on anyone, but I can assure you it wasn't for lack of trying.
If you have a constructive (or derisive) comment to make about my team, please submit it below. You can find complete rosters for all Tout leagues via this link. No need to limit your scathing and/or helpful commentary to my squad...
(One last minor note: The top three paragraphs of my intro are full of lies. For an accurate history of Tout Wars, click here).