The first thing you need to know about the National League player pool is that it is an absolute minefield. A bad place, full of bad ideas. Definitely not for everyone.
If you've suffered through an N.L.-only fantasy draft already, then you understand the depth of the misery this year. You've stared at a cheatsheet loaded with terrible names — a cheatsheet easily confused with a do-not-draft list.
Here, for example, are my N.L.-only shortstop tiers for 2016:
TIER ONE – No one
TIER TWO – No one
TIER THREE – Corey Seager
TIER FOUR – It's possible we did not fully appreciate Tony Womack in his time.
TIER FIVE – Addison Russell, Brandon Crawford
TIER SIX – I ACHE WITH LONGING FOR TONY WOMACK
TIER SEVEN – Jean Segura, Alexei Ramirez
TIER EIGHT – Jung-Ho Kang, probably not Jose Reyes but maybe
These are not so much tiers as they are the concentric circles of fantasy hell. But even though the N.L. fantasy landscape is bleak, it's the same lousy player universe for all participants. We're all fishing in the same toxic waters. Someone is still going to win your N.L.-only league, likely with a lineup that, in a normal year, you'd pay to not own.
Entering this year's Tout Wars auction, I arrived with a plan to minimize if not eliminate the horrors of a 12-team N.L.-only league. Tout Wars was not my first deep N.L. auction of the spring, so I had no illusions about anyone's ability to construct a stacked roster. It can't be done, not in a league full of experienced, competent owners. (And Tout is such a league; here's the 12-man group.) My primary focus was to avoid the hyper-inflated pricing of the N.L.'s many one-dimensional and no-dimensional players — that is to say, I wanted nothing to do with double-digit prices on guys like Jonathan Villar, Erick Aybar, Martin Prado, et al.
In any fantasy auction, the essential goal is to use your full budget — typically $260, as in Tout — to purchase a collection of players likely to deliver value beyond their cost. If you spend $260, then ideally your end-of-auction projections will tell you that you've purchased something like $275 worth of stats. Simple enough, right? Under normal circumstances, sure, but the appalling lack of talent in the N.L. makes it a treacherous league in which to shop this season, particularly in the $10 to $20 range. This year, my general approach to N.L.-only is to acquire two or three no-doubt stars early in an auction, then fill out my roster with players from the bargain bin. I pretty much hate the middle tiers in the N.L.; the $5 players aren't so different from the $15 players.
Basically, you can either go stars-and-scrubs in the N.L. this season, or you'll be forced to go scrubs-and-scrubs. I happen to prefer the path involving stars.
Here's what I bought at the top of the auction, in order of purchase:
Arenado was nominated immediately after Kris Bryant was sold for $35, so he seemed like a relative bargain. The National League is not exactly overflowing with 90-40-120 players, and third base is such a wasteland beyond Franco and Duffy.
After Paul Goldschmidt went to USA Today's Steve Gardner for $43, Harper's price was more or less set. We use OBP in place of batting average in Tout, so Bryce deserves a small bump above his standard-settings price — he slashed an absurd .330/.460/.649 last season, as a 22-year-old. His ridiculous on-base skills provide a safety net, allowing for a few low-OBP indulgences (see below). Joey Votto, for comparison's sake, went for $39 to Todd Zola of Mastersball. I reinforced OBP with the A-Gon purchase (.363 career), then paid market price for a high-K ace.
And at that point, I dialed back my bidding and largely avoided the rogues gallery of players priced in the teens. Here's the full roster, plus a few notes:
C – Yadier Molina, $8
C – A.J. Pierzynski, $4
If you want to criticize me for treating catcher as if we were playing a retro 2009 league ... well, OK. Fair. But I landed two dirt-cheap guys who will actually play, which is almost always a win in this format. AJP was immediately named team captain.
1B – Gonzalez, $25
3B – Arenado, $33
CI – Derek Dietrich, $6
It would really be great for my purposes if Dietrich found a path to everyday playing time, but that's not guaranteed. He's flawed, obviously, but he managed to homer 10 times in 250 at-bats last season.
And yeah, this is me trying to talk myself into a six-dollar reach on Derek Dietrich. Let's move on...
2B – Ben Zobrist, $20
SS – Alexei Ramirez, $11
MI – Cesar Hernandez, $8
Zobrist certainly wasn't a steal at $20, but he'll do his hitting near the top of a deadly lineup, in a spot where he can score 90-plus runs. He offers an OBP boost, too, which helps offset Alexei's one glaring weakness. I was kinda/sorta delighted to land Ramirez at $11; he's produced double-digit power and speed totals in each of the past two seasons.
OF – Harper, $45
OF – Denard Span, $14
OF – Socrates Brito, $3
OF – Carl Crawford, $2
Util – Jesse Winker, $1
Brito has destroyed spring pitching thus far, going 14-for-37 and building a solid case for major league playing time. He flashed modest power in the minors with useful speed (20 steals last year, 38 in 2014). Better him at $3 than many of the dice-roll outfielders who went for $12 or more.
That Crawford buy certainly looks better now that we know Andre Ethier will be sidelined for 10-14 weeks with a fractured tibia. Carl was a pick-of-regret on Sunday, when Ethier was merely dinged, not broken.
P – Bumgarner, $28
P – Jaime Garcia, $11
P – Joe Ross, $9
P – Tyler Glasnow, $4
P – Tanner Roark, $3
P – Brad Ziegler, $10
P – Jake McGee, $9
P – David Hernandez, $4
P – Tyler Clippard, $1
P – Zack Godley, $1
It's become a cherished Tout tradition for me to buy at least one player who gets himself injured within minutes of joining my team. This year, Joe Ross took a liner off his right heel shortly after I purchased his services. Of course he did; he was arguably my favorite buy. It sounds as if Ross will be good to go in his next start, however, so for now I've avoided the usual spring disaster.
For those unfamiliar with Ross' work, he posted excellent ratios over 16 appearances (13 starts) for Washington last season — 1.11 WHIP, 3.64 WHIP, 8.1 K/9 — and his swinging-strike rate was a wicked 11.9. He's also Tyson's younger brother, but, importantly, he didn't inherit his sibling's horrible walk rate. You may want a few Joe Ross shares in your fantasy portfolio, is what I'm saying.
Glasnow is an obvious breakout candidate, but he'll be temporarily stashed in Indy awaiting the call to Pittsburgh. When he arrives, it will be an actionable fantasy event. He was silly in the minors last season: 136 Ks in 109.1 IP, 2.39 ERA, .195 BAA.
My reserve draft looked like this...
BN – Ryan Vogelsong
BN – Jordan Walden
BN – Alen Hanson
BN – Sean Rodriguez
...so let's hope I never have to rely on the bench.
(No, that's a joke. Hanson will play when he gets the call, and Walden's innings shouldn't be disastrous. But I very seriously cannot wait to drop Rodriguez. It's almost as if I drafted him purely for the pleasure of the drop.)
I wouldn't normally roster quite this many prospects in a deep lineup/short bench mono-league, but, again, the N.L. player pool is pretty vile. My profit potential with guys like Winker, Glasnow, Godley and Hanson is significant. And when you decide to undertake the Harper/Arenado roster build, you have to accept that you'll be buying a few $1 scratch-off tickets.
If you're interested in seeing full N.L. Tout auction results for all teams, click here. No doubt you will be inspired to post glowing reviews of your favorite spending decisions in comments, per the usual. But before you do, a few additional bulleted notes...
• This year's Tout auctions were held at SiriusXM's New York studios in a glass-walled room, allowing curious onlookers to observe fantasy experts in their calming artificial habitat...
— Ron Shandler (@RonShandler) March 20, 2016
All auctions were broadcast live, so picks could be ridiculed in real time. Another win for the people.
• Grey Albright's first move when he entered the auction room above was to remove his blue pullover, revealing AN IDENTICAL BLUE PULLOVER. Like a human nesting doll. And then he cackled his terrifying cackle. Weirdo. I love Grey with my full true heart. He spent $15 on Chris Carter, which, according to my pricing, was a $35 overpay.
• As in prior years, my early nomination strategy was to toss names of players I find to be viscerally repulsive generally overpriced. Thus, Jeff Samardzija was my first toss. The market loves the park change; I see the same old Shark, covered in the stink of 2015. I will not fight you for him. I could be wrong, of course, but that's not really the point of this blurb. I'm simply urging you to nominate your undesirables when other people have full wallets.
• Defending champ Mike Gianella was disciplined early, resisting the splash buys, spreading resources. His most expensive player was just $18 (Wainwright), but only one of his buys went for less than $5. I'm not entirely sure he intended to avoid the $20-$40 players — he was an active early bidder — but he clearly held firm to his price targets. He also bought four quality catchers in a two-catcher league, which caused problems for those of us who waited at the position.
• Let's end with a partial list of players I can't believe I didn't get: Steven Matz went for $12, Orlando Arcia for $2, Hunter Strickland for $4, Mallex Smith for $2 (my nomination, a mistimed toss), Jared Eickhoff for $5, Aaron Altherr for $1 (injured, but only a buck), Josh Bell for $1 and Juan Nicasio for $2. Fine buys, all.
But even the group players I regret not purchasing is kind of a scary bunch, no? That's either an indictment of the N.L. pool or my analytical skills, or both. I'll let the commenters settle the issue...