Tip Drill: Scenes from an expert auction

Tout Wars 2009 went down this past weekend in New York City, three high-profile expert-league auctions that I'm very proud to be a part of (I'm a card-carrying member of the NL-only league). It's a definite rush to match your game against the best in the industry, and the NL group has a very impressive collection of opponents (a league that was strong to begin with welcomed Tristan Cockcroft, Todd Zola and Nate Ravitz into the fold this year; heavy hitters, indeed). This one has been circled on my calendar for a while; let's recap the weekend and figure out what I got (and didn't get) for my $260 of auction money.

Before the draft: I got into Manhattan 45 minutes early, so there was plenty of time for schmoozing with the organizers, league mates and assembled industry folks. Had a good chat with TW Founders Ron Shandler and Lawr Michaels, caught up with Ravitz, talked some shop with Peter Kreutzer, got to meet Scott Swanay, talked parenting with Rob Leibowitz (who's newborn daughter is adorable), handicapped the American League with Jason Collette, and even had time for a quick bowl of Coco Crisp Fruit Loops before the fun and games began.

Okay, time to get in character - it's time to fight over the National League's best 350 or so players. Here's a positional glance at the roster I collected over the next five hours.

Catchers: Ramon Hernandez $10, Chris Coste $2

Generally I like to go middle-class at this position in NL-only; I'm not going to belly up for the stars, but I don't want $1 scrubs either. I got Hernandez for a price-enforcing 10 that surprisingly stuck, and I'm content with Coste for a deuce, he'll play just enough to not be a sinkhole. You don't do cartwheels over a catcher corps like this, but it will work.

• Corners: Ryan Howard $32, Edwin Encarnacion $17, Geoff Blum $4

It's my first time grabbing any of the three this spring, a good sign that I stayed agnostic Sunday and took what was allowed rather than getting too frisky with targeted players. Heck, didn't I spend two weeks here telling you guys not to take Howard and his batting average risk? But on the flip side he has trimmed down, he does have a career .279 average, and he's not going to hit 30 homers and knock in 100 - make it 50 homers and 140 RBIs. Okay, I've talked myself into it. Don't bag on me too much for Blum, he was my last purchase (when the board was basically nuclear) and I have 12 other bats that are better than him. In this format, you can't avoid a Blum or two in your club.

• Middles: Dan Uggla $18, Cristian Guzman $11, Freddy Sanchez $10

Here's a trio I feel very good about; it's not easy to get three full-timers in the middle of an only-league, but I've assembled that here and for a fairly reasonable cost of $39 out the door. Uggla might seem like a curious purchase given that I also have Howard (power heavy, average risk, no speed), but that should be partially balanced out by Sanchez (a high-contact guy and former batting champ) and Guzman (who's hit .316 and .328 the last two years, albeit he missed three-quarters of 2007).

• Outfield: Eric Byrnes $11, Rick Ankiel $14, Daniel Murphy $12, Garret Anderson $6, Jeff Francoeur $10

Okay, there's no sexy name here, fine, but I've collected four starters and a fourth outfielder in this group, and that's not easy to do in this format. And collectively it just cost $53, not bad at all.

There's an upside and downside to anyone, and that especially applies to my guys here. Byrnes had a major injury last year and he's a bench player on Arizona's depth chart. Ankiel is another batting-average risk and he's not a base stealer. There's plenty to like about Murphy but I chased him and mildly overpaid at $12. Anderson is on the downside of his career, though $6 looks pretty reasonable to me. Francoeur obviously was a train wreck in 2008; I'm hoping the new approach he's shown this spring is something he can carry over to the real games. And heck, he's still just 25.

• Utility: Edgar Renteria $12

I've spent most of the last four months talking Renteria down and I can't say I'm mad for the price, but this was a timing purchase, he was one of the last sure starters left on the offensive board. I would have preferred a dynamic outfielder here, but the position scarcity of the middle infield might free me up to make a balancing trade. And the Giants obviously didn't throw $18 million to Renteria so he could waste away on the bench.

Offense as a whole: Plenty of starters and participation (it's likely I collected the most at-bats), a strong foundation of power and runs scored, sketchy in average, and just about zero speed (unless Byrnes unlocks his 2007 mojo - keep dreaming, Pianow). I'd certainly like more balance, but I'll take this as a base, a starting-off point.

• First three pitchers bought: Oliver Perez $11, Francisco Rodriguez $22, Jake Peavy $24

I'm not the biggest Perez guy in the world generally, but my Long Island source likes him, and in a sense I'm betting on the park here as much as anything else. K-Rod certainly wasn't by design - it's very rare for me to pony up big money for a closer - but I'll gladly cut a $22 check for someone this safe on this spring a team. A lot of closers with significant fleas went in the $15-20 range; I don't think a mild upgrade to land K-Rod is that big of a deal. Peavy fits the staff profile I want, with a clear ace out front that doesn't go for a ridiculous price. Brandon Webb would be a safer anchor and I also bid $24 on him earlier, but got topped. I'm fine with Peavy at $24, though a full season in San Diego would be appreciated.

• Second three pitchers bought: Manuel Corpas $11, Mike Pelfrey $7, Bronson Arroyo $7

I was hoping to get two reasonably-priced closers without breaking the bank. If Corpas gets the job I've done just that, but Clint Hurdle certainly is taking his time on the decision. Unfortunately the Corpas buy closed my serious save-chase budget for the day, and shortly after that I watched Nate Ravitz absolutely steal Kevin Gregg for $8. Oh well, can't buy everyone.

I may have tricked myself into Arroyo, feeling all the Cincinnati pitchers will be better off this year now that the outfield defense isn't being wrecked by Adam Dunn and Ken Griffey (forget his days as "The Kid," he's been a statue for a while). But Arroyo hasn't had a good spring, he's mentioned in constant trade talks, and he's a fly-baller with a gopher problem.

I believe in Pelfrey's pedigree and power sinker, and I like the early buzz on the park. I think I got a mild discount on him after his mediocre spring and mild nicks, but I would have gone higher than $7.

• Final three pitchers bought: John Grabow $1, Hong-Chih Kuo $6, Saul Rivera $2

I would have preferred another solid starter here, but a price-enforcing bid on Kuo didn't get topped and I was caught on a player I really didn't want, one of the few times that happened all day. I'm not one to chase heroic middle-relief seasons, but it's not like I emptied out the vault for him - and he should pitch enough innings to make a positive impact in the percentage stats. Grabow and Rivera are simple concepts, hedges against closers I'm not completely sold on (Matt Capps is actually solid from an ability standpoint, but he needs to stay healthy, and the team may look to move him mid-season).

Pitching as a whole: I certainly don't like it as much as my offense, but that's kind of the nature of the game with pitching - the only way you can love a pitching staff is if you devote crazy resources to it or the auction falls perfectly for you. I need Peavy to be a horse; I'd really like Citi Field to play as I expect it will (I've got their closer and two rotation guys); I need to find at least 20 saves from my non-Rodriguez guys; I probably need at least one more starting pitcher I can feel good about.

Why did I sit so quietly while Paul Maholm (who I owned last year) went for $10? It was late and money was a little tight, sure, but there was a guy worth chasing.

• Reserve Draft: Mike Lamb, Norris Hopper, Josh Geer, Garrett Mock

Keep in mind 299 players are auctioned off the board (NL-only) before we get to the reserve draft; there's really nothing left. If Lamb gets 200 at-bats he'll be useful to me. Hopper is a lottery ticket for some possible speed. Geer might be able to hold up as a home-only starting option. Mock is off a solid spring and he's got some strikeout upside, I guess.

After the draft: Andy Behrens and Mike Salfino were in the city, fresh off their Mixed-League battle the previous day, and we set out for some baseball talk and New York-style pizza. Andy eventually had to leave for his Jersey flight hassle, so Mike and I retired to a Bleeker Street bar for a few drinks and a long talk about Bob Dylan. A helluva day.

So is my team any good? I know the mixed-league roto crowd would laugh at this roster, but this is a deep NL-only league against experts, my friends. The context is everything. RotoWire's draft software projects my club to come in second and Swanay's projections offer a third-place finish, and I'm fine with that. Three different sources - counting myself - have pegged me as a contender, now it's time to manage and maneuver for six months and see if I can make it happen.

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