Tip Drill: Scenes from an industry auction

For all intents and purposes my fantasy season kicked off Sunday morning in New York City. There are three primary leagues on my yearly calendar (Yahoo Friends & Family, Tout Wars, Hometown Keeper League), and they're all neatly arranged on the same week of 2011, with Tout kicking things off.

I'll go over my roster here. Keep in mind this is an NL-only league with 13 knowledgeable owners; it bares little resemblance to a common mixed league. In a mixer you probably don't care too much for names like James Loney(notes), Raul Ibanez(notes) or Scott Rolen(notes); they fetched $19, $15 and $13, respectively, in the Tout room.

Said another way, an NL-only league is a game of depth rather than a game of stars – at least that's how I generally approach it. My general strategy going in was the same as always – collect at-bats and participation, be cheap but careful when it comes to catchers and saves, and be wiling to shift the entire plan into reverse if the flow of the auction suggested as such. I'll never understand the fantasy player that comes to the table with a set of prices (or a scripted strategy) and never deviates from that. Adjustments are critical, reevaluations are critical.

The league uses 5x5 scoring, a $260 budget, and 15 game position minimum from the previous year. Draft 14 hitters in the normal configuration, nine pitchers, and four reserve picks (no one's reserve picks look any good in this type of format, though I lucked into Omar Infante(notes) last year. This year, he fetched $17).

And away they go:

Catchers: Carlos Ruiz(notes) $9, Nick Hundley(notes) $6

The goal here is to get two regulars without breaking the bank. I thought John Buck(notes) could be a good source of at-bats without priciness – everyone knows he's got just about zero chance to duplicate what he did last year – but once he got to double digits, I was out. I'm fine with what I landed here; just play 2/3 of the time and contribute some.

Corners: Ryan Howard(notes) $30, Miguel Tejada(notes) $14, Placido Polanco(notes) $11

The at-bats strategy tends to steer you towards a lot of players in the $10-20 range – and boring vets like Tejada and Polanco often fall in that pricing structure. I landed Tejada as an early purchase in part because of his position eligibility; when you get versatile players at the beginning, you widen your pool of options for later.

I was price-enforcing Howard at $30 but I was fine when the music stopped. He's a rock-solid play in three categories, and don't forget his career average is a solid .279. The batting-average risk here is dramatically overblown.

Middles: Juan Uribe(notes) $15, Ryan Theriot(notes) $13, Alex Gonzalez(notes) $8

Uribe was on my rough list of pre-auction targets, mostly as a position grab (he carries three infield positions) but I also like that he's panned in a lot of arenas. Alas, I paid market on him here, but that isn't always a bad thing. Theriot and Gonzalez are boring vets with safe jobs; again, this illustrates how different an NL-only pool is from a mixed-league exercise. I don't have the sexiest infield in the league, but there are no glaring dead spots.

Outfielders: Ryan Braun(notes) $36, Ben Francisco(notes) $10, Jonny Gomes(notes) $12, Brad Hawpe(notes) $10, Carlos Gomez(notes) $13, Mark DeRosa(notes) $4 (utility)

The Braun purchase was similar to Howard; an early price-enforce bid where I wasn't unhappy to win. I don't think it's possible to take him too early in any kind of a draft this year, and in this format I'd pay up to $40 for him and not bat an eyelash. He's the perfect combination of safe floor, tantalizing upside, and five categories of potential coverage. Not that I'm blowing the cover off anything here – we all know how dynamic Ryan Braun is.

The rest of my outfield was procured in the second half of the auction, and there's a glaring omission here – no Robin to go with Braun's Batman. I found the market for the second and third tier outfielders to be a little pricy (Jay Bruce(notes) $29, Colby Rasmus(notes) $26, etc.), so I took it down a notch and went with some cheap working-class heroes.

Francisco is the wild card in the bunch; I see 20-20 potential if he stays on the field, but that depends on a lot of factors. Gomes won't repeat 2010 but I'd be fine with 2009's line. Gomez makes me sick to my stomach, but I didn't have enough speed and he does offer that, on some level. I also need Hawpe to solidify his starting spot in San Diego (at first base); if he plays 130 games, I'll make my money back. But there's a viable chance I could be flushing here.

Starting Pitchers: Tim Hudson(notes) $13, Jaime Garcia(notes) $10, Jonathon Niese(notes) $7, Bronson Arroyo(notes) $6, Clayton Richard(notes) $4, Jake Westbrook(notes) $4

My pre-game hope was that I could land a second-tier anchor (someone like Cole Hamels(notes)) at a decent price, then go into discount mode with solid-but-unspectacular options on the rest of the staff. Hamels was a shade more than I wanted to spend ($22), and most of the hope-for values in the middle, names like Ryan Dempster(notes) ($16) and Ted Lilly(notes) ($18), were popular to my opponents as well. I do regret letting Hiroki Kuroda(notes) stop at $13.

No one will quake in their boots looking at my six starters, but all I'm asking is that they're not awful. In this sort of league it's a lot easier to cobble together pitching than it is hitting, and that's why I spent less of my relative resources on this side of the diamond (only $69 of my $260 went towards the staff).

Relief Pitchers: Francisco Cordero(notes) $12, Brandon Lyon(notes) $12, Wilton Lopez(notes) $3

I got what I wanted in the bullpen, cheap and scrubby closers who didn't cost much. I don't worry too much about Cordero's declining skills or the threats behind him; I'm banking on Dusty Baker being a loyal manager, and a closing job not being that hard to hold onto. It's a similar situation in Houston; Lyon's stuff might not even be league average, but he converted 20-of-22 saves last year. He can be in that neighborhood again.

I had mixed feelings about the Lopez purchase. On one hand his K/BB rate sings to you (50 whiffs, five walks) and it's nice to have a hedge against Lyon, but I'm limiting my upside by choosing two pitchers from the same bullpen and there's no guarantee Lopez is the next option if Lyon falters. I think Lopez will easily justify his cost, but maybe I should have spent that money differently.

I ran projected standings after the draft, using Rotowire's projections (which I did not alter). The shape of my team is about what I figured: strong in most of the counting stats (very strong in runs, homers, RBIs; competitive in wins, strikeouts and saves), middle-of-the-pack in average, mediocre with ERA and WHIP, and a lack of speed. Add it all up and the software projects this as a third-place team. Of course, March projections don't mean a lot.

The full NL Tout 2011 auction results can be found here. Share your own picks and power ranks. Which teams look good? Which rosters underwhelm you?


Images courtesy Associated Press

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