Keeper Auction: Post-Draft Report

The morning after a fantasy auction is like the morning after prom: your head aches and you're filled with regret. Of course, with an auction there's no tuxedo to return, and nobody's written "DON'T TEASE THE WOMBAT" on your face with a Sharpie. So maybe it's not exactly like prom. It's more like the morning after the ESPYs: you feel like death and you wake up with Jeff Kent.

Yup, that's it. That's how I'm feeling right now.

There were a few simple things I'd meant to accomplish at my NL-only keeper league auction. Obviously, they didn't all work out. No one goes into an auction thinking they'll bring home an $18 Jeff Kent, not even the biggest motocross enthusiast. I'm not entirely unhappy with my squad, though. Nor am I disappointed with my adherence to the keeper/auction principles discussed last week. As an expansion franchise, the general idea was to emerge with a competitive team for 2007 and a core of cheap, high-upside players who might help me win the league sometime before 2010.

I feel very good about the 2010 thing. Can I compete this season? Well, that depends on two factors: how my collection of young pitchers performs, and how an outfielder's labrum heals. But I'm skipping ahead a bit in the post-auction review. Eventually we'll look at what I'd intended to do, and how it all shook out at the five-hour auction – Seriously, it was five hours. I'd call it a "marathon auction," but people usually finish marathons in way less time. First, however, I would like to acknowledge one of the most effective auction bidding strategies I've ever witnessed.

The endless rain of $1 pitchers

You don't have to throw out every player at $1 in an auction. In fact, it's kind of a courtesy to introduce someone at no less than 50 percent of what you feel his true value might be. This keeps things moving along, preventing a tedious "one dollar … two dollars … three dollars" exchange involving some mega-star who'll inevitably go for 40 bucks. But without exception, the commissioner of my league introduced everyone at exactly $1. They were all pitchers, too. And for the first three or four hours of the draft, they were relatively useless pitchers.

It was masterful. Apparently, the commissioner has a knack for spending little more than $9 on his nine starting pitching spots each year, yet he assembles a useful staff. He achieves this by slowly filling other people's starting rosters with dreck, then pouncing on whatever values remain at the end. If memory serves, the first three players he introduced for bidding were Josh Johnson, Mark Prior, and Chad Billingsley. None of them will open the year in a starting rotation. Only one of them – Billingsley, who I grabbed – is pitching well at the moment. The commissioner deliberately, thoughtfully, and with feigned enthusiasm just kept introducing replacement-level and/or non-starting talent at $1, then he let them go when someone bid $2 – Only in Chicago would someone bid $2 on Mark Prior. The one stiff he was burned on was Mark Mulder, who he can simply cut or DL. It really was an impressive strategy. I kept two pitching spots open until the latest possible moment, all so I could make him go to $6 on Randy Johnson – still a steal, obviously. He also nabbed Noah Lowry for $4, Tom Glavine for $1, and Tim Hudson for $4. He'd kept Chris Carpenter at $25. Nicely played.

But enough about the competition. Here's what I had hoped to achieve …

Seize the financial high ground

Having the most to spend at the right time in an auction is a pretty big deal. One owner began the day with a significantly bigger imaginary wad than mine, and I was eager to balance out the money. Eventually I did, but it took many hours, beverages, and Mets. The plan was to toss out Jose Reyes early – he was clearly the most valuable un-kept player – and let the owner who had $214 to spend go crazy. He needed both steals and a shortstop; I already possessed subsistence-level speed and Felipe Lopez. Also, I was a Reyes owner during the hamstring years, and I'm still scarred. I was absolutely sure this dude had deliberately cleared cap room for Reyes. But when I tossed the Met shortstop out there … nothing.

Well, nothing happened that involved the guy with all the money. Everyone else bid. Reyes went to the league commissioner for a whopping $48. Recall that the cap was $300 and nearly all the elite players had been kept, so $48 for a middle infielder who might deliver 120 R, 20 HR, and 60 SB wasn't ridiculous. However, I wasn't pleased that the well-heeled owner didn't bite. He bit somewhat later, dropping $42 on Jimmy Rollins and, in a preposterous back-and-forth with me, shelling out $44 for the fragile-necked Carlos Delgado. At the time, Delgado was the last reliable source of power available, and everyone in the room knew this guy had to buy him at any price. The task of making sure Delgado went for a giant pile of dough fell to me. Very few moments in fantasy sports are as exhilarating as bidding $43 dollars on a player you don't actually want. Which gets us to the next principle.

Overspend wisely

If I'd ended up with Delgado, I could have justified the 43 bucks. Sort of. But I certainly wouldn't have written about it. I went into the auction knowing that I had to buy power, which is really an awful position to be in – everyone wants power, even owners who don't need it. Power is predictable. Power affects multiple categories. Power corrupts, too. Like when you buy both Adam Dunn (for $33) and Andruw Jones ($37), as I did. There isn't much hope for my team batting average with those two in the outfield, unless maybe one of them is less abysmal than usual. Dunn's three-year composite batting average is .249 and Jones' is .262. I'm projecting the team average in my NL-only league to be somewhere in the high .280s.

So why go after both Dunn and Jones? Because they were, without question, the two sluggers most likely to finish two standard deviations above the league mean in home runs and RBI – Albert Pujols and Ryan Howard were kept. That's rare. It's the sort of thing you can only expect from four or five players. Carlos Lee was available, too – he went for $42. But despite being useful in five-categories, Lee isn't a great outlier in any one. This might change in Minute Maid Park, but you can't (and shouldn't) project a player to reach some new performance plateau, unless it's 1996 and they're moving to Coors Field. Same story with Prince Fielder, who went for $39. My aim in the NL auction was to find power at every position. I'd kept at least two players, Lopez and Willy Taveras, who can't be expected to approach league average in the power categories. My only kept sources for HR and RBI were Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman, neither of whom projects to be exceptional. Thus, Dunn and Jones. And Kent – I'd hoped for Bill Hall or Stephen Drew at middle infield, but they became unusually pricey. And Mike Jacobs for $14. And Carlos Quentin for $20.

That's the labrum that holds my season in its cruel, gooey, cartilagey embrace. Quentin's MRI is well-known in fantasy circles by now. I shouldn't need to tell you that he might begin the season on the DL with slight tear in his left labrum – People did not have labrums when I was growing up. Or if they did, no one talked about them. Ah, simpler times … I was disappointed that a brief bidding war broke out over Qunetin. He's A) slightly broken and B) largely unproven. While I think he can hit 25 HR for Arizona, it's also possible that he'll be this year's Jeremy Hermida – unless of course Hermida himself repeats as a bafflingly disappointing sleeper.

In my auction, Hermida and his old-man knees went to the defending league champ for $16. The champ, who already owns a coterie of young stars at obscenely low salaries, was allowed no bargains whatsoever. The league essentially conspired against him. Another principle was at work here.

Don't let the filthy rich get filthy richer

What do you give the owner who already has Chase Utley, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Howard, David Wright, and Carlos Zambrano?

Not a (expletive) thing, that's what. Collectively, the league made the defending champ pay through the nose for everyone – absolutely everyone. It was a lovely display of enmity toward a brash and hugely successful owner. A show of respect, really. No matter who the champ went after, it wasn't easy for him. The best hitter he was allowed to add was (arguably) Barry Bonds at $13, and the champ didn't really need any additional power. He was shut out on the top-tier and second-tier shortstops. The best pitcher he added was (again, arguably) Barry Zito at $17. He will be made to suffer a plague of Barrys! Or at least that's the hope. The champ is still very much the favorite to win in 2007. In part because of that, I tried to look beyond this season.

If you can't get good, get young. If you can't get either good or young, you might be the Cubs

The best starting pitchers available in the auction were John Smoltz, Jason Schmidt, and Aaron Harang. One of them is about to turn 40, another has a K/BB ratio that's headed the wrong direction, and the other … well, OK, I really like Harang, despite the 446 innings over the past two seasons. All those guys went for similar prices. Instead of grabbing one of them at a lofty salary, I snagged Ian Snell, Chad Billingsley, Anthony Reyes, Greg Maddux, and Mike Pelfrey for a total of $22. That's $7 less than Smoltz alone would have cost. Late in the draft, I added Chris Capuano – who did a pretty decent Jason Schmidt impersonation last season, but with a fraction of the walks – and I added the slowly rehabbing Pedro Martinez for $10. That's either an excellent keeper, or a terrific trade chip. Do I have a winning pitching staff? Well, no. Probably not. But you never really know with pitching. At least half of my staff is keep-able. If either Snell or Reyes can approach their brilliant minor league rates (3.69 K/BB ratio for Snell, 5.51 for Reyes), I've got an ace for the next five years.

My final auction picks really took a lot of scheming. I waited on a pair of prospects until everyone had used up their money and open roster spots. Then, giddily, I added Pelfrey and Joey Votto, each for $1. People know Pelfrey, an excessively-hyped Mets pitching prospect – Is there any other kind of Mets prospect? But Votto isn't necessarily on your radar. Here is the full extent of my knowledge of Cincinnati first base prospect Joseph Daniel Votto: At age 22, the lefty put up a.319/.408./547 line at Double-A Chattanooga with 22 HR and 24 SB, and the only guy standing between him and a Major League gig is Scott Hatteberg.

That's all I really need to know. You can have your Brauns and your Kouzmanoffs and your Pies. I'll take Joey V, thank you. Acquiring him allowed me to satisfy the only truly important auction principle:

Try to have fun and leave hopeful

At least I've done that much. If I never write about this league again, I trust you'll know how it's going.

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