NL-only LABR Draft Recap
Imagine walking into a room to compete against people you have been reading for as long as you have been playing fantasy baseball. That was me this past weekend when I was graciously invited to participate in the NL-only LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) salary cap league/auction at Baseball HQ's First Pitch Florida event.
Thanks for Steve Gardner of USA Today and Ian Kahn for reaching out and getting me involved in LABR for the first time. It was a real treat.
At first, this draft was an intimidating scenario, but I quickly realized that everyone was friendly and welcoming. There were multiple newcomers in this year's group and it helped that I wasn't the only one who hadn't attended an in-person salary cap league in recent years. In fact, this was the first time in three years that all 12 LABR competitors drafted together in person. After a little while, it began to feel like another draft, even though it was against some of the brightest and most experienced minds in the industry. Seriously, try an in-person salary cap format at some point. I doubt you'll want to draft another way again.
Here's the list of the other 11 competitors:
Mike Gianella - Baseball Prospectus
Derek Carty - RotoGrinders
Rick Wolf and Glenn Colton - Sirius XM Fantasy
Jeff Zimmerman - FanGraphs
Geoff Pontes - Baseball America
Greg Ambrosius/ Shawn Childs - NFBC
Frank Stampfl - CBS Sports
Doug Dennis - Baseball HQ
Steve Gardner - USA Today Sports
Brian Walton - CreativeSports
Ron Shandler/Matt Cederholm
LABR is a standard 5x5 format with a $260 salary cap budget, but the rosters come with some unique quirks. You can't simply bench a pitcher in a week where they have bad matchups or sit some Rockies hitters when they go on the road. In many cases — barring injury or demotion — doing that means releasing them from your team altogether. Your six reserve picks (which were drafted in a snake style process after the main auction) are especially valuable, as they can be moved in and out of your lineup. This led many to target an injured player or two during the main draft — or perhaps a prospect who is likely to begin the season in the minors — in order to provide some extra roster flexibility out of the gate.
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Below is a look at the draft board toward the salary cap phase. Here's a link to the full board, complete with reserve picks:
D.J. Short - LABR roster
1B Darin Ruf
2B Luis García
SS Trea Turner
CI J.D. Davis
OF Ian Happ
OF Joc Pederson
OF Tommy Pham
UTIL Matt Carpenter
RES - P Anthony DeSclafani
RES - OF Darick Hall
RES - P Luis Cessa
RES - P Quinn Priester
RES - P Robert Suarez
RES - 3B Mark Vientos
Would you believe that I went into this draft without a plan? Mind you, I had **potential** plans, but there was only so much I could plan for in an entirely new situation. I usually like having a balanced roster, even in a dynasty format. I had a feeling I would be aggressive in a couple of the more shallow spots — catcher and closer among them — but beyond that, I wanted to let inspiration be my guide. And here's where I landed.
It was fascinating to see the different approaches in the room. Mike Gianella won the league last year and had the honor of the first nomination, but it would be several rounds before he even secured his first player. Spencer Strider, who was actually the first nomination by Gianella, kicked off an early spending spree by Greg Ambrosius and Shawn Childs of NFBC. The duo also landed the likes of Fernando Tatís, Sandy Alcantara, Mets prospect Francisco Álvarez, and spring training standout Jordan Walker at the blink of an eye.
If I'm going to be competitive in this league this year, my pitching will carry the day. Four starting pitchers went for $30 or higher and I nabbed one of them with Justin Verlander at $31. I have to admit I was a bit jealous when fellow NL LABR newbie Frank Stampfl later got Brandon Woodruff at $28. On the other hand, I felt great about getting Zac Gallen for $23 to give me an enviable 1-2 punch. I was involved in the bidding for Edwin Díaz earlier in the draft, but had to draw the line at $25 (he went to Derek Carty) and I later pivoted to Raisel Iglesias at $23. I think Carty got the better value, for sure, though Iglesias is probably my favorite closer target this season.
Rounding out my pitching staff in the auction phase was Jameson Taillon ($9), Ranger Suárez ($8), Diamondbacks prospect Brandon Pfaadt ($6), possible Cubs closer Michael Fulmer ($1), Mets right-hander Tylor Megill ($1), and Padres right-hander Seth Lugo ($1). I'm probably going to have to wait for Pfaadt to make an impact, but this is a deep staff with equal parts stability and upside.
As for my offense, well, it's very top-heavy. Trea Turner is the centerpiece for my lineup, with a hefty price tag of $40 to boot. Only Ronald Acuña Jr.($41 to Colton/Wolf) and Juan Soto ($43 to Ambrosius) went for more, which sounds about right. As planned going in, I went big on a top catcher by landing Will Smith for $26, equaling what Doug Dennis of Baseball HQ doled out to secure J.T. Realmuto on his squad.
Do you want to know one of the main differences between playing in a mixed league and a league-only format? You really can't consider anybody as a “fade” in a format like this. If you do, you might only end up hurting yourself. This came up multiple times with some of my fellow drafters over the weekend. Steady at-bats and volume is what it's all about.
Three players I have generally avoided in mixed leagues this year— Ke'Bryan Hayes, Jake Cronenworth, and Luis Garcia — actually made it on my roster here. With Hayes, it was another chance to get some speed on my roster as well as fill a shallow spot with a useful compiler. Cronenworth should pile up some valuable counting stats in San Diego and offers additional appeal by qualifying at multiple positions. Garcia certainly has his flaws, but he's useful enough across the board and playing time shouldn't be an issue in Washington.
I built my outfield on the cheap, which might be my undoing. I was one of just two teams (Geoff Pontes being the other) to not secure a single $20 player in the outfield. Ian Happ was my most expensive pickup at $18, fitting into my theme of useful compilers. Joc Pederson at $14 was mostly about a power play, as I'm aware I will be playing catch up in that area.
The rest of my lineup was filled out by $1-3 players, all of them with legitimate questions. Can BrIan Anderson get back on track in Milwaukee? Can Tommy Pham be relevant in a fourth-outfielder role? Can Matt Carpenter keep the mustache magic going in San Diego? Can Corey Dickerson keep his career alive in Washington? How much will J.D. Davis play? What do the Mets do with Darin Ruf? Like I said, a lot of questions which just might keep me up at night.
After the actual auction was completed, we conducted a six-round snake draft to select our six reserve players. I drew an ace from a deck of cards (literally) and won the right to pick first, which allowed me to start things out with Giants right-hander Anthony DeSclafani. I followed with Phillies outfielder Darick Hall, Pirates prospect right-hander Quinn Priester, Reds right-hander Luis Cessa, Padres reliever Robert Suarez, and Mets prospect third baseman Mark Vientos. Who knows how it will play out, but I think it's a good mix of innings and upside.
Quick League takeaways:
Zooming out, Gianella appears to have the most balanced roster, likely as a result of his more measured approach to the early bidding madness. While he didn't secure one of the “elite” aces, Yu Darvish, Logan Webb, Kyle Wright, Kodai Senga, and Tony Gonsolin is a pretty fun top-five. And while Gianella didn't get carried away for saves either, Evan Phillips could end up being a huge value at $5. His offense is headlined by Matt Olson ($30), with the likes of Starling Marte ($21), C.J. Cron ($19), and William Contreras ($15) as complementary pieces. Seiya Suzuki ($16) could prove to be a difference-maker if he comes back healthy from the oblique injury. Gianella is the champ for a reason, so I'll be watching him closely.
I really liked the lineup builds for Jeff Zimmerman (Chisholm, Schwarber, Muncy, Tellez, Albies) and Gardner (Harris, Swanson, Nimmo, Winker, Stephenson, d'Arnaud), which should keep them in the mix all season. One significant feather in Gardner's cap is that he'll eventually be able to insert Bryce Harper ($14) into his lineup. Gardner had a couple of these IL stashes on his roster, with Joe Musgrove, and more recently, José Quintana falling into this category. The extra flexibility helps in a set-up like this. Gardner also might have gotten one of the best values at closer with Camilo Doval for $13. I'm a bit jealous about that too.
While my lineup might not hang with some of the teams mentioned above, my pitching staff stacks up well against anyone. Gianella is an obvious threat and Carty's staff (Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Charlie Morton, Edwín Díaz) could be sneaky good, especially if David Peterson cracks the Mets' rotation at some point and Mike Soroka can finally put the injuries behind him.