This past weekend, a significant percentage of the fantasy expert community gathered at MLB.com's Manhattan headquarters for Tout Wars — always a good time, always extremely competitive. And when you're the reigning mixed league champ, the city basically treats you like a visiting head of state: Police motorcade, opulent suite, any impulse indulged, etc. So that was nice.
But the tricky thing about defending a title is that you're rarely allowed to follow the same blueprint that worked the prior year. Before discussing pre-auction strategy, I'll give you my 2011 roster, with prices…
C Miguel Montero, $12
C Carlos Ruiz, $3
1B Joey Votto, $36
3B Adrian Beltre, $16
CI Adam Dunn, $29
2B Dustin Ackley, $1
SS Troy Tulowitzki, $39
MI Elvis Andrus, $11
OF Andre Ethier, $22
OF Ichiro, $25
OF Johnny Damon, $2
OF Marlon Byrd, $1
OF Michael Brantley, $1
UT Jim Thome, $1
P Roy Oswalt, $15
P Fernando Rodney, $5
P Yovani Gallardo, $16
P Matt Thornton, $13
P Bud Norris, $5
P David Aardsma, $4
P Scott Baker, $1
P Anibal Sanchez, $1
P Johan Santana, $1
BN Jose Lopez
BN Cameron Maybin
BN Chris Narveson
BN Jayson Nix
This is a 15-team auction league with 23-man active rosters and a four-player bench. We have a $260 budget with which to purchase starters, and we sketch in our reserves via four-round draft. The auction moves along at a brisk pace, because Jeff Erickson is the Paul Westhead of auctioneers. Position eligibility requires 15 games played, so Yahoo! rules don't apply. Also, there's no limit to the total number of players we can keep on our DL, so opening the season with Aardsma and Santana isn't such a big deal.
In short, it's a challenging league, a deep mixer, a difficult auction. For full rosters and prices, click this link.
Here, in no particular order, are three things that went according to plan:
• There weren't any surprises among my $1 buys.* When prepping for an auction, I'll generally spend most of my time vetting the low-dollar options — in this case, the players who were likely to fall outside the top-300. If that group is a collection of undesirables, then it becomes important to have end-game financial leverage, as Scott recently discussed. In most AL/NL-only leagues, the $1 players are often non-starters, and the lack of counting stats will doom your fake team. But in mixed formats, you'll typically find that certain roster positions — usually outfield, first base, pitcher — will offer plenty of acceptable options in the bargain bin. If you'd asked me prior to this year's auction to name the player(s) I'd most likely own, it probably would have been Brantley at $1. Or Byrd at $1, or Damon or Sanchez. For the second year in a row, I was the last guy at the table to complete my starting roster, and the names remaining were predictable and not so scary.
* OK, we're temporarily ignoring the Ackley situation.
Elvis• I purchased two of the consensus top-10 shortstops and one of the Big Two. Early in the auction, I pushed Dave Feldman to $47 on Hanley Ramirez, then soon after bought Tulowitzki for $39. And then I tossed out the best available shortstop whenever it was my turn to nominate. Eventually, I landed Andrus at MI for $11, further thinning the herd at an ugly position. (We probably disagree on Andrus' value, but that's not really the point here. The entire industry seems to consider him overrated, so I suspected I'd get him at a modest cost. Keep in mind that Elvis is just 22, younger than most of the prospects you're excited about, and he's already stolen 30 bases in back-to-back seasons in the majors).
• C'mon, if nothing else, admit that you like those hitters. There's power in that group, respectable speed, and I managed to offset Dunn's potentially horrible average, buying Ichiro and Votto. (Didn't like the price on Ichiro, but considered it a Dunn tax). Important note: Last season, the top three finishers in this league were also the top three finishers in at-bats. I think I've purchased enough at-bats here, although Thome will be tricky to manage around. He's a much easier player to own in a daily transaction league. In Tout, we set weekly lineups.
Here are three things that did not go according to plan, and I'm concerned:
• Yeah, so … the Ackley situation. Second base could be at least a temporary problem for this team, and the position isn't actually such a tough fill this year. I was active in the bidding on nearly every second baseman, including guys I don't much care for. I pushed Ryan [expletive] Theriot to $9, where he probably didn't belong in this league. And I drove Scott Swanay to $29 on Ian Kinsler, which was just $2 less than the price that Gene McCaffrey paid for Robinson Cano. And I was in on the Cano bidding, too. And Pedroia, even though his half-footedness would frighten me all season.
So, despite being a relatively aggressive bidder, I'm presently starting Dustin Ackley. This may all work out eventually — Ackley was a guy I'd targeted for the reserve draft — but I'm not crazy about having him as my opening day second baseman. Here's what tripped me up: I'd decided mid-auction that I was likely to land Danny Espinosa at a cheap price, maybe $2 or $3. We'd reached the point where nearly everyone had filled both 2B and MI, and, based on the names remaining, Cheap Espinosa seemed like the worst-case scenario. Not bad. No reason to panic. But when Espinosa was eventually nominated, KFFL's Tim Heaney went after him aggressively, having only a Utility spot to fill. I tapped out when the bidding reached $8 and Heaney stared me down, growled audibly. (Pretty sure my max at the time was $10). So: Ackley it is. He's a line-drive machine, an Arizona Fall League legend, but April could be dicey. There are free agent options available for me at second, however, so it's not a complete disaster.
Thornton• One of my closers is great, one is injured, and the other is Fernando Rodney. So that's a small worry. But at least I've rostered three sources for saves, not unlike last year. It's fine to say that saves will come into the league, but in practice, adding them successfully in a 15-expert league is a bit of a challenge, as well as a drain on FAAB resources. I caught a small break on the Thornton price ($13), I think, because his manager thoughtfully waited until after I'd purchased him to officially name him the team's closer. Aardsma (hip) is just getting back to playing catch, and Rodney is too expensive at any price.
• I didn't bid $11 often enough. For reasons unknown, the room allowed Nick Minnix to get Brandon Morrow for just $10, and Eric Mack took Kelly Johnson for the same price. I have really no defense on either non-bid, although I'll note that there's not an innings-max in Tout, so Morrow's K-rate isn't quite as tempting as it is in a Yahoo! default format (and I was pretty clearly focused on buying NL starters). Johnson was simply a whiff, almost certainly a steal at $10. I had resources available at the time, too, but the Cheap Espinosa plan was already beginning to form. If we could re-bid, I'd own him. Or Mack would've paid, say, $16.
Here, finally, are three things that did not go according to plan, and that's acceptable:
• I don't own any $40 players. In mixed auctions, I typically have no issue paying top (imaginary) dollar for elite players, even if it puts me temporarily in a weak financial position relative to the league. In fact, in last year's mixed Tout auction, it took me roughly 30 minutes to spend $218. But again, in this format, many of the $1 options aren't severe liabilities. It's worth noting that only 13 players actually drew a bid of $35 or more, Votto and Tulo included, so you can't accuse me of value-hunting in the early minutes.
• Somehow I spent more than $10 on my catchers. My general preference is to minimize risk at this injury-prone position by limiting costs, but I thought $12 was a nice price on Montero, a guy with 18-20 homer potential. For context, a few other catcher prices: Joe Mauer for $27, Carlos Santana for $24*, Victor Martinez for $23, Buster Posey for $23, Brian McCann for $21, Mike Napoli for $20, Geovany Soto for $17, Kurt Suzuki for $14, Jorge Posada for $13.
* This might seem high on Santana, but I pushed the bidding to this point, and I wasn't bluffing at $23. He's in Posey's neighborhood on my draft board, and JP Kastner clearly felt the same way. (That link takes you too a thoughtful and entertaining read on the Santana bidding, from a great fantasy manager. Worth your time if you've made it this far. Let's not pretend you have better things to do). And this brings us to the final bullet in this seemingly endless draft analysis…
• I seemed to do a fair amount of price-enforcing. That's never an objective of mine entering an auction, but spending other people's money is certainly part of the process — and if you can do it while bidding on names you don't hate, all the better. If I'm completely faking interest in a player, I have a very clear tell, a fake-bid cadence. But we've now reached the point in this auction recap where I've said too much.
It's well past time to let the commenters take over. Please, try to be constructive. Maybe find me a trade partner, suggest an add/drop, tell me what you really think of Bud Norris. Try to help the cause.
Photos via AP Images