- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
Each fantasy baseball auction is different, and if you're anything like me, when an auction ends, I feel like I spend more time regretting not spending the extra dollar(s) for certain players rather than celebrating the fine individuals who compose what I hope is the winning team.
For example, Sunday night from pleasant Phoenix, I was again fortunate to participate in the annual LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) auction. I handled the National League, while trusted colleague and Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast and dining partner Tristan H. Cockcroft kicked butt in the American League the night prior. We entered our respective proceedings with a similar, time-tested philosophy of bargain-hunting and seeking value, and based on the projected standings derived from our statistical projections, our goals were achieved.
My team features a strong, undervalued pitching staff, a seriously veteran yet top-notch infield and a risky low-average, possibly high-upside outfield, but does not include the one top stolen-base option, in retrospect, I felt went way too cheap. Nobody will confuse New York Mets outfielder Eric Young Jr. with being a terrific baseball player, but when it comes to stolen bases, few are better, and many of the top options, save for him and Cincinnati Reds lightning rod Billy Hamilton, ply their trade in the NL. My team chased steals after Young went for a bit above our projected price. Shopping for bargains is nice, but once in a while you just have to get someone who statistically fits into your plan.
These are deep 12-team auctions, with a cap of $260 and then a six-round snake draft to form the reserve roster. In these leagues, players on the reserve roster can be moved back and forth from lineups according to the weekly deadline, but active players cannot move to the reserve unless demoted to the minors or placed on the disabled list. There's a strategy to forming active and reserve rosters. Let's just say nobody brought harmful ERA guys such as Edinson Volquez up for bid, but in the reserve round, there's little downside.
Tristan and I mostly tailored our bids in accordance with the ESPN Fantasy custom dollar value generator -- while adding a few tweaks -- so it's little surprise that according to our projections, we project to contend for our respective league titles. We should, since it's our system! Many owners believe they have drafted well. Of course, it's also the first week of March. Six months of real games need to be played, and some players will emerge, more will fail, and injuries, trades and many other factors will play roles. Auction night is just one piece of the proverbial puzzle. Regardless, we both recommend the value generator and, of course, our rankings, and one should prepare vigorously before any draft or auction.
In the AL auction, as Tristan ably describes, it took top prices to procure top talent. The NL bar was set a bit lower on superstars such as Paul Goldschmidt and Clayton Kershaw, sending the entire evening a bit out of whack, as ample funds remained late. I noticed this trend early but didn't need to alter my strategy; I just simply bought many players early for what our numbers indicated were prized deals. Don't let anyone tell you the reason you can't win is a weak duo of catchers, or middle infielders or in my case, a subpar outfield. Constructing a team is a puzzle; where or how the numbers come from is not important. I did have the mindset to leave no potential dead spots on the roster after doing so in multiple offensive spots a year earlier. Your NL-only auction team might look nothing like this. Sometimes one must zig when others zag. According to our dollar per value projection tool, this team below is worth $301, or $41 more than I spent. That's the goal!
1B: Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals ($23): Yeah, perhaps I like him more than most, but I wouldn't call this overpaying to get him. It helps that he has outfield eligibility, which is nice in deep formats.
2B: Matt Carpenter, Cardinals ($21): That price tag is, um, a lot less than his new contract extension. His batting average over many at-bats is critical to this fantasy team, he'll score runs and can also play third base.
SS: Andrelton Simmons, Braves ($15): Pretty nice bargain here, methinks. Should see growth in power and speed, and it doesn't matter to me where he hits in the Braves' lineup.
3B: David Wright, Mets ($26): Hopefully he doesn't end up leading my team in stolen bases! But he's about as safe as you can get and oddly inexpensive. Billy Hamilton went for $28!
2B/SS: Brandon Phillips, Reds ($17): It's true, I have not been recommending this fine but regressing player in discussion/writing, but I don't need his best season for him to earn this price tag.
OF: Chris Young, Mets ($9): Man, the other Young on the Mets would have been perfect here! But at the time Eric Young Jr. was up for bidding, I didn't know how much Everth Cabrera ($20), Ben Revere ($19), A.J. Pollock ($17) and even Nate McLouth ($9) would cost. Anyway, Chris Young does have three 20/20 seasons to his credit. Think positively!
OF: Drew Stubbs, Colorado Rockies ($7): No, I hadn't planned on punting batting average; in fact, I'm projected to be in the middle of the pack. Like Young, Stubbs has been valuable before. He does run and might lead off. I feel good about these prices and the potential profit.
OF: Chris Denorfia, Padres ($5): He went early in the auction, one of those bids that stopped a bit prematurely, but not a bad option at all. In past seasons, I would have bought his teammate Cameron Maybin, only to see him injured for months the next day. Now I have a player who stands to benefit from Maybin's woes.
OF: Jake Marisnick, Marlins ($1): Who knows, right? He's talented and offers exciting power/speed possibilities for when he's promoted full time.
UTIL: Casey McGehee, Marlins ($6): Starting third baseman, one of the final picks. Has been a run producer in the past, but again, who really knows?
P: Jeff Samardzija, Cubs ($9): Not sure I understand why the bidding stopped here, but I'm not complaining. He's worth at least $14 considering he's one of just eight pitchers in the NL we project to get 200 strikeouts.
P: Dillon Gee, Mets ($8): Minor overpay, but timing is everything. It came so late in the auction, it didn't cost me another top player, or Eric Young Jr. for that matter, so no big deal.
P: Trevor Rosenthal, Cardinals ($16): For perspective, Craig Kimbrel ($22), Aroldis Chapman ($20) and Kenley Jansen ($20) were priced about right. In hindsight, though, with so many capable closers going for $12 or less, I should've passed.
P: Steve Cishek, Marlins ($10): Tough to beat this price. I suppose others were concerned he'd be traded to a team where he wouldn't close. He's excellent trade bait, too. Wonder if the Eric Young Jr. owner is interested?
P: Rex Brothers, Rockies ($6): With two other closers, I really didn't need Brothers, but that's such a bargain, and even if he doesn't close, he's a safe, high-strikeout reliever. My team is better if the next guy closes, actually.
P: LaTroy Hawkins, Rockies ($2): He was going to go for a dollar! I don't generally "price enforce" -- and you shouldn't either! -- but I also think he'll be the closer in April, not Brothers. If not, I have starters in reserve, and I can get the more natural breakdown of six starters and three closers.
Reserve hitters (three of them, no price): Chone Figgins of the Dodgers could actually win the second-base job and solve my potential stolen-base problem. Or he could be toiling in an independent league. I'm a big fan of Braves second baseman Tommy La Stella! Perhaps he doesn't usurp the job from Dan Uggla this month, but it's coming. And La Stella can hit for average. And I do think Christian Bethancourt will see extensive time behind the plate for Atlanta and won't embarrass himself when hitting.
Reserve pitchers (three of them, no price): Dodgers lefty Paul Maholm and Padres right-hander Joe Wieland could each begin the season in the rotation, and will be nice matchup plays when pitching in their pitchers' parks. Plus, I can trade a starter if one emerges as a safe option. My final pick was Stolmy Pimentel of the Pirates; he'll likely make the team and perhaps the rotation. Not a ton of upside, but haven't you always wanted to own a guy named Stolmy?
Good luck in your auctions, and by the way, practice makes perfect, so try an auction format in our mock draft lobby and find out what you're comfortable with before it counts!