In looking at players this time of year, how did you budget for the candidates at uncertain positions?...Do you guess which one will grab the job, and bid accordingly, or keep bids low on both, in which instance the extra dollars flow to more established players?I can't speak to Toz's approach in the N.L. auction. He offered a broad outline, but didn't specifically address this question.
I tend to discount players in competition for jobs slightly, but I do also tend to make guesses about who I believe will be starting on Opening Day. The degree of discount versus the degree of certainty depends on a few factors, but I'll admit that I'm mostly making guesses at this point. The discounts on the hitters I believe will be starting are usually slight, while the player I think will be on the bench (or traded) is usually much greater. After running through my baseline rankings, I discounted all of the Texas Rangers and Kansas City Royals outfielders a little bit, but I knocked down Marlon Byrd and Mark Teahen a good deal because my hunch is that they're going to be the losers and on the short end of playing time.
I have to admit that part of this calculation is tied into each player's perceived Roto upside. There is a moderate possibility that Nelson Cruz will fall flat on his face, but if he does succeed, there's a good chance he could put up $18-20 of earnings. My bid obviously isn't going to be that high, but I wasn't going to tick him down to $5 or $6 either. Byrd, on the other hand, doesn't offer a lot in HR or SB, so his ceiling is limited. The same can be said for Teahen: a player who contributes a little bit across all five categories but isn't a big time contributor.
This isn't an exact science, though. I'm just like Alex Patton in that I usually look at each player's Patton earnings and use those as a jumping off point for my bid prices. Like Alex, I believe this is fairly unique; I think most analysts in the industry churn out the stats and put a price on those stats. I think there is a use for this technique, but it doesn't give me a good idea of how to compete in an auction environment.
To answer the second half of your question, I do tend to add a couple of bucks to the top players, but I don't add much more than that. Your reasons for doing so...
it is good to err by a couple of dollars on the studs, but 10 or 15? In one sense bidding an extra 10 on player who turns out to be worth 2 isn't as bad as bidding 45 on a player who turns out to worth 35, because you aren't going to cut the high price player and free up the spot to attempt to makeup the shortfall through the free agent pool, like you will with the cheaper player....are different than mine.
In actuality, you're better off with a $45 player who only earns $35 than a $12 player who only earns $2 because you're still getting back 78 cents on the dollar and - more importantly - there aren't that many $35 players out there. That $2 earner is only returning 17 cents on your dollar, and it's harder to find a free agent replacement who will earn $10 or more than you might think. In my non-expert A.L. last year, only 10 out of 70 free agents picked up during the regular season earned $10 or more. This includes N.L.-imports Mark Teixeira and Jason Bay and players like Paul Konerko and Akinori Iwamura who were waived because they were having disappointing seasons, and didn't earn $10 for their new teams. To put it simply, the odds of getting $10 worth of value through the free agent pool are poor.
I tend not to go too far for the superstars because there's a ceiling on what even the best players can do. Albert Pujols is as sure a thing as there is in Roto, yet he "only" earned $44 in 4x4 last year, and has never earned more than $47 in a single season. Paying $55 for Albert means that I know I'm taking a loss.
On the other hand, I might take a loss on a $12 player but I might also turn a profit.
The biggest bargains in the A.L. last year weren't just the players who went for $3 or less. Five of them went between $11-20. This wasn't quite as prevalent in the N.L., but four of the biggest bargains went between $7-13.
That's another reason I'm reluctant to spend too much money on the top players, even in an early auction. If I fall into dollar derby too early, I lose control of the room and of any possible bargains that might fall into my lap. I don't know if those bargains are going to be in the $11-20 range or the $7-13 range or somewhere else. But I know they're going to be there, and I don't want to miss out because I spent $52 on David Wright or Ryan Braun.