This past weekend was an opportunity to auction in the more relaxed environment of my home leagues. First up was the 25th annual auction for the Billy Almon Brown Graduate, A.L.-only league.
I finished fifth last year, winding up in that awkward position I've been in now for the last three years. My auction is good enough to keep me in the running for the first four months, but other teams eventually have more to dump and I have neither enough talent nor luck to win. Fifth place in our league is worth the #1 overall minor league pick, so while I certainly didn't try to tank the season from July forward, I definitely didn't try as hard to finish fourth as I might have otherwise.
My freezes this year: Ramon Castro $1, Matt LaPorta $10, Gordon Beckham $10, Marco Scutaro $3, Brett Gardner $16, Juan Pierre $29, Erik Bedard $7, Matt Thornton $6, C.J. Wilson $6. $172 left to spend on 14 players in the auction.
Based on my projected value calculations, this was the fourth best freeze list in the league (it's a 4x4 league, so Thornton helps a lot more here than he would in 5x5). The problem was that the first and second best teams were projected to come out $45 ahead of me on value. I wasn't sure how I was going to catch up, and didn't formulate much in the way of a great plan before the auction.
Gardner and Pierre were just about all the speed I needed, so I decided to focus on everything else on offense, which meant pushing my bids up on power hitters and ignoring rabbits unless they were super cheap. On the pitching side, I'd either buy a premier closer to compliment Thornton or use the extra money to put together a strong pitching staff. Since I had Thornton and the speed, I was in the rare position (for me) where I didn't have to do anything cute or decide before the auction even began to dump a category going in.
Here's who I bought:
Adrian Gonzalez $41 (Round 1, player 1, my inflation price $42).
In previous years, Gonzalez would have sailed past my bid limit. However, the bidding slowed down here in the upper $30s and one of the two favorites said $40, pushing me to say $41. I'm OK with the price, but Gonzalez hamstrung me on a few players in the next two rounds, particularly Joakim Soria ($37) and Jose Valverde ($28). Soria came up right after Gonzalez, and I didn't want to blow $79 on the first two players in the auction and limit myself on pitching. Given the rotation I put together, I don't regret missing out on a second closer at all.
Mike Napoli $19 (2:22, $21).
Napoli was another player I thought would sail past my price, but the bidding stopped pretty quickly. The batting average last year was a BABIP fluke, and moving to Texas should help Napoli even more. If he bounces back to .270 I'm going to be very happy with this price.
Dan Haren $31 (3:25, $33).
Haren, Jon Lester and Francisco Liriano were the only aces available in the auction. Lester went for $39 in the first round while Liriano went for $27 in the second. I took a calculated risk - based on the Liriano price - that I would be able to get Haren under my bid price and saw that risk pay off. It helped to know that one of the favorites was the team that purchased Lester while the other favorite already was stacked on the pitching side and didn't need another ace. Paying attention to your opponents needs can pay off.
Josh Beckett $15 (3:29, $21).
My bid limit probably gives the impression that I'm higher on Beckett than I am. The reality of a keeper league is that a lot of pitching is usually kept and there isn't much out there to buy. Beckett's price was a more a function of the marketplace than of any high level of faith in Beckett. I think Beckett will be OK (his xFIP of 3.86 last year was much more in line with his career norms than his 5.76 ERA) but the reality here is that I didn't want to get stuck paying too much for a starter in the next tier.
James Shields $14 (4:45, $17).
Without intending to do so, I had quickly put together a pretty strong pitching staff. It was also a staff of xFIP darlings. Like Beckett, Shields' xFIP of 3.55 blew away his 5.18 ERA. If Shields can do a better job mixing up his pitch selection this year (he got tagged early and often with his predictable first-pitch fastball), I think he'll bounce back and I'll be very happy with this price.
Mark Reynolds $23 (5:49, $27).
Given my lack of a strong freeze list, I knew I had to take risks. Reynolds was a player I specifically identified as someone whose price I would tick up a couple of bucks based on this premise. There's no doubt that Reynolds is going to hurt my batting average, but hopefully he doesn't destroy it and can hit 30 HR and steal 10-15 bases in the process.
A.J. Pierzynski $10 (7:77, $12).
If you're reading this column closely, you'll notice that I already had two catchers. But Pierzynski was one of the better every day players left on the board at this point so I figured I'd fill in. After Reynolds, there was a long stretch where the league overspent by $28 on the next 21 players, making it difficult for me to fill in with an outfielder. As you can see, I was OK with the price, but having Pierzynski did wind up hampering my flexibility later and I probably would have been better off not making the value play here and letting A.J. go at $9.
Kyle Farnsworth $4 (7:81, $6).
Maybe Farnsworth will pick up a few saves before Jacob McGee inevitably takes the reins in Tampa, but I think I would have been better off pushing for one of the cheap starting pitchers who was called out after Farnsworth.
David Murphy $8 (9:97, $12).
I normally advocate against spending over $4-5 on a non-regular, but I've given up banging this drum with Murphy. With injury-prone Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton ahead of him, Murphy will get his usual 400-450 AB and earn $15-17 again.
Orlando Cabrera $2 (11:125, $7).
Stealing an every day player at this juncture of the auction was a coup. This left me with a $2 maximum bid, but Cabrera was one of two players I was waiting on. Even if he loses the job in the middle of the year if the Indians go younger, I'm going to definitely get my money's worth here.
Michael Saunders $2 (11:128, $6).
Saunders was the other player I was waiting on; I said $2 and shut the room out on him. Between volatile Milton Bradley and fading Jack Cust, I believe that Saunders is going to eventually force his way into a job. You also need to take chances on guys like this in leagues with dumping in the hopes that Saunders could turn into a dump chip.
J.P. Howell $1 (12:139, $2).
Tim Collins would go for $2 two players later, but we're in a draft now. I took Howell thinking that he could also wind up in the Tampa saves mix. As $1 flyers go, Howell's fine.
Kevin Slowey $1 (13:149, $2).
Slowey's in the bullpen right now for Minnesota but I'm gambling on an eventual return to the rotation here.
Ryan Langerhans $1 (14:157, $1).
Yuck. Langerhans wasn't the best OF on my sheet at this point, but I figured I'd take him as a hedge to Saunders. I did get a HR out of him already.
In the end, I pushed myself up into a stronger third place (based on my projections) but am still well behind the two best teams in the league. I'll need some luck and will also need to make some trades to win the title in this league. But I improved my chances with a value auction, which is all anyone can ask.