Unlike in my American League home league, I entered my National League home league as a mild favorite. Mild was the operative word here. My projected post-auction value was $297...or only six dollars better than the projected second place team and $11 better than the projected third place team. I had a solid squad, but it wasn't one of those keeper league juggernauts where you can all but mail the prohibitive favorite the check in early April.
And who were the freezes that made me the favorite coming into my auction?
Aubrey Huff $12, Dan Uggla $19, Stephen Drew $14, Scott Rolen $13, Jeff Baker $2, Omar Infante $1, Tyler Colvin $1, Jonny Gomes $4, John Axford $10, Chad Billingsley $16, Ubaldo Jimenez $23, Ted Lilly $8.
This left me with $137 for 11 players.
One area I miscalculated was the projected inflation. I believed that the overall inflation rate was going to be around 20%. After all the freezes were put in, it turned out to be about 35%. Oops. And ouch. I had thrown back a few players at expensive prices who I thought would go for less than what I had them at or the same price. Matt Kemp ($42) and Prince Fielder ($40) were hitters I had who would at least go for these same prices, while Justin Upton ($33) and Brian McCann ($23) were surely going to go for more. Jeff Baker was a cute little freeze, but I would have been better off tossing him back and hanging onto Upton or McCann.
An even bigger challenge I had going in was trying to navigate the projected hitting/pitching inflation splits. T.J. brought this point up last week when he talked about the crazy inflation splits in his league. While my N.L.'s splits weren't nearly this crazy, I did have 42% hitting inflation projected versus 19% pitching inflation.
Rather than split the inflation, I decided to apply the overall 35% rate to the entire league. Paying in the high $40s for Kemp and the mid-$40s for Fielder didn't appeal to me, and I didn't want to have to fill out the rest of my team on a shoestring. If that meant spending more than $85 on pitching, so be it, I'd trade for it later. If Fielder, Kemp or Ryan Howard snuck to me in the low $40s, fine; otherwise, I'd shoot for balance on offense and hope that I wouldn't have to overspend anywhere in order to avoid leaving money on the table.
Here's what I did:
Shaun Marcum $20 (Round 2, player 20, my inflation price $24).
The big hitters and pitchers both went off the board quickly and at or near (overall) inflation par. The only starting pitchers I had ahead of Marcum who were available in our auction were Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee and Zack Greinke. Marcum's first outing against the Reds was far from stellar, but he did whiff seven. If he can harness his control, Marcum should provide this value in N.L.-only play.
Daniel Hudson $18 (2:23, $20).
I was merely pushing here but am pretty happy I got Hudson for $18. He went for $17 in both LABR and Tout Wars, and while I'm nowhere near as high on him as the tout leagues are (my raw bid was $15), I think he'll be fine at this price. As much as I didn't want to spend $95 on six pitchers without buying a hitter at auction, the reality was that I had pushed myself into this plan once I let Howard, Fielder, Upton, and Kemp sail past my prices in Round One.
James Loney $20 (3:39, $22).
I hate owning James Loney. He's a terrible Major League option at first base and an incredibly boring player to own. However, he earned $18 in an absolutely horrible year in 2010 and $20 in 2009 in 5x5. After buying Marcum/Hudson, I had $99 to spend, and was hoping to put $75-80 of it into my four non-catcher slots on offense. Adam LaRoche at $24 a few players back tempted me to go $1 over my bid price and say $25, but LaRoche only earned $2 more than Loney in 2010 and was moving past his maximum earnings potential. I'd live with Loney. Huff moved to my outfield.
Lance Berkman $15 (4:45, $18).
Berkman became the second of my four primary hitters when he slipped three dollars under my inflation price. Given his age and health profile, Berkman's a mild-to-moderate risk. However, he seemed to do better in the National League and when playing the field last year. I see a moderate bounce back here, and barring injury, $15 of earnings seems like the floor. With this move, Baker moved to middle infield and Infante shifted to my outfield.
Garrett Jones $17 (4:46, $19).
If you don't like Jones, this price is probably way too high for your liking. But even with the horrid second half, Jones still earned $17 in 5x5 last year. He's going to sit more against LHP this year, which might actually be good for me given his BA against southpaws in '10. Matt Diaz isn't going to steal the job from Jones, so another 20-25 HR season is quite possible for Jones.
Chris Iannetta $11 (4:49, $12).
When you blow off the big time hitters like I did, you have to buy a balanced roster. Iannetta is the kind of player I normally avoid: someone who has almost never produced who you're buying on spec. But the catchers were thin (Iannetta was the third best catcher on my sheet after McCann and John Buck) and, as I said, I wanted a regular at every position. With $36 and two hitters left to get, there was a good chance I'd pull that off.
Jason Bartlett $17 (5:54, $18).
In terms of the team I had put together, Bartlett was a poor fit. He offered speed and little power, but not enough speed to dig me out of a pretty big category hole. The downside of waiting, though, was that the talent drop-off after Bartlett was significant and it was either spend my money here, leave it on the table, or chase an inferior talent to a silly price. With $19 left for four players, I would either overpay for the best catcher on the board or shift even more money to my pitching.
Jonny Venters $8 (6:77, $11).
With John Axford as my only closer, I thought I'd take a stab on Venters just in case Craig Kimbrel doesn't work out. If I'm wrong, I'm still buying 80-90 strikeouts and some good rate stats at $8.
Bud Norris $4 (7:81, $8).
Norris has oodles of potential and is another guy I didn't think I'd find myself owning in a million years. I don't know if he'll work out, but at $4 I won't stick around long if he doesn't. In keeper leagues, you do need to take stabs on guys like this in the hopes that you find yourself with a dump chip. The real problem with grabbing Venters and Norris is that Sean Burnett and Josh Thole were still sitting on the table and I would have been better off pushing on one or the other. Burnett went for $10 - which I could live with - but Thole went $3 below my sheet price at $6. Thole isn't exactly the kind of guy worth kicking yourself over, but maybe I'll just gently poke myself in the ribs instead.
Takashi Saito $5 (7:87, $4).
I am not a big believer in the handcuff strategy - in fact, I think they're a poor play past $2-3 - but I broke against the grain and pushed for Saito here because I didn't see a $6 pitcher on the board and didn't think I'd get Thole at $6. Perhaps I should have went elsewhere and left the money on the table, but Saito should still put up some decent rate stats at $5...even though that's still too much money.
Humberto Quintero $2 (9:95, $3).
Quintero is the kind of player where you mumble his name because you can't believe you're buying him. There weren't many choices left at this point and it was either go for 300 AB and hope the batting average doesn't take a hit or go for 100 AB and save the average. I can always toss Quintero overboard if I don't want him.
So this is the team:
C Iannetta $11
C Quintero $2
1B Loney $20
2B Uggla $19
SS S. Drew $14
3B Rolen $13
CO Berkman $15
MI Bartlett $17
OF Colvin $1
OF Gomes $4
OF Huff $12
OF Infante $1
OF G. Jones $17
UT Je. Baker $2
P Axford $10
P Billingsley $16
P D. Hudson $18
P Jimenez $23
P Lilly $8
P Marcum $20
P Norris $4
P Saito $5
P Venters $8
I look great across eight categories. Saves is middle of the pack if Axford/Saito work out and I'm dead in steals. I did a great job maximizing my value, though, and have a strong, balanced team that should contend all year.