THE BEST OF THE BUNCH
Jose Bautista $38, Curtis Granderson $36, Jacoby Ellsbury $35
Bautista is a little pricey here. But two years of elite power performance still put him into the top-tier, and he's the best lock there is in the outfield to put up a 30+ HR/100+ RBI season. Granderson's also a little rich for my blood at $36, but I feel like people are counting too much on a power dive this year. Yankee Stadium suits Grandy's power well, and he should still be good for at least 30 homers to go along with his speed. Ellsbury seems just about right at this price. Like Granderson, people are talking about a power swoon with Ellsbury. But this is a significant misconception of his baseline value. Ellsbury earned $36 in 2009 when he hit less than 10 HR...and was the highest valued hitter in the American League. If he's healthy, he'll earn this easily.
B.J. Upton $30, Adam Jones $29, Brett Gardner $28, Desmond Jennings $26
Despite the perennially low batting average, Upton is my favorite player here. The power/speed combination is enticing, and if he has even some moderate BABIP luck, a .270 average would make B.J. mighty valuable. Jones is solid, but I'm not sure he's going to ever be a $30 player. The BB/AB doesn't speak to a .300 hitter, and I don't see Jones stealing 20+ bases either. I could still see him earning in the mid to high $20s, but don't get caught chasing. This is an expensive price for Gardner as well, though in a keeper league I wouldn't mind paying a little extra for a virtual lock on 40 SB. The problem with Gardner is that it doesn't seem like his batting average will ever get him into the $30s so this is your absolute, high-end stopping point. Despite his lack of experience, I can see why folks are paying this for Jennings in expert auctions. His ceiling looks like Andrew McCutchen's without the batting average perhaps. Jennings didn't miss a beat when he was promoted from AAA, making me think he could realistically put up a 20/40 season this year. In one and done leagues, I'd be careful not to chase, since there are typically struggles even for the best young players.
Shin-Soo Choo $25, Nelson Cruz $25, Josh Hamilton $24, Carl Crawford $23, Alex Gordon $23, Ichiro Suzuki $23
Injuries dominate this tier. Even before a thumb injury, Choo was disappointing compared to his usual standards. "Disappointing" meant he was on pace for a $20 season, so at the very least you probably don't want to let Choo go for less than that. My price is a little lower than $25, but when Choo's on he's a five-category grinder. After paying an average salary of $34 for Cruz in 2011, the market is relatively cool on him this year (he went for $26 in LABR a week later). It makes sense. While there is potential for a $35 season, Cruz has never played more than 130 games in a season and shouldn't be treated as an elite option. Hope for a $30 season but if he gets hurt and misses a big chunk of time this won't be disappointing. Hamilton is the same story as Cruz...except he did earn big bucks in 2010 ($38) despite playing a mere 133 games. Hamilton is the "safer" bet of the two though, again, I wouldn't chase too far past this for a player who doesn't play 150+ games.
Crawford is a health question at this point. I'm the one who paid $23 in CBS. Am I sorry? Maybe a little, but I stand by what I said right after the auction. Even in a nightmarish season, Crawford earned $16 last year. If he bounces back to a $30 level of performance and misses and entire month, he's still a $20-25 player easily. Gordon is the youngest/healthiest player here. I think the only reason he doesn't get paid more is because of all of the failure in the past. He wouldn't be the first case of a guy who seemed to figure it all out at Age 27 and then disappeared. All that being said, I think this price is decent. Ichiro has to fall off, has to fall off, has to fall off. By now, I hear this yearly mantra in my sleep. And I agree: he eventually will succumb to age. But he earned $24 last year and stole 40 bases. You can't pay him $30 anymore, but anything in the high teens/low $20s is just fine by me.
THE HIGH TEENS JOKE ISN'T AS FUNNY IF I USE IT A SECOND TIME
Brennan Boesch $21, Nick Swisher $20, Delmon Young $20, Peter Bourjos $19, Jeff Francoeur $19, Nick Markakis $19
Boesch is too expensive here, but the more I look at his numbers the more I like him for 2012. He should get his first crack at full time AB this year and despite weaker power numbers against lefties he holds his own against them. I'd probably drop my bid into the high teens, but there's no reason to think Boesch can't be productive over 600 AB. Years ago many (including me) thought that Swisher was an inconsistent hitter, but it turns out that he just had a lousy 2008. He's a fairly reliable bet for a .260 season with low 20s HR, and playing for the Yankees is always good for your runs/RBI. This bid's a little high, but it's fine if you want to pay for the relative consistency. This bid for Young is probably a reaction to the fact that he's going to be hitting 5th behind Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder this year and should have plenty of ducks on the pond. The real question is whether or not Young stays healthy enough to earn this bid. He earned $19-20 in 2007 and 2008 with similarly weak OPSs, so playing time is probably more of a key here than performance.
I loved Bourjos heading into the auction, but news that he'll need hip surgery after the season gives me pause. A lot of Bourjos value this year comes from his wheels, and while I have no idea how much impact the injury will have, it will keep me from pushing into the $20s. Francoeur is a guy I thought might slip through in the mid-teens, but in an expert auction that was unlikely to happen. Like Young, the playing time is the important issue for Francoeur's earnings...though a batting average slip alone would probably cost him $4-6 from last year. After years of being a Roto darling, Markakis has now entered the post-hype, slightly undervalued phase of his career. This is a very safe price, and although there might not be much upside in it, a slightly BA or power tick would push him into the mid-$20s. I like this play here.
Coco Crisp $17, Alejandro De Aza $17, Austin Jackson $17, Torii Hunter $16, Matt Joyce $16, Alex Rios $16, Josh Willingham $16
He might turn your stomach in real life, but I love the Crisp price for Roto. This is what he'll earn if he gets hurt and gets 300-350 AB, but even in a crowded A's outfield, PT shouldn't be a real issue. de Aza helped me to a title in one of my leagues last year but $17 is a high price to pay for a guy who had all of 152 AB last year. The speed is enticing, but I'm not convinced that de Aza's not going to turn back into a pumpkin. Jackson's solid at this price. But I wouldn't pay for a big breakthrough, as the contact rates worry me and there are no guarantees he'll suddenly morph into a 30-40 SB player. Hunter's speed has finally gone away, which is probably why the price is so low. Otherwise, he's the statistical equivalent of Swisher, who went for $4 more. In that context, Hunter is a nifty little bargain.
Like Hunter, Joyce will probably put up similar stats to Swisher at a cheaper price. The issue with Joyce is PT. He survived against lefties, but Joe Maddon will probably have Joyce sit against them this year a good chunk of the time. There's sentiment that Rios will have a bounce back season in 2012, but I'm far from certain. Yes, the BABIP speaks to improvement, but Rios was so bad for most of 2011 that I wouldn't bet on him with any kind of confidence once the price got to $14 or so. Willingham is a "safe" value play at $16, but one without much upside. Given his trajectory, he's unlikely to crack $20, though believe it or not he is moving to a more favorable venue for right-handed HR hitters out of that hitters' graveyard in Oakland.
THE REST OF THE DOUBLE DIGITS
Denard Span $14, Dayan Viciedo $14, Michael Brantley $13, Yoenis Cespedes $13, Ben Revere $13, Lorenzo Cain $12, Colby Rasmus $12, Ryan Raburn $11.
There's a lot of potential value in this grouping, though there's also a lot of risk. If Span is completely recovered from his concussion, then this price is a steal. He needs to swipe 20+ bases, though, and that was where his value plummeted last year. Watch him closely this spring. Will the power translate to the bigs for Viciedo? He was underwhelming during his short big league stint last year, but the projection systems see him hitting 20-25 HR. I'm skeptical, and at the very least I would go $2 below this price. Brantley is a sneaky play. He isn't a great player, but has the potential to be a 10-15 HR, 20-25 SB guy if he plays a full season. Cespedes is a complete unknown, but I think he's likely to go for $13-17 in most auctions. The reports are glowing, but he's a total wild card until he steps on the field. My bid is $15.
Revere could be a steal here. He is a one-trick pony, though, and even if he steals 50 bases he might not earn more than $23-25. That would still make him quite a bargain if he gets on base enough to stay in the line-up. At $12, Cain's price is a little too high for him to be a sleeper, but he could be this year's Melky Cabrera if the power he suddenly showed in AAA translates to the bigs. Obviously, the lack of prospect pedigree means you shouldn't push him into the $20s, but you might want to push him to $15, particularly if your freeze list is thin. There is some sentiment that Rasmus could have a big bounce back season, but it's also possible that 2010 is the outlier. His BABIP was much higher that season than any other year in his career, and he was also a $12 earner in 2009. You can push Rasmus to $15 or so, but don't chase 2010. Raburn could be a $20 player if he's consistent, but that's the problem. This is a bit of a bargain for the 20 HR potential, but I wouldn't chase him too far past this, particularly since Ramon Santiago could at least steal some of the AB at second base.