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Tuesday 20th Feb 2018

A very visible league like Tout Wars - in which I competed in the National League-only auction last weekend – offers an interesting case study. Given the stakes are high and the competition fierce, does one avoid taking gambles or must one do it to differentiate, and ultimately win?

I tend to believe the latter, but of course, the tipping point between moderation and foolishness can be a very gray area indeed. The beauty or ugliness is often in the eye of the beholder.

How does one find differentiation, given that the competition has to be considered equally knowledgeable? Coming into any draft, one might hope to find value in some general locations.

We often talk about balance in the context of roster composition. Here, I will discuss how I deployed a balanced strategy in terms of seeking draft-day value.

I will look into five potential value factors in the context of the 2012 NL Tout draft – players missing time, emerging youngsters, post-hype players, older players and the potential beneficiaries of a role change.

There are two primary ways players can miss time – injury and suspension.

As recently as a month ago, I had hoped to leverage the expected suspension of Ryan Braun by picking him up for $25-$30 and riding out the 50-game storm. The Hebrew Hammer’s nifty escape from penalty scuttled that plan, as he went for fair value. $39 was more than I wanted to spend on any player.

I did nab another of my scratch-and-dent sale position player targets, however.

Players coming off injuries could certainly be a source of value, as some drafters are more risk-averse than others. Ryan Howard was a targeted player for me coming into the draft. I know the Phillies’ first baseman’s Achilles injury was severe and his numbers were trending downward even prior. Still, getting his power for under $20 – if he makes it back in a timely manner – could be a difference-maker this season.

I was more than willing to take a shot at $15. After all, I spent $21 on Ike Davis last year at the same position. Despite receiving almost nothing in return from the Mets first-sacker, I still finished in second place in 2011.

Even so, I had my draft-day limits. There seemed even too much risk for me to take Howard’s compadre on the right side of the Phillies infield, Chase Utley. For the second consecutive year, the second baseman enters the season as a major unknown, but still drew a $10 winning bid. Stephen Drew at $9 was a better gamble in this same vicinity, in my estimation.

My plan coming in was to draft one injury risk position player star and one such pitcher. Had the Tout draft been three or four weeks earlier, such as when LABR drafts, I would have targeted St. Louis Cardinal Adam Wainwright, coming off Tommy John surgery. That was no longer feasible, as the right-hander’s performance this month brought his Tout price up to full value at $20.

Knowing that the shoulder problem of Wainwright’s teammate, Chris Carpenter, is nerve-related, not structural, made me consider the right-hander – if the price was right. Informal word is that the Cards are hoping for a May return, but that is far from firm. Even half a season from the aging veteran would be gravy, so I was pleased to snap up Carpenter at $6.

Not everyone admired the pick. One Tout veteran grumbled to me just after the draft, “I sure would hate it if a player like Carpenter swings the league this season.” If he really feels that way, why didn’t he bid $7? We will see if it will be to my benefit that I am apparently less risk averse than my competitor in this case.

A lower-profile player I liked in a similar situation as Wainwright, but a few months behind in his rehab, is Jorge De La Rosa. Unfortunately for me, the Colorado left-hander was snapped up late in the draft for $4 after my roster was full. I had hoped to slip De La Rosa onto my roster in the reserve rounds, but these Touts are too sharp for that.

Neither Howard nor Carpenter would cost me a Tout reserve spot as they can be moved to the unlimited-in-size Tout disabled list as soon as their MLB clubs make the official moves.

Of course, I need to find their production elsewhere in the interim. With Howard in mind, I drafted Daniel Murphy. Even when Howard returns, Murphy will have considerable value for my team because of his multi-position eligibility. I can slot the Met into five of the six infield positions.

This type of flexibility is an area not always fully valued by the Touts, in my estimation. Accruing at-bats, albeit productive ones, is crucial for logging winning totals in the offensive counting stats. Murphy can help keep that train rolling along.

Emerging players is an area that the Touts always mine very heavily. There is nothing more stimulating to a member of our industry than to be able to proclaim that “I was all over Joe Blow before anyone else heard of him.”

Of course, there is more merit than just bragging rights in owning such a youngster before he reaches the bigs. Avoiding what could be an expensive and risky FAAB bidding process later on can make it worthwhile to invest in and hold such a potential impact player until he arrives.

Touts have grown increasingly aggressive in this area, picking up these potential leverage players earlier and earlier each year. Such an example is Bryce Harper, who was auctioned off at $4. Once he is called up, the Nationals’ outfielder should provide a greater return this season, with the only downside tying up one of the four reserve roster spots in the interim.

Post-hype players can be a third area of potential value. Last year’s emerging player that did not impress becomes old news quickly. Industry folks generally don’t like these guys because they are no longer shiny and new. In fact, Touts tend to avoid them like the plague. Who wants to talk or read about taking a prior year’s bust?

I ventured into this water at the deep end of the pool when I bid $5 for Pedro Alvarez and no one offered $6. Reports from Pirates camp regarding the third baseman’s spring performance have been universally gloomy. Unlike last season, however, when the Bucs quickly lost confidence in Alvarez and shipped him back to the minors, the club made the unusual proclamation early on that Pedro had made the team. I am willing to bet $5 that Alvarez will be given enough time and that his talent will eventually emerge. If not, only a small investment would be lost.

A post-peak veteran player I had specifically targeted and acquired is Carlos Beltran ($19). With him, the concern is always health, not production. The Cardinals plan to play the former Mets star in right field most days (against right-handed pitching). That move alone should help preserve his knees.

This season, Beltran will be batting just ahead of Matt Holliday (a potential 2012 NL MVP candidate, in my opinion), Lance Berkman and David Freese. As such, the switch-hitting Beltran should see a lot of very good pitches to hit. His RBI total may be down, but runs scored should rise.

Speculation about job changes is a tried-and-true fantasy approach. In addition to not buying any closers while getting several solid set-up men in this draft, I traveled down this avenue multiple times in the middle infield last weekend.

In San Francisco, the ongoing uncertainty over Freddy Sanchez’ shoulder has opened up a job for Emmanuel Burriss. I hadn’t targeted Burriss, but I knew he is the apparent opening second baseman for the Giants and a $2 bid for cheap steals was appealing enough to take.

I also grabbed another upside infielder in Daniel Descalso. His Cardinals teammate, Tyler Greene, has better speed and range and as such, remains the favorite to open the season at second base for the Cardinals. This spring, however, Descalso has outplayed Greene, who is out of options. If the latter doesn’t perform, I could see a change being made or at least a platoon being implemented. In the latter case, the left-handed hitting Descalso would hold the advantage.

Even if not, Descalso should see considerable at-bats as St. Louis’ infield utility man and would start again at third if Freese misses time for a third consecutive season. Further, if Rafael Furcal continues to scuffle, there is a chance that Greene, a natural shortstop, could move back to his natural position at least part-time, opening second for Descalso.

In the reserve rounds, I grabbed Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons. Though everyone assumes Tyler Pastornicky ($4) is the man, that may not be the case. As of draft day, Simmons was not out of the running for the starting job to open the season as Pastornicky has been pressing. Even if Simmons loses out initially, Pastornicky is far from a proven commodity. Consider Simmons a source of cheap potential steals, sort of like Burriss without the past failures.

Our own Lord Zola must have Allstate Insurance as he created mayhem with the draft-day catching situation. He drafted four of the best in the NL (though he has since pulled off a two-for-one deal to bring his total down to three). I dodged that scrum, having rostered John Buck early-on at a price I felt was below-value ($10) and later added Jason Castro as my second backstop.

No one can or should be too excited about drafting any Astros, a woeful team that appears to be well on the way to another 100-loss season. Castro can’t be blamed for 2011, though, as he didn’t play after blowing out his knee last spring and later having foot surgery.

Houston has moved slowly with Castro this spring, but they were comfortable enough to ship out Humberto Quintero. Only competing with Chris Snyder (coming off back surgery himself) means a good chance for starter’s at-bats from Castro with the rebuilding Astros for a mere $3 investment. Even in a strict platoon, the left-handed hitting Castro appears to hold the edge.

So, we’ve covered players missing time, emerging youngsters, post-hype players, older players and those who might benefit from role changes. While I had plans in each area coming into the NL Tout draft, I wasn’t married to any of them.

Being too strict in following whatever approach one might be considering in advance could lead to a failed draft. It is always better to be open to take bargains whenever and wherever they are presented.

Such was the case when the bidding on Mets third baseman David Wright stalled and I was the last bidder. On draft day, March 25, there was only a week of camp remaining and Wright had yet to play in even one spring game. That apparently scared off the Touts.

I hadn’t expected to draft Wright, to be honest, having him pegged as a $27-$30 player. To put it mildly, I was delighted to roster the third baseman at $22. Later that day, Wright made his spring debut and without further complications, should open the season on the active roster.

There you have it. Rather than break down my NL Tout roster position-by-position, I chose to try to provide context by explaining my varied strategies to find value during the draft.

I hope the reader can re-use some of the thoughts shared, because if not, I failed here. After all, what is more boring than to read/listen to someone else go on and on about their team?

It is all about YOU winning YOUR league. Best of luck in your drafts and in this 2012 season!

(You can see the full spreadsheets for the AL, NL and Mixed-League Tout Drafts here.)

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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