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Friday 26th May 2017

This year I once again had the joy of participating in Tout Wars, marking my 15th season in the league. Last season I came in (a somewhat distant) second place. After years of going with a heavy hitting approach, I have opted for a more balanced approach, this season utilizing just 72% of my budget allocation on hitting whereas in years past I easily hit the 80% mark or a $200/$60 or more split.

Tools: I used to develop my own elaborate, visual basic heavy spreadsheet but in recent years, especially with Tout Wars now posting the draft on the fly on the Internet, I focus on very few items and avoid tracking other people'™s teams. Now I only use 1) Grid with player values and 2) A single excel sheet that tracks:

My budget“ by roster slot
My roster and spending
Categorical goals

By far the most important function is the budgeting function which I split into two columns, hitting and pitching. First, I assign a total dollar target to be spent on each column, then I assign possible dollar targets to each roster slot. The budget automatically updates to show me how much I have left to spend against that budget and most of all, it allows me the flexibility to amend the budget throughout the auction as opportunities (good values) present themselves and I can reroute budgeting to other roster slots on the fly.

Pre-Draft Goals:

1. Spread the risk, especially in the hitting department with my highest purchase being a $29 Jacoby Ellsbury. Also, I tried to focus my key purchases on players with good histories of durability: Zobrist, Seager, Aybar, Perez, etc.

2. Target Multiple Position Eligibility players: I purchased Ben Zobrist (2B/SS/MI/OF) at $20 and Marcus Semien (2B/3B/CI/MI) at $15.

3. Pitching: Draft one closer and set a foundation with a high-teens price and mid-teens priced starting pitching options. I was pleased with the combination of Sonny Gray ($19), Jose Quintana ($13), Drew Smyly ($11) and Glen Perkins ($16). I had also wanted to focus on some of the mid to high single digits starting pitching which the AL is deep in as targets, but instead ended up spending money on Kennys Vargas when he fell at a good price.

4. Risks can win you the league, but don'™t pay full value for potential, especially with rookies. See Vargas, Pillar, etc.

The results:

Catcher: Salvador Perez $15 and Blake Swihart $1
While Perez is not the best OBP catcher, I like his durability and power. Swihart was one of my last players. Rather than chase a back-up catcher I might have to pay $2 for, I waited until every other team had their catcher slot filled so no one would outbid me and nominated the Red Sox top prospect for $1. He has only stop-gap type players ahead of him on Boston'™s depth chart and could be up quickly. That has only further accelerated given the injury to Christian Vazquez. I was also pleasantly surprised Caleb Joseph fell to the reserve round, especially given that Matt Wieters' ability to stay healthy the entire season is rather questionable.

First Base: Adam LaRoche $21
LaRoche was my pre-draft target for first base and I had him valued right at $21. Considering how far above their projected price I believe other first basemen went, I was pleased to get LaRoche right at value, especially with his move to homer-friendly U.S. Cellular Field.

Second Base: Ben Zobrist $20
Pre-draft I had budgeted about $22 for this slot and figured it would go to a Jason Kipnis or Ian Kinsler type, though I did have Zobrist projected right around their value and joined the bidding late to get him at what I consider a $2 profit and while he does not have either of the other's stolen base potential, Zobrist at least offers quite a bit of position flexibility.

Third Base: Kyle Seager $24
I originally had this slot focused on a mid-teens tier 3B, but given the players already taken and the timing of the auction, I  opted to reroute my funding to third base and purchased Seager, who has proven to be a durable, productive contributor. A three-year growth trend in the home run department in his early prime years provides reason for optimism too.

Shortstop: Erick Aybar $15
A pure consistency/durability of skills and health selection.

Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury $29, Melky Cabrera $18, Matt Joyce $10, Josh Reddick $9
I took more durability risks here in the outfield, though I believe much of Ellsbury'™s injury history is often of the freak accident variety and was willing to purchase him at a very slight profit to set up the foundation of my team'™s stolen base game. Originally I had intended to obtain two $20+ outfielders, but rerouted from here to spend more at 3B. I was willing to purchase Melky Cabrera at full value, considering he was shown essentially the identical skills that he displayed in 2011/1012 regardless of alternative substances and the move to Chicago could help him in the homer department. Joyce is a decent OBP play with some power and the Angels have very limited in-house options to upstage his projected playing time. Reddick is the greatest wild card of the group but was at least a possible bargain at $9 vs. my $13 projected price. It is mostly health holding him back now. In recent seasons, Reddick has become a more disciplined hitter, making more regular contact while still showing solid power. Anything he produces over $9 is a bonus as far as I'm concerned.

SWG/UT: Kevin Pillar $1, Kennys Vargas $5
Pillar was purely an end-game speculative play. The righty has nothing left to prove in the Minors, having shown plus speed and contact-making skills. I am not expecting much from him, but if the skills finally translate to the Majors, there is room for substantial profit. As for Vargas, he is a high-risk/high-reward type who I jumped on at $5 with the idea that it was a level of risk I was quite willing to take. In the Minors, he has shown solid OBP/power skills but has limited experience above Double-A and must now prove it over the entire season. It is these types of picks that can make a season. The lesson with taking chances on players at low prices is to not get married to them. If they fail, you can reserve or release them without much regret and move on as soon as possible to try and make corrections to stay competitive. Waiting for expensive players to turn things around, while prudent, is what can really sink a season.

Pitching: Sonny Gray $19, Glen Perkins $16, Jose Quintana $13, Drew Smyly $11, Aaron Sanchez $5, Yovani Gallardo $6, Darren O'™Day $1, Jeremy Guthrie $1, Dan Straily $1

As stated, I was targeting a mid to high-teens pitcher as my anchor and had Gray in mind in particular, followed by Quintana to stabilize the rotation. I bought both at or close to full value but felt I may have acquired Smyly at a minor profit depending upon how soon he gets back in April and if he can stay healthy for the remainder of the season. These three give my team a nice solid foundation in innings, strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP. As for Gallardo, I am hoping Texas does not have too great an impact on his performance given his solid ground ball tendencies. The three-year decline in strikeouts is a bit alarming, but at the same time he's had a three-year improvement in throwing strikes. Worth a shot at $6. Darren O'Day is Zach Britton's primary setup man and has been a consistent high single-digit to low-teens dollar earner for the last three seasons. I selected Guthrie and Straily along with Oberholtzer in the reserve round as streaming options, though I may switch to more relievers to avoid the negative ERA/WHIP impacts they'™ll likely create. Matt Moore is a wild card who could be back in June.

Reserves: Caleb Joseph, Christian Walker, Brett Oberholtzer, Matt Moore
I have only not mentioned Christian Walker from this bunch. Should Chris Davis fail to hit again, Walker could be the next option for the Orioles. The righty had a break through minor league season in 2014, showing improved power, and he has in the past been known for his above average plate discipline skills. He's a dark horse impact player for 2015.

I believe this will be a competitive team. It is not necessarily or remotely perfect at this point, so I'™ll be watching the FAAB market and pushing for trades when necessary too. I hope some of my strategy here can help you in your upcoming auctions the remainder of this preseason!

Rob Leibowitz is a 25-year veteran of fantasy baseball and is entering his fifteenth season in Tout Wars. He finished in 2nd place in AL Tout Wars in 2014. His regular series, the Prospector, will return next week with a look at pitching for 2015 and beyond.

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