Last Sunday evening in Phoenix, I once again had the pleasure of competing against fellow industry analysts and long-time friends at the 2017 League of Alternative Baseball Reality National League draft (LABR-NL). An exciting four-hour auction battle covered live on SiriusXM Radio ensued.
Rather than blather on about my team, which you can see among the others here, I will review several of the trends I experienced in hopes they might assist you in your preparation this spring.
I am rarely active early in auction drafts, preferring to get a feel for prices - but that changed this year. The gold standard for NL closers, Kenley Jansen, was the second player thrown out. Being caught with a minimal saves total in 2016 due to a failed gamble to cobble together saves in-season may have cost me the title. I had a firm hold on second-place most of the year, but saw no way to the top other than to attempt a Hail Mary play in September in which I made a series of trades to try to recover five lost months of saves in one month. It failed and I fell to third in the end. I vowed to not repeat that in 2017.
Obviously, at the point Jansen was thrown out on Sunday, the market for saves – or anything else, for that matter - had not yet been established, but I quickly decided to jump in, anyway. I paid a fair price of $22, but it soon became clear that it was not a bargain. The other top closers went in the $17-18 range with the next tier in the $11 neighborhood. Had I shown more patience, I would not have rostered as good of a closer as Jansen, but I could easily have saved $4-5.
Speaking of closers, though Fernando Rodney was part of my 2016 draft, I could still appreciate his appeal as a cheap $5 lottery pick. The proven closer on an improving team was a nice low-risk buy for Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf. Overall, the closer market was depressed, and in fact, much later on, I was able to roster both Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez for a total of $6. Unless Joaquin Benoit slips in and could hold the job in Philadelphia – which I doubt - I should have a leg up on saves this year with two NL teams’ ninth-innings covered. That would be a nice luxury in a 12-team format.
Jansen’s $22 price reminds me of another player who went for the same amount – Javier Baez. The Cubs star’s eligibility at second, third and short definitely has value – especially in a format in which active players cannot be moved to reserve unless injured or sent to the Minors. Still, I always pay special attention to prominent players on the prior season’s World Championship club for evidence of the halo effect. Since the Cubs just have a lot of very good players, I don’t know if it was truly a factor in why Baez’ price seemed high.
Since my primary volition is writing about the St. Louis Cardinals, which is well-known among my peers, anytime a St. Louis player is thrown out, I can feel a dozen pair of eyes moving to me. As seems often to be the case, my knowledge of the players’ warts as well as their strengths meant I ended the draft with zero members of the team. One surprising winning bid to me was $5 on Michael Wacha. If his shoulder continues to hold up, the right-hander will be worth double that price – or he could end up back on the disabled list – a risk I chose not to take.
One Cardinal who I did chase - and stayed in the bidding too long - was Carlos Martinez. While I like the young right-hander a lot, a duel with Perry Van Hook, drafting for Lenny Melnick, quickly escalated over $20. I admit I was relieved (and went church-mouse quiet) when Perry said, “$24”.
One of my perhaps more questionable choices was spending $15 on Pirates third baseman Jung-ho Kang, in limbo after his third DWI conviction in Korea. Concern by others at the table over the uncertain length of a likely suspension coupled with the unproven Josh Bell at first led to the price about which I was most surprised. David Freese sold for $9, a player I had in the $3 area. Despite Bell’s inexperience, he still was rostered for a robust $19, so it appears at least two others at the table were less concerned about his rookie season. Even so, the Bucs also have John Jaso as a first base option. He went for just $1, a deal I like far better than $9 for Freese.
I felt like I had plenty of choices at first base, but I found myself in a bit of a jam after bailing out perhaps too early on several of the big names, whose prices were high for my tastes. By the time my list was down to two primary choices, I did not go $23 on Brandon Belt, but ended up having to spend the same on Adrian Gonzalez. The alternative was to have to accept a lesser player at the position.
In terms of the competition, I can find something to like on every roster, but I especially admire the top end of the pitching staff of Steve Gardner - Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke and Kenta Maeda – acquired for a total of $55. Derek Van Riper also has a strong and deep rotation with Johnny Cueto, Jameson Taillon, Jeff Samardzija, Jerad Eickhoff and Ivan Nova. In part due to his usual strategy of minimal spend on pitching, $30 in total, 2016 second-place finisher Doug Dennis assembled a formidable offense, with just one hitter under $10 (Wilmer Flores at $7).
Following the LABR drafts, Lawr Michaels and I recorded a podcast with the leagues’ host, Steve Gardner of USA TODAY. We of course recap the AL and NL action, respectively. Check out the podcast here.
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.