Last Saturday afternoon, I, along with 14 other fantasy industry gurus, gathered at Rock 'N' Reilly's pub in midtown Manhattan (home of the FNTSY Sports Network) for the annual Tout Wars Mixed Auction. This would be my sixth year competing, but as the defending league champion, this year had a different feel. I needed to make a special effort to stay focused, accept all of the personal congratulations but then move on. Last year was last year.
I prepared for the auction the same way I've always prepared, assigning dollar values to each roster slot with certain players in mind and several cheaper backup options, ranked in order of preference. If the price of my top target rose to a buck or two higher than my allotted value, I'd go with my second choice, then my third choice, and use the saved money to upgrade at another position. Simple enough, right? Not quite. The unpredictable nature of an auction can easily throw you off your game. While it can pay off to be aggressive in the early going, especially in mixed leagues where a stars and scrubs approach is quite popular, being restricted to $1 or $2 bids too early in the proceedings limits your ability to purchase the desired supporting cast. To be honest, I have yet to truly master the art of the fantasy baseball auction, but maybe this is an art that can never be truly mastered.
OK, enough of this philosophical stuff. Here's my roster, in order of purchase:
Jose Altuve ($42) - As the defending champ, I had the honor of making the first nomination, and since I had already decided on Altuve as my most expensive target, I'd call out his name immediately, before the other elite options went off the board. And I got him, for the exact amount I budgeted. Good plan, good execution.
Aroldis Chapman ($25) - I overpaid a bit, and sort of regretted this purchase when Zach Britton went for $19. But I wanted one elite closer, and if you're going to overpay for a closer, you might as well get the best. My original target for this spot was Mark Melancon at around $18, but when it comes to closers, it is important not to underrate strikeouts, and Chapman will whiff 35-40 more batters than Melancon.
Jose Abreu ($28) - My top choice here was Edwin Encarnacion, and I figured I could get him for $30, maybe $31. Not a chance. When the bidding reached $35, I pulled out. Abreu was the last acceptable starting 1B on my list, so I wasn't thrilled having to settle for him. But $28 was a fair price, and few hitters have been as consistent as Abreu over the past three years. Figure 25-30 homers with 90-100 RBI and a strong OBP.
Chris Archer ($26) - I like Archer, and I'm fine with him as my ace being that he's pretty much a lock for 230-plus strikeouts, was outstanding in the second half last year and is still young enough to improve across the board. But if I could go back in time, I probably would have stayed in the bidding on Corey Kluber ($26), Jon Lester ($25), Justin Verlander ($24) and Johnny Cueto ($24), all of whom were bought before Archer and are safer.
Justin Upton ($25) - I just can't seem to tear myself away from Upton, who I owned in Tout last year and swore I would never own again before his bat finally caught fire in September. He's certainly streaky, but at the end of every season, the numbers are always there. Maybe he can get off to a better start in his second season with the Tigers. If not, I might never own him again.
Cole Hamels ($17) - A lot of people are down on Hamels this year, citing the increasing walk rate and the mileage on his arm. Fair enough, but don't discount his overall consistency, including seven straight 200-plus inning seasons with roughly a strikeout per inning. But like with Archer, this is one of those "if I knew then..." situations where shortly after my Hamels buy at market price, Jose Quintana, who I had valued similarly to Hamels, went for $11.
Adam Jones ($17) - I'm not ecstatic about this one, as despite Jones' reliable counting stats production, his career OBP stands at an underwhelming .318, and Tout is an OBP league. Looking back, Adam Eaton, who was purchased shortly before Jones for $15, would have been a better fit for my roster, which is strong in the power department but projected to finish last in OBP.
Francisco Rodriguez ($10) - Job security is my main focus when looking for a second closer, and Rodriguez certainly has that. The former K-Rod is no longer a high-end strikeout source, but I'll take the 35-40 saves. Plus, Chapman complements Rodriguez well with his likely triple-digit strikeout total.
Marcell Ozuna ($10) - Ozuna bounced back from a disappointing 2015 campaign and just turned 26 years old. He did slump badly in the second half last season but note that he was bothered by some nagging injuries. I think a 30-HR season is in his future, and it will come sooner rather than later.
Tim Anderson ($7) - Another upside pick. Anderson needs to work on his plate discipline but the speed is legit. I consider 25-30 steals and a dozen homers to be a reasonable expectation, and I love the $7 price.
Kevin Gausman ($9) - This could be quite a steal if Gausman can build off his impressive finish to 2016. I do worry a little about the division and home ballpark, but the strikeouts will be there and unlike many young hurlers, command has not been an issue for the 26-year-old righty.
Matt Wieters ($8) - Wieters stayed healthy last year and produced 17 homers to go along with 66 RBI. If he can do that again this season, he will be well worth the eight bucks.
Mike Moustakas ($8) - Moose has been a prime target of mine in all of my drafts this year, and I've managed to grab him in four of my five leagues. He showed improved power in an injury-shortened 2016 campaign after a solid 2015, so maybe we will finally see the breakout in 2017. I was willing to go as high as $13 so was pleased to save some cash.
Justin Bour ($5) - Cheap power out of my CI slot. Hopefully, Bour will be able to hit lefties well enough to remain in the lineup on an everyday basis.
Matt Moore ($5) - Moore fits the "post-hype sleeper" definition to a T. Cutting down his walk rate will be key, but I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do in his first full season with the Giants, in a more pitcher-friendly league and pitcher-friendly home ballpark.
Nomar Mazara ($3) - I didn't expect to own Mazara but I also didn't expect the bidding to stop at $2. He won't need to do much to earn this price. A repeat of last season's 20 homers would be enough, and there's obviously potential for more.
Rajai Davis ($5) - I usually avoid the one-trick ponies, but I needed more speed. Davis is slated to be Oakland's everyday centerfielder, which means that if healthy, he's a lock for 35 swipes. For five bucks? Sign me up.
Jonathan Schoop ($3) - Schoop wasn't a target, but a 25-homer middle infielder for three bucks was too good of a deal to pass up. The problem is that his OBP is poor, and I didn't pay enough attention to the OBP category. More on this later.
Gio Gonzalez ($2) - A longtime fantasy favorite of mine, Gio is coming off a rough year from an ERA standpoint, as his 4.57 ERA was his highest since becoming a full-time starter. But his hit rate actually improved compared to his 2015 mark and his walk rate was the lowest of his career. Gonzalez is clearly no longer a high-end fantasy SP, but I do think that he's being written off too soon. I'm expecting roughly a strikeout per inning and hopefully a sub-4.00 ERA.
Austin Hedges ($2) - The No. 2 catcher pool can get ugly, even in a mixed league. But Hedges at least offers some upside as a 24-year-old highly regarded prospect whose stellar defense should afford him regular at-bats on a rebuilding Padres squad. Although the PCL is known for inflated offensive numbers, Hedges did slug 21 homers in 82 Triple-A games last year, so I figure a dozen home runs is doable for 2017.
Brandon Moss ($1) - Cheap power. Figure 20-25 homers, even if Moss does sit often versus lefties.
Lance Lynn ($1) - Lynn is well over a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Can he get back to his old form? It's worth a buck to find out. Also keep in mind that he's set to become a free agent next winter, so there will be some extra motivation to turn in a solid season.
Ervin Santana ($1) - Continually underrated, Santana is coming off one of his most productive seasons. He's a quality back-end of the rotation SP, more than strictly a matchup-based option.
RESERVES: Alcides Escobar, Denard Span, Bartolo Colon, Trevor Plouffe, CC Sabathia, Clint Frazier
Nothing too exciting here. Mostly depth pieces, with the one exception being Frazier, who could make a meaningful impact if called up sometime mid-season. I made a key error in using my #1 overall reserve pick on Escobar instead of Yoan Moncada, who for some reason I thought had been purchased during the fast-paced $1 auction endgame stage. This could come back to haunt me if Moncada turns out to be the 2017 version of Trea Turner.
So, how do I feel about this squad? I like the starting rotation and the mix of youth/upside and experience. Strikeouts are a definite strength, as are home runs. OBP, on the other hand, could be an issue. Since Tout switched from AVG to OBP a few years ago, my teams have consistently ranked in the bottom half of the league in the category. I made a point to bring to the draft room a list of players with mediocre batting averages but a helpful OBP, but will need to go a step further next year by also listing players with decent batting averages but an especially poor OBP and try to avoid drafting too many of those guys. Also, the fact that two of my three main speed sources (Tim Anderson and Rajai Davis) might not even get on base at a .320 clip isn't ideal.
The natural tendency to second-guess decisions is the toughest part of managing a fantasy team, which makes the period between the conclusion of the draft and the beginning of the season the toughest period of the year.
The good news? Shortly after 1:10 PM ET today, that period will be over.