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Friday 23rd Feb 2018

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

Such is life, and such it is for me, going back to the LABR American League after a three-year hiatus to the National League. Truth is, I don't really care much about the parameters of any league in which I play as long as I do indeed understand them.

So, this Saturday--as covered live on Sirius/XM, channel 87--I will acquire my team during the 12-team auction with a $260 salary cap, in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality, hosted by USA Today's Steve Gardner.

Thus, in plain sight, in front of mine enemies (ok, well, my league mates, like Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf, whom I love), here are some of the players I have an eye on, and their price zone.

Now, I realize you might think it is silly to reveal one's cards too soon, but I have found we all have egos, so if I told you every detail of my foolproof plan to take over the world, you would look, and say "that is good, but what if you did this?" Additionally, we all have players we like and don't and price enforcement can be a tricky thing. Should I get into a battle over the rights to Chris Sale (who undoubtedly will have some serious bidding), I just have to figure if the extra dollar is worth it, or I can adjust elsewhere. 

So here are indeed some players who seem interesting to me. Note there are a couple of higher priced players, but it is finding the productive everyday bargains that win leagues like this. That, and trying to figure out a way to unlock a title your mates have not seen. Sometimes that means failing big, but sometimes it means winning big.

Yonder Alonso ($7): Ah, the beauty of disappointment can shine when a prospect loses some gloss. But, much like Danny Valencia, Alonso is now the perfect fit for Billy Beane's team of exiles from the island of lost players. Alonso produced a modest .282-5-31 line over 364 at-bats last year but had a stellar .381 OBP with 42 walks to 44 strikeouts. I suspect he is considered a corner guy by most, but I also think he will play first base full-time and jump his totals to .280-15-75.

Eduardo Escobar ($6): I had him on my list last year for a buck, and got him. The guy plays all over, does a lot of good stuff, and is made for an AL-only middle infield spot.

George Springer ($26): Still a level two star, but not for long. If Springer stays healthy, he becomes a first rounder in 2017, cranking out a .275-28-85-25 line (remember, I am very conservative with my projections).

Ryan Madson ($2): Another Beane bargain, I have to think Madson will take over if and when Sean Doolittle's elbow falls off. That means somewhere between 10-25 saves, I think. And, some whiffs, too.

Jason Castro ($4): So shiny after hitting .276-15-56 in 2012. So dull and broken, since. But, again, the Astros are now a solid veteran team with post-season experience. Castro will raise his game with this team and return to those numbers of three years ago, or maybe even best them.

Brad Boxberger ($14): In the end, he gets the ball and the saves, but I am hoping role uncertainty will cloud his price. I call this process "the lessons of Fernando Rodney."

Trevor Bauer ($3): Good team, good rotation, less pressure, Trevor steps it up. For $3, he can toss 175 innings, win ten, have an ERA around 4.00, a WHIP of 1.30 and 165 whiffs. But, I think Bauer will do even better because of changes in the environment.

Kevin Kiermaier ($6): There are a lot of really good young outfielders in the Majors, so it is hard to isolate the ones who will excel. I am thinking Kiermaier is ready to take a step based upon the pretty good .352 OBP he managed in the Minors. .270-12-70-20 is doable.

Check out the Hotpage on Monday for the assessment of my spoils, and remember you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

Over the past weeks, I have been a party to a bunch of the #MockDraftArmy soirees, coordinated by the inimitable This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Since the start of the Mock Season, I have done a bunch of various formats, but the last couple of weeks Howard and I have been playing with switching between picking 1st and 15th, and seeing how the variations might form.

So, this week, let's look at three #MockDraftArmy efforts, in which I drafted 7th, 15th, and then 1st.

The entire boards for these drafts can be seen below:

MockDraftArmy #4

MockDraftArmy #16

MockDraftArmy #21

First, let's look at the first round picks for each, in order:

Draft Spot   MDA #4   MDA #16 MDA #21
1 Mike Trout  Mike Trout   Clayton Kershaw 
2 Paul Goldschmidt  Paul Goldschmidt  Paul Goldschmidt 
3 Bryce Harper Bryce Harper Mike Trout
4 Clayton Kershaw Clayton Kershaw Bryce Harper
5 Carlos Correa Manny Machado Josh Donaldson
6 Giancarlo Stanton Josh Donaldson Miguel Cabrera
7 A.J. Pollock Nolan Arenado Manny Machado
8 Anthony Rizzo Giancarlo Stanton Antony Rizzo
9 Manny Machado Carlos Correa  Carlos Correa
10 Josh Donaldson Andrew McCutchen  Andrew McCutchen
11 Miguel Cabrera Anthony Rizzo Giancarlo Stanton
12 Andrew McCutchen  Miguel Cabrera Jose Altuve
13 Nolan Arenado Kris Bryant Kris Bryant
14 Jose Altuve Jose Altuve Nolan Arenado
15 Kris Bryant Mookie Betts A.J. Pollock
Whether you follow ADP or not, the top 15 are the top 15. Mookie pushed Pollock in MDA #16, but Betts was my selection, and my #2 pick was indeed Pollock. So, for all intents and purposes, those selections were interchangable. For the archivists, Betts was 2.5 in MDA #21 and 2.3 in MDA #4.
Here are my top five picks in each draft, to see just how differently I trekked and who was still there:
Round   MDA #4  MDA #16  MDA #21 
1 A.J. Pollock  Mookie Betts  Clayton Kershaw 
2 Madison Bumgarner  A.J. Pollock Joey Votto
3 Lorenzo Cain Xander Bogaerts  Lorenzo Cain
4 Yoenis Cespedes Adrian Gonzalez Xander Bogaerts
5 Adrian Gonzalez Kenley Jansen Kyle Seager

But, just for grins today, how about my bottom five selections as a point of contrast/filling need:

Round   MDA #4  MDA #16  MDA #21 
19 Jesse Hahn Danny Valencia Robinson Chirinos
20 Odubel Herrera  Trea Turner Brock Holt
21 Oswaldo Arcia Brock Holt  Ben Paulsen
22 Jose Iglesias Nick Markakis  :Leonys Martin
23 Brock Holt Oswaldo Arcia  Hunter Strickland

The end might indeed be where a win would come from. I will continue to try to break down the mocks as the season gets closer. Remember, your comments are always welcome, and you can hit me up @lawrmichaels.

Last Friday, my mates Howard Bender (@Rotobuzzguy) and Ray Flowers (@baseballguys) were good enough to toddle into Hayward, where my band, The Biletones, were playing a gig.

It was a fun evening, and we had a good trio of sets, the second completing with the wonderful Sonny Curtis tune, "I Fought the Law (and the Law Won)." 

During the existence of Howard's #MockDraftArmy, Howard and I have often discussed the best draft slots, and we generally come back to 1 and 15 (or last, depending upon how many teams) in a snake. So, when Howard heard us cover "I Fought the Law", during the break he came up to me and said, "Thursday, during the 15-team mock, I am calling it 'I Fought the Lawr,' with one of us drafting first, and one drafting 15th.

I have actually used that moniker as a fantasy team name before, but this was just fine with me. I like picking at the wheel for it allows me to plot the pairing of picks, which not only can flesh out a team, but also pair players to ideally jack with the plans of my opponents.

Here are the results of Mock#16, and I must say the players in this mock were particularly strong as you can see by looking at all the assembled teams, so selecting at the wheel was not the "pick-nic" I had hoped for. You be the judge. (Again, mocking is the best way to prep for a straight draft in my view. Should you be interested, contact Fantasy Alarm's Howard at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.)

BTW, check out Howard's assessment of the Mock right here.

1.15 Mookie Betts: I wanted to go young, and pair up picks. I was hoping maybe Anthony Rizzo and Josh Donaldson would slip with players pushing for Carlos Correa and Kris Bryant. Wrong. So, I went with Betts, looking at power/speed/upside.

2.1 A.J. Pollock: And then took Pollock to complement Betts. Collectively, they should be good for 45 homers, 190 each of runs and RBI, solid average, and 60-plus swipes. 

3.15 Xander Bogaerts: I confess, man-crush, but this gives me a shortstop I like who can produce and who would not be there by my next round of picks.

4.1 Adrian Gonzalez: Wanted a little more power, and A-Gon is just so consistent it is hard to ignore. So, I paired him with Bogaerts while starting to flesh my infield.

5.15 Kenley Jansen: 15 teams does mean grabbing closers at the right time. This might have been a tad early, but I was hoping to initiate scarcity fear in my league mates and while they were picking closers, take advantage of other players available.

6.1 Craig Kimbrel: Part II of the Jansen argument, plus this gave me a solid saves foundation.

7.15 Marcus Stroman: This will give you an idea of how quickly the starting pitcher elite were wiped off the face of everything. No Sonny Gray. No Gerrit Cole. Tough draft if this is my #1, but fantastic upside.

8.1 Jose Quintana: Much the same as Stroman, and I had to start somewhere, so it was power pitchers for me.

9.15 Jeff Samardzija: Looking at the Shark to get it together at ATT, and help my pitching numbers.

10.1 Stephen Piscotty: Outfielder #3, whom again I knew would never last. This kid can rake.

11.15 Travis d'Arnaud: Second tier catchers were there, so I went with Travis.

12.1 J.T. Realmuto: And then complemented the Mets backstop with the Fish one. Again, trying to slim the pool and force early decisions on the others.

13.15 Wade Miley: Struggling to put a staff together, I was hoping the park and the whiffs fall my way.

14.1 Mike Fiers: Actually love Fiers at this point, and as a #5 I guess I could do worse.

15.15 Joe Panik: I let my infield go, knowing there were a lot of comparable picks towards the lower portion. Panik, who has a great line drive swing, is just fine for me right here. .290-10-65 with 80 runs, perhaps, is totally doable.

16.1 Nick Castellanos: Filling third with another guy with upside, on a good hitting team. As a veteran, I expect the Tigers' third sacker to step it up and hit .260-19-75 (or better).

17.15 Andrew Cashner: Finally healthy, he made 31 starts last year, so I am hoping he can build on that. Considering the skill set, Cashner could be a steal down here.

18.1 Brandon Finnegan: More manlove here. I have picked Finnegan wherever I can. Looking at the sweet upside, with ideally very little pressure on a rebuilding team.

19.15 Danny Valencia: Filling the corner with the Oakland third sacker, whom I have liked since the minors, and who now looks like he will be a solid everyday guy at third. After all, the last reclamation project Oakland had at third was Josh Donaldson.

20.1 Trea Turner: Rookie crapshoot. Don't ask me why. I think I am attracted to shiny objects. If he succeeds, though, boy will I be a fan.

21.15 Brock Holt: Fourth outfield slot, and it is Holt? I told you this was a tough mock.

22.1 Nick Markakis: Fleshing out my outfield with back-to-back outfielder picks. The down side is this pair hit a collective five homers last year. The upside is both should help my average, and Holt gives me some position flexibility. But, the main thing is that they put up 900 or so at-bats between them. That would be a contribution.

23.15 Oswaldo Arcia: My utility slot, and another crap shoot among many. I am hoping Arcia joins his fellow Twins youngsters and kicks it. But, most of the guys I would have taken for this (think Domingo Santana) were way gone.  

Like I said, a very tough draft, and my hats off to all the participants for both making great picks and making it tough all around.

Last week during the #MockDraftArmy review, I wrote about taking two pitchers with my first two selections, then two more with my next four picks, and with my seven and eight picks, a pair of relievers, meaning six of my first eight selections were hurlers.

During that draft, I selected in the #15 spot, or last with two picks at the wheel. This past Thursday, I again selected at the end, albeit of a 12-team Mock, and went a completely different route.

I do need to note ahead that the difference between 12 and 15 teams is indeed huge--it means a difference of 69 more players drafted in the larger framework--but fashioning a strategy and assembling a team under varying circumstances is part of what makes the mock exercise revealing and contextual.

So, today, let's look at the picks, round-by-round, nabbed at the end of one round/beginning of the next just to see the difference. 

Note that I do realize I am spending a lot of time reviewing mock results here, but again, mocking is the best prep there is for both understanding the player pool, draft tendencies, and getting a grasp for navigating through all this.

If you want to be a part of the #MockDraftArmy, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. of Fantasy Alarm and he can get you on the list. It is a lot of fun and Howard always assembles a good group of experts, strong players, and good guys for his weekly fetes.

For links, here are the results of Mock Draft 8 (15 teams) and Mock Draft 11 (12 teams). Note that the first pick noted is for #8, the second for #11.

1) Max Scherzer/Kris Bryant: Trying to force the selection of pitchers versus grabbing the fun next big new thing.

2) Chris Sale/Carlos Correa: More of round 1 logic at the wheel in both instances. I was surprised that both Correa and Bryant lasted to me, not that I am suggesting either is really a first rounder just yet. And, well, grabbing two is sort of jumping off a cliff with my eyes closed.

3) Carlos Carrasco/Yoenis Cespedes: Exploiting pitching still, versus drafting who I think has the best confluence of tools to bang 50 homers.

4) Jacob deGrom/Chris Sale: Again, stacking pitching, as noted, and then grabbed a #1 starter who went around 40 picks earlier in the deeper format.

5) Francisco Lindor/Jason Kipnis: In the deeper league, I could not get Correa, but Lindor is interesting at this juncture and just about as much fun. As for Kipnis, I expect a slight bump from last year, but last year is just fine as a bottom line.

6) Kolten Wong/Carlos Carrasco: Deeper league means thinner impact second sackers. Kipnis was gone but Wong has some great upside. As for Carrasco, again, like Sale in the shallower environ, he was right there for the grabbing three rounds later.

7) Trevor Rosenthal/Randal Grichuk: I took back-to-back closers in the deeper format, and went for some potential pop in the shallow one.

8) Mark Melancon/Jonathan Lucroy: Locked up saves in one league, bagged one of the three best hitting catchers in the other.

9) Kole Calhoun/Byung Ho Park: Solid Calhoun actually slipped in my view. Park is another youngster gamble, but there appears to be some power and all the front line first sackers were gone.

10) Randal Grichuk/Lance McCullers: My Grichuk attraction is well known. As for McCullers, good team, resume, and whiffs lie ahead, I hope.

11) Carlos Santana/Stephen Piscotty: I took Santana because the first base ranks were thin (Park was gone) as opposed to Piscotty, who has major upside on a team that knows how to groom prospects.

12) Stephen Piscotty/Taijuan Walker: Piscotty redux, but Walker is much like McCullers in potential upside.

13) Blake Swihart/Jeff Samardzija: In the deep league, I doubled up on backstops here, while adding K's with the hopes that the Shark settles down in pitcher friendly ATT.

14) Derek Norris/Ender Inciarte: Norris and Swihart make a nice combo in the deep league, while Inciarte is a well known objet de art in my view.

15) Nick Castellanos/J.T. Realmuto: Third base getting lean in the deep format, and I like Castellanos' production potential while Realmuto is a nice #2 to Lucroy.

16) Domingo Santana/Marco Estrada: I am big on Santana's power potential just like I am big on Estrada keeping it together for a second year.

17) Kevin Kiermaier/Ketel Marte: In the deep league, Inciarte was gone, so Kiermaier is the alternative. In shallow city, the exciting potential of Marte at middle infield is great.

18) Marco Estrada/Domingo Santana: Have both on both teams, selected the exact opposite in round 16. Hmmmmm?

19) Avisail Garcia/Brandon Finnegan: Garcia a nice power gamble this late while Finnegan has a lot of promise (I am thinking he can produce a la McCullers last year).

20) Brandon Finnegan/Brett Lawrie: Finnegan becomes a nice flier in the deeper format while Lawrie is pretty solid up the middle in the 12-teamer.

21) Nathan Eovaldi/Luke Gregerson: Eovaldi and his whiffs should be a nice crapshoot this late, while in the shallow format I blew off closers till the end. Why you ask? Well, 12 teams generally means 24 closers and that ideally means six will not even be chosen. You can indeed be flexible with closers in the shallower format.

22) Martin Prado/Andrew Miller: Would I rather have Lawrie than Prado? Yes, but so be it. As for Miller, again, grabbing potential sources of saves late in the shallow format makes things a lot different.

23) Jose Iglesias/Denard Span: Iglesias was the best there was to offer at the time in the deep format, while Span went in the 16th round of the deeper format, making him a steal for me.

Don't forget you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

As I noted last week in this space, we are indeed in the throes of the mock draft season, and This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. #MockDraftArmy, and since I did just write about mocks, I had a couple of other thoughts for fodder this week.

But, Thursday evening, Howard's mate Dave Kerr hosted (Howard was tied with Super Bowl 50 work, which is in our back yard) as the Army went at it for a 15-team mixed format.

I logged in a little before the draft start and found myself drafting in the 15-slot, at the wheel, so I decided then and there to try something and see which way the players fell.

I do love drafting at the end of the snake, for it affords chances to try things not necessarilly afforded at other slots within the serpent. Drafting first affords some of the same chances, the difference being you make a pick and nada for the next 30 players, while drafting 15 means two prime picks right in the middle of the first rounds.

Since we all know just how deep pitching is this season, it has been interesting to see how long drafters wait to fill out their rotations and pens. In general, I have found despite the depth at the position, players are snatching up the top pitchers early, forcing all of us to have to actually work the hill spot sooner than might seem reasonable.

So, I decided to try and exploit that even more, drafting pitchers with my first four selections, and then with my seventh and eighth selections as well. That meant I built a deadly rotation--and pen--with the first third of the draft, but that also meant a scramble for at-bats, power, on-base, and speed as I took only position players from rounds 9-18.

The full draft can be viewed here. Below is my roster, in draft order, with my thought of why at the time.

1.15 Max Scherzer: Clayton Kershaw actually dropped to 11th, and I had hopes of a Kershaw/Scherzer rotation, but alas, Max was there when it was my turn to pick.

2.1 Chris Sale: It was between Sale and Madison Bumgarner, but I went Sale after first a discussion with Lord Z, and second, thinking about strikeouts.

3.15 Jacob deGrom: Best strikeout guy on the board at the time.

4.1 Carlos Carrasco: Whiffs, yes, and just hoping he has arrived.

5.15 Francisco Lindor: I wanted to make sure that I had some potential production at middle infield, and with the likes of Correa and Seager and Tulo gone, well, this is where I went.

6.1 Kolten Wong: Grabbed to pair with Lindor. I was hoping Jason Kipnis would fall to me, but just missed.

7.15 Trevor Rosenthal: Best closer available at the time.

8.1 Mark Melancon: With Rosenthal atop the stopper list, Melancon was next. Selecting a closer in a 15-team set-up is a lot different than with 12 or 13 teams, so I took two here to make my opponents suddenly have to deal with a potential dearth of both top starters and closers.

9.15 Kole Calhoun: No question how much I like Calhoun, and well, he was the best bet on the board for 25-plus homers.

10.1 Randal Grichuk: The fun of this draft was gambling on the likes of Lindor and Grichuk (and more).

11.15 Carlos Santana: The top tier first sackers were likewise gone, but Santana offers on-base numbers and pop, and I still think (hope) his best numbers lie ahead.

12.1 Stephen Piscotty: Another guy I really like, Piscotty makes great contact, can really hit, and I hope he just gets a shot at playing full time. If he does, I am thinking .290-17-85 is reasonable.

13.15 Derek Norris: Catchers were getting thin like closers a few rounds before, so I tried to buy more time by grabbing Norris, who is another guy whose best work I think lies ahead.

14.1 Blake Swihart: So, I doubled up at backstop, grabbing another shiny prospect I hope will deliver.

15.15 Nick Castellanos: No question Castellanos has double-digit power, and again, another guy who is due to be as good as we hoped when drafted five years back.

16.1 Domingo Santana: High on my list, Santana should have a regular shot to be the starting centerfielder in Milwaukee, and if he can play should give 20 or so homers along with some nice support numbers.

17.15 Kevin Kiermaier: My last outfield slot went to another up-and-comer with a track record of some power and some speed. Ideally, in his third year, things will fall in place.

18.1 Marco Estrada: If he keeps the WHIP down, and gets his strikeouts, I am happy to have Estrada as a #5 starter.

19.15 Avisail Garcia: Garcia goes to my Utility spot, giving a chance for some upside. He is still just 25, you know?

20.1 Brandon Finnegan: Personal favorite, and I think he will flourish as a starter this year.

21.1 Nathan Eovaldi: A little surprised Eovaldi was still out there, but happy to take his whiffs. Another player who is due to break through in my opinion.

22.1 Martin Prado: By now, the pool was thin, but I do like Prado, who can hit and has a little power. He is the kind of guy who might not give much, but neither will he take much.

23.15 Jose Iglesias: Took a Mr. Irrelevant gamble on the Tigers shortstop, who hit .300, stole 11, and makes good contact with 25 walks to 44 whiffs last year.

There you have it. Don't forget you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

The #MockDraftArmy--as curated by @RotoBuzzGuy (Howard Bender, of Fantasy Alarm)--is alive and well, and this past week the Army completed the first drafts of 2016.

I participated in two: a 12-team mixed on Wednesday, and the next evening, a 15-team mixed (see links for results), and while I wound up with basic strategies for each format, I think this time it is important to take a look at just how different things are with the addition of three teams to the mix.

On Wednesday, I selected in the nine slot, while Thursday, in the seventh slot. Off the top, seventh in a 15-team league is a tough place, for it is just far enough to project, but too close to plan much effectively long-term. 

For both teams I tried to focus enough on pitching such that I was willing to grab starters despite pitching depth. On Wednesday, I waited late for closers, selecting Roberto Osuna (18) and Arodys Vizcaino (19), while Thursday, with 15 teams, I went Kenley Jansen in round six and Jeurys Familia in nine.

Uncharacteristically, I went for outfielders with three of my first four picks in the 15-team set up, while waiting and assembling a great cluster of young flychasers over rounds 8-12 with a break at 10 for Lance McCullers.

Looking at both make-ups, remember that 66 more players go off the board in the 15-team set up, making a 12-team format feel pretty shallow. For example, my last pick Wednesday was filling my second catcher slot with Jason Castro, who can hit with power, but not a lot more, while Thursday I made a last ditch scramble for saves with Hunter Strickland. Strickland was not selected Wednesday.

OK, so let's look at a few guys and see if we can derive anything that might help us get a feel for our pending March drafts and auctions. Mind you, I still have no use for ADP; however, I do understand ADP does provide a window into when opponents favor a particular player, whether I covet the guy or not.

Michael Brantley: The Indians outfielder, who is out until May following shoulder surgery, was a 5.5 selection Wednesday while he somehow dropped to 14.2 the next night. That is weird for though Brantley misses a month, imagine where Troy Tulowitzki would be taken were he to miss a month, especially in a deeper league. I might have jumped on Brantley Thursday, but as stated, I loaded on power and speed in the outfield early so I looked to fill holes elsewhere. That is almost 100 picks later.

Stephen Piscotty: Kind of the same, as I nabbed Piscotty at 13.9 Wednesday, while Steve Gardner could wait till 17.9 the next night to grab the fine young Cardinals first sacker/outfielder. Again, I was not looking at first and the outfield, so Piscotty was not on my wish list or queue, but in retrospect, he should have been. This comes out to a 60-pick difference. Odd.

Zack Greinke: Selected as the second starting pitcher, at 2.2 Thursday, but dropped to the fifth round (5.3) with seven hurlers preceding the new D-back on the Wednesday pick list. There were 45 picks in between.

Danny Valencia: I like the Athletics third sacker and had planned on him as a late corner/utility type player. I did grab Valencia with the 22.4 selection Wednesday, but he was long gone by then Thursday, going 17.5, almost 75 players earlier.

Miguel Sano: Ok, so there was a bit of a gap with a lot of the players--stars and filler alike--but what about the youngsters we love? Well, Sano was 10.7 Wednesday, and Thursday, just ten picks later at 11.5.

Carlos Correa: Best for last? I don't know. I do like Correa, but as a first-rounder, the young shortstop really needs to generate $35-plus of value to make the pick worth it. That is a lot to ask, especially when Josh Donaldson, the reigning AL MVP, was taken after Correa in both instances. But Correa went 1.5 on Wednesday, and just two later at 1.7 on Thursday. Correa might be good, and have upside. He could earn those $35, but what taking Correa that early does is give lower drafters in the snake a better shot at safer bets.

However, remember that the function of mock drafts is three-fold. First, it reinforces a broad-based knowledge of the player pool, which is always a good thing. Second, mocks do give a chance to see how others value guys like Correa, for better or worse. But third, and most important, mocks offer a chance to try some things, mix it up, and see what falls. Like a Michael Brantley in the 14th.

Remember, you can follow me @lawrmichaels.

Note: If you are reading this, that suggests more than a passing interest in fantasy games. Please do write to your local lawmakers and tell them of your love of playing and desire to keep on playing, while keeping the game fair--and regulated--for all. Visit the FSTA site for more information (and thanks).

Tuesday evening found Lord Zola himself sitting next to me (or was it the other way around?) at the 2016 Fantasy Sports Trade Association's (FSTA) Experts Baseball Draft.

The draft is always part of the Association's Winter Convention, which was extra important as we work as both players and members of an industry to ensure the right and ability to play fantasy games while still keeping the contests transparent--and profitable--while being fair to participants.

In fact, if you are reading this, that suggests more than a passing interest in fantasy games. Please do write to your local lawmakers and tell them of your love of playing and desire to keep on playing. Visit the FSTA site for more information (and thanks).

OK, so going up against the likes of defending champs Steve Gardner and Howard Kamen, plus Ron Shandler, Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf and Stacie Stern, Jeff Erickson and on, who did we cop?

For some context, Todd and I drafted in the 12-slot of a 13-team standard 5x5 that allows a 29-man total roster. Injured players can be placed on IR, thus they don't count as one of the six reserve picks. The draft was carried on Sirius/XM, who does rebroadcast, but if you wish to see the pickings thus far, click here. We were able to draft 22 rounds live, and are completing the proceedings via e-mail. Note that as long as we can fill a roster by the 29th selection, we are good, so at press time, Todd and I still have a few picks to go.

1.12 Manny Machado (3B): Kind of a no-brainer at that spot. We truly had not anticipated Machado falling to us, and couldn't pass up a solid (162 games last year) potential 30/30 guy.

2.2 A.J. Pollock (OF): It was a question of Giancarlo Stanton or Pollock, and we went with the potentially healthier-speedier guy on the better team.

3.12 J.D. Martinez (OF): This came down to Charlie Blackmon and Martinez, and Todd lobbied harder. I actually liked Yoenis Cespedes a little better than either, but Todd's projections said one of the pair, and my nod went to Martinez.

4.2 David Price (P): True pitching is deep, but we knew the wait for simply our next pick was 22 players away, so Price was the strikeout option we preferred.

5.12 Xander Bogaerts (SS): 196 hits last year, and like Machado, he's just 23 yet going into a third full-time season. What is not to like? And, this one was my target (though Z put up no fight).

6.2 Carlos Carrasco (SP): Again, due to our draft spot, we felt we had to be a little aggressive nabbing this potentially dominant hurler. We knew Carlos would not be there when out next pick arrived.

7.12 Kolten Wong (2B): Some power, some speed, and a third year guy who ideally will come into his own as a vet.

8.2 Kole Calhoun (OF): Yet another third-year full-timer, coming off a 26-homer season. Not sure how he fell this far, and I admit to more of a mancrush than Todd, but again, this was not a hard sell.

9.12 Trevor Rosenthal (RP): Closers were starting to come off the board, so this was the best available at the spot at the time. And, it is not like he isn't good.

10.2 Russell Martin (C): 23 dingers and the hope that Martin hits up in the order prompted the selection (Z may have more to say on this).

11.12 Jose Quintana (SP): #3 starter ideally helps our growing whiff total.

12.2 Carlos Santana (1B): We missed out on the banger first basemen. We both like Carlos but are a little concerned at his ground ball rate for a power hitter.

13.12 Shawn Tolleson (RP): Closer the second.

14.2 Randal Grichuk (OF): Several options here--Stephen Piscotty and Kevin Pillar to be specific--but we like Grichuk's power potential a lot.

15.12 Ketel Marte (MI): We love the Mariners' middle guy a lot so we were thrilled to get him here.

16.2 Ender Inciarte (OF): I made this push, but we agreed the new Brave could be a stolen base boon.

17.12 Mike Fiers (SP): Hoping for some more whiffs with Fiers on a good contending team and maybe some wins, too.

18.2 Scott Kazmir (SP): Neither of us sold, but on the Dodgers--who are good with pitchers--Kazmir will hopefully maintain.

19.12 Jhonny Peralta (UT): Everyday player with 20-homer potential. 

20.2 James McCann (C): On-base numbers a little scary, but some home run potential, and on a team that should score a bunch of runs.

21.12 Anibal Sanchez (SP): A gamble, but one with strikeout potential, and Todd and I both like the whiffs.

22.2 Devon Travis (MI): Injured so we can stash him, but nice offensive potential when Travis is healthy, ideally come May. After this pick, it was pretty clear Travis would not have been there for our round 23 selection.

23.12 Martin Prado (CI): Everyday player who can do a little of everything.

24.2 Clay Buchholz (SP): Hopefully some strikeouts and no time on the DL.

Just before the All-Star break last year, I wrote an article for our friends at USA Today on the proliferation of rookie pitchers in 2015. The truth is by the time the season was over, no less that 150 pitchers had made their debut in 2015 according to Baseball-Reference.

To me, that suggests that Major League GM's are more than willing to give a shot to a draft pick moving up through the system. Certainly, if we look at the Mets and the Indians, both teams have fantastic young rotations, but just about every franchise boasts a hot young arm on the verge of domination. Daniel Norris. Aaron Nola. Carlos Rodon. Henry Owens. All seem on the verge of big things at The Show and on our fantasy rosters.

In a way, this makes sense to me. For example, the Dodgers gave Kenta Maeda $3 million a year on an eight-year contract worth a maximum of $90 million including incentives to pitch for them. 

Maeda is hardly a rookie at age 28, with eight professional seasons played for Hiroshima, over which he went 97-67, 2.39 over 1509.6 innings. Maeda had fine control in Japan, with 1233 strikeouts to 319 walks with 1263 hits for a 1.048 WHIP. But, at 6'0", 154 pounds, I am not sure how a young man with 7.9 strikeouts per nine innings will fare hurling in a league where strikeouts, fastballs, and power largely rule the roost.

Irrespective, the Dodgers signed Maeda and installed him in their rotation, and at present the import is the #3 starter for the team (behind Clayton Kershaw and Scott Kazmir), ahead of both Alex Wood and Mike Bolsinger. Now, it is true both Wood and Bolsinger ran out of gas last year, but still, Wood was a decent 12-12, 3.84 over 189.6 innings while Bolsinger went 6-6, 3.62 over 109.3 frames. Note too that the Dodgers also have Brett Anderson, who went 11-9 over 189 more innings last year (staying healthy for the first time in the last six years) as well as Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-jin Ryu (who missed all of last season due to injury), giving the team as much depth in the rotation as anyone.

While I do understand a team cannot have too much pitching, I don't understand a long-term commitment to an unknown quantity like Maeda despite already having 45-plus wins and a sub-4.00 ERA over nearly 700 innings among Wood, Anderson, Ryu, and Bolsinger.

And, it is not so much that I mean to pick on the Maeda signing, for it seems a lot of pitchers of questionable skill sets have received some fine contracts. Kazmir, for example, has had a nice couple of years, but $16 million a year? Or J.A. Happ, who now gets $12 million a year after establishing himself as a 33-year-old with a career 62-61, 4.13 record with a 1.367 WHIP?


Anyway, in looking at the remaining arms, let's look at this year's Jamey Wrights, in other words, pitchers who manage to keep a job despite a prolonged inability to get hitters out at critical moments. Although, Wright did emerge as an effective middle guy at the very end of his odd career, so though I am happier for the Major League teams to go to their systems before signing any of these guys, you still never know.

Tim Lincecum: How it hurts to put Timmy, whom I scored during his glorious NL heyday, winning back-to-back Cy Youngs, but Timmy has lost it. Velocity or not, he has not adjusted and learned the Tim Hudson method of transitioning from throwing to pitching. The truth is, Lincecum (and as I have written before, Matt Cain) no longer own batters in critical spots, and as a result I would not trust either of them (note Cain is still a Giant).

A.J. Griffin: Such a waste, for Griffin could pitch pretty well at first before his arm fell off. He hasn't pitched in the Majors since 2013, and allowed 46 homers over 282.6 innings with the Athletics. And now we have to trust that his arm is ok and he won't allow gopher balls. Ha.

Mark Buehrle: OK, the thing with Buehrle is what you see is what you get, and what you get is 200 innings with a 3.98 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP, and 129 strikeouts. In some leagues--like H2H formats--that is worth a lot, but not so much if you are in a straight roto league, unless your league is way deep. Then the innings can help you, especially if you can stream, for Buehrle is streaky and can be exploited accordingly.

Mike Minor: Ouch, what happened here? Minor advances in skills, hits the skids with a 6-12, 4.77 over 145.3 innings last year, and the Braves let him go? Once again, a lesson in how tough it is to make it. However, maybe there is some Luke Hochevar in Minor somewhere with a nice middle relief career ahead of him.

Doug Fister I don't know why I have never felt I could trust Fister, for his numbers between 2011-14 are really pretty good (51-38), but here is the lanky (6'8") righty waiting for a chance after an iffy (5-7, 4.19, 1.398 over 103 innings) 2015. Fister is just 31 and surely will sign somewhere and actually might prove to be the best bargain among the basement treasures of the unsigned veteran hurlers of 2016. Depending upon where he signs, for a couple of bucks in an AL or NL-only format, I might be willing to take a flier.

Baseball, like politics and religion, never lacks for both variance of opinions and complete clarity of said view, irrespective of the divergence of said perspectives.

I will say that I applaud the addition of the wonderful Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza, who was a core piece on a couple of the best fantasy teams I ever had, to the sacred walls of Cooperstown.

Of course, as usual, there were those two absolute hits, but a lot of moaning and misses as fans and pundits all chime in on who should make it, and why.

I try not to get too wrapped around those pros and cons, though like everyone else, I have a list of players I think should at least merit more consideration than they seem to ever get, or have gotten.

Jim Kaat, with his 284 wins and 17 Gold Gloves (including 11 in a row) for example, or Tommy John, who not only bagged 288 wins, but lent his name--now reduced to initials--and body to the surgery that was an experiment on him but routine today. Darrell Evans, who smashed 414 homers, including 40 for Detroit at the age of 38, not to mention hit 40 in each league, and, well, see how many players did that--and was for awhile among the all-time RBI (1354) and walks (1605) leaders. Or ,Bill Buckner, who likely would have had 3000 hits had he not played with such reckless abandon. 

But, the thing is times and numbers have changed, and where 400 homers and 250 wins were the old barometers of my youth for Hall inclusion, those numbers seem to have fallen as the game has become a full-time year-round job, something it was not during the entirety of my youth. Now, 500 homers, 300 wins and 3000 hits are the baselines for the most part.

Not that I am feeling nostalgic, for while there are indeed more games played per team these days (162 as opposed to 154), there similarly were four-man rotations, meaning at least for starting pitchers, those who lasted had at least as many opportunities to establish numbers commensurate with today's top hurlers.

Although, in saying that, the game has changed and while innings and wins might be part of the equation, only Walter Johnson and Cy Young live in the all-time strikeout list Top 20 with the remaining hurlers all beginning their careers in the 60's or later.

I know the idea is to try to stay empirical and logical when applying some sort of reasoning to our HOF selections, but in the end, for most of us, our judgement is spoiled or enhanced in one way or another. 

For example, I get how good Curt Schilling was as a money player, but I have heard him talk enough, and think he is such an asshole that I could never vote for him, while the much cooler Mike Mussina is a no-brainer.

I still have a hard time with the inclusion of Jim Rice, who did give a fine .298-382-1451 line over 16 seasons. Not that Rice was not a great and feared hitter, but Dwight Evans, who hit .272-385-1384 over 20 years, was arguably THE defensive right-fielder with the best arm in baseball for more than a decade. Why one, and not the other?

Like I said, it is so subjective and we all filter, but if there is glory in the history of baseball, and joy in the watching of it, then there is almost something understandingly familial about arguing about those moments of joy and glory.

As with the All-Star selections, which are sort of a mid-season microcosm of the HOF arguments, I tend to try and shrug it off and enjoy the discussion.

For the record, I could vote for up to 10 players for the IBBWA (Internet Baseball Writers of America), and here is who I selected, and why:

Barry Bonds: Yeah, I know the HGH arguments, but he was the most dangerous hitter in baseball for at least five straight years, and if you take away 200 of his home runs because they are considered suspect, he still hit more than just about anyone else. Surly, yes. But Bonds was the dominant hitter of his time, period.

Ken Griffey Jr.: Kind of self-explanatory, but I am happy to report that I witnessed Junior's Major League debut, including a ringing double he hit off Dave Stewart in his first at-bat.

Edgar Martinez: I think Edgar was the best pure hitter of the 90's in the AL (their answer to Tony Gwynn). In other words, the George Brett or Rod Carew of the decade.

Mike Mussina: 270 wins is pretty good these days. In fact, the advantage the pre-70's hurlers had was that bullpens were used so differently in the past. Had Moose pitched in the 50's with those totals, he might even be a first ballot guy.

Alan Trammell: Along with Lou Whitaker, Trammell made up the best middle infield combination of the mid-70's into the mid-80's on a more than dominant team. 

Billy Wagner: 422 saves make him the most dominating left-handed closer ever. Good enough for me.

Note that I voted for Tim Raines, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza in the past and they are in the IHOF. I will likely never vote for Schilling, Sammy Sosa or Rafael Palmeiro. As for Roger Clemens, he is part Mussina and part Schilling, so make a case.

Because that is indeed one of the best parts about all this HOF fuss.

I wonder how motivated teams are to sign players before midnight of a given year for tax purposes?

Obviously, in the big business of sports, that has to be a factor in signings. But I swear, much like Diane loves reading "People" magazine when she gets her nails done, I find the transactions page to be so delicious it is hard to resist. 

Surely, I have written enough "Life and Death in the Transactions", and now the newish "Rotobituaries" columns to more than hint at this fascination.

But, as I was pondering what to write on the fun and light side this first Saturday of the new year, I could not resist looking at what the Major League clubs did during their final business cycle before the calendar and the new season start to truly sync.

Scott Kazmir: Almost 32, no one has resurrected himself in the Majors as efficiently as Kazmir, who truly has learned to pitch where he used to throw. The Dodgers actually got a decent price tag ($18 million for three years) but I fear Kazmir is not the cog the team needs to make things work. Aside from being lefty heavy, a hard thrower--from the right side--is where I would spend my bucks were I the Dodgers. Or, I would groom from within. Kazmir will go 12-12, 3.98, which is ok, but not worth $18 mil.

Mike Leake: It is an understatement to say I was unimpressed with Leake's brief tenure in San Francisco. He is four years younger and around $4 million a year cheaper than Kazmir, and has pretty good WHIP totals (1.271 over 1083.6 innings). Going to the smart Cardinals, Leake will be under contract until he is Kazmir's present age. That seems like a better deal to me.

Michael McKenry: Hmmm. The Rangers have a 31-year-old right-handed hitting catcher in Robinson Chirinos who has a .232-24-81 line over 204 games, with a .301 OBP. So, they sign a 30-year-old right-handed hitting catcher who has a .239-29-103 line over 308 games with a .319 OBP. Maybe there is an archetype the front office understands that is beyond me. Truth is, I am OK with Chirinos as a $2 number two backstop in an AL-only league, but, well, I guess these two are interchangeable Lego parts?

Brendan Ryan: Released by the Cubs, Ryan did have a glove, but that was never worth .234-19-203 over 879 games with a .610 OBP. Only was one Mark Belanger.

Tim Stauffer: The Diamondbacks signed Stauffer, who has done nothing but promote hope in fantasy owners since 2011, to a minor league deal. I hope they did do this as insurance in case Zack Greinke, Shelby Miller, or Patrick Corbin struggle, because I think they will be disappointed.

Alexi Ogando: It seems teams' confusion about what to do with Ogando (not to mention health) has provided the same issue with fantasy owners. Is he a starter or reliever? Could he be a closer? Well, despite two relatively crappy seasons, Ogando probably fits in with the Braves as a set-up guy, and somehow, I think he becomes a good deal for a buck you can dump, as necessary. Ogando's strikeout numbers were moving up, and chances are he will not pitch in pressure situations and the righty does have a 1.205 WHIP over 471.3 frames.

Jerry Sands: Remember in 2011, when Sands hit .288-29-88 for Albuquerque and was the Dodgers' next big thing? Six years later, the White Sox grabbed him off waivers. Good luck with that.

Nate Schierholtz: Schierholtz is a guy I saw a lot of scoring Giants games, before he became a platoon banger with 21 home runs for the Cubbies in 2013. The magic dust wore off in 2014 as he split the year between the Cubs and the Nats and then it was a year in Japan. Now he's in line for a reserve gig in Detroit. The outfielder, who will be 32 next month, has one of the best arms in baseball, and can be way streaky. But in a substitute role with the Tigers, Schierholtz might be a nice cheap $1/reserve pick, at least for as long as the hot streak lasts.

Henderson Alvarez: Billy Beane is as good picking talent from the island of lost players as anyone, and Alvarez is a savvy crapshoot. Alvarez sucked (and was hurt) most of last year, but at 25, a year removed from a fine 12-7, 2.65 season, Alvarez might fit in just fine in any number of roles in Oakland. Jury out: will return a verdict in March.

Hello all, and I trust you had a happy holiday.

Today's piece will be brief, and pretty much focus on Strat-O-Matic, a simulation as opposed to roto or fantasy ball, but a game no less difficult and for certain, no less fun.

One of my leagues is currently in the process of drafting 35-man rosters. This is a Hall of Fame league, with 25 teams participating.

The Summer League of Champions holds a complete redraft every three years, and this is one of those years. The format is a snake draft in order of finish, and each team is allowed to draft ten players from the Strat-O-Matic Hall of Fame set.

Then to add to the fun, we select a specific season and toss those players--this year it happens to be 1948--in with the remaining HOF guys, and from there we complete our rosters.

Usage is strictly enforced such that players cannot exceed the number of innings or at-bats indicated on the Strat-O-Matic card for the player, and players can only play a defensive position for which they have a rating. That means Vada Pinson can only play center field, while Bobby Murcer can play left, right, third, and second (though Murcer's defense in the infield is not particularly good).

My previous two years in the league, I played with a core that was largely inherited, meaning the basic team was not my vision of what would work.

The trouble with this league, however, is the talent pool is so deep that it is totally possible to have Vladimir Guerrero and Orlando Cepeda on your bench. What that means is a lot of hits and runs, and that no lead is safe, as in I lost eight-run leads at least twice last season.

Right now, we are about two-thirds of the way through the draft, and bearing in mind that there are so many hitters and great players available, I want to reveal the strategy I am trying to employ, and that I hope will make me successful.

What I reasoned is that I might have great starting pitching, but keeping the likes of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig off base on a regular basis is next to impossible. So, my entire construct has gone not so much to eliminate hits, which is almost impossible.

However, I realized I can do everything I can to keep runners from moving up a base, or getting an extra roll of the dice, which is sort of like getting an extra swing on the real diamond.

So, within the construct of Strat, here are the things I looked at to build successfully.

Defense: Strat uses defense, so I tried to grab the top fielder I could at every slot, period.

OBP: In conjunction, I tried to get the player with the best on-base numbers who had the best defense.

Arms: Outfielders and catchers are given a rating with respect to the quality of their arms, so again, I tried to get the most effective arms available, coupled with great range and OBP.

Speed: I have also looked for fast runners, both to get to balls on defense, and to help me get an extra base when I am at-bat. Similarly, the fast guys have a better base running rating. So again, getting such a player, like Ed Delahanty, who has power and on-base numbers, can steal, runs the bases well, and has a great arm is the path.

Holding Runners: For my pitchers, I looked carefully at their ability to hold runners, figuring with a good catcher, even if a player earns a hit, he will not be able to steal as easily.

DP Support: Additionally, I looked for the highest ground ball ratings for pitchers, knowing that with my good defense, there is a good chance that if a ball is hit in the infield, the runner will be eliminated via a double play.

That is the essence of my team and while I do have excellent hitters, only two of my drafted players--Ron Santo and Eddie Murray--look like they can hit 30 or more homers. Everyone else is at best in the teens, unlike most of the other squads in the SLOC.

But, I am thinking, as noted, that Strat, like baseball on the diamond, is about extending at-bats for as long as possible. That means as a defensive plan, the objective should be to allow as few pitches as possible to my opponents. So, I am theorizing that a team built upon removing the steal, run, or hit, thus keeping the offensive damage to a minimum, is the way to go.

At the same time, with an on-base and speedy team, I hope to exploit the very things when my team is at bat that I want to discourage while my team is in the field.

As usual, with such strategies, it sounds good, but if you have followed my writing, you know I am not afraid to try things, and this approach makes sense.

I just hope it works, for it is as noted, three years before the cycle starts over again.

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