It is always a great pleasure to compete in the National League Tout Wars draft, held last weekend at the Sirius XM Studios in midtown Manhattan.
Many of my NL peers have already written about their teams in a far more eloquent, witty and/or amusing manner than I am capable, as have the American and Mixed Leaguers, too. (Most of these articles are indexed off the ToutWars.com home page).
Frankly, I am late to the recap game because my articles here run on Saturdays – the same day the Tout drafts began. The NL bash is traditionally last, on Sunday morning. The timing puts a damper on having too much evening fun in the Big Apple.
That is OK. My strategy is a more relaxed fit, anyway. Compared to others, perhaps a bit less shiny of a roster has been drafted by this author, featuring more than a few players considered tarnished by some.
If you are interested in what is behind my Tout Team Tarnish, please read on.
There are several things I felt about the NL pool and the behavior of my peers that may be of value to you in your own leagues. They include talent at first base, risk avoidance, a dropoff in the outfield, a love of top prospects and team loyalties.
Here is how I dealt with each.
It wasn’t very long ago – in fact, it was just 12 short months ago – that many fantasy analysts were bemoaning the dearth of first base talent in the Senior Circuit. After all, the two biggest boppers at the position, Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols, bolted their mid-market NL Central clubs for big bucks in the American League.
That didn’t last long.
With the ascension of fresh new names like Anthony Rizzo and Brandon Belt, not to mention Paul Goldschmidt, Allen Craig, Ike Davis and Freddie Freeman, the position pool for 2013 is very deep.
It was hardly a stretch to assume many of my peers would be in love with these guys. Sure enough, each of the latter four went for $25 and up, as did long-time standouts Joey Votto and Adrian Gonzalez.
Expecting that, I came in content to land one of a couple of less exciting but still productive bats in Ryan Howard and Adam LaRoche. When getting the Phillies star would have meant going to at least $21, I pulled back. Drafting the Washington first sacker shortly after at just $17 was delightful.
Knowing it is dangerous to target players, I already had Colorado’s Michael Cuddyer ($19) as a first base fallback. Though rostered initially as an outfielder, I may still use the 2012 injured player at first or at the corner very soon.
Speaking of the corner, and the hot corner specifically, I realized it was too much to hope for lightning to strike in the same place two years in a row. Last spring, David Wright was dealing with an injury that put an artificial glass ceiling on his price and landed him on my roster as a $22 bargain. This March’s injury to Wright is less severe. As a result, I bowed out of the bidding when his price would have been more than $30.
Instead, I went $21 for San Diego’s Chase Headley, a truly injured player – at least for one month. The combination of concern over the third baseman’s thumb and a view that he cannot repeat his 2012 success ended the bidding at a price I can live with.
Another risk leads my rotation in Roy Halladay. It is not uncommon for analysts to say they would steer clear of Doc at all costs due to a drop in velocity. At $15, I am willing to bet that Halladay can and will make the mechanical adjustments to be successful again.
In a league like Tout, every owner comes to the table with his own prices, but for most players, they are generally within a few dollars of each other. Top prospects are known by all. True sleepers do not exist.
This year, I decided my approach to try to gain an edge would be in taking good players about whom others are worried – perhaps too much so. Other new recruits of mine who fit this mold include Chase Utley, Rickie Weeks, Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford and Francisco Liriano.
All four of the aforementioned hitters plus Cuddyer went for $20 or less. It is no secret to my Tout mates that I am a “spread the risk” player. In a league where almost every bench player on every one of the NL teams is rostered, accumulating at-bats is crucial.
By not spending more than $21 on any player, I did not get the Vottos, but I also avoided the $1 garbage players that many other owners are saddled with. Yes, there is more risk, but to win these leagues, prudent chances taken can be rewarded.
I also spent two dollars on then-unsigned Kyle Lohse, whose risks primarily were tied to which league the right-hander would later join. The coin landed heads for me when the veteran signed with Milwaukee. Had Lohse moved to the AL instead, he would have been dead to me.
In drafting, I agree with the general philosophy of tiers, as championed by our Lord Zola among others, but only to a point. Drawing a line and color-coding at any dollar amount feels extremely arbitrary to me, so I gauge it more by neighborhood than by plot lines.
Of course, any of this is inherent on the accuracy of predictions, which by definition are going to be somewhat inaccurate. In other words, I use projections as a helpful tool, not as the gospel. I find some can be slaves to their projected values.
Anyway, back to Tout.
I was worried about the apparent dearth of good outfield options in the $6-$12 range. With one outfielder to go, adding Will Venable at $14 provided relief from the later bidding wars on what I considered to be lesser flychasers.
I wanted to have at least a few dollars at the end to be able to avoid completely-empty at-bats. At the same time, I needed coverage for the injured Headley, which I achieved via the unexciting but versatile Luis Cruz ($4) and Placido Polanco ($2).
Good thing, because I had also added Logan Forsythe at $3, assuming him to be my immediate Headley replacement, only to see him take a 6-8 week injury timeout within a few days of the draft.
I get that Polanco is old and tired. So am I. But how about this? Someone gets the pleasure of hitting in front of Giancarlo Stanton and that person in 2013 is Placido. That is worth two bucks alone.
I also need to add a note of thanks to Rotowire’s Chris Liss. More so than any other player at the table, Liss kept this draft moving. If Joey Votto was thrown out for a dollar, the next bid would be Liss immediately saying “$35.”
That not only cut 45 minutes to an hour off the elapsed time of the draft but allowed less breathing time for those around the table. I feel I thrive in a fast pace and believe that, along with some well-timed $19 freeze bids, helped me more than once last Sunday.
It was a well-managed draft, with minimal table talk and no open-mic comedy aspirants interfering with the business at hand. Yes, I take the draft very seriously.
My job covering the St. Louis Cardinals is hardly a secret to those at the table. As a result, each time a Cardinal was thrown, I felt eyes on me. For example, given Saturday’s news of Jason Motte’s season-opening DL plans, folks seemed curious if I would go after Mitchell Boggs or Trevor Rosenthal – or both.
They had to be surprised when I did not bid on any of the Cardinals closer candidates. Further, I did not roster a single Cardinal player in the draft - or in the four reserve rounds, either. It is better not to always do what people expect.
Now, the reality of the matter is that I tried. I threw out Adam Wainwright in the first bidding round with the intent to try to get him, but was not willing to pay the $25 or more it would have taken. Further, had the draft been two days earlier, I would have pushed Motte to $20.
I know many recommend not chasing saves, but that is what I did in 2012. While I had one eventual hit in Tyler Clippard, I wasted too much money and too many roster spots on prospective closers because I did not take any sure things on draft day.
With the 2013 pool of relatively-solid NL closers at just a handful minus one (Motte), I was fine with spending $20 on Jonathan Papelbon. Others can bid up the prices of shaky ninth-inning options.
It would have been great to make some speculative buys of prospects not yet in the Majors. For example, $2 may have been enough to land outfielder Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers.
However, one downside of Team Tarnish is the need to have able-bodied major league-active reserves on the ready to be plugged into the lineup. I felt I could not afford to tie up one of my four precious reserve spots for multiple months on a prospect like Puig.
After all, at least four of my drafted 23 may begin the season on the disabled list with another banished to Triple-A after a rough spring (Jacob Turner).
While Tout features an unlimited disabled list, there is a rub this first week of the season. MLB clubs are not required to drop to 25 players (and make DL assignments) until Opening Day, Monday. Unfortunately, our weekly FAAB deadline is midnight Sunday night.
As of now, none of my injured players have been officially placed on the DL. Until they do, I cannot try to acquire replacements to augment my four drafted reserves. But if I wait a week, a number of the better remaining free agents may be long gone.
For that reason, I am expecting an uneasy Easter.
Best to you in your remaining drafts and in your leagues this season.
Oh yes, here is my roster. If you have any questions or comments, fire away below.
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. Follow Brian on Twitter.