This year’s Tout Wars mixed league auction felt different to me, and it wasn’t just the surroundings. For the first time, we held our auction in the locker room at Richmond County Bank Ballpark, the home of the Short Season Class A Staten Island Yankees. For reasons that probably had little to do with the presence of lockers, uniforms and even mascot costumes, I spent the bulk of my $260 budget more quickly than I can ever recall doing. Though I had been consciously moving toward emphasizing hitters over the last couple of seasons, I spent a whopping $118 (or 45 percent of my budget) on pitching.
My desire to land closer to a 70/30 split in favor of hitting was overruled by three concerns. My primary goal heading into the auction — more than targeting specific players, positions, Roto categories or hitter/pitcher ratios — was to bid only when the price represented a value. That meant going above my prices only for elite players, and even then, only when I was facing a big dropoff in value from one tier to another. And that was my second concern: ensuring that I track when each of my top two tiers at each position were close to getting emptied out. While I’d prefer to not ever pay above my price for a player, it would be even worse to get shut out on the best players. Saving my money won’t help me if I am reduced to spending it on third- and fourth-tier players. Experience has taught me that it’s hard, if not impossible, to compete in Tout Wars if you don’t have at least a handful of top-shelf players.
Finally, I was committed to not spending for saves unless I could get at least one of the handful of closers whom I trust to keep their jobs all season long.
My aggressive approach led me to spend $240 on 10 players. I’ve lumped my bids on this group of players into three groups: those who I targeted as a result of a tiers-based approach, those who were simply good values and those who were unexpected splurges. I’ll take a look at the players in each of these groups, and also provide an overview of the players I picked up in the endgame portion of the auction and the reserve-round draft.
Note: Rosters for each of the 15 Tout Wars mixed auction teams can be found here.
Players Bought Using a Tiers-Based Approach
Aaron Judge ($39): I wasn’t going to go over $50 for Mike Trout (who went to Fantrax’s own Jeff Zimmerman for $56), so I set out to get my first outfielder from the group of Giancarlo Stanton, Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon and Judge. If it seems odd to include Judge among this tier, bear in mind that this is an OBP league. Given the format, I’d actually ranked Judge ahead of Blackmon. By the time Judge was nominated, Stanton ($40) and Harper ($43) had already come off the board. I didn’t want to be in the position of having to bid on Betts or Blackmon in a state of desperation. I wound up being happy with the price, given that Betts went for $44 or Blackmon was won with a $41 bid.
Corey Kluber ($39): I came up a dollar short on Chris Sale, who went to Bret Sayre for $40, and when Kluber was nominated, he was the last of the Big Four starters (the others being Sale, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer) who was available. Kluber was the only one of the Big Four to fetch a price below $40, albeit just barely.
Rhys Hoskins ($29): If I missed out on Hoskins, then I would have whiffed on my entire first two tiers of first basemen. As a result, I was willing to bid $2 above my price for him, and fortunately, that was enough.
Kyle Seager ($14): When we were bidding on Seager, he and Joey Gallo were the last third basemen left in my second tier for OBP leagues. (Neither is in my second tier at the position in my standard 5×5 rankings.) Given that I priced Seager at $15, I had no compunction about bidding $14 on him.
Players Bought Based on Value
Manny Machado ($31): My price for Machado was actually $30, but I didn’t see fit to split hairs over an extra dollar. Nolan Arenado had already gone for $44, so I figured it would take more than $31 to get Machado. Still, this was going to be my final bid. If someone went to $32, I would have let him go. Incidentally, I drafted Machado with the intention of using him as my shortstop once he becomes eligible, so I bid on Seager in order to fill my hole at third base.
Rich Hill ($14): I had Hill priced at $14, so as with Machado, this might not look like much of a value on the face of it. However, it’s still a great price given his skill set, and if he somehow manages to pitch 150 innings or more, Hill will be a bona fide bargain.
Domingo Santana ($14): I have been reluctant to target Santana this year because of the roster crunch caused by the Brewers’ acquisitions of Lorenzo Cain and Christian Yelich. Still, I had Santana priced at $17, so when there was a brief lull after a $13 bid was called out, I jumped in. I was surprised that I wasn’t outbid, but I wasn’t disappointed.
Lance McCullers ($9): My bid on McCullers came in a dollar under my price. As with Hill, McCullers has the chance to provide a sizable return if he pitches as few as 150 innings. Nonetheless, I admit to being a little squeamish about bidding even $9 on McCullers because I already had Hill. There aren’t many safe options among starting pitchers outside the top 30, but spending a combined $23 on two highly-risky starters was not a part of my plan. My desire to potentially win a skilled pitcher on a good team for under $10 outweighed my inclination to minimize risk in that moment. In time, I’ll find out if I would have been better served by stronger discipline.
Kenley Jansen ($25): He was the first player I won in this auction, and given his early nomination, it’s not as if I was concerned about a shallow first tier of relievers at that point. I had not been spending on relievers in my previous drafts and auctions, but if there is a reliever worth gambling on with an above-price bid, it’s Jansen. I had him priced at $23, and I almost certainly would have dropped out if I got outbid. However, Jansen’s extreme consistency gave me the conviction to go slightly above my price.
Justin Verlander ($26): Here’s where I just completely abandoned my prices. Winning bids for second-tier starting pitchers were considerably higher than what I expected, and I was particularly taken aback by Noah Syndergaard going for $35. I was in conflict between being guided by my prices and not wanting to be left out of the second-tier starter market. I had Verlander as a $19 pitcher, but still thought he may be a relative value compared to others nominated before him. Patience would have served me well here. The next starter nominated was Luis Severino, who I strongly prefer to Verlander. He went for $27.
I reached a point toward the end of the auction when I still had no catchers, no second baseman and not many steals. Jonathan Villar could take care of the latter two needs, and he was still available. While I had some outfield and pitching slots to fill, by this stage, I was content to fill them all with $1 players if need be. I had a $7 max bid that I was going to save for Villar. All I had to do was sit and let the other owners spend money, hoping it would take awhile for someone to nominate him. Fortunately for me, it took some time for Villar to get nominated, and all it took was $5 to win him.
Another by-product of all that waiting is that I was the last owner to have the $2 hammer. That seemed like an unlikely outcome after all of my early spending. I used it to get my second reliever, Alex Claudio.
After missing out on catchers I was enthusiastically targeting, I settled for Alex Avila and Christian Vazquez, who were $1 apiece. Each of my remaining 15 players were won on $1 or $2 bids or drafted in the reserve rounds, and each was on my list of favorite endgame fliers. The players won in the auction were Joe Mauer, Gleyber Torres, Ketel Marte, Derek Fisher, Andrew Toles, Mitch Moreland, Dan Straily, Brandon McCarthy and Luiz Gohara (ankle), who will start the year in a DL slot. I was pleasantly surprised to be able to get Scott Kingery with the fifth overall pick in the reserve draft. I followed that pick with C.J. Cron, Denard Span, Franchy Cordero, Logan Forsythe and Tyler Anderson. Span will likely start the season on the active roster, Forsythe will keep the MI slot warm for Torres, and Anderson will replace Gohara.
Even though this auction did not turn out like most of my past auctions, I can’t really say it didn’t go according to plan. Aside from my panicked overbid on Verlander, I was able to stick by my most important guiding principles and keep them in balance. I think I’ve put myself in a position to compete, but this is just the first step. Not only will I need my priciest players to step up, but I will also need at least a handful of my fliers to exceed expectations. When the unexpected happens, I’ll need to make the right moves to adapt.
I’ll be tracking all of these in-season developments right here at Fantrax throughout the season. I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.