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February 12, 2010

Fantasy Focus

NL Experts Auction Draft

by Marc Normandin

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Earlier this week, I took part in a National League-only auction league hosted by CBS Sports' Eric Mack. I know, "no one wants to hear about your fantasy team," but I'm going to do it anyway. This is a fantasy column, and given it was my first draft of the season, taking a look at what went right and what went wrong isn't a bad strategy. You can see the full draft breakdown through this link, but I'll go over the basics and then talk about how things went for me.

This is a 12-team, NL-only rotisserie draft with 5x5 scoring, and included Mack, myself, and 10 other experts, though I still laugh a little at being included in a setup like that despite my position. I had $260 to spend/waste/hoard, but I used every penny. We'll see how I did when the season is over, but for now, reckless speculation in the comments is appreciated.

My plan was to spread the wealth on my pitching staff. I didn't want to spend a lot of money on a Roy Halladay or Tim Lincecum, because I figured I could get two quality pitchers for the same kind of money. Thankfully, the auction agreed with me, as aces like that went for a high price, leaving me with plenty of solid $20-ish options to fill out my roster. I also wanted to see if I could get away with punting saves, at least on draft day. Hopefully, I can deal from a position of strength later if I'm dying for a few saves, but we'll see how things shake out. Last, I wanted to build a lineup that was somewhere between top-heavy and deep, with more than a handful of great hitters but also a few inexpensive options to fill things out. One accident both helped and hindered me in that goal, but we'll get to that.

The first player to go was Roy Halladay for $34, and then Adrian Gonzalez went on the board. This was my early mistake. I phantom-clicked on a bid (thanks to my new laptop, whose sensitivity I am still discovering!) as I was hovering over it, deciding I didn't want to spend the cash, and no one overrode my bid. Thus, $34 later, I had a first baseman within the first two minutes of the auction. I wouldn't have been as broken up about this mistake as I would be if he didn't cost the same as Halladay, who I didn't put much effort into acquiring just 45 seconds beforehand.

A few big names went off the board after this, including Albert Pujols, but I decided to go after Hanley Ramirez. I know I just spent portions of my last chat discussing how I think positional scarcity can work against you if you allocate too many of your resources there, but I had just missed out on Pujols and wanted a huge bat. I ended up with Ramirez for $1 more than Pujols at $51. Seven picks in, two of them mine, I was down $85 of my $260.

Mat Latos went on the board as the 10th pick, which I found odd, but given I wanted to acquire him later on, I tossed a bid in and ended up with him for $9. I probably would not have spent that much money on him earlier in the draft, but after my early spending and without my roster taking shape yet, it didn't seem like that much money. Hopefully, he ends up in the Padres rotation and builds on his 2009 campaign so I don't feel like I overpaid. I followed that up with Aroldis Chapman for $3. He may not be with the Reds all year, but given his upside and the price (and the fact I had already spent a big portion of my cash) I felt it was a worthwhile investment, especially if it opens me up to making a trade later.

Ryan Zimmerman was my next pick, 32nd overall, for $31. In an NL-only league, one where David Wright had just gone for $34, I felt this was close enough to fair value to make it worth it. Wright should have a better average, but Zimmerman should hit more homers. I'm a huge believer in his 2009 campaign and high ceiling, so I didn't mind spending again. After picking up five players in the first 32 picks, I laid low until the 64th pick, when I picked up Chad Billingsley for $18. It's a risky pick in the sense that his second half of last season was worrisome, but if it turns out that was just a blip, that $18 is more than worth that gamble. I then picked up Jair Jurrjens for $19. I don't think he's as good as his 2009 season, at least from an ERA standpoint, but if he can keep the ball on the ground, I see no reason why 2008 can't happen again.

Andrew McCutchen's name came up at number 90, and he was one of those guys I had zoned in on before the draft as someone who will outperform their cost at auction. I ended up getting him for $25, which in an NL-only league seems like a pretty great price. Ricky Nolasco came up next-any of you who read me know I've got a lot of optimism about his ability-but I ended up paying a few bucks more than I expected. I bid on him when he was at $13, but apparently so did six other people in the room, and I clicked last. Once my now-$20 bid popped up, all clicking ceased and he was mine. If he strikes out 9.5 batters per nine and keeps his walks down again, though, I don't think I'll mind that price tag.

A few picks later, I made a frugal choice, scooping up Buster Posey for $4 to fill one of my two catcher slots. There's noise that Posey will end up playing elsewhere on the diamond, and $4 seemed like a fair price for that chance. I then picked up Ronny Paulino for $3. I may look to upgrade at catcher later in the season, but this $7 combo could do pretty well, depending on how much playing time they accrue.

In one of those, "Wait, what did I just do?" moments we all have on draft day, a bidding war started for Kyle Blanks, and I unsurprisingly went in on it. I ended up with Blanks for $16, which started a conversation in the chat applet about how there are no sleepers in expert leagues. Ask me how I feel about this decision in September.

I know I just said there are no sleepers, but there are post-hype sleepers! Homer Bailey for $6 seemed right for both my wallet and roster. I followed that up soon after with Jason Heyward for $6. If he gets as much playing time as I hope he does, and if he hits as well as I think he can, I'm going to be so happy with this pick. If he doesn't, well, it was just $6.

I needed a second baseman-for some reason I never got in on the bidding for many of them earlier, as the price kept spiking past the point I was comfortable with-so I settled on Akinori Iwamura for $3. I may look to upgrade here later. I then selected his teammate, Andy LaRoche, for $4. I'm actually pretty excited for this pick, because I have a lot of faith in LaRoche turning into a good hitter in the future. Hopefully, that starts in 2010.

I picked up Emilio Bonifacio for steals as a middle infielder for $2. Clearly I was low on money at this point and was just picking up corner infielders, middle infielders, and additional outfielders at low costs when I saw upside or utility for my roster. Ryan Church for $1 was next, which I'm just now realizing means I have about 37 Pittsburgh Pirates on my team (must… combat… sinking feeling… in stomach).

I had to take a phone call from a video game publisher's PR company, and I ended up missing my nomination opportunity because of it. The unaffiliated Braden Looper became my next pick for $1 while I was away. Next came Vicente Padilla for the same price. I had as many dollars left as roster spots at this point, so I was living off of the good grace of everyone else in the draft room who could still afford to go all high-stakes on me with $2 bids.

Ryan Spilborghs, Tom Gorzelanny, and Jim Edmonds rounded out the last of my roster spots. Spilborghs seemed like a fun pick for $1, and Edmonds I picked just because I like him, he was available, and I will totally abuse a three-week return to form by him if the occasion comes. I'm not sure how I got stuck with Gorzo, but there he is.

I think I have some pretty good pitching. Billingsley, Nolasco, and Jurrjens make a strong core, and starters like Latos, Chapman, and Bailey could provide a lot of help as the year progresses. I'm relying on a whole lot of upside, though, so I could see this blowing up in my face as well. I know the back end of my positional players leave a lot to be desired thanks to the need to fill out my roster with cheapies, but at the same time, it's hard to argue with the core I put together: Hanley, Adrian, Zimm, and Cutch is a formidable foursome, and if Blanks continues to hit like he did last year, then I have another bat to fear.

If you forced me to give an opinion about my roster, I would tell you I drafted far too much upside at once. If a few too many of these guys have their years go awry or their development takes another season to kick in, I'm going to get destroyed. By the same token though, as my first draft of the season, I felt like I was playing with house money anyway, so if the upside works, I'm going to be elated.

What do you think? Did I get any players for a good or great value? Did I do anything outlandishly stupid? Let's hear your thoughts on the subject in the comments and get a discussion going. 'Tis the season, after all.

19 comments have been left for this article.

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Living The Dream (02/12)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: Startin... (01/24)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Focus: First B... (02/22)
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