Welcome back to The FAAB Review, the weekly series that looks at fantasy free-agent bidding in expert leagues to help you, the Baseball Prospectus reader, with your fantasy baseball bidding needs. Every week, I closely scrutinize the expert free agent bids in LABR Mixed, Tout Wars NL, and LABR AL.
As a reminder, LABR uses a $100 budget with $1 minimum bids, while Tout Wars uses a $1,000 budget with $0 minimum bids. LABR and Tout Wars use a bidding deadline of Sunday at midnight ET for all FAAB claims. Any statistics mentioned in this article are through the previous Sunday’s games.
Mark Reynolds $23. Other bids: $13, $4, $2. Tout Draft: $59.
Every week, Steve Gardner of USA Today emails me the full list of winning and losing bids for all of the LABR leagues. In most weeks, the most-expensive player is not a surprise. But some weeks it is a player like Reynolds, a blast from the past who makes me wonder if I’m in the middle of a dream about the past, particularly since Steve usually sends his email around 1 in the morning, when I am half-asleep and producing copious amount of drool in a REM state. Is it 2007 again? Oh look, the Mets are well on their way to repeating as NL East champions. “Things are goooooing greaaaaaaat,” I howl as I wake up in a cold sweat, realizing it is 2017, Biff is married to my mother, and this happens to Doc Brown (holds up picture of an old, yellowing newspaper)!
A prized prospect a decade ago, Reynolds is now a useful bench piece for the Rockies, and has turned into valuable insurance while David Dahl and Ian Desmond recover from injuries. Conventional wisdom says Reynolds will only be valuable for another 2-4 weeks until Dahl and Desmond return, but Reynolds has somehow managed to procure 400-or-more plate appearances well into the “part time” phase of his career. Reynolds is the prototypical “better in fantasy than real life” player, as his home run power plays up in our game. Howard Bender of Fantasy Alarm had the winning $23 bid. Bender’s team is off to a solid start, but with a couple of weaker performers on offense, Bender is hoping that Reynolds provides a short-term boost in power. Reynolds is off to a sizzling start.
Santiago Casilla $19. Other bids: $8, $5. Tout Auction: $184.
I was surprised by the lack of bids for Casilla in LABR and Tout Auction (he is already taken in the Tout Draft league). Our own Bret Sayre double-dipped, grabbing Casilla in both leagues and bolstering his somewhat soft bullpens in both leagues. If you are going to pick relievers late or spend little on them in an auction format, Bret’s approach is correct: Be aggressive and try to grab as many saves as you can early. Of course, Sean Doolittle got the save Monday, with Casilla getting the hold in the eighth inning. It is likely that this is not because the A’s decided to flip roles, but rather because tough lefties Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer were due up in the ninth. I’d guess that Casilla will get most of the saves (assuming he performs) but that this will not be handled in a conventional manner. Twenty to 25 saves is my guess for Casilla, and even though this isn’t the typical output for a closer, in 15-team mixed leagues and deeper, it is worth grabbing saves early and often whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Kendall Graveman $12. Other bids: $9, $8, $7, $4, $4, $1. (HOU)
Two solid outings for Graveman led to seven LABR teams breaking out their wallets in an attempt to grab the Oakland starter. The velocity on the fastball is up almost two miles an hour this year (I think…there are multiple reports about how inaccurate velocity readings are this season) and the strikeout rate has climbed significantly. Putting aside how accurate the readings are, if Graveman can keep the strikeout rate at this level, he is a viable mixed-league pitcher, even if the BABIP spikes as it eventually should.
Wily Peralta $6. Tout Auction: $56. Tout Mixed: $28. (@TOR, @CIN)
Spring is the time for renewal, and this renewal is captured perfectly by early FAAB bids in fantasy leagues. I’m surprised no one has written an elegiac poem about this phenomenon. Just like Graveman did, Peralta came out of the gate strong, with increased velocity on his fastball in five shutout innings against the Rockies at home. If the velocity gains are legitimate, Peralta could be quite the fantasy asset. Assume for every pitcher profiled in this column that there is a velocity caveat. The Velocity Caveat sounds like the title of a Robert Ludlum thriller. Even with the strong game under Peralta’s belt, I am wary of Peralta’s tough two-start week in two hitters’ parks.
Joaquin Benoit $5. Other bids: $4, $2, $2. Tout Auction: $40. Tout Mixed: $16
At the time these bids were placed, it was fairly clear that Jeanmar Gomez was going to lose his closer job— but it was unclear who would replace him. On Monday afternoon, Phillies’ manager Pete Mackanin tabbed Benoit to take over the role. These were some excellent bids by Fred Zinkie (in Tout Auction), Scott White (in Tout Draft), and Alan Harrison (in LABR), but even if they had not worked out, spending five percent of less of your budget on a potential closer isn’t harmful if it doesn’t work out. I would have spent somewhat aggressively on Benoit. I have been convinced since January that the Phillies would prefer not to use Hector Neris in the ninth, and yesterday’s announcement confirmed my long-standing suspicion. The bidding in the expert leagues illustrates how tough it is to grab a closer in deeper leagues. If you are going to speculate, you must do it quickly and aggressively.
Avisail Garcia $3. Other bid: $2.
Garcia is one of those players who everyone audibly groans about in mixed leagues yet who eventually finds his way onto at least one person’s roster at some point during the season. Excluding catchers, there are 225 major-league position players and designated hitters with a starting job and 180 non-catcher roster spots in a 15-team mixed league available for hitters. Marginal starters like Garcia must at least receive consideration in deep mixed leagues, even though they are uninspiring. Garcia barely hits for power and with the White Sox in full rebuilding mode the runs and RBI are likely to be wanting. Garcia had a great first week, but he has had great weeks in the past. The pickup at this price is fine, but Garcia is a placeholder in deep mixed leagues, not a long-term solution.
Geovany Soto $2. Other bids: $2, $1. Tout Auction: $32. Tout Draft: $18.
You have to love two-catcher leagues. Even considering Soto’s fast start, he would be considered an afterthought in a one-catcher format. But in LABR and Tout, where 30 catchers must be rostered, Soto’s quick start and quasi-regular playing time make him worth considering. He could fall off and hit 5-7 home runs the rest of the season and still have some value in deep mixed. It is also possible that Soto does more. The power has always been there even when the opportunity has not. Would I bet on 15-20 home runs from Soto? Of course not. Could it happen? If he gets the playing time, sure, and garbage-time playing time is something there will be plenty of on the rebuilding White Sox.
Matt Joyce $2. Tout Draft $25
Entering 2017, Joyce was considered a sneaky, under-the-radar pick in deep mixed leagues: someone who could get 450-500 plate appearances on the good side of a platoon and perhaps hit 20 home runs. Joyce adopted the three-true outcomes approach in 2016, leaving the bat on his shoulder unless a pitch was right in his wheelhouse. The result was 13 home runs in 293 plate appearances, albeit with a subpar batting average. I’d end this comment with an apropos James Joyce quote, but the only Joyce I ever read were the short stories I was assigned in high school and college, and dutifully read without any passion for Joyce’s work. I am a fraud, and also ill-equipped to write a witty comment about Brandon Finnegan should he ever appear in the FAAB Review.
Amir Garrett $2. Other bids: $2, $1, $1. Tout Draft: $113. (@PIT)
Ya take the good, ya take the bad, ya take em both and there ya have. The Reds rotation. The Reds rotation.
Where literary references may fail me, 1980s sitcom references will always save the day. Unless, of course, my readers do not remember the 1980s sitcom I am referencing and the beloved Edna Garrett, who you probably don’t remember if you are young and/or have a life. This slid into a depressing sidebar rather quickly.
Garrett had a strong outing in his major league debut against the Cardinals. I will have to see a few more starts before I am convinced that he has solved the control issues that plagued him last year in the minors, but if you’re going to pick up as a streamer for Week 2, Garrett’s start at PNC Park is a good matchup.
Since 2015, only five hitters (among qualifiers) have a higher batting average than Yunel Escobar: Jose Altuve, Miguel Cabrera, D.J. LeMahieu, Daniel Murphy, and Joey Votto. These are four excellent hitters and LeMahieu. We all roll our eyes and groan at Escobar in fantasy, but since 2015 he has performed like LeMahieu absent the speed. When you adjust for their respective parks, Escobar has been a better hitter, which says more about LeMahieu and Coors than it does about Escobar. But we don’t play in TAv leagues, so while Escobar’s accomplishments are perhaps underrated in real life, he is a fringe-y placeholder in deeper mixed leagues, even with that gaudy batting average.
Aside from Casilla, Bret also grabbed Edinson Volquez for $52 in Tout Auction. I was (relatively) high on Volquez coming into 2017 and believe he could be an very good streamer thanks to his cavernous home park.
Tout Wars NL
Kyle Freeland $76. Other bid: $12. LABR NL: $2 (SD)
I saw most of Freeland’s major league debut against the Dodgers and he looked great. Freeland wasn’t throwing gas, but had excellent command of all his pitches, particularly his slider (which some Fx tools misidentified as a cutter). Yes, the Dodgers are poor against left-handed pitchers, but it was difficult not to be impressed with Freeland’s stuff and poise. In NL-only, I would nab him if I had a need for a starting pitcher. The Rockies’ stable of young and talented arms is going to provide an interesting experiment for fantasy owners who are accustomed to shying away from Colorado pitchers.
Stephen Drew $67. Other bid: $0
In my first year in Tout Wars NL (2010), Drew was a hot commodity, going for $22 at auction to Phil Hertz. Seven years later, Drew is a back-up infielder who wasn’t even worth picking up in the reserve round of an NL-only auction. On Sunday night, it appeared that Trea Turner might avoid the DL, but the Nationals did not take any chances, putting their talented young shortstop on the newly minted 10-day DL. Drew is an instant add in NL-only, and already earned his keep for the week with a 3-for-4, three-run, four-RBI game against the Cardinals last night.
Jeff Mathis $46. Other bid: $0. LABR NL: $3.
Once upon a time, Mathis was such a heralded prospect that one service ranked him in the Top 10 overall. It turned out that Mathis couldn’t hit, which is putting it nicely. But Mathis’ receiving skills are so good that he survived for years as a backup and made it to the era of framing metrics, where Mathis received a two-year, $4 million deal from the Diamondbacks this past offseason. This is all well and good for Mathis and the Diamondbacks. In fantasy, I want no part of Mathis, not even if he is getting most of the at-bats behind the plate in Arizona, or especially if he gets most of the at-bats. Mathis is a career .197 hitter across 2,288 plate appearances. He has 45 career home runs, so I suppose he could get 8-10 dingers this year. Still, this is a potential batting line I want no part of in any format.
I stood pat this week, but did consider trying to add a few of these players. I am currently carrying 10 pitchers on my active roster, and even though I cleared my weekly innings goal by six, I decided the hitters in the free-agent pool were not worth an aggressive bid. I would not have bid nearly that much on Drew. I might have come close on Franklin.
I am going to mistakenly call J.T. Riddle “Tom” at some point this season and/or make a Harry Potter joke at some point in 2017. Book it.
Jesse Hahn $6. Other bids: $4, $3, $2. (@KC)
Hahn didn’t start the regular season in the Athletics’ rotation, but he will get an early opportunity, getting flipped into the Athletics’ front five in favor of Raul Alcantara. He already is stretched out, as he threw six innings in a relief outing, so he should be able to go at least five or innings against the Royals. Hahn is intriguing if he can bounce back to prior levels of performance, but this is far from a sure thing. Hahn has not had a decent strikeout rate since 2014, and is a poor fantasy bet until he shows he can whiff seven per nine at the major-league level, at a minimum.
Kyle Higashioka $2 (returns home from a long weekend after not looking at anything baseball related. Looks at expert league transactions)
"Hmmmm, why are people bidding on the Yankees’ backup catcher? And who the heck is Kyle Higashioka?"
(scrolls through weekend news)
GARY SANCHEZ GOT INJURED? HOW SERIOUS IS IT? WHAT IS GOING ON? DO I HAVE HIM IN ANY OF MY 17 LEAGUES? I CAN’T EVEN KEEP TRACK ANYMORE! WHY, GOD, WHY?!?!?
In my case, I was at my last fantasy auction this weekend and paying attention primarily to the mediocre team I was buying at the time Sanchez got hurt. The sketchy updates I saw started with Sanchez leaving the game because of an injury and later turned into “he doesn’t seem to be able to lift his arm over his head.” It turns out that I do have Sanchez in one league, an Ottoneu league that I plan on never talking about ever again.
On Monday, the bad news came: Sanchez was scheduled to miss about a month with a strain of the right brachialis muscle in his right arm. This puts Romine and Higashioka in a position where they could split at-bats down the middle behind the plate. It is more likely that Romine gets most of the starts but his fantasy ceiling is suboptimal, even in mono leagues. Higashioka is the more intriguing hitter thanks to his power potential, but his defense leaves something to be desired. In an only, I’d gamble on Higashioka if I had the need and leave Romine on the wire.
Matt Davidson $2. Other bid: $1
Davidson is only 26 years old, which seems young for a ball player, but perhaps not as young as we might think. Charlemagne was 26 when he became King of the Franks. But where Charlemagne was already ruling over his subjects, Davidson has yet to establish a toehold in the majors as a starter. 2017 is probably Davidson’s final shot at proving his major-league viability. He can hit a mistake pitch a long way, but there are too many holes in his swing to expect much more than that. He is on the bad side of a DH platoon with Cody Asche, but if you’re looking to gamble on a big performance in an -only league, I’d go with Davidson over Asche. Both are suboptimal bets, but you might get 25-30 home runs with Davidson if everything breaks his way.
It was a quiet week in both LABR and Tout AL. The only bids over $15 in Tout were for Romine and Jordan Montgomery ($45).
I picked up Robertson for Yolmer Sanchez. It is an extremely minor upgrade, but Robertson did pick up three starts last week and should get a couple of starts a week for the Rays with Matt Duffy out of action. This is as exciting as it sounds.