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March 23, 2005

Prospectus Today

Building a Team, v3.0

by Joe Sheehan

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Tuesday night, I participated in the third Rotowire Staff League auction. The league, an 18-team, 5x5 mixed rotisserie circuit, consists largely of Rotowire staff and management, with me the only ringer. For a guy who's not a fantasy expert, It's a bit like being thrown into a foursome with Tiger, Vijay and Phil. Actually, that's also what it's like for me golfing with these guys, so I guess I should be used to it.

In the league's second season, I slipped from second all the way to 18th. (Hey, I believed the Expos' PECOTA projections last year, too.) My '04 squad had far too little offense to compete, walked into some bad luck early with injuries and playing time, and picked the wrong year to be on the Mike Mussina and Kevin Millwood trains. I did manage to pick up David Wright and David DeJesus in dump trades at midseason, which added to a fairly cheap core coming into '05. I really believed, going in, that I was a good auction away from jumping back into contention.

Going into the third season, we had to make contract extension decisions for the first time. You get players you buy or draft for three years; before the third one, you can choose to keep them for a fourth year and beyond by "extending" their contracts at salary+$5 for each year of the deal. It's a way of rewarding good management while also pushing a good amount of talent back into circulation.

I had never been in this position before, so I was feeling my way around a bit. Inflation had blown up prices in our second auction, making me leery of exposing players to that process. On the other hand, I wanted to err on the conservative side; I've been advocating all winter that it's hard to have a truly bad contract of two years or less, so I wanted to keep my commitments short.

I had about six reasonable candidates for extensions. I extended Brad Wilkerson for an extra year, making him a $15 player through 2006. I went to $62 on Alex Rodriguez though '06 as well, a marginal decision that I may yet regret. I elected not to extend a $1 David Ortiz, in part because having Rodriguez and Wright already tightens my corner positions, and in part because I think he may have peaked. I regret that decision; Ortiz at $6 or $11 would make tremendous trade bait in a league that saw Richie Sexson go for $21. I also kept, but did not extend, a $2 Johnny Estrada, a $1 Damaso Marte, and a $3 Danny Graves. I'll lose all four next winter, although I'll be disappointed if I can't flip Graves in the next couple of weeks.

My roster going into last night:


c    Estrada     2
1b   D. Ortiz    1
2b   Bellhorn    1
ss   R. Adams    3
3b   Rodriguez  62
ci   Wright      3
of   DeJesus     2
of   Wilkerson  15
of   L. Walker  18
p    Arroyo      5
p    D. Davis    2
p    Graves      3
p    Marte       1
p    Mota       10
I had $132 to play with, and I was determined to spend it all. In this same league last year, I left more than $20 on the table, a feat I would repeat at the AL Tout Wars auction not long after that. Not going the extra dollar, and worrying about having enough money for the next guy, has been my weak spot in auctions in both fantasy baseball and fantasy football. That wasn't going to happen again; I'd targeted two players--both starting pitchers--and was determined to get one of them.

After Mark Prior and his various ailments went for $39, about $10 more than I was comfortable spending on him, that left me with Pedro Martinez. I popped the initial bid of $10 to $39, figuring we'd skip the intermediate steps and hoping this act would stun the audience into silence. I expected Martinez, who I think will have a very big year in the strikeout-pitcher-friendly confines of Shea Stadium, to go for around $10 more than Prior in the auction. I was half right. The bidding went into the fifties, and after steeling myself with the memory of all that money left on the table in '04, I won the right-hander with a bid of $58.

The rest of the auction went much the same as my other ones have, with me wimping out of the bidding once the air got thin. I was booted from the online chat room at an unfortunate moment, causing me to miss one of the draft's bargains, a $29 Sammy Sosa. I compensated by assembling the 1999 All-Star team. Here's my roster now, with last night's purchases in bold:


c    Estrada     2
c    Snyder     11
1b   D. Ortiz    1
2b   Bellhorn    1
ss   R. Adams    3
3b   Rodriguez  62
ci   Wright      3
mi   Gotay       3
of   DeJesus     2
of   Wilkerson  15
of   Griffey    16
of   L. Walker  18
of   Nixon      19
ut   Erstad      4
p    Arroyo      5
p    D. Davis    2
p    Martinez   58
p    K. Brown   10
p    Lowe        5
p    Reitsma     5
p    Graves      3
p    Marte       1
p    Mota       10
I'm not insane: the Chris Snyder price was more about having a fair amount of money in the end game and wanting to add him to Koyie Hill, one of my minor leaguers, to make sure I ended up with the survivor of that job battle in Arizona. Erik Siegrist, who has been contributing to BP this spring, pushed up the price on me. I loved getting Ruben Gotay at $3, as he's won the Royals' second-base job and could be a good source of steals. He'll be a better fantasy than real-life player.

Was Ken Griffey Jr. worth it? If I'd known Sosa was going to go for $29, maybe not, but I figure one of these years he's going to play 140 games and carry a team. For that price, I felt it was worth seeing if it's this year. I can afford some upside players in the outfield, as in addition to the above I have Jeremy Reed in the minors. Trot Nixon should have gone for more; he played at his level last year when healthy, and even in a platoon role, should return more than $20 this year.

Darin Erstad was an odd guy for me to end up with, but as a durable leadoff guy, he'll end up with pretty good counting stats, and he's almost always good for a high batting average. Shea Hillenbrand went for $13, and I have a hard time seeing that much difference between the two.

After Martinez, I waited out pitching. I like Kevin Brown at that price because I figure he'll be either effective or injured. He's not going to hurt me, either way. Derek Lowe, like Erstad, wasn't someone I targeted, but when the bidding stalled out so low, I had to jump in. The change in context alone will be very good for his ratios. With the staff I have, I would be very surprised if I wasn't in the top three in ERA and ratio, and for the first time since I joined the league, I have a good chance to place well in wins and strikeouts. I'd been blowing off starters for two years, and wanted to change that this year.

Chris Reitsma is just a closer play. I don't think Danny Kolb is Doug Jones Lite, and Reitsma looks to me like the first guy in line to take the job after Kolb allows 44 hits in his first 31 innings.

Inflation didn't rear its head the way it did in last year's auction. There were a few big numbers hung--Martinez, Miguel Tejada for $60, Alfonso Soriano for $57--but many more good buys than were available in '04. Perhaps it was the extra money taken out of the pool for long-term deals, or another year of low-priced keepers on rosters, but third-season inflation certainly felt like a different animal.

By the way, the winner of the Sheehan Award for Worst Use of Resources? Jeff Erickson, who left $14 on the table. It's nice to hand over that crown. Wear it well, Jeff.

After the auction, which ended fairly early for me, we held a draft of reserve and minor-league players. You can have seven of the former and ten of the latter. I had five minor-league spots filled--Hill, Reed, Aaron Hill, Franklin Gutierrez and Ian Snell--going in, so I'd get 12 picks, including the first. I puzzled over this quite a bit; I'd had to throw back Rickie Weeks over the winter. He'd been a trade-deadline pickup last year, but as a third-year guy, would have required a contract extension, and I wasn't prepared to do that with a guy who might not have a job until next year. It seemed easy enough to grab him back, but Daric Barton, whose bat makes him a stud even if he can't stay behind the plate, was also available.

The age difference between the two--Barton is three years younger--swung the decision for me. I took him, and Weeks went five picks later to Erickson. The rest of my reserve/minors picks (not in order):

  • Felipe Lopez: I like where his walk rate went in the second half last year. He's running out of chances, and I think this is the year he puts it together. Russ Adams insurance.

  • Wilson Betemit: Out of options and having a strong spring, he's likely to end up on someone's bench. He has more than enough talent to win a starting job from that point. His strike-zone judgment completely flat-lined at 21, killing his prospect status, but he can still hit for power and play a competent shortstop.

  • Bobby Howry: I thought he'd already been taken when I coughed up the name. Because of his experience, Howry is probably first in line to close should Bob Wickman be hurt or done.

  • Bobby Higginson: Not even the most ridiculous AL Central corner outfielder I selected. He stands to benefit from the Sanchez release.

  • Matt Mantei: Throwing well, he could end up filling the Scott Williamson role of "guy the Sox get 22 good innings from before breaking down."

  • Emil Brown: Because miracles happen every day. For those of you not named "Rob" or "Rany," Brown is a 30-year-old having the March of his life for the Royals. The other candidates for the team's right-field job have been injured or useless, and Brown has drifted to the front of the line.

  • Jody Gerut: Love this pick, which was my last one. Gerut can hit, and could make for a nifty second-half reinforcement or trade-deadline chip once he completes his rehab from knee surgery.

  • Ian Kinsler: I don't know if he's for real, either, but I'm willing to bury him here for a year to find out.

  • Brian McCann: This was supposed to be Guillermo Quiroz, but he went. McCann hit in a place that no one hits, Myrtle Beach, and there haven't been many whispers of a position switch yet.

  • Ezequiel Astacio: He's on the Roy Oswalt track, although his doesn't go as far. Will be up by June, and pitch well this year.

  • Brandon Claussen: I confess that I was throwing up my hands a bit at this point. Claussen may have a job to start the season if Luke Hudson's shoulder problems continue. He'll certainly be up during the year. I can see him taking the Doug Davis path to a career.

--

Just a quick correction from yesterday. As much as I'd love to claim I'm projecting two rainouts for the Red Sox, I just made a keying error. They'll go 95-67, not 95-65.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

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