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March 29, 2005

Fantasy Focus

Tout Wars

by Jeff Erickson

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Have you ever been in an auction and gotten that sinking feeling that you had really screwed up? Did this ever happen to you after the first player went off the board?

I briefly had that feeling on Saturday in the AL Tout Wars draft, when I didn't bid on Johan Santana. Defending champ Trace Wood of The Long Gandhi had the initial nomination honors and tapped his main horse from 2004, Santana, at $30. After a pause, and then a longer pause, our auctioneer Todd Zola started to sell Santana. We got to "going twice," and it looked like Trace would get his man, but then Steve Moyer of Baseball Info Solutions chimed in for $31. Just like that, Santana was sold to Moyer for $31. I wasn't prepared to bid over $30 on any pitcher, but I really counted on Santana going for full value. I guarantee you, all 12 of the Touts at the auction had Santana projected to earn well more than the $31 than he went for, but all of us but Moyer bonked when push came to shove.

So, if we all had Santana valued considerably higher than the $31 he went for, what happened? Well, he was the first player in the auction, and Trace's opening bid of $30 was a bit of a masterstroke. It almost successfully froze out all of us, as we weren't prepared to spend big bucks on a pitcher right away.

The bigger factor is that us touts have been allocating a higher percentage of our auction budgets to building an offense. Both Jason "Deuce" Grey of Mastersball and Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ developed such plans to win high-profile leagues, both in Tout Wars and in LABR. Neither Grey nor Shandler have gone so far to employ the famous Larry Labadini "$9 pitching staff" plan (which actually was used in the NL draft on Sunday by John "Wily Mo" Hoyos of RotoJunkie, but both advocate spending well in excess of 75% of their budget on offense.

Having both Grey and Shandler in this league, and knowing that they're likely to go that route, puts a lot of pressure on everybody else. There's no contrarian value in going the same route, but not following a similar offense-heavy strategy makes it awfully difficult to fill all of your offensive spots with productive players. In a league this deep (12-team, AL only, six-man reserves that also allow you to place DL'd players on your own DL), good luck finding any offensive help on the waiver wire. This is all a long-winded way of saying that we're loathe to pay full value for starting pitching, so that we could save our bucks to build our offense. In fact, the hitting/pitching split on the amount spent in the entire draft was 71%/29%, with just three owners (Moyer, Sam Walker from the Wall Street Journal and "Omaha" Rick Fogel from USA Stats spending less than 70% of their budget on offense. If this league is any reflection of the greater roto reality, you can move the old average league split from 65/35 to 70/30.

The next three players confirmed my belief that pitchers, and starting pitchers specifically, were going to be relatively cheap. Mariano Rivera went for $23, Randy Johnson went for $29, and I ended up price-enforcing on Curt Schilling, getting him for $22. You can see the full results of the draft here. Here's what I ended up with:


POS      PLAYER               AMT
C       Victor Martinez       $21
C       Greg Myers             $1
1B      Justin Morneau        $24
3B      Aubrey Huff           $30
CI      Darin Erstad           $7
2B      Tadahito Iguchi       $18
SS      Michael Young         $27
MI      Orlando Hudson        $13
OF      Jacque Jones          $17
OF      Eric Byrnes           $16
OF      Jeff DaVanon          $11
OF      Grady Sizemore         $5
OF      Matt Stairs            $3
UT      Casey Kotchman         $1

P      Curt Schilling         $22
P      Octavio Dotel          $20
P      Zack Greinke           $14
P      Justin Duchscherer      $3
P      Juan Rincon             $2
P      Wade Miller             $2
P      Ron Villone             $1
P      Jose Lima               $1
P      Jesus Colome            $1

Reserves: Bobby Higginson, Ryan Ludwick, Doug Waechter, Ryan Franklin,
Grant Balfour and Terry Tiffee
Here are some of the noteworthy players and my thoughts.

  • Justin Morneau, $24: Anyone who has listened to my XM radio show had a pretty good hunch that at the very least I'd be involved in the bidding on Morneau. My projection for him--.291/.359/.560 with 38 home runs and 122 RBI--is admittedly bold, particularly in the slugging categories. If the projection is close, then he'll earn this and a little more. I just can't wait for my co-host, Phil Wood, to give me a hard time this week.

  • Darin Erstad, $7: Yeah, yeah, I know, I put Erstad in my AL West Busts column earlier this month. He has his share of flaws, most notably a lack of power and a lack of durability. Still, this was an end-game purchase. I needed anyone with a modicum of speed at this point, and I was left with an $11 max bid and three offensive spots left to fill. Even with all his flaws, I had Erstad projected to earn $11, and I ended up backing him up with a $1 Casey Kotchman. I'd be happier if I owned Robb Quinlan as well.

  • Tadahito Iguchi, $18; Orlando Hudson, $13: I came into this auction rating Iguchi as the second-best AL second baseman in a very weak field. My goal here was to sneak Iguchi in early and to get another decent second baseman before Alfonso Soriano and others were bought and in-draft inflation took over. Hudson set a career high in walks last year, has a smidgen of power, and is in his age-27 year. I purchased both and spent much of the next few rounds nominating other middle infielders, most of which were second baseman, and let inflation take over. I was pleased with the results--Tony Womack went for $16, Bret Boone for $19, Bobby Crosby for $18 and Juan Uribe for $19. It was a good way for me to clear money off the table while not losing out on a position that I still needed to fill.

  • Eric Byrnes, $16; Jacque Jones, $17; Jeff DaVanon, $11; Grady Sizemore, $5: All of these outfielders were purchased late. The consequence of me filling up my infield slots and buying Victor Martinez early was that I had to wait elsewhere, so I sat out much of the middle rounds without buying a player. I had to pick my spots, looking in particular for players who run at least a little bit. Both DaVanon and Sizemore have playing-time concerns; one has resolved in my favor, but the other has already worked against me, with Sizemore getting sent down on Sunday. Still, it's a long season, so I'm fully confident that Sizemore will earn his $5 and then some over the course of the year.

  • Matt Stairs, $3: The world needs ditchdiggers, too.

  • Curt Schilling, $22; Zack Greinke, $14: I alluded above that I was price-enforcing here; my original plan didn't include owning Schilling or any other starter in this neighborhood, but sometimes you have to take what the draft gives you. I had planned on getting a handful of starters in the $5-$10 range, but once I got Schilling, I needed to go a different route. I needed to add a starter who I felt comfortable throwing out there on a regular basis, instead of trying to gain on the field via volume. Enter Greinke, whom I might be more confident in than most this early in his career.

  • Justin Duchscherer, $3: I have a theory that you can often sneak in some of the end-game pitchers that you're targeting for less than you might otherwise pay for them if you bring them up earlier in the draft. It worked for Peter Schoenke and I in our NL LABR draft earlier in the month, landing us Chris Reitsma, Yhency Brazoban and Wilson Alvarez for a combined $9. It didn't really work out that way in this draft. I tried to sneak in Scot Shields, Rafael Betancourt, Kiko Calero (being an Octavio Dotel owner, losing him to Lawr Michaels from Creative Sports) and Duchscherer, landing only Duchscherer. Oh well, back to the drawing board.

  • Wade Miller, $2; Juan Rincon, $2: On the bright side, I got both Miller and Rincon in the end game, bidding $2 after others nominated each. Honestly, I couldn't have been more pleased. I avoided nominating Rincon with my quasi-strategy above, thinking that there was no way I could sneak him in. I know he won't win 11 games again, nor will his other stats be nearly as good as they were last year, but I can't think of many better non-closing relievers in the AL. Althoug Miller is hurt to start the season, even if he gets only 15 starts this year, I think I'll come out way ahead. Their respective prices were undoubtedly a function of timing, both in how much others had left in their budgets, as well as how many spots were left to be filled.

  • Jose Lima, $1: Opening Day Starter!!!! OK, nothing to get too excited about, but he's a starting pitcher who toils in a pitcher-friendly park (check out the difference in park effects at Kauffman Stadium from 2002-03 and 2004, after the fences were moved back), in a fairly weak offensive division. I can do, and have done, worse for a $1 pitcher.

  • Reserve Picks: Unfortunately, I drew the 11th slot in the reserve draft, meaning that I had no chance to grab the top players who had already been sent down to the minors. Tout Wars has a provision in its rules that a player sent down is ineligible for the auction, but can be taken in the reserve draft. Thus, I missed out on Joey Gathright and B.J. Upton, among others.

    With the paucity of productive hitters on the waiver wire, my priority was to land two outfielders who I could plug in when Kotchman gets sent down and when Stairs stinks/gets benched. Enter Bobby Higginson and Ryan Ludwick, both of whom I considered with my final UT dollar in the auction. Yes, Higgy stinks and will not stick with the Tigers, most likely, but given the Devil Rays' current plan of stocking their outfield with Tiger castoffs rather than using their more promising prospects, he could very well end up starting for them for half the season. I like Ludwick's upside, and think that a Juan Gonzalez injury is only a sneeze away. He also serves as a bit of Sizemore insurance. Taking him cost me both Curtis Granderson and Jody Gerut, but that's life in the big city.

    Doug Waechter's name actually came up in the auction but was rejected under the "sent to the minors" proviso, then forgotten until I took him in the third round. Ryan Franklin stinks, but he's a starter, and while there's just as good a chance that he loses his job than he becomes useful, at least he has a ballpark to improve his chances. Terry Tiffee will probably make the Twins' Opening Day roster, and either an injury to Mike Cuddyer or an injury/benching of Luis Rivas with a subsequent move of Cuddyer to second could give him the starting third-base job. It's a risk well worth taking with the fifth-round reserve pick. Grant Balfour is hurt now (well, again), but like Chad Fox, when he's available, he's productive.

A few other quick observations about the draft:

Matthew Berry, The Talented Mr. Roto, was on my radio show last week, and we talked about just how scarce stolen bases have become, especially in the American League. He ran the numbers on his site and said that if Carl Crawford stole 70 bases as he projects, it would be the equivalent in value to a power hitter smacking 144 homers. We speculated that the owner of Crawford would have to go to $40 to land him, and that even that might not be enough.

Sure enough, speed went for a premium. BP's Joe Sheehan paid a whopping $47 for Crawford, making him the most expensive player in the auction. Some of the other speed plays included Alfonso Soriano, $33; Chone Figgins, $20 (what a difference a year makes); Derek Jeter, $30; Scott Podsednik, $31 (could you envision at the start of the 2003 season that Scott Podsednik would cost more than Jeter and $3 less than Alex Rodriguez in 2005?); Ichiro Suzuki, $35.

One reason why I love this league in particular is that it features a rare continuity for an expert league. Eleven of the 12 contestants from last year returned this year (the exception being Mat Olkin, who has since taken a job with the Seattle Mariners). Our only new member was Mike Siano (MLB.com), who made his mark by trying the corner the market on Rodriguezes. Generally speaking, it's an active league, and the auction is different than most expert leagues in that people generally try to have a good time while still remaining ultra-competitive. Even the normally quiet Dean Peterson of Stats Inc. got into the act, making sure that he at least uttered a bid on every White Sox player who came up, even if he didn't end up buying him.

All in all, I was pleased with the draft. If the season goes even nearly as well as the poker side games went (those of you responsible for my enrichment know who you are...thank you), I should be in for a great season.

--

Jeff Erickson is the senior editor at Rotowire, and the host of XM Radio's "Fantasy Focus," heard every weekday at 2 p.m. ET on XM Channel 175. He can be reached here.

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