March Madness takes on a different meaning around the Collette household. Yes, my wife and her entire family are Kentucky Wildcats supporters so they are very much interested in the NCAA basketball tournament, but March Madness to my wife means an absentee husband most weekends. Between personal and professional associations, I am in no less than eight fantasy leagues most years: 2011 is no different. Add in new commitments to local media, and March has been a blur. It may not be her favorite time of the year, but it is mine, and it is why 100 percent of what I win is spent on a nice family getaway in the fall (once the baseball season is over, of course). After all, not too many spouses handle it as well as my much better half does when I kiss her and the kids goodbye, and head up to Manhattan to participate in Tout Wars each March.
In five short seasons, I’ve gone from the new face in the room that felt overwhelmed to the dumbest guy in the room that takes too many of his hometown Rays (and volunteers to do too much live-blogging of the other drafts). In all seriousness, it is a great weekend to catch up with many of the writers in the industry that I converse with, yet only get to see once or twice a year due to busy schedules and commitments. The drafts were extra special this year because both Foleys NYC and Sirius/XM Radio got involved to increase the exposure of Touts. Foleys went as far as to give us our own Tout Wars menu—the recent champions had menu items named after them.
Sirius/XM Fantasy Sports radio carried all three drafts live over the weekend as a variety of hosts covered each draft and debated the merits of the picks, all feeds were simulcast on mlb.com, and live blogs were run on ToutWars.com. MLBAM even shot a little video to give people a behind the scenes look at the draft. If you wanted immediate access to the results of the drafts, there were plenty of options available. The fact the drafts results are now instantly known is a double-edged sword, as friends were immediately texting me with their feedback or critiques of my bids, or to tell me what the radio hosts thought of my moves.
Here is the team that represents the Baseball Prospectus Fantasy consortium in AL Tout Wars this season:
C: Joe Mauer $23
C: Adam Moore $1
3B: Edwin Encarnacion $17
CI: Billy Butler $23
2B: Ben Zobrist $20
SS: Tsuyoshi Nishioka $14
OF: David DeJesus $13
OF: Bobby Abreu $21
OF: Johnny Damon $9
OF: Matt Joyce $10
OF: Ryan Kalish $5
U: Will Rhymes $1
P: Colby Lewis $16
P: Michael Pineda $8
P: Brandon League $10
P: Koji Uehara $6
P: Justin Masterson $4
P: Joel Peralta $5
P: Jeremy Guthrie $6
P: Brett Cecil $8
P: Marc Rzepczynski $6
My strategy going into the draft was to target batting average and power early, acquire two multi-position players, and find pitching bargains without buying into the top tiers of starting pitchers and closers. I typically go into a draft budgeting for position rather than dollar slot values. Here was my plan on paper:
Corners: $55 with Adrian Gonzalez and Edwin Encarnacion being my two top targets
Middle infield: $36 with Ben Zobrist and Alcides Escobar being my favorite targets
Outfield: $70 with Matt Joyce the only “must have” player after I have spent the off-season touting him as a power surprise for 2011.
Utility: $5 as mostly fudge factor here, but Dan Johnson was my primary target based on cheap power
My goal was to reach the totals in each category that last year were good enough for third place in each. Those targets were:
My first buy was Gonzalez—who went right at the value I had projected for him. He is a player I think will have a tremendous offensive year in a park tailor-made for him. Three players later, my dollar allotments went awry: I refused to let Mauer go for just $22. Mauer was a $30 player coming off of his monster 2009 season, and I had him valued at $26 for the draft. After my problems with injuries in this league last year, I should have been a little more gun-shy about an injury risk at catcher, but it is not often you find a player come in that far under your projections that early in the draft.
While Butler was not in my original plan, I did not mind rostering him at $23 because I had him valued at $24. Now that I had three solid-to-above-average batting average guys, I could chase speculations later that struggled with batting average. I ended the early phase of the auction by grabbing Encarnacion and Zobrist for $37, getting those two primary targets out of the way. Encarnacion at $17 is high for a lot of people, but not me. The PFM shows him hitting 28 home runs and I think the ceiling for E5 is changing his nickname to E35 when he hits that many home runs this season.
Three picks later I was able to land my staff ace in Colby Lewis, and at my projected value for him. I was not planning on spending any more than that for a pitcher, making that win-win. After winning Lewis as the 29thplayer in the draft, I did not grab another pitcher until Michael Pineda 94 bids later. Only twelve pitchers in the auction went for $20 or more and Matthew Berry, Todd Zola, and Steve Moyer were the only teams to roster multiple pitchers at those prices—meaning myself and two other owners (Ron Shandler and Lawr Michaels) stayed out of that fray. After grabbing League in the middle part of the auction, I waited until the end to fill in my staff with Uehara, Masterson, and Peralta. I like Uehara’s skills, but not his health. At just $6, he is worth the risk. Masterson is a good source of strikeouts, and the more righties he faces, the more success he has. Peralta is set to at least share the early saves in Tampa Bay and I was rather pleased to get him at $5. I passed on $5 Porcello—his low strikeouts scare me—and a $4 Slowey—due to his rotation uncertainty—to take Guthrie and $6 and Cecil at $8.
There is no value there, but they’re an interesting duo. Cecil had a very good first half and plunged in the latter half of 2010 while Guthrie struggled out of the gate but rebounded tohave a very good second half—once the Orioles put a respectable defense on the field behind him. I thought I was making a nice late grab taking Marc “Eye Chart” Rzepczynski late for $6 (after I lost out on Derek Holland) but the Jays have decided to put him in the bullpen rather than the rotation, at least for now.
The offense worked out as well as I had hoped as I grabbed a lot of those middle tier outfielders (including Bobby Abreu, who I covered last week). The group is light on power, but that’s what my corner guys are for: this group is designed to help in the other areas. Kalish was to be my top reserve pick but when Berry max bid me on Dan Johnson, I lost that utility target. Kalish was the last guy on the list I wanted given his skills and the fragility of Jacoby Ellsbury, J.D. Drew, and Mike Cameron. It was either that or grab Andruw Jones—there is no upside there, while Kalish just needs playing time to be a factor in the standings here.
I was able to hit all of my offensive targets but speed, which is par for the course for me. I’m 21 steals short of the 130 steals I wanted to find but I am confident I can find those within the season (maybe with a trade, as I exceeded my other measures by a solid margin). When trading in this league, I find that it is a lot easier to give up a bat for a solid pitcher than the other way around. Last season, I dealt away Francisco Liriano to get Torii Hunter just before Liriano’s struggles and I’ve already been dangled Mark Reynolds and a pitcher to get Billy Butler from an owner who is hurting for average.
While the offer is tempting, I am not a proponent of making trades before the first four-to-five weeks of the season. Still, I know the pitching staff need help, as I fell short in every target. The middle tier of starting pitching was not as rich as it was last year. Spending the extra money on Butler rather than a cheaper corner as initially planned made it tough to competitively pursue other pitching targets in the draft like Brian Matusz ($13), James Shields ($14), John Danks ($15), and Jeremy Hellickson ($13).
I will be posting two pieces a month throughout the season updating you on the progress in AL Tout Wars in my pursuit of the league title. If you would like to see all of the results from all three auctions as well as read the live blogs from the auctions, they are all posted at ToutWars.com.