One of the most important skills a fantasy player can develop is the ability to manage his Free Agent Acquisition Budget (FAAB).  Fantasy players put a lot of emphasis on the draft—and rightfully so—but FAAB bidding often gets unduly overlooked.

I bring up this topic today because, despite our being less than a week into the season, there is an important decision facing fantasy owners.  On Saturday night, the speculation over who would win the White Sox-closer gig came to an end, when manager Robin Ventura handed the ball to rookie reliever Hector Santiago in the ninth inning with the team up 4-3.  And if there was any ambiguity left, Ventura confirmed verbally that Santiago was indeed the team’s sole closer.

So how are fantasy owners to respond to this?  One of the most important tenets of FAAB bidding, at least in my mind, is to be aggressive early in the season, particularly if your league allows FAAB dollars to be traded.

Let me pose a hypothetical question to you. You’re playing in an NL-only league, and I’m going to give you, free of cost, either Freddie Freeman now or Joey Votto in July.  Who do you want?  I’d bet that many of you would take Votto (or would at least seriously consider it); he is the far superior player, after all.  The problem is, you’d likely be better off taking Freeman.  In LABR and Tout Wars, Votto went for $40 and $41; Freeman went for $22 in both.  Because you will be getting only a half-season of Votto, however, you have to cut the price in half to $20, which makes him worth less than Freeman. (Yes, there’s the value of the guy who’ll play 1B for you until you get Votto to consider as well, but in a deep league that value will be minimal, so let’s ignore it for the sake of simplicity.)

I pose this question because it really gets to the heart of the “spend now or spend later” FAAB quandary that fantasy players face.  Simply put, if you spend your money now, you’re going to get a player for a larger portion of the season.  That will lead to more at-bats, more counting stats, and more ability to move ratio stats.  Even if the player is slightly worse than someone you could get later, there is value in bulk.

There are some fantasy owners who believe it best to hoard their FAAB in case someone better comes along later (such as a trade deadline AL/NL league changer), but that’s always a big gamble.  There’s a lot that can go wrong with a plan like this.  For one, if you wait around in the hopes that a guy like David Wright is traded to the American League, the soonest that would happen is July, meaning you’d only get two-plus months of stats, which immediately cuts into his potential value.  Then you have to take into account the possibility that such a player isn’t traded across leagues (big name players don’t change leagues every year, after all) plus the possibility that somebody else places a larger bid than you.

If we put together some reasonable numbers, let’s say we’re hoping that a $40 player changes leagues.  First, discount him 60 percent for the time you’ll be without him (until July), then another 60 percent in case such a player isn’t traded, then another 25 percent in case you don’t win the bidding.  In terms of expected profit, that $40 superstar player is now worth about $5 to you—or one Freddy Sanchez.  Is it really worth forgoing bidding on solid players that you’ll be sure to add to your lineup immediately for the mere chance at a superstar?

For all of these reasons, I like to spend my FAAB early and often.  Sometimes it doesn’t work out (see my huge Jerry Sands bid in LABR NL last year), but usually I wind up with something of value.  Fellow Tout Wars competitor Scott Swanay penned a great article a few years ago where he put together a proposed FAAB spending budget based on the amount of time you’d get to have a player on your roster for:

The following is a sample FAAB spending plan for a $1,000 budget that allocates weekly dollars in proportion to the amount of time left in the season. If your league uses a $100 budget instead, divide the amounts shown here by 10 and round to the nearest dollar:

* (End of) Week 1 – spend $77; $77 spent year-to-date; $923 remaining.
* Week 2 – $73; $150; $850.
* Week 3 – $71; $221; $779.
* Week 4 – $68; $289; $711.
* Week 5 – $65; $354; $646.
* Week 6 – $62; $416; $584.
* Week 7 – $59; $475; $525.
* Week 8 – $55; $530; $470.
* Week 9 – $52; $582; $418.
* Week 10 – $49; $631; $369.
* Week 11 – $46; $677; $323.
* Week 12 – $43; $720; $280.
* Week 13 – $40; $760; $240.
* Week 14 – $37; $797; $203.
* Week 15 – $34; $831; $169.
* Week 16 – $31; $862; $138.
* Week 17 – $28; $890; $110.
* Week 18 – $25; $915; $85.
* Week 19 – $22; $937; $63.
* Week 20 – $18; $955; $45.
* Week 21 – $15; $970; $30.
* Week 22 – $12; $982; $18.
* Week 23 – $9; $991; $9.
* Week 24 – $6; $997; $3.
* Week 25 – $3; $1,000; $0

Obviously this doesn’t have to be followed to the letter.  When a potential impact player comes along, make the appropriate bid and then readjust.  The larger point is the important one, that spending early is in your best interest.  If you look at Week 25, Swanay recommends a bid of just 0.3 percent of your seasonal allowance since whomever you acquire, even if it’s a guy like Joey Votto, will have a minimal impact on your team.

Everything considered, I believe a sizeable bid on Hector Santiago is warranted.  He’s a fairly talented player with sole possession of the closer’s gig (extremely important).  There are only 30 closers in baseball at any one time, putting a premium on the saves they produce.  At this point, Santiago is a good bet for a lot of saves, which makes him worth a big bid.

Thank you for reading

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Everytime I read an article like this, I hope that none of my leaguemates are subscribers yet. Good stuff. ;)

That being said: 5x5 15 team league, using 22 MLB teams, $100 FAAB budget, what would you advice bidding on Santiago? I know alot depends on the "poker play" of the league itself. Was leaning towards $9 or $11 myself...

I have Walden, G. Holland, Pestano in line-up with Medlen in reserve currently... Thanks...
I plan on talking more about determining the proper bid on Thursday, but in your case, I wouldn't have a problem with a MUCH higher bid than that. Obviously it depends a lot on league tendencies -- you don't want to spend more than you have to, even if he's worth it -- but I might go up to $40 or $50. Of course, it seems like your league doesn't see bids like that, so maybe $15 or $20 will win him.
Think Wade Miley and Justin Maxwell are worth bids in an 11-team NL league? And does anyone think Miley could get first crack at a rotation spot if one becomes available, ahead of the studs in AAA?
Maybe dollar bids, if you have empty spots. Maxwell maybe $2 or $3. As for Miley, I think it'll depend how Bauer and Skaggs perform. If the team thinks they need more seasoning, Miley could get the call first. But if either are dominating, it seems they'd be ahead of him.
Well, I bid $4 on Maxwell and he went for $5...and didn't end up bidding on Miley. I went for Grilli instead and got him for $1.
First, I think using the Votto/Freeman example is misleading in the Santiago context. Santiago's fantasy value is almost entirely derived by a relatively arbitrary rookie managerial decision that could just as easily be reversed next week. As Ron Shandler might for talent, not role. Santiago is a big risk. In the Votto/Freeman situation, you know what you are getting with Freeman up front, barring injury.

Second, in our league (13 team, 4x4, NL + AL central), the Santiago winner spent $111 of his $150 yearly FAAB budget. Now that's aggressive.
Yes, there may be more variance with Santiago than with Freeman, but the average expected value is still quite high.

I'm not a big fan of the "pay for talent, not role" idiom. Yes, it sounds nice and makes you feel better when what you do doesn't work out, but role is very important. The average terribly-skilled, first-time closer should still be expected to save something like 25 games. In the case of closers, role is more important than talent. Exponentially more important than talent, actually. Sure, there are individual factors to consider with Santiago, and sure, he's risky, but you can't let risk scare you off or force you to make a sub-optimal bid. Again, I'll talk some more about this kind of stuff on Thursday, but I don't think the Votto/Freeman example is that misleading.

That said, a 74% bid seems very aggressive, more aggressive than I would suggest.
Agree with vvn8bs here. I think a highly aggressive bid on Santiago is a very risky play. He has no track record, no experience, and there are 2 other guys (Reed, Thornton) who could likely step into that role in a moment's notice and do quite well.

I think what matters a ton here is that Santiago must pitch well out of the gate to earn some rope from Ventura. If Hector Santiago closes out his first 10 games and then blows 3 of 4, he may still be OK. If he saves 2 and then blows 3 of 4, it's probably curtains.

I do not play in a FAAB league, but if I had a $100 season limit then $11 is probably my max bid.
Thanks Derek. In my head I raised it 15-16, but now thinking your right with 20. Good read on our league, as people do not reach to 40 or 50 unless it's a big name guy traded into the league from the 8 teams we don't use in our league player pool.