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Over the last three weeks in Tout Wars NL-only, Chris Liss has made quite a splash on the free-agent market. Out of a  $100 budget, Liss has already spent $83. While he has made a few one-dollar bids, $74 of those $83 were invested in two young pitchers: Jose Fernandez was purchased for $22 on March 31, and Tony Cingrani went for a whopping $52 this past Sunday, April 14.

While there is no question regarding Fernandez or Cingrani’s prospect pedigrees, Liss’s wild, early spending did make me wonder whether or not blowing the bulk of your FAAB by mid-April is the right play.

Table 1: Top 10 AL Free Agent Earners, Tout Wars 2012

Player

Date

FAAB Bid

Earned

Fernando Rodney

4/9

$16

$32

Tom Wilhelmsen

4/9

$4

$21

Ryan Cook

4/9

$0

$20

Ernesto Frieri

5/7

$16

$19

Casey Janssen

4/30

$1

$17

Scott Diamond

5/7

$2

$16

Jake McGee

4/9

$0

$15

Darren O’Day

5/21

$0

$15

Brandon Moss

6/11

$0

$15

Jarrod Dyson

4/30

$10

$14

None of these players is a big buy, but nearly all of them were purchased in April. Six of the 10 players on this list were purchased on April 30 or earlier, while only Moss was purchased after May 21. The size of the bids isn’t as important here as the results are. Early speculation paid off in a big way last year.

This is particularly true when you compare the most productive free agents to the most expensive.

Table 2: Top 10 AL Free Agents by Salaries, Tout Wars 2012

Player

Date

FAAB Bid

Earned

Zack Greinke

7/30

$95

$11

Ryan Dempster

8/6

$59

$5

Hector Santiago

4/9

$52

$9

Anibal Sanchez

7/30

$33

$6

Omar Infante

7/30

$32

$6

Alex Cobb

5/21

$31

$14

Jim Thome

7/2

$28

$2

Manny Machado

8/13

$26

$6

Stephen Drew

8/27

$20

$4

Brad Eldred

4/30

$18

$0

When you consider FAAB, this is the kind of spending you expect to see. Most of the players the Tout Warriors spent big bucks on were NL imports. You can’t blame an owner for hoarding his money to get a shot at Greinke, but it turns out that Scott Diamond was the better play. The hitting earnings are even more depressing: $6 of earnings for Infante isn’t terrible, but taking a stab at Moss earlier would have been better.

The National League data paints a very similar picture.

Table 3: Top 10 NL Free Agents by Value, Tout Wars 2012

Player

Date

FAAB Bid

Earned

Wade Miley

4/23

$3

$19

Justin Ruggiano

6/4

$4

$17

Justin Maxwell

4/9

$1

$13

Ross Detwiler

4/9

$10

$13

Wilton Lopez

4/9

$0

$12

Ronald Belisario

6/11

$0

$12

Matt Carpenter

4/9

$4

$11

Josh Rutledge

7/16

$8

$11

Craig Stammen

4/23

$1

$11

Logan Forsythe

6/4

$0

$10

There wasn’t quite as much value floating around in the National League free-agent pool last year, but the profile of these players remains very similar to the AL. Once again, most of the players in this group were taken early in the season and there isn’t a single AL import to be found here. Rutledge did come up relatively late, but he is the exception and not the rule. As it turned out, hoarding money in the NL was an even worse idea if you were waiting for a big name to come over from the junior circuit.

Table 4: Top 10 NL Free Agents by Salary, Tout Wars 2012

Player

Date

FAAB Bid

Earned

Travis Snider

8/6

$83

$2

Matt Adams

5/21

$57

$2

Alex Presley

6/11

$54

$8

Adrian Gonzalez

8/27

$41

$5

Josh Beckett

8/27

$35

$3

Ryan Wheeler

7/23

$30

$1

Rafael Dolis

5/7

$28

-$2

Brandon League

9/3

$22

$6

Andrelton Simmons

6/4

$21

$5

Adam Eaton

9/10

$20

$3

The players coming over from the AL at the trade deadline in 2012 didn’t have the same star power that the NL imports did. But since owners had to either spend their money on FAAB or leave it behind, most experts decided to use their available funds. However, the odds of getting a good return out of one of these players was poor. The late trade between the Dodgers and the Red Sox made Steve Gardner’s aggressive bid on Snider look like bad strategy, but no one know that trade was coming until the moment it was announced.

Conclusions

While Liss’s approach might have been too aggressive, he had the right idea snagging potential top talent early rather than waiting for someone better. The bulk of the free agent value in Tout Wars is acquired early in the campaign, not late. While it is impossible to predict who the best free agents are going to be come April, it might not be a bad idea to bet a few extra bucks early on players who aren’t just seat fillers but who have a legitimate opportunity to become something special for your team.