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Last week, the CBS Fantasy team held their AL and NL-only expert league auctions. Baseball Prospectus had two representatives at the table, as Keith Cromer had the pleasure of participating in both the AL and NL auctions while I joined the NL auction for the second year in a row. Keith finished in a first place tie in the NL last year while I finished third.

Below are our recaps of how we did in the National League. The full results can be found here.

Mike’s Recap

I approach the CBS auction very differently than I do the Tout Wars auction later in March. Some of this is due to the early auction date. With the uncertainty surrounding many position battles, I don’t want to buy a Stars and Scrubs squad that runs the risk of having multiple one-dollar or two-dollar players on the bench or out of a job by Opening Day. This is particularly important with CBS’ reserve rules. With a seven-man reserve roster in a mono format, it is quite possible that you could wind up with a black hole at a position for a significant amount of time, especially on offense.

The other reason I tend to wind up pushing for balance is because the CBS auction is typically more liberal with its purse strings than LABR and Tout Wars are. This trend reversed itself in 2012 and 2013, but 2014 saw a return to a more freewheeling auction. It is a little nerve-wracking to wait, but overspending early leads to bargains late and in the middle of every auction without fail.

Below is a position-by-position recap, with my thoughts on the players drafted as well as my general impressions of each position.

Catchers: Yadier Molina ($14), Derek Norris ($10)

My prices/rankings on catchers have seemed soft based on where they have been drafted—both in mixed LABR and in early mocks—so I was surprised that I walked away with two starters in CBS. There are some who are bigger believers in a Molina bounce back than I am, but at this price he simply needs to play 130 games or so at his usual pre-2014/pre-injury level of production. It is funny landing a guy who was one of my “players to avoid” but Norris should play most of the year and I am somewhat more optimistic about him now given the improved lineup in San Diego. Double-digit HR potential from both of my catchers with a solid batting-average base in Molina is nothing to complain about.

Corner Infield: Cody Asche ($10), Alberto Callaspo ($1), Mike Olt ($1)

Yikes. With multiple players manning first base in the National League who haven’t picked up eligibility yet, the options at the position dropped off quickly. Some of my early favorites went at par or slightly more than what I wanted to pay (Lucas Duda $22, Brandon Belt $19), and I didn’t want to chase players like Michael Morse ($17) or Adam Lind ($15) just because they were the best options left. The result is that Callaspo is my first baseman. He is a bargain if he wins the 2B job in Atlanta; if not, he only cost me $1. Third base wasn’t much better. I did have a couple of regrets here, most notably passing on Pedro Alvarez. I thought I had bid $16 in time, but the online draft room said I was too late, so I missed him. Instead, I bought Asche (who can earn this, but doesn’t excite me in the least) and Olt (a rare flier, and an exception to my rule above). Here is hoping there is still ample playing time for Asche once Maikel Franco shows up, and that Olt can do enough damage before Kris Bryant is called up to earn that dollar. The rest of the offense is solid enough that I am not going to cry about two weak players, but yuck.

Middle Infield: Daniel Murphy ($16), Brandon Phillips ($10), Andrelton Simmons ($10)

The prices are all fine (especially Murphy’s), but since the top players were being pushed early some bargains had to fall in at some point, and middle infield is mostly where they fell. This group will get plenty of playing time and provide stats across the board, but I would rather have had a long line of players who were purchased after these three, including Chris Owings ($6), Chase Utley ($12), Aaron Hill ($7), and Brandon Crawford ($3). My middle infielders are all bargains in my opinion, but when other managers are getting bigger bargains, this puts you at a disadvantage.

Outfield: Ryan Braun ($28), Charlie Blackmon ($22), Marcell Ozuna ($17), Curtis Granderson ($15), Carl Crawford ($13), Norichika Aoki ($8)

If the rest of my offense looks light, it is because the outfield is where I put most of my eggs. I’m a fairly big believer in Braun mostly returning to form, and the early reports about the thumb are encouraging. Blackmon is a candidate to slip, but even if he only repeats his non-April numbers, that’s 15 HR, 21 SB, and a .271 batting average. Blackmon may be a subpar player when you adjust for park factors, but his Coors numbers count the same in fantasy as everyone else’s numbers. I thought Ozuna would sail into the $20s, so I was pleased to get him at this price. The power is legitimate and given his age he could take another step forward in 2015. Granderson is a batting-average risk, but since the rest of the team is AVG-neutral or-positive I thought I could grab him for the 20 home runs and 8-10 steals, and hope he bumps up to .240 or so this year. My team is light on steals, so Crawford and Aoki may look like a waste of resources, but I noticed that one team had scooped up Billy Hamilton, Dee Gordon, and Ben Revere for a combined $80, putting a lot of teams behind the eight ball in this category. Using the CBS projections, I project to finish seventh in steals. This obviously isn’t great, but my goal was not to dump any categories. Paying attention to what other teams are doing is difficult in a quick auction environment, but I’m glad I adjusted instead of simply going for best value with my last two outfielders.

Starting Pitching: Doug Fister ($14), Mat Latos ($14), Zack Wheeler ($13), Shelby Miller ($10), Jarred Cosart ($5), Wily Peralta ($5)

Aces went for more of a premium in CBS than they do in LABR or Tout Wars, and the prices didn’t really start falling until we got to the $10-15 tier. Even then, I didn’t identify my front four as bargains but as more of a necessity in order to fill out my pitching staff. With the exception of Fister, everyone here potentially has upside although there is certainly a lot of risk tied into nearly every pitcher as well. I could have purchased an ace instead and tried to fill out the back end of my staff with $1-2 scrubs, but as I mentioned above I prefer having some depth to start the season than to find myself behind. This is particularly true with starting pitching and innings. I got killed in Tout Wars NL last year when Josh Johnson got hurt hours after I bought him and I had to run four starters out there for a month. As Cromer pointed out in his NL-only starter article, guys like Fister may be boring in mixed but they earn in mono leagues (Fister earned $21 in NL-only 5×5 in 2014).

Relievers: Jon Papelbon ($14), LaTroy Hawkins ($5), Bobby Parnell ($5)

Unlike the other expert circuits, you can’t keep stats of players traded to the AL, so Papelbon does come with that risk. The rumor du jour has the Blue Jays tied to Papelbon, but this assumes that the Phillies eat enough money or get a significant-enough prospect to make it worth their time. Since the Phillies aren’t a cash-strapped organization, I maintain that it will take a team willing to assume most of the contract in order to make a deal work, unless a suitor is willing to part with a frontline prospect. Hawkins and Parnell are cheap fliers I took in order to attempt to cobble together enough saves to make this a 60-save bullpen. It might or might not work, but I liked the idea of diversifying better than putting all of my eggs into one basket. The closers we believe are surest in March sometimes are not.

Reserves: Tommy Medica, Luis Jimenez, Jerome Williams, Adam Ottavino, Kris Negron, Aaron Harang, Travis Ishikawa

My lousy corner infield pushed me into a strategy of taking four corner infielders in the reserve rounds. None of these guys is particularly exciting, but Medica and Jimenez are players I’ll start over Callaspo if the Padres and Brewers are facing lefty-heavy pitchers in any given week. Negron is a hedge against Joey Votto’s health (with the assumption Todd Frazier would move to first if Votto went down) while Ishikawa is a hedge in the event Belt’s concussion issues carry over into 2015.

I prefer Ottavino to John Axford as Hawkins’ backup, while Williams and Harang are typical matchup plays in only. The weaker lineups in the NL East make me believe that these two will have single-digit, NL-only value.

This is the kind of grinder roster I like to put together in mono leagues. It isn’t a dominant squad, but a dominant squad is next to impossible to put together in an AL or NL-only. I have 12 everyday players on offense (13 if Callaspo wins the job) and a quality rotation with multiple closing options. There is a good possibility that I don’t win any categories outright, but I should be competitive all season long nonetheless.

Keith’s Recap

Catchers: Miguel Montero ($10), Martin Maldonado ($1)

When preparing my player valuations I typically ratchet my prices on catchers down a few ticks, because the position can be quite unpredictable year to year due to the rigors of the squat. Often, I will be content going with a lesser starting catcher and backup, and take the additional money and spend in other areas. I did not expect to end up with Montero at $10, but that decision was a product of the dynamic of the auction. Montero was called out in the later rounds and was the last catcher on my sheet who I felt had value. I was also one of the few owners that had a decent amount of money left, so I needed to spend it. Hence, I ended up with Montero at $10. While I am not in love with owning Montero, he was still a dollar under my sheet price and should earn what I paid for him. As for Maldonado, after missing out in the end game with my $1 bids on Peter O’Brien and Welington Castillo, the pickings were slim so I bought Maldonado. Maybe with the Lucroy injury he will see a little more time this year and hit a few home runs without killing my AVG. More likely, he’s a rent-a-player until a better FAAB option presents itself.

Corner Infield: Ryan Howard ($9), Ryan Zimmerman ($20), Martin Prado ($15)

I like to own players who have multi-position eligibility for the in-season roster flexibility they provide. Not only are Zimmerman and Prado both solid 3B options, Zimmerman qualifies in the OF and will be first-base eligible in the first week of the season. Prado also qualifies at second base and will probably gain OF eligibility at some point this season. I was targeting David Wright ($25) and Todd Frazier ($28) but both went past my sheet prices, so I then focused on Zimmerman and Prado and was able to land both at what I felt were solid prices. Ironically, Howard was the first player I bought as he was called out very early in the auction and I was in on the early bidding. We all know the knocks on Howard, but he was healthy last year playing in 153 games, and did hit 23 home runs and drove in 95. I am a little worried about 550 ABs of a .220 AVG, but I can live with him at $9.

Middle Infield: Neil Walker ($18), Jimmy Rollins ($17), Chase Utley ($12), DJ LeMahieu ($4)

You are probably seeing a pattern by now: Keith likes veterans and building an infield with no dead spots. Like Mike, I am happy with all these prices and each of these players should produce, but I too was cringing at the middle infield values in the later rounds. Hindsight is 20/20, but I would have been better off with a $6 Chris Owings or $3 Crawford as my SS and used that additional money to buy a mid-level starting pitcher. That said, I am fine with this crew of middle infielders, who provide a nice blend of power and speed.

Outfield: Carlos Gomez ($34), Hunter Pence ($26), John Jay ($6), Melvin Upton ($6) Juan Lagares ($5)

I was looking to buy some stats in the OF, and that what I did with Gomez and Pence. I am not looking for profits from these two, just stats. If you read my NL-only outfield landscape article, you know I love Pence for the stability he provides. He has earned $20 or more in standard 5×5 formats in each of his eight seasons in the major leagues, and along with Gomez provides a strong foundation for my offense. I am also a fan of Jay, who I feel often is underappreciated in our world. He’s a lifetime .296 hitter and boasts an average fantasy season of $17 the past four years with the Cardinals. He’ll see some competition from a healthy Bourjos in center field this year, but his on-base skills will get him regular playing time and keep him in the potent Cardinals lineup. The news of Upton’s foot injury came down two days after the auction, which was bad timing, but it happens. I bought Upton in hopes he could hit 12-15 homers and steal 20 bases again, and show a little improvement in AVG. Now, it looks like he is out until May at the earliest, and the foot injury is probably going to impact his stolen-base totals. Hopefully he will be healthy in May, but if not, he won’t make or break my season. While I am not in love with Lagares this year, I could not let him go for $4. If I can get 15-20 steals and a .265 AVG, I will be very happy. Overall, it’s not a bad outfield, especially considering the infield I was able to buy.

Starting Pitching: Gerrit Cole ($18), Matt Cain ($9), John Lackey ($7), A.J. Burnett ($6), Kyle Lohse ($4), Jake Peavy ($4), Carlos Martinez ($4)

Here is where some of the warts on my team are exposed. While I am happy with all of the prices on these pitchers, I would have liked to have bought another pitcher of Cole’s ilk to complement my staff. While I am not opposed to a conservative pitching budget (I spent $64 on my CBS NL staff a season ago and that worked out just fine), I was looking for at least one more upper-tier starter to bolster the front end of my rotation. As Mike alluded to, the upper-tier arms went for a premium and there were not many, if any, starting-pitching bargains to be found. I am pretty bullish on Cole this year, and believe he is primed for a breakout season. I do not typically invest that much salary in an unproven pitcher (Cole has not earned more than $11 in NL-only 5×5 in his first two seasons), but I made an exception for Cole. I foresee a 200-K, $20-plus season if he can toe the rubber for 30 starts. Unfortunately, after Cole, there is not a lot to be excited about. I was the last bid on several of the mid-level starters but was not able to secure one of them. That was a mistake on my part—I should have adjusted to the flow of the auction and went for my par price on a mid-level starter. I ended up with a veteran crew with limited upside but should be serviceable and I am hoping I can get lucky in terms of wins from this bunch. I do like Burnett to bounce back this year with his solid ground-ball and strikeout rates coming back to Pittsburgh, and Lohse is always a favorite of mine. Similar to Doug Fister, Lohse hasvalue in mono leagues and earned a tidy $16 in NL-only 5×5 a season ago. I am not sure what to expect out of Cain coming of both elbow and ankle surgery, but if he can recapture even a little of the pre-2013 Cain, that $9 investment will be worth it.

Relievers: Mark Melancon ($18), Jason Motte ($2)

I had Melancon as the third ranked closer in the NL reliever pool, so I jumped to get him at $18. Over the last two years with the Pirates he has put up a 1.65 ERA, 0.915 WHIP, and 141-to-19 K:BB ratio with just three homers allowed over 142 innings. I was hoping to buy Ken Giles ($3), but he went during a time when I was trying to save my money to add another starter, so I missed out on him. I was able to get Motte as a flier in the end, in hopes he might see some save opportunities in Chicago if Hector Rondon falters. Having miscalculated the SP bidding, and not pushing my par price on a couple starting pitchers during the later stage of the auction, I left $5 on the table. I hate when I do that, but it happens.

Reserves: Jordan Walden, Brad Ziegler, Kevin Plawecki, Odrisamer Despaigne, Chad Billingsley, Ryan Vogelsong, John Holdzkom

My concerns with my pitching led me to focus on pitching in the reserve rounds. I like Walden to get save opportunities for the Cardinals if Rosenthal’s control issues continue, and Ziegler to possibly see some time in the ninth considering how inconsistent Addison Reed was last year. Holdzkom was a great story last year and the strikeout rates in his unique career scan make him a fine last-round reserve pick. Despaigne, Billingsley, and Vogelsong are all speculative starting-pitching plays; I am hoping to catch lighting in a bottle with one of them. I would have liked to have added some hitting depth in the reserve round, but there really was not much to choose from. I like Plawecki, and could use catching depth, so I thought he was a decent selection in case d’Arnaud sees time on DL.

Thank you for reading

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Mike and Keith, love this article and look forward to your recap of the auction eagerly each year (Mike) / will in future (Keith).
Keith - I think you're being too harsh on your assessment of your pitching. Putting aside the hindsight of looking at how injuries have screwed your OF, I'd say you did well to grab some SP's with great potential instead of bailing on offense and going after another name pitcher. Each of your SP's after your 'ace' can deliver a $17 season --except maybe Lackey, but who knows. Cain could be a steal, as could Burnett. There's so much depth at SP that it's a tough call: do you spend to keep up with the arms race or do you let the others blow their budgets, grab the next tier at a bargain rate and spend the savings on offense? Seems you did the latter, and were it not for injuries it'd be the right move.
Hi Robotey,
I do think the starting pitchers I bought were all at good prices, but just would have rather grabbed one more reliable mid-level arm in retrospect. There is certainly upside here, and hoping two or three can be $12-$15 earners. If that happens, I should be OK. The OF injuries are what they are, I just hope Pence only misses a month. Luckily it's a long season!
Keith - whom do you consider 'mid-level? Along with Cole, of course?
Hi Robotey,
The pitchers I was bidding on but fell short were Ross, Fister, Kennedy, Cashner and Wheeler. I was last bid on several of them.