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I have thoroughly enjoyed the approach we have taken this offseason from a fantasy perspective, focusing on recapping the past year and having BP staff writers take a retrospective look at their 2015 preseason articles and predictions, for better or worse. In keeping with this theme, I have boldly chosen to throw my hat into this arena by dissecting my NL-Only CBS Expert League auction from this past February.

Coming off a 2014 season in which I was fortunate enough to finish in a first-place tie in this league, I felt extra pressure to follow up that campaign with another title in 2015, because back-to-back championships are, well, pretty neat. While I fell short of a repeat, I was able to squeeze enough out of my squad to put up an 86-point team and secure a third-place finish. Oddly enough, I felt pitching would be my Achilles heel after the auction, but my staff kept me in the race until the last month of the season, as my 54 pitching points were the most in the league and seven above the eventual champ, Scott White of CBSSports.com.

In any event, below is a recap of the successes and failures, and analysis of the takeaways that I hope we can glean from this exercise. Please note the salaries in parentheses next to each player are the auction values at which I purchased them.

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

What I Said:

When preparing my player valuations I typically ratchet my prices on catchers down a few ticks, because the position can be quite unpredictable from year-to-year due to the rigors of the squat. Often, I will be content going with a lesser starting catcher and backup, and taking the additional money for use 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 who had a decent amount of money left, so I needed to spend it. Hence, Montero for $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.

What Happened:

Montero performed to the level I expected, hitting 15 home runs with a sub-.250 AVG. Sitting with 10 HR at the All-Star break, two second-half DL stints impacted his overall numbers as the Cubs backstop was limited to just 347 AB, his lowest total in the past five years. Montero did end up earning $10, so he turned out to be an okay buy at that price. As for Maldonado, I let him go shortly after the season began and ended up using a combination of catchers to fill my second catcher, including the likes of A.J. Ellis and Kevin Plawecki, who I drafted in the reserve rounds.

What We Learned:

Only one catcher earned more than $15 in NL-only 5×5 (Buster Posey) and Montero’s $10 earned was the same as Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy, and more than the likes of Yasmani Grandal, Wilson Ramos, Travis d’Arnaud, and Wilin Rosario—all of whom went for a higher average salary. All things considered, Montero worked out okay, but I would have been better off going after cheaper options like Francisco Cervelli, Nick Hundley, and A.J. Pierzynski, who each cracked double digits in earnings at a fraction of the cost.

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

What I Said:

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, but 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 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.

What Happened:

Well, when you add 33 years of big-league experience for your three corner spots, there is a good chance there will be some time missed due to injury. Unfortunately, this trio of veterans missed a total of 133 games last year, which seemed to be a recurring theme for my offense. Despite the limited AB, Howard hit 22 home runs and drove in 77 runs to earn $13 ($4 profit), and Prado earned his salary, returning $15 in earnings. However, I was not as lucky with Zimmerman, and while he was productive when he saw the field (16 HR and 73 RBI in 95 games) I was never able to successfully fill my corner position in his absence. His $13 of earnings was way below my predictions, as was his .248 AVG, considering he was a career .286 hitter heading into 2016.

What We Learned:

I like veterans, but caveat emptor… they are more susceptible to injury. That said, spending $44 on Howard, Zimmerman, and Prado did not break my season. We will dive into that when we get to my outfield.

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

What I Said:

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 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 a $3 Brandon Crawford as my SS, with 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.

What Happened:

Thank the heavens for D.J. LeMahieu! Yeah, this did not play out as I had planned, admittedly. Walker was steady, and his 16 HR/71 RBI/.269 AVG was par for the course for this consistent middle infielder. His $17 earned was the sixth highest for NL-only second sackers, so that was a safe play that worked.

On the flip side, the former Phillies double-play combo that was reunited in Los Angeles later this season did not work out so well. Utley and Rollins were coming 2014s in which they earned $20 and $22, respectively, in standard NL-only 5×5 scoring formats, so I felt pleased to land them both at a combined $29. Both also had recent success in these formats with Utley averaging $18 in earnings the previous five seasons and Rollins averaging $22 in the previous four, so their unproductive years were a bit of a surprise to me. The pair of veteran infielders posted their worst statistical seasons of their lengthy careers, combining for only $16 in earnings. The falloff for Utley was especially quick, and the former All-Star was slashing an almost unthinkable .099/.175/.198 on May 9th. Rollins’ troubles were uncharacteristically against right-handed pitching as he recorded a dismal .610 OPS vs. RHP, a 136-point drop from his career mark.

As for LeMahieu, he was my saving grace. The LSU product had a breakout season and netted me a $22 profit on my $4 investment. The 6-foot-4 infielder was a consistent fantasy earner this season, and set career highs in each of the standard 5×5 scoring categories, including stealing 23 of 26 bases. From a MI perspective, only Dee Gordon earned more in NL-only 5×5 formats.

What We Learned:

Walker remains a consistent 2B option in NL-only formats, Rollins’ and Utley’s productive fantasy days could very well be over at their advanced age, and LeMahieu’s value will be high heading in 2016 NL-only drafts considering his home/road splits this past season were nearly identical.

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

What I Said:

I was looking to buy some stats in the OF, and that is 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 Peter 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.

What Happened:

In a word: ugh.

The CBS expert auctions are conducted the earliest of the three expert leagues, as we usually begin in February (Tout and LABR drafts are usually closer to the beginning of the regular season). When drafting that early there is always risk of an unforeseen injury or two in spring training that could derail one’s fantasy season. While I am always prepared for that risk, I did not expect this to happen to Pence, who played 154 or more games over the last seven seasons heading into 2015. However, after being hit by a pitch during the first week of spring training, Pence suffered a fractured forearm and missed the first six weeks of the season. When you buy stats in a player like Pence (who had earned $20 or more in each of his first eight big-league seasons), and that player suffers a season-altering injury, it can certainly be a major hit to your team’s success. The usually reliable Pence had three separate stints on the DL in 2015, limiting him to 52 games and only $10 in earnings.

While not nearly as significant, Upton was diagnosed with sesamoiditis in his left foot shortly after I drafted him, and then was traded from the Braves to the Padres in April to join San Diego’s crowded outfield situation and missed the first two months of 2015. Yet even in just 205 AB, Upton earned $7, so at least I was able get an even return for my investment.

Jay has always been a favorite of mine, and coming off back-to-back $19 seasons in NL-only 5×5 formats in 2012 and 2013 and a $17 season in 2014, I was ecstatic to get the underappreciated outfielder for $6. Entering 2015 with a .296/.360/.399 career line over his five big-league seasons, Jay also suffered an injury during spring training to his left wrist, which plagued him all year, leading to multiple trips to the disabled list and abysmal .210/.306/.257 triple slash with one home run and zero steals over 210 AB.

Lagares simply did not live up to my expectations after earning $17 in NL-only 5×5 in just 116 games in 2014. That said, the $10 he earned in 2015 did net me a little profit.

Then we get to Gomez, arguably the biggest disappoint from my auction. The $34 I plunked down on the talented outfielder was by far the most of any player, but I recall being satisfied with that price from a buying-stats perspective. Gomez’s ADP was eighth overall after 2015 drafts and he had produced $37 and $34 seasons the previous two years in NL-only 5×5 standard scoring leagues. Unfortunately, a hamstring injury in April landed Gomez on the DL and he was only able to play in eight games over the first month of the season. That was followed by a strained hip in May that appeared to hinder his overall production. The ultimate blow came at the trade deadline when the Brewers shipped the 30-year-old to the Astros—now in the American League. In the CBS mono expert leagues, when a player is traded to the other league that player’s stats do not count for your team. As such, you lose that player and future stats with no compensation: It is what it is. So after 75 games and $11 dollars in NL-only earnings, Gomez was my biggest loss at a humbling -$23. All in all, the $77 dollars I invested in the five outfielders netted me a mere $38 in earnings, a difficult hole from which to recover.

What We Learned:

Injuries are a part of the game, as is player movement from league to league, and there is little you can do about that. I was able to make a couple of in-season trades (like trading for David Peralta right as the season started) and FAAB a handful of somewhat serviceable replacements, but this is where I lost my chance at a repeat title. When you spend 42 percent of your hitting $183 hitting budget on outfielders and the ROI is $38 for those players, you are in trouble.

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

What I Said:

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 gone 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 groundball and strikeout rates coming back to Pittsburgh, and Lohse is always a favorite of mine. Similar to Doug Fister, Lohse has value 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 off elbow and ankle surgeries, but if he can recapture even a little of the pre-2013 Cain, that $9 investment will be worth it.

What Happened:

My pitching was what helped me keep in the race up until the final few weeks of the season. Even though it only cost $52, this crew helped me lead this expert league in ERA and WHIP and a total of 54 pitching points—seven more pitching points than my nearest competitor. This success hinged on my being right about Cole, and getting lucky with a few other arms. Cole got his 30 starts (32), 200+ Ks (202), and $20+ in earnings ($28), and was the anchor of my staff all season. Lackey turned out to be my second $20-earning SP, as the veteran was a consistent force in the Cardinals rotation, registering 26 quality starts in 33 tries. He was a tad unlucky in the wins category (13-10 record) but his 2.77 ERA and 175 Ks over 218 IP helped him be a top-10 NL-only 5×5 starting pitcher based on his earnings. Despite his second-half slide, Burnett ended up earning $10, as did Peavy, in just 19 starts. Lohse (-$6) was an absolute bust, as was Cain ($-3), but you are able to reserve players in this league, so I was able to mitigate the damage to my ratios by stashing these guys o for most of the year before eventually cutting ties with both. Carlos Martinez was arguably my best buy, as the young right-hander thrived after the move to the Cardinal’s rotation full time in 2015. The 24-year-old won 14 games while posting a 3.01 ERA and 9.2 K/9, good for a cool $17.

What We Learned:

When you have five starting pitchers who all turn a profit, and three return double digits on the initial investment, you should consider that a success. There is always an element of luck involved, and I certainly received my share of good fortune with the staff I drafted considering the investment. We also learned that Gerrit Cole is the real deal, and he should be atop your player-valuation sheets heading into your respective 2016 drafts.

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

What I Said:

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 pushed my par price on a couple of starting pitchers during the latter stages of the auction, I left $5 on the table. I hate when I do that, but it happens.

What Happened:

While the peripherals would suggest Melancon was not as dominant as he has been the past two seasons, the Pirates’ closer led MLB in aves with 51 and walked away with the Trevor Hoffman Award as the senior circuit’s top relief pitcher. Admittedly, there was some concern about Melancon out of the gate as his velocity was down significantly from the previous year, and he surrendered six runs and seven hits over his first seven appearances. However, the velocity began to slowly return and his cutter was as lethal as ever. Over a 43-appearance stretch from April 23rd to August 2nd, Melancon allowed only one earned run and saved 30 consecutive games. On the year, Melancon converted 51 of his 53 save opportunities and his $25 earned in NL-only 5×5 was the most of any reliever in either league.

Motte did get some save chances (6-for-7 in saves opportunities) for the Cubs this season, but his value was more tied to his eight vulture wins. Those eight wins with six saves and a solid WHIP led to $7 in earnings and certainly was worth the $2 bid.

What We Learned:

If you do not want to dump saves, it’s wise to pay for one top closer you believe in, and then walk away from the saves market. There are only a handful of closers who are consistent from year to year so invest in that closer as you deem necessary. You can always find additional saves in the end game with a CIW for a buck or two, or off the waiver wire or in your reserve-round draft – see below.

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

What I Said:

My concerns with my pitching led me to focus on arms in the reserve rounds. I like Walden to get save opportunities for the Cardinals if Trevor 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 Travis d’Arnaud sees time on DL.

What Happened:

Needless to say, Ziegler was the shining star of this crew, and played a huge part in my teams third place finish. The groundball specialist (73 percent rate in 2015) assumed the closer duties from an ineffective Reed in late May and held the job the rest of the season. His 30 saves on the year were only three less than Aroldis Chapman, and he ended the season by successfully converting his last 28 save opportunities. He earned $16 on the season in NL-only 5×5, and between Ziegler and Melancon I was able to earn 10 points in the saves category despite spending $18 on one closer. d’Arnaud did miss significant time due to injuries and Plawecki was called up to take his place behind the dish, but was relatively ineffective, hitting just .219 with three home runs in 73 games. The rest of my reserve picks did not pan out, but Ziegler certainly was a success.

What We Learned:

The reserve rounds can be critical to a fantasy team’s success. If you can hit on one or two players who can contribute positive stats, it can significantly change the fortunes of a fantasy squad. In my case, I struck gold with Ziegler, which helped offset my hitting deficiencies to earn a top-three finish.