On Sunday I participated in my first auction of the 2016 MLB season. For this week’s column, I decided to write about the five players I think were my biggest bargains in the auction. It’s a home league and the configuration is a little quirky compared to standard 5×5 roto, so don’t get too hung up on the actual prices. Focus on the reasons these players were available below par value and keep these two points in mind:

Will these players be available at similarly low prices in my league?

Are there any other players who might be bargains on auction day for the same reason?

In case you’re interested, here are some of the league’s parameters to give you a rough idea of the setup:

  • Mixed league
  • Head-to-head
  • 6×6 with OPS as the extra offensive category and OPS-against as the extra pitching category
  • 11 hitters (C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, 4 OF, 2 UTIL, 6 SP, 3 RP)
  • $260 budget
  • 6-8 bench players depending on (boring stuff that doesn’t matter)
  • Up to 6 keepers per team with salaries increasing 25 percent from the prior season
  • Roughly 20 percent inflation

Here are the five guys that look like my biggest bargains of the day, in no particular order:

Fernando Rodney, $2
Yes, Rodney has enormous blowup potential. Experienced fantasy players have all owned Rodney. Sometimes he’s great and rewards his owners with serious profit, like his first year in Seattle. Sometimes he’s terrible and walks everyone, allows a ton of homers and loses his job as closer midseason, like his second year in Seattle.

Granted, that second year in Seattle was last year, making it his most recent work. Rodney was much better after joining the Cubs, but he only threw twelve innings for Chicago and you shouldn’t put too much faith in twelve great innings (or twelve terrible innings).

This league requires at least three pitchers eligible at RP, though, meaning that relievers must be rostered regardless of your overall strategy. At $2, if the bad Rodney shows up this year, no problem. He’s an easy cut. If the good Rodney shows up this year, he’ll earn plenty of profit.

J.A. Happ, $1
We’ve all heard of the positive effect that Ray Searage and the Pirates’ coaching staff have on pitchers who are new to the Pirates. The park is pitcher friendly and the Pirates are aggressive with defensive shifts, but that doesn’t explain away a large portion of the improvements made by pitchers like A.J. Burnett or Francisco Liriano after joining the Pirates.

Happ’s performance this year will be a decent data point for anyone looking to determine if the improvements made by a pitcher in Pittsburgh are sustainable after that pitcher leaves Pittsburgh. Happ’s home ballpark in Toronto will be a lot less friendly than the park he’s leaving, but he’ll have a better offense behind him in Toronto, too. My BP colleague Matthew Trueblood took a long look into Happ’s improvements last fall—it’s worth a read. I think Happ will sustain most of the improvements he made in the second half last year, although that might be masked in most fantasy leagues by the move from the NL to the AL and the move from PNC Park to Rogers Centre. At $1, he’s certainly worth the gamble.

Nathan Eovaldi, $2
Eovaldi presents a value proposition via the same mechanism as Happ. He showed big improvements last year through specific, measurable changes in pitch mix and approach. As my BP colleague J.P. Breen pointed out in his excellent fantasy profile of Eovaldi a few weeks ago, while second-half surges aren’t necessarily indicative of continued success the following season, gambling on players (especially pitchers) with second-half surges makes sense if you don’t pay full freight. If you wait for a large enough sample size to determine if the improvements are real, the player’s pricetag will reflect that higher level of certainty and remove any potential profit.

Long story short: Go read J.P. Breen’s fantasy profile on Eovaldi that I linked to above. It’s great and there really isn’t much more to say other than $2 certainly leaves plenty of room for profit.

Curtis Granderson, $4
This buy got me a lot of flak in the auction room. The nomination came fairly late in the auction, though, so owners’ bar tabs may have had more to do with that than projections and bid limits.

Granderson definitely isn’t a sexy pick any more at any price. He’ll be 35 this season and there’s virtually no chance that he’ll ever hit 40-plus home runs, steal 20-plus bases, or hit .280-plus like he did in his heyday. His batting average was .235 or lower each season from 2012 through 2014 prior to a resurgent 2015 season in which he hit .259.

Still, especially in a league with OPS as a category, Granderson offers quite a bit of value at $4. Despite the potentially bad batting average, Granderson is a good bet for an OPS that will help your team as he’s likely to put up 20-plus HR, 25-plus 2B and 70-plus walks if healthy. Speaking of health, while 35-year-olds are never great bets to stay off the DL, Granderson might be as good a bet on health as there is among players 35 or older since he’s played 155 or more games in each of the last two seasons and in four of the last five seasons.

Carlos Gomez, $24
Unlike the other four players mentioned so far, Gomez didn’t come with a double-digit price tag. It seems to me that the league over-reacted to Gomez’ struggles in 2015 relative to his excellent 2012-2014 seasons. In 2015, Gomez’ OPS dropped by more than 100 points while his steals and homers were only half of his 2014 totals. He only played 115 games in 2015 and was playing through injury in a lot of the games he did play, with a hip ailment in the middle of the summer and an intercostal strain toward the end.

There is no reason to believe that Gomez’ injuries from 2015 will carry over into 2016. All reports out of spring training indicate that he has no lingering effects from the hip injury that slowed him down all summer or the intercostal strain that sidelined him towards the end of the season and in the playoffs. Going into his age-30 season, Gomez should also still be at or near his prime, not tipping downwards into the decline phase of his career.

For comparison, here are the five most expensive outfielders bought at auction along with their prices. Note that since this is a keeper league, if it looks like someone is missing from this list (like, say, Bryce Harper), it’s safe to assume that they are missing because they were kept:

Considering these prices, Gomez at $24 seems fantastic. He’s a good bet for about 20 home runs and roughly 25 stolen bases along with a .250-plus AVG and a .750-plus OPS. That would be considered a great season for Gomez’ teammate George Springer, who has yet to produce those numbers at the major league level. For Gomez, that would simply represent a return to a level of performance established over multiple major league seasons. If your league knocks as many dollars off their bid limits for Gomez as mine did, don’t be afraid to take advantage and grab him for yourself.

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Your league is fairly similar to mine. It's a shame this article came out after my draft. This is a nice addition to the lineup.
Maybe next year this league will hold their auction in time to be helpful.
I agree my home league is strikingly similar. Only deviation is that our extra categories are BB for hitting and HR Allowed for pitching. We also drafted on Sunday and, guess what, Gomez went for $24 (to someone else). I had purchased Upton with the previous pick for $23. Pecota prefers Upton to Gomez with our categories. In a vacuum, which is the bigger bargain? Upton for $23 or Gomez for $24???
It's close, but with your league's categories, Upton at $23 is probably a bigger bargain than Gomez at $24. The difference is BB as a category. Upton should accumulate 60-70 BB compared to 35-45 for Gomez. That more than makes up for Gomez' edge in steals.