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It didn’t take long to figure out that this was going to be a pretty different auction than last year’s version. It only took about 10 players or so. Mike Trout and Paul Goldschmidt both broke the $50 barrier after the two top players from last year (Bryce Harper and Mike Trout) topped out at $48 and $46, respectively.

It wasn’t the effect of the new faces either. Fred Zinkie came out of the gate extremely aggressive and grabbed four players for at least $40 (Kris Bryant, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson and Nolan Arenado, along with two aces in Madison Bumgarner and Yu Darvish). Al Melchior and Joe Pisapia threw down their $50-plus bids on Trout and Goldschmidt. Defending champ, Zach Steinhorn, called out and eventually got Jose Altuve at $42 with the first throw. Derek Van Riper paid $37 for Clayton Kershaw last year, but needed to shell out $44 for the same honor this season—which ended up being a pretty nice value compared to the cost of many aces and “aces” behind him.

My strategy coming into Tout Wars this year was similar what it was last year, with a couple of key exceptions. And as usual, some things ended up playing as I was hoping while others did not. Most importantly, I came in with my values and was going to let the room take me wherever it would go. If you’ve read my recaps or strategy articles before, this should not surprise you. These were my goals heading into the auction:

1) Play the par game with big-time hitters.

2) Grab one SP1 and one top-10 closer.

3) Wait to curb spending until later than last year.

4) Don’t lock myself into any endgame picks early.

5) Gamble more with the middle of the pitching staff.

We’ll get into how these specifically went later, but we’ll look at the lessons from last year first. The top item is a staple of all my auctions, and the results of that will be discussed shortly enough. My pitching issues in 2016 led to both #2 and #5 above. I came into that auction with pitching prices a little too low, as I was making assumptions based off recent history that ended up not being accurate. I ended up with a $45 staff without a front-liner and paid the price for it, mostly in strikeouts—hence, the last point. Value doesn’t do a ton of good if you’re just adding enough to be in the lowest rung. So if you’ve got Kershaw, Scherzer, or one of those heavy hitters, your water table is higher as a staff. If you’ve got Carlos Martinez leading your staff (like I did last year), you need more upside from the remainder of your arms to make it work in a mixed. There are just too many strikeouts out there now to do otherwise.

The spending tendencies in #3 and #4 came out of what I saw in the endgame last year. To have more control over my destiny in the last third of the auction, I sacrificed endgame value early by grabbing a couple of $1-2 players early on. Not only did this not work out because of who the players were, but the values at the end were surprising as more owners were comfortable leaving themselves in dollar days than I was used to. I prefer not to do that to an extreme, as you can probably tell by the fact that I only rostered one $1 player, but leaving myself open for endgame opportunities was something I knew I needed to change and something that could have a big effect on my team this year.

Now, that’s all fine and good until the first player is thrown out. Here is my team, broken out by the different phases of my auction.

Phase 1: The Anchors

Mookie Betts ($42, $43, +1)

Carlos Correa ($33, $35, +2)

Corey Seager ($27, $32, +5)

Kyle Schwarber ($27, $29, +2)

George Springer ($26, $32, +6)

Stephen Strasburg ($19, $21, +2)

Once I saw inflation start to spike, I knew there would be plenty of opportunity for me with just a little patience. Turns out I didn’t need much at all. Last year, I purchased five players at par from my values, and this year, that number dropped all the way down to one thanks to some early dislocation in pricing. Yes, Betts is slightly more valuable in an AVG league than an OBP format like Tout Wars, but he was still the second-most valuable player on my sheet because he’s so impactful everywhere. (Plus, it’s not like a .365 on-base percentage is too shabby regardless.) Correa, on the other hand, is more valuable in an OBP format and I was surprised to see him go for $6 less than Manny Machado and even $1 less than Trea Turner among middle infield options. Whether you think this is the year Correa joins the true fantasy elite or not, he barely needs to build on his 2016 season to return value at this price.

The other four players here come with some sort of risk attached. Seager shouldn’t, but his spring training injury has people backing off a bit and I was able to take advantage of that. Springer is a victim of his own perceived upside, but he will score a ton of runs, hit a ton of homers and if he can steal even 10 bases, figures to easily eclipse $30 in value given his ability to get on base. Then there’s Schwarber, who has the “coming off major surgery” risk, but has the plate discipline to get on base at a .375-plus clip and will lead off in a strong Cubs lineup. He won’t play 150 games, but he also could wind up gaining catcher eligibility by the All-Star Break. That’s only factored into his price by about a dollar, but it could be a huge advantage come July.

Finally, I did end up getting my ace and I was very surprised at who it was, though this is a perfect example of value drafting. I had Strasburg as my 11th starting pitcher for this year, just ahead of Yu Darvish, Chris Archer and Justin Verlander. In the end, Archer went for $26, Verlander went for $24 and Darvish went for $23—which wasn’t all that surprising. What was surprising that with a similar risk/upside profile, no one said $20 on the enigmatic Nationals’ second ace. In the end, 15 pitchers went for $20 or more, including Masahiro Tanaka and Carlos Martinez, and the pitching market dislocation struck again.

Phase 2: The Values

Odubel Herrera ($14, $17, +3)

Justin Turner ($12, $15, +3)

Michael Pineda ($7, $11, +4)

John Lackey ($6, $12, +6)

After spending $174 early on those first six players, I watched for a little while and waited out the values, which came in fits and starts. Herrera is a poor man’s Mookie Betts in an OBP format, and while you can scale his homers and counting stats back by 20 percent, you can scale his price back by 67 percent. I believe in Turner, and he was the first corner player I bought, so it was nice to have a little bit of an anchor there. Pineda and Lackey are just about complete opposites. The former fits my strategy from above about grabbing lots of upside from single-dollar arms, and the latter was someone I could fit in nicely behind the riskier pitchers.

Phase 3: Ugh Closers

Fernando Rodney ($5, $5, 0)

Cam Bedrosian ($4, $6, +2)

So you’ve probably noticed by now that I set out to get a very good closer and ended up with no very good closers. I did not adjust to the rising price of closers early on, and I knew it would land me here. That said, for the price, I was happy with this combo. I didn’t want to have to go to par for Rodney, but he won’t have much competition for that job and he should be fine enough for a while. Bedrosian has the upside of a top-10 closer, but first he has to get on the mound and lock down that job. Fortunately, I was able to grab some insurance on him later on (which worked really well last year when I took both Drew Storen and Roberto Osuna).

Phase 4: The Almost Endgame

Evan Gattis ($10, $13, +3)

Jon Gray ($4, $6, +2)

Matt Harvey ($3, $7, +4)

Travis d’Arnaud ($3, $10, +7)

This is what I like to call the “catchers and supernovas” section of the auction. The bidding for Gattis went higher than I wanted it to (or thought it would), but mostly because Fred Zinkie and I were both trying to grab our backstops close to the endgame and neither of us wanted to roll with pure dregs (he ended up with Brian McCann, who had come out a couple of players earlier to the same bidding war we had over him last year). Gattis won’t play as much as other catchers, but that’s fine. He’ll destroy lefties and won’t hurt me anywhere. I’m not nearly as confident in d’Arnaud as I want to be, but there’s at least offensive upside here—and at the very worst, he’ll see a tick up in intentional walks hitting eighth in the Mets lineup.

Now, the arms. The clean MRI on Gray left me feeling confident about my bid, especially in a league where pitching depth is available and I can sit him in difficult home starts. I’ll avoid Coors when I can, if I need to, and hopefully he’ll make me look smart for doing so. Then there’s the Dark Knight. We’ve never seen someone with Harvey’s combination of talent and age go under the knife for thoracic outlet syndrome, so we’re in uncharted territory here. But as my fifth starter, I’m plenty comfortable taking the risk. Of course, that’s easier for me to type after having seen his velocity continue to come back in Sunday’s Spring Training outing, but it rings true nonetheless.

Phase 5: The Actual Endgame

Yangervis Solarte ($5, $7, +2)

Danny Valencia ($3, $6, +3)

Yasiel Puig ($3, $11, +8)

Shin-Soo Choo ($2, $12, +10)

Patrick Corbin ($2, $4, +2)

Lucas Duda ($2, $6, +4)

Carlos Rodon ($1, $4, +3)

The players above are in price order, so it doesn’t really capture how they came up. Solarte was the most expensive, but those were my last $5 and he probably would have been mine for either $1 or $2. That means I left at least $3 on the table in the end, but given the profit I got on my endgame players of choice, it hardly matters. He’s got both 2B and 3B eligibility in this format, and gives me a little extra CI depth if I should so need it (about 15 minutes later I’d find out I shouldn’t need it).

The buys that surprised me most were Puig and Choo, and they happened almost in succession. They fell victim to what I call “the hole in the shift,” in terms of auction player movement. There’s a part of every auction, right before everyone settles into full-on endgame mode where there’s a handful of teams without money to overbid and a handful of teams who control their own destiny and have players earmarked for their roster. When this happens, the teams in the middle can take advantage because they have the flexibility to do what the others can’t and just let the value come to them. I’m not sure whether it was because more of the teams with money had filled their OF spots or because Puig and Choo carry question marks and they weren’t being targeted, but I netted $18 in value with just the two of them, who I think will be very good in OBP leagues this year.

Aside from those three, the remainder of the group were players with helium coming into the auction. Valencia is likely to be the main recipient of playing time in the wake of Dan Vogelbach’s unfortunate demotion, and he may very well hit enough to warrant playing time the rest of the year. Duda has been an extra-base machine since returning from an early spring back scare and his price hasn’t caught up with his potential yet. Yes, there’s injury risk, but he’s one bad year removed from two years in a row where he put up a .350 OBP and nearly 30 homers. Corbin has locked down a rotation spot and is ready to fly back to 2014 heights. Rodon was a big-time breakout candidate before a biceps injury this March, but a clean MRI puts him on track to return in mid-April. No one saying “two” on him was even more surprising than no one saying “twenty” on Strasburg.

Phase 6: The Shadows (The Reserves)

Yulieski Gurriel

Huston Street

Jaime Garcia

Cody Reed

James Shields

Blake Swihart

The trick to reserve round drafting, which I don’t think I appreciated last year was that these picks really need to be the right combination of potential, additional options and placement. In terms of placement, having only spent $51 on pitching during the active phase would determine most of my strategy, as I needed to grab at least four arms to have on call. Additionally, my lack of spending at corner and catcher made those priorities as well.

I spend much of the last 15 minutes of the auction (after I had run out of money) keeping my fingers crossed that Gurriel would be there when I came up in the reserve round. In fact, the only other player I even considered was Yoan Moncada but he was taken a few picks before me by, who else, Fred Zinkie. Gurriel is less attractive in OBP leagues because he’s more of a batting average guy and less of a walker, but he’ll be the Astros’ first baseman this year and should knock in a bunch of runs. He becomes my Duda/Valencia insurance I was seeking.

Beyond Gurriel, the rest of the picks were reasonably straight forward. Street gives me a pretty strong lock on the Angels closing situation, unless you’re an Andrew Bailey enthusiast, as I don’t trust Mike Scioscia very much. I still can’t shake being a Garcia apologist, and he’s probably a better bet to start week-in and week-out than Rodon or Harvey to start the season. Of course, who knows how long he’ll last, but we have unlimited DL spots for a reason. Reed is one of my favorite sleepers heading into this year, as he’s got the prospect pedigree and out pitch to take a step forward in fantasy. He had a 104 cFIP last year and with an improvement in keeping balls in the yard, he could end up being a pretty solid SP4 or SP5. Shields probably won’t be on my roster by the end of April, and there’s probably an 80 percent chance he never sees my active lineup, but I never count out veterans coming off terrible season and terrible springs, especially ones with such peaks and valleys in performance. Then there’s my dear Swihart, who should be the Red Sox catcher again around Memorial Day after Sandy Leon reminds people why he’s Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez reminds people why he shouldn’t be allowed to hold a bat.

For those of you who like the visual of the full team in table format, here is my full team in table format:

C

Evan Gattis

$10

C

Travis d'Arnaud

$3

1B

Danny Valencia

$3

2B

Yangervis Solarte

$5

3B

Justin Turner

$12

SS

Carlos Correa

$33

CI

Lucas Duda

$2

MI

Corey Seager

$27

OF

Mookie Betts

$42

OF

Kyle Schwarber

$27

OF

George Springer

$26

OF

Odubel Herrera

$14

OF

Yasiel Puig

$3

DH

Shin-Soo Choo

$2

Total Offense

$209

SP

Stephen Strasburg

$19

SP

Michael Pineda

$7

SP

Jon Gray

$4

SP

John Lackey

$6

SP

Matt Harvey

$3

SP

Carlos Rodon

$1

SP

Patrick Corbin

$2

RP

Fernando Rodney

$5

RP

Cam Bedrosian

$4

Total Pitching

$51

All in, I was about as happy as reasonably possible with how the auction went. There are always some moments of regret sprinkled in anywhere, but when you generally follow your plan and stick with your prices, it gets you to a good starting point. And that’s really all you can ask for. So, while the team is certainly heavy on pitching risk, it’s also pretty safe offensively and has plenty of upside to balance that risk. Per my final bid limits and calculations, I got $344 of value from my $260 budget, which is fun to look at, but mostly meaningless because every other owner in that room likely outdistanced their auction spend by a decent amount. Only time will tell who had the best starting point.