Last weekend I partook in my respective AL-only and NL-only keeper auctions. Before we get to the takeaways, some background information as to where this year’s takeaways are coming from:
After spending the second half of 2014 rebuilding in the AL and all of 2014 rebuilding in the NL, I came into 2015 fully stocked with keepers, picks, and minor leaguers with the full intention of competing for championships; ditto 2016. The takeaways from my “Keeper League Auction Takeaways” articles over the past two years have thus come from someone entering the auctions with very few players to select (I often kept the max or nearly the max number of keepers—15.)
Conversely, this year’s takeaways come from a much-different perspective. After selling almost every long-term asset I had last season for short-term assets in order to repeat in 2016, I entered my 2017 auctions with a far-lighter compilation of assets than I did in the earlier seasons, and the fewest or the next-fewest number of keepers of any team in both leagues.
In sum, while the takeaways from the previous two years might have been influenced by the fact that I was “going for it,” the following takeaways will come from more of a rebuilding/restocking perspective, and thus focus more on such strategies.
Rebuild through values and discounts
(Note: This is dependent on your league having an active trade market; if not, please note the concept and adjust accordingly.)
The tendency for rebuilding teams is to avoid the highest-priced players and target younger, injured, and/or sleeper-type players that could bode well as keepers. Makes sense, right? It sounds right, but I’ve been down that road and I have a pretty good idea where it ends: usually by overpaying for such players. If these players get thrown out early in the auction (usually in an attempt to “sneak a player in”), then all the teams that are targeting this “sleeper” end up paying slightly over target price, because all of those teams have money, and more teams usually target such players than any owner anticipates. If these players get thrown out later in the auction, they still tend to go for higher prices, because owners who are stocked with extra cash at this point in the auction are forced to spend on them.
Theoretically, rebuilding teams should have higher valuations on these players (as well as higher variance and higher-upside players, than the more short term-focused competition). But a lot of teams head into auctions looking to hedge—they enter looking to add players to win now, along with some players they view as potential long-term keepers. As a result, these players are even more unlikely to be the values someone deploying a more-traditional rebuild strategy would hope them to be.
As a result of the above (as well as with all the other biases and decision-making obstacles we (people) face during auctions), a two-step process of drafting the best values, which are more likely to become either (i) the best keepers or (ii) the best trade chips. The advantage here, too, is that by having to fill so many roster spots, we are more likely to be involved in more bids for more players, an approach which increases our chances of getting the best values and discounts in any given auction. And this, conveniently, brings us to our next piece of advice…
At least be as active as the construct of the auction will allow. We have discussed this in past articles, but it bears repeating: Given the complexity of auctions, it is difficult to forecast where the best values and/or discounts will arise. Moreover, most participants go into an auction anticipating grabbing certain players at a discount. But because they overestimate the originality of their own ingenuity, several other participants are often eyeing those same players, which means they end up costing a premium.
We can take advantage of this by being fully willing pay to up to our price for any given player, particularly early in the auction. Because other owners are waiting for particular players and/or because they want their roster to look a certain way, there usually are a bunch of players that are not “starred” before the auction, players that do not nicely fit into how bidders hoped their rosters would look/be constructed. Therefore, a bunch of players can be had at a discount. Often (and, I guess, inherently), the best values come from bids on players in which the bidder would happily acquire the player for a few dollars more and, thus, does not expect to acquire that player with that bid.
The advice, as you all probably guessed, is to engage in bidding as many players as possible. This means you likely will be the owner who was just outbid for the most players, but it also makes you the most likely to acquire the most possible discounts.
The last factor that holds most of us back from doing so is the fear of missing an even-better value later on. Could doing so cause us to miss on greater values later? Absolutely, but we also run the risk of missing on more values because of this fear; particularly because a lot of our competition has the same fear. To conclude, we should be shooting for the most possible values as opposed to the single, best value.
Don’t fear the end game
Some auctions involve owners over-spending for the best and next-best round of players and, consequently, the best values are available in the middle and late rounds. In any other auction, though, some of the best values will be available in the early rounds. When the latter occurs, we often fail to capitalize because we are (i) as discussed previously, pass up discounts because we do not want to be locked out of better discounts later in the auction and (ii) thus also fear being left with next-to no money for the end game. The problem with this line of thinking is that leaving discounts for others early in auctions will thus make the middle rounds and later rounds more expensive—and therefore less valuable.
So when I, as a person typing words on the internet, advise that we should take the values and discounts when they come, regardless of where they come or in what form (position-wise), I am not doing so for no reason. Instead, there is plenty of observed human behavior and decision making that instructs us to take action in a way that feels, for lack of a better word, wrong. Given how auctions are constructed, though—that we and our competition have only so much money to spend—going against these fears and tendencies is likely to pay off more than anything else.
Thank you for reading
This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.Subscribe now