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I was originally going to do something along the lines of a diary for last
night’s Rotowire staff league auction. Then I remembered that Bill Simmons had
not only done that, but done it so well that he pretty much ruined it for the
rest of us. That’s OK, because the pace of the auction, held online, didn’t
lend itself well to taking notes.

I was invited into this because, like swallows returning to Capistrano, I just
had to write player comments this winter, and Jeff Erickson invited me to do
so for Rotowire’s fantasy baseball magazine. (I also did a rookies article.)
We had 18 teams drafting from both leagues, with a $260 budget for 23 players.
After the auction, there is a seven-man draft of a reserve list, and a 10-man
minor-league draft. The league is intended to be perpetual, and it’s scored
5×5 rotisserie style (the usual chicken, with runs scored and strikeouts on
the side). We didn’t finish the auction last night or start the draft, but we
got far enough into it, 13 rounds, that I can elaborate on my strategy without
giving away much to the other guys in the league reading this. It’s not like I
can run the room with the $17 I have left, anyway.

With vanishingly little rotisserie experience–I finished fifth in a league in
1992–I decided to concede that my opponents would have a much better idea of
things like “valuation,” so I didn’t worry too much about it. I decided to
focus on players between the ages of 24 and 31, figuring this would maximize
my chance of getting guys prepared to be good in 2003, while also having a
chance to be worth protecting into the future. I wasn’t going to be ridiculous
about it, and I had built in exceptions for Adam Dunn and relief
pitchers. It’s hard to gauge values in a league of this depth, so I intended
to bid conservatively.

There were a handful of players I really wanted, either because I thought
they’d be undervalued or that they’re going to explode. I actually grabbed
three of the ones on the list of four I’d written down before the auction:
Dunn, Charles Johnson, and Eugene Kingsale. The fourth name
hasn’t come up yet.

The first name and first bid was Vladimir Guerrero for $32. I didn’t
even get involved, and watched him go to one of the Rotowire staff guys for
$49. The next player up, Alex Rodriguez, became the first member of my
team for $57. I’m one of those people who stubbornly believes in positional
value, even as roto experts tell me it doesn’t matter much. Besides, if the
team tanks, he’ll make a great trade chit at the All-Star break.

OK, that and I was just trying to goose the bidding two more dollars and got
caught. It happens, and this wasn’t the last time. I felt better a few minutes
later, though, when Miguel Tejada went for $49. Here are the PECOTA
projections for Teja
…hey, PECOTA doesn’t project runs and RBI! For the first time
ever, I actually wanted to see those. Hrm. OK, we’ll use Rotowire’s
projections:

 

                  $   AVG   R   HR   RBI   SB
Alex Rodriguez   57  .301  125  56   139   10
Miguel Tejada    49  .305  107  35   132    9

I have to guess that the extra 21 homers are worth $8, and A-Rod has a small
edge in everything else. I threw out Derek Jeter a little bit later, and he
went for $41, so I have to say I’m happy with Alex Rodriguez for $57.

One thing about grabbing the second name mentioned for $57: It limits how much
you can do for a while. I usually have the opposite problem in my fantasy
football auction: I’m way too conservative at the start, and I end up
outbidding people for second- and third-tier guys, and closing my day by
throwing $14 at Kevan Barlow. I don’t expect to have that problem here, which
will be an unfamiliar scenario. I did mix it up on Troy Glaus, whose
upside I love. He went for $35, and I feel some remorse about not taking it to
$36. Between concern about my budget and a strategy that left me out of the
bidding on a lot of players, I had huge swaths of time in which I was mostly
watching Duke dismantle Florida State.

Let’s fast-forward. Through 13 auction rounds, here is what I have in front of
me (along with $17):


C  Charles Johnson $16
C  Eli Marrero $9
2B Frank Catalanotto $15
SS Alex Rodriguez $57
MI Alex Gonzalez (ChC) $7
OF Adam Dunn $37
OF Eugene Kingsale $4
OF Carl Everett $10
OF Brad Wilkerson $10
P  Greg Maddux $26
P  Billy Koch $17
P  Scott Williamson $15
P  Byung-Hyun Kim $14
P  Octavio Dotel $6

The Kingsale and Marrero selections elicited positive reaction from
one or two people, which always feels nice. I got caught trying to jack the
price on Catalanotto, who I wanted but not at $15. Considering
how many times I was bidding on players solely to make other people pay, I
should be happy that it didn’t happen more often. The scariest moment was
moving Kazuhiro Sasaki from $5 to $20, then seeing “20 once” appear on
my screen. I was saved by a $21 bid that won.

How do I explain Alex Gonzalez? I was really tired, and somehow I
convinced myself that because he plays every day he will probably have decent
counting stats, and since he’s coming into his power prime, he could be a
decent investment. Plus, the bidding had started at $5 and gone to $6, and I
figured I’d have a chance to rethink things if I went to $7. I didn’t. In an
18-team league drawing from MLB, it shouldn’t be that hard to find playing
time, so the buy was a clear mistake, maybe my only one. The missing $7 would
have come in handy later.

To the extent that I had a pitching strategy, it was to emphasize relievers in
an effort to get maximum points in Ratio and ERA. There’s a 900-inning
minimum, which I think you can get to with as many as eight relievers to start
the season. However, the 5×5 format, adding strikeouts, means that you have to
have relievers with excellent strikeout rates to have any chance of winning.
With two closers in Koch and Williamson, a potential
closer in Kim whose downside is “pretty good starter,” and
the game’s best set-up man in Dotel, I think I can get enough
pitching points to win. I would have been in on Billy Wagner, who went
for $20 right after Koch, but I was fielding a phone call at the time.

Maddux for $26 was a tough call, and I won him on what would have
been my last bid. I figure that even in decline, he’ll provide 200 innings and
not get in the way of what the relievers are doing to my rate stats. There is
very little disaster potential, and he was the last starter on the board who I
would have bought.

All things considered, I’m happy with the team. I mostly stuck to my plan, and
the exceptions I made–Maddux and Carl Everett–I didn’t make randomly. I
think Everett is going to rake this year, in the perfect park for him and
coming off a strong second half of 2002. If he can avoid center field, he can
hit .300/.380/.520 with 30 homers and runs and RBIs to match. Alex Rodriguez
aside, I grabbed guys with upside, who haven’t had their best seasons yet and
who can contribute in five categories. Almost all of my hitters should steal
at least a handful of bases, and a number of them will be batting second, a
position that affords both R and RBI potential. I know it’s a Strat carryover,
but I like the “Team Pretzel” aspect of the roster. Marrero, Catalanotto and Wilkerson are all eligible at multiple positions, giving me
maximum flexibility in acquiring talent and handling injuries.

Of course, the downside is I have zero cornermen so far, three slots to fill,
and $17 with which to do it. The auction will degenerate into a draft
relatively soon, though, so my lack of funds shouldn’t be a tremendous
barrier. With just 216 players gone, there is a lot of talent left, much of it
in the outfield–remember, I can move Wilkerson–and at first base.

For those of you who have auctions coming up, here are the dollar values for
the top 20 players (and ties):


Alex Rodriguez $57
Alfonso Soriano $51
Vladimir Guerrero $49
Miguel Tejada $49
Randy Johnson $49
Pedro Martinez $48
Magglio Ordonez $45
Jeff Kent $44
Barry Bonds $43
Albert Pujols $43
Nomar Garciaparra $43
Curt Schilling $43
Derek Jeter $41
Jason Giambi $40
Sammy Sosa $39
Carlos Beltran $39
Mike Sweeney $38
Brian Giles $38
Todd Helton $37
Manny Ramirez $37
Lance Berkman $37
Bobby Abreu $37
Adam Dunn $37

That $37 barrier was a weird one, as five hitters went right on that number,
including Manny Ramirez and Lance Berkman back-to-back. The top
catcher, Mike Piazza, went for $31, with Ivan Rodriguez at $26.
The top closers were Eric Gagne and John Smoltz at $30.
Hideki Matsui went for $27, and Jose Contreras for $9. The only
pure rookie play so far has been Jose Reyes for $5.

Thanks to everyone who sent in advice for the auction. Most common was the
recommendation to go “Stars and Scrubs,” which I approached in spending $120
on Rodriguez, Dunn and Maddux. I think pure “S&S” would involve another two or
three high-dollar players–I was in on Glaus and Manny Ramirez, among
others–but I wanted to make sure I could grab some of my favorite upside guys,
like Kingsale and Marrero.

Next week’s columns will come from sunny Scottsdale, Ariz., as I make a
three-game trip through the Cactus League.