Last year, I solicited help for the inaugural auction in the Rotowire Staff League. The league, into which I was invited because of some writing I did for the Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Guide, marked the first time I’d ever participated in a perpetual fantasy baseball set-up.

Thanks in no small part to the advice I got from BP readers, I finished second in the league, which I thought was a heck of a feat for someone who went into it as a fantasy novice. Of course, that fact never came up when talking to Jeff Erickson, Pete Schoenke, Chris Liss and the rest of the career roto guys over in Culver City, all but one of whom spent the year looking up at my fantasy rookie behind. Nope. Never. Not once.

(OK, maybe once.)

Later today, the league gathers for its second auction, again putting me in uncharted waters. See, I understand that there’s such a thing as “inflation,” but I understand it the same way I do the idea that there are dishes in the sink. I’m vaguely aware of it, but unsure what, if anything, I’m supposed to do about it. I picked some people’s brains and made some guesses as to what this would mean for both protection lists and the price of talent made available, but in the end, they were just guesses.

I made a few trades in advance of the deadline. The big move was swapping Rockies prospect Jayson Nix for a $21 Kevin Millwood. After scrambling to reach the 900-inning minimum last year, I wanted to make sure I started the year with two good starting pitchers and seven relievers. Millwood may be a bit expensive at $21, but he’s a good bet for run support (wins) and strikeouts, and given that I have four closers for $12 total, I can overpay a little.

I also acquired a $2 Johnny Estrada for moving down three rounds or so in the reserve draft, and Russ Adams for a $5 Placido Polanco. I liked both deals at the time, but I increasingly think I’d rather have had the roster spot than Estrada, and the $5 2B who can hit a little would be nice. (I do like Adams a lot, and I will be carefully following his position battle with Aaron Hill–think of it as an off-Broadway version of the Yankees’ Carnival of Denial at shortstop–in the Eastern League.)

Remember that this is an 18-team mixed league, with 23-man rosters, a seven-man reserve list and a 10-man minor league list. Also, we have a $260 player budget, with $100 in free-agent acquisition money to spend during the year.

My reserve list (we could protect up to 15 players, plus up to ten minor leaguers) is as follows. “B” just indicates the second year of a contract, which is the status for everyone who was protected:

David Ortiz $1B
Alex Rodriguez $57B
Johnny Estrada $2B
Jay Payton $5B
Brad Wilkerson $10B
Carl Everett $10B
Edgar Martinez $4B

Brendan Donnelly $1B
Danny Graves $3B
Shigetoshi Hasegawa $3B
Octavio Dotel $6B
Damaso Marte $1B
Mike Mussina $27B
Kevin Millwood $21B

Russ Adams M
Koyie Hill M
Kelly Shoppach M
Jeremy Brown M

I like it. It’s easy to get attached to a team, but I see a pitching staff that should lead the league in saves, ERA and WHIP, and won’t plummet all the way to the bottom in wins and strikeouts the way it did last year. I don’t expect to have four closers all season long, but it sure makes for great trade fun. And yes, Virginia, that is a one-dollar Cookie Monster, which is probably the biggest reason I ended up with the best view of Erik Siegrist’s imitation of the 1984 Tigers.

The guys who got in under the wire were Donnelly and Martinez. Donnelly doesn’t get saves or wins, but his career ERA of 1.82 made it hard to cut him. Martinez is flawed as well, getting few runs scored and no steals. The bigger problem is that he locks up the UT slot, which can be a problem when you develop depth or want to add some in a trade. At $4, though, I just couldn’t let him go.

The last guys I cut were Carlos Pena at $5, Byung-Hyun Kim at $14, and Endy Chavez at $1. Pena effectively lost out to Martinez in a head-to-head comparison. I just don’t think he’ll have the run production in Comerica Park and the Tigers’ lineup. I expect his price to rise a little in the auction. If I was sure that Kim would get 32 starts, he would have been an easy guy to protect. I just don’t know if that will be the case, and I know he’s not going to close. I have no idea what he’ll go for tonight. Like Kim, Chavez could return a lot more than his price if he retains a job. It’s too early to know whether that will happen. I think he could slip to the reserve draft this time.

I have $109 left and need to add nine guys in the auction, including seven hitters: a catcher, a second baseman, a third baseman, two outfielders, a corner man and a middle infielder. That seems daunting, but I look at it as $104 for two outfielders and two infielders. I can get $1 players to round out my pitching staff, bench slots, and #2 catcher position.

What is available? A lot more than I expected. Barry Bonds was thrown back, as were Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez. Jose Vidro is a target for me, as is Jim Edmonds and maybe Miguel Tejada. I need to add a lot of production, and given that I’m usually blowing off stolen bases, will have to work hard to make this the 65-point offense I need it to be.

Jeff Erickson provides complete keeper lists and analysis in his column over at Rotowire, so if you want more info on the league, check it out.

What I’m looking for today is the best way to spend $109 on seven slots. Forget about keeping guys next year and overbid for the certainty of stars? Stick to last year’s strategy of picking from the 24-31 age group, and avoid inflated prices where possible? Worry about filling the infield holes, where talent is a bit more scarce, or just get the most hitting I can, even if it’s all in the outfield? Bid on Mike Piazza and Ivan Rodriguez, or stick with a $1 Damian Miller or Michael Barrett or Barry Foote?

I thought long and hard about bidding for Pedro, who would give me a ridiculous pitching staff. I just can’t stomach the risk; I don’t want to end up spending a buck an inning for his 2004 season, and if there’s even a small chance of that happening, it’s more than I want to take with a team that could win it all this year. Let someone else gamble, and who knows? I might be able to trade for Martinez during the season, once he establishes that he’s going to be around all year.

So ponder this list, check out Jeff’s article and get back to me by 4:30 Pacific time. I figure between the BP Fantasy Player Forecast Manager (you haven’t downloaded it yet? Go!) and the great player updates over at Rotowire, I can win it all this year. Heck, I might not even miss my copy of Baseball Prospectus 2004, which is showing up all over the country but hasn’t made it to Rosemead, Calif.

(OK, maybe once.)

Thank you for reading

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