There’s dumb, there’s really dumb, and there’s leaving $35 on the table.

In Tuesday’s column, I wrote about the Rotowire Staff League auction. Coming off a second-place finish in 2003, I went into it with a solid pitching staff at relatively low cost. Based on my own analysis and the great feedback I got from readers, I planned to target hitting with the $109 I had available. But despite having every intention of blowing a big chunk of my budget on two slugging outfielders, I ended up spending no more than $22 on any player, that one being Adam Kennedy, who is neither slugging nor an outfielder.

I was involved in the bidding on Manny Ramirez (who went for $46), Barry Bonds ($42), and Jim Edmonds ($40), but bowed out each time, eyeing the remaining players and telling myself I’d get one of them at a price I was comfortable with. When the last top-tier outfielder was called, I went all the way to the high 40s, but in the end, couldn’t bring myself to pay more than that for Magglio Ordonez, who ended up going for $57.

The decision I–and many others in the league–regret was bailing on Brian Giles. Thrown back into the pool at $38, the bidding for him stopped at $37 for some reason. Bonds and Ramirez had already gone in the mid-40s, and while there were some names left to be called, Giles looked like a bargain. By the end of the night, with 18 people silently mouthing the word, “inflation,” defending champ Erik Siegrist looked like a genius for getting Giles at $37.

While wussing out at the higher elevations was unpleasant, I was at least able to avoid getting stuck with players I didn’t like. I added Kennedy, Larry Walker ($18) and Luis Matos ($13), all of whom I can see being very valuable. I stepped out of a bidding war over Adam Dunn at $26, even though the BP Player Forecast Manager had him projected to be worth $31. Maybe it was getting burnt by him last year. I ducked out on Jose Vidro around $30, and he went all the way to $41, a price I can’t understand given that he doesn’t run or hit many home runs.

Here’s the full roster:

C Johnny Estrada $2B
C Adam Melhuse $1A
1B David Ortiz $1B
2B Adam Kennedy $22A
SS Alex Rodriguez $57B
3B Freddy Sanchez $1A
CI John Olerud $7A
MI Mark Bellhorn $1A
OF Jay Payton $5B
OF Brad Wilkerson $10B
OF Carl Everett $10B
OF Larry Walker $18A
OF Luis Matos $13A
UT Edgar Martinez $4B

P Brendan Donnelly $1B
P Danny Graves $3B
P Shigetoshi Hasegawa $3B
P Octavio Dotel $6B
P Damaso Marte $1B
P Mike Mussina $27B
P Kevin Millwood $21B
P Guillermo Mota $10A
P Adam Wainwright $1A

Adam Wainwright was a late-night mistake. I needed to throw out a name and reached for a guy who I thought someone would take to $2. He’ll end up on my reserve list quickly enough. Guillermo Mota‘s price was a disappointment, but I was bid up in the end game by someone else who had a lot of dough. He won’t hurt the strategy. We still have to fill our rosters with reserve players and minor leaguers (a process that would have taken place Tuesday night but for a technical glitch). I already picked up Franklin Gutierrez and Jeremy Hermida, both of whom have enough upside to make them protectable in future seasons. I used nine of my 10 minor-league slots last year on hitters, and I’d be surprised if that changed this year.

The big lesson was the impact of inflation on auction prices. The first player of the night, Miguel Tejada, went for $60, which should have taught me about saving my money. The vast majority of stars, save Giles, went for $5-$10 more than their projected price in the Forecast Manager. Some, like Ordonez, exceeded their price by more than $15.

Speaking of the Forecast Manager, I’ll bet that I was one of the first people to use the new BP fantasy product in an actual auction. I was happy with it, as it enabled me to quickly find dollar values for our league’s setup (albeit not inflation-adjusted). Nate is already making improvements to it, so download it for your auction or draft today, It really is a well-designed tool, and it uses the best projections out there.

In the end, I’m not unhappy with my team, and I think it will finish near the top of the league. But I don’t think I leveraged my money well, and that’s disappointing, because I felt going in that a good auction could make me the favorite.

Thirty-five dollars. If this team doesn’t win it all, I’ve have the memory of a bid not made to taunt me all through next winter.

Adding insult to injury, the late end to Tuesday’s events caused me to miss most of the first televised baseball game of the spring. (Because I don’t have enough reasons to want to move back east, I guess.) Possibly disappointing ESPN, the Mets and Dodgers managed to play nine innings without anyone coming to blows; the Guillermo Mota/Mike Piazza skirmishes figured prominently in the promotion, but neither played in Wednesday’s matchup.

The star of the game for the Dodgers was James Loney, who singled, doubled and homered in four trips to the plate. Loney, the Dodgers’ #1 pick in 2002, was hampered in the first half of last season by a wrist problem. Even at that, he put up a pretty good line in the Florida State League: .276/.338/.400 with 31 doubles looks better when it’s done by a 19-year-old, and his second half was much better than his first.

I think I mentioned this in the Top 50 Prospects Roundtable, but it’s worth repeating here. Loney’s wrist problems and the run context of the Florida State League have depressed his value as a prospect. I think he’s going to be the Minor League Player of the Year, and one of the top 10 prospects in baseball eight months from now.

The only other thing I want to mention from yesterday’s game is that Victor Diaz played third base. Diaz has played a few positions in the minors, his bad body and very good bat contributing to the perception that he can’t handle second base. Acquired from the Dodgers last summer as part of the Jeromy Burnitz trade, Diaz might have had a shot at the Mets’ second-base job this season before the signing of Kazuo Matsui blocked him.

The Mets now have their middle infield set for the next couple of seasons, as well as contract commitments to players in left field (Cliff Floyd) and center field (Mike Cameron). That leaves few spots for Diaz to work his way in, but third base, where the Mets have a below average player in Ty Wigginton, is one of them. Although PECOTA doesn’t like Diaz much (.250/.306/.392), I’m convinced that the Mets would be better off giving him a chance to hit his way into a role at third base or in right field than with the current collection of players at those positions. Wigginton is just a guy, and the right-field platoon of Karim Garcia and Shane Spencer isn’t going to call to mind the glory days of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke.

His unimpressive physique and lack of a set position have kept Diaz under the radar so far. Given playing time and reps at a new position, he’s got a real chance to stick in New York and be a stealth Rookie of the Year candidate.

Thank you for reading

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