Wow. I can’t believe it. Baseball is back. This means it is time for another season of the Expert FAAB Review, the award-winning, critically acclaimed1 fantasy baseball series that looks at the expert bidding in LABR mixed, Tout Wars NL, and Tout Wars AL every week in an effort to try and help you, the Baseball Prospectus reader, with your fantasy baseball bidding needs. Bret Sayre and I participate in LABR mixed while I have a team in Tout Wars NL, so I can provide some insight on the bids and the reasoning behind them. LABR uses a $100 budget with one-dollar minimum bids, while the Tout Wars leagues use a $1,000 budget with zero-dollar minimum bids.
Typically, LABR and Tout Wars both use a bidding deadline of Sunday at midnight ET. This week, LABR’s bidding deadline was Saturday at 7 pm ET.
Trevor Story $43. Other bids: $27, $23, $19, $12, $10, $8, $2.
The LABR mixed draft takes place in mid-February. The first FAAB period isn’t until early April. As a result, there are a handful of players who generate big bids because what was true in February isn’t true at the beginning of April. Because of the cloud that surrounds Jose Reyes’ status, Story generated a series of aggressive bids, including three bids over $20. Jake Ciely of Roto Experts was extremely aggressive, outbidding the next-highest team by $16.
You cannot discuss Story without talking about what will happen with Reyes. This is a fantasy baseball column; if you want to read Meg Rowley’s excellent commentary on Major League Baseball’s domestic violence policy, you can find it here, here, and here. As much as I would prefer to hold my nose and pretend that this situation doesn’t exist, I do have to try and make an educated guess as to what will happen with Reyes and—by extension—how this impacts Story.
My rough estimate for Reyes’ return is on or around June 1st. This would give Story about two months as a regular shortstop. This assumes that Story doesn’t hit poorly enough to get sent back to the minors. Of course, there are all sorts of outcomes on both ends of this spectrum. Perhaps Reyes doesn’t get suspended, or gets a lighter suspension than Aroldis Chapman did. Maybe Reyes appeals any suspension and the Rockies put him back in the lineup while he waits for a hearing. On the other side of the spectrum, perhaps the Rockies decide to eat the rest of Reyes’ contract or trade him for pennies on the dollar and Story starts all season long.
Bret Sayre and I decided to bid $12 on Story. Part of this decision was based on the fact that our offense is completely healthy, but I even if we had holes on offense we would not have bid higher than $25 or so. The Coors factor is nice, but this doesn’t automatically elevate every player who dons a Rockies’ uniform into Troy Tulowitzki. Combine this idea with the fact that this may be a two-month purchase and not a season-long one, and this bid seems aggressive to me.
(Of course, Story hit a three-run home run in his first at-bat of 2016 last night in an effort to make me look as bad as possible. Then he hit a second one moments after I wrote that sentence. I am submitting this to editing before the Rockies games ends, so if Story hits six more home runs, I am recanting everything.)
The winning bidder—Jake Ciely of RotoExperts—didn’t have any holes in his starting lineup either, so this did seem rather strange to me. Perhaps Ciely will trade for pitching quickly, but in a league with no zero dollar FAAB bids, Ciely’s $43 bid struck me as extremely high for a non-elite prospect who isn’t guaranteed a full season of playing time.
Tyler White $18. Other bids: $7, $3, $3.
Ciely was busy this week. In addition to Story, he also grabbed White for $18. White has never been regarded very highly as a prospect, but he has exceeded expectations at every level and deserves this opportunity to show what he can do in the majors. As with Story, since White isn’t an elite prospect it is possible that White is a placeholder for A.J. Reed. Performance dictates playing time, so if White does perform he could keep the job all season long. He did play third in the minors in 2015, but while Luis Valbuena is hardly a serious impediment, White is somewhat challenged defensively at the position and the Astros haven’t discussed moving White over to third if and when they call up Reed.
Juan Nicasio $16. Other bids: $11, $9, $8, $6, $5, $4, $1, $1.
An afterthought entering the winter, Nicasio pushed himself to fantasy relevance with a terrific spring, winning a job in the Pirates’ rotation. Much has already been made of Ray Searage’s expert tutelage and the idea that he can fix any pitcher. While Searage deserves all the credit in the world for the work he has done in Pittsburgh, some of Nicasio’s problem was Coors Field, as he had the misfortune of spending parts of four seasons with the Rockies, posting a 5.22 ERA at Coors. $16 is a little aggressive for Nicasio, but if he can survive as a no. 3 starter for a good team in a pitchers’ park, Nicasio could turn out to be a slight bargain. I don’t mind the upside play if your pitching is thin to start in a 15-team mixer.
Chris Owings $12.
With A.J. Pollock’s elbow injury, the Diamondbacks are discussing using Owings in center field. I’m not sure if this experiment will last, but if Owings can cobble together regular at bats for Arizona, he offers a low-end power/speed combination (albeit with a bad batting average) with middle-infield eligibility. I am surprised that Steve Gardner of USA Today was the only bidder.
Jimmy Rollins $9. Other bids: $3, $1.
Austin Jackson $8. Other bids: $6, $6, $6, $4, $1.
Rollins and Jackson were signed after the LABR draft and were not even taken as fliers on reserve. There is a lesson here about taking players like Rollins or Jackson over pie-in-the-sky rookies who may not play in the majors in 2016. Both could finish with double-digit home runs and steals and were simply sitting at the end of an expert-league auction. The risk was that both could have been signed as backups or not signed at all, but as gambles go, these would not have been bad risks to take.
Drew Pomeranz $9. Other bids: $8, $3, $1.
Pomeranz broke camp with the Padres as their fourth starter. There is an opportunity for deeper mixed league value, although the strikeout rate isn’t elite and I prefer Pomeranz as a streaming option as opposed to as a regular starter. Still, he is better than more than a few of the backend AL pitchers who are in LABR mixed lineups. The difference between NL and AL pitching numbers this year is going to be significant.
Carl Crawford $8. Other bid $1.
A healthy Crawford with an everyday job could hit 10 home runs and steal 20 bases, and Crawford will get the first crack at playing time with Andre Ethier on the shelf for a significant amount of time. The reality is that it might be a lot to ask for these kind of numbers from Crawford in the twilight of his career, but in 15-team mixed, regular at bats are almost always worth the gamble, unless they are attached to a no-hit middle infielder or catcher.
Travis Shaw $7. Other bids: $7, $6.
Brock Holt $4. Other bids: $1, $1, $1.
Shaw and Holt supplemented Pablo Sandoval and Rusney Castillo, respectively, for starting jobs in Boston to begin the season. Neither has considerable upside, but Holt’s contributions across the board did play in deep mixed last year. Without a carrying tool, he will need to keep the batting average high to have mixed league value. Shaw is somewhat more intriguing, but unless the Red Sox simply decide to jettison Sandoval, there is always the possibility that their expensive free agent get another crack at third base sooner rather than later.
Yunel Escobar $4|
Regular, vanilla at-bats that aren’t attached to bad batting averages are underrated in mixed leagues. Escobar fits this bill.
Cody Anderson $4. Other bids: $3, $1, $1, $1, $1.
Yikes. Anderson beat out Trevor Bauer for a spot in the Indians’ rotation, but he’s a poor fantasy bet. Strikeouts drive the earnings bus in fantasy, and Anderson isn’t a punch-out guy. He could hang on to his job for a while, and he could even post okay rate stats, but these bets often end badly.
Tyler Naquin $3. Other bids: $1, $1, $1, $1, $1, $1.
Naquin will begin the year starting in centerfield for the Indians while Michael Brantley finishes healing. Beyond this, it is unclear who among Naquin, Marlon Byrd, and Rajai Davis will get the most playing time in the Indians’ outfield. Naquin could be a solid enough second-division regular in real life, but in fantasy there isn’t much of a ceiling. Regular at bats are important (I’m going to keep saying this, so you had better get used to it), but in the outfield, I prefer more upside in deep mixed than Naquin provides. On the other hand, this is a $3 bid. That’s fine for a placeholder until the cavalry arrives.
Danny Farquhar $3. Other bid: $2.
Alex Colome is likely to get the first crack at saves, but Farquhar is decent enough as a stab-in-the-dark. Relievers in deep mixed have utility as well, although Farquhar’s rate stats of late aren’t exactly the kind of thing you’re looking to add to your fantasy team.
Shane Greene $3. Other bids: $1, $1, $1.
Greene somewhat unexpectedly won the fifth starter’s job in Detroit. He could fail – and the ceiling was never as high as the more cockeyed optimists suggested last year – but I dig the post-hype gamble.
Daniel Nava $1. Other bids: $1, $1, $1.
Nava and Craig Gentry will split the left field at bats in Anaheim. I would like Nava more as a full timer as a volume play; if they truly are going to share the job then Gentry has slightly more value due to the stolen base potential. Both are just placeholders while the Angels wait for the minor league sys—
The long lag between the draft in LABR and the first FAAB period means that there are a lot of everyday at bats just sitting there for the taking in Week One. Perhaps this is why so many fantasy managers are willing to speculate on the long-shot rookies. Another reason is because there are unlimited DL slots; drafting low end risks like Zach Wheeler and C.J. Wilson to stash on your DL gives you a de facto deeper reserve list than you would have otherwise, so taking a low upside play like Peter Bourjos in the 28th round doesn’t make nearly as much sense as waiting for him or his non-union equivalent in the first FAAB period.
Bret and I didn’t bid on anyone else besides Story. We discussed streaming a starting pitcher or adding a reliever like O’Day for one dollar, but in the end were comfortable with our roster as is to start the week.
Tout Wars NL
Matt Cain $72. Other bids: $20, $4.
The move to a $1,000, non-Vickrey bid system changes the dynamics of Tout Wars greatly. With Vickrey, Phil Hertz of Baseball HQ would have received Cain for $21, not $72. Instead, he loses over seven percent of his budget right off the bat with a speculative play on Cain, who appears to be good to go for his first start this week against the Dodgers, but may not pitch very deep into the game. Cain is a decent-enough NL gamble, but the odds him returning to pre-injury, ace form seem remote. In mixed leagues, he is someone you won’t pick until he actually begins showing some results.
Dailer Hinojosa $69. Other bids: $52, $43, $41, $35, $20.
The fact that half the league took a hard pass on Hinojosa tells you most of what you need to know about the reliever’s upside from a skills perspective. Saves are saves, though, and at the outset it appears that the Phillies will split opportunities between Hinojosa and David Hernandez. Steve Gardner of USA Today won Hinojosa. He purchased Andrew Bailey for $6 at auction last month, so this move makes some sense from a cover-all-of-your-bases standpoint.
I bid $20. With three closers already in tow, I had little reason to speculate but figured spending two percent of my budget on a potential closer and trade clip was acceptable.
Neftali Feliz $67
Ouch. Hertz was the only bidder for Feliz. Perhaps he has some information about the Pirates pecking order in the bullpen that no one else in the league does. Otherwise, this is a very aggressive bid for a pitcher who struggled in 2015 and is behind Tony Watson and Mark Melancon for saves in Pittsburgh.
Matt Joyce $63
There are likely to be some growing pains with the $1,000 bid system in the first couple of weeks. Joyce is buried on the bench behind one of the best outfields in the game. You can keep players in Tout Wars if they are traded to the “other” league, so the play with Joyce is the hope that the Pirates try to slip Joyce through waivers and a team with needs (the Angels, for example) make a claim.
Ramon Flores $43. Other bid: $11
Center field is wide open for the Brewers. While Keon Broxton is hardly a fixture at the position, he has considerably more upside than Flores in fantasy. You have to go all the way back to 2012 in High-A ball to find double-digits steals on Flores’ resume and while the power has improved since that time, Flores is more of a gap hitter than an over-the-fence kind of guy. He’s an interesting look-see for Milwaukee based on his defensive utility but as a fantasy option, meh.
Trayce Thompson $37. Other bids: $21, $7.
I considered putting a bid in for Thompson but in the end decided to focus my energies on an extra pitcher. Thompson opened some eyes in a brief period with the White Sox last year. He has a decent amount of power potential, and while the batting average could be a significant liability, a 15 home run, 10 steal season is a reasonable expectation given regular at bats. Crawford is ahead of Thompson on the depth chart, but it doesn’t take much imagination to envision a Crawford injury giving Thompson a crack at everyday playing time.
Ross Stripling $33. Other bids $31, $4.
There have been some jokes about Stripling being too green for a major league rotation, but despite a limited track record in the high minors Stripling is viewed as an acceptable fourth or fifth starter long term. The low strikeout rate does give me pause in fantasy, but in NL-only I’m OK with Stripling as a match up play against weaker NL lineups.
Cedric Hunter $22
If you have an excellent memory or are the most diehard Padre fan ever, you may remember Hunter from his five major league plate appearances with San Diego in 2011. Five years later, after stops in three other organizations' minor league systems, Hunter not only won himself a job on the Phillies’ Opening Day roster, but is starting out on the good side of a platoon with Tyler Goeddel. Hunter put up a 12-home-run, 11-steal line in 515 plate appearances in Triple-A last year, and a low end 10/10 season isn’t out of the question if he keeps the job. This is the rub. The Phillies could give Goeddel more time at some point, or promote recently signed Will Venable to play. I do dig Hunter’s decent contact rates at every stop in his career, and could see him sticking around if he can keep his batting average around .240-.250.
Drew Stubbs $22
Stubbs cracked the Opening Day roster, but will start the season on the bench. He has the potential to reach 20/20 if he starts again, but Stubbs hasn’t hit over .250 in a non-Colorado season since 2010. He will likely be glued to the bench.
Stephen Drew $15. Other bid: $5
With Trea Turner down in Triple-A, Drew is a sneaky, savvy play in NL-only. Danny Espinosa is the starter at short for the Nationals, but he isn’t much better than Drew if he can even be considered better at all. Drew swatted 17 home runs in 428 plate appearances for the Yankees in 2015. Yes, the batting average was brutal, but even as a bench guy in NL-only, the odd home run from your third middle infielder plays.
Justin Grimm $14. Other bids: $0, $0.
I bid zero on Grimm and lost out to Scott Wilderman of On Roto. Grimm looked terrific this spring, and while chasing wins and future saves is a fool’s errand, taking relievers on good teams is the way to go with non-set up relievers.
Williams Perez $11
Michael Blazek $8
Brandon Barnes $5
Colin Walsh $5
Gordon Beckham $2
Chris Hatcher $1
Charlie Culberson $1
Tucker Barnhart $0
Trevor Brown $0
Chris Stewart $0
Andres Blanco $0
Blake Treinen $0
Travis Wood $0
A lot of teams bid on backup catchers. Even with Yasmani Grandal on the DL, I still have three. I made a mental note to reach out to some of the teams later this week that bid on these backups.
I took Wood for zero. He put up a 2.95 ERA (and a 2.53 FIP) as a reliever in 2015, with 11.02 strikeouts per nine. I am more likely to use zero dollar bids to cycle players in and out of my swingman slot all season long – whether they are hitters or pitchers – than I am to spend big on marginal players.
Tout Wars AL
Sean Manaea $201. Other bid $5.
Manaea is one of the best pitching prospects in the American League, but it is more likely that he is up in the second half. Patrick Davitt of Baseball HQ came through with a big $201 bid, blowing Ron Shandler’s $5 bid out of the water. I love the idea of Manaea as an early stash, but one-fifth of a team’s budget on a speculative play—even with the upside that Manaea has—is extremely aggressive.
Joey Rickard $187. Other bids: $151, $57, $36, $15, $11, $6.
Rickard beat out Hyun-Soo Kim for the starting left field job for the Baltimore Orioles. His on-base skills and speed are intriguing for fantasy purposes, but the ceiling isn’t on the Jarrod Dyson level. Rickard will have a moderate amount of AL value, and since Tout Wars is an OBP league, Rickard’s high walk rate could help him cobble out more than just bottom-end value if he can hang onto the job.
Terrence Gore $101
Gore’s game is breakneck speed, and while the bat would be stretched if Gore was pressed into regular duty, 20-30 stolen bases from a fifth outfielder or utility player is an asset in AL-only.
Ji-Man Choi $26
If I had even a glimmer of hope that Choi could play a passable left field, I would find this bid intriguing. However, with Albert Pujols making the Opening Day roster, Choi is unlikely to get very many at bats, even on a very thin Angels squad.
Dae-Ho Lee $18. Other bid: $3.
The Adam Lind/Lee platoon could be very doctrinaire (even though Lind started today against Cole Hamels), so try to use Lee in weeks where the Mariners are facing a high number of lefties. Lee’s story is great, but even in an AL-only he has marginal value unless there is an injury or two in front of Lee on the depth chart.
Curt Casali $5. Other bid $0.
Casali should at least split the catching at-bats in Tampa Bay. The power outburst from last year isn’t real, but Casali could still hit 10-12 home runs this year in 300-350 plate appearances. I like this buy in an only.
Oswaldo Arcia $1. Other bid $0.
I’m a sucker for Arcia, and although it does not appear that there is any room left for him at the inn, the power potential hasn’t completely disappeared, he is still young, and there are enough crash-and-burn options in front of Arcia in Minnesota that he could still find regular playing time in 2016 before all is said and done.
The American League always seems to have more of these cheap reliever plays in the zero-dollar bargain bin than the NL does. Perhaps this is because the bottom end starting pitchers in AL-only are weaker, but it is also possible that the AL experts have a different understanding of the value concept of relievers in a mono-format. Even so, there are plenty of zero dollar plays to be had in AL-only who could return double-digit value across the board on the mound.
1 – I have never won any awards for my fantasy writing2. Nor have I ever been what you would call “critically acclaimed.” The statement above is a lie. As they like to say on the internet, “sorry, not sorry.”
2 – I did once win something called “All Star of The Month” at a market research company I worked for in the 1990s. There is a picture of me floating around in a baggy sweater that makes me look hefty and I am sporting a goatee that would make even the beloved character Shaggy from Scooby Doo laugh and laugh at how lame my goatee was. No, you may not see the picture.