There aren’t many things in life that are worth doing for 10½ hours. Any short list I might come up with certainly isn’t going to include a fantasy league draft.

Nevertheless, that’s how I spent my Wednesday. The Rotowire Staff League auction and minor-league draft, held via an online messaging service, ran from 3:30 until nearly 2 a.m. Pacific time. That might not have been such a big deal, but due to a problem at Rotowire world headquarters, I ended up as point person for the last 2½ hours of it, a role for which I’m ill-equipped by temperament. Toss in a road trip to Phoenix–that’s where this is being written–and it’s been a long 48 hours.

I might have been more sanguine about the whole thing had the draft gone well. I’m not pleased with what I felt was a directionless, practically accidental accumulation of players in support of a strong roster. Spurred by the overwhelming opinion of the readers, I passed on blowing my meager budget on Albert Pujols, and in fact, spent no more than $18 on any player. This is an approach I’ve used before, one I’m reasonably comfortable with. I just didn’t execute it well, bidding on players almost at random and ending up with an odd collection of talent.

That $18 player was Tim Hudson, the first I acquired. It was something of a “he’s not really going for this, is he?” bid, coming on the heels of a $37 Roy Halladay. Hudson is at least a three-category guy, and should also be good for at least 140 strikeouts–truth be told, I think he was a bargain–so I’m not terribly upset. It was about a quarter of my budget, though, and the pick essentially ended any hope of adding a top-tier hitter.

I ended up with my next two highest-salaried players in much the same fashion, sticking in bids on Keith Foulke ($12) and Luis Castillo ($14) that, to my surprise, held up. Foulke is one year removed from being a top-tier closer, and adds to my stable of guys who will likely spend the year two bad outings away from losing their role. Getting Castillo–not really my kind of player, even in fantasy–may have a been a reaction to reader suggestions that I grab steals. Still, when Ichiro Suzuki and Juan Pierre were priced in the $40s, it’s easy to see value here should he even crack 15 swipes.

The only other notable stories were the players I didn’t get. As mentioned, I just didn’t have the money to get in the game on the best hitters. I might have grabbed David Ortiz, who went for $42, but I couldn’t bring myself to after declining to long-term him after the ’04 season, when I had him for $1. (I did, however, trade him towards the end of last year for Brandon McCarthy, so it’s not all bad. OK, it mostly is.) I was in another window when the bidding on Mike Piazza maxed out quickly at $5; I’m convinced Piazza has a strong year, probably a few, left in his bat, especially at lower levels of playing time. Finally, with $9 and one roster spot left, I pumped the bidding on Corey Patterson from a $1 opener to $9, figuring I’d close out on one of my favorite sleepers. Unbelievably, someone went to $10, and I was shut out. I’m bitter; in a new environment, I like Patterson to have a strong season, along the lines of his 2003.

Here’s notes on everyone else I acquired, my way of throwing out some opinions on players for use in your own drafts. This is one of the top teams in the league. It had a chance to be the best with a better auction and draft, and my inability to do those well means I’ll have to trade well and catch some breaks to win this year.

  • Ryan Shealy, $3: All talent, no job. He occupies the first-base slot on my roster. Shealy might be the second-best hitter the Rockies have, behind Todd Helton, but he’ll need to adapt very quickly to an outfield corner, and beat out the incumbents, to prove it. All upside, and I can find someone to play first base if he doesn’t have a job in a month.
  • Javier Valentin, $3. Whoo-hoo, bargain! I’d thrown him back at $5. I would have preferred Piazza, but given some of the catching prices out there (Paul Lo Duca, $7), I’ll take this.
  • Chris Young, $8. PECOTA made me do it. I think Young’s broken hand held his price well down. Even if I’m not sure he’ll hit for average, the power and steals he’ll generate if he plays will make him more than worth this price in ’06, and a bargain for the next few years. Like Shealy, he may not be useful in April, but a key part of the team by August.
  • Craig Wilson, $1. Oof. I usually nominate players I don’t really want but who I expect to generate bidding. As the draft goes on, I have to be careful to toss out guys who I wouldn’t mind getting stuck with, as opposed to the early-round Jacque Jones and Juan Encarnacion nominations. Wilson’s name drew crickets, and I had one less roster spot to play with. He’s the same righty power source he’s been for a while, needing a fresh start with a team that will focus on what he does rather than what he doesn’t.
  • Rondell White, $1. Roughly the same kind of pick as Wilson, except I’m thrilled to have him at this price. He’ll either be effective or injured. The only downside is that he locks up the UT slot, and you might recall that that was my reason for not locking up Ortiz a year ago. The lesson, as always…($1, Bill Simmons).

    With Castillo and White, I’m pretty heavily invested in Terry Ryan this year.

  • Scott Olsen, $4: He comes with some caveats, including an elbow problem that cut short his ’05 and the threat of a trade to a less-friendly pitching environment. I love his command, though, and he’s more advanced than most of the competition for jobs in Florida. Of course, he could be a league-average starter and go 6-14.
  • Wilson Betemit, R: I took him in this phase last year, and I’m just as high on him this year. He has even less of chance to play this year, though, with a very set, very expensive infield in Atlanta. Come on, John, make a deal.
  • Victor Zambrano, R: He’s basically a league-average starter who usually has a decent strikeout rate. The Mets’ improved bullpen and offense should help him add a couple of wins as well. He’ll come in handy should McCarthy or Olsen not have a job a month from now.
  • Chris Snelling, R: Sure, I’ll be the latest one, why not? I’ve never had a player made of wicker before.

    (Can I tell you how annoying it is that I just know my copy of BP 2006 is sitting outside my door, 350 miles away, right now? Having to draft without it was frustrating.)

  • Jorge Piedra, R: Coors Field upside play. Is it actually possible for the Rockies to field a lineup without Shealy or Piedra? On second thought, don’t answer that.
  • Chip Ambres, R: I was managing the draft at this point, on the phone with three drafters and keeping things moving, so my last few picks may not have been optimal. Ambres has raw talent and has shown more plate discipline than most tools guys. I enjoyed the Emil Brown random season in two leagues, but Ambres is younger, better defensively and has more upside. And if any team can identify its best players, it’s the Royals.
  • Tony Armas, Jr., R: Nationals pitchers are going to be good bets thanks to RFK, and Armas showed flashes of his old form at times last year. I wanted another pitcher with a job.

    (Side note: one guy paid Brian Lawrence $4, after claiming he hadn’t bought BP for “a few years.” I’m negotiating to make that a cover quote for BP 2007.)

  • Jeff DaVanon, R: It was 2 a.m.
  • Carlos Gonzales, M: One player’s strategy was to nominate top minor leaguers for auction, a ploy that depleted the minor-league draft. (I confess that I, lacking a good idea and not wanting to risk a roster spot, followed in his footsteps and nominated Justin Upton, who went for $6. He’ll never play for his owner; our roster rules will make him too expensive before he reaches the majors.) Gonzales was the top prospect available when the draft rolled to me.
  • Dustin Nippert, M: They loved the guy in the Arizona Fall League, and he has a chance to make the D’backs’ rotation. He also keeps Ian Snell company as the only pitchers on my minor-league roster. I don’t just talk TNSTAAPP, I live it.
  • Anderson Hernandez, M: The retirement of Bret Boone removes one barrier, leaving Hernandez and Kazuo Matsui in competition for the Mets’ second-base job, with Jeff Keppinger arguably the best choice in the bunch. He’s not a high-upside guy, but he could steal bases if he played, especially for a guy like Willie Randolph.
  • Asdrubal Cabrera, M. An idiotic mistake, the one clear error I’m blaming on taking over the draft. I meant this to be Alcides Escobar, a shortstop in the Brewers organization who played a full season at 18. He’s all glove and age, but I liked the gamble. I know almost nothing about Cabrera, who’s of a similar flavor–young, all-glove shortstop–but isn’t as young or as good defensively. E-Sheehan (many).
  • Fred Lewis, M: Another speed play, this time out of the Giants organization. Someone is going to have to play once all the old guys retire and they go Marlins for a few years. I missed on Marcus Sanders

  • Tyrell Godwin, M: I wanted the Yankees’ Jose Tabata, but waited just a little too long. Godwin was probably at the front of my brain from a nice piece Peter Gammons did on him during the week. At that point in the evening, familiarity with a name was a helpful trait.

As mentioned, I’m in Phoenix, and once I post this, I’ll be heading up to Scottsdale to catch the Brewers and Giants, the first of six games I’ll see in five days. I’ll have articles up every day through Wednesday, as I see six teams and two World Baseball Classic contests before heading back to California.

I have been excited about this trip for two weeks. While it’s not just all the baseball–some good friends of ours moved here last year, and we’ll spend Saturday with them–there’s something about the start of the season, the prospect of watching all this baseball in the spring sunshine, that has had me in a good mood. Behind all of the words we use to analyze, to argue, to debate and to criticize, there’s love for this game, passion for it. I like to think that passion comes through in what I write, whether it’s a breakdown of a fantasy team, an analysis of a real one, or any of the many other topics I tackle.

Baseball Prospectus is a product of talent, of hard work, of stubborness and serendipity, but more than anything else, it’s the product of so many people’s shared love for baseball.

I get to indulge that passion over the next few days, and for that, I’m extremely grateful. More from Phoenix tomorrow.

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