Commit or Pivot: Handling Auctions that Don’t Go to Plan

The last two weeks, I had two auctions with the same problem – a player (or players) I wanted going for way more than I anticipated – but ended with very different results. In both cases, how I prepped for the auction played a big role in how I reacted to the market, adjusted, and eventually built teams I think are ready for the season.

Pivoting to an Alternative

Ottoneu League 649 is a highly competitive season-long FanGraphs Points league full of experienced Ottoneu owners. In terms of seasons playing Ottoneu, it has to be one of the most experienced leagues. I took over a team a couple of years ago and, shortly after this year’s draft, turned that team back over to its previous manager.

I entered the auction on March 14 with a roster I liked, but with a big hole in the OF. Pre-auction, my infield included Matt Olson, Brandon Lowe, Bo Bichette, Willy Adames, Jose Ramirez, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Yasmani Grandal. My rotation was Justin Verlander, Charlie Morton, Shane McClanahan, Shane Baz, Zac Gallen, Ian Anderson, Alex Cobb, Triston McKenzie, and Edward Cabrera.

My challenges were a good-but-thin OF (Josh Bell, Jared Walsh, Jorge Soler, and nothing else) and a weak bullpen (Ken Giles, Kirby Yates).

With that roster in place, my goal at auction was to buy a stud OF and then focus on depth, particularly in the OF.

But I failed to get that stud OF. Here is a full list of the OF who went for $35+ at auction:

Every single one of those players went for at least $10 more than I thought they were worth. I had even budgeted $70 for Harper, but couldn’t get myself to go to $76. In retrospect, pushing Harper or Stanton a bit higher might have been the right call. Regardless, I struck out on my plan.

I mentioned in my auction prep article that I have multiple budgets pre-auction. In this case, I had a “what if I get no elite OF” plan, so I pivoted to that. It included four things: first, I increased my spend on relievers. I rarely go over $3-$4 for RP, but I paid up $6 each for Art Warren, Chad Green, and Jonathan Loáisiga.

Second, I found depth that will allow me to make trades. $32 Luis Castillo was a bargain given other prices that night and now I can trade him, Morton, or another SP to get an OF bat. $5 for Dustin May, who won’t even take up a roster spot. $1 for Daniel Espino, who I suspect will increase in value.

Third, I juiced my budget for OF depth, paying high prices to get Andrew Vaughn ($18) and Charlie Blackmon ($13), both of whom I can help, even if they have no keeper value.

Lastly, I left two open roster spots (now four, with May and Yates on the 60-day) and $22 to pick up spring training or early season breakouts.

The result is a strong but incomplete roster. The offense and pitching should both be good enough to compete, especially with some additions/upgrades to the relief corps. And there is a clear opportunity to boost the offense by moving pitching or prospects for a OF upgrade.

Commiting to Targets

A week later, I entered the FanGraphs Staff League auction in a very different spot. I am co-managng this team with Ottoneu owner Niv Shah, and we entered this team into the Ottoneu Prestige League, requiring a different mindset for team-building. We needed a MI almost from scratch and were looking for a big bat to round out our offense. For OPL, we needed to find players with mutli-position eligibility.

The challenge was, there were three players we really wanted to target: Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and Bryant. We had Ketel Marte for 2B, but no SS or MI and the options at MI were slim – other than those two, here is a list of MI who went for $15+ at auction:

And it is not like MI were cheap – Josh Rojas was $13; Nick Senzel was $12; Ha-Seong Kim was $10.

While there were alternatives to Bryant – Stanton, Yelich, Manny Machado – Bryant was uniquely positioned for OPL thanks to his 1B/3B/OF eligibility. We planned to avoid 1B-only bats in favor of a string of 1B/OF bats, so Bryant was an ideal fit.

According the Surplus Calculator, those three players are worth a combined $70. Assuming 30% inflation, that is $91. Understanding that the limited market at MI plus Bryant signing in Colorado will cause higher-than-normal inflation on those three, we started budgeting $100 for the trio.

Then we looked at alternative plans and the alternatives were all bad. Could we go cheaper at MI or get Stanton instead of Bryant? Sure, but we didn’t like where that left us. So we decided to commit to those three, and increased our budget to $120. Basically, we decided we wouldn’t take no for an answer.

We ended up paying $44 for Bogaerts, $42 for Bryant, and $32 for Lindor; $118 total. That might be too much, but we knew how risky our plan would be without them and prepared to break the budget.

The result was that we couldn’t get some of the cheaper players we wanted. Rojas was in our plans, but $13 didn’t work after our splurge, so we paid $1 for Josh Harrison (who I mentioned last week looked very similar to Rojas last year). Instead of $11 Jeff McNeil, we got 2B/OF (and bonus 1B eligibility) from $4 Brad Miller. We went hard after $10 Ha-Seong Kim. We went cheap in the bullpen and settled for boring but reliable SP.

What Should You Do?

Two drafts, same problem (prices that are too high), different approach. Which is better? I think that depends. In general, I prefer the first option. In almost every auction, someone I planned to target gets too expensive and I just bail on them and move to my second choice, even if that means shuffling other plans. But there are cases where a single player is really hard to replace, and in those cases, there is nothing wrong with just doing what it takes to get that player. It’s possible that in that first auction, I should have just pushed Harper to $80 – an elite OF was so obviously a need for that roster – but I wasn’t prepared for that.

The key is to be realistic about what your team looks like and what the auction offers. If you can’t find a plan that works without a specific player (or set of players), just over-budget, prepare to be unhappy with prices, and get your guy. If you can find an alternative, be prepared to pivot when the time comes.

A long-time fantasy baseball veteran and one of the creators of ottoneu, Chad Young's writes for RotoGraphs and PitcherList, and can be heard on the ottobot podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.

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Mays Copeland
10 months ago

I think this is a really useful way to describe it.

My tendency is to pivot in auctions generally, but I am more likely to commit as the player pool dwindles (which I think is in line with your conclusion).

In one of my leagues (non-Ottoneu), 2/3 of players are kept. There are usually several spots where there is no good Plan B, and I know that I just need to get my target or I won’t be able to spend my money. That’s the kind of league where committing is the right call.