After two straight first place finishes, I landed in second in the FanGraphs Staff League last year, and went into the off-season dead-set on regaining my crown.
I made a few trades, made my cuts and sat down to look at the available free agents…and was stopped in my tracks. I really had no good options.
I went into the auction with the following lineup:
- C – Devin Mesoraco, Yan Gomes
- 1B – Anthony Rizzo
- 2B – Jedd Gyorko
- SS – Ian Desmond
- MI – Scooter Gennett
- 3B – Ryan Zimmerman
- OF – Giancarlo Stanton, Starling Marte, J.D. Martinez, Corey Dickerson, Marcell Ozuna
- Util – Brandon Belt
- SP – Felix Hernandez, Jordan Zimmerman, Carlos Carrasco, Lance Lynn, James Paxton, Chris Archer
- RP – Mark Melancon, Joaquin Benoit, Trevor Rosenthal
- Minors – Jon Singleton, Kyle Schwarber, David Dahl, Hunter Dozier, Tim Anderson
That left me with 13 spots and $62 to spend. I wanted to add some OF depth (a backup or two, particularly since Dickerson may end up sitting more than I’d like), another solid (Zimmermann-like) SP, a third string C with upside, and an improvement at MI who could also backup SS (since I had two 2B already).
Then I went to the draft board. I figured I’d spend about $25 on a single SP, but the options were limited. Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels were out there, followed by Adam Wainwright, but then you got into the John Lackey, Cliff Lee, Homer Bailey, Ian Kennedy zone. Interesting players, but not worth $25. I figured the top two would pass the $25 I budgeted and Wainwright would go above the $20 I was willing to spend on him.
So I resigned myself to spending on cheaper SP and shifted my attention to my next biggest need, a SS to play (or at least split time) at MI with Gennett. But the best MI options there were Neil Walker, Ben Zobrist, Dustin Pedroia, Brett Lawrie and Jason Kipnis. Only Zobrist is SS-eligible, and I really needed a SS. Zobrist, though, always gets bid up in my leagues and I felt pretty sure he would go above my price-point.
So I turned to my next biggest needs – RP and backup OF. There were some decent OF out there (Carlos Gonzalez, Ryan Braun, Matt Holliday, Jayson Werth, Jason Heyward, Yoenis Cespedes), but what is the point of focusing auction dollars on those guys just to move Belt or Ozuna to the bench?
RP were available, and I actually did budget $12 to add three or four RP, but everything else was not working out.
The result? I re-wrote my entire strategy based on what was available. Instead of targeting a $25 pitcher, I put $4 each towards adding three SP with some upside. Instead of $25 towards a starting-caliber SS, I decided to split that between a solid reserve SS and Brett Lawrie.
Why Lawrie? His 2B/3B eligibility plus Zimmerman’s 3B/OF allows me to have a bench of basically only a backup SS, and still maneuver guys around to cover all needs.
I kept my RP budget and set aside $10 to get two cheap OF I liked.
That gave me $12 for SP, $12 for RP, $10 for OF, $25 for MI – a total of $59 for 10 of my 13 spots and leaving me $1 each for the last three spots – ideally a backup C, a prospect, and either an extra RP, a backup 3B, or another prospect.
Lowrie ended up the third nomination and I grabbed him for $8. Within the first 18 picks, all three of the SP I decided would be too expensive for me went, and all for more than I wanted to spend – Darvish at $36, Hamels at $27, and Wainwright at $21.
A few picks later, another SP I like came up – and I grabbed a $5 John Lackey as an option for my #5 starter spot. Usually I am extremely patient early in auctions, but I didn’t hesitate to get the guys I wanted this year. Lawrie came up in the first 50 picks, as well, and I was able to get him for $12, netting me a $5 savings on my MI plan (and getting my top two targets). Zorist went earlier for $26 – glad I didn’t count on him.
In the end, my biggest “bad win” was an $8 Reddick as OF #6, but after adding $1 Travis Snider immediately following, I felt better. Under my $10 OF budget and two of my top targets (Michael Saunders went for $7 – had I known Reddick would have cost $8, I would have preferred Saunders).
I did get three RP (Capps, Fields and Aaron Barrett) for $6 and three SP (Lackey, Drew Pomeranz, and Trevor Cahill) for $9 total. I even nabbed my backup 3B (Nick Castellanos who I think will be a steal at $4) and a prospect I love (Jorge Alfaro) for a dollar.
I may have made a mistake taking Michael McKenry for $1, but if he ends up playing significantly, he could be a steal. And if not, I don’t NEED a third catcher and he can easily be cut loose.
In the end, my team has $12 left to play with as the Cuban players sign contracts, or to bid in other in-season auctions (four have already been started).
It’s a rather odd experience – I felt like I couldn’t strategize for this auction at all because the players I wanted did not exist, but then I executed the strategy I got stuck with to perfection. Guess we’ll have to see what that is worth.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.