Imagine you're out to dinner with 11 of your closest friends. You're at a nice restaurant, so you made sure to bring plenty of money. After having a great meal with lots of laughs, the waiter offers you dessert menus. You know that you have enough cash in your pocket for whatever dessert you might want. There's just one catch: the restaurant has been incredibly busy on this night, and there are exactly 12 individual desserts left with no duplicates. If you want cheesecake and another friend wants cheesecake, someone is out of luck.
In the interest of fairness, the group picks names out of a hat to determine the order in which you all will pick your dessert, and guess what? You got the last pick. You offer to pay more for that piece of cheesecake than your friend will, but it doesn't matter. He gets to pick before you. He gets the cheesecake, and there's nothing you can do about it. That's pretty lame, right?
This hypothetical situation proves why fantasy auctions are superior to drafts. If you have the 12th pick in your upcoming draft, you're not getting anywhere near Mike Trout. If you're in an auction though, Trout can be yours if you want him. You could get him and Miguel Cabrera if you really wanted to. Auctions leave you options, while drafts force you into a box. Auctions are chess, but drafts are Candyland. Seasoned fantasy players who loves the strategy of the game often greatly prefer the auction.
It's not just the capitalist nature of auctions that makes them the far better way to fill your fantasy rosters. Auctions reward the most prepared owners because it is far easier to build a realistic, ideal roster before the auction, and then carry that plan through to fruition, than it is in a draft. And it's all thanks to one simple tool: a budget.
By crafting a budget before your auction, you can zero in on a group of players at every position that you would be happy to add to your team. Can you say that you will for sure get Adrian Beltre? Of course not. But if you place an importance on third base and budget yourself $27 for the position, you can feel good about getting Beltre, David Wright, Edwin Encarnacion or Evan Longoria. If you assign a value to every position, within the constraints of your purse, you can start putting the pieces of the puzzle together long before you sit down at the auction table.
I'll use my own auction budget as an example and the standard $260 overall allotment. I'm also assuming a roster of 23 players, with the normal starting positions you'd see on an actual baseball field for the offense, plus a utility, two starting pitchers, two relievers, three generic pitchers, and a seven-man bench. I should issue a disclaimer that this is specific to a league with these settings. However, the exercise should illustrate how you can do the exact same thing, no matter your league parameters.
As I've discussed multiple times this winter, I believe getting one of the top-seven first basemen is key this season, because the gulf from No. 7 Freddie Freeman to No. 8 Eric Hosmer is enormous. According to the consensus values on FantasyPros, those seven players average value is a touch more than $31. To be safe, I'll give myself $35 for the position. I probably won't get Cabrera, but everyone else is an option, and I could save a ton of money from that projection by going with Joey Votto or Prince Fielder. I also know that I want one of the top-five third basemen. There I'll grant myself $30, making Beltre, Encarnacion, Longoria and Wright all possibilities.
On the flip side, I'm not going to spend much at second base or catcher, unless an extreme value presents itself. I'm confident saying I'll find a $15 second baseman and a $7 catcher. Thus far, I've doled out $87 of my $260.
There are a ton of stars in the outfield, and while the position is deep, I want to make sure it is anchored with at least one, and preferably two, of the top-20 guys. Even if I go cheap for my third guy, I'm going to spend an absolute minimum of $60 in the outfield. Realistically, I'm going to bump it to $70 to give myself some leeway. Similarly, the flexibility of the utility position incentivizes me to spend freely there. For now, I'm going to budget myself $20 there. I'm up to $177.
Shortstop is an interesting position. If I can get Troy Tulowitzki at $25, or either Ian Desmond or Jose Reyes at $20, I'm on board. If I can't I'd rather target someone like Starlin Castro or J.J. Hardy for $10. That's one I'm going to let the market dictate. In advance of the auction, I'm going to split the difference and say $15, bringing me to $192.
Now we move to the other side of the coin. As we discussed in the second installment of last week's Draft Strategies series, there is enough depth at the starting pitcher position to build a strong staff on the cheap. I still need to fill 12 positions, at least seven of those need to be pitchers, including two relievers, and I have $68 to accomplish the task. Assuming a head-to-head league, I likely won't have more than one bench hitter, for whom I will budget $1. I'll also want three closers of any stripes to ensure that I am competitive in saves. That means I have about $66 to spend on 11 pitchers. Again, relying on FantasyPros' consensus values, allow me to present you with a staff I can assemble with $67.
• James Shields - $14
• Shelby Miller - $13
• Danny Salazar - $8
• Andrew Cashner - $7
• A.J. Burnett - $6
• Zack Wheeler - $4
• Marco Estrada - $4
• Tyson Ross - $2
• Jim Henderson - $4
• Nate Jones - $3
• Jose Veras - $2
There you have it. There may not seem to be a lot of star power in that rotation, but it's one that should be plenty competitive, especially given what should be a dominant offense.
And yet, I still have not touched on the best thing about a budget. If you know you've given yourself $35 to spend on a first baseman, as I have here, but you only spend $29, that's $6 you know you can spend elsewhere. If I end up getting Fielder for his average price of $29 and Wright for his $26 average, that's $10 I've saved while still getting two players I like at the two positions I deem most important this year. I can redeploy those to my staff, use them to chase a top-tier shortstop, or secure two top-10 outfielders as opposed to two in the top 20. Everyone likes a discount.
If you're in an auction league, now is the time to start assembling your puzzle, budgeted piece by budgeted piece. If you stick to it, you will be quite happy with the overall picture once it is complete.
Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy Series: