A live auction is the pinnacle of fantasy baseball. Online drafts are the equivalent of fantasy fast food, built for football leagues. A live fantasy baseball auction is like dining at Sonoma's French Laundry while sipping top-shelf wine. As Ferris Bueller would say, "It's so choice."
On March 23, I got to dine at Sonoma's by participating in Tout Wars, which brings together fantasy experts from across the nation. Before we review my Tout Wars team, though, let's examine the five key baseball auction strategies. These are essential tips for anyone set to participate in a live auction, which is ostensibly a fantasy IQ test.
Fantasy baseball auction strategies
In drafts, an owner has to wait his turn to make his pick; in live auctions, each member of the league takes turns nominating a player at a certain price, and all the members of the league can bid on that player. This means an owner can have any player he wants at any time, if he's willing to pay the cost. The playing field is entirely level with $260 dollars to spend on the 23 roster spots (2 C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, DH, 5 OF and 9 P), making a live auction a great way to stock your league.
In the first few rounds of the auction, I always nominate players I don't want at $1, just in case the 11 other members of the league don't have their heads buried in their laptops or are thinking about needing to use the restroom. This will get your opponents to burn their limited resources on players you have no intention of rostering. After all, you can't have everyone, and you don't want to get stuck with dead weight like Alex Rodriguez.
Here are the first 10 players I nominated for $1 -- before I resumed cracking jokes and ripping on everyone else -- when it was my turn in the mixed Tout Wars auction. Why? Many of them lead my busts in the AL and NL:
1. SP R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays: A one-year wonder, he just cannot duplicate last year's incredible Cy Young run. He went to Scott Swanay of the Fantasy Baseball Sherpa -- $18.
2. SP Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves: A terrible spring is a bad omen coming off last year's surprising stretch run in the Braves' rotation. Seth Trachtman of WedgeBuster.com -- $15
3. C Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: He's a solid backstop, but the top catchers always go for too much. I fully anticipated punting the catcher position. Fred Zinkie of MLB.com -- $17
4. C Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies: He's starting the season on an Amphetamines ban, so he's early dead weight and it's unlikely he hits better than .300 again. Tim Heaney of KFFL.com -- $5
5. 1B Allen Craig, St. Louis Cardinals: Not a one-year wonder, but not quite a proven commodity at the deepest position in fantasy, either. I was sure this would generate a bidding war. Swanay -- $21
6. SP Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals: Few pitchers have career years back to back, and pitching is notoriously risky. He's a nice arm, but certain to burn a hole in someone's budget. Trachtman -- $18
7. SP Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Free-agent signees tend to be disappointments in the first year, and when there's smoke (a sore elbow), there tends to be fire. Ray Flowers of BaseballGuys.com -- $14
8. SS Jimmy Rollins, Philadelphia Phillies: I had two middle infielders and a future 2B-eligible Jedd Gyorko, so I needed others to start burning money on those positions. A mid-30s middle infielder? No thanks. Zach Steinhorn of Mastersball.com -- $15
9. 1B Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees: A past-his-prime slugger with the wrist issue -- one that still might require season-ending surgery? Next. Heaney -- $5
10. OF Yoenis Cespedes, Oakland Athletics: He's a very good player entering his prime and capable of huge numbers, but the bidding was likely to be too pricy for my liking. I was wrong here, actually. He went for a modest price to Nando Di Fino of CBSSports.com -- $24
You will notice three repeat offenders above. Each finished in the bottom three of the 15-team league last season, and two of them were the bottom two. Apparently, your trusty SI.com fantasy baseball analyst disagrees with the right Touts.
One of the most critical rules for an auction is to not fall in love: An owner has to release personal bias and be prepared to let go of the objects of affection if the bidding goes too high.
This rule helped CBSSports.com's Di Fino score a team that was an immediate favorite post-draft. He didn't spend any money early, and then dominated the middle of the auction because he had the biggest remaining budget, allowing him to enter the bidding on all the players who were going under value. At that point position availability and resources were drying up on others' teams.
Here are five players I wish I had stayed in on longer, letting my man crushes go:
1. OF Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: I was the last one in the bidding before he went for $43 to Swanay. In hindsight, bailing when I did allowed me to score a monstrous infield, but SI.com's Top 300 has Trout as the No. 1 player for $46 (in a 12-team league). I should have spent the few extra bucks for the five-category gem.
2. RP Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves: My 2012 team would have won the league if I stayed in on Kimbrel past $19 a year ago. Instead, I settled on middle-tier closers Brian Wilson, Heath Bell and Andrew Bailey. They all went bust, and by midseason I had to dissect a team that was in first place to try to stay competitive in the save category. It led me to trading Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper in a package that included Aroldis Chapman in August, but it was too little too late and I finished in sixth for the second consecutive year. I promised to be aggressive on Kimbrel, but I had already spent big on an ace and my middle infield (see below). Kimbrel went for $22 to my friend David Gonos of 101fantasytips.com.
3. RP Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds: The newly appointed Reds closer, the one-up to Kimbrel, is another player I shouldn't have stopped bidding for. Kimbrel and Chapman are the lone certainties at fantasy's most uncertain position. Defending champion Cory Schwartz of MLB.com won Chapman for $21. There is no reason Chapman should have gone for less than Jonathan Papelbon (Heaney $22) and Yu Darvish (Swanay $24). I had just come off a hot run of buys and couldn't even participate in the Chapman bidding war. Curses!
4. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Boston Red Sox: The 27-year-old entering a contract year was on the board late and I had yet to fill either of my two catcher spots. My resources weren't dried up yet, but I needed to save some money for pitchers and outfielders, too. I panicked and left the bidding at $5 to Nicholas Minnix of KFFL. I should have stayed in at least a few more dollars.
5. SP Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers: I was still short on starting pitchers, needing wins, but my max bid was $8 with six roster spots left to fill. I dreaded having a mere $1 bid to fill out my roster, so I had to back out on Harrison before he went for $7 to Zinkie of MLB.com. It was a regret because Harrison was the No. 1 player on the board in Average Draft Position, and at a position of need. If I had more roster spots filled out, my bidding would have been far more aggressive.
It's far too easy to pigeon-hole yourself during an auction. If an owner seriously spends on one category (in my case, power) or one position (infielders), an owner can lose sight of the big picture and let value fall to someone else.
In order to combat that, don't tie yourself up with a lot to do during an auction. The Tout Wars auction, in particular, can go at a frantic pace for some who are not able to think quickly.
Have one cheat sheet to work with and make sure it is deep enough to leave ample players to choose from at each position late in the auction. While this writer's knowledge is fairly far-reaching in the depths of fantasy baseball players, he uses just one list to check names off: The ADPs.
The benefit of that list is that it gives a comparison of different viewpoints from users on three different websites. Holistic. Also, not having to search for players by position, in separate magazines or different cheat sheets, allows you time and mental space to be aware of the current player being bid on and what future player will want to bid on.
A website says Justin Verlander is a $35 player, so I should bid that player up to close to that price. After all, you don't want someone else to wind up with a bargain, right?
Everyone tends to follow too closely to dollar values, so if you don't want the player, don't bid. It's that simple. Otherwise, you are going to get caught trying to price enforce and wind up with a team of players you don't truly like. Let your league determine each player's value, not some website's dollar values.
Policing prices will lead to you burning through resources quickly. There are always dozens of bargains who go in auctions. You will be spending countless dollars throughout the draft and missing out on the players you truly like later.
When you price enforce and wind up with all the players no one wants that much, it will also make it tough to trade them when you decide you don't like them enough during the season. When I don't want to bid, I use that time to rip on opposing owners and crack jokes to distract everyone from thinking about their own strategies going forward.
There are several ways to do this.
? Know the players you like (not love). If you're not going to bid on players you don't want, you have to first know the players you do want. Highlight them periodically through the draft. When they come up, be aggressive and lead the charge.
? Know your stopping point. If you are bidding on a player and don't know where you're going to stop before you start, you will make a mistake you regret. It's akin to getting in your car when you're hungry without a certain destination. You wind up eating some nasty fast food and having intestinal issues for hours.
? Be sharp. I always like to be the first to jump in with the second bid split seconds after a player is nominated. The auctioneer will hate you, but you're not here to make friends. Getting that second bid in quickly announces your authority in the bidding and then allows you to set the pace.
? Vary your bidding pace. Bid quickly at times, yet slowly at others. Sometimes I don't allow the auctioneer to even acknowledge someone's bid. Other times I wait for the "going once, going twiceee..." before announcing my price. Doing this can help scare people out of bidding against you and it can also help hide your true intentions of where you're going to stop. No, I wasn't a bully in high school, but I am trying to make up for it now.
Team Emack SI.com
You will notice I put my Tout Wars money where my SI.com mouth is. I've touted many of the guys I landed all spring. Here is my roster and my reasoning:
"I thought that Pujols was a great price -- much cheaper than [Joey] Votto [$40] and [Prince] Fielder [$38] -- and he should be just as good as both of them," said MLB.com's Zinkie, who is the 2011 champion and finished ahead of me in fourth last year. "I thought he was one of the best deals of the auction."
"Are you fine with paying as much for Strasburg as others paid for [Clayton] Kershaw [$28] and [Justin] Verlander [$28], while knowing that Strasburg will likely throw 25 fewer innings?" Zinkie asked.
My response: "Shut up, I hate you."
There is no guarantee Kershaw and Verlander finish with that many more innings than Strasburg, particularly with the loads on their arms in past years. Strasburg is a bull who is fresh and ready to be released.
"Carlos Gomez [$10] at just $2 below Carl Crawford [$12] says a lot," David Gonos from 101fantasytips.com said. "I'm not sure if it's the fact that Crawford's free fall from greatness continues or that Gomez can register a 20-35 season.
"I'm also suspicious that Gomez could be the first player in MLB history to have a higher batting average than on-base percentage."
"I didn't get the $10 on Lincecum at all," MLB.com's Zinkie said. "He was bad for most of 2012 and hasn't looked any better in Spring Training. I thought he would go for much less than that, but someone else thought he was worth $9, so maybe I'm missing something! I'll be interested to see your comments on that pick in your article."
We'll talk in October.
"The two guys you got that I really regret not pressing you further for: Jeremy Hellickson [$6] and Kyuji Fujikawa [$6]" Gonos said. "I should have jangled some keys to distract you during those bids. Love Hellickson in his third full year as a starter and Fujikawa will be earning saves by mid-May."
My reserve draft picks:
A number of websites and Touts will review this mixed-league auction at ToutWars.com. The first standings prediction comes from the defending champion Schwartz from MLB.com:
It's no coincidence the projected standings from MLB.com have their two entrants 1-2. My team is a lot better than this projection indicates. My team was also disparaged last year, but it was in first place in midsummer before swooning amid the closer busts.
Wink. Wink. Worst of luck to everyone not named Emack. I hope all of your players wind up suspended for performance-enhancing drugs.