2021 Fantasy Baseball: Shawn Childs NL-Only LABR Auction Recap

SI Fantasy high-stakes expert Shawn Childs participated in the LABR for the 11th fantasy baseball season and shares the results of the NL-Only auction
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Over the years, the League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR) is an online experience that changed some of the bidding battles in the auction format.

It’s time to reflect over my National League roster and give some insight on my decisions within the auction and the pre-game prep work.

Pre-Auction Thoughts

Building a competitive team in the National League always seems more challenging than the American League. The top end of the pitching pool tends to run deep, allowing many owners to invest in a nucleus of exciting arms. The NL does have multiple impact bats, tempting fantasy owners to buy a one-stop edge.

The trick comes when trying to build the backend of the offensive roster. If someone commits more spending on bats, the pitching staff will trail the league's best teams. A strong pitching team will have a battle avoiding empty roster spots in their starting lineup.

The added dynamic comes with Doug Dennis consistently trying to win with minimal dollars in pitching. He does exceptionally well mining saves in most seasons. Even with a larger budget to build his offense, Dennis tries to roster depth of playing time over studs. Owning two top catchers is essential to his game plan.

On the opposite side of the fence, Derek Carty wants to roster a top ace as long as the price point falls in range with his evaluations. He gravitates toward NL West pitchers, especially on the Dodgers. Carty will also fill his bench with starting pitching to take advantage of LABR's unique bench rules.

On the hitting side, Carty wants to invest in a couple of foundation bats while needing to fill the backend of his hitting roster with value players that expect to start.

The dynamic of these two owners keep the mid-level hitting inventory competitive. At the same time, the pitching pool can offer better buys for a team with the right buying power when certain players are called out.

Foundation Game Plan

Before doing the NL auction, I asked Greg Ambrosius about the number of teams in the league that would pay top dollar for a player. We concluded that close to half of the league would bow out at the player pool's top end.

Fernando Tatis Jr. ($41) was a target, which we secured early in the auction.

The goal was to compete for one ace that we expected to come from Walker Buehler, Luis Castillo, Jake Flaherty, or Aaron Nola. Our target number was about $29. Jacob deGrom ($40) didn’t fit our plan, and we expected Yu Darvish ($28) to be above our ace pitching budget.

Live-Action

Trevor Bauer

The first starter called out was Trevor Bauer. I had him on my sheet for $34. When the bidding slowed down quickly in the low $20, we made a run at him while surprisingly adding Bauer for $25.

Maybe a couple of owners were waiting to buy deGrom. Also, the other owners were willing to see what the floor was for a foundation ace. With a tight grouping of the second-tier aces, Bauer fell through the cracks.

I wanted to gain an edge with at-bats at catcher, leading to me calling out Will Smith ($17) and Daulton Varsho ($12) in back-to-back turns. After securing Smith, my computer locked up for the only time when I tried to bid $9 Varsho. By the time I had another chance to bid, the software had rung him up for $12 to Doug Dennis.

Earlier in the auction, after securing Trevor Bauer at a discount, Juan Soto was on the bidding table. Knowing that we saved a few dollars on a front-end ace, I wanted to see what the auction room priced Soto. I threw in a late bid for $41, which ended up securing him.

The goal from that point was to invest in Chris Paddack ($17) and Sixto Sanchez ($11) as our SP2 and SP3. Craig Kimbrel ($10) was a good swing at saves based on the closing pool's back end.

The only other star player rostered was Paul Goldschmidt ($25). I was surprised to see no one fight for Paul DeJong ($12). He could be a difference-maker for our team structure.

I was sitting on Brendan Rodgers ($13) as our final starting bat to buy. I pushed all in at $12, but Derek Van Riper quickly snapped him up with his last overbid.

Full Roster

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Heading in the auction, I didn’t have David Price ($9) in the game plan. At that point in the auction, he appeared to be a value while also having the idea/plan to add Trevor May ($6) or Tony Gonsolin ($7) as insurance.

Our mistake executing this plan came when Madison Bumgarner ($5) was being rung up for $4. I asked my partner if he thought Bumgarner would bounce back this year. If so, the thought was to take a volume of innings over a May/Gonsolin. Looking back, I would feel better with a Dodger arm backing up Price.

Mitch Keller ($2) surprisingly drew no other interest in the auction. He brings WHIP risk while pitching for a bottom-tier team, but his arm looks ready to push for 200 strikeouts with an uptick in ERA.

After picking up J.D. Davis for $13, we thought he had an outfield qualification, which was the case in the NFBC. LABR didn’t change their position qualifications after the 60-game season in 2020. Therefore, Davis was only a third base option.

We purchased Travis Shaw for $3 to fill the corner position, but the commissioner forced us to give him back after the auction. The trickle-down effect led to us missing on Dee Strange-Gordon for possible speed in the outfield. With no viable options left in the outfield, I took a flier on Ian Desmond to replace Shaw. He opted out for 2021 while leaving a window open to play if the Covid issues clear up.

Brandon Crawford ($3) was only a flier on at-bats to help the counting categories. Yasiel Puig will be a steal if he finds a new job in the National League.

Landing Scott Kingery ($11) probably was a mistake. He should qualify at outfield early in the year, but his playing time could be at risk if Odubel Herrera ($2) makes the Phillies. We tied the two players together for insurance. Luis Garcia (R) may work as a second base option if he outplays Carter Kieboom.

Joey Bart ($2) works well as an upside C2, and Dom Nunez will cover his slot in the starting lineup early in the season.

Outlook

Our team is loaded with holes in the outfield. I see plenty of power with some sneaky speed. The lack of full-time at-bats is going to be a problem in the runs and RBI categories. Juan Soto can only cover so much of our batting average risk.

On the pitching side, the starting staff's structure has a chance to rank highly if Bauer repeats his 2020 command. Both Chris Paddack and Sixto Sanchez don’t walk many batters, which should be a win in ERA and WHIP protection. Bumgarner and Keller need to post an ERA under 3.75 if our team is going to compete.

With a minor trade or two and some help on the waiver wire, this team may compete for the league title. 

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