This article is part of our MLB Observations series.
It was surreal doing the AL Tout Wars auction online. I was set to come to NY for the live auction as of a week ago, but being overseas, decided to cancel last Monday. Of course, two days later, the entire live event was called off, and I was back in.
A couple notes about Tout Wars. First, it's a 5 x 5 league, but there are two quirks: (1) They use on-base percentage rather than batting average; and (2) Instead of a fifth outfielder, they have a swingman spot (SW) that can be any hitter or any pitcher. Most people use the extra hitter, but it's helpful if you have injuries (especially in an AL-only league) to throw an extra reliever in there at times.
My usual strategy for auctions is to buy a few high-priced players early, spend about two-thirds of my money, then wait patiently for everyone's else's budgets to fall into line (or below) mine and participate in end-game bargain hunting.
I also like to bid on the first few players who get brought up because they tend to be underpriced for two reasons: (1) Because everyone has their choice of that entire pool at that point, few people feel they need to roster this particular player, i.e., it's not like he's the last good starting pitcher, or last starting shortstop; and (2) People largely identify value in an auction relative to the cost of other players, i.e., if my fourth ranked shortstop goes for $30, I can feel good about paying $30 for my third-ranked one. But the first few players thrown out have no relative comps. They could turn out to be huge bargains or huge overpays relative to similar players bought later. So some owners prefer to see what the going rate is first before jumping in with both feet. As such, there are often fewer serious buyers for the first guys thrown out, and they often go cheaply.
That's exactly what happened in this case -- at least in my opinion -- and so I wound up buying the first three players thrown out, even though I was in no way targeting them and had absolutely no idea I'd own them when the auction started. I was simply price enforcing -- bidding up too cheap players, and my bids stuck.
So I found myself the owner of Gerrit Cole ($37), Justin Verlander ($28) and Luis Robert ($22). I don't even like Cole this year, but he's a top-five pick in the NFBC, easily the No. 1 AL pitcher, and I figured he'd fetch $40. Verlander would also have fetched $35-plus were he healthy, and the delay to the start of the season makes it likely he will be. Robert is going early-ish in the NFBC in part because steals are at a premium, but his contract virtually guarantees playing time, and he was cheaper than many other players who typically go several rounds behind him.
In any event, it wasn't the team I had envisioned, but I was happy with the values, and I enjoyed drafting it. Here's my full roster:
And here are the rosters for the entire league:
With Dollar Values:
And the reserves:
I have too much starting pitching, and I'm light on saves and steals, but unlike the NFBC with its overall component, there's no need to come out with balance -- I can tank a category and still win, or I can trade for it later. Regardless, it was a welcome distraction, and I'm glad we still held the auction even though the actual games might be two months (or more) away.