This article is part of our Rounding Third series.
The Silent Auction
Through shrewd drafting, clever planning and superb trading, you won your keeper league last year. Congrats! Hopefully you enjoyed the spoils, cash money and adulation of your peers. But now that your keeper deadline is approaching, there may be one other residual from your victory. In many leagues, especially keeper leagues, draft picks are tradable. In fact, chances are you may have parted with some picks last season to ascend that peak. But now you have a surplus of players to keep, and it's incumbent on you to maximize your value in trading them off. But it's easier said than done - the rest of the league knows that you have a surplus, and naturally value their picks, especially if they traded off some of their talent last season to better compete in the future. One method that worked well for me this year is the Silent Auction.
I've really embraced Scoresheet Fantasy Baseball, a great fantasy baseball simulation game that uses contemporaneous stats, rather than looking back like Strat-o-Matic. One of my leagues is BL_DwMurphy, or "Murphy" as I'll refer to it for the rest of this article. Murphy is a 24-team mixed league that allows for only eight protection slots (and you can keep fewer than eight and draft in the rounds you vacated a keeper), and prior to the 2013 draft, no special dispensation for protecting prospects. Starting in 2013, each team can protect one of their own prospects with a 19th round pick, and can trade for two others, in a 35-round draft. This rule change will come up as a factor later in the article. Over the course of the season we can add 10 players through supplemental drafts. My co-owner, Josh Paley from BaseballHQ.com, and I didn't win Murphy last season, but we did win a playoff series and had traded a few picks to further our playoff run. We also had a few extra players in advance of Saturday's keeper deadline, so we sent out the following e-mail to the league, trying to gain a pick or two:
Help Josh and I narrow down our protects, please. We're looking for picks for any of the following:
SP: Felipe Paulino
Prospect Pitchers: Carlos Martinez, Trevor Bauer
1B: Mitch Moreland, Adam Dunn, Jesus Guzman
2B: Aaron Hill
SS: Alcides Escobar
OF: Alex Rios, Jason Kubel, Will Venable, Travis Snider
There's obviously a few "Last Year's Bums" in there - last season we kept Dunn, Hill, Rios and Snider. Yes, we had trouble scoring runs. We sent this out late night - say, 11:00 pm PT on a weeknight. Within 15 minutes, we had three responses, all asking about Trevor Bauer. Typically prospects don't have a ton of currency in this league, because of the short protection lists. But this quick response opened our eyes - clearly, we had a hot commodity on our hands in Bauer. I think this is in part due to the addition of a couple new owners in the league that like to build up with prospects, and because of the new rule that will kick in next year. There are two ways that protecting Bauer this year could pay off - either he gets the call this year and does very well, or he gets called up late and is protectable in the 19th round as a prospect.
Given this immediate response, I decided to hold a Silent Auction for Bauer. I sent one more e-mail to the league:
Sorry for a second e-mail, but I just wanted to let everyone in on the Trevor Bauer action if you're interested - we received three quick responses from the late night crew. Josh and I will hold a silent auction for him - best pick offered by 10:00 pm PT Thursday night gets him.
In response to the initial inquiries, I told Bauer's suitors that I hoped to get at least a 20th round pick from him, but we'd take the best offer. Well, we got that offer before going to bed that night. Clearly we underestimated Bauer's value.
The Silent Auction, at least applied here, is more like a fundraiser for a school or church and less like the posting process for players coming over from Japan. We wanted it to be transparent - those that were involved in the bidding knew when they had the high bid and who's bid that they just topped. If they didn't have the high bid, I let them know and told them who topped them and at what price. I was willing to forward the e-mail offer as proof if anyone needed it, lest anyone think I was attempting a Scott Boras-like "mystery team" tactic (A-Rod contract era, not the current era when the mystery team was actually real). When it got down to the last 15 minutes, it was down to two teams, and I let the previously high team know that they had topping rights, after the topping team ascertained it was their final offer.
The importance here is that you have a defined set of rules from your auction and don't vary from those rules once you set them. Transparency is generally the key if you want to be viewed as an ethical trader, but if I can imagine others don't want their competitors to know their bids. If you choose to do the posting process method, that's fine too, so long as you don't stray from that method in order to favor one competitor over another.
The end result for us was fantastic. We had three strong offers involving a 12th round pick or better, and ended up with a package that netted us 12th and 20th round picks in exchange for Bauer and our 34th and 35th round picks. This won't happen with every player you put up - in many ways, Bauer was the perfect storm. He was the third overall pick last summer in an extremely strong draft class and signed early last summer, and then dominated once he signed. Many believe that he could end up being the best pitcher from this draft class, and he fit this league perfectly because of the rule change. But there is some portability to other leagues and other formats - in order to trade away surplus, it's not just a matter of trading away an excess, but you have to give up real value. You might end up keeping one player that's of lesser value, but the value of that lesser player, *plus* the value of the picks acquired exceeds that of the player you just traded.
At least, that's what we hope. There's a chance that Bauer could be really special, in a shorter period of time than people expect, which would make him one of those cornerstones to build around right now. One of my competitors in my three other Scoresheet leagues but not Murphy is Nate Stephens, and he is a very skilled player. He shared this list of top strikeout rate starters in Division I college ball in the last 10 years (minimum 100 IP):
1. Stephen Strasburg, 49% (2009)
2. Jered Weaver, 40% (2004)
3. Trevor Bauer, 39% (2011)
4. Tim Lincecum, 39% (2006)
5. David Price, 37% (2007)
6. Danny Hultzen, 37% (2011)
7. Chris Sale, 36% (2010)
8. Wade Townsend, 35% (2003)
9. Ian Kennedy, 34% (2005)
10. Tim Stauffer, 33% (2003)
That's some pretty head company. Who wouldn't want to get in on the ground floor with those guys?
Even still, that's a player evaluation issue. Once we made the decision to trade Bauer, the Silent Auction netted us a package that far exceeded our original expectations. Give it a whirl the next time you are looking to trade a similarly valued asset - you might end up being pleased with the results.