This article is part of our The Wheelhouse series.
When a strategy works, it's much more likely to be repeated the following year.
Although I have often been questioned by my wife for subtle repetitions in my pre-game attire and preparation as a soccer coach, I am adamant that I am not superstitious. Just as a hitter has a repeatable sequence of behaviors before stepping into the batter's box, I try to repeat a routine before every draft or auction.
1. Sleep well the night before.
2. Exercise the day of.
3. Carb up in the meals leading up to the draft.
4. Bring preferred caffeinated beverage to the draft.
Creature of habit? Absolutely.
I don't require the same hotel bed, sleeping position, identical treadmill, same meals as previous years, or iced chai latte from the same coffee shop, but I want to ensure that I am physically and mentally in a good place for the duration of a four-plus hour draft.
The Eno Sarris spring beer tour made a stop in Phoenix on Saturday night. After imbibing in several fantastic high-end brews, I looked at my phone and was surprised to see that it was 5 am. Deschutes' Black Butte XXVII variant is a must try, by the way, if you can find a bottle.
12 hours before auction time? No problem. Or so I thought. I don't know much about sleep, but I now know I am the type of person who will not sleep the usual seven hours I need if I stay up five or six hours later than usual.
Fortunately, Step 2 bailed me out on the failure that was Step 1 of my routine. I slogged through a 5K while staring out into the distance of Arizona State's downtown campus, wondering if Martin Van Buren's presidency left us anything more than a Seinfeld joke 150 years after his term ended.
Auction strategies should always be flexible, but there is nothing wrong with having a plan. My initial goal was to go after Giancarlo Stanton and Andrew McCutchen, with the hope that both players may be available for $3-5 less than their previous costs, when only health has caused them to drop in value compared to this time last year.
The more broad strategy was to avoid getting drawn into having several $15-20 outfielders, given the weakness of those players in the NL pool. After seeing the inflated price of catchers in the AL auction on Saturday night, I wondered if punting the position may be necessary, but with the bulk of the quality hitters behind the plate residing in the National League this season, that wasn't necessary.
In some auctions I've been in, the first few players off the board will go for a few dollars less than their projected cost, as owners are just settling in and some are trying to establish the high-end prices of the market. Not surprisingly, with the experience level of the players in the room, there was no such early break on top-tier talent.
With the opportunity to nominate the first player, I opted to push Giancarlo Stanton to the block right away, but he eventually landed on the roster of Brian Walton of Mastersball for $37. Madison Bumgarner ($29), Clayton Kershaw ($38), Stephen Strasburg ($27), and Jonathan Papelbon ($14) followed, and I fell short on all five of them. Trying to get a foundation started early, I was outbid on seven more players before I hit on the top bid of $40 for Bryce Harper.
Aces continued to fly off the board, as Matt Harvey, Gerrit Cole, and Jacob deGrom all went for $25, before Noah Syndergaard went for $24. I was ecstatic to land Jose Fernandez at the $25 going rate for a frontline starter, and immediately found my second position player building block with Paul Goldschmidt at $40.
With 25 players sold, I already had three for a total of $105 out of my $260 budget. The rapid spending of my budget on high-end talent was taking place just as it did in this auction a year ago, and the roster was destined to take the stars-and-scrubs approach given the aforementioned lack of quality hitters in the $15-20 range.
The full results of the auction can be viewed here.
Here's how it came together...
C – Travis d'Arnaud - $14 – He's been slowed by a slew of injuries throughout his career, but d'Arnaud is increasingly looking like the player he was supposed to become as a prospect. The quality of the lineup around him for the entire season (look at the Mets' offensive production from August 1 on last season) bodes well for a bump in his counting stats.
C – Kevin Plawecki - $1 – Likely a starter on a good number of other teams, Plawecki should improve at the plate in 2016. If the Mets send him down to Triple-A to afford him everyday at-bats, he goes to the bench, while Schwarber moves into one of the two catcher spots. If d'Arnaud gets hurt, I'm not chasing another catcher in FAAB.
1B – Paul Goldschmidt - $40 – I am even more nervous about a possible drop in steals given how dependent my roster currently is on his contributions to that category.
SS – Jedd Gyorko - $7 – His second-half numbers were pretty good, and whose front office do you trust more: St. Louis or San Diego? The Monday news regarding Jhonny Peralta's thumb injury should open up at-bats for Gyorko at short in April and May barring a trade.
3B – David Freese - $1 – Please sign with an NL team soon!
CI – Josh Bell - $2 – John Jaso is struggling to transition to first base, has a lengthy injury history, and Mike Morse is hardly a sure thing, even in a small-side platoon role. Last season, Bell's production improved after a late promotion to Triple-A, and he could emerge to take over the starting job midseason.
MI – Orlando Arcia - $3 – It's only a matter of time before Arcia takes over as the Brewers' shortstop. Jonathan Villar is versatile enough to move to another position (third base?) if he's hitting, and the primary issue here will likely be preventing Arcia from accruing a full year of service time. Super Two considerations may also delay his promotion until mid-June.
OF – Bryce Harper - $40 – Is it Bryce, or Royce? Hopefully it's $1 per home run, if not less.
OF – Kyle Schwarber - $24 – Some may scoff at the decision to use Schwarber in the outfield – details are below.
OF – Domingo Santana - $17 – Santana is the only player all night I panicked on during the bidding as I was woefully thin in the outfield. By far, he is the most risky player on my roster, but the playing time volume is there for the taking if he can avoid falling into a long whiff-heavy slump.
OF – Enrique Hernandez - $3 – The Crawford/Ethier platoon and Joc Pederson's second half make me very interested in the Dodgers' depth outfielders. Hernandez can play in the infield, which may need help at third base if Justin Turner has any delay getting back from microfracture surgery in time for Opening Day, or if Kendrick gets hurt.
OF – Trayce Thompson - $2 – Quietly added to the mix in the big three-team trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox this offseason. Thompson has an intriguing combination of power and speed, but the Dodgers' final roster decisions (and his mediocre OBP a year ago in the International League) may steer him to Triple-A to begin the year.
UT – Trevor Story - $2 – Story had a 20-20 season between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015. Jose Reyes is facing a lengthy suspension from MLB and possible jail time. Cristhian Adames and Daniel Descalso are also possible solutions at the position, but the former is the greater short-term threat than the latter, and neither possesses Story's ceiling. A Reyes injury post suspension wouldn't be the most surprising outcome either, and Story may be tabbed as the everyday second baseman if the Rockies trade D.J. LeMahieu (his real life defense value alone would make him a great target for the Angels, among others).
P – Jose Fernandez - $25 – My max was $27 on Fernandez, and I really didn't want to go that high because concerns about his workload are still valid.
P – Adam Wainwright - $18 – I may be more optimistic than the field about Wainwright's innings volume, but he seemed like a good SP2 to pair with Fernandez.
P – James Shields - $9 – Based on raw dollars, Shields sold for more than $5 below the projected value.
P – John Lackey - $9 – Similar to Shields (~$3 below projection), but fewer strikeouts are offset by a much better team context.
P – Jake McGee - $9 – Coors Field won't impact him as much as other pitchers because he's not heavily dependent upon a breaking pitch.
P – Robbie Ray - $4 – Ray averaged 93.2 mph on his fastball last season, while piling up 119 strikeouts in 127.2 innings. Still just 24, he's seemingly flying under the radar in Arizona as the leading candidate to begin the season as the team's No. 5 starter.
P – Jorge Lopez - $3 – Control may be the short-term issue, but the Brewers have a very nice piece for their rotation in Lopez, and he could put everything together and thrive in 2016.
P – Tanner Roark - $2 – That he didn't pitch better in a relief role last season worries me somewhat, but his 2014 was encouraging enough for me to roll the dice in the endgame.
R – Jarred Cosart – 2016 may be his final chance as a starter, but I can stream him since he wasn't purchased in the auction.
R – Andy Wilkins – Blocked by Jose Abreu and Prince Fielder in recent seasons, Wilkins brings real power from the left side if the Brewers decide to put him in the mix at first base with Chris Carter.
R – Manny Banuelos – With health, he should easily have a place in the Atlanta rotation.
R – Gordon Beckham – Maybe a return to Georgia will revitalize him. Probably not.
Why purchase a third catcher?
With respect to endgame value, I was having a difficult time securing players for $1 in the outfield, but the greater reason for the move was to offset the lack of quality players in the $15-20 range in the outfield. Schwarber's defense was a problem in left field, and it may cost him late-inning at-bats on a regular basis as defensive replacements may be utilized. Plus, the Cubs have a crowded vying for playing time in the outfield spots with Jason Heyward and Dexter Fowler positioned for heavy workloads. Should the Cubs platoon in left field, Schwarber will be on the large side of the arrangement. On days he's not in the starting lineup, he should come off the bench and pinch-hit.
Thanks to his power potential and the lineup around him, Schwarber should be able to do as much with 500 at-bats as other outfielders eclipsing 600 at-bats in his price arrange. There is batting average risk, but Schwarber hits the ball very hard, and doesn't have to significantly improve his strikeout rate in Year 2 to hit for a better average. It's also entirely possible that the concerns about his high price tag in NFBC drafts have led to some unnecessary pessimism. Finally, targeting Plawecki in particular was to ensure playing time in the event of a d'Arnaud injury. If that were to happen, Schwarber slides into a catcher spot, and I'm not forced to chase the position in FAAB.
Where is the speed coming from?
Most likely, via trade, but it may also surface in FAAB. While stolen bases were down at extreme low levels in 2015, there are more to be had on the NL side right now. Thanks in large part to Dee Gordon, Billy Hamilton, and Ben Revere, but also due to the viability of depth outfielders getting more opportunities to play under NL rules. When outfielders get hurt, it seems much more likely to me that a player with speed and defense as carrying tools will be summoned from the minors instead of a 15-20 homer power threat. According to our Draft Software projections, my team is positioned to finish second-to-last in steals, but the gap is hardly insurmountable. If some of the younger players I have on my roster exceed their initial amounts of projected playing time, my squad should be able to finish in the middle of the pack in the category.
There is also the potential for several teams (as many as four, based on projections) to have an excess of steals early in the season with a need for an upgrade to starting pitching, or the middle infield, which I should be able to provide when Arcia or Story take over a starting role on a permanent basis.
David Freese at third base? Woof!
If you have played in an "only" league before, you know that it's nearly impossible to avoid having a positional weakness. Freese wasn't awful in 2015, as he hit .257/.323/.420 with 14 homers and 56 RBI. For $1, he was a lottery ticket worth taking when Adonis Garcia ($5) and Chris Johnson ($2) were the alternatives, but if he's still without a National League team during the final two weeks of spring training, I have an early-season mess on my hands to fix.
A few possible landing spots include:
San Francisco – How about an insurance policy for Matt Duffy? The playing time volume would be far from ideal with the Giants, but it doesn't take much for a $1 player to earn $3-4. Also, is there a chance that Freese could play some in left field if the Giants lose an outfielder to injury?
*One other wrinkle for my roster is the possibility of Howie Kendrick getting five games at third base to add eligibility at the hot corner.
Later this week, I will focus on my favorite cheap buys from both of last weekend's LABR auctions.