AL LABR Review: Hits and Misses

Last weekend I took part in my second AL-only LABR auction.

For the uninitiated, LABR (pronounced “labor”) stands for League of Alternative Baseball Reality. Founded in 1994, it was the first high-profile experts league of its kind. Check out its Wikipedia page.

To say it’s a tremendous honor to be a part of the league would be a huge understatement. The entire weekend is a blast, hanging out in Arizona and talking baseball with the best minds in the industry.

There were a few of key lessons I learned in my first year. My crucial mistakes:

  1. I didn’t spread my budget around as well as I should have and ended up with three $1 hitters on my team (four $1 players total).
  2. I valued volume over skills too much on the pitching side.

With that in mind, and with a core of key players pinpointed that I wanted to build around — Giancarlo Stanton, Blake Snell, Mike Clevinger, Wilson Ramos, Dustin Fowler, Blake Treinen, Keone Kela, and A.J. Puk were all players that I knew I liked more than most — I set about creating what will hopefully be a championship-winning team.

C: Wilson Ramos, TB ($14), Max Stassi, HOU ($1)

Ramos is a company-wide favorite, and for good reason. After a slow start in July coming off a torn ACL, Ramos was pretty much back to being himself over the final two months, slashing .293/.324/.496 with eight homers in his final 41 games. I was thrilled to land him for $7 less than I paid for Jonathan Lucroy last year. Stassi is out of options, and he at least hit lefties well at Triple-A Fresno last season. Assuming Brian McCann sits against most southpaws and Evan Gattis serves as the primary DH, Stassi could play enough with the platoon advantage to not be a net negative on my team. Exciting, I know.

1B: Joe Mauer, MIN ($11)

This was probably my greatest regret. I was in the unfamiliar spot of having the most money to spend in the later portion of the auction, and I panicked a bit as the first-base pool was drying up. Lucas Duda would have been a better fit on my team, and he went for cheaper. C.J. Cron would have been an ideal target, but I made a mistake and threw him out for nomination way too early, and got priced out.

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2B: Brandon Phillips, FA ($3)

Woof. Phillips might just be done, but I keep looking at the Detroit roster and thinking that Phillips would make sense on a cheap deal. Are they really going to play Dixon Machado every day at second base? This could turn out to be three wasted dollars, but Phillips can still be valuable in most fantasy leagues when given a chance to play regularly.

SS: Carlos Correa, HOU ($35)

After getting Stanton below my budget, I was happy to go over budget by a few dollars to get another anchor in Correa. Correa was on an MVP pace before going down with an injury last year, he’s proven against big-league pitching and is still just 23. I knew I was out on the other players at the top of the pool after getting Correa, as I needed to save for the back half of the auction in order to emerge with better balance.

3B: Eduardo Escobar, MIN ($7)

I’m certainly not expecting 21 homers again, but Escobar always seems to find his way into 400-ish plate appearances. Miguel Sano is dealing with issues off the field and is a big-bodied guy with a rod in his leg.

MI: Xander Bogaerts, BOS ($21)

I’m not even a big Bogaerts truther, but I couldn’t let him go for $20. His performance clearly suffered as a result of his hand injury, and with him along with Correa, I gave myself a nice batting-average base.

CR: Yolmer Sanchez, CWS ($1)

This is not a fantasy-friendly skill set, but Sanchez should play enough to earn a profit at $1. That said, I’m kicking myself for not setting aside some money to buy Miguel Andujar instead.

OF: Giancarlo Stanton, NYY ($34), Brett Gardner, NYY ($17), Dustin Fowler, OAK ($12), Derek Fisher, HOU ($9), Anthony Alford, TOR ($2)

Stanton was a top target coming in, and I was prepared to go to $40 on him. Thankfully I got him for much cheaper, which allowed me to pair him up with Correa. As Chris Liss pointed out last month after running the numbers through his valuation calculator, Steamer has Stanton as the No. 2 hitter behind Trout. Of course, health is a big question, but the upside is worth the risk in my opinion.

Gardner is the rare old-and-boring option that I’m willing to pay up for this year, and he was especially appealing to me in this setting where speed guys were going for a premium. Some of the more notable speed prices ($):

Alex Bregman ($29)

Byron Buxton ($29)

Whit Merrifield ($21)

Delino DeShields ($20)

Yoan Moncada ($19)

Bradley Zimmer ($16)

Mallex Smith ($12)

Carlos Gomez ($12)

Leonys Martin ($10)

Adalberto Mondesi ($8)

Gardner has swiped 20-plus in four of the past five seasons (16 in that other year) and also provides a bit of pop. He could reach 100 runs for the first time in his career, and best of all, he didn’t seem to have the same hefty speed tax as those other players.

Fowler was another speed target, and someone I felt would be underrated coming off the devastating knee injury. He got off to a bit of a slow start this spring (1-for-11, six strikeouts, one walk), but the reports on his defense in center have been encouraging. This is a highly-touted prospect who enjoyed a good deal of success at Triple-A last year as a 22-year-old.

Fisher isn’t guaranteed a regular role throughout the year, or even to start the season, but he’s another pedigree guy who could force his way into a steady job with a strong start.

Alford has missed a ton of time due to injury, but he has the skills to force the Blue Jays’ hand. Manager John Gibbons has raved about Alford’s progress since he first saw him a few years ago. I will have to swap him out of my active lineup and play the waiting game.

UT: Hanley Ramirez, BOS ($5)

I don’t expect him to get to 500 plate appearances, but the counting stats should be there if he does indeed hit third in the order regularly.

P: Justin Verlander, HOU ($24), Blake Snell, TB ($15), Mike Clevinger, CLE ($14), Blake Treinen, OAK ($12), Jakob Junis, KC ($6), Eduardo Rodriguez, BOS ($6), Keone Kela, TEX ($5), Michael Kopech, CWS ($3), A.J. Puk, OAK ($3)

Verlander is a great auction target, as he never seems to be priced correctly. Most owners would rather chase upside than go after Verlander’s floor.

Snell is one of my favorite pitching targets this spring, along with Clevinger, but I do regret getting too locked in on the two of them. They both ended up getting pushed up higher than I expected. I should have been more flexible. Looking back, I wish I had gone to $18 on Jose Berrios or $19 on Dallas Keuchel instead of waiting to get Snell.

Clevinger is going to be a value for fantasy owners this year. Go get him.

Treinen was the lone closer (currently in a defined role) whose price point I was comfortable with. I paid $21 for the seemingly-safe Zach Britton last year and that burned me, so I was cautious of those upper- and mid-tier options. I think Treinen belongs in the middle tier, but his price isn’t there quite yet.

Junis isn’t all that exciting, but I think the control gives him a decent floor. This was a risky investment, though — in LABR, you have to keep players purchased in the auction in your active lineup unless they are on the DL or in the minors. That means I can’t pick my spots with Junis, and he was pretty bad on the road last season.

Rodriguez is probably going to miss most of April, but he’s been throwing bullpen sessions regularly. I believe in the talent. The payoff could be huge in AL-only.

Kela has the stuff to close — he just needs to stay healthy. I got Tim Lincecum in the reserves to protect myself a bit. It’s a bet against Alex Claudio.

Kopech won’t be up for a while, but he can help me make up some ground in strikeouts once he is promoted. In the meantime, I can plug in one of the skilled middle relievers I got in reserves to help anchor the ratios.

Puk is now one of my favorite deep-league targets for redraft. The reports out of spring training have been glowing, with several members of the media suggesting he’s been the best starting pitcher in A’s camp by far. I think the team is smart enough to use a lot of those bullets at the big-league level this year, so I’m expecting him to contribute quite a bit.

Reserves (in order of selection): Emilio Pagan, OAK, Trevor Hildenberger, MIN, Tim Lincecum, TEX, Forrest Whitley, HOU, Greg Allen, CLE, Anthony Santander, BAL

Pagan and Lincecum serve two purposes — they give me some peace of mind behind Treinen/Kela, but more importantly, they can be useful even if they aren’t seeing saves (Pagan especially). Hildenberger fits that same mold as someone who I can plug in to eat ratios when necessary. Whitley was suspended 50 games, but I still feel like he should have gone in the first two rounds of the reserves. Allen has a decent batting eye and great speed, and I think he will become relevant in a lot of leagues at some point. Santander was a Rule 5 pick in 2016 and the Orioles will need to keep him on the active roster for 44 days in order to secure his rights long term, and it seems likely that they will given that Santander is a legitimate prospect (180 on James Anderson’s top 400). Hopefully he plays enough to buy me some time as I wait for Alford or Allen.

I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Steve Moyer, who passed away days before he was to compete in NL LABR. I only got to know Steve a little bit — ironically, beginning last year at LABR — but I felt a connection with him. His smile was comforting and welcoming. The couple times I saw him after 2017 LABR, he made a point to come talk to me. Rest in peace, Steve.

Check out full results from AL LABR here.