Auction Leagues

RotoAuthority Unscripted: Mocktion Madness

i've been playing fantasy baseball for...well, for a long time. I've played in a couple leagues for more than ten years each, and I've played in dozens of leagues since then. I've been reading fantasy baseball magazines since the early '90's. I've played keeper and redraft, 5x5 and points, roto and head to head, and even tried fantasy hockey. But I've never played in an auction league.

This year, that changes.

So, on Friday, I did my first ever mock auction. It…um…didn’t go that well. But I did my best to liveblog it anyway, which probably didn’t help how my auction went, come to think of it.

Below is the transcript from my experience, highs, lows, triumphs and incredible stupidities all. It has been edited to remove references to excuse-making like clicking the wrong buttons and losing Internet connection. I will try not to make significant generalizations from the experience of a single auction and let you form your own conclusions.

Final note: I really do know what I’m doing in a snake draft....

For some reason I let myself go first, got confused and nominated Miguel Cabrera. He went up to $56, so I let him go.

Kershaw made it past $40 without my help, so I figured that a job well done—one of missions was to establish his price as a cap for starters.

Goldschmidt and McCutchen both sold for around $50 too—so much for my guess that there would be a big gap between Cabrera, Trout, and everyone else.

R.A. Dickey just became the first non-star nominated. He’s at $5. I’m in a bidding war! $7! $9! I’m letting him go at $10. Enjoy…other person.

CarGo just rolled up past $40. I can’t do it for someone so injury prone.

Ooh. Braun is up. $36. Now $39. Time to put my money where my mouth is: Ryan Braun for…lots of money, $42 in fact. I guess I will take a $40+ risk.

My first real nomination: Chris Davis. I’m hoping for a value here. Let’s see…a couple others are in a bidding war: he rolled up to $44 and…well, I still need  a 1B. Mild expletive.

This is the most awesome (fantasy baseball) thing I’ve ever done. Where have I been all these years in snake drafts?

Giancarlo’s up. I’m gonna make a serious push for him. Love the power. Got him for $31 and my outfield ought to be stacked.

I went $37 on Tulo. Ugh. Whoever I was bidding against was so fast with the returns that I thought I could ratchet the price up. I mean, I like Tulo, but I’d hoped to be more budget-conscious than this.

Presumably, I’ve learned a valuable lesson.

Joey Votto just went for $38. I think that’s a great value with the inflation for high-end players. Considering that I nominated Prince Fielder and someone went straight to the same price and won without further bidding…yeah. That’s why you don’t throw out a mega-bid right away.

A little buyer’s remorse on Tim Lincecum at $4. My WHIP already regrets it. Does that make him my ace?

Strasburg and Darvish are going for a ton.

Nominating Hanley—I want to suck some money out of the field. Done at $39. Tulo doesn’t look so badly priced.

Edwin Encarnacion. Now it’s interesting. There’s a fight for him, though. Up to $34. I’ve got $146 left…ooh, outbid. I think I’ll let him sail away.

Straight to $34 for Wainwright. Bold.

First closer: Rex Brothers. I think someone wants him. Or not. I got a $3 closer. Cool.

Jurickson Profar is up. I’m interested to see how he ends up getting valued. Low, so far: $4.

I’m discovering that you can’t run off to the bathroom in the middle of an auction.

Even if you know you don’t want Justin Upton.

Scherzer goes straight to $30. Starters are costing a lot, so I think I’m gonna stay away from the best of the aces and try more middling options.

I want Everth Cabrera, so I threw out Elvis Andrus. He’s going for $15, which seems like a decent price, but also a useful cap on my SS spending. We’ll see how the ol’ redirect goes.

Sweet. Snagged Evan Longoria for $27—less than Beltre or Wright went for by a few dollars. Joey Bats just went for $26, but I’ve got way too much risk on this team for that. No wonder I feel like I’m getting good deals: all my players might be hurt by May.

Cliff Lee is my staff anchor for $27. So much for a bunch of cheap good-not-great types for my pitching staff.

Adam Eaton is at $2. There are so many other OF options at this point, though, that I’m not ready to take a flyer. If he’s your guy, though, I like the idea of throwing him out early.

Madison Bumgarner for $26 and I am running out of money. It’s a stars-and-scrubs roster for me all the way at this point.

Dustin Pedroia is going for $25…compared to over $30 for Jason Kipnis. Patience is a virtue.

Middle section of the auction. I’m watching a lot of pitches go by. It seems like you can have anyone you want for $25 since most of us don’t have so much money left.

I wanted Altuve, but not for $17. Speed is going to be a problem for me, I think. The good news: speedsters always end up on the waiver wire. There’s always someone.

Pujols is up…wow, jumped straight to $23. I’d thought there could be a bargain there. New 1B target: Brandon Moss. Matt Adams is intriguing too. Adrian Gonzalez will probably be too pricey—ditto Anthony Rizzo and Eric Hosmer.

Anibal Sanchez is up. He’s a great deal [compared to others in this draft] at $21.

 Matt Cain for $17. How this happened, I don’t know…but I’ll take it. That might be the best deal of the auction, but it kept me from getting Everth Cabrera. He only went for $11 but that’s like half of my cash at this point.

I’m happy enough to dollar it for a catcher in a Yahoo! standard style, but I’d really like to have a bit more spending room for 1B and 2B. I’m loving that $3 spent on Brothers earlier, though, because that might be all the budget I’ve got for a closer!

Two dollars for Ricky Nolasco is two too many in a shallow league.

I have…the whole Giants rotation. Hopefully they have a better year this year.

There are a lot of valuable players left and not a lot of money in our team coffers. The three holdouts with $150 or more might be very, very pleased they sat out the early choices.

The one nice thing about being this poor at this stage of the draft is that I’ve at least filled more roster slots than almost everyone else. So I’m not poor for no reason.

Look at the beard on Andrew Cashner. That alone is reason to draft him.

New strategy: nominate only second basemen in hopes of spending half my money on Aaron Hill. I don’t think it’s gonna work.

Actually, there are a lot of good 2B options in a world without MI slot. Shallow leagues…why even worry about position scarcity? It’s like it’s not even a thing.

Carlos Santana for $16: great. Ian Kinsler for $18: horrible. There are now three teams with less money than me. Yeah.

Patience is worth it on closers too: Koji Uehara and Greg Holland went for about 75% the cost of Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman. I bet they all return similar value in most formats.

Somebody is about to waste a dollar on Kevin Gregg. Awesome.

In real life, I will totally nominate David Ortiz late in an auction. This, I promise to myself.

There goes Martin Prado. Only one other team without anyone at 2B. I may be able to afford Hill. If not, I’ll probably pay no more than a dollar for Lowrie, Kendrick, Utley, or Murphy. I am beginning to grow aware that I’m obsessing over second base and Aaron Hill when there may be many good options available. Interesting.

Will anyone on my team steal even one base? Perhaps not.

Matt Moore [to someone else]  for $14. Enjoy those walks.

Tanaka goes for $11. Not bad. One notices that his projected value is $8 and his average auction cost is $16. One does not make further comment.

Just nominated my man Hill and watched him sail away for $10. I’ll spend the money at first base or on speed. My $26 is making me a power player for $2 bids all of a sudden.

Ouch…picked the wrong time to look away and let Michael Cuddyer go for $8.He was my sneaky pick for 1B. I spent the same on Wilin Rosario. I love the catcher and the price, but all I really wanted was to drain a little more cash out of the top bidder left in the room. My first player in like an hour. Big mistake—that same guy got McCann for $7.

Desperate to get someone…anyone…for a dollar, I just nominated Emilio Bonifacio. The guy’s been DFA’d and still got a bid.

Yes!!!!! I finally got a dollar player. Welcome to the fold, Scott Kazmir.

I only have one $2 bid left, and I’m not using it on Bobby Parnell. Or even Sonny Gray.

I will use it on Matt Adams. Hopefully he shows the power he did last year…

Last team with money is out—this just became a draft.

Rajai Davis just gave my team some wheels.

I feel decent about my dollar guys: Kazmir, Rajai, Brian Dozier, Neil Walker, Denard Span, and Mark Melancon, plus closers Jim Henderson and Fernando Rodney. Well, hopefully Rodney signs into a closer job.

Feverishly, I check to see if I can sign up for the next auction. No…not for six more hours. Probably for the best…

I learned some lessons, but I’ll let you infer them. Below is the team that I managed to draft, just for your edification. Feel free to mock me in the comments....

Silver League Update: Trading Up

Looking at the week's transaction list, you'd think May 9 was the Silver League's trading deadline. One busy team pulled off three deals at once, swapping 16 different players -- two of them twice. It was certainly bold, and maybe desperate, but for a McRuder team mired in last place (and far from 11th, sad to say) bold and desperate are totally called for. There's no way to know yet if these moves will turn out to be good ones for McRuder, but we'll take a look and see how these moves might turn a profit, and how moves like them might help your fantasy team, wherever you are in the standings.

Trade 1: McRuder and Spirit of St. Louis, May 8 11:24am

Spirit gets: Carlos Gonzalez OF and Andrew Cashner RP

McRuder gets: Matt Cain SP, Johan Santana SP, Bryce Harper OF, Chase Utley 2B/DL, and Rafael Soriano RP

Normally, I think the rule of whoever gets the top player in the deal should be considered the winner, but this time, I'm actually pretty impressed by the collection of players McRuder got for CarGo. Between Street (supposedly) returning soon and the fact that McRuder already has David Robertson, I'd say Cashner and Soriano at least even out, leaving Cain, Santana, Harper, and Utley as the return for a true early-second-round pick. If Cain isn't quite to rotation-anchor status, he's close, and Santana is striking out over a batter per inning in his comeback season. Harper and Utley, I'm not so sure about, but they're exactly the sort of players that a last-place team should take chances on ... and a first-division team like Spirit of St. Louis should leverage for steadier production.

I like this one for both teams, but I really appreciate the way this trade improves a lot of places by moving (essentially) one player.

Trade 2: McRuder and Busey's Bandits, May 8 11:50am 

Busey's gets: Billy Butler 1B, Joel Hanrahan RP, Jon Lester SP

McRuder gets: Joey Votto 1B, Allen Craig 1B/2B/OF, Jeremy Hellickson SP

Here, McRuder get's a bona fide stud in Votto, and trading for a scuffling superstar is almost never a bad idea (except for any time you traded for Hanley Ramirez last year). Craig isn't young, but he's off to a good start and had decent pop in 200 ABs last year and in the minors before that; he's a decent risk to take. Hellickson has me wondering when he'll officially be considered a failed prospect. I know his surface stats were good last year and have been so far this year, but his K/9 rate of about 6.1 isn't going to let him keep it up.

For this group, he gave up Butler -- who's 1B/CI eligible in this league, unlike many -- Lester, and Hanrahan. Butler's better in real life than fantasy, thanks to all those doubles, but he's still a pretty solid member of the "good non-stars" tier of first basemen. Lester hasn't been very consistent, but he hasn't been so bad that it looks like he's turned a negative corner; this seems like a low place to sell him. Hanrahan's easier to sell once you have Robertson and Soriano, but they're still just one closer in two roster spots. I like the variance this one adds, but I feel like the price was a little too high.

Trade 3: McRuder and JamesRiverTrophyCarp, May 9 5:48am

TrophyCarp gets: Santana SP, Hellickson SP

McRuder gets: Zack Cozart SS, Stephen Strasburg SP

This trade, I love for McRuder. I also love that it's relatively simple to evaluate. I've already admitted pessimism about Hellickson; I wouldn't pick him up off the waiver wire. I do believe in the Santana comeback machine, but Strasburg is still a significant upgrade: he's got a K/9 over 10.0, to got with an ERA under 2.00 and a WHIP under 1.00. The impressive thing isn't so much those numbers, it's that he's so good that they can't be a surprise to anybody. I know he'll be limited in innings, but they should be very, very good. Cozart isn't exactly a necessity, but he's certainly a useful part.

How do they all stack up?

McRuder added:

Votto 1B
Utley 2B/DL
Craig 1B/2B/OF
Cozart SS
Harper OF
Strasburg SP
Cain SP
Soriano RP 

and gave up:

Butler 1B
Gonzalez OF
Lester SP
Hanrahan RP
Cashner RP

Let's see, the SP upgrade is obvious--Lester for Strasburg and Cain. Hut he traded a closer and a half for half a closer. Granted, having Soriano and Robertson in the same 'pen means he'll have the Yankees' saves for sure, which isn't a bad place to be.

The hitting is a little more complicated, as Gonzalez is a star and Butler is useful. It's tempting to think of Votto and CarGo as balancing each other out, but Gonzalez is doing better and adds steals. Still, McRuder can reasonably hope the difference will be close by the end of the season.

In a vacuum, I don't know if I would trade Butler for the entire pile of Craig, Harper, Utley, and Cozart ... but I would if I were in last place and needed a Hail Mary. If all four tank and Butler just keeps doing what he does, well it's like Branch Rickey told Ralph Kiner: "We finished last with you, and we could've finished last without you." Risk avoidance just doesn't make sense when you're in last place.

What can we learn from this? Well, I think McRuder is making the moves he should, that anyone in his place should contemplate. Take on whatever upside you can, and don't worry about the risk. It's one thing if you're in a close last place, but when you're already far out, the best thing seems to do is to gravitate towards two things: trading your top quality to fill multiple needs, and to grab as much upside as you can.

Other teams, especially those in the league's top half ought to do just the opposite. Trading quantity -- especially when resources overlap or you start building huge leads in a single category -- for a single star can net you that player, plus whoever you want to take a chance on/stream with from the waiver wire. Of course, the higher you are in the standings, the more you have to lose; risky players like rookies and injury comebacks are just the sort of commodities it makes sense to swap for reliable "just good" players. It's a simple enough idea, but it's a good recipe for trades that make sense for both partners.

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