At dinner after our annual American Dream League draft, Hacker owner Steve Levy asked me if Tout Wars was tougher than our neighborhood league, the American Dream League, which started in 1981. The ADL is not an experts league, but between Alex Patton, Les Leopold, Peter Golenbock, and moi, I doubt any league has gotten more books and magazines published about fantasy baseball over the years. And that is a disservice to the creds of the other members, who have written professionally about baseball for longer than the league’s 33 year tenure.
But therein lies the crux of my answer. The ADL is as chock full of canny baseball and fantasy analysts as any league, but the pace is different. In the ADL we go seven rounds deep on reserve, and no one struggles to come up with viable names, but during the auction the ADL lopes, with plenty of patter, recaps, and counting of the money. The Tout Wars auctions are played at a gallop. And time matters, because time pressure undermines those with poor organization.
That, of course, is one way to look at it. The other is to say that an AL only auction that takes six hours to complete is full of time for chatter, banter, badinage and riposte. It also offers plenty of time to consider what’s going on and try to adjust and beat it. In an auction where the bidding proceeds quickly there’s plenty of pressure and opportunities to make mistakes. In this slower format, mistakes may be made, but it’s also possible to discern trends and strategies and counter them.
Which leads us to my 2013 American Dream League team.
This is a keeper league, though a modest one. Inflation ran about eight percent this year. Not evenly distributed. Catchers were high. So were some starting pitchers. I hate buying closers, but it hurt to let them go as cheaply as they went. Power is always valued. This is a 4×4 league.
Inflation was also mostly held by the keepers of Bruce Buschel, who had Mike Trout for $13 and Sal Perez for $9 and a few other keeps as well. That’s going to be a big hill to climb to get to first. In response my strategy had two plans of attack.
1) Leverage my good (but unproven) young starters by buying one ace, then load up on other cheap arms who might help this year and could become excellent keeps next year. I would have a cheap staff that would be powerful if a few of the cheap guys paid off, and cheap if they didn’t.
2) Buy productive hitters who may get even better, either this year or next year. I targeted Hosmer, Butler and Gordon. Read below for who I ended up with and why. I did end up buying four 20-30 hitters (plus my keeper Adam Jones), and then got creative filling in.
Two Catchers: Geovanny Soto ($1) and Hank Conger ($2) were the result of bottom scraping. I wanted Alex Avila at $15, but he went for more, and I wanted Jason Castro for $6 or even $8 but he went for more. I have no illusions about these guys, but at least I didn’t pay much for them.
1B: Eric Hosmer ($24). This was my price for him. I think he has upside potential, given his age and history, and not a lot of floor to fall below this. A safe productive pick, if not a big profit generator. But may be a profit generator anyway.
3B: Mark Reynolds ($12). At some point it became clear that I needed to add homers, and I focused on Reynolds as a low teens guy who might add 30 homers. He didn’t last year, but it is in his wheelhouse, and worth the bad batting average, especially at this price.
CI: Billy Butler ($30). I would have preferred him a couple dollars cheaper, but this is a solid hitter who is adding power as he approaches his 27th birthday. I hope he earns $33, but if he ends up earning $27 I’ll be overjoyed. There should be a low fail rating on this pick.
2B: Ben Zobrist ($23). The prices in this auction were very tight. I had Zobrist at $24 and was pleased to get him for a dollar less. Some of the price is parking production, and some is position flexibility. Given his age I’m not thrilled, but he’s earned this, so I’m hopeful he’ll continue on. (Strategically, I had the topper on Dustin Pedroia. I had his price at $29, and the bidding stopped at $28. I declined to exercise the option because I feared adding another $30 player. This worked in terms of flexibility, but I’m not sure it was solid strategically. I may just have been shuffling deck chairs.)
SS: Elvis Andrus ($22). I had him priced at $24, too, and felt I had to buy him at a 10 percent discount. My biggest concern was that the Rangers would trade him to the Dodgers, but they settled that today by signing him to an eight-year extension. Another safe buy with a little bit of upside.
MI: Asdrubal Cabrera ($19). Another tiny savings, if you think things mean much. More than the prices, at this point I felt like I had a fairly young team stacked in the infield. Cabrera hits some homers and produces and earns his salary. Or, at least, so he has. (At this point I also had the topper on Curtis Granderson, who is likely to miss most of the season well into May. I think if you prorate our expectations before he got hurt he’s worth about $20 this year, but when the bidding stopped at $18 I could not top. Locking myself into a guy on the DL didn’t seem like a great idea. I can’t really justify that logically, so maybe I made a mistake, but I didn’t feel comfortable taking on the risk of a guy who might miss two or more months. So be it.)
OF: Adam Jones ($28 keeper). I had his draft price at $29. With inflation that means I save about four bucks. Athletic outfielder approaching physical and mental maturity. I’m in.
Jacoby Ellsbury ($27). He was three dollars below my bid price, so I had to take him. I can see why he wasn’t pushed, but if he’s healthy I’m going to be happy about this.
Vernon Wells ($6): I was broke and had to fill in at the end. Wells is coming off a solid spring, and one has to think he’s motivated to attempt to salvage some pride. I’m not overly confident, but he was the best of a bunch of weak options.
Ryan Flaherty ($1): He looks like a decent hitter without a job to me. I chose him because of the three-run homer he hit to end the game I saw in Sarasota’s Ed Smith stadium last month. He toughed out Rule 5 last year and made the team this year. I’m willing to be surprised by his playing time, and hope that production will follow. And if someone who plays more comes along, bye bye.
Fernando Martinez ($1): Former phenom is still very young, had a strong spring until he was cut down. I don’t have high hopes, but I have some hope he’ll prove a surprise when he gets back on the field.
UT: David Ortiz ($10): Injury worries for an old dude, especially his feet, are possibly catastrophic. But at this price, even if he stays injured for a month or two, he’ll be okay for my team. He’s never been on my team, so I hope that’s a treat.
P: Tom Milone ($7 freeze) A delight to watch, even when he’s getting his ass handed to him on a platter. It’s great fun to think along with him as he pitches. Blow up factor is high, however.
Felix Doubront ($3 keeper) More valuable in 5×5 because of the strikeouts, but he’s rounding into form as a regular. Excellent breakout potential.
Brett Anderson ($3 keeper) Many came knocking to try to pry this injury-prone hurler from my arthritic fingers, but we couldn’t make a deal. Which is fine by me. I wanted a lot. Not because Anderson isn’t without injury risk, but because at $3 he’s all upside. If I deal him, I’m looking at buying another pitcher whose market (if not skils) would have been higher.
James Shields ($20) The anchor, the ace, the man who would save KC baseball and a certain GM’s job. He’s solid, generally, and I’m already on board with his team scoring runs, but it’s scary betting on the righting of a ship that’s floundered for so long.
Chris Tillman ($9) A major target, I hoped to have him at $7, but at that point I was willing to pay the extra $2. His strong second half last year is an indication of what he can do. He’s thrown too many homers, which he’ll have to address, but he’s a fair shot to be an emerging starter this year.
Rick Porcello ($5) He hasn’t overpowered anyone and didn’t look to earn a starting slot all spring long, but he prevailed. His hot spring drove his price up a few bucks. Still cheap if it was a harbinger.
Jake Arrieta ($2) Another young arm entering a post-hype phase, coming off a fine spring, for $2.
Al Albuquerque ($2) Detroit’s closer situation is muddled. I give a big edge to Joaquin Benoit, but Albuquerque should get some saves even if Benoit is masterful. And if he’s not…
Junichi Tazawa ($2) Who doesn’t love Tazawa? He was so good last year, and could end up closing, or starting, at some point. That point isn’t likely to come this year, but this is a keeper 4×4 league, and excellent middle relievers have real value.
Steve Delabar ($1) In Toronto they’re saying Delabar could be in the mix for saves if Casey Janssen isn’t ready early in the season. This is a league with a penalty for not getting seven saves, so finding some cheap ones is helpful. He struck out more than 12 per 9IP last year, and could do the job if it fell to him.
Mike Zunino: He’s the best potential catching call up and my catchers are weak.
Taijuan Walker: Is Walker or Paxton the first phenom to whom Seattle turns? My bet is Walker, and that he slides into the job without a hiccup.
Steve Pearce: I needed two hitters to replace DLers Fernando Martinez and David Ortiz. Pearce is a decent bat who is slated to play part time regularly in Baltimore. I then took my eye off the ball and didn’t get the other active hitter I needed.
Carlos Carrasco: He lost out to Scott Kazmir for the last rotation slot in Cleveland, but coming back from TJ I don’t mind that him rounding back into shape in Triple-A.
Jerome Williams: He’s one of my old time faves based on the potential of his youth, but he’s going to be a long arm out of the pen in Anaheim. He could see some starts, but it’s hard to argue that he’ll be a fantasy plus. Should have taken an active hitter.
Johnny Giavotella: Lost out at second base for Kansas City, again, which could be a sign that he’s just not good enough. He is young enough however to grow into his skills, so a late reserve pick seemed in order.
Brayan Villareal: Young fireballer in a bullpen by committee. Lots of walks, but this is a team that turned to Fernando Rodney more than once before he figured it out.
There you have it. A team for 2013 that will turn on how many of those arms are plusses, and a team with enough youth to potentially be good fun. I’m glad the games have started.