After five years or so playing in Tout Head 2 Head and Tout Mixed Draft, this year I returned to the National League version of Tout Wars, to compete against old friends, joined by some new faces (for me), including Fred Zinkie and Justin Mason.
With Tout Weekend canceled because of the ongoing pandemic crisis, we decided to have the auctions now as scheduled, rather than moving them to nearer the start of the season for two reasons. We knew everyone already had the time blocked now, just the location would be changing, and we figured that while there certainly will be news between now and when the season starts, the player evaluations we’ve done this spring will be just as valid now as in the future. Later we’ll scramble to fix bad luck, or take advantage of good fortune. That’s part of the game.
I haven’t gone back to read all of the auction write ups I’ve done for Tout NL over the years, but I’m afraid (since I’ve never won) that many of them start the same way. My goal was to bargain hunt in the middle range all auction long, but the bargains at the top were too enticing, so I went where the (extra) money was. This year was no different than any other. Here’s what happened.
Ronald Acuna Jr. $44 ($47 value): Some say he’s not an OBP guy, but why not? Sure, he’s no Yelich, who I had valued at $51, but he hits the ball hard, should have a decent average and walk 10 percent of the time. That’s an OBP guy. He also has power and runs. I was very pleased. Yelich, by the way, also went for $44, which was the superior buy. I almost bid $45. Maybe I should have.
Walker Buehler $30 ($29 value): I pressed the +$1 button on the auction site on a $28 bid, but a flaw in the auction software allows a momentarily earlier bid to take precedence and then bump your bid another dollar. That happened here. Buehler came out early enough that I might not have actually bid $30, there were still plenty of other pitchers to be bid on, but at this price a $1 difference is insignificant. $29 is my median value for Buehler, there’s plenty of ways he could beat it. An equal number he could fall short.
Ozzie Albies $27 ($33 value): You know how you have your guys? I don’t know why, but you have your reasons for your guys. Well, I have my guys, and my guys are the players who consistently rank higher than the prices the experts seem to be willing to pay for them. Albies is one of those this year. He has power, he has speed, he will hit for a decent average and while he’s not a base on balls machine, he walked more last year than the year before (and struck out a little less), which may be normal fluctuation but may also be improvement. If he earned $29 last year and $25 the year before and he’s just 23 years old with 1360 plate appearances, why would you expect him not to do just as well again? Maybe it’s the seven percent walk rate. Looking at my value for him, I’ll admit that I’m probably giving him a little too much OBP credit. If he hits .270 instead of .295 he’ll be worth $27 this year, all other stuff being equal. And really, he could also get better. That’s my guy.
Nolan Arenado $35 ($40 value): After buying three of the first 16 players nominated I was determined to hold off, but 15 picks later the bidding stalled on Arenado. I bid $35, expecting to be topped, but I wasn’t. The only thing I can figure here is that folks are scared of a trade. I’m not scared of a trade. First of all, there’s no guarantee he’s going to plotz if he is traded. Sure, he’s been a much better hitter in Colorado than on the road, but it isn’t as if he’s been terrible on the road. Just an ordinary guy hitting .285, which right there isn’t an ordinary guy these days. Plus, he might not be traded. Plus, who knows how trades are going to go in this weird season. So, I’m willing to take something like an eight percent discount on the chance to have the best third baseman in the game. By far.
Will Smith $14 ($14 value): I’m a believer in Will Smith, so paying the ticket price just made sense. Smith wasn’t a top prospect most of the time coming up, but a look at his play through the minors showed plate judgment and growing power. I don’t see any reason why that should stall at this point. Might he be a low-average guy? Could be, but he walks more than nine percent of the time. His OBP may not be big, but for a guy with his power and quantitative stats, he’ll get on base enough to be much better than most catchers.
Wilson Ramos $13 ($17 value): Ramos is another one of my guys. Three-time Tout NL champion Mike Lombardo, who passed away recently, thought having two good catchers was the center of any winning strategy. Don’t overpay, but get good catchers he’d say, because a lot of teams are going to be playing with garbage. The homage wasn’t intentional, but very appropriate.
Reisel Iglesias $13 ($13 value): I hate buying closers, but when you plan on only buying one expensive starter you can’t afford to punt saves. Iglesias wasn’t quite as reliable last year as in the past, but the top-line numbers are more dramatically negative than the underlying ones. As with nearly all closers not called Mariano, pretty much a dart throw at a pretty good strikeout rate.
Yasiel Puig $5 ($3 value): That value is a little bogus. If you figured Puig was 50/50 to play in either AL or NL, he’d have an $11 value in both leagues. But that’s complicated by the fact that he hadn’t signed when ST camp ended. So there’s some chance he won’t play at all in the majors this year. Calling that a 50/50 shot seems fair, which means his real value should have been $5.50. Not a great bargain, but a little one, and if he does land in the NL he should be a great profit center.
Mike Moustakas $22 ($22 value): I was getting nervous about shortstops, that’s why I bought Moustakas (one of my guys) here. The real guy I wanted was Corey Seager, who was the next guy nominated after Puig. He’s another of my guys. He even went cheap, for $21 ($23 value), but I was feeling cash poor and didn’t pull the trigger on $22. 22 picks later I was feeling like I needed another bat, and when I could get Moustakas at my price I took it. He has valuable position flexibility, can cover corner or middle, so I wasn’t jamming myself up, and he’s moving to a good park. Might one be optimistic even?
Dylan Carlson $8 ($8 value): Taking another risky guy boom or bust guy here probably is a mistake. If either of them works out I’ll have a profit, but the chance neither of them will are good enough that a safer choice might have made more sense. But heck, you have to take chances to win, don’t you?
Mike Foltynewicz $12 ($12 value): I was hoping to pick off him or Dinelson Lamet as ($13 value) my No. 2, but I didn’t get to $13 first on Lamet so I settled for Folty. He had a great second half, which coming off injury may or may not mean something. But if he returns to 2018 form and luck I got him at about a 50 percent discount. That’s at the high end, but I think there’s a better than fair chance there’s profit here.
Ender Inciarte $6 ($6 value): There were better outfield bargains, but most cost more. Or I thought would cost more. Inciarte has a low price because he was awful last year while battling injuries and fighting for playing time, but he should play more this year and isn’t that old and gets on base, even if he doesn’t run as much as he did (though I hope he does). And most importantly was not that costly. I have a weird outfield, for sure, that’s really all I can say.
Freddy Galvis $7 ($7 value): Budget limited, I had to let my guy Dansby Swanson go for $17. This is going to happen in NL only, you can’t have great players at every position. Galvis has some power but he doesn’t walk much and his batting average isn’t going to be average, which makes him an OBP liability. On the other hand, he has some power which is more than can be said of the other guys I could have picked up. I had hopes of landing Johan Camargo, who would not get as many at bats but could be a more productive hitter, in the endgame. That didn’t work out, so there is work to do here.
Chris Archer $5 ($7 value): It hasn’t gone well for him in Pittsburgh, but he’s earned $7 the last two years. He strikes out more than a batter an inning. At this price I’m throwing darts.
AJ Pollock $7 ($14 value): Okay, here’s one of those outfield bargains I was talking about earlier. He’s not likely to see 500 plate appearances, but he projects out at $18 of earnings for me. LABR paid $13 and I should probably adjust my bid price down to $10 or so, still he’s a good price for a good player who could play more if there’s an injury or trade. Historically he has no platoon split.
Jon Lester $2 ($4 value): Veteran grit, of course, and he’s earned $12, $16 and $7 the last three years. It could be the end of the line, he’ll be on a short leash, but he’ll also be looking to prove something. That he’s ageless.
Wade Davis $2 ($4 value): A second closer? Maybe. Scott Oberg went for $2 as well, to Tristan Cockcroft. One of us might be right.
Sean Newcomb $2 ($4 value): There’s a reason he’s only $2. He doesn’t have the big strikeout pitch, he’s been better in relief than as a starter. He’s also a good age to make some change that either wins him the starting role or not. The bet here is maybe.
Dominic Smith: I needed a first baseman. I know, I know. Smith has real upside if he can find at bats.
Jose Osuna: Technically $2 because he was on my mind in my first base misery and I clicked +1 when I shouldn’t have. Not as much talent as Smith, and no greater chance to play. A mistake, my mistake.
Brian Dozier: He hit 20 homers last year and he walks a lot. Discounted because his batting averages are bad and he has no path to obvious at bats.
Tony Gonsolin: Talented arm in a crowded rotation. Not a huge strikeout guy, but throws ground balls. Could be Ross Stripling, if only Ross Stripling wasn’t still on the team.
Touki Toussaint: Talented arm in a crowded rotation, was terrible as a starter in Triple-A last year and not much better in relief in the big leagues. But he’s young and he’ll always have 2018.
Of course I like my team!
The bones are good, the talent for the most part young and exciting or middle aged and moving into good situations. The big risks are having no first baseman, three risky outfielders, and a lot of arms with some pedigree, but one or two of the five will have to step up. But it’s a long season, unless it turns out to be a short one, and this is the price to pay for having some top talent.
So, we wait.