My blood sugar was low. The sun was in my eyes. Brandon Funston of Yahoo is a practiced ventriloquist.
How else can I explain spending $14 on Rich Harden in the AL-only version of LABR?
For the uninitiated, "LABR" is the "League of Alternate Baseball Reality," the first "superstar" experts' fantasy baseball league. Once upon a time, it included Peter Gammons and Keith Olbermann, among others. Think of it as the Asia ("Heat of the Moment," "Only Time Will Tell") of fantasy horsehide.
And yeah, now I'm in it. Our cultural notion of "celebrity" certainly has come down a long way.
The draft fell on March 1 in Phoenix, Ariz. I winged out ready to represent the ESPN mother ship with one mantra, and one mantra only:
"Do not pay $14 for Rich Harden."
We each had $260 to spend on 23 players; since there are 12 teams, you could say the league is "deep." In fact, you could say it's "Nietzsche-like." "Kierkegaard-esque." You have no choice; eventually you are going to hear yourself say something along the lines of, "Mark Grudzielanek, seven dollars." There are only so many players to go around in a league this deep, and only so much cash. Plus, you can pretty much guarantee you're not the smartest guy in the room (or, well, at least I can guarantee it), so there'll be precious wool-pulling over eyes. C.C. Sabathia isn't accidentally going for a buck.
Held in a conference room in the Arizona Republic building of downtown Phoenix, the AL-only LABR draft was a sprightly affair, moving fast thanks to the dulcet tones of Perry Van Hook, the evening's auctioneer. I was strategically located in a far corner, so that my laptop's power cord (not "power chord," as Steve Howe and Steve Hackett might have it) would trip as many folks as humanly possible. That's right, I wasn't just there to win. I was there to humiliate. I'd spent that Saturday afternoon baking in the Arizona sun, watching Torii Hunter mash a bomb off Kerry Wood, then taking a tour of Chase Field. I was hungry. I ate potato chips. I was ready.
Regular readers know I usually disdain speed in fantasy drafts. Scoff at its bright and shiny promise. It's who I am. Chone Figgins does not wind up on my teams. I'll deal for steals later in the year, but especially these days, as the stolen base gets as common as a bottle hot sauce in a gift shop in an Arizona airport, I'd rather draft a squad around power. And so I did. I reeled in Nick Markakis, my first player, for $29, and while I'll be pleased if he runs more, I'd be surprised if he exceeds 15 steals for the Orioles this year. For $23, I took Delmon Young, who's fast and should probably thieve more, but whose base-running instincts won't be mistaken for Lou Brock's anytime soon. I took Jorge Posada ($18), Jason Kubel ($15), Lyle Overbay ($13) and Joe Crede ($5). My team, it lumbers, man. It squats at the side of the highway, wheezing, winded, waiting for you to go fetch the double it just lashed. I did toss a bone Julio Lugo's way in the name of not being utterly ridiculous (a $22 bone, actually). Lugo will get me 30 swipes, and I'll go from there. Meanwhile, Figgins went for $33, Brian Roberts went for $27, Jacoby Ellsbury went for $19, Jason Bartlett went for $16, Carlos Gomez went for $16 and Jerry Owens went for $10. Funston looked at me cross-eyed a couple of times, but I wasn't going high for any of these players, and I stuck to it.
Now let's get to Rich Harden.
More than aiming for or against any single category, my strategy entering this draft was to take some chances. Finishing sixth doesn't feel any better than finishing 12th (all right, it feels a little better), so I was going to swing for the fences, and whiff if I might. There were, therefore, several boom-or-bust players I decided to grab. I took Gary Sheffield for $15. That's either a genius pick, or complete lunacy. I took Scott Rolen for $16. Either his shoulder will come completely detached from his body, or it won't. I took Josh Beckett for $27 (this was before his back scare), blisters be damned. I gambled $23 that Javier Vazquez could strike out 200 again despite being a fly-ball pitcher in a really scary park. I took a $1 plunge on Garrett Olson, because I actually think his upside this year is 10 wins (while acknowledging his downside is 9,000 walks). And I spent all that pretend dough on Harden. I know. He's not staying healthy. But just imagine if he does! This guy was a Cy Young candidate-to-be as recently as 2007! Maybe $14 will wind up looking like pigeon feed! (Incidentally, Mr. Funston of Yahoo was the dude I was bidding against for Harden fairly late in the draft, when we were the only guys left with any money. He bid me up mercilessly and bowed out, and for that, I shall never forgive him.)
Finally, as the draft hit its final stages, an angel appeared in the form of ESPN.com's own Tristan Cockcroft, who was visiting in advance of his participation in the NL-only version of LABR the next day. Tristan sat down next to me and was kind enough not to scoff at the risks I'd taken. ("You've got some great power there," he told me. He refrained from saying, "You are a complete idiot.") He also sold me on drafting Juan Rivera and Josh Barfield for a buck, and taking Joe Saunders in the reserve draft. Oh, Tristan. You are both kind and wise. Except for the Josh Barfield part.
So there you have it. High-risk, hopefully high-reward, and not so heavy on the runs or steals. But the team you draft isn't the team you keep, and I should have some power to deal. Unless everyone gets hurt. Which could happen. Like, tomorrow.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.