Strategy Almanac: Auction strategy

Auctions are obviously a very different undertaking than drafts, and many fantasy players who have done strictly online drafts have problems with execution when they step up to an auction format.

But we're here to help. Having trouble managing your auction budget? Always seem to be running out of money at the end when you're trying to add one more quality player? Plan ahead of time for better results, and here's how:

Auction slotting

In this method, you can set a slot value for each player, which can be a helpful tool to keep you on track. You create a dollar value for each roster slot. See Chart A to the right.

OK, now you have a template set up for how you are going to budget your draft to acquire each player. You can try to stick with it, and if you get over or under budget, that just means you can spend less or more on the next player(s) on the list. But you can go one step further, too, by assigning a specific position to target for each slot. See Chart B for a good example of what I'm talking about.

You could even add one more step by assigning a specific player or two for each slot that you would like to target at that slot's budget, or lower. For example, you could make a notation that for that $30 outfield slot, you would like to acquire Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton or Carl Crawford.

If you buy a player you had tagged for the $30 slot for just $28, shift that $2 to another slot as you see fit. If you wind up getting a player for an amount over your slot number, adjust downward elsewhere. The numbers are not set in stone, of course. They're just helpful guidelines to help you construct your roster a little more efficiently if you are having difficulties with budget management.

Stars and Scrubs

The "Stars and Scrubs" strategy has been an auction league staple for some owners for many years. The premise is they try to buy as many premium players as possible until they start running out of money, and they wind up filling out their roster with players in the $1-3 range. This is one of the most common tactics that beginning players utilize, even if they don't realize they are doing so.

There are two main drawbacks to utilizing this strategy in current auctions. The first drawback is a fairly obvious one: When one or more stars on a Stars and Scrubs roster gets hurt or is ineffective, the owner struggles to cover that production elsewhere on his roster. That makes it more of a "boom or bust" method. If the stars remain healthy and produce, as they should, their owner has a shot. If they don't, it'll be a long season.

The second drawback is a more recent development. The Stars and Scrubs method used to be a more viable strategy before fantasy baseball information started exploding out of every type of media imaginable. One could argue that there are no true "sleepers" anymore, which makes filling out your roster with cheap players who have good potential that much more difficult. You're not going to sneak anyone by the rest of the league, not in a climate where even casual owners know the hot prospects in Class A ball. Finding those hidden gems becomes harder every year, and you need hidden gems in order to make this strategy successful, especially in a single-league format.

However, there is still some viability to this method in mixed-league formats with 12 teams or fewer, simply because of the quality of the free-agent pool. Even the scrubs that you pick up for $1 at the end are going to have starting roles and opportunities to provide solid production. If they don't, there's usually another player with a starting job out there for you to take a chance on. This strategy is worth considering in this league format, because of the amount of options available to you at the end. You can grab stable veterans or take a chance on a rookie with upside, and shuffle players in and out until you find the right mix for you.

Spread the wealth

This method is basically the opposite of the Stars and Scrubs method. The bottom-line objective of this method: Never pay $20 or more for a player. Others extend that to a $25 limit. That's it, in a nutshell.

By using this strategy, you ensure that you get quality players up and down your lineup, and while you won't have any superstars, you're looking to beat your opponents with the collective production of your entire squad. This is a nice, easy and often effective strategy to follow, while you safely avoid the bidding wars for the top players. Ideally, you wind up with a balanced roster, providing decent production at every roster slot. You also eliminate the difficulties of trying to cover a major injury to a player you paid $30 or more for at the draft. If you're having trouble trying to set a budget but don't want something as rigid as auction slotting, this is a simple guideline that can help provide a solid team from top to bottom.

Your team might not look like much on paper because there will be no big names, but it can look good in the standings, which is where it counts.

Minimizing your pitching budget

The basic part of this strategy is to load up on hitters by spending $200-220 of your $260 auction budget on hitting. You'll have plenty of offense that you can use later, either to trade for needs, if your league allows it, or to have insurance in case you lose some bats to injury. Good hitters are always in demand, whether it is in the trade market or the free-agent pool, and you want to give yourself enough bats to be on the right side of that supply-and-demand equation.

From there you have literally dozens of ways to spend the remaining $40-60 on your pitching staff:

• Perhaps you've heard of Ron Shandler's "LIMA Plan," which puts hard qualifications on the pitchers you choose to roster, regardless of role, based on standards of strikeout rates, strikeout-to-walk ratios and homer rates. Quality middle relievers and set-up men are useful here.

• You could grab one top closer, and then try to draft eight cheap starting pitchers with upside.

• You could acquire Johan Santana, C.C. Sabathia or Tim Lincecum, a closer and seven bargain-basement pitchers.

• You could try a pitching staff of nothing but middle relievers and set-up men who average around a strikeout per inning.

• You could try a "Labadini" -- nothing but $1 pitchers. In LABR, the national "experts" league, Larry Labadini did just that in 1996. He figured pitching was a crapshoot anyway, so why not spend 97 percent of his budget on offense. The key was that he would trade his excess offense for pitching as needed once he saw who was performing, and who was not. You need some good trades and astute free-agent pickups in this strategy, but it can get you in contention if you make the right moves.

The bottom line is you're not limited in what you can do with a small pitching budget. You can customize a plan based on personal preference, your league's innings pitched requirement, the flow of the auction or any other factors that need consideration.

The Randy Bush strategy

This method is known by many names, but this particular one happens to be one of the first names it was known by. It's a strategy for building an offense for those who play in single-league formats.

What's with the name? Well, the gist of this approach is that owners try to draft guys like Randy Bush, an OF/1B for the Twins from 1982 to 1993. He was never a full-time starter; in fact, he never had the required number of plate appearances to qualify for a batting title. What he did have was the ability to put up good numbers when he did play, and for a bargain price. For example, in 1987, he hit .253 with 11 homers, 46 RBIs and 10 steals despite getting fewer than 300 at-bats. The next season he posted a .260 batting average (back when that was useful in Roto) and hit 14 home runs despite getting fewer than 400 at-bats. The next season he did the same thing, and because he never had a starting job, he was always cheap to acquire. A more modern-day equivalent would be Matt Stairs, who has brought solid production eight years in a row despite getting more than 400 at-bats just once during that span.

The key here for an owner is to have hitters who are projected to get 350-400 at-bats with quality numbers, balancing out his offense and ensuring that an injury or two won't hurt too much. Every one of these guys is going to see playing time, at least in some sort of platoon arrangement, leaving the owner with no dead weight among his hitters. In fact, the guys you should be targeting are left-handed-hitting players in platoon arrangements, such as Russell Branyan and the winner of the Gabe Gross/Matt Joyce battle for the Rays' right-field job in the American Leagues, and Chad Tracy and Seth Smith in the National League.

The economic part of the theory is that fantasy owners are looking to get more "bang for their buck" in terms of production per dollar spent, earning small profits on each hitter while getting enough production to be competitive across the board. It is a little like the "spread the wealth" strategy, but here you are targeting a specific subset of hitters, the not-quite-full-time starters, and you're looking to get your speed on the cheap -- Rajai Davis style.

With the money you save on offense compared to the rest of your league, you then would have more freedom to assemble a stronger pitching staff in whatever fashion you wish, loading up on top starting pitching if that's what you wish to do.

Jason Grey is a graduate of the MLB Scouting Bureau's Scout Development Program and has won two Tout Wars titles, one LABR title and numerous other national "experts" competitions.