It was roughly an hour before the Tout Wars mixed auction this past weekend when I texted colleague, pal and resident fantasy baseball genius Tristan H. Cockcroft and asked him if he had any advice. After all, Tristan has enjoyed much success in Tout Wars and I am merely in my second year. While Year 1 went fine for a while (until it did not), why not get help? His response was of little surprise to me, "Go stars and scrubs." This is what a normal fantasy analyst would say, and it's how I approached the format last season.
Then I went and did exactly the opposite.
This is no reflection of how I felt about Tristan's valued recommendation. If the prices were more to my liking, perhaps I would have done what pretty much everyone else did. There are myriad ways to build a championship fantasy roster in an auction format -- although this particular one is 15 teams, with OBP instead of batting average. Spending big money on the top stars and then grinding it out, targeting more than a few dollar buys is one popular way to do things. Five minutes into this thing, though, I wanted to go with a balanced approach.
The general rule is to focus on playing time in AL- and NL-only formats, but I wanted to avoid the dollar players (even in this league), ignoring how none of these fellows would be worthy of a first-round pick in a draft. I might have been the only one. In fact, in each of the two Tout Wars mixed league auctions, there were more than 70 single-dollar buys -- which is astounding, but it can also can be dangerous. My dollar buys are my second catcher and a final pitcher I can easily bench for Week 1, whenever that may be.
I have to say I really, really like this team. In some cases, I targeted the "middle tiers" of players once I passed on the top stars and decided to go this strategic route. Astros 2B Jose Altuve is my most expensive player at $28. That price is fine. I like most of these prices and think there is room for upside, frankly. In fact, this was an interesting auction for me. I was one of the last analysts to engage and secure any players, and I had the most money available for hours until the end and finished my roster first. It worked for me.
Here are the players I chose.
Infield: I list this position first, instead of catcher, because I filled the former first and the latter last. Altuve was my first player, No. 29 overall, and my lone purchase in the first 47 options. The price initially seemed low to me. I cannot say if it is a reaction to the Astros scandal, which figures to be an afterthought whenever the season begins. Tout Wars also uses on-base percentage rather than batting average, though that did not factor into my decision to get Altuve. Still, his career .364 OBP works.
I would say the prices for Jose Abreu, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. are fair, but not special, with upside built in for the Toronto pair. Abreu is underrated -- a solid power producer. Bichette looked awesome as a rookie and could provide five-category goodness. Guerrero went for more than this a year ago, but because his rookie season was a disappointment, people might have forgotten his immense upside. I did not target him, but the price was right. The price was definitely right for Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Correa. I had enough money at the time to acquire each for more, but for a combined $23, sign me up! There's safe power here and, if the league plays only half a season, perhaps these fellows play it all.
Outfield: I might have gone a bit too far for Luis Robert as more experienced and safe outfielders went for less money immediately afterward, but every draft and auction I have done so far I can admit to feeling skeptical about having procured enough stolen bases. Power is everywhere, and my solution to avoiding panic there is to make sure every hitter can hit home runs. Mission accomplished in this auction. With steals, who knows? Relying on relatively unproven players like Bichette and Robert is a risk. Robert also seems a bit unlikely to post a high OBP, but if he steals bases, I will take it. His price was likely my biggest overpay.
The other four outfielders cost a total of $43, which seems impossible with this group. Max Kepler mashed 36 home runs, and drew enough walks to provide a .336 OBP last season. Michael Brantley hit .311 with 22 home runs. Shin-Soo Choo offers a tasty combination of power, speed and a high OBP. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. showed immense power in 2019. Perhaps I am overrating them all, and any (or all) could take a statistical step backward, but I see bargains here, whereas more than a few of the dollar outfielders seemed like borderline bench options to me. The Yankees' surprise Mike Tauchman is one of them. I saw myriad names like his go for a dollar. I got him in the reserve draft and figure he is worth plugging in when necessary, noting his 2019 breakout as legitimate.
Utility: I targeted Nick Solak here. Yeah, I have written about him before, but I really think Solak can hit and the Rangers will find him regular playing time. Perhaps I could have secured Solak for a dollar but I had $4 to spend and went all-in. Andrew McCutchen was my other target, and I could have afforded him at the time, but opted to wait. McCutchen was never going to be ready for the original Opening Day but now, whenever that is, he should be fine. By the way, you might have noticed all the hitters I secured play in the American League. That was not an actual strategy.
Catcher: OK, I went with a pair of NL options here. I overspent on Omar Narvaez, but it was so late and I had the funds, so why not acquire a backstop with a .361 career OBP -- a figure no other top catcher can actually match. Gary Sanchez boasts a career .328 OBP. How much is power worth? As for Kurt Suzuki, he has averaged 16 home runs over the past three seasons. The price is certainly right for that production.
Starting pitcher: I figured this would be a team weakness, and this crew comes with some ERA and WHIP risk. There are plenty of strikeouts here. Trevor Bauer and Lance Lynn finished fifth and seventh in the category last season. Neither are aces, nor are they likely to post sub-3.00 ERAs anytime soon, but for the combined price of Shane Bieber, I think this works. Joe Musgrove, Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Urquidy each cost $5 and came in a wild span of seven nominations. Each intrigues me for different reasons. Musgrove's ERA has yet to match his enticing FIP. Perhaps it will in 2020. Tanaka is what he is, but his WHIP is fine. Urquidy should win a rotation spot and I really like his strikeout upside.
In this league, there is a six-man reserve. I chose starting pitchers with four of those spots, or at least potential starters. Two of the youngsters offer notable upside in Dustin May and Corbin Burnes. Frankly, I was surprised May failed to go in the auction part. The loaded Dodgers figure to handle him carefully, but in a shortened season, this is OK. Burnes is a wild card and he was pitching well in spring games. A year ago, so many of us loved him and now, like with Guerrero, suddenly everything's changed? C'mon. Mike Fiers and Marco Gonzales are filler picks coming off excellent seasons and nobody seems to think they can do it again. OK, but they did do it. Any of these four pitchers can take the active spot of Spencer Howard, who figures to be a minor leaguer for a bit longer.
Relief pitcher: Three closers for $22 seems like a dream, but I do think Hector Neris, Archie Bradley and Ian Kennedy will close for their respective teams, and each is capable of saving 30 games over a six-month campaign. In retrospect, Neris might have cost a dollar or two too much, but so what. Bradley's bidding curiously stopped at $6. I still do not understand why. I understood why Kennedy ended up at $6. Something always goes wrong when you think your bullpen is awesome, but on paper, to get a trio of potential 30-save options for what one Josh Hader cost -- and he is great, obviously -- keyed how I was able to build the rest of my roster.