<
>

Expert league: Tout Wars mixed points league auction

With the top tier of starters priced at a premium, Noah Syndergaard is part of a one-two secondary ace combo for AJ Mass' mixed points Tout Wars team. Jim Rassol-USA TODAY Sports

This is my second season taking part in the Tout Wars head-to-head points league auction and even being able to take part in the event this time around was an exercise in throwing out your plans and improvising on the fly.

Last year, the 12 participants gathered in New York City and bid on the players we wanted face-to-face. That was the plan this time around as well, but circumstance and caution moved the proceedings online. Typically, auctions are about "feeling" the room and watching behaviors and gauging reactions to certain bids. All of that goes out the window in a virtual auction, making it much harder to get a true sense of exactly when is the right time to try and sneak that cheap player past a distracted room.

Nevertheless, rankings list in hand, I logged on this past Sunday for four-plus hours of hearing an automated voice emanating from my speakers with a constant drone of "Going once... going twice..." over and over and over again.

My first winning bid didn't come until player No. 18 was nominated. I had already seen eight players go for $40-plus and another six go for $30-plus. It seemed to me that this was going to be an auction where a lot of money was spent early, essentially turning the affair into more of a draft late in the game, where the final third of each team's picks was likely to be had at the minimal $1 price tag as budgets evaporated. In large part because I waited so long to grab my first player, most people dropped out quickly and I was able to snare Christian Yelich at $47 (My No. 2 player, the same price as Ronald Acuna Jr., my No. 1, and just $1 less than Mike Trout, whom I have at No. 9.).

My next winning bid came at No. 29, as I spent $27 on Jose Altuve. The "Astros discount" phenomenon seemed to be real in this auction as Alex Bregman ($33), George Springer ($29), Yordan Alvarez ($20) and Carlos Correa ($10) all went for less than perhaps they would have without the "trash can tarnish." I was also thrilled to see multiple shortstops going off the board early, setting a relatively low bar for the position and I was able to snatch up my No. 1 shortstop, Trea Turner, at bargain $31. Trevor Story (3) went at $37 five players earlier, while Francisco Lindor (2) cost $36 just two players later.)

The scoring system of this league is rather unique, which makes pitching staff construction a bit of a conundrum. Wins are worth 8 points, quality starts and saves are worth 5 and holds are worth 3. Additionally, there is no deduction for hits allowed (though walks and earned runs will dock you a point each) and K's are only worth half a point. Each batter you retire also nets you a point. In other words, you could choose to go with an all SP strategy, but with negative points for losses, a few clunkers might not be worth going that deep into MLB rotations.

This is why I opted for a modified version of my "ace plus closers" strategy that I typically use in points leagues. Ideally, I would have wanted one of the "big four" SP to anchor my staff, but the early spending spree surprised me enough to back down. Instead, I ended up targeting Zack Greinke ($29) and Noah Syndergaard ($21) and doubling down on them with their own team's closers (Roberto Osuna, Edwin Diaz). Adding Kenley Jansen and Nick Anderson to the mix gives me the potential for 8-10 save opportunities per week.

Rounding out my staff, I went with a pair of pitchers from my pitchers to target recommendations: Joe Musgrove and Mike Leake. I later used four of my six picks in the reserve draft to grab as many of the top holds guys as possible. While we don't have daily moves in this league, we do get to make one round of midweek moves headed into the weekend series. I'll be using this mini-streaming opportunity to get the most out of my staff, rather than simply be stuck with a lineup full of SP who are guaranteed not to pick up the baseball for the rest of the scoring period.

A quick note about the timing of this auction and how it responded to injured players. Justin Verlander went for $32, Aaron Judge $20, and Giancarlo Stanton $16; all for more than they likely would have if not for the uncertainty surrounding the start of the 2020 season. Drafting teams now for games that conceivably might not start for several months forced the room to reassess their valuations of these players on the fly and, in my opinion, also helped fuel the overall willingness to overspend early. Heck, even Chris Sale went for $7.

With a huge chunk of my $260 budget gone, I simply bided my time, targeting specific hitters when they came up and hoping that I would be able to go that $1 more than anyone else. While this strategy didn't work all the time, I feel that there were enough people in the same boat that I was able to grab the likes of Bo Bichette ($20), Jose Abreu ($15), Jeff McNeil ($9) and Tommy Edman ($4) to start to fill in my lineup. After that, it was simply grabbing whatever outfielders I could with the few dollars I had left, settling for the ones that nobody else bid on (because when they did, I had nothing in my pockets to respond.

Grabbing Alex Verdugo to finish my roster at pick No. 213 was a perfect way to end my draft, 60-some picks before the final selection. Here's a guy who has no real timetable as to when he may return to action, much like the sport itself. Still, I decided to pick him and hope for the best, which is all any of us can do in today's environment of uncertainty. But I remain an optimist, and I fully expect this team of mine to be very competitive in the 2020 Tout Wars when the umpires finally get to shout once more, "Play ball!". Eventually.