Oh, how I very much missed live fantasy baseball salary cap drafts during the pandemic.
Tout Wars, one of the two longest-standing fantasy baseball industry analysts leagues, took place this past weekend, drafting live for the first time since 2019. Although it wasn't my first live draft overall during that three-year gap -- my home leagues returned to live drafting in 2022 -- this draft felt special, and served as a reminder of all the ingredients that make me much prefer the salary cap method of player dispersal. There's nothing quite like the strategic elements of a live draft, and there's a tremendous social benefit to the banter with friends, colleagues and, ultimately, your competitors.
My team resides in Tout Wars' NL-only salary cap format, a 12-team league with old-school rotisserie rosters (13 hitters, which includes two catchers but only four outfielders, nine pitchers and an additional "swingman" who can be either a hitter or pitcher) and a $260 draft-day budget, which uses the traditional rotisserie 5x5 scoring except with on-base percentage replacing batting average. This is a very deep league, so if you're here for some intriguing, relatively unknown names, you're in the right place.
As you prepare for your own, upcoming salary cap draft, whether still online (nothing wrong with that!) or live and in person, perhaps some of my own takeaways from Tout Wars-NL might help you in your quest for a championship.
Let the Tout Wars begin!
"I have the buyer's remorse'
An inevitable feeling for all during a salary cap draft, regret about your past purchases is one you need to set aside, and as quickly as possible. At one stage during the draft, an acquisition you made might seem brilliant, only to be overshadowed by a seemingly even better buy by a competitor later on, and at a time where you had no choice but to let that competitor's winning bid be. We don't discuss this salary cap draft angle often enough, but it's one I must mention, and one you must tuck away. Seriously, don't sweat it.
In this year's Tout, Max Scherzer ($30) almost immediately became my "buyer's remorse" player. He tied specifically to my strategy -- get my guys and get them early, whenever and wherever they appear and without hesitation -- but as I feared only minutes later, the next tier of starting pitchers went for much cheaper and I wished I had saved $5-10 of that to allocate to other areas of my roster, like the outfield or saves. Justin Verlander ($26) was rostered as few as five pitchers later, if memory serves, and Spencer Strider ($28), Aaron Nola ($28) and Zack Wheeler ($23) all looked like plenty attractive picks by comparison. Frankly, if I had the chance to do it all over while throwing one pick back, it would have been Scherzer, using his $30 to make a pair of combined buys from the group of brilliantly priced Nick Lodolo ($14), Freddy Peralta ($13), Dustin May ($12) and Jordan Montgomery ($12).
This is something to tuck away, as evaluating the starting pitching pool in your specific league will probably prove to be the most important step towards having a successful draft. One thing I did not mention in my "Playbook" piece on salary cap drafts was that it's wise to ask your league's commissioner for copies of as many past years of draft results as you can get, in order to analyze the league's overall as well as individual competitors' pitching patterns. If you can get them, note the percentage of the overall budget spent on pitching, as well as whether aces are priced at a premium and whether there are patterns of typically $1 fliers (example: a past year's version of 2023's Jared Shuster) with upside being vastly overpriced. In Tout Wars, specifically, starting pitching typically gets undervalued in the rankings Nos. 8-20 or $15-25 salary cap tier.
That said, I'm in excellent shape with Scherzer and Brandon Woodruff ($26) as my aces, especially with little proven depth behind them, so no serious regrets here.
Luis Arraez ($14), meanwhile, was another prospective "buyer's remorse" player, but unlike Scherzer, he was one I could see coming a mile away. At the time, I aimed to protect on-base percentage, seeing Jake Cronenworth and Josh Rojas also out there with plenty of middle-infield needs still on the board. Cronenworth cost $17, but Rojas' $13 winning price was one I'd much rather have in retrospect. We project Arraez to have a 25-points better OBP in 35 more trips to the plate than Rojas, which absolutely matters, but also for Rojas to finish with five more home runs, four more RBI and 22 more stolen bases -- all things my roster could have surely used. Unfortunately, I couldn't chance Rojas going for $17-18 at the time Arraez was there.
I guess you can get emotional? (No, no, you really can't.)
For the first time in quite some time, I got audibly frustrated over a bid, in part because of the salary cap draft nuance where you've got the leading bid, only to not hear the quiet, last-second bid as the player is about to be awarded. Ozzie Albies ($22) was the player in question, and those who read my piece from last week know I'm all-in on him, with my "get my guys" strategy having me deep in the bidding as his number hovered in the teens. At $20, I thought I had the player I never expected would have been possible -- I had already spent $157 of my $260 budget -- and ultimately decided that at that point, I should roster him anyway and just blurted out my listed price for him.
It flew in the face of my typical draft strategy, but I'll add that I felt pretty good about it immediately, though part of that was confidence that I could find a fair share of bargains later in the draft.
But where are the saves?
It's a fair question, as I've probably got only one of the 15 National League's teams' Opening Day closers on my roster -- and that's presuming the Arizona Diamondbacks hand said save chances to one of the top two candidates from their prospective committee, Andrew Chafin ($3) or Scott McGough ($3). Saves were especially tough to navigate in this year's Tout Wars, with the top four options costing $23-plus, and David Bednar ($19), Camilo Doval ($18) and Alexis Diaz ($15) all fetching high prices. Daniel Bard ($10) might have been the smartest closer acquisition of the draft, though even he has that Coors Field factor working against him.
The aim was to get at least three speculative save-getters from any of the National League's six wide-open bullpens -- yes, 40% of the league still has its ninth inning up for grabs -- and hope something pans out. Seranthony Dominguez ($7) is my preferred choice in Philadelphia based upon his skills, and Adbert Alzolay ($1) could be a handy option for the Chicago Cubs as either a starter or a late-inning reliever. Not getting Brusdar Graterol ($2), which made the Scherzer-bid regrets a tad more painful, was one of my bigger whiffs of the draft on the pitching side.
A prediction: The Diamondbacks, Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies will probably each have different closers record their first and final saves of the season, and at least three of those teams will have at least three different pitchers record eight-plus saves for them in 2023. There should be opportunities to fill the category in-season, if need be.
Other quick thoughts about players acquired or not
It sure would have been nice to get Endy Rodriguez ($3), stash him on the bench and replace him with Curt Casali ($1) for the season's opening weeks. Rodriguez should be called up (and be one of the better-hitting rookie catchers) during the year. ... I probably received more questions about Matt Mervis ($1) than any other pick during this draft, perhaps because his was a relatively early nomination, but my logic was that I needed a dirt-cheap, upside type at the corner infield spots and expected Mervis would cost more later as opponents had extra funds to throw as upside plays. Besides, are we really all Eric Hosmer believers once again? ... Joey Wiemer was the player I forgot in Round 2 of the reserve draft (I selected Michael Grove, a contender for the Dodgers' fifth-starter role instead) who didn't make it back to me in Round 3. There's chatter that Wiemer could make the Milwaukee Brewers, and he brings quite the combination of power and speed.
Tristan's 2023 Tout Wars NL-only roster
Catchers: Sean Murphy $18, Curt Casali $1
Infielders: Matt Mervis $1, Ozzie Albies $22, Xander Bogaerts $23, Nolan Arenado $26, Wilmer Flores $8, Luis Arraez $14
Outfielders/UT: Fernando Tatis Jr. $34, Jake Fraley $13, Avisail Garcia $9, Matt Carpenter $2, James Outman $1, Nolan Jones $2
Pitchers: Max Scherzer $30, Brandon Woodruff $26, Seranthony Dominguez $7, Scott McGough $3, Ross Stripling $6, Aaron Ashby $5, Brandon Pfaadt $5, Andrew Chafin $3, Adbert Alzolay $1
Reserve: Christian Encarnacion-Strand, Michael Grove, Kyle Harrison, Madison Bumgarner
Note: To see all Tout Wars NL-only rosters, head here.