Mr Fantasy…A Poolie’s Dirty Little Draft Day Secrets
Send us (Kole) Calhoun, something to make us all happy. Greetings and salutations Hot Corner fans. It’s that time of year again. Everyone has reported in the proverbial best shape of their lives and hope springs eternal once again. I don’t get too worked up about it until about March 10th or so. By then the token invites are gone and the real up and comers start playing regularly for about a week. That’s when I start paying attention. Watch for injury news and listen for GM/Manager quotes, but forget about the numbers, good or bad. Sure if uber prospect X (think Ken Griffey Jr in 1989) is cleaning up, it’s worth noting, but mostly the established players are just getting their work in. I’ve been playing so-called Fantasy Baseball since 1988. We’ve had surprisingly low turnover in our 10 team AL only league over the years, but it’s a keeper league with an auction. That means, give or take a few winter weeks, it’s never really the offseason. To me, that keeps it interesting.
I don’t think I’d care very much for a draft with daily transaction or something similar. I like that we are stuck with our Sunday night anticipatory picks and can’t make any roster changes until the following Sunday. We even make sure NL players coming over from the other league mostly go onto the waiver wire if they affect more than one team. We got together this past January 30th, about a month ago now, to crown the 2015 champion, hoist the trophy, hand over the winnings and most importantly, to make trades as the season rapidly approaches. It’s an annual ritual that has everyone laughing and ingesting copious amounts of Crown Royal, sometimes to their detriment. For some teams it’s the first time they’ve thought about it since getting eliminated the year before, but not this guy. I usually come ready to zero in on two or three players and most of the time come away with at least one of them. I feel like it’s the best time of the year to make trades; there is very little fresh news and some of the other owners have their guard down. It’s all fun and games until you fumble Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor hoping Houston’s A.J. Reed is the real deal. That actually happened to a friend of mine; he got Kansas City’s Eric Hosmer in the deal, but at $19. I would not have parted with Lindor under any circumstances, but that’s just me.
This year, as a Roberto Osuna owner, I made it my business to come away with Drew Storen as closer insurance in Toronto. As a guy with a distinct AL slant, I can’t tell you much about Drew Storen. I knew he lost his closer role last year in Washington, but I also know he’s two years removed from having a 1.12 ERA in 56+ innings. I don’t what Roberto Osuna did to deserve this guy, but he’s here now and I have roughly 30 days to decide between them. I can’t have both. I own New York Yankee Setup man Dellin Betances and Los Angeles Angel Closer Huston Street at $7 each and there’s no more bullpen room at the Inn. I hate having to leave one of them behind on Protected Roster Day, but it has to be done. And I can’t even tell you how much I enjoyed the recent Rafael Soriano signing. I could never understand why they didn’t sign him last offseason, but I realize he didn’t contribute much due to injury and ineffectiveness last year so it was probably for the best…except that I had him on my roster in case Toronto made him the closer last year. The fact remains that he knows what he’s doing and if he’s healthy he could also pose a problem. Hope not, but Rafael untucked his way to some 42 Saves after taking over for the injured Mariano Rivera in 2012. My pen seems shaky all of the sudden. Street is fading and I can’t even count on 20 Saves from the rest of them combined really. Things can turn south very quickly in Rotisserie Baseball if you aren’t constantly anticipating the worst case scenario. Write that down.
The other player I went after was the Yankees new 2B Starlin Castro. I always, without fail, target a player that is not only multi-position eligible, but who is either scheduled to DH full time or play a less error prone position. Last year that player was Houston Astro DH Evan Gattis, ostensibly eligible as a catcher for the last time. He rewarded me with 27 HRs, 88 RBIs and only 1 error. Now, with his catcher eligibility gone, I have zero interest him because he’ll just clog up my DH slot. Like it or not, our league has had errors as a category from day one. Only one player can DH in our league (which shields you from their errors if they are not actually a full time DH a la David Ortiz) and I like to be able rotate the player having the toughest time defensively in a given year into that slot. I always look for stronger defenders as a result so I don’t have to waste my DH on some spindly roadrunner with no power.
A guy like Minnesota Twin 3B Trevor Plouffe becomes more important to me than most because, range or no range, he doesn’t get charged with many errors and puts up numbers like you would expect from a corner IF minus the batting average. I can deal with a sub .250 BA if my 3B pops 20 HRs knocks in 80 Runs and makes less than 15 errors. Unfortunately for me, as defending champion last year, I also owned NY 3B Chase Headley (who didn’t post 20 and 80 unfortunately) and, gulp, Oakland A’s near rookie Marcus Semien. Semien, as many of you know, was flat awful for the A’s at SS defensively last year. For all of April and May last year I had Blue Jay 1B Edwin Encarnacion, Kansas City Royals DH Kendrys Morales, Headley and Plouffe at 1B/CO/3B/DH. Not only that I had New York Yankees SS Didi Gregorius off to an awful start defensively as well. I dreaded the box scores last Spring. I know this isn’t relevant to most of you, but I was sure The A’s would move the obviously overmatched Semien to 2B eventually, but they never did. He was a multi-position eligible guy at that time with what I felt was a lot of talent. He could run, hit one out, move around the diamond; I had high hopes for him. I felt that my team was so strong I could weather the defensive storm. I was wrong. I finally traded both Semien & Morales to open up DH for Headley, but it was literally too little too late. Morales continued to rake, Semien’s errors calmed down and Headley was terrible for the most part the rest of the year.
Before I get inundated with comments explaining what an idiot I am, please understand in a keeper league everyone has a price tag that carries over into the following year. Everybody is constantly in search of young and cheap, but you have to take the chance to win when it presents itself because you never know when it’ll come around again. The name of the game is value and to try and divest yourself of players headed towards DH only status like Morales (whom I felt couldn’t play any better when I traded him) before anyone else realizes it. Headley has a reputation as a decent defender so I figured he’d shake the yips and hit better as a result. He didn’t, but he was $4 going on $7 to keep. Now he won’t even make my 2016 Protected Roster, but I didn’t know any of that at our league trading deadline. Still, despite all this poor/unlucky managing, I was right there (1 point off the lead) with a week to play, but it wasn’t to be. I guess my point is, no matter what your categories are, try not to get attached to players and pay attention to why you are losing if you are. To shorten a long story, my pitching fell apart (Michael Pineda and Ivan Nova to really narrow it down) during the final week and I finished 5 points back in 3rd place. Disappointing, but a respectable money finish nevertheless. I had no Ace and battled hard all Summer. I can live with that.
Getting back to Castro, I wanted him because I think he’s got some nice upside for a middle IF and he’s eligible at SS. Because of roster strength I have to toss Gregorius back even though he treated me well over all last year. I needed a SS. We can only protect 15 and five players with less than 15 games MLB experience on our “minor” league rosters. Everyone in our league tries in vain all winter to trade their Major League surplus for minor league eligible players. Last year I made the mistake of trading Danny Salazar, Jason Castro & Rob Refsnyder for Taijuan Walker because he was eligible for my minor league roster. I say mistake because I valued Nathan Eovaldi at $4 over Salazar at $7 (who got sent down two days later) thinking he would blossom in NY. Maybe then I could trade for Salazar after the draft with his stock seemingly on the decline. Neither worked out. Eovaldi gave up so many hits I dumped him right after his 8 run first against Miami in mid-June. Naturally he then righted the ship beautifully until he got hurt in September. Walker showed flashes of brilliance, but walked way too many and was thoroughly outpitched by Danny Salazar as soon as he was called back up. Going forward they’re a toss up in my mind, but I really wish I had held my ground with Salazar. I had owned him since he bamboozled Toronto for 7 innings in his Major League debut. I know protecting 15 players sounds like a lot, but I wish it was 20 sometimes. The guys I’m throwing back this year are better than some of the other teams’ protected rosters in my league. I have never liked the Stars and Scrubs strategy and rarely pay more than $25 for any player unless I’m using up money saved at the end of the auction.
Before we get too far down the road let me stipulate for the record that I root for The Evil Empire. I grew up in New Jersey and it’s been this way since 1968. I’ve lived through the Horace Clarke years and the Ed Whitson years. I suffered Thurman Munson‘s death, the soul crushing trade of Bobby Murcer and 18 years of misery. So I obviously wasn’t born yesterday. I’ve also lived behind enemy lines in Boston for the last 38 years. Now I’m back in New Jersey and of course YES and Comcast are brawling so the Yankees aren’t on Comcast for the moment. Doesn’t that figure. I’m not your typical blowhard Yankee fan though. I watch the entire season end to end. I would never think of missing a World Series game unless Boston was about to clinch. I buy the MLB package every year and I have to believe I get more out of it than most. I try not to let Fantasy Baseball rule my life, but sometimes in gets in the way for sure. I tell you all this so you don’t think I’m some kind of closet Yankee lover. I’m not. I’m out in the open, but I love players on almost every team in both leagues, though I only play Fantasy in one. Still, I just traded my favorite player, Brett Gardner, because his salary, after some five years of ownership, had mushroomed to $24. That’s the end of the line for me.
That is some detached Fantasy balling my friends, but he just doesn’t run enough for me at $24. It’s more than I pay Jose Bautista (who wants a raise of course). It’s the same number I pay Edwin Encarnacion (who feels likewise). It’s more than I pay Michael Brantley for crying out loud. I have a lot of tough calls this spring. Brantley’s hurt and he’s $22, but man he’s worth every penny when he isn’t injured. It’s just that I have too many bargains to keep him with that injured wing. If he misses April, which I expect he will, I’ve got to let him go. I’m actually hoping the prognosis gets worse as Opening Day approaches so I can potentially buy him back for cheaper, but I doubt it. Nobody misses much in our league. And of course he’s now “ahead of schedule.”
By the way, price tags in auction leagues are only relevant for the league they are in. The free market system tags these players and people protect where they think there is value. Most Fantasy prognostications give you an idea of where they’ll end up in terms of production, but they can’t account for what value is built into other teams’ rosters in your league. I don’t need to tell you, at least I hope I don’t, to go back to last year and make the 3rd place finisher’s final numbers your loose goal for the upcoming season in each category. That’s what prognostications are designed to help you with. Nobody has to tell me I finished 1st in HRs, RBIs, Total (Walks + Runs), 2nd in Saves and Steals, 3rd in Wins & Ratio (IP + Ks – Hits + BBs), 5th in Batting Average, 8th in ERA and 9th in Errors. Those numbers are ingrained in my mind. Each year I have the same determination to correct past mistakes and this year is no different. I plan to draft for batting average, ERA and defense surprisingly enough. My game strength is in the day to day grind of information and anticipation, not the Protected Rosters and not Draft Day. I try to pack as much value as I possibly can into my roster, act like I don’t care about the players I’m leaving behind, bid up the players I don’t care about (but would take at a bargain) and poker face my way through the draft with a laser focus on the nine players I want to score (we have 14 offensive slots and 10 pitchers). I keep the DH slot free for mistakes (like bidding $2 on Justin Smoak last year…yes he eventually paid off handsomely, but not for me as I was forced to jettison his bench sitting behind before he actually contributed anything of value) and to keep me eligible to bid on any player. It’s not rocket science, but auctions can make you crazy. If you’ve never been in one it’s wild as the auctioneer says going once, going twice…and then someone chimes in with a bid on the player you wanted after chatting with someone else. Or worse, no one bids, just yells out “last closer in the draft” to wake up the masses at your expense. I never let them see me sweat, but it definitely rankles you when you think you had a player $5 ago and some slug speaks up out of nowhere.
OK, I won’t presume to name sleepers or come back candidates here, but if you are interested to know what AL players I am bullish on for the coming season this is my list. Some of them are rookies, some of them are post hype, some of them are on their 9th life and some of them I’ve been stubbornly wrong on in the past. Maybe I’ll do another column on why I like these players to progress, return or rebound, but for now it’s just a list. Keep your eye out for value bargains (either immediately or mid-Summer…and remember hidden value is what we’re after) as it pertains to the following players; Jose Ramirez, Tyler Duffey, James Paxton, Tyler Skaggs, Martin Perez, Kris Medlen, Aaron Sanchez, Adam Eaton, Luis Severino, Derek Holland, Keone Kela, Lance McCullers, Jose Berrios, Alex Cobb, Aaron Hicks, Jon Singleton, Josh Tomlin, Daniel Norris, Rougned Odor, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr, Dalton Pompey, Devon Travis, James McCann, Ketel Marte, Jonathan Schoop, Carson Smith, C.J. Cron, Matt Wieters, Henry Owens, Leonys Martin, Trevor Bauer, Drew Smyly, Cody Anderson, Danny Valencia, Nick Castellanos, C.C. Sabathia, Trevor May and Drew Hutchison. Some of these players won’t be drafted, some will need an opportunity, some are free agents, some are presently injured and some of them are being jerked around by management, but all of them will provide value (i.e. outperform expectations) on Draft Day and beyond in my opinion. We shall see right? Good luck to all of you fantasy seamheads!