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Cockcroft's LABR-NL auction review

3/20/2008

Sometimes even the best-laid plans go awry.

You know how they tell you -- OK, even I tell you -- never to get too attached to any one player heading into the draft, lest you let your spending on that one guy get out of control? Well, apparently, I'm a "do as I say, not as I do" kind of drafter.

Point No. 1 of my strategy for this year's League of Alternative Baseball Reality (LABR)-National League auction: Buy David Wright. Period.

The thinking: It has been nearly a decade now -- granted, off and on -- that I've been a participant in the annual LABR auctions, held in sunny Phoenix these days, and only a handful of times has a player sold at $40-plus. It's like the experts set a bar, $40 for the top player, hesitating to go beyond it, trying to keep costs beneath it. It's how I landed Johan Santana for a seemingly cheap $39 last year, and frankly, looking back, I remember having been willing to go a few bucks higher if pressed to do so.

In fact, Johan's price tag is a bit of a running joke I've had with Larry Schechter, from whom I "stole" the lefty ace, ever since. We're still keeping a running tally of the number of teams on which we can claim ownership of Mr. Santana. (Sorry, Larry, I'm still winning.)

The other running joke: Keeping Mets and Yankees away from the team of Rick Wolf and Glenn Colton, last year's LABR-AL champion and ardent fantasy fan of players from New York or Boston. Well, in this year's game of keep-away, sanity finally took hold of me, faced with the prospect of going all-in on Wright.

I bowed out … at $45.

That's right, LABR's highest-priced player in either league for 2008 wasn't a man named Rodriguez, Ramirez or Reyes. It was Wright, and he sold for a price higher than any I've seen in my years in the league except for Vladimir Guerrero's $47 in 2003. Pedro Martinez once went for $50, before my days, but remember, to say that Pedro manhandled the rest of the league during his prime might be understating it.

Hey, at least I made good on the rest of my strategies.

Tristan's LABR-NL team

Point No. 2: Buy at least two "category-fillers," guys who offer at least four categories, with one of them being stolen bases. I might have missed on Wright, who'd have fit this strategy, but Hanley Ramirez at $39 and Chris Young (the outfielder) at $27 are fine fallback options. Nate McLouth ($12), if he wins a starting role, might be a decent sleeper type, too.

Point No. 3: If there's any fear in taking risks, use starting pitchers to take those risks. Hey, most starting pitchers are risks anyway, right? Might as well take a shot at upside plays and hope for the best; I'd take a possible four months of greatness over six months of merely above-average performance any day. Not that Aaron Harang ($21) qualifies; I just like him for my "staff-ace" role. But Yovani Gallardo ($19) and Ben Sheets ($16) certainly fit the bill.

As an aside, I've often wondered whether I'd have gone the extra buck on Sheets had I not seen him toss two perfect innings against the Rockies a day earlier at Hi Corbett Field. He looked great his first two times out; not so much in two since. Hey, at least Sheets has a 3.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP and 8.09 K/9 ratio in his healthy starts the past three years combined. I'll take the shot at a 20-plus-start campaign.

Point No. 4: LABR has some funky rules regarding the use of a six-man bench, selected in a post-auction reserve draft. You can't demote a player from your active roster unless the player is placed on the disabled list, sent to the minors, sent to Japan or otherwise deactivated by his big league team. Your original six reserve picks, though, can be shuffled freely in and out of your lineup without restriction.

Odd setup, I know, but in discussing that little rule tidbit with fellow LABR draftee Christopher Harris, who participated in the American League auction, we came up with an interesting angle: "Waste" an active roster spot on a probable minor league/DL candidate, then load up the reserve list with matchups-style pitchers we can swap in and out of the lineup, circumventing those odd rules. (We're such troublemakers.)

With $2 left at auction's end and little to like on the pitching list, I found my man: Roger Clemens. No, I'm not at all a believer he's making another comeback -- on another aside, is this man the baseball equivalent of the Rolling Stones? -- but hey, he'll be reserve-eligible. Take a gander at my reserve list; it's five matchups pitchers, plus prospect Chris Perez. Maybe it'd look prettier had Ryan Dempster, Kyle Lohse or Esteban Loaiza been the $2 pick and Clemens a late reserve, but hey, rule technicalities count.

Overall, I'm lacking in two areas: Batting average and saves, but there are worse things in which to have deficiencies. Heath Bell, Tony Pena, Chad Qualls and Matt Lindstrom could be sleepers in the saves department, while at least I'm sound enough in homers, steals and runs scored on the offensive side. We'll see how it goes.

A few other nuggets, albeit humorous ones, from spring games in Arizona:

• I caught an A's-Angels spring game the day after the draft with buddy Kevin Rounce, seated mere inches from the entrance to the Angels' clubhouse. At one point mid-inning, Kevin pointed out John Lackey, waiting in the runway to exit for drills. Noticing him politely shooing off autograph-seekers, I thought better of asking him how his elbow felt. Sure wish I had now, with news breaking that he's out until at least mid-May.

• In the same game, Jack Cust was an adventure in left field; he sure plays like a DH. If the A's are really hoping to shoehorn Dan Johnson and Mike Sweeney into the DH role, I don't see how it's going to work because I can't see Cust, with his deficiencies on defense, playing more than half his games in the field.

Tim Lincecum was throwing darts in the one game I saw him in Peoria. He tossed two scoreless frames before I departed to head 15 minutes up the road to Surprise, on top of a 2 2/3-shutout-inning spring debut Feb. 29. Since then, Lincecum has allowed seven runs in 2 1/3 frames (three that day alone). Sorry, Tim, if I was the kibosh on your spring, but from the pure look of it, I still say you're destined for a great season.

Carlos Silva apparently has a hankering for In-N-Out burgers. After catching, oh, six innings of Mariners-Padres in Peoria, Ariz., a few of us popped in for a quick bite at the In-N-Out down the street, only to catch Silva and his family thinking alike. By the way, it couldn't have been later than the seventh inning of the Mariners' game at the time. Hey, I guess he earned it, tossing two shutout innings earlier in the contest.

Just do me a favor, Carlos, "do as I say, not as I do," and don't go for the Double-Double. I need you as a healthy, fit matchups option on one of my AL-only squads!

Tristan H. Cockcroft covers fantasy sports for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.