Commentary

How to use ESPN's new FAAB feature

Updated: March 11, 2011, 10:24 AM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

When I first started playing fantasy baseball, you were lucky to hear about an injury that occurred in a game played on the West Coast the same week it took place. In today's day and age, you can be at the North Pole and get near-immediate notification on your cell phone that Ryan Dempster stubbed his toe, along with super slo-mo video of the incident, mere moments after it happened. The game has changed.

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Perhaps that's why I don't understand why people remain content to play in leagues where having a fast Internet connection trumps having actual baseball knowledge. Yet, for many fantasy leagues, the waiver wire is still run as a first-come, first-served, all-you-can-eat buffet. The alternative, where a team that makes a free-agent claim moves to the back of the line in the waiver wire pecking order, doesn't seem quite right to me either. Why should an owner's season-long inactivity suddenly be rewarded by giving him first dibs on a hot September call-up? There's got to be a better way!

Well, now there is. ESPN is proud to announce we are now offering FAAB as an option for your fantasy baseball league.

What is FAAB? It stands for free-agent acquisition budget, a stash of imaginary cash that every team in your league is given to do free-agent auction bidding. (Look at that! Two acronyms for the price of one! What a bargain!) Simply put, FAAB is an in-season salary cap that covers all your free-agent needs.

No longer will you have to scramble to your computer to beat out your chief rival to that hot prospect who finally gets the call on a random Thursday night in mid-July. Under FAAB, all waiver-wire moves are processed in batches, one or more times a week, depending on how frequently your league wants free agents to be claimed. If you want to put in a claim for a player, you submit a "sealed bid" (and in this case, you do so through the league's Web site). When the deadline for bids passes, the owner who bid the most on a particular free agent gets him, and the amount of the bid will be subtracted from that owner's remaining budget.

FAAB not only is a far more equitable system -- a team that needs to make several waiver claims because of multiple injuries during a week can actually do so -- but also offers far more in the way of strategy. Knowing when to spend your limited budget while simultaneously trying to feel out your fellow owners as to how much of a bid is "too much" makes for a much more rewarding fantasy experience than waking up in the morning, hearing your star first baseman is out for the year and discovering all of the top free agents at the position have already been snatched up while you slept.

Still wondering whether FAAB is right for your league? Here are a few tips and explanations that should help answer some of the questions you might have about this new feature:

How big is the FAAB budget for the season?

League managers can choose to set this limit at anywhere from 10 to 1,000 "dollars," but really, since everyone is starting out with the same amount, this decision is probably more cosmetic than anything else. Personally, I like 100 as a nice round number because it's really easy to figure out what percent of your total budget for the year you're using on any one pickup.

What if two or more owners bid the same amount on a player?

The tiebreaker setting on ESPN.com is the inverse order of standings and cannot be changed. Knowing this in advance of your bid can help you avoid a tie in the first place. For example, if you know the last place team has only $7 left in its FAAB, then you can bid $8 and take his bid completely out of the equation. Similarly, if you are in last place and you know the only other team likely to bid on the free agent you want has only $20 left, and you have $35 left, you don't have to bid any higher than $20 to be awarded that player. Since there's no "backsies" in these bids, you don't want to bid more than you absolutely have to.

Are owners who have spent their entire budget done for the season?

Not necessarily. If a league manager assigns a value to the minimum bid on free agents, then yes, once your FAAB money runs out, the waiver wire is closed to you. However, league managers do have the option -- and I highly recommend they take advantage of this -- of setting the minimum bid on a free agent to $0.

Why would you choose to do this? By doing so, you let owners who have exhausted their entire FAAB to continue to stay active and interested by being able to make pickups throughout the remainder of the season. However, if any owner with remaining FAAB puts up even the smallest actual bid, they'll get the nod instead.

Having $0 bidding also allows for more "poker playing" by owners who may indeed have remaining FAAB, but think they might be the only owner interested in a particular free agent. Why waste even $1 on a pickup, if you can get a player for free? It's a gamble, but one that may well be worth making down the line when your late-season free-agent bid on Fernando Tatis (and his .353 September batting average) ends one measly dollar short.

So how much should I bid on each free agent? Is there any tried-and-true strategy to using FAAB?

This is really up to you. Some owners, especially those in an AL-only or NL-only setting, like to save as much as possible for the major league trade deadline in the hopes of nabbing a Cliff Lee-level talent who suddenly enters the player pool. Others come at it from the point of view that a player you acquire in April or May has the opportunity to help you far more than one who only gives you a month or two down the stretch, and as such, they prefer to spend early.

And of course, there are those machine-gun artists, who throw $0 bids at as many people as possible, treating the whole FAAB process like the old first-come, first-served waivers. The difference, of course, is that if there's a player you really want, this tactic doesn't truly affect you. Bid a few dollars more to ward off these annoying mosquito-types. Depending on the other owners in your league, any of these strategies might be more effective than others.

Another aspect of FAAB strategy is that of the bluff. Other owners need not know who you've bid on, or for how much. You can tell everyone you've bid $50 on Desmond Jennings, when you've really bid $2. If everyone believes you and decides not to bid at all, you've got yourself a huge bargain. If only one owner believes you and decides to grab Jennings for their own bid of $51, you've given yourself a huge leg up on this owner in future free-agent auctions.

In the end, whether you choose to use FAAB or not is up to you. However, I think it adds another element of both strategy and fairness to the game that is often lacking in fantasy baseball. Try it! You just might like it!

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.