Commentary

AL Tout Wars: Expect Cabrera to lead way

Updated: April 2, 2009, 4:09 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

Mostly a crock.

When I am asked about experts' leagues, my standard answer is that they are mostly a crock. I'll let you fill in what you think that crock is full of while I tell you that this past weekend I finished another auction in the Tout Wars AL-only league.

It's a league that has become well-known in recent years because it was the subject of a book that sold well and in which I am a character. I finished 11th out of 12 last year as injuries ravaged my team. (Thanks for nothing, Erik Bedard and Fausto Carmona!) I finished second the year before that. (Thanks for everything, bargain Carlos Pena!) Neither finish is indicative of my abilities as an analyst.

I hate experts' leagues. Many folks use them as a basis as for why you should buy their services or listen to their advice. Frankly, it's not a true or accurate test of how good or bad someone is at being an analyst. It's only a test of how good or bad someone is at playing in that league, that year.

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Auction day in Tout Wars is an intense experience. Bidding happens at a rapid pace, and you have no time to look anyone up. When a player is named, you need to know within 15 seconds how much you are willing to bid on someone such as Jose Lopez, because he'll be gone within the next 45 seconds.

So, it's intense, but I like most of the folks I play with. It's weird. (Yup, I'm about to go off on another tangent. Wanna skip to the roster analysis? Click here.) I've been in the league for a while, and my leaguemates have seen me go from being just a writer for a site to starting my own site to having ESPN.com buy that site and landing my current job. I sense mixed feelings from others in the league. Some guys like me. They think I've done a lot of good work for the industry and have helped raise awareness for fantasy. They're genuinely happy for me and know I worked hard to get here. Some are jealous, don't believe I belong here or generally just don't like me.

Steve Moyer, a veteran of Tout Wars who runs Baseball Info Solutions, told me I'm like the porno of the fantasy industry. Everyone reads me, but no one wants to admit he does.

That made me smile. I like Steve Moyer.

For the first time since entering the league, I didn't participate in any pre- or post-draft activities and parties. That was partly because of my schedule and partly because, Diamond Debate-style fantasy arguments aside, I don't enjoy confrontation (long story) and tend to avoid it whenever possible.

Against this backdrop, I entered another Tout Wars auction. I enjoyed the experience as always, but for the first time, I sensed a certain hostility seeping through a little more frequently than usual.

So there I was, surrounded by good friends and a few to whom the term just doesn't apply as well-wishes mixed with resentment aimed my way. The enjoyment of seeing smart, good people who love fantasy and are very good at it mixed with the pressure of performing well at the auction.

Below is what I came away with. And as I walked away from the auction table, I realized the experience was like life. It's not all good or bad, not black or white. There are some positives and some negatives, and you try to make the most of the positives while minimizing the negatives. A fantasy baseball team is similar. As an auction or draft ebbs and flows, you catch good breaks and bad, be happy and upset and end up with something that is neither perfect nor horrible.

But hopefully, you enjoy the ride and do the best you can with what you end up with.

Jason Varitek, $1: I had waited on catchers, and only a few good ones were left. I am not counting V-Tek as one of the good ones. But with scant dollars left, I decided on the $1 catcher route, which meant one of two things: 1. I would have to pick a guy who wouldn't play enough so as to not hurt me (see Molina, Jose). Or 2. I would see whether I could get 12 home runs and a not-kill-me .250 average from Varitek. I rolled the dice on Varitek, thinking that if he bats .255 with 17 home runs as he did in '07, I'll be golden. If he looks as though he'll bat .220 with 13 home runs as he did last year, well, I'll cut him and pick up a guy who won't play enough to hurt me. (see Molina, Jose).

Tout Wars recaps

AL-only: Matthew Berry
NL-only: Tristan H. Cockcroft
Mixed: Brendan Roberts

Gregg Zaun, $1: He has a little bit of pop in his bat, and he'll keep the seat warm for Matt Wieters without hurting my team. The definition of a $1 catcher.

Buys I liked at this position
• Kelly Shoppach, $7: He'll play a lot more than folks think.
• Kenji Johjima, $2: He was really good two years ago, and the Mariners just sent prospect Jeff Clement to the minors.
• Taylor Teagarden, $2: It's a good price for a kid who can hit and will platoon in Texas.
Gerald Laird, $6: He's another guy who can hit and will start in a very good offense.

I wouldn't have paid so much for …
• Jeff Clement, $8: I won't say I expected him to be sent down, but I did think Johjima would play a lot more than folks thought and said so on a podcast last week.
• Mike Napoli, $16: I like him a lot, but considering Victor Martinez went for $17 and Napoli is both hurt and a batting-average risk, that's a lot of money.
• Joe Mauer, $14: Count me among the folks who think his injury is pretty serious.

Corner infielders

Miguel Cabrera
Leon Halip/US PresswireMatthew Berry considers Miguel Cabrera the top-ranked American League player.

Miguel Cabrera, $38: His price was a little more than I wanted to pay, as I had him pegged in the $34-36 range. But listen, if you're gonna spend the money, get the Cadillac, right? I've been on the record as saying he could win the Triple Crown this year, and I stand by that. I like to protect batting average, and this was a good start.

Joe Crede, $9: I hate only two things more than I hate J.D. Drew. One is Joe Crede, the other is myself for rostering him. But, in an AL-only league that is as deep as Tout Wars is, you win with at-bats. The more you can get, the better. At the point in the auction when I got him, the pickings were slim. Scott Rolen slim. Crede is the starter for the Twins. He's a career .257 hitter, but he has pop. (He hit 30 home runs the last time he earned more than 500 at-bats, in 2006.) Plus, his contract has lots of playing-time incentives, so, um, maybe he won't be completely horrible. If I can get 20 home runs and a .250 average out of him, I'll be happy.

Brian Buscher, $1: Well, he's Crede insurance, for one thing. In addition, he won't hurt, and he hit .294 in just more than 200 at-bats last season. Oh, and he was a buck. You could do a lot worse for a buck (see Molina, Jose).

Buys I liked at this position
• Carlos Pena, $22: He's the poor man's Ryan Howard, and this is a very nice price for a guy who has hit 77 home runs the past two years despite missing a month last year.
• Aubrey Huff, $22: Huff is a career .287 hitter who will have a better offense than you think around him (Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, etc.) and will be playing in a hitters' park. I don't think last year was a fluke.
• Melvin Mora, $14: He has had at least 80 RBIs in three of the past four years.
• Josh Fields, $9: He was named later in the auction when most of us were out of money, but he's like Joe Crede without the injury risk and with more upside.

I wouldn't have paid so much for …
• Lyle Overbay, $16: When you see the 15 home runs and 69 RBIs from last year, you think, "Oh yeah, he was hurt." Then you see he played in 158 games. He's done.
• Carlos Guillen, $20: That's a lot of money for a guy whose batting average and steals have decreased for three straight years, who has hit more than 20 home runs only once in the past four seasons and who qualifies only at third base in most leagues.
• Jed Lowrie, $8: He qualifies at shortstop, but he's a much better player in real life than in fantasy. He doesn't run much or have a ton of power, and he hit .258 last year in 81 games. Plus, he'll have to deal with some time-share duties with Julio Lugo at some point.
• Hank Blalock, $16: But only because I'm not sure he has ever earned $16 in his entire career.

Middle infielders

Where should they go? Insider
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Alexei Ramirez, $27: There are man crushes, and then there is sweet man love. My feelings for Sexei Alexei fall somewhere in between, but a few things can't be disputed. He hit 21 home runs, had 77 RBIs, stole 13 bases and hit .290 in less than 500 at-bats last year. He will qualify at shortstop very soon, though he's currently eligible only at second base. I may have overpaid by a few bucks, but as is the case with Miggy, I'd rather overpay for a stud than have a few bucks left over. Considering the positional scarcity of both middle-infield slots, his upside and the fact that he will contribute in all categories, I had to get me some Alexei.

Elvis Andrus, $9: He came out very early in the auction and was not someone I had targeted, but sitting at $8, I paid the extra buck for the 40-steal potential (although he'll probably wind up with between 25 and 30), the scarce position eligibility and the fact that his talent made the Rangers move Michael Young to third base to clear the way for him. With a few notable exceptions, any time you can get a (noncatcher) starter for less than 10 bucks in an AL- or NL-only league, that's a good thing.

Robinson Cano, $21: He hits for good average and has pop. I've been using this stat in a lot of preseason stuff, but here it is again: From May 1 onward, Cano hit .297 with 12 home runs and 65 RBIs the rest of the season. That's the guy on whom I bid $21.

Buys I liked at this position
• Jose Lopez, $18: Frankly, I'd have rather had him at $18 than Cano at $21, but obviously, Cano went a lot earlier. Lopez hit 17 homers and had 89 RBIs with a .297 average last season, and he's only 25.
• Orlando Cabrera, $10: He went late, which is why his price is a little depressed, but kudos to having money left to grab him. He'll hit .280 with double-digit steals and homers.
• Mark Ellis, $11: He'll be a batting-average risk, to be sure, but you'll get double-digit steals and homers from a position that rarely produces well.

I wouldn't have paid so much for …
• Dustin Pedroia, $30: I know he's the reigning AL MVP and all, but before last season, he had never hit more than 13 home runs in any season, including when he played in the minors. If he regresses to 13 or so this season, $30 will seem way too expensive.
• Michael Young, $19: That's a lot of money for a guy who is basically Orlando Cabrera with some batting-average upside. (He hit .284 last year.) He has never stolen more than 13 bases and hasn't hit more than 14 home runs since 2005.
• Derek Jeter, $22: Elite player in reputation only.

Outfielders

Ichiro Suzuki
Tom Szczerbowski/US PresswireIchiro covers you in the speed and average departments, allowing you to focus on other things the rest of the auction or draft.

Ichiro Suzuki, $31: Money in the bank for average and steals, two things I like to secure early.

Pat Burrell, $16: I didn't really want him but felt the price was way too cheap for a guy who ranked second in the majors in road home runs last year. Thirty homers for $16 is too good to pass up.

Juan Rivera, $5: I picked him up late in the auction, and he might have saved the team. I need him to stay healthy, but the last time he had more than 400 at-bats, he hit 23 home runs.

Gabe Gross, $2: Endgame fodder who should be on the better side of a platoon.

Willie Bloomquist, $1: I was worried I was low on speed and hoped Bloomquist would get a decent number of at-bats playing at second base and in the outfield. He won't hurt my team and has a little upside.

Buys I liked at this position
• Matt Holliday, $28: He'll put up $35 worth of stats. He's still a second-round player being bought like a fourth-round guy.
• Bobby Abreu, $22: The Angels are the perfect fit for him. He'll hit for a high average and 20 homers and will steal more bases than ever.
• Xavier Nady, $15: He'll play every day.

I wouldn't have paid so much for …
• Nick Markakis, $34: He's a nice power-and-average guy, but I don't think he'll steal more than 15 bases. I like him a lot, but not for $6 more than Matt Holliday.
• Vladimir Guerrero, $27: Vlad will hit 25 and 90, but many guys will do the same and go much cheaper.
• Curtis Granderson, $28: If he runs, which is no guarantee, he'll basically earn this price.

Pitchers

John Lackey, $18; Francisco Liriano, $21; Joba Chamberlain, $18; David Price, $10: I've listed all these guys together because I rostered them for the same reason. I felt all were undervalued and had high upside, while pitching generally is risky. It's real high-risk, high-reward here, but no one remembers who finishes second. I'd rather swing and miss big than play it safe. I picked Lackey before the injury news came out.

B.J. Ryan, $18: I say you should never pay for saves, but then I went out and … yeah, paid for saves. In a deep AL-only league, saves are harder to come by than in an ESPN.com standard league. At the time, I had felt Ryan was undervalued and wanted to try to look at what people were paying for closers and pseudoclosers. This was a good price.

Juan Cruz, $4: He produces a low ERA and WHIP and a lot of K's for a reliever.

Justin Duchscherer, $2; C.J. Wilson, $1; Jason Isringhausen, $1: Lottery tickets, all of them. At best, they'll get healthy or become closers. At worst, they won't hurt me and cost almost nothing.

Buys I liked at this position
Pitching is such a big category that I'll just list players I think went cheaper than they should have for the stats they will produce: Kelvim Escobar, $3; Chien-Ming Wang, $9; Sean Gallagher, $2; Josh Beckett, $21; Armando Galarraga, $4; Felix Hernandez, $20; John Smoltz, $6.

I wouldn't have paid so much for …
A.J. Burnett, $20; Daisuke Matsuzaka, $19; Bobby Jenks, $20; Joakim Soria, $28; Jered Weaver, $13; Kevin Slowey, $20. And I like Slowey.

At the end of the day, frankly, price doesn't matter. How all the players come together on your team does matter. But ideally, you can find some ideas in here about where there might be some bargains or overpriced players. You can check out all the rosters at www.toutwars.com.

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is usually not nearly this philosophical. It's fantasy sports, after all. It's just been a long couple of days. He is a five-time award winner from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, including a Writer of the Year award. He is also the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his cyberfriend

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"

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