- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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Strategy? We don't need no stinking strategy.
I entered my second season of the AL-only flavor of the League of Alternate Baseball Reality (LABR) with one modest goal in mind: do not own Scott Rolen. After all, I'd languished in the second division throughout the '08 season despite entering the draft with a laser-like focus: While everyone else is overspending for hyped players who haven't reached their high ceilings, I'd go the high-risk, high-reward veteran route, grabbing unsexy guys who had definite black marks on their recent records, but decent chances to recapture past glory.
With this philosophy in mind, I drafted a team that included Lyle Overbay, Mark Grudzielanek, Julio Lugo, Rolen, Gary Sheffield, Jorge Posada, Rich Harden and Ferguson Jenkins. OK, I didn't actually draft Fergie; it just felt that way. Sure, with the benefit of hindsight, we can appreciate both how misplaced my trust in some of these guys was, and how ironic it was that Harden was just about the only dude who was worth what I paid. By the end of May, that team was toast.
So for the '09 draft, held the first weekend in March in glorious Phoenix, I loosened the reins. No prearranged strategies. No overarching goals. Simply assign a dollar value to every player, and if he's about to go for significantly less than what I think he's worth, bid. I trust my dollar-assigning powers pretty well (ESPN's Draft Kit helps), and this way, there's no need to be guided by on-the-fly calculations of stat categories (though I did that, too). Draft the best players I can at the lowest prices possible, relatively regardless of position, fill in the blanks with whatever dogs are available, let the season begin, and hope my preseason evaluations were accurate. Because if they were, I'll have plenty of talent to deal, and fill in whatever stat categories I need.
As you'll see, I went pitching-heavy, and outfield-light. That'll have to be something I address once May rolls around.
ESPN's drafters at LABR
(Note: This was an AL-only league with a $260 auction budget for each of 12 teams and standard rosters. The draft took place on March 8.)
C Dioner Navarro $10: After getting stuck with Mike Redmond as my second catcher last year, I wanted two starters in '09. I brought up Navarro's name very early (within the draft's first 15 minutes), and got him for about what he's worth.
C Kelly Shoppach $8: I think this is strong value. Whether he gets traded or stays with the Tribe, Shoppach seems in line for a lot of at-bats. I think in this format, he's worth $13 or $14.
1B Mike Jacobs $20: Clearly, I think Jacobs is a source of 30 cheap homers, and I'm hopeful he's not a batting-average killer like your Giambis or Custs.
2B Dustin Pedroia $32: Don't call it Red Sox bias. I legitimately believe Pedroia might be the most valuable fantasy entity in the AL this year. I'd take him over Grady Sizemore (the positional scarcity doesn't hurt); if there are 50 points of batting average between them, I don't see how Sizemore's additional power and speed makes up for it.
SS Cesar Izturis $6: He's an awful on-base guy, which is why relying on 25 steals might be folly. But there's a chance he'll be a good investment, and we know he's a great defensive player, so he'll likely keep the job.
3B Scott Rolen $5: Shut up. Just shut up. (There were no other third basemen left, and someone bid me up in the endgame to get him.)
MI Alberto Callaspo $7: Another player I got bid up on because only two of us had money left, so pay no attention to the salary here. I'm not buying Mark Teahen at second, so Callaspo and Willie Bloomquist are what the Royals have at this position. I'll take Callaspo.
CI Jamey Carroll $1: At least Carroll figures not to hurt me. Remember: the Indians are paying this guy $2.5 million. They'll use him as a utility player a lot, and he'll probably hit .280.
OF Jermaine Dye $23: The last outfielder who went for less than I valued him, Dye will get me 35 homers and 100 RBIs, provided he doesn't do anything silly like get himself traded from that bandbox of a home park.
OF David Murphy $10: Ahem. David Murphy is my No. 2 outfielder. That is not good. The fine news is that Murphy looks like the starter in left field in Texas over Marlon Byrd, at least against righties. The bad news is that my No. 2 outfielder may be a platoon player.
OF Felix Pie $8: How the positional mess in Baltimore will work out is anyone's guess. They've got Ryan Freel, Luke Scott, Ty Wigginton and even potential rookie sensation Nolan Reimold kicking around, but so far the Orioles say Pie will at least platoon against righties in left field. But he's had a dreadful spring, and there are so many options, I may be in big trouble on this one. Just give me 15 steals. Please.
OF Matt LaPorta $1: I figured LaPorta wouldn't make the Indians out of camp, but I like him to get a call-up. My strategy, then, was to try to find a passable reserve-draft option, and then wait on LaPorta, who's had a great spring.
OF Endy Chavez $1: If Ken Griffey Jr. really is a DH, Chavez might actually wind up with a lot of at-bats. I can't figure out if that's a good thing. Chavez has to be considered a placeholder, even in a deep AL-only league.
U Travis Hafner $8: Well, the price is certainly right. This is a guy who hit 42 homers three years ago, and turns just 32 in June. But he's clearly a huge fantasy gamble, considering he's coming off major shoulder surgery. If I catch lightning in a bottle here, though, my awful outfield doesn't sting quite so much.
P Roy Halladay $28: In this format, I actually think Halladay is the best pitcher on the board, and I had him worth around $32. So I'll take the value. He'll need to throw 240-plus innings again to be as excellent in strikeouts as he was in '08, but that could happen.
P Francisco Liriano $18: Liriano is my No. 7 starter in the AL, and I think he's worth around $22. There was too much value here to pass up, but this is the move that boxed me into a corner when it came to my outfield. I've got three of my top seven starters, which means one of them probably will have to go at some point.
P Justin Duchscherer $8: This draft came during the height of Duchscherer's elbow problems; I daresay if we held the draft again today, he might go for $15. He may miss Opening Day, but it sounds like The Duke expects to be healthy pretty soon. A good early-season stretch, and he's a trade candidate.
P Ryan Rowland-Smith $1: If Brandon Morrow isn't ready to start the season, RRS might find himself in the Mariners' rotation. Even if he's a middle reliever, though, he had an underrated 2008. Of course, he's also gotten crushed this spring.
P B.J. Ryan $22: This probably isn't a value pick; $22 is about what Ryan is worth to me. But Jonathan Papelbon went for $28, Joe Nathan went for $27 and Mariano Rivera went for $26. Ryan looks like good value in that context, at least.
P George Sherrill $10: Could Chris Ray wind up the closer? Absolutely. (Ray went for $9.) For the moment, though, Sherrill is the main man, and if he starts hot, he'll buy himself some rope. I may wind up with a closer to trade, too.
P Ramon Ramirez $1: I love the Red Sox bullpen, and while there's next to no chance Ramirez gets saves, he's still going to pitch some high-value innings.
(The following picks were taken in a snake draft. It's worth noting that only your reserve picks may have free movement between the active and reserve list during the season, so finding pitchers and spare hitters to plug in when you need to is at a premium.)
1. Jeff Larish: Larish could be my solution to the Scott Rolen problem. He's 3B-eligible and could make the team. He won't help my batting average, but he's got huge power.
2. Reggie Willits: Here's my solution to LaPorta. He'll be on the Angels, and while they've got a lot of outfielders, he can contribute between five and 10 steals.
3. Reid Brignac: I would have liked to have taken more chances on some pitchers (I got Joe Saunders in the reserve draft last year), but I needed a couple of long-shot breakout hitters. Brignac is caught between Jason Bartlett and Tim Beckham, and he was overmatched during his '08 call-up, but stranger things have happened.
4. Daniel Cortes: He could be a midseason call-up to the Royals' rotation, and the team believes he'll be a No. 2 starter. In the shorter term, he could also be a viable bullpen addition.
5. Lars Anderson: What happens if Mike Lowell gets hurt again? Will the Red Sox stick it out with a crummy combo of Brad Wilkerson and Mark Kotsay? Or will they give the power-hitting Anderson a crack?
6. Kameron Mickolio: A dash of Sherrill insurance, Mickolio throws hard and could make the Orioles' bullpen this spring. He has control issues, but is a saves dark horse.
Balance be damned, I wound up spending $143 on hitting and $117 on pitching, a 55-45 split that's nobody's ideal. But again, in a league this deep, with competition this sharp, I believed the smartest thing I could do was trust my pre-draft analysis and dollar values, and get top-end players for cheaper than I thought they're worth. I've got at least one extra top-end starter, and possibly one extra closer. I'm probably light on steals, and might be light on homers and RBIs, but I think I've got the best batting average in the league, and I'll easily hold my own in runs. If I bank a month's worth of high-average at-bats, I'll be able to trade for a slugger or two and not have to worry about whether he'll completely sink my batting average. And as it stands, my pitching staff should be dominant: I project this team to have the best ERA, WHIP and saves in the league, and to be in the top half in wins and strikeouts. As presently constituted, it's not a championship squad. But with a few tweaks, it could be, and I believe I've built in far less downside than last year's injury-riddled crew.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can e-mail him here.