$1 Auction Targets (2020 Fantasy Baseball)
Auctions are continuing to gain popularity within the fantasy baseball community, and rightfully so. Not only is it tied closely to the numbers with which many fantasy owners create their rankings, but it’s a different type of engagement than we see in a snake draft.
Truly every player in the league is available to every team when the auction starts, and only the fantasy owners’ actions will dictate if the player becomes part of the final roster. It’s a stark contrast to a snake or straight draft where random positioning via draft order is a large part of the equation.
We can’t completely erase luck from our drafts, however, even in auction formats. But, luck takes on a different form in an auction.
In a snake or straight draft, targeting sleepers is a matter of “when.” In fact, it’s almost only driven by timing. Timing of your own plan. Timing of value. And timing of your opponents who may jump ahead of you and steal the sleeper you’ve been carefully targeting. The luck, therefore, is in the draft order, especially in the early rounds.
In an auction, luck appears in the form of a player’s name on the board. When it happens, the focus shifts to said player. And, if this player is one of your sleepers, it’s unfortunate. Unlucky. Because there is no longer the opportunity to buy said player for $1. Someone beat you to it.
It would be irresponsible to consider this moment a pure function of luck. There is a strategy to nominating players, and it’s actually one of the best parts of an auction. But, if we’re waiting to get extreme discounts — i.e. finding a sleeper in a snake or straight draft — then the later it can happen, the better. We want people out of money as soon as possible and the names to be overlooked.
This brings us to one other strategic element of the auction. If possible, try to budget $2 per bench player instead of $1. It’s not necessarily because you can outbid those who only have $1 left — although it’s clearly a benefit — but it protects against someone else nominating your target. It will happen and, if you can’t afford that second dollar, then you can’t afford the player, even if everyone else is broke.
With that, the following is a list of auction grabs that should be nominated after most people are out of money:
Aristides Aquino – It would be hypocritical of me to not mention Aristides Aquino in a list of extremely undervalued and overlooked players, as I already wrote an article about how I would still invest in him. But, the beauty of Aquino is that he is one of the rare examples of a player that can be nominated for a $1 when people still have money left to spend.
In the introduction, I mentioned the strategy of nominating players. Aquino presents this opportunity. Everyone wants discounts, and people will find it a necessity to fill their rosters with $1 players. But, they won’t always be willing to take a risk before knowing where the rosters are heading. Aquino, in particular, is losing value daily. He doesn’t have a starting position in a lineup that is quite good.
Nominating Aquino for $1 midway through the auction may help him slip through the cracks and free up money you can spend elsewhere.
Dansby Swanson – Is this cheating? Or just self-promotion as I’m listing a second player that was found in one of my articles? Either way, I find Dansby Swanson the biggest bargain of the options I’ve listed in most of my writings.
Swanson is a forgotten asset in both his team and position. He is overshadowed by superstar Ronald Acuna, and his average draft position is currently 33rd among shortstops. That’s undraftable in a 12-team league. And yet, he’s a key sleeper for this upcoming season.
Luck won’t play a role in when Swanson gets nominated, as he is almost certainly going to be one of the last players considered. That will allow for depth at the shortstop position for the absolute minimum price.
Gavin Lux – Unlike Aquino and Swanson, Gavin Lux will see his value tied to the timing of his nomination. This is because Lux carries prospect pedigree and name value, and fantasy owners will risk a few auction dollars to try to secure his potential at a premium position. Therefore, the longer the auction goes without Lux being nominated, the better. And, if he’s available when people are short on money, he’s an excellent cheap grab with upside.
Lux may hit at the bottom of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup — here is where he loses some value — but will have plenty of opportunities to show his worth on a team expected to have a big offensive season.
Reynaldo Lopez – Finding discounts on pitchers might be a little more daunting of a task than hitters, but only in the early stages of an auction. Often times, the perceived “better” arms cost a premium when money is flowing, but there is only so much of the budget that can be used. This, in turn, leads to excellent bargains later in the auction.
A perfect example of this in practice is Reynaldo Lopez. Lucas Giolito — a teammate of Lopez who already had a breakout season — is projected to cost $12, according to FantasyPros’ auction calculator. Lopez is not even listed. Both pitchers are expected to get a boost from the pitch-framing ability of new catcher Yasmani Grandal, yet the disparity in price is staggering. Granted, Giolito earned this value, but the purpose of highlighting these two players is to show that bargains will eventually be everywhere among starting pitchers.
Austin Riley – It’s amazing how far Austin Riley has fallen in the good graces of fantasy owners, but it’s not exactly surprising. He burned anyone who bought into him after the initial surge. But, isn’t that more a function of fantasy owners’ mistiming the market than Riley suddenly forgetting how to hit?
The reality is that Riley did exactly what he should have over the course of his rookie season. The problem was in the form of his success bunched in one month and his failures prevalent in the rest. He’s currently competing for a starting position with the Atlanta Braves — which, by nature, carries potential in a deep lineup — and would immediately gain value if he receives everyday at-bats. Especially compared to the minuscule price paid to acquire him.
Scott Kingery – The first element of Scott Kingery that catches every fantasy owners’ attention is his position eligibility. Adding Kingery means flexibility, and it’s hard to overlook the value of that in a fantasy lineup. If we add in the fact that he is generally among the last players nominated, we have an easy fix to any roster problems.
Kingery doesn’t dominate in any category, but he has swiped double-digit bags in each of his two seasons. Stolen bases being as scarce as they are, this is probably Kingery’s best contribution at the end of an auction. There are also reports that he might bat leadoff for the Philadelphia Phillies, moving Kingery into the perfect risk-reward situation.
Sean Manaea – Sean Manaea is another player tied to the timing of his nomination. If he’s on the board with money to spend, fantasy owners will spend money on him. We need luck here. We need Manaea to be ignored.
As soon as we get to the point where the money is tight, Manaea slides into play. This is simply because his risk is too high to justify paying more, but the reward is plentiful. He started only five games with the Oakland Athletics in 2019 — which is the biggest reason why he would go unnoticed — but enters 2020 completely healthy and finally ready to take the next metaphorical step in his career. If he doesn’t, we can afford to lose the small investment.
Didi Gregorius – We could theoretically take everything I wrote about Sean Manaea and apply it to Didi Gregorius. Now healthy and ready to begin his first full season since 2018, Gregorius is continually flying under the radar. Some of this stems from the depth at the shortstop position but, unless the position and bench spots are filled, Gregorius needs to be considered.
The Philadelphia Phillies have a solid lineup, and Gregorius has shown the ability to hit anywhere in a batting order and still produce. He may have lost the short right-field fence from Yankee Stadium, but FantasyPros actually ranks Gregorius’ new ballpark higher for home runs from left-handed hitters. Too many potential owners will rely on perception and argue against Gregorius’ value. It will be enough to continue to decrease his price.
Dylan Bundy – Dylan Bundy continues to appear on any list I am providing for sleepers but, unlike the Mitch Kellers and Zac Gallens, any increase in value has been subdued. Bundy will get there — as a starting position in the Los Angeles Angels’ rotation provides a big boost in win potential compared to that of his former team in Baltimore — but we are currently still able to invest minimally in him. So we should.
Bundy had enough of a prospect pedigree to expect one more chance for growth before we officially cast him aside, and the Angels obviously have a similar mindset — which led to them acquiring him this offseason. Perhaps they saw the ground ball rate hit a career-high in 2019 and paired it with the defensive prowess of shortstop Andrelton Simmons, giving Bundy even more support than just the offense of Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon. We would be wise to make the same investment that the Angels did.
James Paxton – An auction is a perfect place to buy low on James Paxton because we know the exact price we will be paying. In a snake draft, almost every owner needs to decide when to take the chance with Paxton. We all know he’s injured. We all know he’s definitely missing starts. But do we know the value of his eventual return?
Each round in a snake draft presents the opportunity to select Paxton, but it’s at the risk of another player whose value can be calculated. It’s the common debate of what a player is versus what another player could be. In this case, Paxton is an established veteran, but we don’t know when we’ll see the James Paxton of years past.
In an auction, we probably won’t have to judge Paxton against another option — he is falling so far that he is frequently appearing in the $1 range. Really, it’s Paxton against our budget. Where he definitely fits.
Mario Mergola is a featured writer for FantasyPros.