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12-Team Mock Auction (2020 Fantasy Baseball)

Mar 14, 2020

Budgeting a high price for either a top catcher or closer is a good strategy in MLB auctions.

Patience.

If the overall strategy of an auction can be condensed into one word, it would be “patience.”

Patience in spending. Patience in nominating. Patience in budgeting.

Need proof? I performed exactly one mock auction for this article. It graded out to be a perfect 100. And because of the nature of the auction compared to a draft — drafts allow me to write while I am contemplating my next pick — I have the luxury of laying out the plan I had before while touching upon what already happened.

Spoiler alert: it all hinged on patience.

It’s no different if we’re drafting against computers of people. In this one instance, they are the same. Because, no matter how knowledgeable a fantasy owner is, there will always be enough who overspend early. The first few names always go over budget.

Naturally, this is because budgets are flexible and everyone is operating with their own in mind. Still, it becomes painfully apparent that money evaporates more quickly than most people realize.

Almost every time.

Waiting to spend money always gives an edge in auction. Maybe not the edge — it’s not necessarily the only factor in winning — but an edge. Because, unlike a snake draft, there are no middle rounds.

But there are players you couldn’t otherwise select if not for having extra money in an auction.

Play out the first few metaphorical rounds of a 12-team snake draft with me. Assume you select Mike Trout and then, perhaps, the best pitcher available in the second round — most likely, Jack Flaherty, but let’s be optimistic and pretend Walker Buehler makes it back to you. Great start. Arguably, a perfect start. Then what?

Certainly, the third-round pick will be excellent, but the next two are where I want to focus our attention.

For the fourth and fifth pick of a draft, we will be selecting two players from the 50-60 range in terms of average draft position. It’s obviously a fine approach — because it’s the only approach — but it is frustrating to watch 20 other deserving names pass by your team as they get selected, one-by-one, in front of your eyes.

What if I told you that, instead of getting two players in this range, you can have four? And what if that range stretched from 50-60 to roughly 30-60? Intrigued?

Here is where we make up unparalleled ground in an auction. Because there will be inflation early — again, there always is — we will see discounts immediately afterward. Not with every single player, but with a strong percentage of them. And, since you are one of twelve teams in this auction, you only need said percentage to be greater than 1/12. It will be.

The same people who overspent with their first pick may try to overspend with their second. Let them. Remember patience. Continue to target everyone possible in the 30-60 range of a typical draft and grab whichever player gets underbid. Quickly, your roster will fill with talented players and your budget will remain intact.

There’s a kicker to this plan, however, and it’s probably the most difficult piece of the puzzle. No matter how patient you are, you will have to overspend somewhere. Don’t be afraid to do it.

It’s contradictory to add this exception to a rule that isn’t fully outlined yet, but that’s the point. It’s critical to know this after we’ve established the importance of patience. The two cannot be reversed. Patience must be the first thought with the desire to overspend carefully as the second.

Sometimes, it is the right plan to overpay for Mike Trout, as long as patience will be exhibited with every other pick for the remainder of the draft. Sometimes, the format suggests that on-base percentage is critical and Freddie Freeman becomes even more important. Pay for him. It’s fine.

Just don’t pay for Trout and Freeman and Acuna and Cole. While I generally love aggressive drafters, this isn’t a draft. It’s an allocation of funds. And there are many roster spots that will need it.

As soon as you start seeing other owners bow out of the bidding on a regular basis, you’ll be thrilled to have exhibited patience that led to extra spending money. Because, while you might have sat on the sidelines for the first dozen players, you controlled the rest of the auction.

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Pre-Auction Strategy

The lineup of this 12-team auction is C, 1B, 2B, SS, 3B, 3 OF, Util, 5 SP, 3 RP, 5 BN and was conducted using FantasyPros’ Auction Simulator.

Results

C – Gary Sanchez $19 – I kept telling myself to not pay for a catcher, but the decision was made for me when Aroldis Chapman went off the board. I budgeted a high price for either a top closer or catcher and I had the money to spend. I’m glad I did. When the season starts, it won’t matter that I paid $19 for my catcher. I have a top-two option at a thin position and it did not cost me a chance at any other player I wanted. That’s the key.

1B – Trey Mancini $4 – First base continues to be the one position on which I wait and still feel uncomfortable filling. But, I have no qualms about saving money and using a high upside, low-cost target. Enter Trey Mancini. At the time, I was also thin in the outfield, so Mancini filled two goals. I would have paid more for him, but it helped that other owners already had first base relatively under control.

*Since the time of writing, Mancini has undergone surgery to remove a malignant tumor. His return timeframe is currently unknown.

2B – Keston Hiura $21 – I’m surprised by how much I’m buying into Keston Hiura — and I do worry that he’s getting a little too much hype — but it’s hard to argue against him. He plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark, a solid lineup — shared with 2018 NL MVP Christian Yelich — and has a 44.2 hard-hit percentage. His only knock is that he doesn’t have tremendous power in a league where almost everyone else does, but, if he can carry last season’s success into 2020, the home runs won’t matter. A second baseman with Hiura’s numbers will always be worth targeting.

3B – Vladimir Guerrero Jr. $21 – Depth at the third base position in 2020 allowed me to not target any particular player and, instead, stop bidding whenever one was out of my range. This was the direct result of waiting before spending. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is another one of the many players I would have gladly selected in the fifth round of a draft, and I was able to get him and Hiura. It’s undeniable that Guerrero has some work to do in order to live up to last year’s hype, but there’s no saying he won’t emerge as one of the league’s best hitters without warning.

SS – Fernando Tatis, Jr. $27 – Fernando Tatis, Jr. became one of the centerpieces in my 10-team mock draft, and I found myself targeting him at a relative discount again in this auction. As a baseline, it’s important to remember that Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna, and Christian Yelich each went for more than $60. Tatis — a first or second-round pick in a snake draft — was less than half the price. Like third base, shortstop is interchangeable and the goal was to not commit too many resources in one direction.

OF – Jeff McNeil $6 – Jeff McNeil was one of the first ‘good hitters at an even better price’ targets on my list, and stealing him for $6 was due to nothing more than fortunate timing. I had the money. Others didn’t. As soon as they realized that they couldn’t compete, the bids stopped.

I have been prioritizing McNeil more with each passing draft, and it’s largely because others aren’t. This auction was a perfect example. The batting average will be high but, without home runs, McNeil gets ignored. Playing him at any of the many positions for which he’s eligible is a great way to balance a fantasy roster.

OF – Oscar Mercado $4 – Immediately after Jeff McNeil fell into my lap, Oscar Mercado did the same. Outfield clearly became a concern of mine once the rest of my roster started to take shape, and I could have swapped Mercado for almost anyone in this range. For example, if Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna remained cheap, I would have taken either. They didn’t, so Mercado became the next best option.

OF – Franmil Reyes $4 – And then came Franmil Reyes. The power potential remains tantalizing, and his first full season with the Cleveland Indians might lead to a more important role in the lineup. Like McNeil and Mercado, I couldn’t pass up the discount in the volume world of acquiring outfielders.

Utility – Rhys Hoskins $4 – Probably the steal of the draft in terms of money, paying $4 for Rhys Hoskins is virtually unrealistic. But, if it had not been Hoskins, some other upside-driven hitter would have landed in this spot. It happens in every auction. Money gets tight and people just don’t have the funds to compete in the bidding. Reserve this slot for when the discounts start appearing in your auction, and the lineup will suddenly improve.

SP – Walker Buehler $35 – I’ve ended up with Walker Buehler in almost every draft I’ve done — real or mock — so it’s not surprising that I outbid the competition for him. His team is outstanding — win potential is through the roof — and he’s emerging as one of the best arms in baseball. I would have paid more, but knew I didn’t have to with the other top pitchers already off the board for a higher price.

SP – Jack Flaherty $29 – This was where I felt I won the early portion of the auction.

For a time, I only had three players on my roster. Two of them were the aforementioned Buehler and Jack Flaherty. But, the key was that they combined for $64. Mike Trout, alone, went for $68! My goal of landing two solid arms for the price of Trout was achieved, and I had $4 leftover from this plan. $4 carries extreme weight in an auction.

As for Flaherty, I don’t particularly love him as an ace — and I’ve had to treat him as such in some drafts — but he becomes a stud behind Buehler.

SP – Noah Syndergaard $18 – Again, viewing a pitcher in the context of the rest of the staff is key to gauging the overall team. Noah Syndergaard has ace potential and would be a fine SP2 on any team. To have him as an SP3 makes the investment that much better. Syndergaard is another example of the 30-60 ADP target that I was able to add at a relative discount, and it’s the key reason as to why the roster graded out so well.

Syndergaard has to stay healthy in order to reach his full potential, but he is flat-out dominant at his best.

SP – Jose Berrios $17 – The same theme continues down the list of starting pitching, as Jose Berrios slides in as my fourth starting pitcher. Fourth. I remain intrigued by what Berrios could become, and he is still young enough to break out at any time. He has already put together three consecutive seasons with an ERA under 4.00 and is coming off two nearly identical campaigns.

There’s no reason to shy away from Berrios, and he is the perfect depth piece with upside.

SP – Shohei Ohtani $11 – I’m listing Shohei Ohtani under the starting pitcher category because I’d be mainly targeting him as a pitcher in leagues in which two Ohtanis are available. The fact that he can also bat in many formats is just a bonus. But, it’s enough of a bonus that I would have paid double the $11 it costs just to save a roster spot.

Therein lies Ohtani’s greatest contribution in an auction. If you’re budgeting your money properly and have enough to spend on at the end, then you will actually run out of roster slots more quickly than dollars. To get Ohtani as a hitter and pitcher for a decent price continues to align with the overall plan of controlling the auction.

On the field, Ohtani would serve as my SP5, at worst, and that limits the risk associated with him missing starts in the beginning of the year.

RP – Brad Hand $4 – I neglected closers, but not by choice. Putting my money elsewhere, I was forced to take the best available that also fit my budget. Brad Hand is not special, but he serves the one role I needed and costs $4. I can’t complain.

RP – Raisel Iglesias $9 – Raisel Iglesias was essentially the best closer I could get for the money I was winning to invest, and I don’t feel great about it. But, as noted in Hand’s writeup, closer was not a priority. It was a sacrifice. I don’t like the idea of filling this need on the waiver wire, but I also couldn’t justify passing on the bevy of starting pitchers that fell to me.

RP – Jesus Luzardo $5 – I was able to cheat with Jesus Luzardo’s eligibility, but it doesn’t matter. He’d be the worth the small price even if it meant I’d be forced to buy a relief pitcher later. Luzardo is high on many lists as a possible breakout, and he must be on every fantasy owner’s radar entering an auction. He’s the reason you save a few extra dollars early. If you get to the point where you need to outbid an opponent, do it for Luzardo.

BN – P – Zac Gallen $3 – Zac Gallen has appeared on nearly every list I’ve given and article I’ve written. He’s one of my top sleepers for this upcoming season, and can occasionally be bought for $1. Not here, but I had no problem paying the small premium for his potential.

BN – 1B/3B – Miguel Sano $4 – While he’s not exactly a sleeper, Miguel Sano has been an inexpensive target that I’ve made a priority to acquire wherever possible. He has the power to lead the league in home runs, but the question marks surrounding him continue to decrease his price. What I’m finding most valuable is that he will be the Minnesota Twins’ everyday first baseman. With first base being thinner than usual in 2020, I love Sano as a backup in either position.

BN – 1B/DH – Edwin Encarnacion $5 – I double down on backing up first base when Edwin Encarnacion was on the board and I had enough money to take a chance. I have no particular love for Encarnacion, nor did I find him an integral part of my success. But, I had more than enough starting pitchers and loved the depth. Had I been forced to use Luzardo as a starting pitcher, Encarnacion would be out and a reliever would have been taken in his place.

BN – P – Mitch Keller $1 – Like Zac Gallen, Mitch Keller is another one of my favorite sleepers and, in a moment of honesty, I actually want more exposure to Keller than Gallen. A former top pitching prospect with elite strikeout potential should have no problem over-performing any price I’d have to pay to get him. That he’s going at the end of drafts or in the $1 range of auctions is that much more appealing.

BN – 2B/SS/OF – Garrett Hampson $2 – The multi-position eligibility makes Garrett Hampson a fun player to own. Add in his home ballpark — the Colorado Rockies’ hitter-haven — and the hot streak he had in 2019 and we have the perfect inexpensive flier.

Final Thoughts

In addition to the emphasis I placed on patience during the introduction to this article, the other trend that I found myself following — and that I believe is extremely important — is the flexibility of roster slots.

Unlike a snake or straight draft, everyone in the league will be filling their teams at different paces. This means that you might already have a full infield before someone has even added a player. The more you can project ahead to the roster you want to build, the better.

Players like Ohtani, McNeil, Hampson, and Mancini are helpful during the season because of their position eligibility, but they are welcomed with open arms in an auction. This was arguably the biggest reason — besides money — that I was able to dictate the draft to provide myself with the best overall roster possible.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros, as well as the creator and content-editor of Sporfolio. For more from Mario, check out his archive and follow him @MarioMergola.

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