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12-Team Mock Auction Draft (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 21, 2021

 
Fantasy baseball is a game of numbers and values. The ideal combination of these two can usually be found in auction drafts.

There is a brutal irony here. Because each auction draft is unique from the last, we can’t always gauge the premiums and bargains that unfold. Auctions are more about timing and asset allocation than spending the “right amount.” We will see this in every auction conducted, whether it’s real or a mock, but I’m always inclined to highlight it.

This leads to the next element always worth repeating: patience. If “asset allocation” is the key, then saving said assets until the fantasy dollars are “worth more” is an excellent — and usually winning — approach. With that said, there are always a few key moves I would like to make prior to an auction, and I’ll list them before I begin.

Since I conducted this auction before any spring training games have taken place, I will lean on a slightly more balanced and conservative approach. That will change as I uncover more sleepers, some of whom I’ll have no issue overpaying for — in the coming weeks.

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My Pre-Auction Strategy

  • Pay up for Mike Trout, Ronald Acuna Jr., Jacob deGrom, or Gerrit Cole — and preferably in that order.
  • Don’t let a solid first baseman go to another team for a bargain, but don’t overpay either.
  • Don’t pay up for a catcher, and only go above the $2-$3 range if someone is severely under-priced.
  • Possibly overpay for at least one “guaranteed” closer, but with the knowledge that many closers are in fluid situations.

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

Results

C – Mitch Garver (MIN): $1
I went through a cycle of catchers but, since I had only $1 to bid, I needed to wait until my turn to nominate before finally landing on one. Mitch Garver is the first person on this list, but the last player to join my team. In a perfect world, I would have probably paid a few more dollars for Gary Sanchez — he’s simply such a bargain at this point — but I have no problem adding a catcher one year removed from a 30-home run season at a minimum cost.

1B – DJ LeMahieu (NYY): $26
In my Pre-Auction Strategy, I made it a point to target any first baseman that wasn’t overly expensive. I tried to land Freddie Freeman, but he quickly moved out of my buying range. When DJ LeMahieu sat at a reasonable price, I made it a point to aggressively bid and add the second player to my roster. In addition to the consistent numbers, he gives me versatility in case I found another bargain at first base.

2B – Jeff McNeil (NYM): $12
I just wrote about versatility with LeMahieu, and Jeff McNeil is another poster-child for this type of fantasy asset. He was half the price of LeMahieu and my fourth player added. I simply wasn’t letting him go to another team for less than $20, though I admittedly missed a bunch of starting pitchers in the process. Each started to go for too high of a price, and I had already allocated a large chunk of my budget to a certain outfielder. McNeil was well worth the $12 investment.

SS – Marcus Semien (TOR): $5
I don’t love what happened at shortstop, as I couldn’t fill the position with one of my main targets and had to settle for Marcus Semien. Sorry, Marcus. “Settle” is obviously harsh for someone who finished third in the AL  MVP voting just two years ago. Still, I wanted Gleyber Torres, but I couldn’t pay the $20 necessary to acquire him at the time.

3B – Yoan Moncada (CHW): $6
Yoan Moncada was one of my main darlings last offseason, as I targeted him in almost every draft (mock or real). I was not necessarily looking for him in this auction, but after letting a decent amount of players go at higher prices, I was prepared to take almost anyone under $8 for my third player. Moncada fit perfectly, so I suddenly had third base filled.

OF – Mike Trout (LAA): $67
Now it’s time for the big name. Mike Trout was the first person I listed in my Pre-Auction Strategy as a key player to acquire, and I had no problem going into the mid-to-high $60 range for him. Why? Because this is typically how auctions unfold. The first few players always carry a premium, but that premium actually increases as the players in a given “tier” decrease. The first player nominated was Fernando Tatis, Jr., who went for $65. That set the market.

Then came Trout. I knew I’d have to clear that number, so I did. What happened next? Ronald Acuna, Jr., arguably the last player in the “elite of the elite hitter” tier, went for a ridiculous $92! Admittedly, I was fortunate that Trout was nominated before Acuna, but I’m also drafting Trout first overall in any format if given the opportunity. His price was never going to be out of my reach.

OF – Austin Meadows (TB): $7
Austin Meadows also fell to me because of my budget. After adding Trout, I carefully made sure not to overpay for anyone in any area. I would simply scoop up whichever player saw too strong of a price decrease. Meadows happened to be that player. His lack of power and disastrous batting average in 2020 is clearly sinking his stock, but imagine how impressive this outfield would have looked just one offseason ago. There’s a clear path to Meadows over-performing this price.

OF – Giancarlo Stanton (NYY): $12
I’ll be the first to admit that I was avoiding Giancarlo Stanton in 2020, but I am now mildly intrigued as long as the price is low. I can take “price” literally in an auction, and I had more than enough funds to roll the dice. I’ll just have to find a viable backup later.

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UTIL – Matt Olson (OAK): $7
I can file Matt Olson in the same category as Meadows. I wasn’t necessarily looking for him, but I couldn’t let him go to another team at his price. Olson also helps put LeMahieu’s aforementioned versatility to good use, as I now have another first baseman who could become a regular starter. The issue is obviously Olson’s pitiful batting average, but his power is still there. Any increase in batting average will likely boost him to the point where this $7 bid is a steal.

SP – Zac Gallen (ARI): $20
This is where I ran into problems. I always prioritize starting pitching, and I have no problem paying a premium for arms. Unfortunately, because I spent so much money on Trout, and with my insistence that saving now for later would eventually pay off, I let one pitcher after another go to different teams.

The good news is that none of them was a bargain, so my patience would eventually be rewarded. The bad news is Zac Gallen is my ace. Ironically enough, I’m not sure you’ll find anyone who was more bullish on Gallen in 2020 than the author of this column, but this doesn’t mean I want him to be my first pitcher added in 2021. That is the current problem with this team, but I’ll solve it as long as I continue to add solid pitchers at reasonable prices throughout the remainder of this auction.

SP – Max Fried (ATL): $8
Max Fried sliding in as my second starting pitcher is a nice example of what can happen when money gets tight for other teams and I can slowly start to pluck the best values. Fried was outstanding last year and is at a prime age to continue improving. Is it likely he bests his 2.25 ERA from 2020? No, but all signs point to another solid season without a major drop-off.

SP – Dylan Bundy (LAA): $5
Almost immediately after Fried, Dylan Bundy became available at a great price. Another one of my favorite 2020 targets, he delivered beautifully to the tune of a 3.29 ERA. An even better 2.95 FIP indicates that he might have actually underperformed. I’m not asking for him to dominate in 2021, but he was a critical piece to this roster considering my need to find starting pitching value wherever I can.

SP – Zach Plesac (CLE): $5
Once again, saving early paid dividends, as I landed another solid upside play in Zach Plesac for $5. Plesac was otherworldly in eight starts last year, striking out 57 batters and allowing 14 earned runs in 55.1 innings.  He’s clearly a candidate for major regression, but this is exactly why he is available for such a low price. Indeed, he’s much more likely to decline than improve, but he’s now my fourth starting pitcher in a rotation that is slowly growing deeper by the minute.

SP – Ian Anderson (ATL): $3
I can essentially copy-and-paste everything I wrote for Plesac and apply it to Ian Anderson. Another regression candidate. Another player more likely to pitch worse in 2021 than we saw in 2020. And, by virtue of those two points, another bargain, and another depth piece.

RP – Aroldis Chapman (NYY): $22
By the time Aroldis Chapman was on-the-board — for perspective, he was my ninth player added — Josh Hader was the only “star” closer available. Per my Pre-Auction Strategy, I wanted one of these players, if possible. Money did make it possible. I had more of it than anyone else at the time, so I used it to flex my auction muscles and add Chapman. There was no reason to be cheap.

RP – James Karinchak (CLE): $8
I probably could have acquired one more closer before James Karinchak, but I had to prioritize him by the time he was nominated. While there are some rumblings that Karinchak won’t actually close in Cleveland, it’s early enough in draft season to aggressively buy him for potential alone. He does everything, from carrying a low ERA to striking out batters at an insane rate.

RP – Framber Valdez (HOU): $7
I should not have actually placed Framber Valdez in the relief pitcher slot, but I ended up with no other true relievers on my roster. That would change in a real draft, but it doesn’t impact my desire to acquire Valdez. He’s one of my early sleepers in 2021, even though I know others are pursuing him as well. This is largely because his FIP was nearly three-quarters of a run lower than his ERA. I’m sure his stock will rise in the coming weeks — possibly to the point where I can no longer pay the asking price — but it’s low enough now that I wouldn’t hesitate before adding.

BN – Kris Bryant (3B/OF – CHC): $10
I know everything about Kris Bryant carries a negative sentiment right now, but if he will carry the price of a bench player (in an auction or snake draft), I might roster him on every single fantasy team. I’m not going to pretend the former NL MVP suddenly forgot how to hit. Bryant batted at least .272 in every MLB season until hitting .206 in 34 games last year, so I will gladly be wrong since he’s only costing me a bench spot.

BN – Jose Berrios (SP – MIN): $20
My “Beloved Berrios” — as I have come to refer to him when seeing his name appear in a draft or auction — made it onto my roster as another example of why I love to save money. Paying $20 for one of the last pitchers on my team, initially placed on the bench because of the glut of starters I have, is nothing more than landing a specific target. He had been remarkably consistent for three full years before declining slightly in 2020. Overall, he still delivered another solid season, and I have no reason to expect that 2021 would provide anything less.

BN – Carlos Correa (SS – HOU): $5
I wrote about how unhappy I was to draft Semien as my starting shortstop, so I made it a point to also add Carlos Correa later in the auction. He remains laughably undervalued, and like so many others, he won’t last long on my roster anyway if he doesn’t perform. If he strides toward his former production, he’ll easily start over Semien.

BN – Daulton Varsho (C/OF – ARI): $2
Although I wrote that I needed to fill my catcher position with Garver, I actually already had Daulton Varsho on my roster. Both were targets for my last two spots. I was deciding between a relief pitcher or catcher and miscalculated, going with Varsho by accident. So be it. Mistakes happen. If this was a real league, I would replace either Varsho or Garver with a reliever.

BN – Aaron Civale (SP – CLE): $2
I actually didn’t want another starting pitcher, but I also wanted to spend a maximum of $2 on any player who could easily outperform that price and fill a hole. Because I always feel the need to beef up my pitching depth, Aaron Civale became a worthwhile $2 risk with only three spots left on my roster. He clearly couldn’t repeat his 2.34 ERA performance from 2019, but he allowed three earned runs or fewer in seven of 12 starts last season. I’m buying Civale for the possible improvement and cutting bait if those steps aren’t taken.

Final Thoughts

I typically experience a roller coaster of emotions during an auction, where I am struggling to gauge if I saved money for too long or if I still need to keep some in my pocket for future bargains. Ultimately, I always end up in the same place: Saving money at any time will help. It did.

Clearly, my roster’s biggest question mark is my lack of a true ace, but this is why I spent so many remaining roster spots on high-upside starting pitchers. Anything lost in Gallen’s value compared to other aces can be made up by the rest of my rotation. In the end, FantasyPros’ ranking system actually valued my pitchers higher than my hitters. That’s despite paying a hefty price for Trout at the expense of top-flight pitchers.

One final note worth mentioning is that I had the most amount of money for the longest time, and I finally started burning through it by paying for pitchers in bulk. At that point, I also became the first to complete my roster. I didn’t mind it, as the point of saving money early is to use it aggressively later, which I believe helped land a strong team.

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Mario Mergola is a featured writer at FantasyPros and BettingPros, 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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