Auction magic: Let others do your biddingby Jonathan Sher
September 07, 2010
I lack the talent, eyesight and courage to land a jet on an aircraft carrier.
For that matter, I would rather ride a ferris wheel than a roller coaster.
So when it comes to high-risk landings with little margin for error, this season in my auction league may be as close I get.
I've lamented enough about the mounting injuries to my American League squad, so I won't break out the violins.
Suffice it to say my left engine is shot, my fuel tank needle is on the wrong side of empty and my goggles have fogged up so much I can barely make out the money spots on the flight deck as we enter the last four weeks of the season.
In our league there is not the saving grace of waiver wire pickups, We are stuck with our 40-man rosters except for trades and once-a-month free agent auctions. The trade option is remote as we can only swap with teams contiguous in the standings after our August trade deadline. So that leaves our final free agent auction.
We start each season with $100 each for monthly auctions plus any money left unspent in our annual auction, money we can use to bid on anyone who doesn't play for a National League organization—I've used my budget in years past to get bullpen guns who might someday assume the closer mantel, prospects I hope may land a gig the following year and the odd National League player who gets traded to the junior circuit. The latter isn't all that common a phenomenon since our league has a bizarre rule I've tried without success to get sacked: Any owner who loses a player to a trade to the NL can get in return a player who gets swapped back at the same salary and contract status as the player he lost. If multiple players are traded and more than one owner loses players in that deal, the owner that loses the highest salaried player gets dibs on which player he wants in return.
The rule has meant huge windfalls for owners who lose a prospect in a trade of prospects for an establish star—they get the star for the salary of a prospect. But this year has been different. The White Sox gave up no one to get Manny Ramirez, so he becomes the prize catch in a free agent auction that includes:
—New and successful closer Koji Uehara, whom I had picked up early this season, dropped after his injury woes and almost bid for in our August free agent auction. He is easily the best of the closer candidates the Orioles have cycled through and is a great September pickup for those needing saves. His only downside is his injury history.
—Ivan Nova is a solid and I think under-rated prospect who should get wins pitching for the Yankees.
—Brad Hawpe, like Manny, came to the AL in a player-free transaction.
—Jeff Francoeur will only hit against lefties for Texas but might be a nice fit for a team that needs a little power without sacrificing average as he has historically hit much better against left-handers and will now face some of them in a hitter-friendly park.
By the standards of our deep league of 12 teams, the free agent buffet is rather plentiful.
My problem is this: I don't have enough left in my free agent budget to even get to the sneeze guard.
In May I started with a free agent budget of $105 and facing a future without Kelly Shoppach (which doesn't seem so bad in hindsight) I plugged what I thought was my only hole with John Jaso, spending $37. Now Jaso has been pretty good, walking more than he strikes out, hitting for a good average (.281) with a sustainable BABIP (.301) and showing a little power and speed: He's hit five homers and stole four bases in fewer than 300 at-bats. I just wish I bid a bit less—the next-highest bid was $25. That month I also picked up Darren Oliver for $3 and Uehara for $9 before letting him go when injuries sidelined him.
In June I was chasing Oriole closers again, a perilous task, and blew $11 on Will Ohman and $2 on Jim Johnson. The next month I landed Kevin Frandsen for $15 to replace an injured Asdrubal Cabrera and $24 for Connor Jackson to replace Mike Cameron. My only bid that might succeed was my cheapest: $1 for Mark Trumbo, who I expect will be called up now that the Triple-A regular season has ended. That left me with all of $3 for free agent auctions in August in September. And that would seemingly put me out of the race to get Manny and anyone but under-the-radar prospects at this point.
To make matters worse, while I cling tenuously to second place, the team in third place has the biggest war chest among the contenders—$44. If he were to get Manny, Uehara and Nova, my chances of staying second would evaporate entirely.
But rather than despair, I tried something new. While I couldn't out-bid my rival, perhaps I could find other owners who could and persuade them to do so.
I turned my focus to an owner who has no chance of finishing in the money—he's so far behind in offensive categories he can't make up enough ground to pass others and get much beyond his ninth-place standing. He hadn't placed a bid all year, so he had $100 to his name. What he hadn't noticed was that just above him in the standings were three owners still trying to move up to the money, which in our league are the top four slots. So I called him and pointed out just that: He could out bid anyone and flip the winnings to an owner above him who would surely give up something useful for next year. Spending $45 each on Manny and Uehara would give him the most marketable talent. He'd benefit next year and I would be a happy bystander because I rather see those two flipped to an eighth-place team than to the third-place team. He agreed to place the bids.
Then I phoned our first-place owner, who is 30 points ahead, in first in five categories and second in the other three. He too had no reason on the surface to bid for a player this year because he is a lock to win. I reminded him I was in a tight battle for wins and might be interested in trading next-year talent for Ivan Nova should he get him. He saw the wisdom of that and has $16 in his free agent budget, almost certainly enough to reel him in. I made no guarantee if a trade: I said I hoped to have enough wins with the starters I have to not need Nova. But the possibility I met held enough value to him to make a play.
My hard work done, I set out to spend my final $3. I decided to make a $2 play for Francoeur. While others available will get more playing time, I am in the delicate position of trying to pick up a few more RBIs while also improving or at least maintaining my batting average, and players such as Daniel Nava risk damaging the latter. Also, I think Hawpe will go for well above $2. I also made a $1 bid for a prospect I think has flown under the radar, Leslie Anderson, a 28-year-old Cuban defector who is a dark horse to grab a starting spot next year with the Rays, who will be without free agents Carlos Pena and Carl Crawford and weren't entirely pleased with production in right field. Anderson lacks the power bat of a corner infielder or outfielder but had been ripping line drives the past two months and his performance is impressive considering how much he has had to adjust—36% of his batted balls in Triple-A have been line drives.
I'm awaiting the results of the auction—we usually have them by Sunday, but I suspect our commissioner may be enjoying the Labor Day weekend, not aware of just how hard I have labored not with my own hand but trying to persuade others to make a play at the pot. I'll let you know how it goes.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear some of the more creative and innovative things you've done to compete in your league.
Jonathan Sher is a veteran investigative reporter, a one-time lawyer and a rookie fantasy baseball writer. He welcomes comments, questions and suggestions at sherpalumbo AT rogers DOT com.
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