2014 Draft Prep: Auction strategies
When I was working as a research assistant on Sam Walker's book Fantasyland more than a decade ago, I was tasked with calling Long Island strippers to see if they'd help us out with a plan we concocted to rattle the room of experts in our Tout Wars auction.
The idea was to have my "girlfriend" (the stripper) come into the draft room during the first couple rounds of the auction in nothing but a towel, saying she had lost our key. As I handed it to her, the towel would accidentally slip off and she would giggle and run out -- taking the most circuitous route possible -- leaving nothing but a hotel towel and memories. Our hope? That this would cause enough of a distraction in the all-male group to allow Sam and I to continue bidding over the next few rounds, unfazed, while everyone else, theoretically, played the scene over and over in their heads.
Those of you who read the book know this never actually happened.
Despite several agencies enthusiastically agreeing to the plan, we jettisoned the idea for a more PG-themed version, having Sam's wife's friend serve as a videographer for the first few rounds. We encouraged her to flirt. We kind of think it may have worked.
But the point of the whole exercise was to stymie the room however we could. Auctions are long, grueling events. The monotonous call of "going once…going twice…" interrupted only by an occasional bid, can wear a Fantasy owner down. You aren't really eating, you're taking the occasional gulp of water, your eyes are glued to lists of players or a flickering computer screen on the table in front of you. And you have to sit there and twiddle your thumbs as other owners bid for players you have no interest in.
Any kind of distraction, cutting through the boredom, is amplified. And it tends to stick in your mind. Sometimes, that naked women running out of a conference room at the hotel pops back up when you're trying to figure out if you should go the extra dollar on Sidney Ponson .
I'm not certain the stripper ruse would have worked, but with us fighting for any kind of advantage in a room full of hyper-prepared Fantasy gurus, it made perfect sense. Not every auction strategy has to be a $200/hour extravaganza, however. Sometimes, all it takes is a well-placed "nice buy, friend!" after missing out on a player you didn't want in the first place.
Remember, you have no friends at this table
The people you are auctioning with are out for blood. They may compliment your good purchases, but it's just to get inside your head, or out of some sense of petty jealousy. You have no friends at this auction table. You may be in a league with your best man, boss and father-in-law. It doesn't mean you have to let one of them win Mat Latos because they're from Cincinnati and really want him. You want to be a good friend? Teach them about capitalism by burying their bids (until you reach your projection price, at least). Or buy them a Latos card on Ebay after the auction. But five months after this draft, do you really want Latos being the difference between being in fourth and first -- and not being on your team?
Buy everyone pizza ... because they're all your best friends!
Or bring bags of chips, or a case of beer, or make cookies. Just do some kind of good-hearted gesture that will make them all like you a little bit more. Because that may take out the weak links in the league when you really want a player. You may lock horns with Andy from work on a Jedd Gyorko bid, and some little voice in the back of his head, when he's reaching that area where he may or may not think it's worth it to bid the extra dollar, will remind him that you bought everyone beer, and he'll lay off the bidding. He may even throw out the old, "You bought beer. You can have Gyorko! I didn't want him anyway." And just like that, you have Gyorko at a $2 discount. And if you don't think this happens, you haven't done enough auctions.
Stay out of the chat room
As fun as it may be to joke with your friends in the chat room -- clicking on YouTube links, complaining about your cell phone, making fun of John for buying all those Gloria Estefan albums through high school -- it's going to take you out of the auction, and open up a world of diversions you don't need. Lock yourself into the bidding action. Let nothing else get inside your head. There's no reason to get caught up in chatting with everyone during an auction, especially when a thing called Facebook exists. You know that guy in the league who is mysteriously absent from the chat room and seems totally locked in with his bidding? That should be you.
You will go down in history as the most annoying person ever, but if you do something like bring a bike horn with you, and honk it after what you think are good buys, you'll create a pretty awesome vibe (for yourself) in the draft. And you don't even have to believe these are good or bad buys. Just honk it randomly after players are awarded. You will control the room. People love to be judged. And to get instant feedback -- even if it's from an idiot with a bike horn at a Fantasy Baseball auction -- will touch that subversive nerve of wanting to be accepted. When owners are sitting there with a lot of money, someone may bid a couple extra dollars to get the honk for a good pick. And when you don't honk it, maybe your fellow owners will feel insulted, or spend the next round wondering what they did wrong. Keep this in mind, though: you're an idiot. You will have to play this role. But bringing props into the auction is weirdly thought out enough to provide a legitimate distraction.
Don't jump bid
Some people think it shocks the room! when you introduce a player at $20, or jump from $15 to 32 with one bid, but with draft prep and technology being what it is, that's no longer the case. All it does is eliminate the chance for you to buy a player at a lower price. That $32 player you just bought could have gone for $27. But you'll never know, because you wanted to be cool and do a jump bid.
Get your bid in before "Going Twice"
Several times in every auction, someone waits until the very last second to throw a bid in, stumbling over the auctioneer's "Gone!" and causing everyone at the table to nervously look at each other and question whether or not the bid should be allowed. It usually is, and everyone -- especially the guy who you just outbid -- will hate you for it. Because the auction is an exercise in group dynamics, you may pay the price for the late-coming bids on players. And you also look kind of weak and indecisive, which will hurt your standing at the table. If you want a player, get your bid out there early in the auctioneer's cadence. It's a strong way of telling everyone you aren't going to back down from this player, so they shouldn't bother bidding him up. And if they do -- thinking they're funny, or trying to show they can go toe-to-toe with you -- drop out of the bidding suddenly when the player is going over your projected value, and stick the other owner with him. Do it once, and do it early, and you won't get many challengers trying to price-enforce your bids again.
Mock yourself silly
Get in as many practice auctions as possible online. This isn't going to help you figure out prices, because they'll fluctuate wildly from auction to auction, but you can tool around and see what happens if you go $50 on Mike Trout , or try to build a staff with all $6 pitchers. Make this link your best friend. It takes you to our mock auction lobby. Jump in one and start experimenting with strategies.
Auctions are kind of fun, at the end of the day. If your idea of fun is a six-hour long psychological guessing game. But it's definitely the best way to play the game, and is probably the truest reflection of skill in assembling a team (you control your own fate and start at the same point as everyone else). And while throwing some curveballs into the auction room -- curveballs you control -- seem a little goofy at first, auction pros know that even the slightest advantage can lead to a player landing on your roster at a favorable discount.