Several weeks ago, I hopped a flight to Rochester, NY for the 6th year in a row to participate in the ultimate fantasy baseball experience; an auction draft. I had dabbled with a league on Yahoo for a couple of years before that, so my brother coerced me into joining this league he'd been a part of for about 10 years. The league itself has probably been in existence for about 15. I had no idea what I was in for, how challenging and competitive it would be, and how addicted I'd become.
It's necessary to give a little background regarding the rules. It's 13 teams, NL only, 5X5 roto, 7 keepers allowed with a $260 salary cap. The roster spots include 2 catchers, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, MI, CI, 5 OF, U and 9 pitchers. The only reserve spots you get are for the injured or sent down players. You can replace said players on a weekly basis based on the standings. The last place team gets all their first choices first and so on and so forth with the first place team being last. You are allowed to make 7 dumps per season, the first 5 costing $5 each, and the remaining 2 costing $7 each. Dumps come after replacing injured and minored players. When a player is activated off the disabled list or called up, you can choose to keep his replacement and drop someone else, but that counts as a dump. You have 2 Mondays to activate a player or else you lose them. As for salaries, any player you pick up during the year is automatically $10, and if they come over from the AL, they're $25. Salaries remain the same for year 2, but then go up in increments of $5 every year afterwards. The top 4 teams are winners. First place gets a significant piece of the pie, and 4th place basically gets their expenses for the league covered. I actually was able to come in 4th 2 years out of 5.
Now, I ask you to imagine a table in the basement of someone's house with 12 + men and myself sitting around it for 8 hours minimum. I say 12 + because some teams have 2 proxies. In the middle of the table are assorted candies, cookies, chips and pain killers. Around the periphery of the table are several coolers with assorted beverages and beer. The commissioner starts off the process with bringing up any rules that were haggled over during the previous season. Sometimes, they're brought to a vote as to whether or not to change them. After that business is squared away, he also presents the first player with an opening bid. Clockwise around the table we go with each manager either upping the bid or passing on the player completely by turning over the plastic cup we all have in front of us. It eventually gets down to one team who wins that player. Again clockwise, each team presents one player at a time. The objective in the beginning is to get people to spend as much money as possible, so the elite players are always thrown out first.
My objective has always been to allow every other team to spend enough, so that I have the most money before I even buy my first player. This allows me to pace myself which always nets me the most money left towards the end of the draft as well. This is where you get your bargain gems. Unfortunately, there is another team who does the same thing. I've managed to wait him out half the time and not the other half. I'm not going to miss out on a player I want by being inflexible. He's actually waited so long sometimes that the crabby managers have become restless and started mumbling. I've always managed to have more money than him at the end though which is really the most important thing. My other objective is to always throw out players for bid that I don't need or want. Each year, I got to know the NL players better and better until the pinnacle of my success last season when my team produced enough keepers to make it very difficult to make decisions. James Loney I happened to pick up in a dump which cost me $10. I did not succeed in winning any of the top 4 spots last season because it was essentially my rebuilding year, and that was just fine with me. At the point where I knew there was no hope of me finishing in the money, I started trying to make trades for keepers which netted me Corey Hart at $8 and Jonathan Broxton at $6.
After much deliberation, I settled on keeping Corey Hart at $8, James Loney at $10, Adrian Gonzalez at $14, Kelly Johnson at $7, Russell Martin at $15, Rafael Soriano at $2 and Brandon Lyon at $10. Armed with a solid core on offense and 2 closers, my focus was on starting pitching. My first year in the league, my starters all fell to injury at some point. After it happened again the next season, I decided to load up on starters the next 3 years. I changed that philosophy this year and took a couple of middle relievers on good teams that I knew would net me some wins and keep my ERA and WHIP down. My other focus was to get Dan Haren and one other "stud" which wound up being Ben Sheets. I usually try to stay away from injury risks, but the price on him was too good to pass up, and I figured my luck was bound to change some time. Where buying was concerned, I did manage to wait out everyone before making my first buy, but unfortunately, I got backed into a corner on some offensive positions because there was nobody left who would be worthwhile. I wound up overpaying for these players. I never take part-time players, so when I say worthwhile, I mean starters. Because of this, I didn't wind up with more money than anyone else at the end, but in a year where my team is built to win, it really wasn't necessary. I was disappointed that I missed out on a couple of people I especially coveted, but such is life.
At some point during the draft, we always break for a meal of deli. Otherwise, if you have to go to the bathroom, you better run. The later it gets, the less tylenol and sugary items are left on the table. The later it gets, the more ornery everyone becomes. The barbs in jest throughout the day become less funny. The amount of time people take to make a decision on whether to bid or not becomes less amusing. One manager had the Jeopardy theme ready to go on his laptop whenever anyone took an inordinate amount of time.
There are different characters in my league. There is the one know-it-all who has something to say about everything. There are the silent managers who never have anything to say about anything. There are the technical managers who are on their laptops the entire time analyzing. There are the overconfident managers who you want to beat more than anyone else. There are some incredibly excellent drafters and some not so much. There are the managers you look at dumbfounded when they throw out particular players for bid because you can't believe they actually want them. These are the same managers whose teams you look at and secretly laugh to yourself. Those teams inevitably wind up at the rear every season, but hey, they're having fun.
All in all, I felt confident with my draft, and in the 4th week of the season, I'm in 3rd place with only 2 injuries. Yes, Sheets is going to miss his next start, but he's still not on the DL. If he does wind up there, I'll stay afloat with a replacement for the time being. And there you have it.