If you handed me a printout of your ideal Fantasy roster heading into the season, I'd hand it right back.
"Can't be done," I'd say. "The rounds just don't match up."
But if you told me your league uses an auction to distribute players instead of a traditional draft, I'd sing a completely different tune.
"Oh really?" I'd say, careful to sound too much like Ace Ventura as I played out the scenarios in my head. "Well, in that case, the possibilities are endless."
And that's what makes it so difficult.
Yes, auctions give you the freedom to do whatever you want. No longer bound by turn order, you can shell out for as many first-round types as your dream roster requires, or you can bypass them entirely and build a more balanced team of second- and third-tier players. You can do whatever your imagination, budget and aversion to risk allow. It's the ideal setup if you know what you're doing. Instead of having to color by the numbers, you're presented a blank canvas.
But that's the downside. A blank canvas is intimidating. A blank canvas requires a great deal more skill to fill (assuming you aim to fill it with something good). A blank canvas leaves more room for error.
A draft may not be as exciting as an auction, but think of the protection it offers. With every owner taking turns selecting players of gradually descending value, a draft ensures a relatively even distribution of talent from start to finish. It's safe. It's orderly. Without the constraints of turn order holding you by the hand, reminding you when you're going out on a limb, you can quickly get in over your head in an auction. You can end your season before it even begins.
So fine, duck the responsibility. Stick to your drafts, where you wait your turn and accept whatever the distribution of talent gives you. Just understand that, in doing so, you're kissing that dream roster goodbye.
You can have it, you know. You can be the one who makes the most of auction day and not the one who throws up his arms in defeat. With a developed strategy and a little confidence, you can bring your dreams to life.
And isn't that what Fantasy is all about?
Real-world economics don't apply
Before we start talking dollar values, budgets and high-end vs. low-end players, let's first take a moment to, um ... recalibrate you.
It won't hurt. I promise.
You've probably been hearing it since before you could walk, that spiel about how saving is better than spending, how wants differ from needs and how if you deny the impulse buy, you'll eventually be able to get something newer and better for cheaper. Over time, the technology improves, the market becomes saturated and the price drops. You're always better off waiting.
It's what our grannies did to get rich, and in the real world, it's a pretty good idea even today.
But Fantasy isn't the real world. It's a fake world, complete with fake laws and fake money. And its fake economy? Imagine supply and demand on the apocalyptic level.
If you grew up in this land of luxury, you can't fathom the idea any more than you can fathom a world where every electronics manufacturer suddenly decided to stop making TVs. It just wouldn't happen. If the demand is there, the supply will be there. Stores always restock their shelves.
But that's not true in Fantasy, where the high-end talent isn't available to everyone who wants it. Once the best players are gone, they're gone for good. You won't have another chance at their elite-level production.
Knowing that the demand for those players far exceeds the supply, shouldn't you expect to pay a disproportionate amount for them? And wouldn't you be willing to? No, it doesn't jive with what you know about money management -- why overpay for anything in a world where stores restock their shelves? -- but in a world where your only goal is to gain an advantage over your competition, shouldn't you devote the majority of your resources to the handful of players who can single-handedly do it for you?
Consider the alternative. If you save your money, you're saving it for a lesser product. Granted, you can afford more of that product, but when has Fantasy ever been a game of quantity over quality? You know better than to trade a surefire stud for three middle-of-the-road players, don't you? Then why would you do any differently when first assembling your team? In standard mixed leagues, with their deep player pools and plentiful waiver wires, the low-dollar sleepers are hardly in short supply. A $2 player can become a $15 player easier than a $15 player can become a $40 player. As long as you're careful how you spend those last few dollars, you can have a roster as deep as the guy who distributed his dollars evenly, but with the high-end talent to boot.
So let's not make this any harder than it needs to be. Let's not get bogged down in economic principles that don't apply to the economic climate in question. Let's let our hair down, throw caution to the wind, act just this once like granny isn't watching (because I can assure you she isn't) and spend. For the love of Pete, spend. You have $260 and a blank canvas in front of you. Make the most of it.
You wanted that dream team, right? Well, you can't build it if you don't go big on the big names. So when you have an idea which are the few you want, bid aggressively on them and don't back down just because the price goes beyond whatever some arbitrary list of auction values says it should. Again, among experienced Fantasy owners who understand the value of elite players, you should expect to overpay. Your budget can afford two or three $40 players, so spending that much on a critical component of your dream team isn't inherently bad.
Remember: A good buy is one that gives you something you want without costing anything you need. As long as you don't go overboard, you'll still have the money you need to make the rest of your roster respectable.
A plan is only as good as your ability to change it
Wait, what was that last part? "As long as you don't go overboard?" That's a nice sentiment and all, but how do you know when you have?
Simple: You create a plan -- one that's clear, focused and doable -- and you stick to it ... sort of.
Yes, you want to go into every auction knowing what you aim to accomplish, and you want to come as close as you can to accomplishing it. It's not a draft, after all. You actually have some say in whether or not it happens. But at the same time, you don't want your plan to be so rigid that you can't adapt it to the bidding behavior of your opponents and take advantage of whatever market inefficiencies result.
Unless you've been auctioning with the same people for years, you don't know what shape your auction will take. Typically, the big-dollar players go for several dollars more than their projected values, but if you detect early in your auction that your opponents all prefer to save their money, spending no more than $35 or so on the best of the best, then you'll want to pony up for one or two more of those elite types to avoid overpaying on the second- and third-tier players. All the money your opponents are saving has to go somewhere, after all. You wouldn't want to end up paying $31 for Paul Konerko if you could have had Prince Fielder for $35.
Conversely, if your opponents all decide to go overboard on the elite talent, spending upward of $45 and $50 on player after player after player, then you might want to sit back a bit and shoot for those second-tier players yourself -- the ones just short of elite status -- recognizing that no one else will have the money to compete for them. Again, as a general rule, you'd prefer to be the one shelling out for the big names, but not to the point of insanity. If Matt Holliday and Shane Victorino together would cost the same amount as Curtis Granderson alone, you're better off settling for the two lesser players.
That's an extreme example, of course, but you get the idea. If you auction in a vacuum, you're only hurting yourself. It's better than not having a plan and all, of course, but the best solution would be to come up with a plan you can adjust on the fly.
So here's what you do: Before the auction, make a list of every position you need to fill. In standard Rotisserie leagues, that's 23 in all. Then, next to each position, write how much you intend to spend at that position. If, for example, you intend to purchase Troy Tulowitzki, recognizing that he's the only surefire stud at the shortstop position these days, you should write, say, $45 next to shortstop. Too high? Maybe, but if it's something you really want, you should build in some cushion. You might want take it all the way to $50, even. Keep going down the list, assessing your expectations at each position, determining how much such a player would cost and building in a cushion as a way of prioritizing. When you're done, add up the numbers and adjust as necessary to get to an even $260. Your plan needs to be realistic, after all.
See what you did there? With minimal prep time, you not only established reasonable expectations for your auction, but you also created a nice, tidy budget to track your spending as it's happening. During the auction, whenever you go over budget at a position, subtract that amount from another position, and whenever you go under budget at a position, add that amount to another position. As the draft progresses, you'll know exactly what your options are -- where you have wiggle room, where you don't, how much you can afford to spend on that high-upside catcher and still get the class of second baseman you want, etc. If you budgeted $50 for Tulowitzki and end up getting him for only $38, you suddenly have an extra $12 to spend. Guess you won't have to settle for that second-tier first baseman after all. Mark Teixeira, here we come!
Meanwhile, as you're adding and subtracting, you're learning the tendencies of your opponents. If you know they allowed you to get Tulowitzki for only $38, then you know they're not going all out for the big names themselves, in which case Teixeira might not be the only elite target you add to your budget.
And that's just the beginning of the information you can gather as the auction is in progress. Your nominations can serve as sneak peak into the minds of your opponents, but only if you make them interesting. Try nominating a relatively low-end but high-upside player early in the auction, when several elite options remain on the board, and see what happens. If your opponents trip over themselves for a Peter Bourjos, pushing the bidding past $10, you'll know they'll bid on whatever they see at this stage of the game. Why not keep nominating low-end players and drain their money? But if they ignore Bourjos and allow you to get him for $1, you'll know they're so distracted by the big names that you could potentially slip a bargain by them. Why not start nominating your favorite sleepers in an attempt to get them for next to nothing?
The key to testing the waters is to do it early. The sooner you learn the bidding behaviors of your opponents, the more opportunities you'll have to take advantage. Plus, once you reach a certain point in the auction, you won't be able to slip anything by anyone.
Everybody thinks like you do
It sounds like pure pessimism, but it's not. OK, so maybe no one will mirror you move for move, but as a general rule, Fantasy owners -- the ones who know what they're doing, anyway -- tend to operate the same way.
Take sleepers, for instance. The term has almost lost all meaning. Everyone is in on the same players. You're able to get your favorite one late in a traditional draft, sure, but that's because all the other owners are convinced they'll get him there, too. Nobody wants to get caught reaching, and so the player falls to the appropriate point in the draft. In an auction, however, when that sleeper's name is called, everyone will have been waiting for him. Everyone will have stashed away money for him. Everyone will be looking to pounce. So naturally, someone will end up overpaying. Not everyone can have him, but because everyone budgeted for him, nobody wants to back down. The price rises higher and higher until eventually that trendy sleeper isn't such a value after all.
It's yet another reason why you shouldn't shy away from the high-dollar players in an auction. Your fallback option may not necessarily be the bargain pick, relatively speaking.
When I say everybody thinks like you do, though, I don't mean strictly in terms of player evaluation. That's only part of it -- perhaps even the lesser part. What you really need to guard against is the bidding wars that result whenever the auction approaches the end of a tier at a position.
Say you have your heart set on purchasing one of the elite first basemen. You don't care whether it's Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder or Mark Teixeira. You just want one of those six. It's a perfectly reasonable goal. You should be able to make it happen in an auction, especially since you're targeting an entire tier rather than a specific player.
But say Pujols, Cabrera, Gonzalez and Fielder all go off the board for more than the $30 you budgeted at first base. Just like that, you've gone from having six ways to achieve your goal to only two. Teixeira is nominated next. The bidding gets up to $32. He's over budget, so you let him go. It's only natural, right? Might as well see if you can get Votto at your $30 limit. Of course, he's the last of the six, so no holding back then. You have to get him or the whole plan is ruined.
Kiss of death, my friend.
You don't think anyone else is doing the same thing? You don't think anyone else thought, "Why overpay for Teixeira when Votto is still out there?" You don't think other people recognize that once Votto is gone, their chances of getting assured studliness at the position are finished?
Of course they do -- maybe not all of them, but enough that you'll face your fiercest competition yet when Votto is nominated. And when that now-or-never mindset takes over, the bidding often gets out of control. Say his price tag rises all the way to $43. What then? Either you pony up the $44 and blow out your budget or you abandon the one thing you wanted most on auction day and try to distribute that money elsewhere -- after who knows how many other elite players have already gone off the board.
If you had it to do over again, wouldn't you take Teixeira for $33?
Granted, it doesn't always work that way, but the pattern of behavior is more predictable than you think. So guard yourself. If you have a specific player you want -- Ryan Madson, let's say -- don't nominate all the players just like him until he's the only one left. And don't let anyone else do that either. If your nomination comes up in the middle of a closer run, perhaps you should take the initiative to nominate Madson yourself just to make sure he's not the last man standing. It contradicts conventional wisdom, which suggests you'll have less competition for the players you want by nominating the players you don't want, but sometimes the players you don't want can do the most good just by remaining available.
Of course, the conventional wisdom is conventional for a reason. It's the only way to go in the latter stages of the draft, assuming you've properly prepared for them.
The endgame: He who has the gold makes the rules
Remember how, in mixed leagues, I encouraged you to go all out for the elite players knowing that you could always fill in the gaps with low-dollar sleepers at the end of the auction? Well, in order for it to work, you actually have to purchase those low-dollar sleepers, which is easier said than done.
But you can do it as long as you're willing to accept whichever of the sleepers are most affordable and not necessarily the ones you want the most. You'll just need to have a little money saved up for the endgame.
Eventually, every bidder will reach a point when he can only afford $1 players, which is a double whammy. Not only can he win only the players he nominates himself, but if anyone raises the bid, he's immediately out of the running, forced to sit through another round of nominations before he can take a shot at someone else. In other words, he doesn't have a chance of winning anyone good because if he nominates someone good, he's sure to get outbid.
You want to be the last bidder to reach that point.
It's not as difficult as it sounds, but it does require some discipline. At some point during you're spending spree, you'll need to recognize when you've done as much damage as you can responsibly do and stop with whatever little money you have left. And again, it should only be a little money. I recommend twice as many dollars as you have roster spots to fill.
For the rest of the auction, you're limited to $2 bids, which means you have to be on the edge of your seat, ready to pounce the moment somebody nominates one of those low-dollar sleepers. If someone beats you to the $2 bid, that's it. You're out of the running for that player. Going to $3 would reduce you to a $1 bid later. Plenty of other fish in the sea.
Early on, you may find that the $2 bids aren't really getting you anywhere. It comes with the territory. You went big early, so most likely, several people have significantly more money than you ... at least for now. But as you place your $2 bids, you should also be working to drain their money by nominating players who have enough upside to attract attention but not so much that you'd want to devote one of your $2 bids to them. Ivan Nova is a good example. He has shown he can be pretty successful with the Yankees offense backing him, but he doesn't have much room for growth. If you get one of your opponents to bid him up from your $1 nomination, mission accomplished. If not, hey, you've gotten a pretty good player for only $1.
You've also filled a roster spot for less than the $2 you intended to use on it, which means you now have $3 to spend on that one special player you've had your eye on this whole time. And look, I'm not saying you can't cheat a little and spend $4 on him if he's really that much better than anything else still on the table, but the bottom line is you don't want to put yourself in a position where you have to pick through the leftovers -- especially if, as is often the case, you have more than just a couple roster spots to fill. Cheat once too many, and you're there.
Feeling anxious yet? Yup, that's an auction for you. The tradeoff for building your team your way is four straight hours of constantly second-guessing yourself.
But unlike everyone else who's feeling that way, you'll have a plan for the beginning, middle and end, and you'll know exactly where you stand at every step along the way.
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