Imagine a natural or man-made disaster reduces the earth to rubble, wiping out 90 percent of the population and most natural vegetation in one fell swoop.
The few who remain eke out an existence scouring the wasteland for adequate sustenance on makeshift land vehicles. Clean water is scarce. Those who have it charge a fortune, and those who don't willingly pay even though they know it won't completely sustain them. They'll need more. They don't know where they'll get it, but that's irrelevant. What they can get now is their only real hope of survival.
That's kind of the way an auction works. The economy is that of a post-apocalyptic world. In these days of price match guarantees and Groupon, we've gotten so used to shopping for bargains that we don't know how to assess value in a world where stores don't restock their shelves.
But that's what the player pool is. If you wait and wait and wait, hoping for a bargain, the entire procession of elite talent will pass you by. With a finite supply and an infinite demand, the cost is what it is. If you want it, you pay it.
And you should want it, at least in standard mixed leagues.
1. Spend, spend, spend!
An auction allows you to break from the restraints of turn order and begin with the star-studded roster that most everyone tries to assemble during the season by way of 2- and 3-for-1 trades. Why is that the goal? The quantity in mixed leagues is huge, so the quality is what sets your team apart. A $1 player becomes a $15 player easier than a $15 player becomes a $40 player.
Now, AL- and NL-only leagues are different. The quantity is as scarce as the quality. A $1 player is practically worthless, and because of that, a more balanced approach is in order.
But if in a mixed league, you back down from Robinson Cano -- who's far and away the best second baseman -- just because the price is $3 or $4 higher than some magazine said it should be, you're not thinking of your kids back in the land vehicle. And if you back down from every elite hitter for the same reason and wind up with Allen Craig as your best, you're dead.
Of course, even with a finite supply, people still have limits to what they can spend. Typically, each team begins with $260, which means $3,120 is in play in standard 12-team leagues. That's true whether the elite players go for $40, $50 or $60. Obviously, the more money people devote to the elite players, the less they can devote to everyone else.
To a degree, then, your approach should change based on what everyone else does.
2. Show up with a plan, but be ready to change it
If all of the elite players push $50 and $60, then those just outside of the elite category will naturally go for less than expected -- say, $15 or so -- just because that's all anyone has left for them. In that scenario, perhaps you'd be better off skipping the elite players entirely, provided you go full bore for that second tier.
That's different from backing down out of a misguided sense of fiscal responsibility. It's recognizing that the distribution of dollars has so fundamentally changed that the counter approach would actually yield better results. Will it build you your dream team? No, but it will give you a better return on your investment. Joey Votto is great and all, but four Billy Butlers are better.
Still, if you take a wait-and-see approach, you won't have a clue what you can honestly afford to spend, putting you in the dangerous position of having to guess.
Go ahead and make a budget going into the auction, assigning dollar values to each position and then fidgeting with them until they add up to $260. Obviously, what you hope to get at each position should influence how much you budget for it, and if you intend to bid aggressively on someone, budget a little extra for him.
Then when the draft begins, take the temperature of the room. If elite players go for more than or less than you expected, adjust your thinking. Subtract dollars from one position and at it to another.
Likewise, if you end up spending more than or less than you budgeted at a position, adjust as necessary. If you get Matt Kemp for $44 instead of the $37 you had budgeted for him, plan to pay $1 for that second catcher instead of $8. You're free to stray from the budget, but when you do, figure out how to get it back to $260. You always want to know what's doable.
3. Sleepers? Ha!
So ... who do you like as sleeper?
I might as well ask because everyone asks this time of year. People don't want a bunch of point-by-point strategies or philosophical musings. They just want a list of gosh darn sleepers.
And they get it. From this website or that magazine, from their friends, their foes and maybe even the mailman, everyone hears the same names thrown around with such reckless abandon that by the time the auction comes, nobody is actually sleeping on them.
Now, in a draft, that's not a problem. Because everyone regards them as sleepers, everyone knows to wait until the appropriate point to draft them. Someone might jump in a round early if his interest borders on obsession, but three or four rounds doesn't happen.
An auction is different. When a sleeper is nominated, everyone knows that's the one and only time to get him, and having pegged him as a must-have from the beginning, nobody wants to back down. The price rises higher and higher until that trendy sleeper pretty much has to meet his full potential to live up to the price tag, which kind of defeats the purpose.
Believe it or not, the best time to get your preferred sleeper might actually be at the beginning of the auction, when everyone still has his sights set on Buster Posey and Stephen Strasburg. Again, you'll want to take the temperature of the room. With your first nomination, throw out a trendy sleeper, though not your absolute favorite, and see what happens. If he goes for $3, perhaps even to you, then you might want to try sneaking your favorite through the stream of studs with your next nomination.
4. You can do a lot more with $2 than $1
Being down to nothing but $1 bids is one of the most helpless feelings in all existence. You can only win players you nominate yourself, which you have to wait your turn to do. So not only do you risk losing the player you nominate to anyone capable of bidding $2, but you miss out on countless other players waiting for your next turn.
That's how you end up filling out the back of your roster with the worst of the worst.
The way to avoid it is by controlling the endgame. You want to be the one bidding $2 on the best of those low-end players, not ripping your hair out when someone else does.
Go ahead and do your spending early in the auction, when you can assemble your dream team. Then, when you have about twice as many dollars as roster spots to fill, hit the brakes. You've done as much damage you can reasonably do without settling for everyone's leftovers.
Your goal then should be to drain everyone else's money. On your turn, nominate a player who could conceivably go for $1 and who you wouldn't mind getting for $1, but who you could certainly live without. If someone else bids on him, mission accomplished. If not, hey, you've filled a roster spot for only $1.
You want someone else to nominate your favorite low-dollar players, and you'll need to be on the edge of your seat, ready to jump in with a $2 bid when it happens. If someone beats you to it, that's it. Game over. Better luck next time. Every dollar is critical at this stage. Going to $3 isn't worth it.
Obviously, the $2 won't be enough for some players, particularly when the auction first reaches this stage, but when the money starts running out, you'll be happy you had the extra dollar to spend and jumped in with it first.
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