In 30+ years of playing auction-style Fantasy Baseball, winning over 30 championships can make you feel like an “expert”. The real test, however, is when you compete in a league full of experts. That has been a yearly challenge for The Old Duck and it presented itself once again as the 15 owners in the Xperts Fantasy League (XFL) gathered on-line last week for their 20th annual draft. Our first 18 drafts were all done in-person but circumstances have created changes the last two years.
As a quick refresher, the XFL is the only expert’s keeper league within the fantasy industry and many of the owner’s names are familiar to those who have viewed the landscape of fantasy sports over the years. These brilliant guys produce websites, magazines, newsletters and blogs that help guide you in becoming a better player in your league. The league is a 5 X 5 format (with on-base percentage replacing batting average), a 23-player auction draft after the World Series with a $260 budget and a supplemental snake draft in late March to round out the 40-man rosters (23 players are active each week during the season). Donald’s Dux (my squad) has captured five championships (including 2021) and holds the top overall performance record encompassing all 19 seasons of the league.
The 2021 season was magical in many ways. The squad looked promising and projections had them finishing in the top 3-4 spots but there were other teams rated higher. However, a pitching staff with Kevin Gausman, Zack Wheeler, Brandon Woodruff & Joe Musgrove never waivered or got injured. On the offensive side, solid seasons from Jose Abreu, Randy Arozarena, Pete Alonso, Marcus Semien & Teoscar Hernandez helped the overall balance and the Dux finished with 134 of a possible 150 points and won by nine points
So, as we approached the December Draft for the 2022 season, the good news is that we still had many of the same players…but at higher salaries.
Here’s the keeper list that was frozen on November 19th –
C – Willson Contreras $19
1B – Pete Alonso $10
2B – Marcus Semien $29
SS – Gleyber Torres $13
OF – Randy Arozarena $11
OF – Teoscar Hernandez $11
OF – Dylan Carlson $7
P – Kevin Gausman $11
P – Brandon Woodruff $21
P – Tyler Mahle $8
P – Logan Webb $6
P – Emmanuel Clase $6
P – Gregory Soto $6
P – David Bednar $4
Farm – Triston Casas
Here’s a quick review of the salary structure…
> November/December Draft – Player salaries are determined by the winning bid at the table and increase $5 each season. So, unless a team finds a break-out player in the end-game, there’s a reasonable chance that expensive veterans will only be on your team for one season.
> March Supplemental Draft – A 17-round snake draft gets all the squads up to a 40-man roster from which you determine 23 active players each week. All players chosen in this phase have a $1 salary. For current major-leaguers, the increase each season is $5 so the annual keeper lists have a smattering of $6 players that were great choices the previous year. Minor-leaguers taken in this phase also have a $1 starting salary, but once they get to “the show”, their salary only goes up $3 per year. This is what might be described as the “dynasty” component in this particular league. An example would be Pete Alonso, who was taken as a free agent by my team in March of 2019 and now enters his 4th season on the roster at a salary of $10.
> In-Season Monthly Free Agent Selections – Teams can choose free agents once a month and drop someone on their roster in a corresponding move. The salary is $5 with a $5 increase in subsequent seasons, so you’ll see a few of these players scattered on keeper rosters at $10 each year.
The seven hitters on the Dux keeper list had a salary total of $100, while the seven pitchers equaled $62 leaving $98 to buy nine players at the draft table. The basic allocation would be $77 for the seven hitters and $21 for the two pitchers. So, the draft strategy was as follows…
> 30 Catchers will be rostered in this league and a significant percentage of them have negative value. Only eight were kept, so there will be a feeding frenzy for backstops. Yasmani Grandal & J.T. Realmuto are the best available but draft inflation will be significant. The Dux must be willing to overpay for a second-tier Catcher like Christian Vasquez, Carson Kelly, Elias Diaz or Sean Murphy but if that doesn’t work, taking Yan Gomes (Contreras’ back-up) for a single digit price will allow dollars to be shifted to another priority.
> Spend $25 to fill the 3B spot. The pool includes Manny Machado, Justin Turner, Nolan Arenado and Josh Donaldson. Or maybe roll the dice on Anthony Rendon coming all the way back from injury.
> Allocate $10 each for CI, MI and two OF spots. Just looking for everyday players with an eye towards a few SB’s.
> Look for one of those end-gamers in the Utility spot that could be productive…players like Austin Hays, Joey Wendle, Daulton Varsho, Brendan Rogers or Lane Thomas would all fit the bill. It is always easier to find an end-game hitter than an end game pitcher.
> One starting pitcher for $18-$20…Max Scherzer, Zack Wheeler and Jacob deGrom will all be too expensive. Hurlers like Joe Musgrove, Chris Bassitt & Frankie Montas are on the radar.
> Look for skills in the last pitching spot for a minimal cost… Huascar Ynoa, Michael Kopech or Adbert Alzolay all fit the type.
> My advice to players has always been to not “chase” any particular player. Find a group of players that fit your need and focus on getting one of them. This was the biggest challenge because so many of MLB’s star players were already rostered.
Before reviewing the results of the draft, there’s one other important league rule for readers to understand. Even though the word “list” is being used in this discussion, the really unique aspect of the XFL is that team owners can bring nothing to the table…no lists, no projections, no research, no draft software, no laptops, no tablets and no smart phones. When you sit down at the table, major league depth charts are handed out with the names of keepers crossed off and that is your only reference material during the auction. Even the depth charts are as neutral as possible with players listed by position and alphabetically. You don’t get any help as the typical MLB team could have 12 relief pitchers on the sheet and you need to know which one might get (or be next in line for) Saves. With this year’s Draft again being done remotely, we’re all on the honor system.
The actual approach at the draft table needed to be somewhat aggressive for the positions needed, so money could be shifted later in the process. And, of course, never forget the words of a world-class poker player who once told me, “If you sit down at the table and don’t spot the pigeon, it just might be you”.
Note – All of the previous paragraphs were written prior to our December 4th draft date.
One of the more interesting aspects in an auction league environment is the impact other teams have on your decisions. After all, 189 players were purchased but I only got to nominate 12 of those. So, not only do 14 teams get to bid against you, they also influence your decision-making by their nominations.
An obvious example took place early in the Draft. A team nominated Matt Chapman with the 3rd slot in Round 1. 3B was one of the Dux priorities and the pool wasn’t deep for a $25 budget figure. As the bidding started to slow down in the mid-teens, the Dux decided to be aggressive and added him with an $18 bid. Yes, he had the lowest OPS of his career in ’21 but still hit 27 HR’s and is not yet 30. Was it worth moving $7 to other slots? Time will tell but Machado, Arenado & Rendon all went for more than $25 later in the 1st Round.
The 1st round looked like this…
- R. Iglesias $18
- Scherzer $39
- M. Chapman $18
- Machado $39
- deGrom $36
- Castellanos $33
- Goldschmidt $37
- Hendriks $21
- Realmuto $21
- Arenado $26
- Wheeler $30
- Rendon $27
- Grandal $23
- Flaherty $26
- Varsho $16
The Dux bid on a number of SP’s in Round 2 but found all of them too expensive including Musgrove at $30, Montas at $25 and Castillo for $24. We settled on Bassitt in the 3rd Round at $18.
The Catcher situation became obvious when Murphy, Garver, Navarez & Vazquez all went for double-digit prices in Rounds 2 & 3. We took the fallback option at the start of Round 4, paying $5 for Gomes. It gave our budget an additional $5 and the worst-case scenario is that he’s the back-up for Contreras. If Contreras gets traded, we’ll have two starting Catchers.
With those priorities filled, we turned to the OF slots and rostered Nimmo for $15. The price is a little steep but if healthy, he could be an OBP asset in the lead-off spot of an improved Mets line-up.
At this point, the Dux had filled 3B, SP, C & OF for a total of $56…about $8 less than the amount budgeted prior to the draft. There was now $42 remaining for CI, MI, OF, U & P. It was a tough spot in the auction as three teams still had significant money available and bidding wars became the status quo.
The Dux got caught in one of these in Round 5 and paid $16 for Brendan Rodgers. He’s a post-hype player at age 25 but is penciled in as the Rockies SS. Next was Adolis Garcia for $9 and it was obvious that his 2nd half performance made others wary. He did finish with 31 HR’s & 16 SB’s and the Rangers line-up will be significantly better, so we’ll roll the dice. Then we filled the CI slot with Eduardo Escobar at $10.
The two end game additions were Alex Cobb at $3 and Nico Hoerner for $4.
The Dux spent $177 on offense (68% of budget) and $98 on pitching (32% of budget), which were the exact target numbers. With a solid core, we tried to add players who shouldn’t have too many question marks. The overall strategy was very similar to last year. The mindset was to avoid thinking about “bargains” or “fliers” for 2023. Of the nine players drafted, there’s a chance none of them will be keepers a year from now. Keepers will be the emphasis for the March Supplemental Draft.
Just to keep your mind percolating during the off-season, here are some random thoughts from the Draft…
> Reputations don’t matter as Dallas Keuchel, Zack Greinke, Justin Upton, Madison Bumgarner, Robinson Cano, Elvis Andrus, Kevin Kiermaier, Randal Grichuk, David Peralta, Wade Miley, Mike Moustakas, David Price & Eric Hosmer weren’t drafted.
- Never ask the question, “Why did someone pay $31 for Byron Buxton” without clearly understanding that someone else bid $30.
> $1 players (“crickets”) included Trevor Bauer, Austin Nola, Miguel Cabrera, Dylan Bundy, Joey Wendle, Jameson Taillon, Andrew McCutchen, Patrick Corbin, Didi Gregorius & Yadier Molina.
You can review additional league information at fantasyxperts.com