The 2011 Tout Wars Mixed League Auction began with the nomination of Jay Bruce. Every year a few players generate an abundance of buzz during the fantasy baseball prep season. This year, nobody has been more buzzworthy than Bruce. Not yet 24, the Reds rightfielder is now three seasons into his major-league career and in 2010 he managed to both stay off the disabled list and show enough patience to manage a respectable average (.281). A torrential second half (.306 AVG, 15 HR, 951 OPS) adds to the perception that Bruce is on the verge of superstardom, as many have been expecting every since he broke into the bigs.
So, perhaps, Andy Behrens of Yahoo!, Tout Wars Mixed defending champion, believed Bruce was the perfect player to generate active, maybe even excessive, bidding from the 15 fantasy baseball "experts" who were itching to start spending. Indeed, more than half the assembled players got a bid in before Dave Feldman of MLB.com rostered Bruce for $19. Although by no means an obscene number (the experts do occasionally practice restraint!), it did turn out to be more than was paid for more established outfielders like Curtis Granderson ($18), Shane Victorino ($17), and Corey Hart ($14). It was the first of several cases of Touts going to the mat for popular young "breakthrough" candidates. Clayton Kershaw, for instance, cost Fred Zinkie of FantasyBaseball.com $19, more than former Cy Young candidates like Zack Greinke ($18), Dan Haren ($18), Ubaldo Jimenez ($17), and David Price ($17), none of whom are exactly "over the hill" themselves.
Following a year in which many of the best fantasy producers - guys like Carlos Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Jose Bautista, Jered Weaver, and Jimenez - had been relatively unheralded in the preseason, the temptation to pay for "upside" was even greater. Minor bidding wars developed at some surprising places. The 21-year-old Florida outfielder, Mike Stanton, who, in both his impressive power and his 34.3 K%, is very reminiscent of Jay Bruce circa 2008, somehow managed to cost more than Bruce, and more than Hunter Pence, Delmon Young, or B. J. Upton. Another sophomore uberprospect, Carlos Santana, whose rookie season was cut short by an unfortunate and catastrophic collision at home plate, though he possesses all of 46 games of major-league experience, was Tout Wars second most expensive backstop, topping steady producers like Victor Martinez and Brian McCann, as well as the NL Rookie of the Year and postseason hero, Buster Posey.
Catchers, in general, were nominated early and often. Before the first break, Joe Mauer ($27), Posey ($23), McCann ($21), Geovany Soto ($17), Yadier Molina ($11), Matt Wieters ($10), John Jaso ($7), A. J. Pierzynski ($5), Russell Martin ($4), Nick Hundley ($3), Jesus Montero ($2), and Yorbit Torrealba ($2) had all been rostered. Certainly, this explains to some extent the furious bidding on Santana ($24), Mike Napoli ($20), and others, later in the day, when the backstop pool was getting thin. The Touts took very diverse approaches to the run on catching. Zinkie and Seth Trachtman saw an opportunity to create a large marginal advantage at the position by nabbing two premium players. Trachtman spent nearly 20% of his budget on V-Mart and Mauer. Others, like Scott Swanay, The Fantasy Sherpa, and Nando Di Fino of WSJ.com, more or less punted the position.
But from my perspective, it was Behrens who most stealthily handled the problem. Seven rounds into the nominations, when most of the participants had showed their hands, either by netting backstops or moving into the "scrubs" portion of their strategy, Behrens brought home Miguel Montero for exactly half the price of Santana. Montero is a 27-year-old D-Back, who, when healthy, has shown considerably power and respectable average for the position. And, of course, he falls into that "post-hype" prime, possessing both upside and experience. Near the auction's conclusion, Behrens nominated and won Carlos Ruiz ($3). Nobody gets goosebumps watching Carlos Ruiz, but Chooch has all the advantage of ballpark, lineup protection, and playing time certainty that one looks for in a #2 catcher, and, his excellent bat control (193/188 K/BB for his career) give him a high likelihood of providing a respectable average (for the position). In 2010, he did even more than that, hitting .302. From Montero and Ruiz, Behrens won't get Mauer and V-Mart level production, certainly, but he will get considerably more than 30% of their output, which is the price he paid for his tandem.
Next up...Tout Wars reveals that "Stubs & Scrubs" is still alive and well, and with good reason.