Posted: Wednesday March 28, 2012 2:15PM ; Updated: Wednesday March 28, 2012 2:15PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY BASEBALL

Experts' fantasy draft illustrates need to be nimble with plans

Story Highlights

Ryan Braun could see decline after MVP season and with MLB scrutinizing him

Alex Avila could have a big year without Victor Martinez taking time from him

Aaron Hill bounced back from poor start to 2011 by hitting .301 with D'backs

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Though his overturned suspension has many fantasy owners down on him, Ryan Braun has retained his draft value this spring.
Though his overturned suspension has many fantasy owners down on him, Ryan Braun has retained his draft value this spring.
AP

Even the best-laid plans can go awry. That is why you need a Plan B, C, D ... Z ... punt ... nuke.

That is what happened to this writer in the annual meeting of the top minds in fantasy baseball at Tout Wars last weekend. You have to be ready to change gears and this guy wasn't. You can see the carnage that resulted with a review of the 15-team mixed Tout Wars rotisserie league draft that took place in the Sirius/XM studios in New York City on Saturday.

The plan going in was to bid reasonably on the elite guys and build a solid all-around rotisserie team. Well, it turns out, the top players didn't quite go for enough and the marginal guys went for a bit too much.

To win your fantasy league, you have to do things a bit differently than everyone else in your league, particularly in the traditional auction format. You cannot like all the players everyone else likes. You cannot afford to with a $260 cap to spend on your standard 23 players (2 C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, 5 OF, DH, MI, CI and 9 P).

Before reviewing the top over- and underrated winning bids, or analyzing all the Tout Wars prices relative to SI.com's Top 300 dollar values and MockDraftCentral.com's average draft positions (add the link to the chart here), here is this writer's collection of stiffs ... er ... fantasy 2012 stars (can you tell I am not crazy about my team?):

OF Ryan Braun, Brewers ($40)

Now that the suspension drama is over, Braun looks like one of the top four players. I went high on him here, because I figured the other early first-rounders (Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols and Matt Kemp) were going to go for far more. They didn't. In hindsight, I should have stay in longer on Kemp and Troy Tulowitzki. Braun still could be subject to a down year after his MVP campaign, and you can expect baseball to be testing him and watching him like a hawk after what transpired with his last reported positive test.

OF Jay Bruce, Reds ($28)

This is one of the few players I actually overbid on. Bruce is far more capable than what he has shown to date, so I stayed aggressive -- perhaps a few dollars too many. Regardless, Bruce is a good player primed for a career year, so I was willing to stretch it a few extra dollars.

SP Jered Weaver, Angels ($21)

I had no intention of spending this kind of money on any pitchers, but the Touts had the same plan, allowing the aces to go for the low-20s. Weaver was one I got stuck with, but he is a horse and has that added offense Pujols and a healthy Kendrys Morales will provide. He can win 20-plus games.

SP David Price, Rays ($20)

As I wrote last week in SI.com's bold predictions story, Price was going to be the best pitcher in fantasy this season. I couldn't let that go for less than $20, I thought. Then the bidding stopped. I now had two front-line starters -- again, something I had no intention of getting. At least we haven't seen the best yet from Price, who just happens to be turning 27 this August.

SP Stephen Strasburg, Nationals ($17)

Ugh! More pitching? Well, you don't need to be a fantasy analyst to know how good Strasburg can be. He just has to hold up for 200 innings. The Nationals might not want to stretch him out past 180, but Strasburg is going to be a good value if he can even make it to that plateau.

C Brian McCann, Braves ($17)

I was a first-half leader last year before falling out of the race due to a number of factors. One of them was bad catchers. I wasn't going to be stuck with a bad one this year and it just so happens the elite catchers went for less than anticipated. For a player selected 50th overall on average, McCann was merely around the 80th highest-priced player in Tout Wars. I consider this a pleasant surprise. Usually elite catchers are bad values. This one can to a reasonable level.

RP Heath Bell, Marlins ($14)

Onto tilt moment No. 2: I also blamed my failure to win Tout Wars '11 on the lack of closers. I wasn't going to get shut out again, so when the bidding was slow on Bell, I jumped in without really intending to get this free-agent arm. I don't like players who just signed big contracts, because Year 1 in the new home tends to be disappointing. At this price, Bell can be a bargain if he pitches as well as he has the past two years.

C Alex Avila, Tigers ($14)

Well, my catchers won't stink this go around, hopefully. The bidding was slow here and I needed more bats at this point, because all of my players were pitchers, so I jumped in on a catcher with pop. Avila is just 25 and won't have to deal with Victor Martinez this year, so he just might prove to be better than the elite catcher he performed like a year ago.

RP Brian Wilson, Giants ($13)

Touts notoriously suggest avoid paying top dollar on catchers and relievers. Well, this played very well into my plans to be sure to have good catchers and some closers. Wilson can be a bargain at this price coming off his disappointing year.

RP Andrew Bailey, Red Sox ($12)

As a 27-year old we haven't seen the best from yet, and one pitching for a contract extension, Bailey was the perfect third closer for this team. I have already spent too much on pitching, but the Touts were forcing my hand this way -- plus, lesser closing talents went for more later. This is another relative bargain, particularly if Bailey and the Red Sox are healthier this year.

1B/OF Lance Berkman, Cardinals ($11)

I needed position players at this point and I couldn't resist the cheap pop. Berkman has seemingly been undervalued this spring coming off a rebound year. Perhaps folks are not convinced he can stay healthy for a full season again -- fair comment -- but at this price, it didn't seem to be much of a gamble for a player that is going to be counted on to replace the loss of Pujols in the heart of a still solid Cardinals lineup.

SS Emilio Bonifacio, Marlins ($11)

I needed a shortstop in a thin remaining group, steals when there wasn't much left on the board and some versatility -- which always comes in handy in Tout Wars (transactions are via FAAB and only once a week). Bonifacio solved all those issues for this team in one swoop, even if I had to go double digits on a player coming off a career year that I am not all that fond of.

SP Michael Pineda, Yankees ($10)

This spring I have been preaching that the negative press on Pineda is actually a good thing, so this pick could net me a potential ace. Despite the bad pub, Pineda hasn't been that bad this spring and he can be great when the lights go on in April. This is right about where Pineda should be valued, but I wanted to be sure he was on my team in the event he reaches my lofty expectations in New York.

1B Justin Morneau, Twins ($8)

It should be mentioned this bid was made late in the auction and on the day Morneau hit two homers in spring training. A healthy Morneau is a superstar, but he let his fantasy owners down last year, so he owes some payback. He was healthy enough to hit two homers off Jeremy Hellickson, who's no slouch, in a spring game, so he should be healthy enough to at least start the season. If he finishes it, this is going to prove to be a bargain. You have to take some chances and I had dollars to burn late, because I stayed off so many elite players.

OF Austin Jackson, Tigers ($6)

This is another player I had little intention of getting, but steals don't come cheap in rotisserie formats. If he can return to his rookie season levels -- or, heck, improve on them at age 25 -- Jackson is going to be a steal at this price. There is plenty of upside here and it was surprising to see Touts drop out of the bidding. It goes back to the notion fantasy owners overrate last season's numbers. Jackson is better than his sophomore swoon suggests.

2B Aaron Hill, Diamondbacks ($5)

Yet another player coming off a down year, Hill was one of the last true promising players on the board at the time he was nominated. He is not the player he was when he broke out at age 27, but he isn't old yet, he is coming off a career-high 21 steals and he found his stroke with the D'backs last September (.301). It was a stretch to go over $1 on him, but those $4 won't be missed if he is anything like his pre-2011 form.

SP Carlos Zambrano, Marlins ($4)

No, Big Z won't be better than Clay Buchholz, who went for a ridiculous $3 bid, but he was this team's last purchase and he was the pitcher with the most upside left on the board. Zambrano has not posted an ERA higher than 3.96 in any season until last, so he is a decent bet to make amends for a down year. If anyone can get the best out of the still-talented right-hander, it has to be Ozzie Guillen, right?

3B David Freese, Cardinals ($2)

This one went late. It was surprising the hype wasn't higher on this postseason hero with the Touts. Players coming off great postseasons tend to be overrated. It wasn't in this Tout Wars draft, perhaps because of the annual injury risk here. Regardless, at just $2, Freese was well worth the risk. At $8, Freese is still a solid buy. He is a 28-year-old on verge of a career year, a first full season in the majors.

SP Phil Hughes, Yankees ($2)

Yet another player coming off a bad year, but he has the talent and opportunity to rebound. Perhaps players coming off bad years should be added to SI.com's season preview series next spring. It is shaping this Tout Wars team. In fact, if Hughes and this team win this year, book it. Hughes can be a 15-plus game-winner again.

2B Gordon Beckham, White Sox ($2)

The only reason he wasn't a $1 bid is because I wanted to block some of those left with a $2 max bid from snatching him. He hasn't been good since his rookie season, but I am still convinced he is the next Dustin Pedroia. It is easy to forget Beckham is still just 25. We haven't seen the best of him yet.

OF Bryce Harper, Nationals ($1)

An unexpected get for a buck. But I will gladly stash him until June -- or trade him before he is called up. It will hurt burning the roster spot in a tight league, but it is about the six-month marathon, not the early sprint out of the gate.

3B Chipper Jones, Braves ($1)

He was left on the board late and can be stashed on the DL in the early going. For $1, there is little risk outside the expectation he is going to be on and off the DL all year. In Tout Wars, you can make mid-week changes, so I just need to be sure I have a healthy hitter to swap in.

2B Brian Roberts, Orioles ($1)

Like Jones, he is going to be an early DL stashee. If I get anything out of him, it is just gravy. He still could be a solid low-end basestealer.

P Alexi Ogando, Rangers (reserve pick) -- He can start or close for a top contender this season. As a player that has fallen through the cracks, I will take him even as a setup guy. This is a good arm.

OF Juan Pierre, Phillies (reserve pick) -- He was cheap steals left on the board. He won't be much more than a part-timer on my roster.

OF Domonic Brown, Phillies (reserve pick) -- He is already in the minors, like Harper, so I have burned two of my reserve spots on elite minor league talents. They are going to be popular names in the weekly prospect report every Wednesday this season on SI.com.

SP Rick Porcello, Tigers (reserve pick) -- It is rare a 23-year old coming off a 14-win season gets no love. It is because Porcello pitches to contact. He is finally ready to reach 200 innings, so we could see the best of him this season. This is a decent last pick.

All told, this team isn't a sure winner, but this isn't a finished product either. A lot of the picks above were made because the market dictated it. Sure, that means it is stocked with players coming off bad years and players with question marks, but everyone needs a lot to go right to win a fantasy baseball league. No one can argue this team doesn't have potential to outperform its draft values.

Even if this writer couldn't follow his plan, he at least stuck to practicing what he preaches.

As for the rest of the draft, you can get all of the auction results here (link to that other page). We break down some highlights and lowlights below.

Top five going under value

When comparing the actual Tout Wars auction prices to SI.com's Top 300 dollar values, we can get a sense of players the Touts like a little bit less than this writer -- or the masses in general. You have to take into account injury that might have changed some values from SI.com's earlier published Top 300, as was the case with a few of the players that went for far cheaper than projected:

1. 2B Chase Utley, Phillies (SI. com: $23; Tout: $6)

The bidding stopped abruptly on this former fantasy star, mostly because of fears of microfracture surgery. Utley says he doesn't it need it right now ... but remember what the Mets and Carlos Beltran went through? The fears are real, and the Touts didn't want to touch him. Even then, I still wish I had stayed in the bidding a few more dollars to see if I could get him on the cheap. A reasonable draft day price on Utley is somewhere around $10, perhaps.

2. Freese, Cardinals (SI. com: $12; Tout: $2)

See above.

3. SP Neftali Feliz, Rangers (SI. com: $13; Tout: $5)

Pitching always goes for less in rotisserie leagues -- particularly a league with Touts, who all preach to not overspend on pitching. Feliz also has the added stigma of shoulder woes as he tries to transition from relief to being a full-time starter (go figure!). This a potentially great arm. If he falls below double digits in your league, you should take the risk.

4. SP Chris Carpenter, Cardinals (SI. com: $12; Tout: $5)

Yet another pitcher getting avoided because of injury woes, Carpenter is an extreme risk at any price. In a league where every pitcher is going under value, you are best off avoiding one that won't be picking up a baseball for at least three weeks. Carpenter is undraftable before the late rounds in mixed leagues. There are just too many other healthy arms to jump on, particularly in an auction format.

5. SP Jon Lester, Red Sox (SI. com: $23; Tout: $17)

Ignoring the dramatic discount due to being a pitcher, we did notice some general discounts for the injury-plagued Red Sox. Touts were generally down on Red Sox coming off disappointing years. Lester is better than he showed a year ago, like his entire team, and Josh Beckett was a big bargain at a mere $9 buy. Then, Clay Buchholz went for a ghastly $3. Had I not already had a solid front of my rotation, I would have stayed in longer on Lester and especially Beckett. Beckett should have gone deeper into double digits. Buchholz should have, too, but I already had a full pitching staff.

Honorable mention: Ryan Madson, Reds (SI. com: $10; Tout: Not drafted)

and ...

Honorable mention: Joakim Soria, Royals (SI. com: $6; Tout: Not drafted)

These are obvious now, because they went down to Tommy John surgery right before the Tout Wars auction, but we will mention them here because of the increased importance on their potential replacements. Sean Marshall ($12) and Aroldis Chapman ($1) were purchased, along with the Royals' Jonathan Broxton ($1) and Greg Holland ($5). The key note here is Aaron Crow should have received a bid. He is back in the bullpen, after stretching out to start. He could be the Royals' closer of the future -- heck, present.

All underbid Tout Wars team

C -- Brian McCann ($17): Top catchers and closers, per usual, go a bit lower.
1B -- Ryan Howard ($7): A reasonable price now he might miss two months.
2B -- Chase Utley, Phillies ($6): See above.
3B -- David Freese, Cardinals ($2): See above.
SS -- Stephen Drew, Diamondbacks ($6): Likely DL start scared owners away.
OF -- Nelson Cruz, Rangers ($20): Very surprised when the bidding stopped here.
OF -- Lance Berkman, Cardinals ($11): Age must be scaring people off.
OF -- Nick Markakis, Orioles ($10): Injury and years of decline are worrisome.
SP -- Neftali Feliz, Rangers ($5): See above.
RP -- Craig Kimbrel ($19): I shouldn't have stopped bidding on the No. 1 closer.

Bottom five going over value

On the other end of the spectrum, there are players the Touts like far more than SI.com's values suggest. Overall, there were a lot more players going over value than under value, although that can be attributed -- at least partially -- to the fact Tout Wars is a not a normal 10- or 12-team mixed league. It is 15 teams, so there is more money to be spent and a lot of it was spent on the marginal players as opposed to the elite ones. That is a bit surprising, but Touts do know you need a balanced team one through 23 in your active lineup.

Here are players the Touts loved in deference to this writer's values:

1. SP Cory Luebke, Padres (SI. com: $0; Tout: $13)

This might be the most overrated player this spring. Touts love the strikeouts and they should, but Luebke hasn't had a full season starting in the major leagues yet. But Beckett goes for $4 less and Buchholz a whopping $10 less. This shouldn't be. Beckett and Buchholz have better potential and play for a better contender. Sure, Luebke is a nice sleeper, but when you're pricing him over a few bucks he is no longer a potential sleeper. He needs to pitch like an ace at this rate. He won't.

2. 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks (SI. com: $5; Tout: $18)

This overbid is understandable because Goldschmidt has serious pop, but for him to go this far over is a warning sign. Goldschmidt hit just .250 last season and doesn't project to be a gem in the average category, even if he does slug 30 homers in his first full season in the majors. There were a lot of more proven slugging first basemen in their prime going for less than Goldschmidt. This is a weird one: I wouldn't expect Goldschmidt to go for more than low-end double digits in other leagues.

3. SS Hanley Ramirez, Marlins (SI. com: $27; Tout: $39)

This one is a testament to the hype on Ramirez this spring. All signs point to a rebound, but this price requires a full return to stardom. Ramirez, even if 100 percent healthy, will be hard-pressed to hit the .300 with 30 homers and 30 steals that he is priced here to produce. Ramirez opened spring training as an injury-risk sleeper, but he won't be slept on in many leagues. The hype has made him a late first-rounder again. The multiple years of decline and injuries are still worrisome, even if the added third base eligibility to come is intriguing.

4. RP Sergio Santos, Blue Jays (SI. com: $1; Tout: $13)

Santos, who hasn't been a full-season closer yet, went for as much as former No. 1 closer Brian Wilson, 2011 gem J.J. Putz and for more than the likes of Drew Storen ($12), Jose Valverde ($12) and Andrew Bailey ($12). For some reason, closers went cheaply early and expensive late. That is something to take note of in your auctions. It is a general trend. Pick up some solid closers with solid early bids, so you won't have to overpay for the hope of saves late.

5. Alex Rios, White Sox (SI. com: $1; Tout: $13)

This is another perplexing one. Yes, Rios has 20-30 potential but he is now 31 and clearly past his prime already. Coming off a down year, Rios should have been available under value, not overvalue. Rios is only a good pickup for something less than $5, even in a league this size.

All overbid Tout Wars team

C -- Jesus Montero, SEA ($14): SI.com's value considered him DH-only, unlike Tout Wars.
1B -- Paul Goldschmidt, ARI ($18): See above.
2B -- Jemile Weeks, OAK ($16): That debut better prove to be the real deal.
3B -- Martin Prado, ATL ($16): A lot to pay coming off a bad year.
SS -- Hanley Ramirez, MIA ($39): See above.
OF -- Alex Rios, CHW ($13): See above.
OF -- Justin Upton, ARI ($40): Everyone expects a Matt Kemp-like breakthrough.
OF -- Carlos Gonzalez, COL ($40): Rotisserie favors the potential five-category guys.
SP -- Cory Luebke, Padres ($13): See above.
RP -- Sergio Santos, Blue Jays ($13): See above.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You can also find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

 
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