This weekend, for the first time in my fantasy baseball-centric life, I took part in a one-league-only draft. Specifically an NL-only draft. A group of friends and I decided to change things up a little and add a different dynamic to our annual draft. We figured after years of engaging in mixed leagues, it would be interesting to try our hands at something different. For a mixed league veteran like me, it seemed like a fun idea.
And it was fun...for about three rounds. Almost immediately, the entire group began to realize the extent of the complete desolation that comprised the National League, and the total dearth of star players. The offseason exodus of Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder left the NL bereft of two of its best producers and depleted the first base pool. Paul Goldschmidt...Paul freaking Goldschmidt!...is listed as the second-best NL first baseman behind Joey Votto in many rankings.
After years of stacking our teams, we simply weren't prepared for this. We had seven teams and an auction budget of $260. After the first few rounds had passed, it quickly became a game of finding any player who was slated to get at-bats. When the dust had settled, I had blown almost all of my cash on four players, managers were engaging in poverty line bidding wars for closers (my worst nightmare), and managers were bolting out the door after making their last pick. There was distrust, name-calling, and that one inevitable guy who hordes all of his cash until the end and outbids everybody by one dollar just to be an ass. By the end, we were all ready to throw the NL-only concept into the dust bin of fantasy league history .In no world should Chase Headley and Angel Pagan ever have value except as Mr. Irrelevant.
Still, it was a learning experience, and not only in the sense that I found out how many crappy players there are in the NL. I walked away from the draft with two of the top five players at their respective positions, and was able to hone my nose for sniffing out sleepers. I'll leave you to judge whether my team is going anywhere, or whether my draft was a complete disaster. After the jump, some hard lessons learned, some silver linings, some tips for anybody thinking of doing an NL-only league in the future, and Devin Mesoraco!
--Let's start with the ugly before making our way to the bad, then the good (if you can call it that). I essentially had a panic attack trying to nab the best shortstop, and blew $81 on Troy Tulowitzki. Ok, I told myself, it's only one player. I still had just enough financial flexibility to pepper the rest of the roster with quality.
Fast forward to two picks later, and that flexibility was shot to hell. At the opportunity to nab Clayton Kershaw, I again resorted to wildly throwing cash like a sad drunk guy at a strip club and ended up spending $70 on the Dodger ace. That's right, I spent $151 on two freaking players. Now, if you happen to be a young, naive fantasy player reading this and you're just getting your feet in this wacky make-believe game, just know this: it is never a good idea to blow half of your budget on two players. The more seasoned of you are probably just wondering exactly how much I had to drink before I began bidding on players.
To be honest, it could have been worse. Well, not really, but close. Tulo ended up carrying the highest price tag in the entire draft, but right behind him was Matt Kemp, and I'd rather blow my stack on a 30-homer-producing shortstop than on a player who plays a less premium position (we only use general outfield spots, not left, center, aetc.) and who is one year removed from a miserable .249/.310/.450 season. At shortstop, after Tulo, you have Jose Reyes. Then, unless you believe Starlin Castro is the greatest thing since sliced bread (or Matt Wieters?), it goes downhill very fast. So, if I was going to go all out on anybody, it was going to be Tulo.
--Even after that spending spree, I still had some money to work with, though not for long. I had already landed Andrew McCutchen for $37, which I consider to be a steal, since Carlos Gonzalez had just gone for $61. Then came two picks that could make or break my season. Seriously. I drafted Stephen Strasburg for $35 and Jason Heyward for $29, and just like that, I had twelve dollars left. With the spending habits of a 21-year-old in Vegas with his mom's credit card, I had soaked $248 on five players. Call me the Miami Heat of auction league fantasy baseball.
Strasburg and Heyward could potentially blossom into two of the top players at their respective positions. I happen to believe that they will; otherwise I wouldn't have risked torpedoing my entire season on them. Of course, they carry significant risk. Strasburg is coming off of Tommy John surgery, of course, and Heyward was pretty awful last season, and is also coming off of an injury. He also keeps getting benched by the insane person he calls a manager. Call me crazy, though, but I feel justified in spending that money on these guys. The ceiling is just too great, especially in such a diluted talent pool. Strasburg has the potential to be the top fantasy starting pitcher. Likewise, Heyward could easily bust out and be one of the top outfielders.
--So with barely any money left and only my wits to get me through the rest of the draft, I did what anyone in my situation would do. I drafted Johnathan Lucroy. For two dollars. No, that's not a joke. Perhaps it was poverty-induced delirium, or maybe I'd simply eaten too many Cheez-Its, but I panicked and decided I had to have a catcher after Buster Posey and Brian McCann (and, ugh, Miguel Montero) were taken off the board. Naturally, like anybody making a panic-stricken decision, I chose horribly.
The worst part is that later on I nabbed Reds catching prospect Devin Mesoraco for one dollar, when everybody else in the group apparently didn't even know who he was. Mesoraco came into the season as one of the best prospects in the game (Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked him 24th on his Top 101; Baseball America had him at sixteen), and I was flabbergasted that I was able to grab him so easily. The only question with Mesoraco is how much playing time he'll get in a time share with Ryan Hanigan. If he gets the at-bats, he should produce.
Making the Lucroy pick doubly idiotic was the fact that I also nabbed Colorado's Wilin Rosario in the very late rounds. Rosario is another decent prospect who should be good this season if he can just get playing time. If these two guys produce like they're capable of, Lucroy is waiver wire fodder. Fail.
--Quickly, some other late-round dollar picks that I'm very happy with.
-Cory Luebke. I don't know if my league mates just thought his 2011 was a fluke or if they didn't know who he was because he toiled for the Padres. Either way, I didn't care. Yes, he was awful in his first start. No, I'm not killing myself over one measly bad outing. He'll get no run support but he should help me in ERA and strikeouts, if last year was any indication. I was particularly happy with this pick.
-Lucas Duda. The big one. Yet another example, I think, of my league mates just not knowing who the hell this guy was. Duda could be a one-year fluke, but his ability to hit for power while not striking out very much makes him very intriguing. Not to mention, the pulled-in fences at Citi Field could enhance his power output. By this point in the draft, I was dying for some offense, so this particular pick could end up being the steal of the draft.
--Okay. The time for excuses has passed. Judgement time. Throw-Paul-under-the-bus time. My first NL-only league. Seven teams, 22 roster spots, and a $260 budget. No alcohol was involved in the making of this draft, though I have the feeling I might have done a better job if I had been rip-roaring wasted. Here's my team. How'd I do? Rip away.
C: Devin Mesoraco
1B: Lucas Duda
2B: Aaron Hill
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
3B: Emilio Bonifacio (no, I can't believe it, either)
OF: Jason Heyward
OF: Andrew McCutchen
OF: J.D. Martinez
Util: Yonder Alonso
P: Clayton Kershaw
P: Stephen Strasburg
P: Corey Luebke
P: Mike Leake
P: Mark Buehrle
P: Ricky Nolasco
P: Mike Minor
P: R.A. Dickey
P: Jason Motte
Obviously, trading a starting pitcher for either a closer or a third baseman is the first line of business.