by Brian Walton
It was a one-line e-mail out of the blue received earlier this week from one of my National League Tout Wars competitors, a player known from the past for deploying FAAB to maximum advantage. Perhaps that is why it surprised me so much.
"Would you be interested in selling me (Josh) Johnson or (Ian) Kennedy for 80 FAAB?," he asked.
The reality of my realigned roster is that these two have become my second-tier starting pitchers. Having endured a rough start to the season on the pitching side of the house, I moved quality hitting (Melky Cabrera, David Wright) to acquire impact pitching (Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw) in recent weeks.
The fact that a competitor was aiming lower with an aggressive dollar offer caught my attention. It appears that at least one owner fears he may not be able to get fair value for his money in the free agent market.
Then again, I should not have been surprised. After all, it is time for fantasy owners to make moves if they want to have a second-half impact. Thinking outside the box, as this owner did, can cause no harm. Even if the odds of success are low, all it takes is one bite to make the initiative worthwhile.
Time is shorter than we might realize. While Major League Baseball has just come off the All-Star break, the numbers indicate that only about 45 percent of the regular season remains.
We are a little more than two weeks away from the non-waiver trade deadline across MLB. While there are plenty of big names being floated in trade rumors, real action has yet to come.
In this case, the proposing owner offered exactly enough money to put me at the top of the league's FAAB standings. Too bad for him, I have no interest in being there.
Last season, I nervously held the third-highest FAAB balance coming into the deadline. I ended up with a disappointing Derrek Lee, who was injured a few days after joining the Pirates. The top prize coming into the NL last season was Edwin Jackson - a nice complementary player - but not one who probably swung many leagues.
Looking at current FAAB balances, about 52 percent of the $1,300 which was in owners' accounts when the season began still remains today. In other words, the money hasn't been spent as fast as games have been played.
In all fairness, some of that money has been replenished as cash spent on players deemed out for the season can and has been reclaimed - 100 percent before the break and 50 percent afterward. In addition, some FAAB has changed hands via trade.
Still, no matter how the money got there, there is a lot of cash available to spend. In my opinion, the supply of players upon which to use it will be much lower.
Some owners appear to be waiting to try to make a big score at the deadline. Four owners hold at least $91, with another having more than $80. They will clearly be the ones duking it out over any players moving into the NL this month or next.
I won't go on and on about the value of spending early as it does no one any good at this point in 2012. If good value can be found, it seems obvious that the earlier one can get impact players delivering results, the better off one's fantasy standing should be. But we are where we are.
At the other end of the NL Tout spectrum, four owners each have less than $20 remaining, including yours truly at $19. That leaves four others in the uncomfortable middle. They have more money - between $35 and $60 - but seemingly minimal options ahead to spend it wisely.
I spoke with owners at both ends of the FAAB pole to understand their strategies.
Steve Gardner of USA Today is within striking distance, currently just 14 points out of first place. He is the defending league champion, so he clearly knows what he is doing. Gardner leads the pack with $98 in his account.
"Having the most FAAB in the league at this stage of the season wasn't a conscious decision I made. It just happened.
"Some unfortunate draft picks left me with Brian Wilson, Brandon Beachy, Jorge De La Rosa and Kyle Blanks out for the season and little to show for it on the stat sheet. Fortunately, our rules allow me to reclaim their salaries in FAAB dollars. That's meant an extra $37 in my coffers.
"I don't think I've been overly conservative bidding on free agents in an attempt to save FAAB. (Scott Hairston was a $7 buy. Logan Forsythe and Greg Dobbs were $0 players. I've been less successful with pitchers, spending $14 on Bryan Shaw, $8 on Sean Burnett and $5 on Javier Lopez. My $1 Tyler Skaggs may pay off eventually.)
"However, now that the trade deadline is drawing near, it's not a bad idea to have the hammer should someone be traded over from the American League. I can't get too comfortable in that position though. The ability to trade FAAB in our league makes it far from guaranteed that I'll maintain that advantage from week to week.
"I'd also be remiss if I didn't say that saving FAAB dollars ended up paying off for me last season. I was among the top thee heading into the trade deadline week and wound up with pitcher Edwin Jackson. His solid two months' worth of stats helped elevate me in several pitching categories where I could make up ground - and it helped me win the league.
"I'm a little further back in the standings this time around, but who knows … maybe lightning will strike twice," Gardner concluded.
Mike Gianella, currently 26 points out of the lead, has a zero balance. The head of Roto Think Tank can still acquire free agents, as $0 bids are allowed in Tout. However, it seems clear that Gianella has completed most of his financial-based maneuvering this season.
Mike explains how he arrived at his current location:
"I spent a fair amount of money early on a number of players hoping to latch on to someone decent. But the big play for me was Alex Presley at $54 on June 11. I gambled on a player I thought would start for the rest of the season and produce a fair amount of stats.
"I also recognized that a lull was probably coming on the big names that typically appear from the American League in mid to late July. My gamble on Presley was that he would be 50-60% as good as the high impact players but that by arriving at least a month earlier than those players that I might get the same statistical impact.
"It hasn't worked out that way, but given how much my offense was struggling at that point, I thought the gamble itself was sound, even if the results haven't played out in my favor," Gianella said.
Of course, as always, your mileage will vary. Still, evaluate the conditions in your league and step back now, while the experiences are fresh. Consider where your FAAB strategy has left you currently.
Are you happy with the bids you made? Were you too aggressive or too conservative? Did you miss out by a dollar or two on impact free agents or did you waste money on ill-advised bids? Did you go after too many minor league speculative plays or take too many tired veterans with limited upside? Should you have traded away FAAB or acquired it?
Making notes now can help you refine your approach for the second half, and especially help you adjust in future seasons.
(Special thanks to Steve and Mike for being so gracious to share their thoughts. Make sure you check out their writings at USA Today and Roto Think Tank, respectively.)
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league's 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com and in-season at FOXSportsMidwest.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.