By Brian Walton
The subject of our Mastersball-KFFL Roundtable last week was FAAB spending strategy. I did not join in the discussion -- partially because I was traveling and by the time I could have joined in, there was little unique to say, and partly because my primary focus of play is AL- and NL-only leagues.
Ax dull, broke FAAB open
In single-league formats, the available player pool at any given point in time can be properly characterized as being somewhere between mediocre and putrid.
As a result, any discussion of spending a lot of money up front to get "difference-makers" and not hoarding cash for mid-season player transfers from league to league is just as true but is hardly relevant.
Let's get real. If a player would have been considered by anyone to be even a potential "difference-maker," he would have been drafted in the first place.
To help put this into perspective, consider National League Tout Wars.
After the first two weeks of bidding, 96 percent of the available FAAB money remains.
Given everyone understands the importance of spending early, why has only $50 been spent across the entire league?
The answer is because there is almost no one to buy.
It is not that Tout rosters are excessively large. There are just four reserves beyond the standard 23 players. In an attempt to better stock the free-agent pool, the reserve rosters were reduced from six several years back.
An unlimited disabled list mirrors the major leagues. It means owners are not forced to play injured players or have to make tough decisions to drop good but injured players to acquire replacements.
Owners are given just two weeks after a player is activated by his real MLB team to either activate or release the former-DL player. That makes hoarding difficult, if not impossible.
Some owners roster top prospects still in the minor leagues. They are willing to tie up their roster spots now in hope of a major boost later without having to get in a bidding war when the prospect reaches the bigs.
To discourage too much of this advance speculation (beyond the self-limiting four-man reserve restriction), Tout rules require a minimum $1 bid for minor leaguers. Further, any player acquired must remain in the active lineup for one week before becoming eligible to be reserved.
Every minor league prospect taking up a roster spot should mean one more major leaguer is available in the pool.
Looking at the free-agent list, you would have a hard time believing that.
Only one hitter with more than eight at-bats during the previous week was available to FAAB this past transaction deadline. Every NL stolen base in the season to date was collected by players already rostered in Tout.
The only home run and RBIs from a non-owned hitter were logged by Cincinnati's Xavier Paul. The reserve outfielder had all of four plate appearances during the prior period. Still, four of the 12 NL Tout teams made a bid on Paul.
On the pitching side, every closer-in-waiting is on some roster, as are most second setup men across the league. One exception was Milwaukee, where the closer situation is unsettled due to John Axford's struggles. First option Jim Henderson was FAABed in the first week and Brandon Kintzler was taken the next period.
There are bottom-of-the-barrel starting pitchers out there, such as Jon Garland, as well as numerous middle relievers. Yet, any hitters seeing even semi-regular time are long gone -- no matter how poor their results are.
What you might take away from this is in the single-league format, it is crucial to get at-bats on draft day, no matter how boring they might be. Alternatively, if you get stuck with open hitting roster spots, you will likely encounter significant trouble trying to fill them later.
In the end-game of the 2013 NL Tout auction, I kept enough cash to buy Luis Cruz ($4) and Placido Polanco ($2). These guys have warts and surely are not going to win any batting titles, but they will provide useful counting stats.
If players slated for their level of regular at-bats were available as free agents today, they would probably fetch between $10 and $20 each -- but the reality is that they aren't -- and won't be.
Honestly, I am having a hard time seeing how I am going to wisely spend my $100 this season.
In the world of being "all FAABed up with no place to go," I may look to trade away FAAB in hopes of acquiring needed pieces from other owners looking to make a big free-agent score.
The alternative is either leaving a lot of money on the table at season's end or wasting it by overbidding on mediocrities.
If you see the same kind of restriction in your league, develop a strategy now to use your FAAB resource in any way you can, whether directly or indirectly.