This article is part of our Collette Calls series.
I know what some of you are thinking — "I don't care about your team; I want you to help me with mine!" That is what I aim to do in this article. I want to walk you through what I was thinking and how I ended up constructing both LABR teams so that you may learn from my strategies or missteps as you prepare for your own auctions and drafts in the coming weeks. First up, my AL LABR squad.
This is my 10th year in one of the LABR drafts, and I have yet to take home a title. Most of the years were spent co-owning a team with FanGraphs' Paul Sporer, but being shut out of a title does not sit well with me. Most years, whether in tandem or flying solo, I have tended to play things mostly risk adverse staying out of the premiere tier of players and trying to accumulate as much playing time as possible while spreading the risk around the roster. The plan this year was to make this a team that was not one people would associate with my name because it looked different. Truth be told, I planned to buy both Adalberto Mondesi and Giancarlo Stanton as the base of my offense and build the pitching around Lance McCullers Jr, Jordan Montgomery and Raisel Iglesias.
It took all of three nominations to throw that plan out the window because I am a firm believer of not allowing projected bargains to go on other teams just because it was not a player I had planned on rostering early, especially when it is a foundational player to a roster. You have to be flexible enough with your plans to adjust things when bargains present themselves. It is worth noting that LABR does not permit owners to bench players for ineffectiveness or matchups; players can only be benched if they are sent to the minors or if they are injured. A stars-and-scrubs approach is risky in this format because those scrubs can really hurt your pitching unless you are excellent at churning your roster and finding the ideal matchups to exploit each week off what tends to be a rather barren free-agent pile most weeks in a normal season. In short, the overall plan was to avoid rostering too many scrubs and look for a balanced roster.
The table below shows my acquisitions, when they happened in the auction, and the cost to roster the player:
Lance McCullers Jr.
I had Cole valued at a $46 player for our auction with my plan, so my $40 bid was more to keep pushing him up rather than a purposeful bid to roster him. The room stopped bidding and I suddenly had a new draft plan three nominations into the auction. LABR does allow trading, so this is not like NFBC where I would need to immediately change my pitching plan to keep balance. Rather than spend $40 across four pitching spots as planned, I now had $40 into one spot, which meant I would need to assume some risk with $1-2 pitchers throughout the auction. Cole is someone I was fine rostering because he is someone I'm safe penciling in 180 innings for in 2021 because he worked into the second round of the postseason and is built for it. Shane Bieber went one bid later for $41, so I felt better about my unintentional acquisition of Cole.
Stanton was a primary target for me; I threw him at $20 and won him at $26. His 2020 postseason is still fresh in my mind and I am ready to have my heart broken by him having another serious injury to his Adonis-like frame which keeps him out half the season. I am also bought in to his offseason workouts stressing flexibility and recognize what he is capable of in that lineup and in that stadium and went an extra dollar over my projected amount for him. Stanton was one of 10 players in this auction who was only eligible at utility because LABR uses a 10-game eligibility rule for the draft. In hindsight, I should have thrown out Willie Calhoun first and worked up the list as Calhoun went in the end game by a process of attrition to ESPN's Tristan Cockcroft. This will not be repeated in AL Tout this weekend because the games played total is lower, but I did not get off to the best of starts procedurally.
I have been in three analyst drafts and McCullers has ended up on my team in all three. If you read the bold prediction series, you know why and I do like to draft the same players I recommend to the readers. Semien is someone who should play everyday and will gain a new position a week into the season while enjoying the comforts of a cozy home park in Dunedin and eventually Toronto. He may not do one skill very well, but he does many of them well enough and his volume has value in AL-only. Gurriel was also in the bold prediction series and I liked the price for him after watching higher-ranked targets such as Luke Voit ($25) and Jose Abreu ($29) go off the board earlier. Matt Olson went for $23 and Miguel Sano went $19 within a round of the Gurriel acquisition.
Five players in, I had my starting pitching foundation locked down and had run production and average in decent shape but needed to grab some speed. I had Moore as a $16 player, but got caught in the odd-numbered swim lane on the bidding, so had to go $1 higher to get the guy I wanted. The fact he went to UCF was worth the extra dollar. Iglesias was the sixth reliever off the board and the last of the truly surefire bets to open the season as closer and stay there.
I know Joe Maddon is thought of as a forward-thinking manager who likes to tinker, but he also rode Fernando Rodney to an amazing season as a closer and tended to find one guy and stick with them as long as possible. Iglesias's price was in line with the others, though I believe I was the penultimate bid on Chapman. Given how unsettled the closer market is this spring, my plan was to get one of the top six guys and then backfill later in the auction with guys who may end up with the role based on their skills. I added Montgomery at a time I should have likely allocated that money to another bat, such as Ty France who went four spots later. It would have necessitated taking a fourth risky pitcher, but the final balance of my team would look better with another decent hitter. I spent $74 on five starting pitcher and $24 on four relievers; going 162/98 with hitting/pitching splits puts a lot of pressure on the offense to overperform or to find an inversely distributed trading partner in the first third of the season.
White and Upton were not targets, even though Upton was a bold prediction, but both were attractive at their prices and potential upside. White was set up for failure last year, but is still going to be the everyday first baseman in Seattle and has abilities. Upton looked excellent in September with some swing changes and that has carried over into the Cactus League. Merryweather, another bold prediction, was a $2 toss and win because I went 0 for 3 in trying to build out my $1 pitchers. RotoWire's Clay Link twice upbid me on Nick Pivetta, Randy Dobnak while BaseballHQ's Dave Adler did so on Josh Fleming. If we were using the Tout rules, I may have said $3, but with the LABR lineup rules, I am not willing to leave those guys in the lineup. I was tired of the $1 dance so threw Merryweather at $2 and won him, even earning a comment from Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus that he had no idea who the guy was. Merryweather has dealt with back tightness in camp, so if he can open up the season on the IL, it allows me to leverage one of the three pitchers I took in the reserves while I wait for Merryweather to get right. I still believe in his potential, but his injury history is tough to overlook.
At this stage of the auction, we were essentially 10 times around the room and I was still concerned with my speed as well as getting enough at bats from players. Willi Castro was a quick target as the shortstop position was thinning out and I was happy to acquire his potential at the price I had budgeted for him. He showed me some things last season and I think there is another level there. I went with the same rebound theory that led me to White in rostering Danny Jansen as my C1 once other targets went above my range. Jansen has Alejandro Kirk in the picture, which hurts, but Jansen had a solid report coming up as a prospect, and catchers take time to develop.
Pinder, Hernandez and Kiner-Falefa were players I had circled during a break to target for their flexibility and skills. Pinder can move around the field even if he does not play everyday, while Hernandez should see more playing time in Boston than he had in Los Angeles and Kiner-Falefa is looking like a bargain now that he will likely be leading off in Texas because Leody Taveras has had such a terrible spring. Still concerned with my speed, I held my nose and rostered Kiermaier. I love what he does defensively for my favorite ball club, but I have seen no progress in his offensive game over the years and his fragility is not getting any better. I am hoping Jones can get on base a bit more and use his athleticism to steal some bases. I am not even sure Rutschman makes it to the big leagues this season, but I can demote him and promote a reserve catcher. I tried to get a more serviceable second catcher, but $2 does not go far in the end game. These are the risks you end up rostering when you spend heavy on pitching.
I closed out the draft and my pitching staff picking up Clase, Junis, Arehara and Barlow. I like Clase because Francona has not tipped his cap to saying Karinchak is his new Papelbon, and Clase should work high leverage. Junis has two new pitches, and the new approach helped propel Brad Keller to some success out of nowhere last year and am hoping the same happens for Junis. Arehara should be able to work in bulk, and I am hoping Globe Life Park plays big again this year. I believe Barlow is the better insurance policy to a Greg Holland injury or trade and outlined my reasons in the AL West bold prediction piece.
I had the 12th pick in the snake reserve draft and took Josh Staumont, Patrick Sandoval, Jose Urena, Vidal Brujan, Kevin Plawecki and Taylor Walls. If I am wrong about Barlow, then I have completely handcuffed the KC closer situation so I have that going for me, which is nice. Sandoval gives me an arm to move in should Merryweather open the season on the IL. Urena may likely stay on the reserves as long as possible as I want to see if he looks any different in Detroit. Brujan was a play on speed as he is one of the fastest players in the minors and I believe the Rays will get him up at some point in the outfield. Plawecki is my second catcher this year, and Walls should be the first infielder Tampa Bay calls up to cover an injury and could be this year's Joey Wendle for them.
All in all, I like what I did but I am certainly not in love with it. I need to remember that one big adjustment requires another. If pitching goes off the rails again this season, I should be in good shape to weather that storm with the front of my staff. However, another oblique injury from Stanton could put a massive hole in my offensive output which will be tough to patch and could sink the SS Collette mid-summer.