(This story appeared on Forbes.com on March 27th, 2010)
The New York Mets don’t open their season until April 5, but yesterday Citi Field played host to a group of the nation’s most passionate baseball fans: the veterans of Tout Wars fantasy baseball.
Since its inception in 1998, this cast of 12 members — rotating partially, like the United Nations’ Security Council — has gained a reputation as the world’s premier fantasy baseball league. Tout Wars has been the subject of countless articles and even a full-length book, Sam Walker’s Fantasyland. It boasts members from nearly every major news outlet in the multibillion-dollar fantasy sports industry. Some, like Ron Shandler (whose wisdom appears in the Forbes Fantasy Baseball Investment Guide), have garnered cult followings among the nation’s 10 million-plus fantasy players.
We’re guessing you weren’t among the 50 people watching Tout Wars’ live webcast, so here are a few observations that could help you in upcoming drafts, free agent acquisitions and trades. A disclaimer: Auction values are often inflated or deflated by a number of factors, including the relative cash hoards of the various team owners and real-time position scarcity. But in a league comprised of the best of the best, the market is fairly efficient. So here, without further ado, are the highlights from the Tout Wars draft.
Eight players topped the $30 mark: Alex Rodriguez ($37), Evan Longoria ($36), Miguel Cabrera ($35), Mark Teixeira ($35), Carl Crawford ($33), Jacoby Ellsbury ($31), Felix Hernandez ($30) and Joe Mauer ($30). According to those numbers, Evan Longoria is the second-best player in the AL; Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher. You won’t find either quite that high on most preseason rankings. Don’t overpay just because the experts did, but feel emboldened to go the extra dollar on either player.
A few comeback candidates fell just short of the $30 plateau. Both B.J. Upton and Grady Sizemore went for $29, more than breakout star Adam Lind ($26). The experts’ bullishness suggests that Upton and Sizemore should be valued as though the 2009 season never happened. Same goes for Carlos Pena ($24), who went for just $2 less than Justin Morneau.
The experts weren’t quite as optimistic on returns to glory for Francisco Liriano ($12) or David Ortiz ($12). The former still hasn’t recovered all the life on his fastball that he had before Tommy John surgery in 2007, while the latter is clearly on the decline and vulnerable to being platooned as he continues to fade against lefties. Travis Hafner went for just $3.
At least one theme emerged when it came to pitchers: Don’t overpay for injury-prone veterans, especially if they’re moving to the AL. World Series hero Cliff Lee ($16) and new Chicago ace Jake Peavy ($17) actually went for less than the sleepers supposed to serve as alternatives. Oakland sophomore Brett Anderson went for $17, while Minnesota’s Scott Baker fetched $18.
The bidding also offered a window into the experts’ thoughts on the game’s top prospects. Among pitchers, Neftali Feliz ($9) and Jeff Niemann ($9) were two of the most popular, while outfield speedsters Austin Jackson ($11) and Michael Brantley ($12) earned considerable interest. Bidding was spirited for Sean Rodriguez ($10); it would have been higher had he been eligible at 2B, a position where he’ll some time in 2010.
Even a handful of minor leaguers drew bids, including Cleveland catcher Carlos Santana ($4), Daniel Hudson ($1), Justin Smoak ($1), Desmond Jennings ($1) and Jesus Montero ($1). Count on all to see time in the majors, and if the experts’ expenditures are any indication, we could see Santana as early as the all-star break.
Perhaps the most significant moment of the day came when F.X. Flinn (the man who invented the middle infield slot) presented last year’s Tout Wars winner, Lawr Michaels, with a trophy donated by the Society for American Baseball Research. SABR had long considered fantasy baseball a vulgar affront to the dignified study of baseball. Trivial to outsiders, the move was monumental in the fantasy baseball world — something akin to China recognizing Taiwan’s independence. Said Shandler: “It’s very gratifying to know that we can be considered part of the same community.”