I know, I know -- you don't want to read about anyone else's fantasy team. But I get a lot of questions of "Who do you like this year?" so reviewing my fantasy team is somewhat of a good proxy to answering those questions. Plus it gives me a lame excuse to gloat and point out that I won our ESPN auction league last year (Max Scherzer was team MVP while Hisashi Iwakuma and Chris Johnson were key low-cost pickups).
Our league -- it includes writers Eric Karabell and Tristan Cockcroft as well as others from ESPN -- is an 18-team, 5x5 roto league with a traditional 23-man roster, $260 in chips and a six-player reserve draft. That means there is very little available on the waiver wire so you pretty much have to nail your draft. (Click here for complete fantasy baseball coverage.)
My general guidelines heading into the auction:
1. Don't go in on the $30+ guys, preferring to save money so I have chips left at the end for depth instead of a bunch of $1 players.
2. Durability is important. I'll let somebody else gamble on Matt Kemp and Jose Reyes.
3. Go with two starting catchers who can hit. Paid off big for me last year with Joe Mauer and Jonathan Lucroy.
4. Spend more on offense, especially power. Lots of pitching out there, not as much in the position player ranks.
5. Try and get one non-Kershaw ace at the right price. Basically, this year's version of $23 Scherzer.
C: Matt Wieters ($17)
I fell short on Mauer and Lucroy (no guts, no glory) and ended up probably paying a few dollars too many for Wieters, given his .232 average last year. But he is durable and is a good bet for 20 homers and 70+ RBIs.
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia ($4)
Salty hit .273 with the Red Sox last year but the fear is that if he hits .222 again like he did in 2012 he and Wieters could help sink my team average.
1B: Brandon Moss ($19)
Brandon Belt was one of my most wanted for this draft (he was also on my team last year) and he went fairly late but I bowed out when he got up to $23 or $24. Since I waited so long on Belt, Moss was pretty much the last decent-or-better first baseman left on the board when I got him. He hit 30 home runs and knocked in 87 but could be giving me another low-average slugger (he hit .256).
2B: Robinson Cano ($29)
The first player I got. I view second base as a pretty weak position, so wanted to try and get one of the top three second basemen -- Cano, Jason Kipnis or Dustin Pedroia. Cano has been one of the most durable players in the majors and I don't think the move to Safeco will hurt him as much as many believe. Safeco hurts right-handed power more than left-handed and even if he hits a few less homers, Cano has the ability to drive balls into the gaps and he was just fine last with a weak lineup around him.
SS: Brad Miller ($9)
Definitely a guy I wanted. I liked what I saw last year as a rookie, especially his ability to hang in there against lefties, and he's been one of the best players in the Cactus League, hitting .436/.492/.909 with six doubles, four triples and four home runs. Yes, yes -- spring training numbers are still just spring training numbers -- but he should hit in front of Cano and score some runs while (hopefully) hitting close to .300.
2B/SS: Jedd Gyorko ($14)
I had already picked up $2 Dustin Ackley as my reserve middle infielder but had money left over when Gyorko came up pretty late in the auction and $14 was too good to pass up. Hit .249 with 23 home runs as a rookie in 125 games, so the potential is there for some big numbers if he can boost the batting average a bit.
3B: David Freese ($7)
He battled some back issues last season and then some calf problems in the postseason, giving him an injury-prone label, but he's played 144 and 138 games the past two seasons. I talked to him in spring training and he said his back feels good and that he was able to lift weights and workout all winter. He hit .295 from 2010 to 2012, so I'm hoping he's closer to that with the Angels than the .262 he hit last season with the Cardinals.
CI: Mitch Moreland ($6)
There wasn't much left on the board here at the corner and went with Moreland over Justin Morneau, but now I'm wondering if Morneau would have been the better bet playing in Colorado. Moreland did hit 23 home runs but that .232 average gives me another low-average hitter and as you can probably tell, all my stolen bases will have to come from the outfield.
OF: Shin-Soo Choo ($24)
My team was named after him last year -- Big League Choo -- so I had to get him again, right? Other than 2011, he's been a durable, consistent player and should score a lot of runs leading off for the Rangers. Has stolen 20 to 22 bases in four of the past five seasons, but he did caught 11 times last year. I really need those 20 steals but I worry he won't run quite as much.
OF: Hunter Pence ($22)
Has he gone from overrated to underrated? Pence's biggest asset is he plays every day, 154 or more games each season of his career. Hit .283 last year with 27 home runs, 99 RBIs and 22 steals. Let's hope Bruce Bochy keeps sending him on the bases because another 27/22 season would be nice.
OF: Ben Revere ($13)
A very late pickup when I was desperate for steals. I'm not fond of Revere as a player -- he can run, but he has no power, doesn't walk much, has no arm and despite his speed isn't all that great running down balls in center. But he can steal 40 bases if he stays healthy.
OF: Dustin Ackley ($2)
Hit .285/.354/.404 after getting called back up from Triple-A in late June and has hit well this spring. He doesn't provide much else besides the batting average so while he was an OK $2 guy as a backup second baseman he may not help much as an outfielder.
OF: Denard Span ($1)
The last position player I picked up. At that point I wasn't worried about power and was still scrounging around for some stolen bases. Span swiped 20 last year. That didn't impress anybody else as nobody bid up on him.
UT: Victor Martinez ($19)
Other than missing all of 2012 with the torn ACL he's another guy who is out there every day. Hit .301 last year and drove in 83 and while he's 35 the ability to hit for average should still remain. In fact, after a slow start after his year off, he hit .336 from June 1 on. David Ortiz went for a few dollars more (Karabell!) and that was probably a better buy than Martinez at $19, and even more painful since I ended up leaving $3 on the table.
Overall, I should fare well in home runs and RBIs (and presumably runs, although I have some slow-footed sluggers), but batting average is the big concern. Stolen bases could be an issue so I may have to deal power for speed at some point.
P: Johnny Cueto ($13)
I didn't get the $23 ace I wanted, as the guys I wanted at the price like Zack Greinke or David Price went higher. I had no pitching about halfway through the draft, so took a chance on Cueto. He has a 2.61 ERA over the past three seasons but has missed time in two of those years. He had a minor bout of shoulder soreness this spring but pitched in a minor league game on Tuesday with apparently the go-ahead that he's OK. His K rate did ramp up the past two seasons so he's adequate. Could be a good buy at this price but obviously risky.
P: Matt Moore ($12)
He won 17 games last year but had great run support and remained inconsistent with his command, limiting his ability to pitch deep into games. Still has the talent to make another leap forward and pitch 200 innings with 200 strikeouts and I believe this is the year that happens.
P: Clay Buchholz ($8)
What, he's not going to post a 1.74 ERA again?
P: Ivan Nova ($7)
A guy I really wanted but I was thinking I could get him for $2-3 instead of $7. All four of these guys missed at least a few starts last year. Maybe not a good sign.
P: Chris Tillman ($6)
Some believe Tillman can still improve as a starter (he gave up 33 home runs last year); I'm not really in that camp as I think he's probably maxed out, but it was his first full season in the majors after four years of ups and downs, so I can see the reasoning. Limit the home runs and maybe that 3.71 ERA drops a bit.
P: John Lackey ($4)
Uh-oh ... another AL East pitcher. Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I'll be happy with another season where he posts a 3.52 ERA and 1.16 WHIP.
P: Wade Miley ($4)
He wasn't quite as good as a sophomore as he was as a rookie in 2013, but he made all 33 starts and provides more starting pitching depth. And he doesn't pitch in the AL East.
P: Michael Pineda ($3)
At that price, why not take a chance?
P: Rafael Soriano ($14)
So I ended up with just one closer instead of two. I always like to wait on closers but waited too long and didn't want to spend on the likes of LaTroy Hawkins or Jose Veras. I won last year even though my opening roster closers were Kyuji Fujikawa and Phil Coke (remember when he was going to be the Tigers closer?), so you don't need everything to go right in an 18-team league where everyone knows what they're doing. Still, acquiring a second closer may be a necessity.
Bench -- Juan Uribe (3B), Nate McLouth (OF), Eric Sogard (2B/SS), Alexi Ogando (P), Jonathan Broxton (P), Jameson Taillon (P). I did pick up a couple backup closers in the reserve draft and Broxton may get some saves for the Reds until Aroldis Chapman returns. I activated Broxton over Pineda for Week 1. McLouth could be a sleeper steals guy as he swiped 30 for the Orioles last season; it's just a question of how much he'll play for the Nationals.
So, how does this team look? Not as good as the team that won last year but of course I'm looking at that team in retrospect. I wish I would have spent on at least one better guarantee in the rotation and I'll need a couple of the low-average boppers to perform better in the better average department. Steals will have to be monitored closely. I like the team but there were a couple rosters I liked better. But at least I got Cano, Miller and Ackley. Go Mariners!