I was honored to take part in the 12-team Mixed LABR (League of Alternative Baseball Reality) salary cap draft/auction last weekend while enjoying all of the panels at First Pitch Florida.
The weekend was amazing and if you can make it to Florida in the spring or Arizona in the fall, I highly recommend it. While I was there, I got to see Max Scherzer pitch for the first time and Jordan Walker smack two home runs which had to make his ADP rise a few rounds.
Outside of watching real baseball, the weekend was chock full of highlights. I was able to talk baseball with the likes of Jeff Zimmerman of FanGraphs, James Anderson of Rotowire, and NBC Sports EDGE Baseball manager, D.J. Short.
However, the main reason why I was there was to participate in the 12-team Mixed LABR draft, which was on Sunday and a perfect ending to my weekend.
The 12-team Mixed League was stacked with great competitors. Here is the list of fantasy managers who I will be battling with all season:
Ray Murphy, BaseballHQ
Ariel Cohen, Beat the Shift Podcast
Brian Feldman, FantasyBaseballAuctioneer
Nick Pollack, PitcherList
Ryan Hallam, Fighting Chance Fantasy
Doug Anderson, Fantrax
Adam Ronis, Fantasy Alarm
Grey Albright, Razzball
Carlos Marcano, PitcherList (Mark Northan, auction proxy)
Craig Mish, SportsGrid
Eric Cross, FTN/Rotoballer
It was a huge honor to take part in this draft. I have fond memories of listening to the Sirius XM broadcast while watching the draft board the last few seasons. Over the winter, I received a phone call from Ian Kahn, asking if I wanted to join the league. I was over the moon.
LABR is a standard 5x5 12-team format and you have $260 to fill your active 23-man roster. After everyone has a full roster, there is a five-round snake reserve player draft. There are a few league quirks that make LABR unique. Unless you drop a player from your team, you are stuck with the team you left at the draft table. There is no benching Noah Syndergaard when he makes a start in Coors and you cannot stream Jordan Lyles when he has a two-step against the Tigers and A's. Unless your player is injured or demoted to the minors you cannot remove them from your roster unless you drop them. You also have unlimited IL spots. That is why some injured players, like Lance McCullers Jr., were picked up in the auction portion of the draft. Now that we have the particulars out of the way, let's revisit draft day.
As we entered the last day of First Pitch, I was pouring over my notes and attempting to catch up on spring training news. Did anyone get injured while I was in a presentation? What velocity was Chris Bassitt sitting at in his latest outing? As the clock ticked closer to 1 PM, I decided to just log off and just draft. Here is a look at the draft board, along with the five-round reserve draft. (Link)
Going into the draft, my plan was to go heavy with offense and get as many of my favorite mid-tier pitchers as I could. This is a 12-team league and there, in theory, should be plenty of streamers or pop-up pitchers during the season as opposed to first-round hitters on the wire. Within the first 15 picks of the draft, I found myself with José Ramírez, Juan Soto, and Freddie Freeman and only $153 bucks left to fill out my active roster. Did I overspend? Maybe. However, all three batters should give me 550+ at-bats on competing teams so my runs and RBIs should be set.
After going crazy at the start, I held back while all the other managers were filling out their rosters. As I saw so many top pitchers coming off the board, I was starting to get nervous and entered the bidding on Triston McKenzie. At the time, I thought the price was very reasonable and would give me a starter on a team that should give me plenty of wins, and a manager in Terry Francona that will let his starters go more than five innings. I was able to snag him for $16 dollars and he tied Jacob deGrom as the lowest-priced starter at the time. Feeling the crunch to grab some more strikeouts, Kevin Gausman was announced and knowing that he was my last chance of getting a top-10 starter, I went all in and was lucky to pick him up for $22.
Another eleven players were added to rosters before I got into a bidding war with the manager combo of Carlos Marcano/Mark Northan for Corbin Carroll. On my pre-draft sheet, I had him valued at $X. However, with this being a five-outfielder draft and not having an outfielder after 94 picks, I was feeling the pressure. My brain kept saying “This is way too much, Shelly. What are you doing?”
Forget about your spreadsheets and values, you NEED Carroll on your team! He fills a precious outfield spot while adding steals and plenty of plate appearances hitting at the top of the Diamondbacks lineup. It was a vicious battle back and forth but the bidding finally ended at $23 and lo and behold, I added my first outfielder to the squad.
I took a break for the next couple of players but jumped back into the bidding for Carlos Correa. Most other teams had a shortstop at that point and after getting too scared with other shortstops, I thought Correa was the last true shortstop on the board. I held off on getting into the game but after Nick Pollack, from Pitcher List, bid $9, I knew I had the money to get into the game late. I say $10 and all I heard was crickets. I was surprised and this bid might have been my favorite of the draft. Correa had a drama filled offseason due to failed physicals but ended back in Minnesota and should provide plenty of RBI for my team.
The rest of the draft was not as eventful but still drama-filled. I felt I was able to stick to my original plan of bullying offense and picking up reliable tier two that I liked on winning ball clubs. Another key part to any salary cap draft is the nomination process. While you can never truly predict how the bidding process will go, if you pay attention to the bidding process on similar players, or players who don't like as much as the consensus, you can “project” to get money off the board so you can focus on your targets. You cannot do this with the big-name players like Aaron Judge or Corbin Burnes. Those players will always go for $35+, it is guys like Jorge Polanco and or Amed Rosario that can really move money if nominated at the right time.
After another break, we entered the five-round reserve draft and found myself with the eighth overall pick. I decided to get as much roster flexibility as I could. My first pick was Brendan Donovan. He has 1B, 2B, and 3B eligibility which is huge in a 12-team league. My next pick was James Karinchak and was selected just in case the Emmanuel Clase lands on the injured list. With my next two selections, I went back to flexibility with Ha-Seong Kim and Isaac Paredes. Sure, they are not league winners but will surely see some time on my active roster sometime during the year. As the group of interesting players dwindled down, I went with pure upside and selected Diamondbacks pitcher, Brandon Pfaadt. He is easily Arizona's best pitching prospect and finished the season in Triple-A. He is also having a great spring, so there is a chance he makes his debut sooner rather than later.
Overall, I like the team. I feel that I might be light on strikeouts and saves but with this being a 12-team league with trading and weekly FAAB, I can focus on those categories at that time. I think my offense might be one of the best ones in the league, but that was to be expected when I snagged three first-round hitters on winning ball clubs. This was my first in-person salary cap draft and I must say, I am hooked! If you ever have the chance to participate in a live draft, do yourself a favor and give it a go. You will not regret it.