Heading into National League Tout Wars this season, I faced a decision on the saves category. I did not want to punt the category out of the gate, nor did I want to burn a lot of money and roster spots chasing uncertainties.
The latter approach is one I tried to follow last season with minimal success. There were closers in waiting in which to invest, but they typically cost in the $4-$8 vicinity each and took up several of my precious four reserve spots.
As I packed for the 2013 draft in New York, I decided to get one of the top closers and go from there. Beyond Craig Kimbrel, who I knew would out of my price range, I had three names in mind as the next closest to sure things in the league.
They were Jonathan Papelbon, Jason Motte and Sergio Romo. Yet, being honest, I was somewhat worried that Romo’s high strand rate and low BABIP in 2012 would not be repeatable this season. Then, when Motte went down with an elbow injury the day before the draft, Papelbon became my last man standing.
To get him, all I had to say was the magic words, “twenty dollars.” I did.
With 12 teams in NL Tout and just 15 teams’ worth of saves for which to compete, I thought I would be in good enough shape if I added an interim guy down the road to complement the Phils’ ninth-inning man.
On draft day, I stayed away from possibilities like I chased last year such as Trevor Rosenthal ($2) and red flag wavers like Carlos Marmol ($8).
Fast forward 90 days and we see that Papelbon is not one of the elite closers this season, after all. Not only is his Phillies squad showing increased age, Papelbon has blown four of his last five opportunities.
With him, my club is second from last in saves.
In fairness, that has as much to do with my own early-season blunders trying to get another closer as anything. Here comes this week’s lesson. Do not underestimate the importance of early week FAAB bidding, especially on ninth inning men.
I had the best of intentions, but failed to execute my play. Before the first FAAB period, I had sat down and looked at every NL team’s closing situation one by one.
The only obvious candidate still unowned was Milwaukee’s Jim Henderson. I was all set to make a strong bid (in hindsight, all it would have taken was $4), but I made a big mistake. I asked a friend whose opinion I respect his feelings about Henderson. My pal threw up all over poor Jim and my plan.
As a result, while I cleaned up the mess, I dropped my Henderson bid to $0 behind what was a “winning” $1 offer for Tyson Ross. Of course, now it is quite clear who won and who lost.
The next week, I was simply caught napping and missed Motte’s replacement on the very team I cover for a living. Edward Mujica had been undrafted and left on the table after the reserve rounds, too.
Late Sunday night just before the third FAAB period deadline, Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus heard the news that Mujica was going to be given a shot at closing for the Cardinals.
Mike bid a strong $46, but had almost no competition. He snapped up Mujica for just $3. That is precisely the kind of move that makes (or non-move that loses) championships.
Mujica is currently 21-for-21 in save opps, carries a 2.20 ERA and a ridiculous 0.735 WHIP.
Getting more and more worried about my club as it sunk in the standings, I took more risks on relievers. Specifically, one big risk failed miserably.
In May, Marmol’s original owner had enough and cut the ex-Cubs closer. With Kevin Gregg a prime trade candidate and Kyuji Fujikawa injured again, I decided to take a shot at Marmol getting another chance.
I figured all it would cost me was $1, but I was wrong.
After his early season meltdown and removal from ninth-inning duties, Marmol had actually pitched well during May. He allowed one run and just two walks in 9 1/3 innings in his last nine appearances leading up to my addition of him to my squad.
Tout rules are such that every FAABed player must remain active during the week in which he was purchased. You guessed it – that is when Marmol cratered for what became his last time as a Cub.
Marmol was given the ball with a three-run lead to open the ninth on June 16 against the Mets. Just one out was secured, on a sac bunt, while a solo home run and a three-run blast served up by Carlos sent the Mets home as winners. Overall, I was left to stare at an ERA of 13.50 and an even 3.00 WHIP for his time on my active roster.
Though I had the slight satisfaction of releasing Marmol a day before Jed Hoyer and Theo Epstein designated Marmol for assignment in the real world, it was of small consolation.
I pushed too hard to cover for past sins and wound up getting Marmolled. Though it probably won’t be Carlos the next time, the opportunity will be presented again this season by another marginal closer. Don’t let it happen to you!
Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 14-year history. Though he is the only one to remember or care, he also finished second in each of the two subsequent seasons. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.