If you have never had the pleasure of participating in a fantasy baseball auction draft, I strongly urge that you seize the opportunity when presented the chance. The auction draft is fantasy baseball in its absolute purest form. There are no gripes over what draft slot in the snake that you got stuck with, or which players were unavailable when it was your turn on the clock. You have a chance to acquire any and every player that you want, provided that you have budgeted properly.
The majority of mixed-league auction drafts utilize a budget of $260. How you choose to allocate that budget is entirely at your discretion, but the most commonly utilized method is 70/30, in which you devote $182 toward hitters and $78 toward pitchers.
The first thing that must be done when preparing an auction strategy is to assign dollar values to every player in the draft pool. If you have the time, ability and wherewithal to create your own personal projections for each player, and then the knowledge to convert those raw stats into auction values through a method such as standings gained points, that's a fantastic idea. If you're like most of the fantasy baseball-playing population though, and don't have the time to project 450+ players or the mad spreadsheet skills to make the calculations, this may not be feasible.
If you have never competed in an auction draft before and aren't able to create your own values, it may not be wise to simply guess and assign random values to each particular player. What's advisable is to find a source that you trust and are comfortable with (Rotoworld for example), and use their initial values as a base and adjust from there based on your own personal preference.
Keep in mind that every league has a different format and some utilize budgets other than $260. The total value in auction values that you assign needs to equal the total money being spent during the auction. If you're competing in a 12 team league that starts 23 players (14 hitters and nine pitchers), there should be 276 players (12 x 23) with dollar values assigned to them, and their total should equal $3,120 ($260 x 12).
Now that you have auction values for everyone that you deem to be in the draftable pool for your particular league, you can create a strategy. What I like to do before heading into an auction is to examine the player pool at each position to determine how many players I'd be comfortable ending up with. I then use that information to assign an estimated cost for each roster slot available. For example, let's say that I believe there is a massive drop-off after the top five shortstops on the board, and I want to work it into my draft plan to acquire one of them. If their auction values range from $29 to $35, I'd likely budget around $33 for my shortstop position. If, in the draft, I am able to acquire one of those targets at a discount below $33, then I can shift those extra dollars to another open slot on my roster.
Prior to every auction draft, I lay out my entire budget beforehand based on this type of examination of the player pool at each position. As I fill in each spot on my roster, I'll re-allocate any extra funds if I purchase a player at a discount or have to take from other positions if I'm forced to go over my budget for a particular player.
As in the example above, if participating in a 12-team mixed league auction that utilizes 23 roster spots, how I choose to allocate my funds would look something like this:
Catcher 1: $4
Catcher 2: $1
First Base: $35
Second Base: $8
Third Base: $8
Corner Infield: $18
Middle Infield: $4
Outfield 1: $32
Outfield 2: $20
Outfield 3: $12
Outfield 4: $3
Outfield 5: $2
Starting Pitcher 1: $25
Starting Pitcher 2: $15
Starting Pitcher 3: $8
Starting Pitcher 4: $4
Starting Pitcher 5: $3
Starting Pitcher 6: $2
Starting Pitcher 7: $1
Relief Pitcher 1: $12
Relief Pitcher 2: $8
While it seems like a very simple process, you'd be surprised how many drafters in auctions choose not to create a detailed plan and instead opt to fly by the seat of their pants during the draft. This can lead to poor budgeting and over-spending, leaving many drafters with $8 left to fill their final eight roster slots.
Another aspect that many who are new to auction drafts don't fully consider is choosing which players to nominate for bidding. As a simple and basic rule, you generally don't want to nominate players that you want early on in the auction. There's no sense in putting the players that you covet up on the auction block when every team in the league is flush with cash and may be willing to go an extra dollar or two to get that player. It's a sound strategy to nominate players who are expected to fetch a high price, but that you have no interest in at all, therefore flushing money out from your league-mates. It may also be a wise idea to continue nominating high-priced players at a position that you have already filled, especially as the inventory at that position starts to deplete, perhaps causing owners to overpay to avoid missing out on the last player they deem worthy at that particular position.
This isn't a steadfast rule though, and there are certainly reasons when you may want to nominate a player that you actually want early on in the draft. The primary reason for this would be if you need to know whether you can obtain a particular player in order to determine the rest of the draft strategy. For example, let's say after preparing your draft plan, you determine that you simply have to have Paul Goldschmidt. He's paramount to your strategy, and you want him as an outstanding five-category anchor to build around at first base. If your plan going into the draft is simply to "get Goldschmidt," what happens when comparable first basemen like Miguel Cabrera and Anthony Rizzo are nominated within the first few picks? Do you pass on them, even perhaps at a discount relative to your auction value, because your plan is to get Goldschmidt? In situations like this, it's best to get that player out as soon as possible, so you know whether you'll have him to build around or if you need to reallocate your auction dollars elsewhere and find another first baseman.
When nominating a player, unless he's someone that you want or are willing to wind up with, start the bidding at $1. Let's say you think that David Ortiz is an $18 player this year. He's not a player that you have an interest in acquiring, but you want to throw him out to get others to spend money. You nominate him at $12 hoping to get the bidding jump started, and you wind up hearing nothing but crickets. Now you're stuck with a $12 utility player you didn't want and have to reconfigure your entire draft budget. Don't try to get cute, just start him at $1.
Another tool that you have at your disposal in an auction draft is the jump bid. As the bidding progresses on a particular player, jumping the bid by an extra dollar can be a game-changer. Let's say the bidding is going back and forth $1 at a time between yourself and one other drafter. It feels as if each of you is approaching your maximum bid for a particular player. You have him valued at $28 and can't really afford to spend anything in excess of that. You had bid $25, and as time ticked down he somewhat begrudgingly upped the bid to $26. Instead of taking the next bid at $27, you jump right to your predetermined mark of $28. Now if your opponent really wants the player, he has to go to $29, which is $3 more than his last bid. Chances are that he bows out.
Regardless of how you choose to create your draft plan, if you opt to create one at all, there are a couple of very basic lessons that you should keep in mind throughout the auction process.
1. Spend every dollar. There is no greater mistake than leaving money on the table in an auction draft. You can't take the money with you, so every dollar that you have left in your pocket at the end of the draft negatively impacts the quality of your team. You may not think that backing yourself into a corner and finishing with $8 left is a huge deal, until you stop and think that your $8 SP3 could've been another stud at $16.
2. Discipline is key. The goal is to purchase as many players as you can at a discount relative to your predetermined auction values. There are times when it doesn't matter how much you like a particular player; you shouldn't bid up to $45 on Mike Trout if you only have him as a $38 player. Conversely, there are times where this works the other way. Say you have a personal vendetta against Nelson Cruz. Your bias is factored into your projection for him and his auction value. Yet still, he's a $15 player in your mind, and the bidding is stalled at $11. It would be wise to bid $12.
3. Be willing to go the extra dollar for a player that you really want. In the end, most of us are doing this out of a strong love and passion for the game. You're the one that has to live with your roster over the marathon grind of the MLB season. While I don't advise grossly overspending beyond your value, you can certainly go the extra buck or two on a key player and re-allocate elsewhere to cover the difference.
4. Have fun and enjoy! If you have been solely a snake-drafter throughout your fantasy baseball career, the first time participating in an auction can be a bit of a learning experience. Once you get the hang of it though, you'll never want to draft any other way.