I'm in a 12-owner rotisserie league, American league only, and with 23 active and 17 reserve spots to fill each, superstars cost a premium at our auction, with a single player consuming between 15% and 20% of a team's budget. So to win in our league, it's essential to get players before they are a must-own; otherwise the cost is prohibitive.
With that in mind, I thought I'd start out by looking back at the guys I pegged last winter and even late-last season:
(1) Zack Greinke — I traded for him last summer, before his success was much known beyond KC. The Royals are so bad his win totals were (and will be) nothing special, but he had always had some of the best stuff in baseball and was showing a level of command that showed he had the potential to dominate. To get Greinke I traded Grant Balfour, who was having a stellar year in relief last year and seemed a logical choice to replace an oft-injured Troy Percival. I didn't expect Balfour to collapse this year. But I did expect Greinke to emerge as a Cy Young candidate as he most certainly has. One lesson I take from this is that it can often take the best young arms a few years to establish a level of dominance -- look how Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander have stepped up their game. By getting Greinke before this year, I am paying $10 a year ($260 budget) while top starters in our auction were going for $30 to $40.
(2) Kendry Morales — I traded for him just before the season in a straight swap for Jeremy Guthrie at a salary of $1. I did not expect him to be a superstar but I was short outfielders (he qualified there this year because he played OF the year before) and expected him to put up solid numbers for the Angels. He's a guy who was a highly touted prospect who lost lustre sitting behind Casey Kotchman and Mark Teixeira, so people didn't expect much. A comparable power hitter in our league goes for $40 to $50. The lesson here is to target guys a few years removed from prospect status who have lost value through no fault of their own but rather a lack of opportunity or injuries.
(3) Adam Lind — I traded for him a couple months into the season when I decided that I simply wasn't going to finish first in my league and rather build a front-runner for the next couple of years than scramble to finish fourth and in the money. His salary was $3 and I gave up Felix Hernandez, who was in the last year of a contract and will be back in the next auction, as well as two outfielders who weren't worth what I paid for them at auction - Vernon Wells ($20) and Delmon Young ($26). Lind was a good player last year, and being close to Toronto, I had the chance to see him a lot, and was confident he was on the cusp of being a superstar, a belief that has been born out by his play.
(4) David Aardsma — I traded for him mid-season, giving up Soria and Posada, targeting him because his salary is $1 (Soria would have been $26 next year). Closer is perhaps the position where you are most likely to over-pay for a superstar or find bargains. Too many major league owners over-value guys who are "proven closers" over guys who have every bit as much talent but cost a small fraction. Smart teams like the Mariners unload closers for position talent and then give guys with the arm a chance. You should do the same. In the case of Aardsma, he always had a great arm and command issues. While he has put up strong numbers all season, the past month his command had been unbelievable, barely walking anyone and putting his moving fastball on the paint.
(5) Shin-Soo Choo — He's not a superstar in real baseball but he is in our league because he is so solid across the board -- a 20-20 guy who hits cleanup and bats .300. I traded for him during this season much as I did for Lind -- Choo has a salary of $5. He's the next Bobby Abreu -- these guys can be undervalued initially because they aren't a league leader in any one category.
Next up: Looking back — part 2; Rising stars nabbed early by some of my competitors.