PHOENIX – As many of the top fantasy baseball industry analysts gathered for the 26th annual League of Alternative Baseball Reality auctions, a sense of loss hung over the draft room.
Word had come out a day earlier that the American League’s top catcher, Salvador Perez, had suffered a torn UCL in his throwing elbow and would likely need season-ending Tommy John surgery.
The pool of AL catchers, already painfully thin, had taken a major hit.
As painful as the loss of Perez was to the Royals, the fantasy community was hit even harder a few months earlier by the unexpected death of longtime LABR participant Lawr Michaels. Fantasy’s Zen Master was one of a kind, and his presence was sorely missed.
Defending champions Glenn Colton and Rick Wolf of Fantasy Alarm and SiriusXM’s “Colton and the Wolfman” show ended any suspense surrounding perhaps the AL’s most intriguing player this draft season by tossing out Toronto Blue Jays prospect Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with the opening nomination.
Even without a spot secured on the Jays’ opening day roster, Guerrero’s potential drove the bidding to $22 before he went to Rotowire’s Clay Link.
Predictably, the players who finished 1-2 in the MVP race last season were the most expensive players in the AL auction as runner-up Mike Trout sold for $45 — a dollar more than Mookie Betts.
Another important injury this spring is the calf strain that may force shortstop Francisco Lindor to miss opening day. There was little, if any, injury discount in his $36 price tag.
Talk about high-end depth, Lindor was one of seven players eligible at shortstop to fetch at least $22 in the auction.
The AL is also stocked with top-end starting pitching this season – and the bidding reflected it.
The first starter nominated also went for the highest price: Boston’s Chris Sale for $36. But Corey Kluber ($34) and Carlos Carrasco ($30) of Cleveland, Justin Verlander ($33) and Gerrit Cole ($33) of Houston, and – in a furious bidding war – Luis Severino of the New York Yankees ($33) also hit the $30 mark. (With Mike Clevinger and Blake Snell a dollar less at $29).
That’s six $30 starting pitchers. In the previous 10 years’ worth of AL LABR auctions, there have never been more than two go for $30 or more.
Among the other notable prices:
— The injury to Perez only amplified the difference between the Gary Sanchez and the rest of the pool. At $25, he was more than twice as expensive as any other catcher. Blue Jays rookie Danny Jansen at $11 was the only other backstop in double digits.
— The team owners weren’t afraid to spend on designated hitters. Khris Davis was the second player nominated and sold for a hefty $27. Nelson Cruz was next at $23, followed by Mark Trumbo ($12 after a surprising bidding war), Shohei Ohtani ($10), Kendrys Morales ($9) and the Tampa Bay tandem of Yandy Diaz and Ji-Man Choi (both $4).
— There are several solid sources of stolen bases in the AL, so there’s less of a need to overpay. Kansas City is the best place to look with Whit Merrifield ($31), Adalberto Mondesi ($29) and Billy Hamilton ($19) all capable of swiping at least 40 bags.
Jonathan Villar ($28), Mallex Smith ($22) and Dee Gordon ($21) will also derive the bulk of their fantasy value from their stolen base totals.
— At closer, Blake Treinen led the way at $25, with Brand Hand next at $20. However, several teams still have unsettled bullpens and may not even designate anyone as their closer.
The most interesting situations are in Minnesota (Trevor May $10, Blake Parker $2), Chicago (Alex Colome $10, Kelvin Herrera $4), Detroit (Shane Greene $7, Joe Jimenez $4), Kansas City (Brad Boxberger $7, Wily Peralta $1) and Boston (Matt Barnes $9, Ryan Brasier $5).
And All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel will eventually shake everything up once he signs. If it’s in the AL, his $11 price tag could be one of AL LABR’s best bargains.