Editor's Note: This article was written shortly after the draft, prior to Opening Day.
The saying that March “comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb” holds true in Pittsburgh. Just like St. Patrick’s Day, Lenten Fish Fries, and the occasional Easter Sunday, sub-zero temperatures and minor blizzards are perennial calendar entries. Then, when the spirit of yinzers in every borough and township have hit the breaking point, the gods of weather (Joe DeNardo) grant us respites. Temperatures quickly rise and the precipitation turns to rain straight through to May. It may not be paradise, but it is always welcome.
It’s in front of this backdrop that Pittsburgh watches and listens intently to updates and stat lines from Spring Training. With each revised batting stance, new pitch experiment, and mile per hour of velocity added to or subtracted from a fastball, we get a bit closer to escaping the doldrums of winter. These are the first signs of summer approaching the northeast.
While inaccurate to call it causation, fantasy baseball preparation has helped to fill the void left after the Super Bowl for me. As fun as the Penguins have been for the past eleven seasons (the longest active stretch of consecutive NHL playoff berths, mind you), “not-quite-close-enough-to-playoffs-to-matter” hockey games can’t scratch the sports itch. Thus, the creation of too-complex spreadsheets and analysis of too many rankings lists fills my days.
Matt approached me with the “Pirates only two-man league” idea this year and, because I am both incapable of exhibiting self-control and a baseball fanatic, quickly agreed. Having just completed the first annual Bucco Brawlin’ auction draft, I wanted to reflect on the experience for what Matt hopes is a recurring column (to...ya’ know...increase readership or something?). In short: it was terrifying. In addition to being most nerve wracking 90 minutes of my weekend, it was also a lot of fun. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I did a small bit of research and budgeting for this draft beforehand and identified a few surprising targets. As Matt and any other Pirate-loving friends will tell you, I am not a fan of Jordy Mercer. One might even say that I loathe his existence on the 40-man roster. Especially in the current shortstop renaissance, he’s pedestrian and dull. Unfortunately for me, he’s the only Pirate player, barring significant injury, who will get enough starts at shortstop to contribute at the position in our league. He’ll probably mash a few homeruns and tally a few counting stats as an everyday player. I came out of the gate hot by nominating him and won him to the tune of $35. In any other league, this would be utter madness. I’m filing it under “The Good” because I achieved what I set out to do. Results may vary.
We’ll discuss the infield in more depth later, but I’ll highlight my drafting of Josh Harrison as a win first. Like Mercer, I don’t like Harrison’s skillset much at all. I didn’t support the extension he received after challenging for the National League batting title the season prior and think the diminished production at the plate is a truer representation of his skills. That said, he’s going to get at-bats and contribute on a daily basis. In a league that features two rosters that start minor league prospects, at-bats count for something. Further, I’m a strong believer that Harrison will resume duties as the starting third baseman if the Jung Ho Kang situation takes a significant amount of time to resolve. Adam Frazier is younger and showed too much plate discipline last season to ride the pine in 2017. Letting Kap spend $21 on Freese (who I predict will lose the starting job in 2017 one way or another) and picking up Harrison for $12 and Kang for $5 instead seems like a well-calculated risk. Fingers crossed that it pays off.
Lastly, I paid up for Starling Marte. I have no reservations about predicting him to be the most significant offensive contributor this year.
My corner infield spots are...rough. After spending big on Mercer, Gerrit Cole, and Marte in the early going, I found myself at a severe disadvantage to Kap in terms of draft dollars. As a result, I had to let him walk away with Francisco Cervelli, Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco, Andrew McCutchen, and Adam Frazier. It what became a turning point in the draft, Kap bid me up on Chris Stewart knowing that he was my only chance of regular at-bats from the catcher position. I called his bluff and made him walk away with Stewart at a $15 price tag. I left $13 on the table in the draft and not ponying up more for any of these hitters was a mistake. Hopefully my Josh Harrison prediction comes true and Jung Ho Kang seeks enough professional help to get producing on a MLB baseball diamond again soon.
My pitching staff has a high ceiling with both Gerrit Cole and newly anointed starter Tyler Glasnow (thanks for the in-draft heads up, Kap). It also contains the most volatility. I can see Cole, Glasnow, Kuhl, and Watson having down years just as easily as realizing their best forms. Cole’s fifth inning meltdown the other day didn’t help to dispel this notion. I spent a good amount of my budget on these starters and it may come back to haunt me. Choosing appearances as a counting stat instead of innings pitched might make my starter-heavy draft less appealing too. Here’s to hoping the strikeouts and wins are many.
All in all, this was a fun exercise in knowing my team. Fans and analysts alike have played “fantasy GM” as the Pirates scrape and claw their way to relevance again on a tight budget. This has been a particularly hot topic as trade rumors surrounding the Pirates and Jose Quintana develop. I would challenge anyone who has postulated on the Pirates “untouchable” prospects to do an exercise similar to this draft. For instance, I am outspoken about my love for the potential that Josh Bell brings to the Pirates as an everyday starter. However, I failed to bid top dollar for in him the room. Instead, I took flyers on Glasnow & Meadows. When forced to make the hard decisions, are these two really the “untouchables” and Bell is not? Were the particulars of the situation too influential in my assessment of the players (this is fantasy baseball after all)? I look forward to seeing if my evaluations and money spent are correct at season’s end.