Auction leagues are a fun and challenging way to play the fantasy game. They allow owners to have greater control over the construction of their team. It is the ability of having greater control over the construction of one’s team, and the challenge auction leagues present, that leads many experienced fantasy enthusiasts to prefer them over standard draft leagues. Over the years, I have participated in close to 20 auction drafts and have picked up numerous tips, tricks, and necessities of the trade. I have outlined many of them below.
1. Be Prepared!
This may seem like common sense, and a necessity for success in any fantasy leagues, but preparation plays a much larger role in auction leagues than standard draft leagues. First and foremost, know your league’s rules! I recommend carefully reading through all aspects of your league constitution prior to the auction, especially if you are new to the league. An auction can quickly become a failure if you don’t know the ins-and-outs of the league’s rules and regulations.
Next, come to the auction with a list of players ranked by position, which allows you to see position depth prior to the draft, as well as what kind of depth remains at each position throughout the draft. In addition, make sure you have enough players listed at each position to fill all the necessary spots in your league.
For example, if your league has 12 teams and starts two catchers, be sure you have at least 24 catchers on your list. While no one wants Jeff Keppinger to fill out the middle infield spot on their roster, someone has to, and it’s important to know your options at the bottom just as much as your options at the top.
Once you’ve established positional lists, it’s important to assign a dollar to each and every player. The easiest, and often most effective, way to do so is to consult websites or magazines that provide dollar values. If you choose to go this route, be sure to consult multiple resources to check for consistency and to get multiple points of view before choosing the appropriate dollar value.
Furthermore, consider how individual league rules, especially categories, effect players values. Don’t be the guy at the draft who overbids on Carl Crawford because your league doesn’t count stolen bases!
Something else I advise is to not be afraid to bump up the price you are willing to pay for a guy you think is in for a breakout season. One of the main reasons I have been successful as a fantasy owner is because I am willing to trust my gut.
Also, don’t forget to compensate for inflation in keeper leagues. Underpriced keepers cause players purchased in the auction to go for prices higher than their perceived value; essentially inflation.
The final step in the preparation process is to break your position list up into tiers. For example, your first tier second basemen would likely include Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler, while your second tier may include Brandon Phillips, Brian Roberts, Aaron Hill, Dustin Pedroia, and Robinson Cano. Breaking your positional lists into tiers will allow you to further evaluate position depth prior to the auction, as well as remaining depth as the auction progresses.
2. Have a Plan!
Going into the auction with a strategy is essential. However, often times the auction itself may dictate what strategies will or won’t be effective. Therefore, it is important to enter an auction with a plan in mind, but not to be married to it. If the door opens for you to adjust your strategy, do not hesitate. Moreover, if your strategy proves ineffective early in the draft, abandon it and try something else.
So what strategy options do you have? Well, to be honest, there are a ton of strategies, all of which can be effective if executed well. However, I will quickly outline three of the strategies I myself have used and found to be effective.
The first I call The Bargain Shopper. This strategy simply calls for you to sit back at the auction and look for bargains. With this strategy, you are not looking for a particular player, category, or position, you are just simply looking for the undervalued players that sneak through the cracks. If you think Godzilla is worth $23 in Anaheim, and he is about to sell for $18, you jump in and put in that $19 bid.
The pros of this strategy are obvious; saving a few dollars here and there adds up quickly and affords you another big bat or strong arm.
However, there are cons. For one, this strategy can lead to unbalanced teams since you are not as focused on position and categories. A second con is that, simply put, sometimes guys who seem undervalued at the auction are undervalued for a reason. Be careful not to assemble an entire team of question marks if you do use this strategy.
A second strategy is The Go Getter. This strategy is straight-forward and rather easy to carry out. It calls for you to go into the auction with a list of guys in mind and to, hence the name, go get them. Your list of target players should include big names guys you’d like to build your team around, sleeper types that you expect to have a breakout season, and smaller name guys who you think would fill out your roster nicely. With this strategy you can’t expect to get every name on your list, so it’s important to know where to draw the line in your bidding, and to have alternates in mind.
The biggest pro of this strategy is that you should leave with a balanced roster full of guys you are happy to own. However, there is one serious con. Targeting certain players will cause you to overpay for players here and there, especially when you consider that if you’ve targeted a certain player as a “guy to own,” other owners probably have as well. Therefore, The Go Getter is not the best strategy when it comes down to overall value.
The final strategy I like to call The Hidden Agenda. This strategy involves nominating players you are not interested in so that others can spend their budget on them while you sit back and wait to bid on the guys you are actually interested in. Think this is the year Chipper Jones finally breaks down? Throw him out there because someone will pay $25 for him. Already paid for your stud starter? Start throwing out anyone who resembles an ace and watch the bidding war with a smile on your face.
The biggest pro here is that you are able to target players of interest and build a balanced roster. The biggest con is less about the strategy than it is about how difficult the strategy is to implement. To effectively implement The Hidden Agenda you need to read the auction’s trends and your fellow owners’ tendencies so you know when to bid, when to throw out a decoy, and which decoy to out. However, once mastered, the strategy is extremely powerful tactic to employ at an auction.
3. Don’t Be Afraid to Pay
Now that you have come up with all your little dollar values, you have a strategy in mind, and the auction is about to begin…get ready, because you may have to throw it all out the window.
One of the biggest rules for a successful auction is not to be afraid to spend. If stars are going for more than you expected, try to grab one or two whose inflated prices may not be as extreme as others, because you aren’t going to win a league without a stud or two.
When early auction prices seem high, inevitably there will be bargains later in the draft. However, there won’t be one or two bargains; there will be enough to go around. Never think that you’ll be able to jump on every bargain that comes about mid-to-late auction. Thinking that is a good way to find yourself with a lot of money left and not much left to spend it on.
Speaking of waiting too long to spend…having more money to spend than there are players worth spending it on is the worst, I repeat the WORST, situation you can find yourself in during an auction.
Exhibit A: In one of my $260 salary cap, NL only, auction leagues last season, two owners got in a bidding war over Austin Kearns late in the draft. Yes, Austin Kearns. While they bid back and forth, I looked over my lists and realized that he was likely the best offensive player left. He went for $16, or about $13 more than he should have. Boy was I happy that I had spent $17 on Yunel Escobar an hour earlier. And how much do you think those owners wished they had spent the extra $3 to land Pujols early in the draft?
After an auction, I have never regretted spending the amount I did on a player I won. I have, however, regretted not spending a few more bucks on a player someone else got. I think that is a strong statement on the importance of being willing to spend, even if it means spending more than you’d like to.
4. Live By The Rule of Three
"The Rule of Three" is a system that I came up with that I build into my plan for every auction in which I participate. I have found it to be extremely effective—so much so that I am hesitant to share it with all of you!
As an auction progresses, positional depth slowly dwindles (obviously), and anyone who knows the first thing about fantasy baseball knows the importance of not getting stuck with Yorvit Torrealba and Humberto Quintero as your catchers or the aforementioned Jeff Keppinger as your 3B. So how do you prevent such a travesty from occurring? By following "The Rule of Three" of course.
When scanning your lists for what’s still available, take notice when a position you still need to fill is down to its final three viable options. In other words, when you see a blank spot next to 3B on your roster and the names Casey Blake, Placido Polanco, and Kevin Kouzmanoff are available, but the next best available 3B is named *shiver* Juan Uribe.
At this point, you need to take action. The first of the three viable options to be nominated needs to become your 3B, even if the player is not your favorite of the three remaining viable options. Why? Because you don’t want to get in a bidding war over the second-to-last decent option at a position, and you REALLY don’t want to get into a bidding war over the very last viable option at a position. So pull in Polanco for $12, then watch quietly when Kouzmanoff goes for $17 five minutes later, and hide your smirk five minutes after that when two owners get in a bidding war over Casey Blake that results in someone paying 24 big ones for him! "The Rule of Three" also can be applied by tier to the larger positions, namely outfielders, starting pitchers, and relievers. Jake Peavy, CC Sabathia, and King Felix the only aces left? Grab the first one. Then sit back and watch the fireworks.
5. Auction Leagues Are Won At the End of the Auction
“I don’t care. Who’s the Angels’ backup catcher? Okay, him, $1.” Music to any good auction league owner’s ears. Why? Because while other owners are simply filling out their rosters with whatever bum comes to mind, you’re winning the league. Who you spend $1 or $2 on in your auction is just as important as who you spend $45 on.
Anyone can figure out that Alex Rodriguez is worth $45. Not everyone can figure out which player is going to be worth a lot more than the $1 or $2 you spend on him.
So how do you know who to spend it on? Do your homework. Which starting pitchers are on short leashes and have a young guy with a lot of upside waiting in the pen to pounce on their spot in the rotation? Who is next in line for saves when Brad Lidge implodes? What player is sitting on the bench, just waiting for his chance to hit his way into the lineup? Who’s going to play third when Chipper inevitably gets hurt? Investing in answers to these questions at the end of an auction is how leagues are won.
In addition, you should spend your last few roster spots protecting your own investments. Grab the other side of a platoon player you may have rostered. Just in case your closer falls apart, pick up the guy who is next in line for saves. Spend your final two bucks on that guy waiting in the pen or on the bench for your starter to lose his job. One of the big reason I won my NL-only, keeper, auction league last year was because I backed up my $2 number five starter, Chan Ho Park, with a kid named JA Happ for $1. Plus, I spent $2 on a guy named Carlos Gonzalez, whose upside I liked more than any other $2 outfielder I could have grabbed.
I believe auction leagues are the ideal way to play the fantasy game. The strategy, skill, and commitment needed to be successful in an auction league is tremendous. While it may take some time to master the format, the payoff is more than worth it.
I will be happy to answer any questions you have about my article, auction leagues, or fantasy sports in general if you email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Jon Schuman writes for Fantasy Sports ‘R’ Us, and you can find more articles like this at