As I've said before, there is no one right way to play fantasy baseball, but auction drafts are the closest you can get. As opposed to the more popular but less fun snake draft, in an auction you can acquire the rights to literally any player you want in the game. You don't have to just sit and watch names fly off the board, powerless to stop your queue from being decimated. The only limits? Your imagination... and your budget.
We're not here to debate the merits of each format. What isn't up for debate is that auctions demand a higher level of commitment and preparation. There are different layers of strategy, and of etiquette. In the decade since my first ever auction draft, I like to think I've learned a thing or two about how to best position oneself for success, and how to conduct oneself appropriately during the proceedings. Below are, in one man's humble opinion, 10 simple rules for fantasy baseball auction drafts.
Your Friendly Fantasy Moses
1. Thou shalt be on time.
The Golden Rule. Look, life happens - everyone's got jobs, families, friends, and other responsibilities to juggle in our daily lives. But you ostensibly knew weeks ahead of time when the draft was happening. Short of a legitimate emergency, there's no acceptable reason to be late (and in most of those cases, you can at least take five seconds to send a text). It's disrespectful to your league mates, and it throws a huge wrench into the draft. In a snake, whether or not you spent any time pre-ranking players, the auto-draft function will do a generally passable job at picking for you. In auctions, that tool is almost useless due to the number of variables involved. An auto-drafting team in an auction basically ruins the experience for everyone else. The algorithm will often jump immediately to whatever the platform has set as the player's projected value or average cost, negatively impacting the bidding process.
The only consolation to the owners who actually bothered to show up is that sometimes, a platform will be slow to update in the wake of injury news, so they can nominate an injured player, on whom the auto-draft will then fecklessly bid full price. This is poetic justice and should be exercised whenever the situation allows. Seriously, don't be late to the damn draft. It's literally the only event during the whole season that you're asked to do anything at a specific time.
2. Thou shalt have a plan and know going in that thou wilt have to deviate from it.
Mike Tyson famously said, "Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth." You probably won't get punched (unless your auction is truly wild), but the principle is more or less the same. No matter how much prep you do, auctions are dynamic and fluid by nature. Weird stuff happens, and you simply are not going to be able to predict it. That doesn't mean you shouldn't have an approach in mind; by all means, identify specific players to target, numbers you want to hit, and roughly estimate what each asset is going to cost you. Just don't be rigid in your planning, because you're going to need to pivot at some point -probably a handful of times.
As with anything else, the more upfront work you put in, the easier it'll be to adjust to whatever curveballs get thrown at you.
3. Thou shalt maintain a healthy queue.
Fantasy owners who don't like auctions often cite the time commitment as a primary reason for their distaste. To that end, this is the first of several commandments that is meant to ease said burden. If participants make use of their queue, they should be able to identify players they wish to nominate for bidding in a timely and efficient manner. You might also wish to use your queue as a short list of your preferred targets, especially if they're buried in the overall player list for whatever reason.
Regardless of how you choose to utilize it, the queue feature is an eminently useful tool during the auction. Anytime a player goes up for bid that you aren't interested in, don't just spend that time staring blankly at the screen - throw a few more names in your queue.
4. Thou shalt not be timid early.
Once upon a time, the conventional wisdom held that waiting out an initial feeding frenzy would allow you to clean up later in the auction. This rarely works anymore, if it ever did. If anything, being aggressive early can work to your benefit, allowing you to snag a couple of players before your rivals have a chance to get their bearings. Anecdotally, I can't tell you how many times I've seen a stud get snatched off the board early, only for the next elite option at the position to go for a noticeably steeper price.
The longer you wait to make a splash, the more opportunities you give to your competition to set the market and take the best players off the board. Patience is usually a virtue, but you don't want to sit on your hands. As often as not, that's how you wind up paying almost as much for a much lesser player. That doesn't mean you have to go in and immediately make it rain; you do have a budget to be mindful of, after all. But keeping your powder dry for too long can leave you in a tough spot as the auction progresses.
5. Thou shalt save some bullets for endgame.
Eventually, your budget will shrink to the point where unfettered bidding is no longer possible. You're required to complete your entire roster during the auction, which means you need to allocate at least $1 to every slot. If and when you reach the stage of having as many dollars as empty roster spots, you are said to be in "dollar days." This means that you will only be able to nominate and win players for $1; any rival with enough cash left to bid $2 or more can do so and you're powerless to respond. Not only that, you also can't bid on any player someone else nominates.
This is a frustrating place to be, and you should endeavor to avoid it for as long as possible. That way, you're in the best position to snatch up a couple of bargains when the competition becomes less fierce. You don't want to hold too much for this stage though; the more money you have late, the less you spent on superior talent. Just leave yourself a bit of breathing room.
6. Thou shalt not be predictable.
This doesn't mean you need to do anything crazy - though sometimes, trying some weird strategy just to see what happens can be fun and/or informative. It just means that you should avoid tipping your hand by falling into behavior patterns or routine. Your nominations (and your bids, as we'll discuss in a moment) should be a mix of players you actually want and players you're just tossing out there to cut into rival budgets. You should avoid always starting at the default $1 opening bid, throw in the odd $2 or $3 increase instead of the default $1, and even try to vary the timing of your bids a little. Think of it like poker - if you have tells, you're going to lose.
7. Thou shalt price enforce.
A crucial part of any successful auction is price enforcement. It helps with the unpredictability goal (the more bids you're throwing out there, the less obvious it is to your rivals which players you're actually after), but more importantly, it forces your rivals to pay more than they wanted to for a target. The more you can successfully price enforce, the quicker you'll find yourself able to outbid your league mates when one of your target's names is called.
Of course, you're always risking that for whatever reason, the other owner(s) will walk away and leave you holding the bag. For that reason, you should only go that extra buck if either A) you wouldn't actually mind getting this player at this price or B) you're extremely confident that your rival(s) will keep bidding. In keeper leagues, price enforcement carries even greater importance.
8. Thou shalt not constantly wait until the last second to bid.
This is one of the most irritating things you can do in an auction, which makes it a favored tactic of trolls who want to put their rivals "on tilt." Don't be that guy. It's not cute, it's not funny, nobody likes it, and everyone kinda wants to strangle you. To be clear, an occasional last-second bid is perfectly fine! Sometimes you really do need the maximum time allowed to decide if going that extra buck is worthwhile. But when it becomes a routine event for any one person, you've crossed the line. All you're doing is annoying people by prolonging the draft.
Besides, this tactic is most effective if you use it sparingly. If you've been doing it the whole draft, nobody's gonna be surprised to see the bid clock reset to 10 seconds for the 40th time. If you're judicious with your last-second bids, though? You can definitely crush a rival's hopes, dreams, and spirit.
9. Thou shalt not nominate star players for a dollar.
10. Thou shalt not leave money on the table.
You can't take it with you, as they say. Well, some leagues do allow unspent auction cash to roll over into the team's in-season FAAB. But most don't, and unless your league has that rule, there's absolutely no excuse for leaving any part of your draft budget unspent. All that buys you is regret in six months when you look back and realize you could've had a stone-cold stud if you'd just gone the extra buck or two and instead, you didn't use that money for anything. There are few worse feelings in this game.