I know the reason I selected Johan Santana in round one of the ESPN NL-only mock draft last week. I won't lie. It was because I wanted to see what it was like. I hadn't drafted Santana in round one before, and I was curious. I wanted to see how it felt, how I could build a team. A pitcher in round one? Do you know me? A pitcher, ha!
Well, it is a mock draft after all, a practice run for all those March drafts, and I really recommend it. Take a gander into our mock draft lobby and take some stabs at different strategies, see what gets you going. Anyway, I'll tell you what didn't make me smile. With the No. 7 pick in this NL-only draft, after the first six who I would have taken got grabbed, I sat there staring at Santana's name. I know what he's capable of. He's the only pitcher in baseball I predict will be winning 20 games this season, I think he's got a 50/50 shot at finishing first on our Player Rater, kind of like when golf experts ask you to predict the winner of a tournament being Tiger Woods or the field. That's Santana. Obviously I like what he brings to a fantasy team. I really have nothing bad to say about him except ...
... he's not a hitter.
And therein lies my problem. My offense kinda stinks. I don't like it. Had I used that draft pick on Ryan Howard, I wouldn't feel that way. What about Albert Pujols, you ask? Well, a week earlier in the ESPN mixed league mock I used the No. 9 pick on Pujols. I felt somewhat good about that one, because it was nice value, but in how many leagues do I want to carry the Pujols elbow risk with me? It was either Santana or Howard in this NL-only draft, and I went pitcher. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
My top offensive players, as a result of using the next five picks on those who make their living with a bat in their hands, are Aramis Ramirez, Miguel Tejada, Adam Dunn, Shane Victorino and Adam LaRoche. I can't recall leaving a draft thinking less of a team than this one.
Of course, in discussing this situation with others, it made me feel better that others didn't think it was so bad. I mean, just because this was a different way for me to build a squad, it didn't have to be a negative. On Sunday night, as the Fantasy Focus on ESPN Radio was reborn with myself and cohort Matthew Berry talking fantasy from 9-10 p.m. ET (um, check your local affiliates, this is our new time slot!) he said he liked the Santana move. In reality, what was my team missing that the others had? It needed a signature bat, that's all.
Still, I don't like it, because I'm always the guy who waits on pitching, and unearths new stars late. I like doing this. In our mixed league draft I went offense with my first seven picks, then finally chose my ace in round seven, pick No. 72, and it was ol' pal John Smoltz. That's my thing. And in the NL-only draft, there was a time after the first four or five rounds when I looked at the best available list and the first nine or 10 guys were all pitchers. I thought there was great value there in undervalued arms, but I couldn't really afford to take them because I still needed offense. Yes, just from that one first-round pick.
So really, it's not about Santana, it's about who he isn't, and it's precisely the same as taking a quarterback in round one of a fantasy football draft. There's nothing wrong with Peyton Manning, for example, but if you don't take a running back there, it's like you're fighting uphill the rest of the draft, constantly trying to compensate. If I do any other NL-only drafts, I won't be using a first-round pick on Santana for the same reason. When senior editor Pete Becker got wind of my anger at the draft pick, he asked me if I would use the final pick of round one on Santana. If I could still get a signature hitter, sure, I'd consider it. Mark Teixeira would fit that bill, as well as Carlos Beltran and Carlos Lee. I like Aramis Ramirez, but he's in a different class. Who can I truly rely on for monster fantasy numbers? Some would say Santana. I agree with that, but I mean on offense.
The offense I drafted just isn't me. I looked for value and took Tejada, Dunn and LaRoche in good spots, and later on went back to the annual well with Ty Wigginton. Hey, he's my second baseman. Nothing wrong with those 25 home runs there. But I took Justin Upton, which I can honestly say I'm very unlikely to do again this season. He could be great, or he could really fail at age 20. I just didn't like anyone else in that spot. The outfielders who went after Upton were Xavier Nady, Chris Duncan and Austin Kearns, and there's nothing special there. Colleague Tristan Cockcroft knew Upton wasn't my kind of pick, but he immediately assuaged my trepidation by saying it was a good spot to get him. Yeah, it probably was, but still, by taking Santana in round one, I felt I had to go hitter there. That pick could have been a guy more than twice Upton's age, Randy Johnson, who Berry wisely chose a few picks later, or Greg Maddux or even my old pal Dave Bush. I left an NL-only draft sans Dave Bush? Now I now this is the year! Horrors!
The talent pool in the NL-only draft seemed deeper than the AL-only, not just for stars at the very top, but especially in terms of pitching depth. There appear to be safer closers late in the NL, more catchers, more of everything except outfield depth. If you read Friday's blog you saw that I don't favor the NL over the AL at all, but this season the talent pool looks much heavier on the NL. The result for fantasy owners is that you can try numerous strategies and still get the team you like. Then again, I didn't.
I don't like this team I drafted. I punted catchers, which I don't like to do, by settling for Yorvit Torrealba with pick 228 and Matt Treanor in round 23. I should have Philly's saves locked up with Brad Lidge and Tom Gordon, but after that I'll either have to rely on Derrick Turnbow or Ryan Dempster for saves (I guess anything could happen with Lou Piniella), which isn't comforting. If you leave a fantasy draft sans the proper amount of saves, you can always play the waiver wire or make a trade, but I don't like leaving a draft knowing about a weakness.
I'd say this NL-only draft was pretty helpful to me, as lessons were learned.