Strategies and Tactics for Auction Drafts

One of the most common questions that fantasy analysts get is about strategies for auction drafts.  If you read articles or listen to podcasts, you’ll notice they usually deflect the question.  They may throw out half of an idea and then immediately say:

“ all drafts are different and there’s no silver bullet”

That may be true, but there are definitely some ideas and best practices to at least keep in mind.

Keep track of everyone’s needs and money

This is pretty easy to do in a virtual draftroom, but many auction drafts are offline.  Take some time to make a quick excel spreadsheet or buy some cheap software if you don’t mind dropping a couple of bucks.

It’s imperative that you know all of the players that are left, what teams need certain positions, and the financial shape of each owner.  Don’t let some pauper bid you out on a guy you want.  Don’t be afraid to stick someone with an expensive shortstop if they try to drive the price up when they’ve already bought 2 players at that position.

It’s really basic, but it’s also a must if you want to be a serious owner.

Know some players that you don’t want or think will be bad values so you can nominate them

Another popular strategy is to nominate people who you don’t want.  Take this a step further and try to nominate big names that you are out on.  For example, I want nothing to do with the likes of Felix Hernandez or Matt Harvey this year.  Unless they go for literally $1-2, then someone else can have him.

Nominations like this will leave more players that you like in the pool while also taking some money out of the pockets of your counterparts.  Your dollars will be worth more on a relative scale and other owners will have one fewer roster slot that they have to fill.  That’s potentially one less person competing with you on a player that you are interested in.

I do want to tag the above with one disclaimer.  You shouldn’t name a guy that you wouldn’t be interested in at even $1.  I know I don’t want Schwarber or Stanton this year, but I would take either at $1.  This becomes more important late in the draft when people are running short on money and when they have less roster slots to fill.  If you try to get too cute and name a scrub late in a draft, you might well get stuck with him.

In addition to naming guys that you flat-out don’t want, it is also useful to name sexy players that have been hyped or named “sleepers.”  I thought that Carlos Carrasco was going to be a stud back in 2015, but so did everyone else.  I named him in at least one auction because I knew he would be a bad value even though he did have a nice season.  Last year was the same deal with Carlos Correa, and for the record I love Correa.  I just knew he would go for more than I felt comfortable with.   The nice thing about this is that in a best case scenario, you get a guy you want at a decent value.

Another great way to create poor value for your fellow owners is to nominate players on teams from the dominant fans of your league.  Mets and Yankees players always go for too much in my home league since most of us are from the Bronx and Queens.  Take advantage of this and name the best players and prospects on the local team of your league.  They will almost definitely get overpaid for and create poor value for your opponents.  It’s as close to a guarantee as I can give.

Try not to fall into that trap yourself as well.  I definitely had my share of years where I spent too much on Jeter, Cano, or Rivera.

Have predetermined values that you’re not married to

I go into every auction with an idea of what I want to spend on certain guys.  Then the draft goes completely differently than you anticipated.  You have to react.  If the top-tier players are all going for too much, you will probably have to overpay for at least one big player or you might get left out in the cold.  I can tell you that players from the first two rounds tend to go for much more than their “book value.”  If our site or a site like it, rates Mike Trout at $44- you’re probably going to have to pay more than that to get him.  That’s just the way it generally goes.

On the flip side, you may have guys that you’ve deemed as being “your guys.”  You read articles here at the Assembly about their breakout potential and that player is on all 4 of your other teams.  But there’s someone else in your league that’s also very high on that player.  Sometimes it’s best to let go.  Don’t get into a bidding war just because you like a guy.  There will be other values to be had.  This is a separate thought from overpaying for a top 10 player like Trout, Arenado, etc.  I am more talking about trying to avoid spending $20 on a speculative pick or “sleeper.”  I LOVE James Paxton this year.  Same with Danny Duffy, Lance McCullers, Carlos Rodon, and a bunch of other young pitchers.  I can promise you that if any of them go much above $8 in any draft that I will be bowing out.

Be aware of your tiers

If a player currently named is the last player of a tier.  Be sure to get in the mix.  Don’t overpay for the best guy in the next tier at a position.  For example, if you are in an auction draft and Bryant, Donaldson, Machado are already taken and Arenado is nominated – get in the mix.  I like Seager and Carpenter quite a bit as well, but they’re not in the same league as Arenado.  You can, and probably should, overpay for stars if you have the money and missed out on everyone else.

This logic also goes in the inverse.  If you miss out on Arenado, don’t pay what Arenado went for just so you can get the next third baseman in the rankings.  Be smart.  Know who is left and what level you value each player at.  Do this at all times.  I remember my first few auction drafts where I would routinely spend $30 on guys like Jay Bruce because I wanted the next guy in the ranks since I missed out on the studs.  It’s not smart.

It’s generally good to spend at least some of your money early

Like most of these suggestions, this isn’t a hard rule.  Some owners like to spend the whole auction sitting in the corner and not spending any money for the first hour or so.  This is usually a mistake because most leagues tend to nominate the best players first.  A star or two may sneak into the late hours of an auction, but most of the premier talent gets eaten up in the early going.

It’s fun to have the most money and to be able to bully the other owners and just nab whoever you want.  At the same time, you want there to still be players left that are worth spending your money on.  For example, I recommend that most teams try to have an ace on their team.  If you don’t pony up for Scherzer, Sale, or Cueto, you might find yourself having to overpay for a guy like Salazar to lead your staff.  That’s a bad situation.

Every draft is different, but I really prefer to have at least one or two major purchases in the early stage of an auction.

Stars and Scrubs

This is a somewhat documented strategy that is really useful in shallow leagues.  The theory is basically that 10 and 12 person leagues, particularly points leagues,  will have decent players at the end of the draft.  There also tend to be decent options on waivers throughout the year.  So the thought process is that you can create more distance between your team and your competitors if you load up on top level talent and surround it with cheap, even $1 players.

With this strategy, you are willing to overpay to get a handful of the absolute best players.  There’s definitely more than one way to win a league, but I do tend to buy into having more top shelf players in shallower formats.  For example, if you manage to land Trout, Arenado, and Kershaw to start your team, that is likely to give you an advantage over teams that are composed of mid-tier players.

Being more balanced is generally the smart way to go in deep leagues.  Because the end of the draft and waiver options might literally be guys who don’t even play every day.  But, in 10 team points league for example, you might see top 40 type outfielders or even decent closers on the wire.

In addition to the readily available mediocrity on waivers and at the end of the draft, there will also be call ups and surprises.  Imagine adding this year’s Trea Turner or Gary Sanchez to an already stacked team.  It might be game over if you can pull that off.

There’s always flyer type picks and waiver adds that end up being highly fantasy relevant.  The team you draft is not the team you will finish with.  I do believe, though, that if you draft a core that’s really likely to contribute at a high level all year you are at an huge advantage.  The best way to do this is to draft several 1st and 2nd round caliber studs.

Once in season, you will find that this strategy continues to apply to trades.  You generally want to get the best player in the deal in these shallower leagues.  This is for all of the reasoning already laid out above, but I’ll probably talk more about it once the season gets rolling.

Stars and Scrubs Part II – trade bait edition

This is a really risky strategy for re-draft leagues, but it is a great approach to use for rebuilding teams in keeper and dynasty leagues.  I hate to start out day-one of a fantasy season assuming that you can’t compete, but in some leagues- you just know.  For example, maybe there’s two or three teams with All-Star teams and you’re struggling to put together a team of Nick Markakises.

If you can get your hands on some highly coveted, truly high-priced talent – you will be able to deal them to a competitor for something valuable.  Picking the best deal and having the best timing is something you won’t be able to control.

Last year, I owned a $60 Bryce Harper on a terrible dynasty team that I took over.  I should’ve sold earlier when Harper was enfuego.  I had no way of knowing how much he would cool, but I can say that the earlier packages were even better than deal I ended up swinging at the deadline.

If you are rebuilding, trade studs for young cheap players – preferably with some high upside.  


Sorry to say that there is no perfect strategy for an auction draft.  Definitely keep these ideas in mind during your draft, though.  Every draft is different, but I do believe that some of these tactics have given me an advantage.  I hope they do the same for you!


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Mike Sheehan

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Comedian, Powerlifter, and most importantly a Cum Laude graduate of the fantasy baseball school of hard knocks. Double major in points and categories with a minor in roto. Happy to be doing my Postgraduate work here at the Fantasy Assembly.

2 thoughts on “Strategies and Tactics for Auction Drafts”

  1. Good recommendations. I love draft strategy posts. A few I might add:

    1) Spend your money by the end of the draft. Don’t walk out with an extra $40. Evaluate your budget by the mid point of the draft and if you sense you’re going to have extra cash, start getting more aggressive before it’s too late. Even if it means over paying, the projected dollar values don’t mean anything once everyone has their teams. There is no prize for having the most cash leftover.

    2) If you have the time, assign dollar amounts you are willing to spend for each roster spot in a spreadsheet before the draft. It can be eye opening to plug in the expected prices of Trout, Harper, Kershaw, Bumgarner, and Lester and see how little money you’ll have for the rest of your roster. If you spread out your remaining money across your remaining roster spots, you’ll quickly see that there won’t be enough money to go around for many other top 50 players. Once you realize how little money you’ll have to work with, you might decide to forget Kershaw and drop down to a cheaper tier of SPs so you can allocate money dollars to a better tier of 2B. It’s better to think through some of these scenarios before going into the draft to avoid getting that terrible feeling after 30 minutes of the live auction that you’re broke with lots of holes to fill.

    3) Building off of #2, if you’re going the route of Stars and Scrubs, be realistic with your budget and figure out how many stars you can afford and how many scrubs you’re willing to roster. You might find that you want to do a more conservative version of stars and scrubs by having 2 less stars so you have the flexibility to draft a couple middle tier value players before you’re locked into full on $1 scrub mode.

    4) Beware of bidding up the competition. It’s a fun concept to enforce player prices to make sure no one gets a good deal but that can quickly backfire. If your auction mates recognize what you’re doing, you can get stuck with players you never wanted simply because you were convinced someone would bid another dollar. The next thing you know, you have an $18 player on your roster that was on our Do Not Draft list which will now throw a wrench in the rest of your draft.

    1. Hello! Thanks for reading and for the additional input. Definitely take a look at all of our draft prep columns. I wrote some more general ones a few weeks back as well. Happy drafting!

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