For those who do not know, LABR is the “League of Alternative Baseball Reality” – the granddaddy of fantasy baseball expert leagues started by John Hunt and now ruled benevolently by Steve Gardner of USA Today.  Today, I take a look at how team Colton and the Wolfman (Rick Wolf, Stacie Stern and me) did in the NL at what by any measure was a fast and furious auction (though not as fast as when Perry Van Hook of Mastersball runs the show).  The draft started off great as we three donned our respective Josh Beckett jerseys (Marlins for me, Dodgers for Stacie and Red Sox for Rick) to pay homage to the hurler who lead us to our third LABR title. . . .  Ok, without further delay, here is who we own and why:

Catchers:   Miguel Montero $15; Francisco Cervelli $4.  Yes, we paid more than we should have for Montero.  Don’t get me wrong, I like Montero to have a solid year in Chicago but 15 was too much.  Why did we pay?  Well, the lack of offense in an NL only league really hit home as player after player sold way above value.  When we pounced on Montero, there was no hitter left we were willing to invest $15+ in so why not lock down a productive catcher?  This is one of the rare times we had to deviate from a plan but given the great cheap value we got in the OF, I think it worked out.  As to Cisco Cervelli, there is little doubt he will surpass his $4 price tag as he finally gets the opportunity to be a #1 catcher.  I know that one cannot really do this but if you add his last 325 AB over the last four years together, you get 9 HR, 5 SB and a batting average over .275.  Sign me up.  With two first string catchers on board in a very deep league, we will get more production than most of our competition behind the dish.

Corner Infielders:   Anthony Rizzo $30; Matt Carpenter $20; Darren Ruf $4.  If I am honest, I have to admit that we set out to own Adrian Gonzalez at $27.  However, but when the bidding seemed to be stalling at $29, we bid $30 and stole Rizzo.  All he did last year was hit 32 HR, score 89 runs, knock in 78, swipe 5 bags and a post a solid .286 average.  This year should be even better.  The Cubs will certainly be better so Rizzo will put up better counting numbers.  Add in the fact that Rizz is still only 25 and you see why we are thrilled to own this growth stock with an extremely high floor.  As to Carpenter, he was a bit of an overpay as we had him at $15 not $20.  Don’t get me wrong, we like him fine but the real reason we paid $5 more than our “sheet value” is that 3B in NL-only leagues is a dumpster fire of injury prone, older and/or lack of track record players.  At least with Carp, we have a guy who has plays on a good team, plays every day and has put up solid (if unspectacular) numbers across the board two years in a row.  Speaking of dumpster fires, the Phillies are sure to be bad in 2015 and sure to continue their fire sale.  That means Darrin Ruf is more than likely to get a chance to show he is for real.  After all, this is a guy who hit 38 HR in AA in 2012 and then 21 split between AAA and the bigs in 2013.  Big upside at a low cost is good stuff on offense in NL-only end games.

Middle Infielders

Second Base:  Howie Kendrick $20; Jed Gyorko $17.  We just love Howie Kendrick this year.  How many players in NL (or in baseball for that matter) have been as consistent?  How many have hit .285 or more in 8 of the last 9 years (with the “bad” year being .279) while averaging 10 HR, 11 SB, 70 runs and 67 RBI over the last three years?  Not many I imagine.  Now that Kendrick plays for a better team while not having to move out of LA, I like his chances to up his game further.  However, if he just repeats the last three years, I am good.  As to Gyorko, this was a bit of a gamble but one we like as the team will be much better and he did hit .300+ in the second half while reducing his K rate by 20%, increasing his BB rate by over 100% and lacing line drives at a sweet 27%. 

ShortstopJordy Mercer $8; Wilmer Flores $8.  I actually think both these guys are underrated.  I do not believe for a second that Pittsburgh with groundball pitchers such as A.J. Burnett and Charlie Morton will jeopardize their defense by moving Mercer out in favor of Kang.  Moreover, Mercer was much better in 2014 than his year-long stats would indicate.  Indeed Mercer hit .282 in the second half and in that half season raised his BB rate from 4% to 9%, raised his contact percentage from 80 to 85% and was successful each time he tried to steal a base.  As to Flores, paying only $8 for him as late as we did when middling hitters were routinely going in double digits was well worth the gamble.  After all, Flores showed a lot of maturity last year raising his contact percentage to 86%, increasing his FB%, and reducing his GB%.  These indicators mean that his 10 HR, 39 RBI and .260 average from the second half is likely real.  Double that in 2015 for a full year and  . . .  you get the picture.

OutfieldCarlos Gomez $32; Starling Marte $32; Carlos Quentin $2; Peter Bourjos $1; Michael Taylor $1; Eury Perez (taxi).  Not much needs to be said about Gomez other than there are few more certain power/speed guys you can roster in the NL.  Frankly, we are surprised that he went under $35.  As to Marte, we went the extra $2-4 because he saved it on Gomez and loved the idea of pairing two power/speed guys in their prime.  Plus, Marte is just getting better and better as his .332 average in the second half attests.  On the last three guys, we played upside.  Quentin is a lottery ticket in hopes of a trade to the AL as the guy can still hit.  Bourjos looks like his finally healthy and has only the overrated and recovering Jon Jay to beat.  Taylor’s speed/power combo has already gained greater value with the addition of Denard Span to the OF injury list in Washington that already includes Werth, McLouth and unfortunately will likely include Harper at some point this year.

Starting PitchingGerrit Cole $18; A.J. Burnett $9; Wily Peralta $7; Jimmy Nelson $5; Jarred Cosart $2; Chase Anderson $1; Rubby De La Rosa, Eric Stults & Chad Billingsley (taxi).  Cole is a stud ready to take the next step.  He is a hurler with a high floor and no ceiling.  Frankly, you do not need me to tell you much about him.  As to AJ, boy did we take a beating on this one and I cannot figure out why.  In his two years in Pittsburgh, Burnett average approximately 195K with a  1.22 WHIP, 3.40 ERA, lofty 56%+ GB rate and a solid 10% swinging strike rate (even last year in the pitchers park in Philly without the tutelage of Ray Searage, Burnett still mowed down 190 hitters and the xFIP of 3.95 says his ERA was inflated).   I am confident in a profit here.

We love both our Brewers starters – Wily Peralta and Jimmy Nelson.   Both guys throw gas and have surface stats that keep the price down but advanced metrics that portend further breakout.  I could easily see ending up with 350+ Ks for our $12 total here.  Cosart who also throws gas was much better after arriving in Miami and getting out of that bandbox in Houston (3.01 ERA in the second half).   Chase Anderson is another one of those guys whose surface stats hide his true value (more than a K per inning in the second half and better control as evidenced by his 63% first pitch strike percentage). 

Relief Pitching:   Craig Kimbrel $20; Adam Ottavino $2; Bobby Parnell $2; John Axford & Aaron Barrett (taxi).  Kimbrel is Kimbrel.  If he gets traded, fine – more save opportunities.  With the very cheap Ottavino/Axford combo + Parnell, we are very likely to have a second closer most of the year.  The Mets Mejia has a 1.40+ WHIP and that is not closer-worthy.  Of course, I do not need to tell you why LaTroy Hawkins will not be closing most of the year in Colorado.

All in all, I like the team a lot.  I would have preferred one more stud hitter in the Outfield and to have paid $5 less for Carpenter and Montero, but you cannot have it all.  In October, I will tell you how it worked out for real.

Final Thought:  The Draft Guide is here!  Want to know how to get your copy?  If you want a real shot at winning your league, CLICK HERE NOW!