Still dealing with the lingering effects of a global pandemic, participants in the League of Alternative Baseball Reality had a new obstacle to overcome before drafting this season, the MLB lockout.
The situation bore an eerie resemblance to the year the league was founded, 1994, in which a labor dispute between baseball’s players and owners cut the regular season short and eventually canceled the World Series. It even spurred the league’s acronym – LABR — coined by then-ESPN anchor and original league member Keith Olbermann.
This season produced another new challenge with the MLB lockout resulting in an unprecedented number of unsigned free agents, including several of the game’s biggest stars. In an effort to deepen the player pool, but still retain a measure of separation between the two leagues, the top 12 free agents were excluded from the player pool and will be part of a separate bidding process once they eventually do sign.
Of the two leagues, the AL seems to have a better overall collection of talent. And the LABR participants attacked the top of the player pool aggressively on Friday night.
Defending champion Ian Kahn of The Athletic, who set a 12-team LABR record last season with 110.5 points, had the honor of the first nomination: third baseman Jose Ramirez of the Cleveland Guardians.
This season’s consensus No. 1 fantasy option was predictably the evening’s most expensive player to roster, going to Bret Sayre of Baseball Prospectus for a tidy sum of $42. One of the true five-category standouts, Ramirez’s base-stealing ability is especially prized this season with steals continuing to decline.
Other top power/speed guys were quickly snapped up with Kyle Tucker ($38), Bo Bichette ($35), Luis Robert ($35), Shohei Ohtani ($31) and Cedric Mullins ($29) all rostered within the first 31 nominations.
What about perennial No. 1 target Mike Trout? Injury concerns after playing just 36 games last season resulted in him going for only $30.
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On the other hand, ace starting pitchers were not in such high demand. Kahn spent $37 to grab Gerrit Cole ($37), but after that, Shane Bieber ($28) and Lucas Giolito ($27) were the only others to even surpass the $25 mark. (By comparison, both Cole and Bieber were $40+ pitchers last year, and six pitchers went for $30+ in 2020.) The middle tier, however, was stacked with excellent No. 2 and 3 starters.
The strength of the American League lies in its outfield depth, with 20 players eligible at the position going for at least $20. Also of note, the AL does have far more “safe” closers than the NL this season. Liam Hendriks was the highest-priced in either league at $26, with Raisel Iglesias ($23), Ryan Pressly ($20), Emmanuel Clase ($20), Aroldis Chapman ($19) and Jordan Romano ($17) forming a clear top tier.
The bidding was spirited throughout the evening, leading to a scarcity of obvious value picks – other than perhaps Salvador Perez, last season’s top catcher and USA TODAY’s 2021 fantasy MVP after leading the majors with 48 home runs, going for just $23.
Perhaps the biggest unknown this offseason is what impact the lockout will have on the development and promotion of the AL’s impressive stockpile of top prospects.
Here’s how the AL LABR managers valued them:
- SS Bobby Witt Jr. ($20)
- C Adley Rutschman ($9)
- 1B Spencer Torkelson ($8)
- OF Julio Rodriguez ($5)
- OF Riley Greene ($5)
- SS Jeremy Pena ($5)
- SP Grayson Rodriguez ($4)
- OF Josh Lowe ($3)
- C MJ Melendez ($2)
Will they be on their teams’ opening day rosters if the start of the season is delayed until at least mid-April? Or will they be held back even longer to make sure they’re ready for the majors?
One team in particular will have a vested interest in the answer. The NFBC’s Greg Ambrosius and Shawn Childs drafted six of those prospects, plus SS Jordan Groshans in the reserve round.
Follow Steve Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner and follow LABR AL all season at RTSports.com/labr-al.