If you’re reading this, chances are you know all about Free Agent Acquisition Budgets (or FAAB). In short, it’s waiver wire alternative in which owners draw from their allotted budget to place weekly blind bids on players available in free agency. (A typical budget is set at $100 for the season.) This format has become increasingly popular in recent years and for good reason—it requires much more strategy than simple waiver claims based on a priority list.
For whatever reason, I’ve always felt that an owner’s approach to FAAB can be determined by, well, ice-cream eating habits.
For instance, if you’re the type who scarfs down your sundae as soon as its in your hand, then you’re likely to spend FAAB freely and frequently; whereas if you enjoy savoring your soft serve, chances are you hang onto your FAAB until a later time, when everyone else is jealous you’ve still got some chocolate chip cookie dough left while their bowls are empty. I fear I’ve mixed my metaphors here.
For the record, I tend to fall into the former category. But the type and depth of the league impacts that approach. Generally speaking, a 10- or 12-team mixed league is like Baskin-Robbins* in that the available player pool is 31-flavors deep, so your FAAB bids shouldn’t be crazy-high because there’s always going to be a player (or flavor) to satisfy your craving. But a deeper league, or an AL- or NL-only one, is the equivalent of Ye Olde Ice Cream Shoppe, where they only serve vanilla, chocolate and strawberry and deliveries of new batches are few and far between, so you better get what you can while you can, even if it costs more and makes you feel sick afterward.
*It’s not Baskin N Robbins, and if you call it that, you can’t be my friend.
While Mr. Zimmerman covered some general waiver wire strategies earlier today, let’s do the same for FAAB. The list below is in a rough order of highest FAAB bid required to lowest, to help you know when you should splurge on a five-scoop and when you should just take small spoonfuls.
Five Scoops: Interleague Trades in AL- or NL-only Format
When the player pool is already cut in half and a big name gets introduced via a cross-league deal, you’re going to have to pay at least 90% of your budget to acquire said name. This happens during the season almost every year, from Mark Teixeira in 2007 and 2008, CC Sabathia in 2008, Matt Holliday in 2009 to Dan Haren last season. That means July becomes a huge month in single-league formats, which favors owners who tend to hang onto their FAAB dollars. However, there is a caveat: You need to actually be in position to compete over the final two months in the first place for this payout to payoff, which is harder to do because you’ve avoided spending much of your cash to that point to pick up players who can help your team and cover injuries from April into July. Also remember: Every trade has two sides, so while everyone wants the big name, only one team can get him. It’s always a good idea to target players who still have value even if they weren’t the focus of the deal, especially since they’ll cost less.
Three Scoops: Closers
Everyone chases saves. Fact is, there are only so many pitchers in position to get them at any given time, so when there’s a shift in that structure, it comes down to low-supply, high-demand. That, in turn, means high prices, especially among owners in need of saves. However, since this is primarily a one category fix, the cost won’t be nearly as high—more like 30%-50% of your budget, depending on factors such as the point of the season, your need for saves and standing in the category (or if you’re trying to block a competitor from gaining) and how secure the new closer is in his new role. If we’re talking about Chris Perez last year, who was expected to be the Indians closer-of-the-future after Kerry Wood was out of the picture, then a high bid was a smart play that wound up paying off (post-All Star: 16 saves, 0.63 ERA). But the return on a similar bid wasn’t as good for a guy like Fernando Rodney, who earned just five saves upon temporarily taking over closing duties when Brian Fuentes went to the DL last April only to return to his setup role when Fuentes’ came back.
Three Scoops: Prospects
This category is like the whipped cream topping—it looks good but in reality, it’s pretty empty. The top prospect who gets introduced to the player pool upon making his season debut is always coveted, so getting in on the action is going to be pricey. But the problem is that the performances of these players are very volatile, and in many cases, they are either brought up with the intention of being sent back down (i.e. injury replacement) or an initial struggle will mean a return trip to the minors in short order. The other problem is that if a top prospect doesn’t make the team out of camp to contribute right away, you often have to wait until they come up in late-May/early-June (to delay the start of their arbitration clock) or in September, when rosters expand and it’s too late to matter anyway. Just last June, top prospects Stephen Strasburg, Mike Stanton and Pedro Alvarez got the call and went on to be big contributors, but others like Dayan Viciedo and Jason Castro didn’t do nearly as much with their opportunities. This field can be very hit-or-miss.
Two Scoops: New and Unforeseen Opportunities
This covers anything from backups filling in for injured starters (Angel Pagan) to players who undergo a change of scenery after getting released or being traded in a small deal (Russ Branyan) to longtime minor-leaguers getting a chance (a la Neil Walker). Here is where you’ll be able to get the best values because these players are not as well-known and as such are harder to spot, making them cheaper bids. This is the type of player I like to focus on in deeper leagues, because they are out there on a regular basis, but you have to pay close attention to the transaction wire, injury announcements and organizational maneuverings.
One Scoop: Keeper Prices
In some keeper leagues, a players FAAB price will count as his keeper price for the following season. This adds a little extra fun to such leagues and can provide incentive for owners who are out of the running to continue to stay involved in daily activities, knowing that they may be able to sneak in a cheapie to help them next year. As such, this typically comes into play later in the season, when close-to-ready prospects are called up to earn a few at-bats or innings, mainly to get some exposure to the big leagues. Last year, Freddie Freeman and Danny Espinosa fell into this category, and they enter 2011 with starting jobs. If you grabbed ’em ahead of time for a buck or two last August, well, that’s about as savvy a play as there is.
Two other quick pointers that are essential to the FAAB process, if your league uses them: 1) $0 bids are useful because they allow owners to acquire a player without subtracting from the FAAB budget; and 2) the Vickrey Method, in which the winning bid is automatically re-set to $1 more than the second-highest bid regardless of the actual bid amount, can be both helpful and harmful and requires even more strategy.
With all that said, the most important thing to remember is: Know. Your. League. As I already pointed out, FAAB bidding tends to be derived from habit and specific to individual owners. So while a $20 bid in one league might be plenty to get a desired player, it might take $50 to acquire that very player in a league that uses the exact same parameters.
Now: Who else feels like a sundae?