The Verdict: free agent auction bidding works best

One of the most important aspects of playing fantasy baseball is a team owner’s ability and skill at making transactions and adding free agents before and during the season. In most cases, the team you draft is not the team with which you will ultimately end up. Undoubtedly, regardless of how many teams are in your league or how many roster spots are required, there will always be players that go undrafted and emerge as viable fantasy options later on. The key to success in a fantasy baseball league is the ability of teams to make those moves at the right time. But the analysis of whether a transaction is good or not will be left for another day. Instead, this edition of “The Verdict” takes a deeper look into the various procedures for how transactions are processed.

For some background, I have been the commissioner of an 18-team, head-to-head, points league since 1999. For the first 10 years of the league, team owners would submit their add/drops to me and I would process them. All transactions had to be submitted to me by a certain time, and then I would manually go through the lists and figure out who got who. In the event two teams claimed the same player, the team with a worse win-loss record or on the short end of a tiebreaker would have the rights to that free agent. Upon moving my league to CBS in 2008, the free agent process was handled automatically with a waiver priority order based on overall record. Generally speaking, the process of handling transactions this way worked.

The reason for handling transactions in this manner was obvious: to help the less successful teams get better and make the league more competitive since they had a better chance of obtaining the best free agents. However, this also had the detrimental effect of penalizing the more successful teams and preventing them from bettering their team as well.

In 2010, I decided to even the playing field and change the way transactions were handled by implementing a free agent auction bidding process (“FAAB”). I assigned an arbitrary budget for everyone ($250) where each team could bid on available free agents. The team that bid the most money on a player was awarded him, regardless of where that team stood in the standings. This afforded the best teams and the worst teams the same opportunity to make improvements while not handicapping or penalizing anyone else. It also required people to make strategic decisions on how they wanted to spend their fake money. Despite being met with some skepticism and trepidation, my league members enjoyed this new process and have embraced it.

As the commissioner of the league, FAAB made my life infinitely easier since I no longer had to manually handle any aspect of doing add/drops. The bidding process is completely blind, so no one will know what you have bid on a player. This means, in theory, that you could spend $25 on a free agent when no one else even bid $2 on that same player. But that is the nature of the process, and I personally approve of the fact that the process is entirely blind. It really adds another element of strategy and competition when pondering what the appropriate value of a free agent is in the context of your league and fellow league members. Since the bidding process is completely blind, I didn’t have to worry about any improprieties when I made my own transactions. As a word of advice for you fellow commissioners: anything you can do to remove ANY semblance of impropriety is beneficial. This means relinquishing control over certain things that can be handled automatically.

Another positive aspect of FAAB is the fact that it does provide checks and balances to prevent teams from dominating the entire process. Once a team wins a bid on a free agent, that team is then moved to the bottom of the waiver order. This means that they would essentially lose a tiebreaker to another team bidding the same amount on another free agent. Of course, if a team chooses to bid enormously high on multiple free agents in the same week, then they would win all of those players. But that is a conscious choice by a team to spend their money in such a way.

No matter what format or style your league uses, transactions are going to be an important factor. How you choose to handle transactions is also one of the most critical decisions a commissioner can make because it has a significant effect on all league members and the way they play the game. The verdict is that implementing an auction process to bid on free agents is the fairest, most efficient, and most thought-provoking manner in which to handle transactions. If your league has never tried it before, it is something you should seriously consider.


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Braves Fan
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Braves Fan
I’d imagine you could solve the FAAB bankruptcy issue if the price paid for a winning a bid were similar to eBay in the sense that the winner only pays a minimum increment over the next highest bidder. For instance if manager A bids $10 and manager B bids $3 for a player, then manager A only has to pay $4 to be awarded that player. All other aspects of the bidding process would remain intact. I’ve never actually participated in a FAAB league, so I don’t know how this would work out in actuality or if it has already… Read more »
Richard Brown
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Richard Brown
My keeper league uses the blind bid as described in the article although I would prefer a blind eBay approach as I tend to overpay.  Our players have a contract code depending on when and how he was acquired.  Depending on the contract code, a penalty transaction fee is imposed when players are dropped.  Except for a player obtained in this year’s auction, there is a 50% fee for dropping a player.  Thus dropping a $20 keeper player or free agent would result in a $10 penalty fee and a $2 transaction fee of real money.  I ended up spending… Read more »
drew
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drew

tjg, how about a vickrey auction for faab. my league has first-come first-serve for normal free agents, but since it’s a deep nl-only league, the majority of free agent pickups are not that important. however, we do use a vickrey faab auction for american leaguers traded to the nl and non-drafted minor league callups. I think a vickrey auction works well and while it may not completely solve your problem, i think it will help.

John K
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John K

tjg: allow a minimum bid of $0, and ask your leaguemates to learn from the past

Michael A. Stein
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Michael A. Stein
The problems described are understandable, but unfortunately there doesn’t appear to be a way on CBS to have bids go the way eBay does (i.e., the winner only has to spend $1 more than the next highest bid).  If someone out there knows if this can be done, please let me know.  But after reviewing the settings again, I do not see that option. The way that I deal with this issue is by allowing $0 bids.  I know this may not be ideal, but it does allow teams merely the ability to fill out their roster in the event… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
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Derek Ambrosino

All,

What are your thoughts regarding trading FAAB dollars? Do you like it, not like it; should there be a limit on how many FAAB dollars can be included in a trade, etc.?

TJG
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TJG
We’ve had the FAAB for a couple of years. As the commissioner of the leaque, I wouldn’t allow it. Bad experience several years ago when a league I was in started to allow trading players for draft picks. One owner in particular wound up with several first, second, and third round picks and had an all star team before anyone else had opened their second beer. Other owners abused this as well. I’m afraid trading players for FAAB dollars would result in similar results. You would have two or three owners with $400-$500 FAAB dollars and a roster full of… Read more »
Michael A. Stein
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Michael A. Stein
I don’t think trading FAAB dollars is a good idea at all.  Similar to what TJG said, this can lead to an imbalance in the league before the draft even takes place.  Plus, when it comes to evaluating or approving the trade from the Commissioner or a league vote, it becomes very arbitrary in determining equivalent value and the fairness of the deal.  The concept sounds interesting, but the issues that would stem from it far outweigh any benefit obtained.  As Notorious B.I.G. said, “mo’ money, mo’ problems.”  Yes, I just quoted Biggie in a fantasy baseball conversation.  That just… Read more »
Ed Cawley
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Ed Cawley

In our AL only league FAABs $25 and up must be kept the following year.  Helps keep overspending to a minimum.  Don’t mind keeping Dan Haren for $30 though…

TJG
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TJG
Our 12 team, NL only league moved to the FAAB system two years ago and it has worked very well -with some notable exceptions. Some owners can’t help themselves and continually overbid on free agents early in the season and therefore exhaust their FAAB budgets by mid-July or early August. The result is these owners have zero FAAB dollars to replace players on their active rosters who are injured, released, sent to the minor leagues, etc. And what is left from about Auust 1 on is a shell of team, littered with players who aren’t playing, and non-competitive. And of… Read more »
Derek Ambrosino
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Derek Ambrosino
Good job, Michael. I believe I quoted Raekwon in one of my first columns here. Yeah – I get what you and TJG are saying, and I’m kind of on your side pragmatically. But, that puts me in conflict philosophically. …It just seems like that you are giving people FAAB dollars, those are basically assets, and players should be allowed to use them in the marketplace as such, which would include bartering with them. On the other hand, in most professional sports leagues, there are (to my knowledge) limits as to how much cash can be included in trades. …Yet,… Read more »
varmintito
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varmintito
FAAB is vastly superior to any other system for acquiring free agents.  I am pretty dogmatic about the following: 1. Minimum bid should be $0.  If you’ve spent all your FAAB, you still can acquire players.  In fact, you can still acquire useful players if everything breaks right.  Some weeks, players with upside are in the FA pool, but everybody else has a healthy mediocrity at that position and is too risk averse to take the plunge.  Last year, Logan Morrison went for $0.  He was better than at least 20 OF in the league the rest of the way.… Read more »
TJG
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TJG
Nope, not confusing FAAB dollars with auction dollars. We do a straight draft, not an auction. As I stated earlier, I believe an owner with deep pockets (i.e. $200-$300 extra FAAB dollars) can go into a draft knowing that he can come up short in certain categories and make up the difference two or three months later by buying what he needs. I think this process, and it does happen, can cheapen the importance of Draft Day. We use the FAAB to bid on anyone in the free agent pool, players coming up from the minor leagues, and players coming… Read more »
Richard Brown
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Richard Brown

Perhaps it is a matter of setting the proper level of FAAB dollars.  Ours is $100 with a minimum bid of $3.  There are no $0 bids; no more FAs for the season once your FAAB is below $3.  However we make a distinction on waiver claims.  If a team drops a player, then any team (in reverse standing priority) can claim that player the following week without paying FAAB.

Marty M.
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Marty M.
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems like TJG is confusing FAAB dollars with auction dollars.  FAAB dollars have absolutely nothing to do with the draft.  We’re only talking about picking up waiver wire guys here so unless a top notch player suddenly becomes available (rare unless some idiot decides to drop an all-star player) most of the guys you’ll want can be had for $1. Most teams in my league never come close to spending all of their money and in the rare case where someone does, we’ve never had a problem with someone trading an extra player for a… Read more »
Sean
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Sean

Love FAAB, but wish the sites supported making it open bidding (just like on auction day) as opposed to blind bidding. We have been looking for this for years and even tried to use ebay for it last year. Anyone have any tips?

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