Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy

The top guide to assembling a dominant baseball roster in your auction

Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy

Shawn Childs is a legend in the fantasy baseball world and his advice is invaluable. A member of the NFBC Hall of Fame, Shawn has several top-5 finishes in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship as well as five NFBC auction championship titles under his belt. He also boasts several prominent in the high-stakes market and multiple huge DFS wins. Shawn’s process and evaluation are among the most thorough in the sport and his exclusive FPGscore metric is changing the game. This 2024 Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy and insight are courtesy of the brilliant mind of one of the sport’s best. 


This Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy is courtesy of Shawn Childs. Read Shawn’s expert fantasy analysis at his Substack.


Also, check out Shawn’s detailed 2024 Fantasy Baseball Strategy Guide for the most thorough tips and advice that you will find anywhere.

Auction Overview

The fantasy baseball market has many formats and league sizes, especially in auctions. I’ve played in American and National League formats with 12 teams plus 15-team mixed leagues. Each setup could also have keepers (players held for more than one year) or trading, which changes all players’ value during the auction. Over the last 20+ seasons, I’ve played in the high-stakes fantasy market where there is no trading, which puts pressure on a fantasy manager to develop a winning plan before the auction. 

When doing an auction league with no trading, a fantasy manager has a small margin for error. No other team will be knocking on your door looking to take your third closer off your hands via a trade. If your roster is out of balance (strong in some categories and weak in others), you can’t trade hitting for pitching or even speed for saves. An auction can be won in many different ways, but many managers can lose the battle during the auction due to a questionable game plan or even a lack of foresight. Every year, the player pool will change slightly. The goal of a manager is to evaluate the inventory and develop a strategy that can be executed at the draft table. If I come away with enough pieces to the puzzle, I can manage my way to a championship.

Whatever game plan I decide to use, I must be ready to adjust if I don’t get my key players. A fantasy manager can roster any player they want in an auction, but it comes with a price. 

In most baseball auction leagues, each team starts with $260 to buy 14 hitters and nine pitchers. The goal is to accumulate the most league points in five hitting (batting average, runs, home runs, RBIs, and steals) and five pitching (wins, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts, and saves) categories. 

In a 12-team league, a first-place finish in a category would be worth 12 points, second place is 11 points, and so on until reaching 12th place (one point). The winner of each league is determined by adding up all 10 categories. 

Calling Out Players to Improve Your Team-Building Chances

A common mistake fantasy managers make is hoping the players they want don’t get called out early. It sounds good in principle, but the problem is that all the other good players are coming off the board while I sit back, holding my money. If I wait and miss on my targeted players, I will have fewer options to build my team.

Getting my key players called out as quickly as possible is essential. For example, if I want a player in the auction and believe he is the key to building my foundation, I would like to call him out on my first opportunity. By doing this, I find out how much he will cost (higher or lower than my predicted price point) or if I need to start looking for someone else to develop my team around. The quicker I know where I stand on critical players, the better my chance of executing my plan or adjusting on the fly. 

For example, I wanted to build my team around Ronald Acuna, and I believed he could repeat a good portion of his 2023 stats (.337/149/41/106/73) with a target value of $55. If I miss on him, I will need to find another player with a step down in overall expectations. I should have a secondary plan to shift to another player with a similar skill set with less upside, but I would then save some of my spending budget. 

In this example, my next tier for power and speed could be Julio Rodriguez. If Acuna gets called out early and sells for more than I’m willing to pay, Rodriguez would be attainable if his salary falls within my expected budget and his targeted salary.

Suppose Rodriguez gets called out first, and someone buys him for $41 while I sit on Acuna as my first key player. In that case, I will have a further drop-off in the player pool if Acuna is purchased by another manager above my budgeted salary target. The situation worsens if many top players get called out before Acuna, forcing me to shove all in, no matter the cost, or revamp the foundation of my build on the fly. This freelancing style could lead to an imbalance in roster construction in a non-trading format where a trade can’t fix a shortfall in a category.

In this example, a detour off of Acuna may push me to Freddie Freeman, putting me in a weaker position in speed but a potentially high floor and ceiling in batting average. This decision would force me to find stolen bases differently and potentially look for another source of high-end power. 

If the drop-off from Acuna led me to Bobby Witt, I would set a high foundation in steals with 30+ home run power but only a neutral option for batting average. I would then focus on landing another high-average bat with one of my next two core hitters.

Again, if Freeman, Witt, and Rodriguez get called out in the auction before Acuna, I would need to get more creative with less inventory to build my offense. 

The other option is not missing your targeted core player or players by overpaying with the theory of making up the lost dollars later in the auction. 

Game Plan and Early Spending

It is crucial to focus on my game plan early during the auction while not worrying about how the other teams spend their money. I aim to build my foundation in hitting and pitching while keeping my foot on the gas if the players I like are called out early. I’m willing to spend $200 of my $260 on my key players. 

This strategy requires me to shut down my spending in the middle of the auction for a long time. 

Many fantasy managers get aggravated when one or more teams hold onto their money. They are concerned that those managers will overbid them on a key player they want later in the auction. If I invested $185 on 10 players and the other team spent $40 on two players, that team is eight players behind me. He will think he has all the power in the world with the big stack, but the truth is that someone will constantly be bidding against him. Each of the other managers will need players as well. He will be competing with at least one manager most of the time for each player when he tries to fill his roster, forcing him to pay close to full price or a premium on some players, even in the middle part of an auction.

Keep an Open Mind Early

When sitting at the draft table to do an auction, the best opportunity for players could be the first couple of players called out. Understanding each player’s possible value is essential while being ready to fire as soon as the auction starts. If I sit back and wait, I might miss a discounted player or a possible stud. I know a $33 player might not sound like a discount, but that same player might go for $38 if he was called out a couple of rounds later in the auction.

In my early example between Ronald Acuna and Julio Rodriguez, Rodriguez can’t be dismissed if he’s called out first and his salary falls below his expected price point. If the bidding is fading on Rodriguez at $35, it may be wise to buy the built-in value for $36 with the understanding that there could be a fight at the top end for Acuna. On the other hand, if I pass on Rodriguez, Acuna may go for more than I expected.

Targeting the Last Top Player on the Board

Another common mistake is waiting for the best player left on the board. I see this happen a lot late in auctions. No one wants to call out a player because they want him as cheap as possible. Four or five managers sit back, waiting for the right time to add this player to their team. When he’s called, most of their hearts are broken. This player usually costs the winning manager a few more dollars than expected. 

I use this to my advantage at certain positions during the auction. For example, if I like two or three players about the same, say at second base, I will try to buy the first of these options called out. By doing this, I avoid overpaying for the best “available player” left later in the auction. This often happens to the last speed option or even a closer. 

End Game

As I mentioned earlier, when the auction starts, I don’t care what money any other team has left until I get down to about $60. Each manager needs to spend at least $200 on the nucleus of their team. The other teams will catch up to me when they start filling roster spots. 

When I get down to $60, I put the brakes on my spending and look for bargain players. Being disciplined increases my chances of getting the players I want late. If I shut down my spending when I get to $35-$40, I will have the leverage in the end game. I will need almost every manager to have less than $20 to hold an edge over them late in the auction.

To execute this aggressive style, a fantasy manager must have the vision to see the outs at each position while having a game plan to build the back end of their roster.

Final Note

Winning an auction league comes with a healthy game plan followed by execution during the auction while also needing the targeted players to deliver their expected stats. Every manager in the auction will know the players and develop similar evaluations. When I try to implement my plan, there will be battles for critical players. I will win some and lose some. I hope to win the right ones. However, I would rather lose with a team I like than lose with players I didn’t want.

Remember, the more thought invested in a game plan with variations will help a fantasy manager make better decisions in the split seconds when bidding on players.

AL/NL Auctions Hitting

A fantasy manager must separate hitting from pitching when starting to gameplan for an auction. Each area is 50% of the game, but finding a blend of spending that fits your game style is necessary.

My Core Batters

When developing your hitting base, a fantasy manager needs to identify the key players to build the foundation of their offense. Your core could be three or four players, depending on how much you want to invest in each player. I look for three players to start my hitting team. I want one player to give me a high batting average with power (.300/30/100). The second player should offer some home runs, a high average, and plus stolen bases (.300/10/60/40). The last option will be a balanced player (.300/20/80/20). The rise in speed in 2023 will add more steals to the player pool while also raising the target number to finish high in the standings in the stolen base category.

Note: Each season, the talent pool in pitching changes along with injuries. When there is elite depth in pitching, fewer batters hit over .300, leading to lower targets in batting average.

Hitting Budget

You can divide your hitting budget any way you like and devise a plan to retain as many offensive points as possible. I want to build a base in all the hitting categories, and I’m willing to pay for it. I will spend $90 to $100 on three to four players. The player pool fluctuates yearly, and a fantasy manager must adjust their plan to the changing inventory. In most seasons, my starting point for spending on offense would be $180 of $260. 

Eight Foundation Bats

When deciding on your key players in a single league auction, a fantasy manager must develop a plan to roster a C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS, and three outfielders. These eight players will be the core of your team.

Each season, I study the offense player pool at each position. First, I determine the three core batters I want to target in the auction. The next step is deciding which positions have the most depth and weakness. Then, I’ll formulate a plan for spending at each position that gives me the best chance to fill my categories. At the same time, I identify potential values and breakout players.

Player Pool

In the American and the National Leagues, there are 15 teams in each league. There are nine available starting batters, leaving a pool of 135 starting players divided by 12 fantasy teams (11.25 potential starters per roster). Most fantasy managers will have between 10 and 12 starting hitters in their lineup. Every team will likely have three holes (part-time players). Out of those 135 starting slots in lineups, there are probably a dozen or so players who don’t play every day.

When building your roster, you can put your holes (low at-bat players) anywhere in your starting lineup. As the season progresses, the hope is to fill some of your low-productive spots from your bench or the waiver wire.

Core Spending

Depending on your budget plan, a fantasy manager will spend between $150 to $170 on your eight-core hitters. Patience is required to execute the end game. The goal is to find as many players as possible who could get full-time at-bats for short money. When filling your remaining hitting spots, you need to look for players who get the most at-bats or young players with upside. The player with the most upside in playing time might be someone other than the hitter who earns a starting job when the season starts.

Finishing the Backend of Your Roster

Most AL or NL auction league managers are afraid to take a zero in their starting hitting lineup. Sometimes, buying an upside minor league player in the auction is better than risking losing a potential impact player in the reserve rounds (bench players).

In fantasy leagues, purchasing a low-upside player with playing time risk makes little sense in the long run. Instead, I would much rather roster a player like OF Wyatt Langford in an AL-only format in 2024, hoping he gets called up early and seizes a starting job. A weak backend middle infielder with no real upside in at-bats for $1 tends to limit your team’s ceiling.

In most seasons, a player with similar part-time at-bats can be found on the waiver wire or rostered in the reserve round. Which is more important: a once-a-week player or a hitter who could get regular at-bats at some point in the season? This decision is challenging because the once-a-week player could get more at-bats if an injury increases playing time.

I look for three or four upside players to fill the backend of my roster while understanding the waiver wire will help fill some of these voids.

Get a Feel for Each Player’s Value

A fantasy manager will succeed more in auctions by developing a solid game plan before heading to the draft table. When deciding which core batters for your team, research completed auctions where fantasy managers play for real money. The flow of players will be different, but you can get a feel for public opinion.

The LABR auctions in early March give fantasy managers some insight into the player pool early in spring training. Knowing a player’s market value helps the pre-auction building process.

You should never be surprised by any player’s value at the auction or draft table. A good player is going to draw much interest. If you want a top-tier player, you should be ready to make your winning move.

AL/NL Auction Pitching

Pitching is the most challenging part of fantasy baseball. It would be easy to spend a ton of money on my pitching staff in an auction. I could build a strong base in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, giving me room for a mistake or two in the decision-making at the back end of my starting rotation. The downside comes from building a competitive offense with fewer dollars invested. 

There is no way of trading your pitching for hitting in the high-stakes market. It’s challenging to finish midpack in all five pitching categories in any baseball season, never mind winning 66% of the needed pitching points to have a competitive team. I must balance my budget between hitting and pitching in a non-trading format. Pitching is the most frustrating because of the high rate of injuries and failures.

If a fantasy manager had a choice, they would spend most of their money on hitting and fade pitching. This should be the plan every year, at least in the pre-game planning.

Searching for Values

When I evaluate the pitching pool, I look for buying opportunities. It could be a closer in waiting who might get the job early in the season. It could be a $10 pitcher who could match a few $20 arms. After reviewing the players, I must decide if I can build my staff for less money than expected.

Dealing with Saves

Many teams will buy one closer. If a single reliever gets 35 saves, my team might win only four points in saves in 12-team AL or NL Roto leagues. It doesn’t seem like much of a return on a $15+ investment. The truth is I need to get over 50 saves in most seasons in AL or NL auction leagues to get in the top third in saves, which is the main reason many fantasy managers try to buy saves cheap or even punt the category. It’s hard to justify spending 30 percent of your pitching with a reward of minimal points. 

My first step is deciding what to do with saves during the auction. After reviewing all the relievers, do I see a closer worthy of a top-tier investment in the auction? If not, is there someone discounted who could return top value? Then, is there a reliever I believe will get a job at some point in the season?

After answering all of those questions, I then have to decide how much I want to invest in saves. I would never punt saves totally. Why not grab a couple of closers in waiting in the reserve rounds? It won’t cost me any of my auction budget, plus I never know how the season will unfold. Saves are a category that could be the difference between winning or losing a league. My goal is to get a high percentage of saves per dollar invested. If I execute this model, I will increase my chances of competing. 

I know a stud closer offers more than saves. If the price is right, I might have to bite. In the early years of fantasy baseball, top closers were going close to $30. Over time, the market corrected itself, where the best closers now cost around $20. If I’m willing to pay $15 for a closer, I better be ready to snap up a top closer if the bidding slows down before $20.

Developing an Ace Foundation

Once I decide on my plan for saves, I need to find a couple of starters who will anchor my pitching staff. This part of an auction is a great equalizer. If I invest high dollars on an ace, it restricts the rest of my pitching staff unless I am willing to spend a higher percentage of my budget on pitching. 

When Pedro Martinez was in his prime, I could pay over $40 for him and still dominate the pitching categories. He had a massive gap over most of the field in ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts, and the winning target for ERA and WHIP was much higher.

I could invest $40+ in Gerrit Cole or Spencer Strider, but how much of an edge do they have over the other top pitchers in their respective leagues?

Am I better off buying two $20 starters to build my base? Is there enough talent that I could get four solid starters for around $50? Is it better to buy 200, 400, or 750 good innings? The answers to these questions are in each year’s pitching inventory. 

In some years, the pitching pool doesn’t have a lot of top talent. In other years, there might be enough arms to go around for many teams. After looking at the pitching inventory, it is best to find two, maybe three, pitchers I want to purchase as the core of my pitching staff. 

Like the hitting side, I have to find actual auction prices to see if I can build the base of my pitching staff. If I spend $60 on two starters and one closer, I need to know if those players’ prices fit my plan. If I view a pitcher as the key to my team, I might need to throw him on the mat early to see if I can execute your plan.

Pitching Spending

Most fantasy teams will spend between $60 and $80 on pitching. By making a $60 investment in three pitchers, I hope to set up my base for all pitching categories. My next six pitchers will be the difference between winning and losing. With limited remaining funds, I need to be well-prepared and disciplined to fill the backend of my pitching staff. If I bite early on an $8 pitcher, it might cost me a chance at two $4 pitchers I want later in the auction. Sometimes, it isn’t the player’s price; it’s the timing of when I roster them. 

A fantasy manager or two may try to dominate the pitching categories by spending $100 or more in some leagues. Unfortunately, when this happens, it tends to push up the prices of top-pitching inventory.

Sometimes, when the top-end pitching pool looks similar, all teams come to the table with the idea of buying a second-tier ace, which lowers the price of the top pitchers in the auction.

My pitching plan will dictate how much money I have to build my hitting team. It is easier to cheat pitching and spend more money on hitting. In some years, there will be an opportunity to do this. In others, I could be punting ERA and WHIP. I can still win over 50% of the pitching points if I lead in wins, strikeouts, and saves. There are so many different ways to go on the pitching side.

Each fantasy manager needs to find a plan that creates the best chance to win year in and year out. I believe in investing in your core players in a non-trading auction league. 

Research the player pool to find opportunities in the auction. Come to the auction with an early strategy and a late-game plan. Discipline is a must to execute in the end game if the goal is to win the critical difference-maker players late in auctions.


This 2024 Fantasy Baseball Auction Strategy is courtesy of Shawn Childs. Read Shawn’s expert fantasy analysis at his Substack.


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About Shawn Childs 970 Articles
Shawn Childs has been a high stakes Fantasy baseball and football player since 2004 where he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). In early years of the high stakes market in Fantasy baseball, he was ahead of the curve in player evaluation, draft value, and free agent bidding setting up four top-five finishes in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has four AL-only Auction titles, one NL-only title, and five Main Event titles plus an overall title in 2012 at RTFBC (netted $10,000). This success led to an induction into the NFBC Baseball Hall of Fame. His success in the high stakes market led to a career in providing Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Football content. On the football side, he’s competed and won in all different formats – auctions, draft championship, main events, and high-dollar leagues. He won 2nd place overall in the 2014 Most Accurate Salary Cap Expert contest at FantasyPros. As a dual-sport player, it was natural to transition to the daily games where he is a “swing for the fences type of guy.” Childs has appeared in one FanDuel NFL Live Final and one DraftKings NFL Live Final, a season-ending tournament which led to a couple of chances to win over $1,000,000.