Draft Day Afternoon (The Replay Zone – March 2012)

By Jeff Polman
March ruminations from your trusty Strat-O-Matic replay addict.
Fifteen minutes till the phone call and Darin Orenstein arrives at my house. Darin manages the Fantastic Four, his second year in the East Coast Baseball Association (ECBA) Strat draft league, now in its incredible 39th season. Darin doesn’t have a pick in our annual draft until slot #21, but he has lots of nervous energy and will spend his time before then advising ME.
I manage the Culver City Skanks, entering my fourth year. I’ve been cramming with the cards and my fat copy of Baseball Prospectus for a few days now, and think I know who my first round pick will be. Co-commissioners Jim Sebastian of San Diego, manager of the always-dangerous Surf, and Larry Fryer of the Woodstock (MD) Sabres, have been e-mail fishing for my pick for about a week, but I’m keeping it a bigger secret than a Pentagon launch code. Larry, runner-up to Brett Carow in the Ultimate Strat Fan contest last year, will be another one of my tougher opponents, but even though he’s in the eastern division and will play me less times, I still can’t bring myself to steer him in the wrong direction with a bluff choice. And it’s hard to bluff when you don’t even know the pick yourself.
The original ECBA drafts, starting in 1973, were done through the U.S. mail. The commissioner would wait for everyone’s list of preferred picks to arrive, then stock the rosters himself. After that it was done with individual phone calls, or “phone tag,” as Larry puts it. This is the fifth or sixth conference-style draft call. Two of our twelve managers, Tom Beltz of the Bootleggers and Todd Costa of the Mass Maniacs, are not on the call because they have no picks this time, having traded away their stores over the winter.
I sent Adam Dunn packing after his putrid real-life 2011 season, and now only have David Ortiz and his 5-rating to play first base. Which makes drafting Eric Hosmer with my fourth pick in the draft a high priority. As appealing as Tampa’s Matt Moore seems, I tend to stay away from drafting uncarded players in Strat. I don’t even like rookie pitchers with cards, having gotten burned by drafting Steve Cooke and Edison Volquez with past #1 picks.
Darin and I announce ourselves in the phone room. We wait for the last two stragglers from Texas, Al Ringland (Sickies) and his son Warren (Jerseys), and then the draft is off and strolling. As predicted, Stephen Pow’s Comets take Mike Trout, another non-carder, for the first pick. Kevin Fisher of the Fisher Cats nabs Hosmer, and now my head is scrambling. The Sickies then take Brett Lawrie and I’m due up at the plate.
Let’s see…Michael Pineda is there, along with Doug Fister. But my pitching isn’t that bad. Dustin Ackley is available but I already have Pedroia. So I make my choice and it’s Michael Morse, Washington’s slugging first base lug who miraculously went undrafted a year ago. The Surf take Matt Moore, who will no doubt win 25 games a year now. Mark Gratkowski’s Marlyland Mayhem take Kipnis, the Jerseys Fister, the Sabres Jesus Montero, the Sickies Ackley, the Sabres Dee Gordon, the Sickies Mike Moustakas, the Fisher Cats Pineda, and that’s it for the first round.
The next six rounds take a little over two hours, and I’m pretty happy with my choices, opting for young starting pitching (Brandon Beachy), potential power (Lucas Duda), bullpen (Vinny Pestano), bench pop (Alejandro De Aza), more young starting pitching (Ivan Nova, even though Darin screams “DON’T TAKE HIM” from across the room), more starting pitching (Josh Collmenter), and more bench pop (Ryan Roberts). Last season was the only of three in which I’d missed the playoffs, and I think I’ve improved my offense. Whether I can get the dice rolls or beat a team with a lineup like the Fantastic Four’s (Kinsler, Pence, A. Gonzalez, Napoli, Fielder, Youkilis, C. Gonzalez, Upton) is another story.
But the ECBA draft, certainly like the thousands of other Strat league drafts going on, is always a good time. As Larry Fryer says, “It’s one of the two best days of the year, the other being New Card Day. And it easily blows away my birthday and Christmas.” Larry, who makes the annual pilgrimage up the east coast to attend Strat-O-Matic’s Opening Day, admits that while he likes that the conference call setup has replaced the old snail mail, everyone is so much smarter with their drafts now due to the Information Age.
“We used to be able to out-general manage people. You just can’t do that anymore.”
I’ll be back next month with an update on the action from my current blog replay, Mystery Ball ’58.