from my draft:
originally the big names would come out first, people would overspend, then prices would come down but not dramatically, because the "poor" people would bid up the other good players at least enough to keep the other owners honest. right around the middle of the draft, the prices would plummet. the few conservative owners would then either get into mini-bidding wars, or snatch the best of the rest players for good prices and basically be able to push the poor teams around.
over the years, some of the other spending teams would learn to become conservative, which led to your idea of the conservative teams spending early and getting guys they want.
i think with the exception of one year, i have always been the conservative who never brings up guys i want early, and tries to save as much money as possible for middraft.
the year i spent money early, is the ONLY year i finished out of the money since my first season.(money=top 3,i finished 4th)
last season was my most ridiculous draft yet, as a few people had uner $100 left, and EVERYONE was under $180, and my roster read OF C Beltran $33. THATS IT. Bad drafting from the other regulars led to more trades than usual and the newbies finishing 1st and 2nd (i took 3rd) i wouldve won with a good final week. oh well.
basically, i STILL think its best to never bring up anyone you want early... let whatever big names you want fall as far as possible, if you get stuck in the secondary bidding-war for them, you still have a better chance of getting them cheaper than bringing them up early. Once the prices start to drop, then you have to decide on a case by case basis, I like to try to bring up some guys I want and sneak a them through cheaply right around the time when the last few stars or names are still out there and people start trying to save their money to get into the 14th best 1b-bidding war.
I also think its important to have $20-30 more than most other owners when you enter the $5 and under players mark. this assures you of getting most of the players you want to fill out your roster by letting you win 2 or 3 bidding wars. I have only seen ONE person use this strategy and get stuck with his 20 extra dollars and it was because the sleepers and bench players he targeted for the late rounds were awful. nobody else wanted these players.
the longer you play, the better you can correctly guess exactly what players you can afford for $260. Last year, I walked away fromt he draft table with almost the entire roster I had planned before the draft.
just like you say, owners have smartened up to bidding a lot early, which creates mid-draft bid wars, but surpringly enough they smarten up to that TOO, and then continue to smarten up to every new weakness they expose yearly until they have perfected their drafting. So every draft is different but the basics still apply: unless youre missing out on cheap great players early, the more money you have later the better you can control the draft.
"Baseball is like church. Many attend. Few understand." -- Leo Durocher