It may have been a sad year for Mets fans but it wasn’t necessarily so for fantasy owners of the team’s two stars, 3B David Wright and OF Carlos Beltran, each of whom turned in terrific season for their Fantasy owners.  Those late season collapses that the Amazin’s seem to have perfected don’t seem to leave as many scars in the Roto world, especially when your guys are still producing.  Here then, is a list of NL stars who kept Fantasy players smiling throughout the season.

Catcher-Brian McCann noses out Geovany Soto for the nod as top backstop in the NL.   Despite an Atlanta lineup that had difficulty staying healthy and then lost Mark Teixeira, McCann stayed consistent all year.  His .301 BA, 23 HR and 87 RBI solidified his spot on top of the fantasy rankings headed into the 2009.

First Base-While Ryan Howard’s 46 HR and 148 RBI carried the Phils into the post season, it was Albert Pujols’ overall excellence that garners him the nod here. Albert posted an amazing .357 BA while smashing his usual 37 HR and 116 RBI.  That he did it all with an elbow that needed surgery is even more amazing.

Second Base-Philly’s Chase Utley seemed to lock up this honor by Memorial Day.  However, his slump during the middle months brought him back to the pack before his late season surge put him on top for good.  Look to grab his .292 BA, 33 HR and 104 RBI in the first round of next year’s draft.

Shortstop-Hanley Ramirez may have been the most productive Fantasy player across the board in the Major Leagues.  If only the Marlins would drop him from the leadoff spot and let him get 100 RBI.  As it was,  his .301 BA, 33 HR 125 R and 35 SB warrant the first pick of 2009.

Third Base-Wright.  The Mets’ third sacker has established a model of consistency that has almost become boring.  Even though his SB were down somewhat this year, he is still a top five pick in any league.

Outfield-Fresh off his being robbed of last year’s MVP award, the Rockies’ Matt Holliday set about raising his game.  While his 25 HR and 88 RBI were lower than expected because of a month lost to injury, his 28 SB and .321 BA made him one of the elite.  The subject of off season trade rumors, he’s a keeper no matter where he plays next season.  Carlos Beltran quietly provided another 25 HR 25 SB season while also knocking in 112 RBI and scoring 116 R.  Houston’s Lance Berkman split his time between 1B and OF and gains recognition here for his overall excellence.  On top of his .312 BA, 29 HR and 106 RBI he also posted 18 SB.

Starting Pitcher-If you were fortunate enough to draft Tim Lincecum, hang on to the youngster for as long as you can.  He had 18 W for a team that won only 70 and led the league in K by a wide margin; ringing up 265 batters.  Can’t wait to see his W totals as the Giants improve.

Relief Pitcher-Brad Lidge is an easy choice with 41 S in 41 chances while posting 92 K out of the bullpen.

While the Rays and Phils get down to the business of the World Series, we’ll stop to take a look back at those players that helped their Fantasy owners more than any others during the year.  As is often the case, not many of our honorees appeared during the post season in the world where the only numbers that count are on the scoreboard.  Disagree with some of the choices? Then, let’s hear it.  My email address is listed below.

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Catcher-Though his owners would love to see more power, Joe Mauer walked away with his second career batting title while leading AL catchers in RBI.  While it’s true that the absence of Victor Martinez and Jorge Posada made this a thin position, Mauer was still great.

First Base-Though it’s unlikely he’ll get enough votes to garner his second AL MVP award in three years, Justin Morneau was still better than anyone else at 1B this year.  Always asked to carry the offensively challenged Twinkies, he never disappoints.  A .300+ BA along with 30 HR and 100+ RBI have become the norm for this emerging superstar.

Second Base-Red Sox fans miffed at Kevin Youkilis being passed over at 1B are not going to be pleased with this selection either.  While Dustin Pedroia is being trumpeted for MVP consideration, the Rangers’ Ian Kinsler was head and shoulders above his peers.  Before going down in early September, Kinsler was in the top ten of most categories and was leading the league in total bases.  The fact of the matter is that Kinsler and whoever you replaced him with had better stats than Pedroia.

Shortstop- Michael Young makes it an all Texas keystone combo as his usual BA and R were enough to place him on top of a weak Fantasy group.

Third Base- Lost in the disaster that was the Tigers’ season was the huge production of Miguel Cabrera, who will go into 2009 with eligibility at 1B as well.  His .292 BA 37 HR and 127 RBI were enough to nose out Alex Rodriguez.

Outfield-One of two players to appear on our fantasy sleeper and all star lists is ChiSox OF Carlos Quentin.  Despite missing the last month, he still managed to cop the league HR crown.  Josh Hamilton gives the Rangers its third representative despite his late season fade.  Based on his Home Run Derby performance alone, he merits a nod.  His .302 BA 32 HR and 130 RBI simply sealed the deal.  Bobby Abreu takes the last OF spot based on a 20-20 season that also featured a .300 BA, 100 R and 100 RBI.

Starting Pitcher-Hard to ignore a 23-2 record, which is why Cliff Lee gets the nod at this spot.  Would have loved more strikeouts and looked st Roy Halladay but Lee takes a close race.

Relief Pitcher- Easiest call we’ve made all year.  Francisco Rodriguez set the Major league record for saves at 60.  Case closed.

If you were in an AL only league, it is highly unlikely that you enjoyed a successful season without a few of these sleepers falling into your lap.  Even in deep leagues, it is likely that most, if not all, of the list was either drafted very late or acquired as free agents.  However they were acquired, they provided a much needed boost to owners who went on to win their leagues.

In a season that saw perennial Fantasy studs like Jorge Posada, Carlos Guillen, Hideki Matsui, Erik Bedard, Victor Martinez, Travis Hafner and Chien Ming Wang all miss huge chunks of the season to injury, the skill of Roto players was tested throughout the season as free agent pickups became critical to each team.  Missing from the list below were players like Texas Rangers’ CI/OF Chris Davis who were called up in midseason.  Although their performance was terrific, it fell just short of our sleepers’ year long excellence.

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Catcher- Owners of Indians’ C Victor Martinez suffered through a miserable two months before his injuries became too much for him to deal with.  Taking a little sting out of the high pick that was likely used to acquire the Tribe’s backstop, however, was Kelly Shoppach, whose performance as VMart’s replacement may have permanently moved Martinez to 1B.  Shoppach belted 21 HR for Cleveland to lead all AL catchers and vaulted himself into the upper echelon at the position for 2009.

First Base-Even though he had produced a few 100 RBI seasons in Tampa Bay, it had been quite awhile since Aubrey Huff of the Orioles’ had drawn much fantasy draft day interest.  That won’t be the case next spring as Huff was one of the AL’s most productive hitters.  His .304 BA 32 HR 108 RBI were better than many that were picked in the first few rounds.

Second Base-Even though his post season performance brought him a lot of attention last season, there were not many who predicted the MVP caliber season turned in by Red Sox second sacker, Dustin Pedroia.  His .326 BA was a mild surprise but his 17HR and 83 RBI vaulted him into the first three rounds of 2009.

Third Base-Melvin Mora of the Orioles managed to turn the clock back a few years in his most productive season since 2004. Melvin poked 23 HR and had 104 RBI despite going undrafted in many leagues.

Shortstop-In a weak crop, Royals SS Mike Aviles gave owners a mid season boost by posting a .324 BA, 10 HR and 51 RBI after being called up to the big club in June.

Outfield-Jack Cust had 33 HR and posted a .374 OBP in Oakland.  In the Windy City, Carlos Quentin managed to win the AL HR crown despite missing the last month with a broken wrist.  His 36 HR and 100 RBI were leading the MVP race when he went down.  Milton Bradley rebounded from a knee injury and emotional meltdown in San Diego by making the AL All Star squad.  Hitting behind Josh Hamilton in the Rangers’ powerful lineup, Bradley flourished.

Starting Pitcher- Cliff Lee came off of most free agent lists and onto the top of everyone’s Cy Young list.  His 23-2 season was even more impressive considering the Indians’ season long struggles.

Reliever-With all of their sleepers, it’s no wonder the Orioles had their best season in a few years.  RP George Sherrill rounds out the list.  His 31 S in his first season as a closer boosted many owners into the top half of the standings.

by Moonlight Graham

2008 NL All Fantasy Sleeper Team

No matter how much preparation goes into a Fantasy season, no matter how many numbers are crunched and analyzed, no matter how much money is spent on gathering information, no one ever wins a championship without one or two players falling into his lap through no other means than dumb luck. The rookie pitcher selected with the last pick who suddenly becomes his team’s closer, the veteran coming back from injury that lands a spot with a new team or a player who suddenly realizes his potential are every bit as important to a Roto team’s chances as the players selected in the first few rounds. Simply put, you can’t win without them. Here is the 2008 Moonlight Graham All NL Sleeper team. All of them sure to have gone late or not at all in any draft. Hope you had a few of them on your squad.

Catcher

Ryan Doumit’s time as the Pirates’ backstop in waiting seemed to have come and gone. He’d shown flashes of his potential but had been moved to other positions to make room for Ronnie Paulino. When Paulino got hurt, Doumit took over and never looked back, posting a .318 BA, 15 HR, 69 RBI season.

First Base

Don’t even try to say that you saw this year coming out of Carlos Delgado. However, if you used a throwaway farm pick on him, you and the Mets laughed all the way to the bank on the heels of his 38 HR and 115 RBI. He even scored 96 R.

Second Base

Not only did Mark DeRosa reward fantasy owners with a career year but his multi position eligibility allowed them to move the versatile Cub and his 21 HR, 87 RBI, 103 R all over the field.

Third Base

It’s only been three years since Jorge Cantu posted 117 RBI for the Rays but it seems much longer. Last year was a complete bust as he only played in 52 G. Florida took a shot on him in ’08 and ended up with a three hole hitter that rang up 29 HR and 95 RBI.

Shortstop

After having lost all of ’06 to injury and playing a mere 46 G in ‘07, Cristian Guzman came into spring training battling for the Nats’ SS job. He prevailed and had his owners smiling all year with a .316 BA and 183 H.

Outfield

Prognosticators who had the Cards at the bottom of the Central division could not have foreseen the breakout season of Ryan Ludwick who more than doubled his previous career highs; logging a .299 BA with 37 HR and 113 RBI. In Pittsburgh, Nate McLouth used his strong ’07 finish as a springboard to a career year. That his 26 HR and 94 RBI came mostly from the leadoff spot was even more remarkable. Not many players achieve the vaunted 20 HR 20 SB Daily Double. Especially not from the waiver wire, where Jayson Werth of the Phillies was likely plucked by most of his owners.

Starting Pitcher

There was a lot of buzz in Reds’ camp last spring about a rookie pitching phenom. However, while Johnny Cueto was getting all of the attention it was another rook, Edinson Volquez, who emerged as the Cincy ace with 17 W and 206 K.

Relief Pitcher

Some preseason forecasts set the Giants’ win total only slightly higher than the 41 S recorded by stopper Brian Wilson. While his 4.62 ERA was nothing to write home about, he did post 67 K in 62 IP.

Next Week: 2008 AL All Sleeper Team

by Moonlight Graham

The HK Fantasy Baseball League

Did he really do that?

Last Sunday morning, having received an absolute gem from Johan Santana the day before, Skippy Shakes owner Bob Carr looked at the HK Fantasy standings and found himself one point ahead of the Mean Street Posse and a point and a half ahead of Ricciardi Brothers Inc. Having waged a two month assault on the top spot from as far back as twenty seven points, Carr had finally grabbed the lead with just one day to go. Unfortunately, he couldn’t leave well enough alone and almost managed himself out of a title.

One of the deals that catapulted his Shakes squad in the last two months was the acquisition of C.C. Sabathia. As the Brewers’ ace carried his squad toward the playoffs, he also carried Carr; allowing the Shakes to make huge gains in the pitching categories. So, with C.C. on the bump for Milwaukee’s finale, Carr was sitting pretty. Santana had given him the slightest of leads in ERA and WHIP. Leads that were crucial to holding on to the top spot. So, what did Carr do? He reserved Sabathia rather than risk a bad outing. The plan was to stay right where he was and allow the others to fall back. Sadly, he paid no mind to the results of his last grand plan to protect his ERA; the ill fated benching of Hideo Nomo on the day he threw a no-no at Coor’s Field. Lightning couldn’t strike twice in the same place, could it?

As Sabathia was holding the Cubbies to just four hits and one run during his complete game, Carr watched in horror as Jerry Manuel summoned Luis Ayala from the bullpen for the Mets. True to form, Ayala grooved one for Dan Uggla, pushing Carr’s ERA just below Ricciardi Bros. and creating a three way tie. That Tim Lincecum and Ubaldo Jimenez had strong outings for RBI only served to drop the Shakes further down in the category. Carr was distraught.

Resigning himself to being the perpetrator of the biggest bonehead move in league history, he flipped through the channels to see if there were any games still going on. That’s when he stumbled across the ninth inning of the Mariners- A’s game and found the now beautiful J.J.Putz standing on the mound protecting a one run lead. Forgetting for the moment that he had cursed Putz’s incompetence for two months, he now begged his fellow redhead for just three outs. You see, Carr was also tied in the saves category and could gain a critical half point if Putz could only close out the A’s. He did and Carr had his league title by the slimmest of margins. He still pulled the biggest gaffe in fantasy league history but at least it didn’t cost him a Yoo-Hoo shower.

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Next week, we’ll start to look back at the 2008 season with Fantasy Awards and readers’ tales of their successes and failures, booms and busts and plans going forward. Enjoy the playoffs as we turn our focus back to the world where the only numbers that count are the ones on the scoreboard. Incidentally, I like a Rays- Cubs World Series so, you might want to put a little money down on any of the other six teams.

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