HorsefeathersThe calendar says it’s early July, time for most to enjoy a summer that is just beginning.  For an ever increasing contingent of Fantasy Football players, however, the calendar tells them there’s three weeks until training camps open as they count down the days of summer in anticipation of the coming football season.   The Fantasy preview magazines have hit the stands, there are fantasy rankings to consider and draft cheat sheets to be written.  There is also the very important business of deciding where to house your online fantasy football league and what kind of players should be a part of it.

In its infancy, Fantasy Football appealed to its participants for a number of reasons.  It allowed them to pit their knowledge of the game against one another, compete for cash prizes and stay connected with friends.  Back in the day, anyone that wanted to play fantasy football had to first assemble at least nine others with a common passion; not always an easy task. Next, one of the members needed to agree to be the “stat guy”, diving into the NFL summaries each Monday morning in order to update the league’s standings.  Weekly transactions became problematic if league owners were remiss in phoning in their lineups.  Not a perfect system but, all in all, better than the alternative: no league at all.

Before the advent of online fantasy football, many who wished to be participants found themselves on the outside looking in.  Simply put, if you couldn’t find enough guys to play, you couldn’t play either.  Until CBSSportsline, Yahoo and ESPN came to the rescue.  Now, individuals have the ability to link up with each other regardless of their geographic location and experience the same enjoyment as those in a friends’ league.  With the new technology, however, comes a number of choices to be made regarding statistics, rankings and drafts.

Of the three, I prefer CBSSportsline.  While free leagues are offered, their premium leagues offer quite a bit more than Yahoo and ESPN for the fee charged.  Mock drafts, player updates, rankings, cheat sheets, injury reports roster grids and a player comparison tool are all featured on a site more easily navigated than its competitors.  YAHOO and ESPN offer more than enough to satisfy the Fantasy Football Fanatic and do so mostly at no cost.  The one thing each has over CBS is the ability to tailor free friends’ leagues, something not available on CBS,

Finally, for Mock Drafts, the pick here is Mock Draft Central, as it offers free signup for once daily drafts and membership options that range from monthly to yearly.  Essentially, for a few bucks, you can sign up for one month in July and get unlimited mocks until your draft in August.  Also, members are allowed to create drafts, giving you an opportunity to simulate the draft circumstances that exist around your own tailored leagues.

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.

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