Sunday, July 13, 2008

Your first-half fantasy All-Stars

The Major League Baseball All-Star Game has an identity crisis. Is it a showcase for the fans? A reward for the league's top performers? A popularity contest? Or just a big excuse to sell advertising?

These questions drive TV talking heads and sports talk radio blowhards crazy, but you’ll find no such conflict in the world of fantasy. Ours is a world of cold, hard stats, and All-Stars are simply whoever produces the best.

Still, we should take some time out to recognize fantasy's finest. Instead of playing an actual game, I've decided to invite the honorees to Mickey Mantle's restaurant in New York, home of this year's "real" All-Star contest. There will be cocktails, a few laughs and a heartfelt appreciation for those players who keep our fantasy teams afloat. Here are this year's esteemed guests:

One of the toughest choices to make, but steady Chicago Cubs rookie Geovany Soto gets a slight edge over a ton of solid if unspectacular candidates. Pat yourself on the back if you took a chance on this first-year star.

Lance Berkman’s merely simmering now after coming to a rapid boil at the start of the year, but he’s still head and shoulders above his first-base peers in nearly every category. You wouldn’t know it from looking at him, but the Houston Astros slugger is even fleet of foot – his 12 steals have already surpassed a career high. That’s called icing on the cake.

The Philadelphia Phillies’ Chase Utley is putting up the type of numbers we’re more accustomed to seeing from a corner infielder or an outfielder. He's working toward the first 50-homer season by a second baseman, which in fantasy terms is basically a free pass to clinch your league title.
Honorable mention to the Florida Marlins' Dan Uggla, who isn’t as far behind as you would expect.

The Marlins' Hanley Ramirez would be valuable for his steals alone. His hitting skills make him priceless.

It’s a two-horse race between Alex Rodriguez and Chipper Jones. While several of their numbers are eerily similar, Chipper’s flirtation with .400 earns him the nod – for now. As the summer drags on, that number will come back down to earth, and A-Rod should reclaim top-dog status.

You probably had a good shot at predicting this year's OF All-Stars before the season started: Matt Holliday (big-time slugger), Grady Sizemore (multi-category stud) and Josh Hamilton (whaaaat?). OK, nobody could have foreseen Hamilton being so awesome this year. But baseball's best feel-good story has delivered.

I’m going old-school with a four-man rotation, and an eclectic mix at that. Brandon Webb is no surprise after a couple years of fantasy excellence. Tim Lincecum is a mild surprise as a second-year star. And Cliff Lee and Edinson Volquez are major surprises, considering they likely went undrafted in most leagues.

No surprises here: stalwarts Jonathan Papelbon, Mariano Rivera and Francisco Rodirguez are warming in the bullpen. Saves are king in fantasy, and these guys are a combined 86-for-92 in save opportunities this year, with miniscule ERAs to boot. Enough said.

Did you really think I could leave A-Rod off this team? He may not win Husband of the Year, but this is an honor he surely deserves.

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