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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Temptation in Fantasy Baseball

My co-owner and I blew it again this year.

We've been in the same league for about 18 years, and most of the teams still have the same owners. There is so much habit in this league that when we get together for our annual draft, we actually sit in the same places in the living room as we have since the early days.

Things do change, however. The seven year-old who mocked some of our picks and told us that his team was better is now a second-year medical student. The teenagers who showed up more than a decade ago with their dads are schoolteachers. Dads of high schoolers then are grandfatehrs now.

My co-owner and I won the league when we were both single. Now married with kids (we have five between us, all between the ages of 6 and 11), we have resembled the Cubs and Phillies more than the Braves and Cardinals. We flirted with first several years ago, only to have J.D. Drew, Cliff Floyd, Geoff Jenkins and Adam Dunn go on the disabled list on the same weekend. Lose that concentration of power, finish in third out of eleven teams (it's a National League-only league, with a $260 salary cap, when you bid for a player you get him for 2 years at that salary, you can retain 8 of your 23 players for the next season, and those who you're retaining for more than a second year have their "salaries" increase by $5 a year. You have two moves a years when you can drop a player and pick someone else up without regard to whether the player you are replacing is hurt or in the minors. All free agents cost $10, but they don't count against the $260 cap in the year in which you pick them; they do for the next year and then they're subject to the raises I outlined above. here are 8 categories -- avg., RBIs, HRs, and SBs for hitters and Wins, ERA, Saves and WHIP for pitchers -- personally, I think that OBP should replace average and something should replaced steals, and, while we're at it, Saves is a silly stat too. Nevertheless, the league not only endures, it thrives, and the one night of the year -- when we draft -- is a special one).

More often than not, we finish in the middle of the pack. Some years we have good relievers but not good starters, good average hitters who hit home runs but hit solo homers and don't knock in as many runs as their lofty HR numbers otherwise would suggest. Other years we jam on homers and RBIs, but we're lead-footed and hit .250. Or, we get good starters who just don't win ball games. Put differently, there are a few teams out there who do a better job scouting than we do and put together better teams. My co-owner and are great at finding good free agents (and we're frequently in a position to do so because our starters go down -- right now we have both Ben Sheets and John Patterson on the D.L. and have picked up Cole Hamels and Josh Johnson to replace them; we might dump other starters upon the return of Sheets and Patterson), but somehow the first division has eluded us.

Which brings us to this year.

I have finally developed a maxim which is a) don't take too many players from the same team and b) don't take more than one player from the doormat. Unfortunately, we have five players from THE doormat of the National League, two of whom are explainable and three of whom are not. Yes, that's right, we have 5 Pittsburgh Pirates on our team. Now, we don't have Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, Al Oliver, Dock Ellis and John Candelaria. We have Oliver Perez, Paul Maholm, Salomon Torres, Jeromy Burnitz and Jason Bay.

What were we thinking?

Well, Bay is a gimme, an outstanding talent surrounded by guys who would be bench players on most other NL teams. Not keeping him from last season would have been the wrong move. Maholm has great promise, we paid little for him, so he was worth the risk.

As for the other three. . .

We panicked when down to the slim pickings among relievers and grabbed Torres (my mistake) because I forgot he was a Pirate (I didn't forget he was a Pirate, I just forgot the significance of his being a Pirate) and thought that I would get someone like Jorge Julio, who, actually, went before Torres and for a lot more money. Truth be told, I was fearful of getting a gasoline can for my bullpen. (Torres, arguably, is aking to using lighter fluid on the pre-treated charcoal briquettes). As for Oliver Perez, we bought into the hype that his great stuff is transcendant, and that has led to two problems. Rule Number 1: he pitches for the Pirates. Rule Number 2: he doesn't always show up with his lights-out stuff. Needless to say, the combination of inconsistency and the Pittsburgh lineup has had us conclude that we overpaid for Perez.

And then there's Burnitz. Short on power, we were, so we opted for Burnitz, who we figured might show something in Pittsburgh. This has turned out to be not such a good move because you now have to figure that if someone's in Pittsburgh, it's because he came cheap, and that has to mean that his career isn't on the upswing. Perhaps we were thinking that he was going to show the promise the Mets thought he would 7 years ago, but we don't imbibe, inhale or ingest so we probably thought he could hit .270 with 20 homers and 75 RBIs. Now we're hoping he gets traded to the A.L. or released.

5 Pirates.

Out of 23 players.

We forgot the cardinal rule (or should we say Cardinal rule, as perhaps it would be okay to have 5 Cardinals on your team) and now are paying the price. If we lived in a Harry Potter-like world, we could argue that we were bewitched. As it turns out, we were just plain stupid.

My guess is that most Rotisserie-ites in Pittsburgh wouldn't have more than 2 Pirates on their 23-man rosters, and then only to mollify the kids who might want to have some hometown players on the roster.

But 5?

And it's only mid-May.

Next year, I expect that we'll have no Pirates on our roster and that we'll try to keep our roster populated only with players who play on teams that are projected to finish .500 or above.

As for this year, well, there's always the hometown team and its streak of having won 13 of its last 14.

And I'd rather have that streak -- and the team that goes with it -- any day of the week.

But we've never finished in last place before, and battling two other teams for the distinction. The perennial doormat is in the middle of the pack of our league, but we're battling with two once-first-division teams for last.

So maybe the baseball worlds is upside down this year.

And maybe, just maybe, the Phillies will win the World Series.


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