2011 Fantasy Baseball All-Contract Year Team

Fellow TSR fantasy baseball writer David Medsker recently reminded me of something legendary manager Sparky Anderson once said:

“Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.”

It got me thinking: What if you could build a fantasy team this year comprised only of players in the last years of their contracts? Granted, unless your league was made up of owners who have lived in a cave for the past five years, you couldn’t draft Albert Pujols, Robinson Cano and Jose Reyes on the same team. But since this is just for stickers and giggles, don’t sweat the details. (Seriously, have a little fun for once in your life.)

Without further ado, I give you the All-Contract Year Fantasy Team.

(Note: I’ve indicated if a player has a club option for next year.)

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Catcher: Jorge Posada, Yankees
Obviously Posada’s best days are behind him and now that the Yankees have Russell Martin to help share the catching duties this season, it appears as though the 39-year-old backstop is destined to finish his career as a DH. Hopefully the transition will mean fewer trips to the disabled list for Posada, who has landed on the DL four times in the past three years combined. There’s still 15-20 home runs left in his bat and with this being the final year of his contract, he needs to show the Bombers that he’s worth keeping around past this season. (Yadier Molina of the Cardinals also has a $7 million club option with a $750K buyout for next season, so he’s another possibility if you’re concerned about Posada’s durability.)

First Base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
I’m not going to insult anyone’s intelligence by writing about why Albert Pujols is the best first base-eligible player in a contract year, but what I will do is note that both Adrian Gonzalez and Prince Fielder’s current deals also run out in 2011. Talk about an interesting 2012 free agency year it’ll be for first basemen.

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Starting Pitchers

Philadelphia Phillies all-star pitcher Roy Halladay wins his 20th game as pitcher for the Philadelphia Philies during the Philadelphia Phillies-Atlanta Braves game in Philadelphia September 21, 2010. UPI/John Anderson

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There seems to be two types of fantasy owners when it comes to drafting starting pitchers:

Fantasy Owner #1: Hello Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum or Felix Hernandez in the early rounds. I’m going to draft at least one stud early and wish the dopes that wait to grab pitchers in the middle to late rounds good luck. Hope they like playing Russian Roulette.

Fantasy Owner #2: While the morons are grabbing supposed studs in the first couple of rounds, I’m loading up on offense since it’s more predictable than figuring out what starters won’t have Zack Grienke-type 2010 campaigns. I’ll grab my pitchers in the middle rounds and be just fine.

No matter which fantasy owner you are, the No. 1 factor when it comes to drafting pitchers is understanding how the scoring system is set up in your league. If you play in a rotisserie league, then you’re probably fine employing Fantasy Owner #2’s philosophy and then making adjustments throughout the year depending on what you need (i.e. trading away saves for strikeouts, or speed for wins and ERA).

On the flip side, if you’re in a head-to-head league where you know a pitcher like Halladay can be the difference between winning and losing a couple of categories, then you may want to think about nabbing a starter early. Again, it’s all about understanding how the scoring is set up in your league.

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2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings: Outfield

Colorado Rockies left fielder Carlos Gonzalez flips his bat after striking out against the San Diego Padres at Coors Field on September 13, 2010 in Denver. The Padres beat the Rockies 6-4. UPI/Gary C. Caskey

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We’ve always viewed outfield as your one-stop shopping when it comes to fantasy baseball. Once your roster has taken shape and you’re looking to address potential weaknesses, the outfield position can be extremely useful.

Obviously we don’t need to sell you on Ryan Bruan, Carl Crawford or Carlos Gonzalez. They’ll go in the first round. We also don’t need to convince you to take Josh Hamilton, Matt Holliday or Matt Kemp, who will all go in the second. We even don’t need to say much about Shin-Soo Choo, Nelson Cruz, Justin Upton or Andrew McCutchen, because you know their value in the third and fourth rounds.

But when you start to get deeper into your draft and you notice that you lack speed or power, that’s when knowing what players can help is beneficial.

Need speed?…

Juan Pierre, White Sox
Pierre gets labeled as a “one category player,” but that’s not really the case. Sure he stole a whopping 68 bases last season, but he also hit .275 and scored 96 runs. Obviously you’re not drafting him for his power, but he’s more than just a base stealer – draft him with confidence.

Michael Bourn, Astros
The problem with Bourn is that he’s usually overrated on draft day. He was one of only three players to steal 50 bases last season and people will overpay to have him on their roster. Unlike Pierre, who’ll score 90-plus runs and hit between .275 and .280, Bourn will probably top out at 85 runs, hit .265 and rack up only 40 RBI. Granted, those numbers are only slightly worse than Pierre’s, but just know that if you draft Bourn, you’re probably overpaying for steals (which maybe you’re fine with).

Raja Davis, Blue Jays
Along with Pierre and Bourn, Davis was one of the three players last year to swipe 50 bags. The problem is that he might not come close to doing it again if he doesn’t draw more walks. That said, he’s projected as the Jays’ starting centerfielder and his defense will give him plenty of opportunities to play. He may not steal 50 bases again this year, but 45 is certainly a reasonable expectation.

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2011 Fantasy Rankings: Third Basemen

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Third base: it’s almost as bad as shortstop.

In retrospect, we’d like to add a twelfth MLB player we would not want to be in 2011, and that is Jose Bautista. Going undrafted in most leagues, he scored over 200 points more than any other third basemen in one of our leagues last season, which means he now has a giant fantasy bullseye on his chest, and if he doesn’t finish in the top five among third basemen this year, he’ll be considered a bust. The reason? The sixth-ranked third baseman in the draft projections is a second baseman (Martin Prado). Yikes.

San Francisco Giants 3B Pablo Sandoval watches a splash home run head for the water as Arizona Diamondbacks catcher John Hester (L) looks on at AT&T Park in San Francisco on September 30, 2010. The Giants completed a sweep of the Diamondbacks with a 4-1 victory. UPI/Terry Schmitt

“Ski-doosh.”

But fear not, fellow roto-geeks. There are some bargain picks to be had at the hot corner once the big five (Evan Longoria, Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman, and Bautista) are off the board. Obviously your best bet is to get one of them, but if that is not an option, stock up on as many other positions as you can, and with some luck, these men below will hopefully keep you competitive.

Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox
The Greek God of Walks will obviously do more than just keep you competitive, but you’ll need to wait a few games (ten in most leagues) before you can play him there. Once he’s set, though, just sit back and enjoy the show. And by the show, we mean the shots of Youkilis cursing at himself on the bench whenever he makes an out. Competitive bugger, that Youkilis.

Pablo Sandoval, Giants
The Panda lost 38 pounds this offseason, and is already tearing the cover off the ball in spring training. We love players who have something to prove, and after compiling a limp .268-61-13-63 stat line in 2010, Sandoval is that guy. But is he really sloted to bat eighth in the order? That’s a little disconcerting.

Aramis Ramirez, Cubs
Contract year, ahoy! Yes, the Cubs have an option for 2012, but it’s at $16 million, and it will only be guaranteed if Ramirez wins the MVP or the Cubs go to the World Series. (In other words, it will not be guaranteed.) He looked like his old self by year’s end after a putrid first half, and with the addition of Carlos Pena, the Cubs lineup has the potential to be dangerous. It could also implode at a moment’s notice – witness yesterday’s dugout dispute, which involved the normally laid-back Ramirez – but we expect Aramis to sing for his supper.

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2011 Fantasy Rankings: Shortstops

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Abandon hope, all ye who enter here. Shortstop is the new second base, a fantasy wasteland where only six (!) players are projected to be drafted in the first ten rounds. Six, out of a hundred. That’s bad.

New York Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter warms up before the Yankees take on the Texas Rangers in game four of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium on October 19, 2010 in New York. UPI/Monika Graff

“Hello. I’m Derek Jeter, and you’re not.”

Worse, only five of those players are proven fantasy performers year after year, and even that is stretching the truth until it nearly breaks. Truth be told, there is one guy in this group (Hanley Ramirez) that has held up as a reliable fantasy stud. The rest are streaky, as in ‘Will Ferrell in “Old School”‘ streaky. (Tulo, we’re looking at you.) What is a fantasy manager to do once Hanley and Troy Tulowitzki are off the board? For starters, don’t panic, and for God’s sake don’t reach. Continue to take the best guy on the board, and see if one of these guys lands in your lap.

Jose Reyes, Mets
The late, great Sparky Anderson once said, “Just give me 25 guys on the last year of their contracts; I’ll win a pennant every year.” You think he wouldn’t love to have Reyes this year, since he’s essentially auditioning for all of Major League Baseball? The Mets are so bogged down with money issues that there has even been speculation that they will have a hard time paying their players, which makes the likelihood of a contract extension to Reyes unlikely. Meanwhile, the shortstop of the Red Sox, Marco Scutaro, has a player option on his contract for next year, which the club could buy out for $1.5 million. Don’t think for a minute that Reyes doesn’t know this, and will bust his ass to get him some Carl Crawford money. Having said that, don’t bid the moon and the stars to get him. If he comes to you, great. If not, then take a look at…

Marco Scutaro, Red Sox
Reyes’ 2010 stat line was .282-83-11-54-30. Scutaro’s line was .275-92-11-56-5. Nearly identical in every category except steals, and he can be had 11 rounds after Reyes is off the board. If you play in a points league and Reyes is gone, take a deep breath, and remember that the next best thing is a mere 110 picks away. Scutaro is the textbook definition of a value pick, even if he spends the entire year in the 9-hole.

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