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Living a Fantasy

Me and fantasy sports have a rather unusual relationship. I don’t play in 10 leagues a year for each sport. Just one for me and it’s been that way since I started in 2001.

I don’t play in all of these new-age fantasy leagues that have popped up, like fantasy golf or fantasy auto racing. I’m strictly a baseball and football guy.

But for that one baseball or football league per year, I turn into Daniel Plainview.

I do everything I can to win. I put in the research and the mock drafts and the magazines. Emotionally, I crumble. I have made myself physically sick through all of the stress that I put on myself through fantasy sports. I have cried. I have broken things. I even fainted once.

And yet, through all of my work, I went through 15 leagues without a title, causing the group of high school friends that make up our league each year to say that I was cursed.

Then in 2008, with the help of players such as Josh Hamilton, Ryan Howard and Mark Teixeira, I finally won a league. And, keeping a promise to my friends on that one day when I did win a league, I got my championship ring.

Well, I didn’t win it exactly. I bought it. It’s one of the best $200 investments I’ve ever made, and on the underneath side of the ring is this engraving: “The Curse Is Over.”

————

The point of all this is to show that I do know a little something about fantasy sports. So on the day before baseball resumes, I thought I would give out some fantasy thoughts for each position, such as most valuable player, best sell-high candidate and best buy-low candidate.

My prized possession.

My prized possession.

Like the 1994 New York Rangers.

Like the 1994 New York Rangers.

CATCHER

Fantasy MVP: I could say Joe Mauer and I don’t think anyone would have a problem, but he missed a month and was universally one of the top catchers off the board in March. But Pablo Sandoval was taken near the end of many drafts and all he has responded with is a .333 batting average, 15 homers and 55 RBIs. He has played only three games at catcher, but his multiple position eligibility is a big plus, too.

Sell High: Brandon Inge has also been quite a value this season, but I am less of a believer in him than Sandoval. He’s already very close to his career-high of 27 home runs and he has hit more than .230 after the All-Star break just once since 2004. The problem here is that the name value of Brandon Inge, no matter how good his stats look, probably won’t bring you in return what he is worth right now.

Buy Low: Russell Martin has been one of the most disappointing players in fantasy this year. Yeah, he’s hitting in an awkward slot in the Dodgers lineup, but Matt Kemp is showing that even an eight-place hitter in that lineup can produce. Martin is way too good of a hitter to keep hitting below .280 all season. Oh, and I bet he hits more than two home runs after the break. Try to see if you can get Martin on the cheap from a frustrated owner.

FIRST BASE

Fantasy MVP: Sure, Albert Pujols was probably the first or second pick in your draft, but his numbers are so much better than anyone else at the position, he is producing higher than expectations and could challenge 60 home runs this year. Oh, how I pray that he’s clean. He’s a beacon for the sport right now.

Sell High: Who would have thought that when I called Chris Davis nothing more than a Russell Branyan clone in March that I would be insulting Branyan? It’s hard to believe in a .280 hitter who has never hit above .257 in any year and has already reached his career-high in home runs, the only standout quality of his game.

Buy Low: There’s not much here, considering that the window to get David Ortiz at his lowest price has closed. You might still be able to get Lance Berkman at a small discount, but that’s about it. Garrett Atkins qualifies here, but I’ll get to him a little later.

SECOND BASE

Fantasy MVP: This is a tough call, but I’ll give the nod to Aaron Hill. I liked him a couple of years ago, but he didn’t really breakout until 2009. His average is declining a bit, but it looks as if his power is legit.

Sell High: Part of me wants to put Ian Kinsler here because he has yet to play a season without missing 30 games, but maybe he finally stays healthy. Dustin Pedroia is a guy who fits here because I think a lot of people are expecting him to put up the power numbers that he did last year. He’s not going to. His name value could land a pretty big take.

Buy Low: Jose Lopez has been OK this season, but go look at what he did after the break last year. I am expecting big things out of him in August and September.

SHORTSTOP

Fantasy MVP: I almost gave this title to Ben Zobrist at second base, but instead, I’ll give it to him at shortstop where he is the clear winner. It is amazing to look at his stat line and to think that he wasn’t even a starter until mid-May. Until then, he was sitting innocuously on all fantasy waiver wires. And I think he’s not going to fall off in the second half.

Sell High: You have to go with Zobrist’s teammate Jason Bartlett. For a player who hit eight home runs in his previous 367 regular season games coming into this year, Bartlett has matched that total in 68 games this year. And that .347 average will even out soon enough. Bartlett will still put up good speed numbers, but this ride is too good to be true.

Buy Low: Call me stubborn — because I am — but I still think that Jimmy Rollins can turn it around. He just can’t be this bad all year long. And it looks as if he may be starting to turn it around. In July, he is hitting .378 with six steals and seven RBIs. I expect him to be a bit more like the Rollins of 2006 (maybe not 2007) for the duration.

THIRD BASE

Fantasy MVP: It has to be Mark Reynolds, who is rated as the top third baseman in fantasy baseball, according to Yahoo! and ESPN. I was able to snag him with the 205th pick in my 10-team draft in March, which I was happy about. But I don’t think anyone expected it to pay off like it has. For a guy who swings for the fences all the time, a .258 average is tolerable. The power will certainly stay, but I am still unsure if you can really expect 25-30 stolen bases.

Sell High: I don’t think there is an obvious choice here, but one player is a slight concern. I don’t know how much you could get for him, but if you really think that Chone Figgins is going to score 130 runs in that lineup and bat over .300 with his approach at that plate, you are playing a joke on yourself.

Buy Low: I think it’s Alex Rodriguez. In my league, a team just traded Chad Billingsley and Gil Meche to get A-Rod. The speed is gone because of the hip injury, but I think that’s a pretty good steal for a player who I expect to have 35 homers at the end of the year.

OUTFIELD

Fantasy MVP: Much like the pitching positions that follow, it’s hard to pick one winner from such a large crop, but I’ll take Raul Ibanez. Many drafters liked the prospects of his hitting in Citizens Bank Park before the season started, but his age sent him to being a middle-round pick, but he’s producing like a first-tier stud. He has knocked in 60 RBIs in 64 games.

Sell High: Torii Hunter is certainly a candidate. He is hurt and has never hit above .300 in his career for a season. He is the second-ranked outfielder, according to Yahoo!, but that seems like a pretty thick ceiling for him. As soon as he gets off the DL, try to persuade someone through Hunter’s first-half production.

Buy Low: Alfonso Soriano is one of the most frustrating players to own because he just can’t help himself from swinging at balls that cut and slide right to left out of the strike zone, but a .233 batting average??? That’s a huge outlier. Expect his RBIs to go up, too. There has to be an owner out there that can’t stand to see him swinging at everything. Make an offer.

STARTING PITCHER

Fantasy MVP: It’s Zack Greinke, without a doubt. He is starting to come back to the mean, but you can’t deny what he did for so many teams in the season’s first two months. He is the MVP also because he wasn’t even drafted in many leagues until about the 15th round.

Sell High: I’ll repeat it until the cows come home — whatever that means — Dan Haren, Dan Haren, Dan Haren … . I know he is one of the top three players in fantasy baseball right now. Good. Trade him! His career ERA is a run higher after the break, and it’s even worse when you look at his splits from the past three seasons. Get out while you still can!

Buy Low: I can’t believe Cole Hamels‘ ratios are still as high as they are, but, traditionally, a better second-half pitcher and I think track and pedigree have to figure in here as well.

RELIEF CLOSER

Fantasy MVP: Setup men, be dammed. If you have are in a league that counts holds, congratulations. You are in one of the most pointless leagues in the world. I’m just talking about closers here.

Fantasy “experts” always say to wait on closers and this year gives us another reason why that’s probably a good strategy. That is because the second-ranked closer in Yahoo! is a guy who didn’t even have the job when the season started, Ryan Franklin. But he has 21 saves and has an ERA and WHIP under 0.80. Serves me right for being so convinced that Jason Motte was going to be great this year.

Sell High: Even though I own him, I am not a huge fan of David Aardsma. Maybe there is something about being the closer that brings out the best in him, but I think it’s foolish to believe that he’ll keep his ERA under two … or even three.

Buy Low: Why anyone would trade for saves is beyond me, because many other relievers who are available are just one injury or a couple of bad outings away from being a cheap replacement to your team. I don’t want to suggest anyone here because it should be useless, but if you insist, Brad Lidge can’t go anywhere but up from here. And I feel the same about Matt Capps, but his job security is a little less guaranteed.

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