OpinionSeptember 19, 2004

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The 2004 Cafe Fantasy All-Star Team

By Arlo Vander

This summer, we asked Cafe visitors to select this year’s fantasy All-Star team. Not surprisingly, opinions varied widely, and some of the races were extremely tight. The results are as follow:

Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
Who wouldn’t like a .339 average, 18 HR, 80 RBI and 7 steals thrown in for good measure from the catcher slot? In his first year with the Tigers, Rodriguez is on his way to yet another excellent season, with a 5×5 value of around $21 so far. Detroit’s backstop received nearly half the votes cast by Cafe visitors (49.1%), well ahead of runner-up Victor Martinez (20.7%), who has put together an impressive season of his own in spite of a recent slump.

While the number of votes received by Rodriguez and Martinez were in no way surprising, the lack of enthusiasm for two others was. Pittsburgh’s Craig Wilson, who leads all catchers in runs (88) and home runs (27) was only chosen by 2.7% of the voters; perhaps people felt that four games behind the plate this season made him unworthy of the honor. Javy Lopez’s 0.5%, on the other hand, is harder to explain. Lopez may not be repeating the monster campaign he enjoyed in 2003, but 19 round-trippers, 74 RBI and a .313 average are nothing to scoff at.

First Baseman: Jim Thome
Thome (31.4%) ahead of Albert Pujols (22.3%)? Here again, it looks like eligibility at more than one position took votes away from a deserving performer. Nonetheless, Thome is putting together an excellent season in Philadelphia. Heading into the season’s final weeks, his tally stands at 41 HR, 93 R, 100 RBI and a .277 average. With an OPS of .994 and no injuries or extended slumps this year, Thome is more than capable of anchoring a fantasy squad.

Second Baseman: Alfonso Soriano
This was a close decision, with Soriano narrowly defeating teammate Michael Young. San Diego’s Mark Loretta finished third in the voting, and all three have similar roto values. Soriano’s speed-power combination help give him the edge here, even though his runs scored and average have been slightly disappointing.

The second base position has held its share of surprises this year. Soriano may not have lived up to his first-round draft status, but thanks to Loretta, Young, speedy Brian Roberts, dependable Jeff Kent and a breakout season by Rob Mackowiak, finding a capable 2B has been far easier than anyone anticipated heading into the season.

Third Baseman: Scott Rolen
Speaking of positions with greater depth than expected, how about third base? Perennial disappointment Adrian Beltre is posting MVP-caliber numbers (or would be if it weren’t for the presence of Barry Bonds in the same league), all-everything Alex Rodriguez is putting together his usual spectacular season, Melvin Mora and Carlos Guillen are exceeding their owners’ wildest expectations, Miguel Cabrera and Aramis Ramirez are continuing to develop into stars, and the 3B-eligible duo of Hank Blalock and Mark Teixeira are making Rangers games a pleasure to watch. Add to that Vinny Castilla’s revival in Colorado, and players such as Aubrey Huff, Mike Lowell, Eric Chavez and Casey Blake, and you have one phenomenally deep position.

Among all these fantasy assets, Scott Rolen was the player Cafe visitors chose as this year’s top 3B, with 45% casting their vote for the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter. Considering that this vote was held before Beltre’s awesome August, this shouldn’t be terribly surprising. With a .320 average, 107 runs, 33 home runs and 121 RBI, the third-best mark in the majors, Rolen is putting together the best season of an already impressive career.

Shortstop: Miguel Tejada
One of the three players to collect more runs batted in than Rolen is Miguel Tajada (Boston’s David Ortiz and Colorado’s Vinny Castilla are the others). A .306 average, 95 R, 29 HR and those 131 RBI … yeah, those are stats you’d like to see from your shortstop. Tejada won’t be in the running for another MVP award this year, but his OPS of .879 is a career high.

With Alex Rodriguez listed at the hot corner, Nomar Garciaparra out of action for more than two months and Derek Jeter struggling early on, this vote was all about Miggy.

Outfielders: Bobby Abreu, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Edmonds
Choosing the best fantasy outfielder is a bit like picking the proverbial prettiest Miss America: with choices like these, how can you go wrong? Abreu, Guerrero and Edmonds have all posted monster numbers this year, and rank among the top ten 5×5 players overall. Each is worth over $35 in that format. Abreu is tied for third in the league in steals, has reached the century mark in runs and RBI, and has mashed 29 home runs. There’s no area of weakness anywhere in Guerrero’s numbers (112 runs, 32 HR, 114 RBI, 15 SB, .329 average), and Edmonds’s power numbers (42 HR, 110 RBI) make him a force to be reckoned with.

Nonetheless, it’s a bit surprising that Barry Bonds, currently the statistically most valuable player at any position in 5×5 leagues, only finished fourth in the voting with 9.3% of the vote. Also surprisingly, top speed-power combination Carlos Beltran was chosen by even fewer voters, finishing with 5.7% of the final tally.

Starting Pitchers: Johan Santana and Jason Schmidt
Back in May, when his ERA was a hefty 5.61, Johan Santana seemed a more likely candidate for the all-bust team than the All-Star squad. Since then, however, he’s been nothing short of spectacular. That ERA has dropped to 2.76, his WHIP is below 1, and his 240 strikeouts rank second only to Randy Johnson. Combine that with 18 wins and you have one heck of a turnaround.

Jason Schmidt, on the other hand, had an ERA of just 2.57 in late May and remained consistent all season before running into trouble in September. With a WHIP of 1.08, 16 wins and 232 Ks, Schmidt silenced all doubters and received 32.3% of the vote, the same amount as Santana.

Relief Pitcher: Joe Nathan
Forty-three saves, ERA and WHIP marks of 1.50 and 1.02, respectively, and well over a K per IP: not a bad debut as a closer. Joe Nathan has joined the ranks of the elite stoppers, while costing his owners far less than Gagne or Rivera.

Arlo Vander voted for Albert Pujols at first base.

Do you agree with this lineup? Who deserves the All-Star nod? Who’s missing from this list?

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