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Let the games begin

Ian Kinsler has the greatest career first half to second half differential of any active player.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Today is Final Four Saturday, so I'll be watching a lot of college hoops this evening, but tomorrow night the 2009 fantasy baseball season gets underway as the defending World Champion Philadelphia Phillies host the Atlanta Braves.

As I previously wrote, Friday night was my "big" draft and as always I came away from the three-hour auction with some good values and some regrets.

This is an all-offense league - no pitching is involved. Points are scored by accumulating a combination of total bases plus runs, RBIs and stolen bases from 10 starters. There is also a team scoring feature in which you get one point for each run your team scores plus three if they win the game and a bonus seven points if they throw a shutout (ex: Phillies won last night's exhibition game over Tampa Bay 3-2, which would be worth six points).

We also use a random player selection feature. The players to bid on are not nominated by owners, but rather are selected from a stack of 3x5 cards by the auctioneer. This prevents all the good players from coming out early and makes money management an important feature in our league.

One of my basic theories in an auction draft is that owners are excited at the beginning, no matter how many times they have done it and this group has been together for more than 20 years. So owners have a tendency to bid early and often. I prefer to conserve at the beginning to have a monetary advantage later in the draft.

For the first hour, players came and went and though I helped push the bidding along, I didn't have a player on my roster. Some of my favorites were on the block, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton and Hanley Ramirez, but I passed as the bidding went through the roof. It means changing my strategy "on-the-fly", but that's part of the fun of Draft Day.

Two of my first successful bids were on middle infielders who I think will have very good years. I tabbed Robinson Cano, second baseman for the New York Yankees and Alexei Ramirez newly converted shortstop for the Chicago White Sox.

Cano had a disappointing 2008 season, at least from a fantasy point of view, as he was expected to improve upon a great 2007 (93 runs, 19 HRs, 97 RBIs, .306) and went backwards instead. He failed to live up to his Average Draft Position (ADP) of 62. But I'm expected him to return to form in 2009.

Ramirez surprised everyone in 2008, hitting 21 HRs and knocking in 77 runs while hitting .290. Now with a full season under his belt and a shift from second base to shortstop, he could easily be a top-five at his new position. And I got him for just six dollars.

I picked up an under-appreciated Nick Markakis (106 runs, 20 HRs, 87 RBI, .306) and then I made my first mistake. I got caught up in the bidding for the Phillies, my hometown team, and spent more than expected or than I should have.

But I still had more money than anyone else and when the best third baseman went up for bids, no not the one recovering from hip surgery, I grabbed the Mets' David Wright.

I added Oakland's Matt Holliday to my outfield contingent, but as I'm looking over the available players still to come I noticed just three good first baseman left and I absolutely need one of them. I'd prefer Ryan Howard (who wouldn't) because he would fit with me having the Phillies, but then I know I'm going to be in a bidding war if that's what I really want and I'm no longer in control because another fantasy owner has more money than me.

Here comes the Howard card and the bidding immediately jumps to $50. It cruises through the $60 mark with no signs of slowing. Past $70 the number keeps climbing. Boom, Howard cracks the $80-mark and I make my final bid of $91, the maximum I have left, but I'm outbid.

It's not the end of the world as I now have the most money left and I simple wait for the final star first baseman, Mark Teixeira, and slide him into my infield rotation. Because I didn't win the Howard bidding, I also have enough money to purchase Ryan Ludwick (37 HR, 113 RBI, .299) and Kelly Shoppach (21 HR, 55 RBI, .261).

So here is the team I'm going to war with on Opening Night. It's likely to look a lot different by season's end, but it has a great deal of potential. Of course, unfulfilled potential has killed many a fantasy owner, so now we sit back and watch them perform, evaluate how they are doing and make trades and pickups as needed.

I'll be updating you on this team's progress throughout the season. Good luck to all you fantasy owners out there as the long-awaited 2009 fantasy baseball season finally begins.

2009 Opening Day Starting Lineup

C - Kelly Shoppach, Cleveland

1B - Mark Teixeira, New York Yankees

2B - Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

SS - Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox

3B - David Wright, New York Mets

OF - Matt Holliday, Oakland

OF - Nick Markakis, Baltimore

OF - Ryan Ludwick, St. Louis

UT - Jorge Cantu, Florida

UT - James Loney, Los Angeles Dodgers

Team - Philadelphia Phillies

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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