Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The calendar has just turned to December, pitchers and catchers don't report for another few months, but on this cold afternoon I thought it would be fun to look ahead and give you my early picks for the 2009 MLB Fantasy All-Star team.
These are not necessarily the best players at their respective positions, but the best value based on their likely ADP (average draft position). In other words, even though Albert Pujols puts up the best statistics at first base, doesn't mean he automatically wins the fantasy All-Star nomination, because as a top-five draft choice he is expected to perform at a high level. Perhaps the All-Star selection will go to Adrian Gonzalez (2008 ADP - 84) or Aubrey Huff (2008 ADP - 363) who will likely be drafted many rounds later and might put up similar numbers.
At the very least it will give you something to argue about for a while.
Catcher - Joe Mauer, Brian McCann, Russell Martin and Geovany Soto will be top picks and drafted within the first four rounds, but San Francisco's Bengie Molina will give you the best "dollar value" in 2009. He hit .292 with 16 homers and 95 runs batted in and might not be drafted until round 12.
First Baseman - Pujols will be one of the first four selections in your draft, but Lance Berkman will do more to help your fantasy team win the title. Berkman is coming off a 114 run, 29 HR, 106 RBI, 18 SB, .312 season. Those numbers are close to Pujols' stats and in fact better in runs and stolen bases. And he didn't have Carlos Lee protecting him in August or September.
Second Baseman - Chase Utley will likely miss two months of games and Dustin Pedroia can't play better than in 2008 when he won the AL MVP award. He'll be drafted too high in 2009 because of this and not live up to the hype. The winner at second base will be Ian Kinsler, who was the best second baseman in baseball until surgery for a sports hernia ended his season prematurely. Kinsler still posted 102 runs, 18 HRs, 71 RBIs, 26 SBs and hit for a .319 average in 121 games.
Shortstop - Jose Reyes gets the hype because he plays in New York, but Hanley Ramirez is the best fantasy shortstop in baseball. He has the combination of power (33 HRs) and speed (35 SB) that doesn't come around often. Despite the fact that you will have to draft him in the top-five, he is worth it.
Third Baseman - In 2008 the position was dominated by Alex Rodriguez, David Wright, Miguel Cabrera and Ryan Braun. Braun, however, isn't eligible at 3B in 2009 and Rodriguez, Wright and Cabrera will be top-10 selections. I like Evan Longoria to avoid the sophomore jinx and be the best "value" at the position. Last year he had an ADP of 233, but he'll be a third-round pick this time around and still worth every penny.
Outfielder - Getting the right combination of speed and power is the key at the position. You could get one guy to specialize in stolen bases and two with power, or you could get both in a few selected stars. That's why Grady Sizemore (101 runs, 33 HRs, 90 RBIs, 38 SB) and Nate McLouth (113 runs, 26 HRs, 94 RBIs, 23 SB) make it onto my outfield squad. Josh Hamilton is the third member of the trio. He had a monster spring and slowed dramatically down the stretch, but he admitted that he got tired. That won't happen in 2009 and he should improve upon 98 runs, 32 HRs, 130 RBIs, 9 SB, .304 batting average.
Starting Pitcher - C.C. Sabathia, Johan Santana, Cliff Lee and Tim Lincecum will get all the press, but Roy Halladay just goes about his business year after year and puts up spectacular numbers. His 2008 ADP of 86 shows he was overlooked...again. There is something wrong when 20-11, 246 innings, 206 Ks, 2.78 ERA and a WHIP of 1.05 doesn't get drafted until the eighth round. I guess he's just not flashy enough and doesn't make waves, but he can play on my team anytime.
Relief Pitcher - Francisco Rodriguez set records (62 saves) and Brad Lidge was perfect (41 for 41 in save opportunities), but both will be overpriced in 2009. The best value will be the ageless wonder - Mariano Rivera. Rivera posted a very quiet 39 save, 1.40 ERA, 0.67 WHIP season and you know the New York Yankees will be better in 2009 than 2008. Plus he'll probably be saving games for Sabathia, Lowe and Chien-Ming Wang instead of Darrell Rasner, Sidney Ponson and Sergio Mitre.