I've never been the hugest Stephen Stills fan, but as I thought back on this fantasy baseball season, my mind kept singing the refrain, "Love the one you're with."
That was the theme of my experience with Childs Play, a team I professed to hate in a midseason column. I spent way too much on Todd Helton and cast my hopes with pitchers who got hurt or just stunk. (Andy Pettitte, Eric Gagne and John Patterson were three of my 10 least favorite people on Earth this summer.) Until late July, I languished in the bottom third of my National League-only league.
I had opportunities to cash in current assets for future goods around that time but kept looking at my team and thinking it couldn't be that bad.
So I accepted none of the "dump trade" offers, picked up ex-Orioles Jamie Moyer and Jeff Conine off the waiver wire, and planned to ride it out in hopes of finishing fourth.
Well, wouldn't you know, Childs Play ended up running away with second place. We couldn't challenge league winner Brenn Jones. (He had both Ryan Howard and a guy named Pujols.) But, led by unexpected stars such as Garrett Atkins and Hanley Ramirez, my team turned in a satisfying, life-affirming season.
So in honor of the squad, here's a look at my all-fantasy team for 2006. These guys aren't the best at their positions so much as the ones who swung seasons by drastically outperforming expectations.
Catcher: Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves. McCann was another member of Childs Play. I liked the second-year man before the season and went an extra dollar to get him in my auction. But .333 with 24 homers and 93 RBIs is more than good; it's a season that would fit neatly into a Hall of Fame career. Here's hoping McCann and Joe Mauer are this generation's Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane.
First baseman: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies. I touted him as a possible 40-homer guy coming in. But, of course, he just obliterated the competition in power stats and shocked everyone by hitting .313 with 108 walks. His name shows up on many, many championship rosters.
Second baseman: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins. He was an afterthought on draft day whose best projections called for a .250 average and 12 home runs. The Rule 5 draft pick hit .282 with 27 homers. That's why people love baseball.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins. Of course, I think Uggla's double-play partner was even better. I paid $1 for him to fill my last roster spot and got 119 runs, 17 homers and 51 steals for my investment. I now call him a building block, and though Jose Reyes gets all the hype, this guy's numbers are almost as good.
Third baseman: Freddy Sanchez, Pittsburgh Pirates. I hate to look past my guy Atkins, whose 29 homers and 120 RBIs obliterated expectations. But Sanchez has to be one of the five unlikeliest batting champions in history, and he was available as a waiver pickup in many leagues.
Outfielder: Jermaine Dye, Chicago White Sox. Dye had always carried the whiff of disappointment for me. But he might have been the best all-around fantasy hitter in the American League this year, and he probably didn't cost more than $20 in most leagues. I've also seen his name on a lot of league champion rosters.
Outfielder: Eric Byrnes, Arizona Diamondbacks. I'm guessing the Orioles wouldn't have let him go if anyone had thought he'd have 26 homers and 25 steals. That's fantasy gold for a couple of bucks on draft day.
Outfielder: Dave Roberts, San Diego Padres. Despite that dramatic postseason steal when he played for the Boston Red Sox, he had become a forgotten man for fantasy owners. But his .293 average and 49 steals this year thrilled the guys who bought him for $3 in the waning moments of their auctions.
Designated hitter: Frank Thomas, Oakland Athletics. He's another guy who was available on waiver wires in many mixed leagues until late May. His 39 homers reminded us that he was once the right-handed Ted Williams. Really.
Starting pitcher: Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds. The right-hander got no attention but won 16 games and led the National League in strikeouts. This is one of those stat lines that people will see in February and say, "Huh?"
Relief pitcher: J.J. Putz, Seattle Mariners. Putz is the classic, lurking setup man who's available on the cheap in April and transforms into an overwhelming closer by May. Those 104 strikeouts against only 13 walks in 78 1/3 innings say he's for real.
And with that, we close the book on fantasy baseball until I get my first 2007 guide in December. Hope everyone else found something to love this year.