HEAD-TO-HEAD LEAGUE FORMAT
It is my sixth season playing in this 10-team, 5x5 league, and I have somewhat of an idea as to most of the owners' drafting tendencies. There are a couple of newcomers, however, so it will be interesting to see their approach. The online draft begins and nine of the 10 owners are present. The lone absentee will be on "auto draft" (I hope, for his sake, he's pre-ranked his players). When the order is randomly selected 30 minutes prior to the 25-round, "snake order" draft, I'm assigned the ninth slot.
Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and Vladimir Guerrero are the top three picks, followed by Johan Santana, Carlos Beltran, Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada and Mariano Rivera. For me, it's a slam dunk at No. 9 to take Bobby Abreu, one of the few five-tool players in the majors. Being that I place a premium on stolen bases in head-to-head leagues, Carl Crawford is my next pick at No. 12. With those two selections, I should be quite comfortable with steals this season. Prior to the Crawford selection, Manny Ramirez and Ichiro Suzuki are selected at 10 and 11.
In addition to steals, I also like to focus on saves. Drafting solid closers will make life easier during the season and also give me some trading ammunition with owners that are hurting for relief. As a result, I select Trevor Hoffman and Armando Benitez with my next two picks to anchor my bullpen. Both figure to pitch on winning teams and also in pitcher-friendly parks, which will result in a lot of tight, low-scoring games. With my steals and saves categories intact, I can now focus solely for the next few rounds on run-scoring, run-producing and high-average hitters (although Abreu and Crawford are more than adequate in those areas as well) and choose Aubrey Huff in the fifth round to play third base.
Moving from left to right "around the horn," I select Michael Young to be my primary shortstop. I thought Young in the sixth round was a nice roster fill since the guy does a little bit of everything, including steal bases, and doesn't figure to drop off much in his hitter-friendly confines in Texas. I conveniently pick up Mark Loretta in the seventh round to satisfy my need at what is easily the weakest position in fantasy this season – second base. Loretta should score a ton of runs and hit for a respectable average once again, as he seems to have experienced a career resurgence since landing in San Diego.
With the closer ranks thinning out, I grab Guillermo Mota and Jose Mesa with my eighth and ninth picks, respectively, to round out what is likely the best bullpen in our league. Now I'm absolutely set there and might pick up another stopper later to give me that extra edge when engaging in trade talks. My 10th pick is a nice spot to choose a solid catcher, in this case Boston's Jason Varitek, who is once again part of the top offense in baseball. Unlike with most backstops, I can anticipate on which days Varitek is resting. When Tim Wakefield pitches for the Red Sox, Varitek gives way to the knuckleball-catching Doug Mirabelli. So I can snag Mirabelli on a game-by-game basis, or maybe select an everyday player that happens to be catcher-eligible (see Rounds 16-20 commentary), allowing me to confidently bench Varitek to get those extra at-bats during the week.
These are rounds that prove to be very critical in rounding out my depth chart, providing me with solid backups and position versatility. I start with Aaron Rowand in the 11th. Like Young, Rowand gives me a smattering of category help with runs scored (94 in 2004), home runs (24), steals (17) and a nice average (.310). And his home park on Chicago's South Side has developed into somewhat of a homer haven. Also playing in what has proven to be a bandbox-type stadium is the Phillies' Chase Utley, who I take at No. 12. Utley is also first-base eligible, but I still select Phil Nevin at 13. For playing in hitter-hating Petco last season, Nevin's numbers were respectable and he gives me a second player in what should be a productive Padres lineup.
Next is Rowand's teammate, Juan Uribe, who gives me some additional depth with his eligibility at three infield positions and ironically improved upon his numbers last season with the Sox after leaving Colorado. What could be a huge bargain for me is Ben Broussard in the 15th Round. People forget about him because of Travis Hafner. But Broussard hit .300 with 13 HR, 43 RBIs and a .990 OPS in 210 at-bats after the break and could find himself in the lineup more regularly (Hafner would be the DH) after hitting .362 with a 1.018 OPS in 69 at-bats against lefties last season. He only hit .179 against southpaws in 2003.
Some quality players have slipped to these rounds, most notably the Indians' Coco Crisp, who went on a tear in the second half as part of a potent Cleveland lineup, and gives me some stolen bases as a bonus. While moving to U.S. Cellular Field (new Comiskey Park) should help the cause of Jermaine Dye, it's his injury history that may hurt him during the course of the season. He can be released, however, at the first sign of trouble. I select my first starting pitcher at No. 18, the Cards' Opening Day starter, Chris Carpenter. It may have behooved me to begin selecting my starting pitchers a couple of rounds earlier. But with the unpredictability of starters, and the collection of hitters and closers I've assembled so far, I'm not complaining.
In the 19th Round, I take the newly-appointed Brewers closer, Mike Adams, which now gives me the ability to possibly trade one of my stoppers later for another bat or quality starter. As I mentioned in the Varitek commentary, I select an everyday third baseman, Brandon Inge, who is not only catcher-eligible, but has flown under my opponents' radar. There's talk that Inge might even be the new leadoff hitter for the Tigers, which says that he could be a steal for me this late in the draft.
I select three more starting pitchers in these rounds: Bronson Arroyo, Jason Marquis and Tampa's Opening Day starter, Dewon Brazelton. Looking ahead to the first week of the season, Brazelton gets two starts at home, which is important since his home ERA in 2004 was an impressive 2.90, while his numbers on the road, including a 9.62 ERA, were brutal. In addition, both Arroyo and Brazelton pitch against what is likely to be an unimpressive Toronto Blue Jays lineup. I'll continually monitor, evaluate and tweak my pitching staff as the season rolls on. I also take specs in these rounds on outfielders Matt Holliday, who plays his home games at Coors, and Brady Clark, the Brewers new leadoff hitter