2007 Mid-Season Report

By Chris McDonald

Sterling Starfish

 

Despite the implementation of an entirely new way of doing business, the 2006 JLB season followed a familiar script.  The Roundabouts, thanks to shrewd mid-season acquisitions and the continued production of an aging core, put together another triple-digit championship season—their 4th in 5 years.  They barely held off the upstart Ants, but that was no reason to give GMOY Dan Hausman pause—plenty other flashes in the pan had challenged the Roundabouts dynasty in the past (OAK and GF in 2003, STR in 2005), only to fall out of the money the following year.  After the most active hot stove league in JLB/JFBL history, however, it was apparent that he would not be able to waltz to his 6th title this year, and that 2007 might finally be a year remembered for a changing of the guard.

Make no mistake, however—the ‘Bouts were not on the outside looking in on all the wheeling and dealing.  Instead, they beat the competition to the punch in early November by acquiring proven fantasy ace Ben Sheets for an already washed-up closer Chris Ray.  With the bar raised early, the other contenders went to work.  After some intense negotiations involving nearly half the League, Great Falls pulled off a 3-way deal where they exchanged young slugger Justin Morneau for the stud starting pitcher GM JD Moss coveted, Carlos Zambrano.  The next day, Clifton imported some much-needed clubhouse leadership in the form of Miguel Tejada.  Two weeks later, the recently relocated and renamed 66ers shocked everyone by dealing Chien-Ming Wang for John Lackey, who’s been the sixth-best starter in the League this year.

With fans getting restless in Sterling and Herndon, their respective GMs began attempting to upgrade holes at first base.  Sterling GM Chris McDonald decided to bite the bullet and ship four valuable pieces over to Oakton for Derrek Lee, whose recovery from a wrist injury was still in doubt.  Herndon’s Danny White took a different approach, trading three overpaid fantasy mediocrities for Mark Teixeira, a true masher.  Meanwhile, the Robots, Clams, and Starfish all made big splashes in the free agent market as well—signing Carlos Guillen (4th-ranked SS), Aaron Harang (23rd-best SP), and Curt Schilling (easily the worst contract ever) respectively; all three brought in at least $7.5 million.

Once all was said and done, two things were clear—that the League was more clearly split into contenders and rebuilders than ever before, and that no one really knew which of the former would challenge the Roundabouts for the throne.  Now, halfway through the 2007 campaign, two more things are clear—of all the offseason transactions, Sterling’s moves were by far the worst, and despite that, they are crushing the competition.  For starters, Hunter Pence, the most overlooked part of the Lee package, has actually matched Lee’s production despite not getting called up until April 28th.  Meanwhile, Dan Haren, the center of Oakton’s side of the deal, is your no-brainer 2007 JLB All-star starter.  Schilling, signed to take Haren’s spot in the rotation, turned in 94 league-average innings before succumbing to a shoulder injury.

Rather than those that grabbed all the headlines in the offseason, it’s been the incumbents that have carried Sterling so far.  Absurd performances from Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, and Gary Sheffield have landed all three among the top-4 ranked hitters in all of JLB, in addition to the starting lineup of the JLB All-star team.  Additionally, in an unusual approach to roster construction for a contender, Sterling’s three highest-ranked pitchers (and five of their top six) have all been relievers.  All told, it’s been enough to keep the Studfish above the 100-point plateau since early June.

The season is far from over, however, and many other teams are eagerly awaiting the latest edition of the patented Starfish stumble.  The Sixers entered the break in 2nd, but with Ryan Howard, Lance Berkman, and Lance Berkman all regressing from last year, they’ll need one of those sluggers to break out to improve on their 2006 finish.  Whatever happens this year, look out in 2008 when Howie Kendrick, Ryan Braun, and Yovanni Gallardo will all be ready to chip in.  The defending champs checked in in 3rd place, well within striking distance of the terrified Starfish.  All eyes are watching Hausman to see if he caves to dealing some of Reston’s promising young talent for the stretch run, or continues to commit to the youth movement.  Their crosstown rivals, the Robots, have spent more time in second place than anyone else this year, but a stone-cold July found them in 4th at the break.  The health of their starting pitching has always been the ‘Bot’s Achilles heel, and this year is no different, with three fireballers on the DL at the moment.

The Clams have been one of the more fascinating teams to watch this season, as GM Jon Lasken has gone for broke, putting it all on the line for a season in which they might not even finish in the money.  They’ve already maxed out their budget, but with a balanced offense and a strikeout-heavy staff, the Clams have given Clifton fans something to be excited about for the first time in franchise history.  Regardless of how it works out, you have to tip your cap to Lasken for having the vision and drive to formulate and execute an organizational plan, rather than accept perennial cellar-dwelling.  After a rough April in which they lost the 2005 Cy Young Award winner, Chris Carpenter, the Heroes eventually got their feet back under them and have been steadily climbing through the standings ever since.  Though currently on the outside looking in, don’t bet against Herndon, who’s only missed being in the money once in six years.  The Firemen have never been in the money, or even remotely close to it, but with a season reminiscent of the Ants’ 2005, the light is finally visible at the end of the tunnel for Fairfax fans.  Relying exclusively on homegrown talent, the Firemen have hung around the middle of the pack all year, thanks to great seasons from JLB All-stars Prince Fielder and Alex Rios and near-misses Justin Verlander and C.C. Sabathia.

After finishing 1st or 2nd in the first three years of JFBL, Great Falls has yet to return to a money spot, and almost certainly won’t this time around.  It seems the Grenades expected too much too soon out of their up-and-comers, as Brian McCann, Ryan Zimmerman, and Jeff Francoeur have all disappointed.  They probably should have retained the services of proven slugger, Ken Griffey, Jr.  The Outlaws were one of April’s biggest surprises, thanks to stellar performances from their trio of All-Star starters, Haren, Brad Penny, and John Maine.  Unfortunately, the worst offense this side of Falls Church has hamstrung this team.  After back-to-back finishes in the money, Burke has plummeted this year, largely due to miserable seasons from Freddy Garcia and Chris Capuano and major drop-offs from Andruw Jones and Jermaine Dye.  The 2005 deadline deal of Curtis Granderson, Matt Cain, and Jered Weaver for Jeff Kent and Brad Radke may haunt this franchise for years to come.

The plucky Roosters gained almost 20 points during the month of June, and entered the break with a solid 42, good for 11th place.  Fortunately for GM Dan Fleeter, his lovable losers continue to lead JLB in attendance thanks to their gem of a ballpark nestled comfortably in downtown Reston.  Bringing up the rear is Falls Church, to no surprise, as the Foxes’ rebuilding machine is running at full throttle.  With a few current stars already establishing themselves in the JLB limelight, plenty of studs still down on the farm, and a bank account fat enough to buy South America, it’s only a matter of time before GM Carlton Davis has his squad in a pennant chase.

Now, on to your 2007 JLB All-Stars, with starters listed in bold:

 

Catcher

Russell Martin, FC (48-11-57-16-.307)  Despite tipping the scales at a pudgy 210 pounds, Martin’s 16 bags have broken the mold of the typical stud fantasy catcher

 

First Base

Prince Fielder, FFX (62-29-70-0-.284)  With the second-most taters in JLB so far, Prince is showing why he’s a big part of Fairfax’s future

 

Second Base

Brandon Phillips, ROU (60-17-47-16-.276)  Arguably the best free-agent signing this offseason, Phillips has provided 5-category pop for a cool $1.5 mil

Brian Roberts, ROB (47-3-23-26-.300)  This stolen base specialist recently brought his game-changing speed to South Reston, where he’ll play a key role in the pennant chase

 

Third Base

Alex Rodriguez, STR (79-30-86-9-.317)  Though nearly impossible for a player two years removed from being the JLB MVP to become a JLB All-Star, A-Rod has pulled it off by leading JLB in runs, home runs, and RBI at the break

Mike Lowell, CEN (31-13-53-2-.318)  This was supposed to be a transition year at 3B for the Sixers, but they haven’t missed a beat thanks to Lowell’s solid middle-of-the-order run production

 

Shortstop

Hanley Ramirez, STR (69-13-33-27-.330)  While maintaining his speed and picking up the power numbers, Hanley has set the table for the Starfish offensive juggernaut

Jhonny Peralta, OAK (51-14-50-3-.277)  With a nice rebound year for Jhonny in a mostly punchless lineup, Oakton will be able to deal from strength at the shortstop position this offseason

 

Outfielder

Gary Sheffield, STR (78-21-58-12-.303) After watching Sterling’s pathetic 8th place finish from the dugout last year, Sheffield entered 2007 with a chip on his shoulder, and opposing pitchers have suffered for it

Magglio Ordonez, ROB (70-13-70-2-.367)  Normally the 4th best hitter in the ‘Bot’s spectacular outfield, Mags’ sick first half has vaulted him ahead of his more heralded teammates

Alex Rios, FFX (62-17-53-9-.294)  Another young up-and-comer for the Firemen, Rios’ 5-category production could be an integral part of JLB’s next dynasty

Torii Hunter, BUR (55-19-69-11-.301)  At this rate, Torii is on pace to set career highs in all five categories—an impressive feat for a 7-year JLB veteran

Grady Sizemore, GF (72-15-46-24-.282)  Sizemore’s emergence as one of the game’s great young stars has been one of few bright spots in an uncharacteristically disappointing year in Great Falls

 

Utility

Eric Byrnes, BUR (51-13-48-16-.304)  Despite Byrnes’ flashy play in the field and on the basepaths, it’s hard to hear his name and not think of the horrid Jeanne Zelasko

 

Pitcher

Dan Haren, OAK (9-0-91-2.37-0.98)  After being part of the ridiculous bounty acquired for Derrek Lee, Haren has made the quantum leap from rotation workhorse to dominant fantasy ace

Chris Young, CLI (8-0-99-2.00-1.06)  Young is an example of the rare young star who was not traded out of Clifton before he blossomed

John Maine, OAK (9-0-85-2.50-1.11)  Maine took his four-pitch repertoire to the Oakton pitching factory this offseason, and under the Outlaws’ talented guidance has become a top starter

Brad Penny, OAK (10-0-75-2.48-1.23)  Penny rounds out the trip aces for the Outlaws, but he’ll have to prove he’s not just a first-half pitcher

Erik Bedard, FC (7-0-149-3.40-1.13)  Bedard has come out of nowhere to post an absurd 11.0 K/9 and anchor a young Foxes staff

Josh Beckett, BUR (12-0-92-3.44-1.14)  Beckett suffered from the league switch more than any other pitcher last year, but has regained his fantasy ace form

Ian Snell, ROU (7-0-93-2.93-1.17)  As the Roundabouts finally begin to turn over their roster while attempting to remain in contention, Snell is a starter they can count on now and in the future

Joe Blanton, ROO (7-0-71-3.17-1.08)  Blanton has been part of a steady staff that has kept the Roosters in games, but they’ve yet to reap the rewards in the League Standings

Ted Lilly, HER (7-0-89-3.83-1.13)  After boasting the best pitching staff in JLB for three straight years, injuries have forced Herndon to turn to Lilly, and he hasn’t disappointed

 

J.J. Putz, ROB (1-24-44-0.88-0.59)  A setup man just a year and a half ago, Putz has since established himself as the most feared closer in JLB

Jose Valverde, ROB (0-26-38-2.83-1.14)  Valverde’s resurgence has helped give the Robots one of the toughest 8th-9th inning combos in JLB