By J.D. Moss, Great Falls Gamers


            At the all-star break, it was a four-team race. By the middle of August, the Great Falls Gamers had pulled away and everyone else was battling for second place. The Gamers’ acquisition of Juan Gonzalez provided the much-needed boost as they finished with a seemingly unreachable 106.5. The Annandale Ants fell victim to a late-season surge by the Herndon Heroes, though the race was close up until the last day. StatTracker™ falsely reported a tie between the Heroes and Ants after the season was complete, yet the final standings had the Heroes up a half-point on the Ants for the narrow victory. What made the difference? It could have either been the last run, home run, or save for the Heroes, but they managed to take second place.

            The Fairfax Faithfuls, despite reaching as high as second in August, collapsed and dropped 14 points in the last week to fall to fifth beneath the Reston Robots. The Clifton Casinos also contended finishing sixth. There was a then a 23-point drop off to the next team, the Sterling Starfish. The bottom six teams definitely geared towards rebuilding from early on in the season.

            The season provided some unbelievable excitement. For most of the season, it was a tight race for the top spot. Barry Bonds took advantage of Oakton’s Tom Hall Stadium to blast 73 homes. ‘Ichiro-mainia’ invaded Fairfax and Albert Pujols became a household name in Great Falls. Most general managers were extremely active, taking a win-now or build for the future strategy. The season was not without controversy either. The renting players issue came to the forefront right in late June/early July, but Commissioner Chris McDonald handled the situation well and renting players will not be an issue in the future.

            The exhilarating auction set the stage for this season. An early run on closers caused significant price inflation and many great players went late in the auction. Pedro Martinez went for $60. Yet for that same price in the auction, one could have gotten the following lineup of nine position players, five starters, and three relievers: Einar Diaz, Paul Konerko, Alfonso Soriano, Aramis Ramirez, Rich Aurilia, Cliff Floyd, Lance Berkman, Luis Gonzalez, Edgar Martinez (UT), Kerry Wood, Matt Morris, Mark Mulder, Woody Williams, Brad Radke, Jeff Shaw, Troy Percival, and Bob Wickman. The combined statistics of these hitters, with where they would have placed as a team: a .304 average (1st), 861 runs (4th), 270 home runs (1st), 924 RBIs (1st), and 96 stolen bases (10th). The pitching staff put up the following numbers, going slightly over the innings maximum with 1266.1 innings: 82 wins (5th), a 3.50 ERA (2nd), a 1.19 WHIP(2nd), 960 K’s (9th), and 114 saves (1st). That team, with a 39/21 spending breakdown, would have combined for 94 Rotisserie points, good enough for second place—a remarkable feat. Considering that and the fact that six players went for as much or more than $45, it clearly benefited owners who saved money for later.

            The teams that had the most success were those who got a few star players early in the auction at reasonable prices and then grabbed a bunch of bargains near the end of the auction, specifically the Gamers’ strategy. Any auction will have its overpaying, but the rampant early inflation will shape the league for years to come. Jon Lasken’s strategy to stock up on four all-Star arms in Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Randy Johnson, and Greg Maddux did not fully pay off as he was not able to get that much in return for those aging veterans. Youth was definitely a premium as well, with unproven Ben Petrick fetching $19, third highest among catchers. Other players who might attract the bust label include Fernando Tatis ($18), Luis Castillo and Edgardo Alfonzo (both for $28), Andruw Jones ($45), Bartolo Colon ($33), and Richard Hidalgo ($24). It would be very interesting to see how differently owners might conduct themselves this year.

            At its winter meeting, the Jefferson Fantasy Baseball League passed an amendment to continue indefinitely. This certainly changes the strategy of anyone playing for the present, though it adds credence to long-range building. Each team will also be able to protect three prospects who they keep locked all season. Both changes should lead to an extremely interesting and exciting draft. With an early draft, however, there will be a five-round supplemental draft where teams can drop anywhere from zero to five players after rosters are set. All things seem set for another memorable season.



2001 Post-season Awards

Most Valuable Player: Sammy Sosa

                                    (Runners-up: Alex Rodriguez & Barry Bonds)

            Bonds hit 73 homeruns. Rodriguez, as a shortstop, hit 52 homeruns with gaudy numbers in every other category. But the award is for the most valuable player, not the  outstanding. Sammy Sosa led his team to a title and led the league in both RBIs and runs with 160 and 146,respectively. His RBIs rank him in the top-20 since 1900 and his runs place him in the top-25. Tack on his third 60+ home-run season in four years and a .328 batting average and there’s no doubt that Sosa was the season’s most valuable player on the league’s best team. He set career highs in runs, RBIs, walks, and batting average. With Moises Alou providing more protection in the lineup, expect Sosa to be in the running for this award every year.


Rookie of the Year: Albert Pujols

                                    (Runners-up: Ichiro Suzuki & C.C. Sabathia)

            Albert Pujols was not supposed to be in the major leagues this year. It took an injury for him to make the opening day roster, but he capitalized. He played last season at single A but was tabbed by Sporting News as the 2nd best hitting prospect in the minors last season. A fifth-round pick for Great Falls, he started the year at AAA Langley but was quickly promoted and made Tony Batista expendable. Pujols batted .329 with 37 bombs and 130 RBIs while playing four different positions for Great Falls. His emergence was one of the key factors in the Gamers’ success and he should man the hot corner in Great Falls for the next decade. Hyped A.L. M.V.P. Suzuki also had an incredible year, but Pujols emerged as the second most-valuable third basemen as a fifth round draft pick.


Cy Young Award: Randy Johnson

                                    (Runner-ups: Curt Schilling & Mark Mulder)

            From the time Johnson killed a bird on spring training pitch, it was clear he would have a special season. Other than Schilling, no one was within a ten-foot pole of Johnson. He led the league in ERA with an astounding 2.49, .49 ahead of Schilling. His 21 wins tied him for second, one short of Schilling and Matt Morris. He had a 1.01 WHIP and was second in innings pitched only to Schilling. But strikeouts are why Johnson is the Cy Young winner. His 372 Ks ranked him third in a single season since 1900 and was the highest in 28 years. Johnson simply dominated batters and formed an unstoppable 1-2 punch with Schilling, who wins this award any other year.


GM of the Year: J.D. Moss

                                    (Runner-up: Danny White)

            It is tough to pick someone other than the winner for this award, especially when the margin of victory was so great. Yet Moss had an outstanding draft—he was patient and waited for players to come to him. He grabbed three cheap closers, Alfonso Soriano and other prospects later in the auction after getting his stars in Sosa, Jeff Bagwell and Tim Hudson. He delved into his farm system to acquire Curt Schilling, got Paul LoDuca for a draft pick and acquired Juan Gonzalez to put the Great Falls offense over the top. He did make mistakes though, trading Jose Mesa for a draft pick and giving up Shawn Green and Kerry Wood for Jeff Kent and Richard Hidalgo. But he established the Gamers as the team beat next year and beyond.


Team Recaps/Outlooks


Great Falls Gamers- The Gamers were second for most of the year before making a late but big run for a huge victory. The injury to Mike Lieberthal and struggles of Richard Hidalgo were about all that were disappointing. Big seasons from R.O.Y. Pujols, Soriano, Joe Mays, LoDuca—essentially most of the roster—helped the Gamers out. Coming off a season where everything went right, G.M. J.D. Moss was still active, filling their one major hole in acquiring SS Jimmy Rollins. Led by M.V.P. Sammy Sosa, they should have the offensive firepower and speed this year to dominate again. Cy Young runner-up Curt Schilling and Tim Hudson were dominant last year and there is no reason to expect any let down this year. There are two questions that the Gamers must answer in order to repeat: 1) Will Jeff Shaw and Jason Isringhausen be enough in the bullpen and 2) Were the seasons of Pujols, LoDuca and Cory Lidle, among others, flukes or are they for real? If John Rocker can win the closer’s job in Texas, the Gamers stand in great position to repeat.


Herndon Heroes- After beach week, the Heroes stood atop JFBL before freefalling to fifth place. They slowly crept back up to 2nd place, edging the Annandale Ants. Bolstered by Mark Mulder and the acquisition of John Burkett, the Heroes will contend for the title. White has been very active this off-season, acquiring more pitching in Greg Maddux and Antonio Alfonseca, as well as dealing Mike Piazza for Bernie Williams and Robert Fick. White’s staff should be one of the best, if not the best, in the league. Expect him to win saves. The issue for the Heroes this year will be offense. Fick is a question mark, though Jason Giambi moving to New York should help compensate. You look at this team’s offense and don’t see a power outfielder or a shortstop who steals bases. But the bottom line is that they get it done all over the field. You got a slew of 20-20 guys, Giambi, Roberto Alomar and Chipper Jones are the best at their positions, and you have a staff where Bartolo Colon is the number 5 starter. Don’t be surprised to see the Heroes walk away with the JFBL trophy in 2002—in fact put them as the preseason favorite and White as the odds-on-favorite to claim top GM honors. However, they do not have a long window of opportunity, as Jones is moving to outfielder and Fick to first base this season; White will have his hands full next off-season.


Annandale Ants- The Ants spent much of the year in first place before falling to a final finish of third place. The team started hot and everyone expected them to fade much earlier than they did, so give them credit for that. Lance Berkman had a career year and Jose Mesa put together a good season without folding. However, with GM Mike Durgala being himself and not making any moves, be surprised if the Ants can match last season. They have serious holes at both C and SS and only two good outfielders. If they can find help in the draft for a utility player, they can survive with Matt Lawton as a starting outfielder—but that’s presuming Cliff Floyd stays healthy. They do have excellent starting pitching and look for Javier Vazquez to anchor that staff for years to come. However, Chan Ho Park leaving friendly Dodger Stadium will definitely hurt; his road ERA’s the past four years have been 4.83, 4.29, 5.04, and 5.21. The Ants have two of the best relievers in baseball in Trevor Hoffman and Kazuhiro Sasaki, but can their offense provide enough spark to keep the Ants in contention?


Reston Robots- The Robots made a late run but it wasn’t enough as they finished fourth last year. They will need career years from Bret Boone and Rich Aurilia to finished that high again next year. Vladimir Guerrero established himself as a five-category star, equaling his career total of 37 stolen bases this year in addition to scoring and driving in more than 100 runs for the fourth straight season. He helps anchor the best outfield in the league and the offense will be bolstered by the return of a healthy Mitch Meluskey. Corey Koskie will hope to improve upon his 20/20 season, and the move to Comerica Park could actually help gap-hitter Dmitri Young. The starters in Reston are weak once you get past Morris and Wade Miller, but the real problem is that they have only one closer. They have enough offense to make some noise, but expect a middle-of-the-pack finish next year.


Fairfax Faithfuls- The Fairfax Faithfuls seemed ready to claim second place before a late-season collapse dropped them 14 standings point in the last two weeks. This is a very young team that should contend next year and well beyond. He stole Kerry Wood and Shawn Green from Great Falls and grabbed Darryl Kile from the Reston Roosters too, but did give up LoDuca for nothing. Catcher is a big question mark here, but the rest of the offense is solid is Rafael Furcal is indeed fully healed. GM Kyle Bisutti has assembled the game’s top young staff with Wood, Kile, Roy Oswalt and Ryan Dempster, plus he has an injured Kris Benson who could provide quality innings at the end of the year. The big issue here will be the bullpen, especially if Jeff Shaw signs with Cincinnati and bumps Danny Graves back to the rotation. Look for a third place finish from Fairfax.


Clifton Casinos: The Clifton Casinos came away from their draft with Greg Maddux as their fourth starter. Now Pedro Astacio is their number two starter. GM Jon Lasken’s wheeling and dealing strategy led the Casinos to a sixth place finish and Lasken got right to work in the off-season, trading a disappointing Maddux for Mike Piazza. The team’s average could be scary with Richie Sexson and Tony Batista, but if those two provide expected power the Casinos finally have a good offense. Utility is a question mark though—the Casinos need a prospect to step up and perform. The staff though is in shambles with only Cy Young winner Randy Johnson and two shaky closers. Johnson has a year or two left in him, but for the Casinos to compete, they need their young pitchers to help—now! They have a solid group of young hurlers led by Chris Goerge and Jon Rauch, but the question is if any will step up for this year. A middle of the pack team unless they find some starting pitching from either within the organization or outside it—and Lasken is not afraid to pull the trigger.


Sterling Starfish- In a six team race, Sterling finished seventh. But look for the Starfish to be one of the more improved teams in the league next year. They have a solid infield, led by the league’s best player and M.V.P. runner-up Alex Rodriguez. If Jason Kendall and Fernando Tatis can rebound from last season’s struggles, look for the Starfish to make a run at the money. GM Chris McDonald has the young pitching to deal if Tatis struggles or the team gets hurt by injury. The acquisition of Adam Dunn gives the Starfish a tremendous outfield duo with J.D. Drew, though they still need a third outfielder. They have a bunch of great young pitchers but Barry Zito is the veteran of this stuff. If Kim keeps his closer’s job and the staff pitches to their talent level, watch out. They also have six picks in the first three rounds of the draft. A-Rod could have an even better year and watch for Ramon Ortiz to play a huge role in the Starfish ascension.


Burke Boomerangs- The Boomerangs finished eighth in a rollercoaster season where the emergence of Mark Buehrle was offset the by offensive disappointments of Darin Erstad and Jim Edmonds. After trading Sean Burroughs to the Reston Roundabouts for Ryan Klesko, GM Josh Bertman reacquired Burroughs as well as Juan Uribe for Scott Rolen. The Boomerangs have tried to acquire some offense this year and could surprise some if prospects Alex Escobar and Burroughs perform, but they don’t have the offense to seriously contend. Watch for Bertman to scour the draft for anyone who can provide his team with a long-ball threat. They do have an outstanding staff anchored by Mussina, Mariano Rivera and Buerhle, with überprospect Josh Beckett and newly-acquired Hideo Nomo certain to provide immediate help. In moving to pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium, Nomo will help keep this team competitive. But they will be lucky to finish middle-of-the-pack, but this team is clearly gearing for the future.


Fairfax Fireman­- GM Mike Keenan started building towards the future right before the deadline by shipping Juan Gonzalez to Great Falls for Shannon Stewart and picks. The Firemen have a potent offense, acquiring Carlos Lee as well this off-season, with Edgar Renteria being the only weak link. Larry Walker had a very quiet but superb year, hitting .350 with 38 HRs and 120+ runs and RBIs; he is dangerous if healthy.  The pitching staff could also surprise next season, anchored by Freddy Garcia and C.C. Sabathia. If Kip Wells adjusts to PNC Park and Aaron Sele has another good year, this could be a dangerous team. Keenan also holds the fourth and sixth picks in the draft, which could give him two more impact players. But with Antonio Alfonseca gone, if the pitching goes only two-deep, it could be another long year in Fairfax.


Reston Roundabouts- After dealing most of their offense to acquire Pedro Martinez and Kevin Brown, the Roundabouts had high hopes for a loaded pitching staff that also had Andy Pettite. But major injuries to Brown and Martinez dashed Roundabout hopes and forced him to stockpile for next year. GM Dan Hausman turned a waiver pickup and a first round draft pick into Brian and Marcus Giles. They are solid offensively, led by Jim Thome and 40/40 threat Bobby Abreu, and could have as many as five closers to go with Brown and Martinez. The acquisition of Scott Rolen also gives Hausman flexibility if Adrian Beltre continues to struggle with his comeback. “The Roundabouts organization is looking to contend next year,” Hausman said. “The breakout seasons that many experts projected from our young offensive players will occur next year in conjunction with the return of two of the top three fantasy pitchers. If things work out we will contend for a money spot.” With four of the first 16 picks in the draft, the Roundabouts will definitely be a force down the road. But if Toby Hall and Giles step up and the team avoids the injury bug that plagued them last season, they cold surprise some this season.


Reston Roosters- “Nothing went right for the Roosters last season,” GM Dan Fleeter said. “Nothing. Almost every pitcher missed several starts due to injury, if not entire months, and the Roosters' offense was mediocre at best.” Luis Gonzalez and the surprising play of two young shortstops were brightest spots though. With Jimmy Rollins now gone, Cristian Guzman has the starting job. At the beginning of the year, it seemed like the Roosters had one of the better staffs, but David Wells, Darren Dreifort, and Matt Mantei all suffered season-ending injuries early in the year. Tom Glavine and Al Leiter were not their usual selves, and trading Derek Lower and Daryl Kile, who both had good season, equaled the Roosters’ demise. Look for Johnny Damon to rebound and spark a seemingly dormant lineup. Fleeter holds the draft’s second pick and has been extremely active to make his team competitive next year and beyond. He added the top prospect in baseball, Corey Patterson, and has Drew Henson waiting for his chance as well. Fleeter has stockpiled young pitchers, with Bud Smith, Jon Garland, Brandon Duckworth and Tim Redding. The Roosters added veterans Andy Pettite and John Smoltz to his staff and should make a run at the money in the near future, if not this season. “Looking ahead to next season, the club has a fresh set of faces, young and old,” Fleeter said. “With new acquisitions and a clean slate in 2002, the pieces are in place for a rise of at least several standings places.”


Oakton Outlaws- The major question is Oakton is if this team will move out of the cellar next season. They have major question marks at catcher, first base and starting pitching. GM Mike Elias gave up rising superstar in Adam Dunn and this aging, injury-prone team could spend most of next season where they spent this one if they can’t stay healthy. The outfield, led by M.V.P. runner-up Barry Bonds, should carry this team, but Mike Lieberthal is always an injury risk and Mo Vaughn missed all of last season. Edgardo Alfonzo is moving to third base, something Elias will be forced to deal with next off-season. The offense is superb if healthy, but it is surprising that Elias, a pitcher himself, would put such little importance on starting pitching. He has managed to trade for major bullpen help, but his top starter (Ben Sheets) posted an ERA of 7.06 after the break. Juan Cruz should provide immediate help and Elias does have the top pick, with Mark Prior available as well as other talented arms. If they stay away from injuries, Oakton’s offense could open some eyes, but 2003 should be the year for them.