The lasting image of the 2003 fantasy baseball season for me is that of a disgusted Tim Hudson throwing a wadded Dixie cup off the dugout steps after yet another blown save robbed him of a win.
That was my season: always in position, but never victorious. I made enough right calls for six months to have a shot at several league titles. Then a guy like Nomar Garciaparra comes along and goes nighty night for September and I find myself cursing another year of missed opportunities.
Okay, I did win one title and reach the finals in several head-to-head leagues. But like Hudson, I feel robbed. As we put the 2003 season to bed, let's take a look back at the season that was, and ask a few questions with an eye toward 2004.
What lessons were learned during the 2003 season?
If one thing was affirmed this year, it's that there is no shame in making a momentum transaction and signing a hot player. I'm not sure what my exact words were the first time I saw Esteban Loaiza's name appear on the buzz index for added players, but I think it was something like, "Look at all these idiots signing Loaiza."
Guess who had the last laugh? This was definitely a good season to be disgusted with your draft. Those of us who thought we aced every pick sat back and waited out slow starts from the likes of Paul Konerko, Josh Phelps and Tom Glavine. Managers who knew they had holes to fill post-draft were more likely to benefit from their freewheeling activity on the free agent market.
The bargains didn't end with Loaiza. Reggie Sanders hit 17 homers in July and August. Javy Lopez homered in three straight games in early May and didn't stop until he set a major league record for dingers by a catcher. Matt Stairs hit .413 in June and followed with a solid July. Carl Crawford stole 33 bases after the All-Star break.
The list goes on. The key for fantasy managers isn't necessarily knowing more than other managers; it's just a matter of staying active. Dontrelle Willis was 4-1 in many leagues before he was signed. Why? Because most managers are either inactive and don't check the waiver wire, or they are complacent and hesitant to shake up their roster.
Sure, a lot of these guys come down to earth in a hurry. But for every Stairs, who faded, there is a Marcus Giles, who hit .404 in July and then cranked eight homers in August. The lesson to carry into the 2004 season is to not be enamored with your 18th to 21st picks. Use those roster positions to frequently add/drop players until you find that hot hand that is still sizzling come summer.
Was this the worst first-round draft class in the history of sports?
I'm sure there have been worse – Pervis Ellison and Danny Ferry were once selected one-two in the NBA draft – but this one was pretty bad. You had injury-plagued seasons from Randy Johnson, Vladimir Guerrero, Curt Schilling and Pedro Martinez. Barry Zito was riddled with hard luck.
Alfonso Soriano failed to drive in 100 runs. Sammy Sosa corked his bat and reached a seven-year RBI low. Jason Giambi hit .250 after four straight years at better than .300. Magglio Ordonez's power numbers sagged to a five-year low. The only over-achiever in the bunch was Albert Pujols, who delivered as promised but may see his 2004 draft stock fall a bit as he'll lose his third base eligibility over the offseason.
Who is the most important 2003 rookie to remember?
New York Mets shortstop Jose Reyes hit .330 in July and .355 in August before going down to injury. He was successful on 12 of his last 13 stolen base attempts. When he struggled, hitting .205 in June, he was still clutch, driving in 15 runs in 20 games.
The knock on Reyes is that he doesn't get on base enough. Sure enough, he walked just three times in his first 164 big-league at bats. With his on-base percentage hovering right around his batting average, Reyes was not a legitimate leadoff threat. Manager Art Howe was forced to hit him in the eighth position.
Something clicked in August. He walked 10 times in 27 games, scored 24 runs and stole seven bases. Again a viable leadoff option, Reyes is capable of a .300, 30-steal season and could score a ton of runs sitting atop a healthy Mets lineup.
Should Keith Foulke and Rocky Biddle be subject to criminal prosecution?
The answer here, quite simply, is yes. Foulke had an MVP-type season, winning nine games while saving 43 and holding opponents to a minuscule .184 batting average. What he needs to be held accountable for is his abysmal record when protecting leads handed to him by Tim Hudson.
When Huddy delivered him the ball, Foulke looked more like Eric Plunk than a Cy Young candidate. He blew five saves all season. Four of them came at Hudson's expense, robbing him of his second career 20-win season. To further infuriate fantasy owners, Foulke stuck around to win two of the games.
Biddle's crime was single-handedly derailing my fantasy season in early July. He blew saves in back-to-back starts for Javier Vazquez. My fantasy team never recovered from his second meltdown. Flares that were falling for hits started finding gloves. Turned ankles became severe sprains. I'm not exaggerating here – the change in attitude in my fantasy clubhouse was noticeable.
I'm not expecting federal charges against either closer. At the very least, however, they should be subject to detainment the next time they set foot in Sunnyvale. There has to be a suitable punishment. Traffic school? Roadside garbage pickup? Am I the only one who feels entitled to some form of retribution?
How many leagues will I join in 2004?
The answer is two – one rotisserie and one head-to-head – and the matter is not up for debate. The madness has to end. I turn down league invitations like Norm Peterson passes up rounds on the house.
Since I believe in full disclosure, my official record for 2003 goes like this: Second, third, second, first, fifth, second, ninth, second, fifth. You may ask how Mike Harmon and I fared in our Experts' League. Well, I don't care what credit card receipts or casino surveillance video you can produce, I was never in Las Vegas for that draft.
That's it for a few months on the baseball front. Hope you all enjoyed a heartbreak-free fantasy season.