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June 6, 2007

Fantasy Focus

Over 35

by Kenn Ruby

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My father once told me that one of the saddest days of his life was when Phil Niekro pitched in his last game. My dad wasn't a particularly big fan of the knuckleballer. It's just that Niekro, who pitched to the ripe old age of 48, was the last player left older than he was. Niekro's retirement finally meant the end of Dad's childhood. At the time, I was 16, forever young, wondering if we'd ever see a guy in the majors born in the 1970s.

Now that I'm 36, there are only 70 active players older than I am, and they're considered old. Most major league players were born in the 1970s. Players born in the 1980s haven't hit their prime yet. One player who might be on the roster of some long-range thinker in your league--Giants third base prospect Angel Villalona--was born in 1990. And yet, some of the graybeards are still pretty good. In fact, I'd argue you could put together a good team in a NL or AL league with only players 35-and-over. Just because you wouldn't want this roster in a keeper league doesn't mean you wouldn't be in contention if you found yourself with this roster on draft day.

These aren't All-Star teams. There are slim pickings in the infield, and, Kenny Lofton aside, there's almost no speed. Some players are already breaking down, possibly because of their age. Because of the shortcomings, these teams are affordable--in a regular AL-only or NL-only league without inflation, these teams could have been bought for the standard $260 two months ago.

The larger question is can you win with these teams? The NL team looks like a true contender, and a pitcher could easily be dealt for an extra bat to put them over the top. The AL team may have farther to go.

National League

Catcher: Brad Ausmus (38) and Paul Lo Duca (35)

Our two catchers are nothing special, but combined they're hitting .275 with five stolen bases--you can do a lot worse. Lo Duca generally isn't worth his price tag, but he's hitting .307, so there's not much more you can ask.

First Base/Third Base: Scott Hatteberg (37), Mark Loretta (35), and Damion Easley (37)

Have you ever gone through about 70 percent of an auction before you realized that you didn't have any of your corner infielder positions filled yet? If yes, then it probably eventually looked like this one. While you probably could've gotten this trio for less than $10 (on a $260 auction budget) on draft day, they have been surprisingly productive in 2007. They've combined to hit .290 with 13 homers, 46 RBI, and 51 runs. Hatteberg and Loretta are both around .300, and Easley's seven home runs gives him the slimmest of chances at his first 20-home run season since 1999. More importantly, this cheap production gives you more money to spend on the rest of your offense and your pitching staff.

Second Base/Shortstop: Jeff Kent (39), Rich Aurilia (35), and Ray Durham (35)

None of these middle infielders has set the world on fire with his batting average, but with 82 RBI and 82 runs, it's unlikely any team full of young whippersnappers would be more productive up the middle. Kent's eight home runs and 30 RBI are both third on the team, and Durham leads our team in RBI while sharing the team lead in stolen bases. True, Aurilia hasn't done much yet, but in many leagues he qualifies at all four infield positions, which could come in handy.

Outfield: Barry Bonds (42), Moises Alou (40), Luis Gonzalez (39), Ken Griffey Jr. (37), Brian Giles (36)

BP's Player Forecast Manager priced this outfield at $55 before the season. While you might have had to spend more on draft day, all of these players came with significant risk coming into this season. Despite the baggage that comes with owning them, Griffey and Bonds have been worth the price this year, as both have 12 home runs and two stolen bases (Griffey, by the way, hasn't topped two steals in a season since 2000). Gonzalez, Alou, and Giles round out the outfield nicely, although both Alou and Giles are on the DL, and Giles might have to be replaced for a month. That's the problem with buying aging players, but you knew that going in.

Utility: Craig Biggio (41)

Jim Edmonds, Omar Vizquel, and Ryan Klesko were all considered here, but Biggio made it on the strength of his team-leading 32 runs--he's been better for his fantasy teams than his real one.

Pitcher: Jamie Moyer (44), Randy Johnson (43), Tom Glavine (41), Greg Maddux (41), John Smoltz (40), Trevor Hoffman (39), Orlando Hernandez (37), Takashi Saito (37), and Billy Wagner (35)

The first thing that stands out about this pitching staff is that there are two first-ballot Hall-of-Famers, and Glavine, Smoltz, Hoffman, and Wagner could all be joining Maddux and Johnson in Cooperstown someday. The second thing you might notice is that we have three closers, generally not a popular strategy. Still, with the aforementioned value in the offense, you can afford to splurge on three closers and six solid starters. Yes, you couldn't buy a staff like this in a NL-only league if there was any kind of significant inflation, but drafting from scratch, I'd put this staff up against any staff in the league. This team has 345 strikeouts, 30 wins, 45 saves, a 3.20 ERA, and a 1.14 WHIP.

American League

Catcher: Jorge Posada (35) and Jason Varitek (35)

With seven home runs, 37 RBI, and a league-leading .363 batting average, Posada may be the best fantasy hitter older than 34 in baseball. He's never hit above .287 for a full season however, so don't expect him to keep this up. Varitek is playing closer to his established levels, hitting .275 with 27 RBI.

First Base/Third Base: Jason Giambi (36), Jim Thome (36), and Melvin Mora (35)

OK, you know all about Giambi. Still, before his injury, he showed his usual pop with seven homers and 23 RBI. That may put him below-average at first base in the AL, but among the old fogies he's the head of the class. Thome missed three weeks with a rib injury, but has performed better while on the field, and is poised to blow past Giambi by the end of the season. Mora's batting average may be a mere .242, but he's solid in the four other categories with four steals, seven homers, 26 RBI, and 33 runs.

Second Base/Shortop: Mark Grudzielanek (36), Royce Clayton (37), and Chris Gomez (35)

When I started this article, I was really hoping I'd come up with players better than this. Unfortunately, these three were the only American League options here. The three middle infielders have combined to hit .266 in 338 at-bats, which isn't too bad. It's the four home runs and one stolen base between the three of them that make the middle infield an offensive black hole in fantasy. Even Omar Vizquel--who couldn't make the NL team--would be an improvement over this troika.

Outfield: Kenny Lofton (40), Sammy Sosa (38), Gary Sheffield (38), Manny Ramirez (35), and Raul Ibanez (35)

Lofton and Sheffield have combined for 23 of the team's 31 steals, which would probably be good for middle of the pack in many leagues. Sheffield and Ramirez, both hanging around the Mendoza line throughout April, would have led the all-disappointment team a month ago. Thanks to a hot May, however, they're both closer to their career levels. The real find here is Sosa--he has 10 homers to go with his team-leading 42 RBI, and it would not have been surprising to see him go for under $5 in most leagues.

Utility: Ivan Rodriguez (35)

Pudge's 29 RBI and .296 batting average earned him the nod here. Besides, when you have two "old" catchers like Posada and Varitek, it helps to have a third one on the roster, just in case. Because nabbing three top catchers in an auction league is nearly impossible, feel free to sub in Kevin Millar or Frank Thomas, both who are providing some power at that utility spot as the sun sets on their careers.

Pitcher: Tim Wakefield (40), Curt Schilling (40), Mariano Rivera (37), Al Reyes (37), Steve Trachsel (36), Paul Byrd (36), Jamie Walker (35), Jose Contreras (35), and Akinori Otsuka (35)

Many might question the inclusion of Rivera here. True, he only has five saves and hasn't been his old self, but his 1.16 WHIP makes him far less damaging than other ancient closers Todd Jones (15 saves, 6.04 ERA, 1.75 WHIP) and Joe Borowski (17 saves, 7.29 ERA, 1.57 WHIP). Other relievers--Reyes, Walker, and Otsuka--all could have been had for a song on Draft Day, and have combined for 17 saves, 11 holds, a 2.71 ERA, and a 0.98 WHIP. The rotation isn't anything special, headlined by the surprising Paul Byrd with six wins, a 3.57 ERA, and a 1.29 WHIP. Unfortunately, Byrd and Trachsel don't really contribute to the team's strikeout total, which made it necessary to bring the mediocre Contreras and Wakefield on board.

All stats through June 3

American League


Player         AB     R     H       HR       RBI      SB         AVG
Royce Clayton 123    15    31        1         9       1        .252
Jason Giambi  149    19    39        7        23       1        .262
Chris Gomez    40     6    12        1         7       0        .300
Mark Grudz.   175    22    47        2        19       0        .269
Raul Ibanez   183    31    52        1        32       0        .284
Kenny Lofton  174    32    45        4        14      16        .259
Melvin Mora   207    33    50        7        26       4        .242
Jorge Posada  182    33    66        7        37       1        .363
Manny Ramirez 205    29    59        8        32       0        .288
Ivan Rodrgz   196    22    58        5        29       0        .296
Gary Sheffld  207    51    55       13        32       7        .266
Sammy Sosa    188    24    46       10        42       0        .245
Jim Thome     91     17    25        7        19       0        .275
Jason Varitek 149    25    41        6        27       1        .275
Total        2269   359   626       79       349      31        .276


Pitcher          IP    K        W       SV      ERA        WHIP
Paul Byrd        58    31       6        0      3.57       1.29
Jose Contreras   65    41       4        0      4.29       1.45
Akinori Otsuka   20.2  17       1        4      2.61       1.21
Al Reyes         24.2  30       1       13      2.19       0.68
Mariano Rivera   19.2  20       1        5      5.03       1.16
Curt Schilling   76    62       5        0      4.48       1.38
Steve Trachsel   69.1  18       4        0      3.89       1.37
Tim Wakefield    68    38       5        0      4.24       1.34
Jamie Walker     21    17       1        0      3.43       1.10
Total           422.1 274      28       22      3.84       1.30

National League


Player        AB   R     H       HR       RBI       SB         AVG
Moises Alou  110  15    35        2        13        1        .318
Rich Aurilia 172  21    40        2        19        0        .233
Brad Ausmus  140  17    33        0         6        3        .236
Craig Biggio 205  32    48        3        17        2        .234
Barry Bonds  133  31    37       12        26        2        .278
Ray Durham   164  30    42        5        33        3        .256
Damion Esly  113  16    28        7        15        0        .248
Brian Giles  170  23    47        1        12        1        .276
Luis Gonzlz  183  28    52        6        20        3        .284
Ken Griffey  182  26    51       12        32        2        .280
Scott Httbrg 137  18    40        5        18        0        .292
Jeff Kent    193  31    50        8        30        1        .259
Paul Lo Duca 166  18    51        2        14        2        .307
Mark Loretta 116  17    38        1        13        1        .328
Total       2184  323   592      66       268       21        .271


Pitcher        IP      K    W       SV        ERA        WHIP
Tom Glavine    73.1    37   5        0        3.44        1.30
El Duque       45      32   3        0        2.20        0.89
Trevor Hoffman 21      16   2       16        2.57        0.86
Randy Johnson  41.2    53   3        0        3.89        1.01
Greg Maddux    66.2    41   4        0        3.92        1.26
Jamie Moyer    72.1    41   5        0        4.23        1.22
Takashi Saito  24      30   1       16        1.50        0.75
John Smoltz    76.2    65   7        0        2.82        1.27
Billy Wagner   24      30   0       13        1.50        0.96
Total         444.2   345  30       45        3.20        1.14

---

Kenn Ruby is a contributing writer at Rotowire. He can be reached here.

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