Since we have the next three months to obsess over our fantasy football teams and try and make sense of this week's theater-of-the-absurd Raiders news conference, let's close the book on Fantasy Baseball 2008 by taking a look back at some of the year's most pleasant surprises.
Here is your All-Who Knew? team for 2008:
LHP: Cliff Lee, Indians -- A year ago, Lee was an exceedingly wild and hittable southpaw who had all but pitched his way out of Cleveland's plans. A year later, he's the only choice to win the AL Cy Young Award after leading the league in wins (22) and ERA (2.54). Not bad for a guy who went undrafted in 999.4 percent of 1,000 leagues.
RHP: Tim Lincecum, Giants -- That San Francisco's baby-faced ace was destined for greatness was never a secret, but that he achieved it in his first full big-league season -- 18-5, 2.62 ERA, MLB-leading 265 strikeouts -- and with arguably the weakest supporting cast in the majors around him is nothing short of amazing. Without him, the Giants are the 2003 Tigers (43-119), if they're lucky.
CL: Joakim Soria, Royals -- While myself and others used early-round picks on name-brand closers like Jonathan Papelbon and Francisco Rodriguez, others took a late-round flier on Soria (2-3, 42 saves, 1.60 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, .169 BAA) and made out like bandits.
C: Geovany Soto, Cubs -- The Cubs named Soto their starter in spring training based on his monster 2007 at Triple-A Iowa (26 HRs, 109 RBIs, .353 avg.), and he rewarded them with a 23-HR, 86-RBI, .286 season that ranks among the best by a rookie backstop.
1B: Jorge Cantu, Marlins -- Given up on by the Rays and Reds, Cantu revived his career with an out-of-nowhere 2008 that saw him bat .277 with a career-high 29 HRs and 92 runs to go with 95 RBIs. If you grabbed Cantu off the scrap heap early, please stand and take a bow.
2B: Alexei Ramirez, White Sox -- The White Sox grabbed the former Cuban star for pennies ($4.75 million over four years, to be exact), then watched him deliver 21 HRs (including a rookie-record four grand slams), 77 RBIs, 65 runs, 13 steals and a .290 average. Glad I took Bobby Crosby instead. Where's the Tylenol?
3B: Evan Longoria, Rays -- Longoria (.272 average, 27 HRs, 85 RBIs) began the season at Triple-A Durham, but by season's end was the backbone of the AL East champions and the hands-down choice for AL Rookie of the Year. An All-Star at 22, Longoria could easily be an MVP by 23.
SS: Mike Aviles, Royals -- While it was another lost season for Kansas City, the Royals and fantasy owners found a gem in Aviles, who batted .325 with 10 HRs, 68 runs, 51 RBIs and eight stolen bases after being promoted from Triple-A Omaha in late May.
OF: Ryan Ludwick, Cardinals -- The former Modesto Athletic (1999) was projected to be a reserve but went on to set career highs with 37 HRs, 113 RBIs, 104 runs and a .299 average. Can I have that Chris Duncan pick back?
OF: Carlos Quentin, White Sox -- After two nondescript seasons with Arizona, Quentin became a star in his first season with Chicago, batting .288 with 36 HRs, 100 RBIs and 96 runs before a broken right wrist ended his season in early September.
OF: Nate McLouth, Pirates -- McLouth, who never hit better than .259 or more than 13 HRs in his first three seasons in the majors, broke out in 2008 with 26 HRs, 94 RBIs, 113 runs, 23 SBs and a .277 average. He went undrafted in most leagues this season, but the NL's answer to Grady Sizemore should go in the first six rounds in 2009.
U: Josh Hamilton, Rangers -- Hamilton always had the talent, and he finally put it all together in 2008, establishing career highs with 32 HRs, 130 RBIs, 96 runs and a .305 average. Hamilton went to our eventual champ in Round 12 -- after I'd already added eventual busts Alex Gordon, Manny Corpas and Aaron Rowand. Nice work, Matt Millen.
2009 PRESEASON TOP 10 -- 1. 3B Alex Rodriguez, 2. SS Hanley Ramirez, 3. 1B Albert Pujols, 4. SS Jose Reyes, 5. OF Matt Holliday, 6. 3B David Wright, 7. OF Grady Sizemore, 8. 2B Chase Utley, 9. OF Alfonso Soriano, 10. P Tim Lincecum.
Stu Rosenberg's fantasy sports column runs Fridays.
He can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.