Another year has come and gone so it’s time to take a look back at some of the highlights of the 2008 season. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll select our Wire Troll AL and NL All-Wire Teams. Without further ado, let’s look first at the AL waiver wire gems, and there were some serious difference makers this season. My bet would be that any fantasy team owning the AL starting pitchers as a group would have won their league pretty much hands down.
Kelly Shoppach, Cleveland Indians: The injury to Victor Martinez opened the door and Shoppach jumped right in and ran with it. In only 349 at-bats, he managed to lead AL backstops in homers with 21 and finish fourth in RBI with 55. A difference maker? You betcha!
Chris Davis, Texas Rangers: Davis was promoted to the Rangers at the end of June and demonstrated that his minor league numbers (.333 with 23 homers, 73 RBI and an OPS of 1029 split between Double-A and Triple-A) were no fluke. In his first taste of The Show, the 22-year-old managed to hit .285 with 17 homers and 55 RBI in only 292 at-bats. At three levels this year, all told Davis put up 40 long balls and 128 RBI. Toss in that he has first and third base eligibility for next season and this guy looks to be a great long-term asset in all formats heading into 2009.
Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox: The aptly nicknamed Cuban Missile created no crisis for the ChiSox this season. He was bounced around the lineup early on, starting at shortstop, outfield and second base, until an injury to Juan Uribe in mid-May allowed Ramirez to settle in at second base. Ramirez, who just turned 27, responded with a great second half and his final totals of 20 homers, 73 RBI, and 12 steals were definitely difference makers for many a fantasy squad’s middle infield. The low walk total (only 15 on the year) is a bit concerning, but at the same time he did manage to strike out only 61 times. You did very well here, Kenny Williams.
Jose Lopez, Seattle Mariners: The Mariners are a mess, plain and simple. Out of the rubble there were several highlights, most notably the play of Lopez, who was good enough for us to break our pattern and award a second keystone corner man a coveted spot on our team. What a year! The 24-year-old amassed career highs in virtually every offensive category this year with 17 homers, 89 RBI, 80 runs, and a .297 BA. He led AL second basemen in RBI, finished fourth in homers and sixth in runs scored, all accomplished on a team that was a disaster. Lopez should be a key ingredient in both the Mariners’ and your fantasy plans for 2009.
Mike Aviles, Kansas City Royals: The 27-year-old Aviles was called up at the end of May and provided a great spark at the top of the order for the Royals. In 415 at bats, he managed a great .325 BA with 10 homers, 51 RBI and 68 runs scored while kicking in eight thefts. Heading into the 2009 season, Aviles qualifies at both shortstop and second base. His combined totals this year between the minors and the bigs — 20 homers and 93 RBI — were very impressive. Toss in that superb batting average, and it looks like the Royals have taken a solid step in filling in their middle infield for next year. One of these years Trey Hillman will get all those kids playing on the same page and make Royal fans forget the past 20 years.
Aubrey Huff, Baltimore Orioles: The 31-year-old former Devil Ray reminded us of those past glories this year. A .306 BA, 32 homers, 108 RBI, 96 runs scored and an OPS of 916 are by far his best numbers since way back in 2003, when the Rays still had a bit of the Devil in them. Huff also qualifies at first and third heading into next year. Those who gambled early certainly reaped some rather huge rewards.
David Murphy, Texas Rangers: The early season favourite for AL Rookie of the Year, Murphy played his last game of the season August 6, injuring his knee after a home plate collision with Ivan Rodriguez. In 415 AB, Murphy managed a .275 BA, 15 homers, 74 RBI, and seven stolen bases. Now if one had listened to our waiver wire advice and added the next outfielder mentioned, you would have had yourself one heckuva combination. In my Writers’ League I did just that, and wound up in a tie for first.
Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians: After enjoying the best season ever by a Korean born positional player, Choo has certainly got the Tribe’s attention heading into the ’09 campaign. Since August 1, those that jumped on the Choo Choo train were rewarded with a .359 BA, 10 homers, 41 RBI, 40 runs scored, and an astounding 1080 OPS in 170 at bats. My guess would be the Indians are hoping he can find a way to get that military exemption he is going to need for the 2010 season.
Denard Span, Minnesota Twins: The 24-year-old Span was originally called up at the end of June to replace the injured Michael Cuddyer. The struggles of Carlos Gomez in the lead-off slot prompted the Twins to make a move at the beginning of August, and Span responded in fine form. He managed six homers, 46 RBI, 69 runs scored, 18 stolen bases and a .296 BA in 341 at bats. Most impressive for a young hitter were those 47 walks. All this from a player who was on the DL at Triple-A with a broken finger for most of May.
Jack Cust, Oakland: As a bonus, we’ve added a fourth outfielder on the team. Sure, Cust still strikes out way too much with 196 on the year, but when not flailing away he also managed 109 free passes. If you could handle the .232 BA, his 33 homers and 77 RBI were certainly very solid numbers as a fourth/fifth outfielder on your fantasy squad.
Melvin Mora, Baltimore Orioles: Obviously no one could have forseen the year Mora managed to put together. Injuries slowed the third baseman in September, but for the months of July and August, there wasn’t a hotter hitter in the game, as he led all of baseball with 58 RBI over that span. Next year, of course, is another year, but for those that grabbed Mora off the wire, kudos to you!
Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians: Hmm, let’s see now. Last year Lee was banished to Triple-A to try to find his game. This year, he is the clear-cut favourite to win the Cy Young award. My, how the fortunes in the world of pitching can change in such a short period of time. Scratched from his final start with a sore neck, Lee finished up the 2008 campaign with a 22-3 won/loss record, a 2.54 ERA, a 1.11 WHIP and 170 Ks with only 34 walks. Lee was a huge difference maker in all formats in 2008.
Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels: Despite getting hammered Saturday, the “other” Santana had himself one heck of a year. For those that gambled early, and I was fortunate in being one of those owners, the rewards were huge. Santana ended up with 16 wins, a 3.49 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP and 214 strikeouts, second in the AL to only A.J. Burnett. Santana carried a strong winter ball season right into the regular season and didn’t skip a beat, rebounding from a very poor 2007 campaign.
John Danks, Chicago White Sox: The 23-year-old lefty currently has White Sox fans saying “Brandon who?” Acquired from the Rangers for Brandon McCarthy in February, Danks managed a huge improvement in virtually all categories in his sophomore season. In 187 IP, he put together an 11-9 record with an ERA of 3.47 ERA a WHIP of 1.25 and 155 strikeouts. Have I mentioned that Kenny Williams has many reasons to smile these days?
Justin Duchscherer, Oakland A’s: The 30-year-old, formerly a top set-up man, but sidelined most of 2007, came out of nowhere to post some great numbers before his surgically repaired hip acted up on him in mid-August. Duchscherer finished the year with a 10-8 record, an ERA of 2.54 and a 1.00 WHIP in 141 2/3 IP. Is it sustainable? Probably not, but for those who snatched him off the heap this year, the rewards were high. I’m always leery of those pitchers that toss 80 mph fastballs, but one certainly can’t argue with the results this season.
Mike Mussina, New York Yankees: The Moose is loose is all that really needs to be said here. It is just unfortunate that the Yankees couldn’t get it together in 2008 to take advantage of his great season. The 39-year-old has given us some great memories over the years, but his 2008 season has to rank among the best. Given up as back of the rotation material heading into the season, he managed to get that elusive 20 wins for the first time with his outstanding performance Sunday. The name of his game is control, and Mussina limited the opposition to a scant 31 free passes in 200 1/3 IP, the best numbers he has posted since his rookie campaign way back in 1991, when he only pitched 87 innings. Congratulations on a truly outstanding campaign.
Andy Sonnanstine, Tampa Bay Rays: The 25-year-old showed dramatic improvement in this, his second season with the Rays. A 13-9 record, an ERA of 4.38 ERA, a 1.29 WHIP and 124 punchouts in 193 IP were big factors in Tampa making it to the postseason for the first time. In early August, Sonnanstine set a Ray record by retiring 17 straight against the Mariners. With only 37 walks this year, the future looks very bright for Sonnanstine.
Brad Ziegler, Oakland A’s: This is one of those made-for-TV movies in the waiting. The 28-year-old groundball specialist had a remarkable debut in 2008 for the Athletics. He established a new record of 39 consecutive scoreless innings to start a career, and along the way managed 11 saves, a 1.06 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and 30 Ks in 59 2/3 IP. Ziegler faded a bit down the stretch — or at least demonstrated he was human. And although those numbers are probably unsustainable, it was a great story and year nonetheless.
Jensen Lewis, Cleveland Indians: The Tribe had so much potential heading into 2008, and the bullpen ended up following suit with the trials and tribulations of the rest of the team. In the carousel that was the closer job in Cleveland, 24-year-old righthander Lewis replaced Rafael Perez, who replaced Masa Kobayashi, who replaced Rafael Betancourt, who replaced Joe Borowski . In the end, Lewis had some nice success down the stretch for the Tribe. Called up at the beginning of July and inserted into save situations at the beginning of August, he managed 13 over the final two months of the year and has to be the early favourite to do the job for the Indians heading into 2009.