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Tackling the Final Fantasy Frontier

Every week, two of MLB.com's fantasy writers will be squaring off in a real fantasy debate, whatever that means. A war of words between Ben Heller and Dean Chiungos follows ...

Ben: For the past few weeks, most fantasy sports fanatics have been scouring magazines and Web sites looking to find the right players for their fantasy football teams. And all the buzz got me thinking: Which baseball players would make great fantasy football players? Not in the sense that I’m wondering what Justin Verlander would do if he were taking snaps for the Lions instead of pitching for the Tigers (though he’d probably be an upgrade over what they’ve got going), but which baseball players fit the mentality of their football counterparts. With a quarterback, I’d want a born leader. Someone durable, who can bounce back from getting knocked down and lead my team to victory. Originally I tagged Curt Schilling, but then it struck me that shortstops are often called the “quarterback of the baseball diamond.” And who’s been a better fantasy shortstop than Miguel Tejada? He hasn’t missed a game since 2000 and will likely top 25 dingers and 98 RBIs for the seventh consecutive campaign. Those are numbers that would make Brett Favre proud.


Dean: If you’re talking about a combination of leadership, durability and fantasy production out of a “baseball quarterback,” look no further than Yankees captain Derek Jeter. It’s no coincidence that three-time Super Bowl champ and two-time Big Game MVP Tom Brady has been dubbed by some (most of whom don’t live in New England) as the Derek Jeter of football. And much like Jeter, Brady has been widely undervalued as a fantasy player until recently. Though Jeter, like Brady, isn’t a first-round pick, he’ll give you excellent production as a second- or third-rounder. But speaking of No. 1 picks, let’s talk about the blue-chippers, the fantasy studs. Who’s your “Larry Johnson of fantasy baseball”? I’m going with none other than Albert Pujols.


Indeed, Pujols is the man when it comes to fantasy baseball, but for my running-back equivalent, I’m gonna go with a guy who can actually run in the Mets’ Jose Reyes. Before this year, Reyes was little more than a speedster, but in 2006 he’s been unstoppable. The 23-year-old is batting an even .300, leads the National League in steals, is fourth in runs, and has 19 homers and 75 RBIs from the leadoff spot. That’s as many dingers as Scott Rolen has and more than sluggers like Todd Helton, Hank Blalock and Victor Martinez have. Not bad. As far as wide receivers go, you could use someone with Torii Hunter’s hands, or Milton Bradley’s fighting spirit, but instead I’m gonna go with a young playmaker you just can’t take your eyes off. Like a good wideout, he’s often all (tops in homers) or nothing (second in Ks). He’s Ryan Howard.


At 6-foot-4, 250 pounds, the not-so-speedy Howard seems more like a left tackle than a wideout to me. Which makes sense, considering that he anchors the Phillies offensive line out of the cleanup spot. As for me, I like receivers with speed, durability and the guts to go over the middle … which brings me to a pair of All-Star center fielders, Carlos Beltran and Vernon Wells. While Beltran is the Torry Holt of fantasy baseball, the home run hitter with unmatched grace, Wells is the deceptively smooth big man a la Antonio Gates. Of course, Gates -- like Shannon Sharpe before him -- is the exception to the rule at tight end, a rare deep receiving threat at a position otherwise defined by less, um, nimble types. I’m talking corner infielders and -- of course -- designated hitters. Which brings me to none other than former Auburn tight end Frank Thomas, who’s cranked a whopping 36 homers with a staggering .962 OPS in a glorious comeback season with the A’s.


Not only does the resurgent Frank Thomas fit the tight-end mold for being an actual tight end, but he was also a successful late-round gamble, which often works out better than spending an early-round pick on a big-name guy like Jeremy Shockey. My choice fits that bill as well -- Adam LaRoche. With 17 dingers since the All-Star break (and not a single stolen base in over 1,200 Big League at-bats!), the lumbering LaRoche has sparked many a fantasy team in the latter half of the year, much like tight end Chris Cooley did with the Redskins last season. Now as far as kickers go, they’re an afterthought on draft day -- usually little guys with funny names whose value you appreciate far more than the rest of your league until it’s too late. My kicker this season has without a doubt been Dan Uggla. I couldn’t give him away earlier in the season, and now, thanks in no small part to him, I’m breathing down the neck of the team in first place. And don’t tell me you can’t easily picture “Uggla 6” on the back of a Miami jersey, kicking home a win in Dolphin Stadium.


Absolutely. I’d even put money on Uggla becoming the first two-sport kicker and giving longtime incumbent Olindo Mare a run for his money at Dolphins training camp next summer. As for my pick, I’m going with none other than Mark DeRosa, who’s broken out in 2006 with a .314 average, 39 doubles, 13 homers, 69 RBIs, 71 runs scored and an .861 OPS. The Rangers veteran has gridiron experience, having played quarterback at the University of Pennsylvania, and has been known to chip in from more than a few spots on the field (second base, third, short and right). Of course, we can’t forget about a pitching staff, known in fantasy-football circles as a defense/special teams, and I’m going with Minnesota. Assuming Francisco Liriano makes a healthy return, the Twins have the potential to run through the playoffs with the same ferocity as the ’85 Bears. I’m talking zeroes across the board (in fairness to history, after blanking the Giants and Rams, Ditka’s boys did let up 10 points to the Patriots in the Super Bowl). And with AL Cy Young lock Johan Santana, Rookie of the Year favorite Liriano, Minor League Pitcher of the Year Matt Garza and all-world closer Joe Nathan leading the way, who’s going to stop them from doing the “World Series Shuffle” all the way through October?


I can’t argue with the Twins, but with Liriano a big, young question mark, I’m gonna grab a late-round sleeper in the San Diego Padres. I know that doesn’t sound so exciting at first, but they lead the Majors in WHIP, are second in ERA, and with Jake Peavy, Chris Young, Woody Williams and David Wells, they’ve got a deep enough rotation to keep runs off the board and lead the way to Trevor Hoffman. It also doesn’t hurt that they play half their games in a supreme pitchers’ park. Throw in their unspectacular but get-the-job-done offense, and the Padres are the baseball doppelganger of the aforementioned defensive-minded Chicago Bears. Except for that whole winter thing.


Dean’s All-Fantasy Football Baseball Team

QB: Derek Jeter, New York Yankees
RB: Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
RB: Carl Crawford, Tampa Bay Devil Rays
WR: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
WR: Vernon Wells , Toronto Blue Jays
TE: Frank Thomas, Oakland Athletics
K: Mark DeRosa, Texas Rangers
D: Minnesota Twins

Ben’s All-Fantasy Football Baseball Team

QB: Miguel Tejada, Baltimore Orioles
RB: Jose Reyes, New York Mets
RB: Alfonso Soriano, Washington Nationals
WR: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies
WR: Carlos Beltran, New York Mets
TE: Adam LaRoche, Atlanta Braves
K: Dan Uggla, Florida Marlins
D: San Diego Padres


This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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