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It's time to vote, America. There's a tie at the top, but in the end, someone has to win.
I'm speaking, of course, about the 2016 Fantasy Baseball Top 40. In some polls (and caucuses, whatever those are), we have nothing but lousy choices, where the best choice is only the least of many evils. That isn't the problem in fantasy baseball, thankfully. We've got nothing but top talent to choose from, and several candidates who can make great arguments why they should be The One.
Here are my choices:
1. Bryce Harper, OF, WAS.
First off, any of the top four make an excellent No. 1 pick in my mind. I give Harper the edge mainly on the likelihood that his 2015 MVP season still leaves room for improvement. 45 HRs, 110 RBI, 1.100 OPS, 120 runs, 50 doubles, 15 SBs isn't out of the question.
2. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, ARI.
I've consistently ranked him lower than most the last three years, and have final wised up. Lot of folks will take him No. 1, and nothing wrong with that. Could repeat 2015's career-high .321 BA and 1.105 OPS, maybe 125 RBI in ARI's potent offense.
3. Mike Trout, OF, LAA.
Also getting plenty of No. 1 nods, and at 25 his career best may still await. SBs and BA have ticked down last three seasons, but still a multi-stat maven barely outgunned by Harper and Goldschmidt.
4. Carlos Correa, SS, HOU.
Getting creative early here ranking him higher than most, but could make an argument for No. 1 overall based on his position combined with his stats in the first 99 games of his career at the tender age of 20: 22 HRs, 68 RBI, 14 SBs, 108 hits, .857 OPS.
5. Andrew McCutchen, OF, PIT.
Cutch is always a fantasy bridesmaid despite consistent multi-stat production. His three-year run of .300+ BAs ended in 2015, and he posted a career-low 11 SBs, but matched his career-high 96 RBIs. He remains a 20 HR/90 RBI/15 SB/.300 threat.
6. Kris Bryant, 3B/OF, CUBS.
Another break from consensus, but I think worth the risk. His rookie numbers - 26 HR, 99 RBI, 13 SBs, 87 runs, .275 BA - suggest 30/110/20/100/.290 are easily possible in Year Two. Anything more, and he'll prove to be a bargain at No. 6 overall.
7. Josh Donaldson, 3B, TOR.
I consistently under-rank him, and I may have done it again here after his 2015 MVP campaign. Could again go for at least 40 HRs, 120 RBI, 120 runs, .920 or so OPS. I just prefer Bryant's position flexibility and youth (24, to Donaldson's 30), but a close call.
8. Giancarlo Stanton, OF, MIA.
Startling numbers through the first 74 games last year - 27 HRs, 67 RBI, .952 OPS - explain why many have him ranked higher. The problem is that's where his season ended. Power and youth (26) mark him for 50 HRs at some point if he can stay healthy.
9. Nolan Arenado, 3B, COL.
Nearly tied in my mind with Bryant and Donaldson for top 3B. Breakout 2015 was beyond expectations: 42 HRs, 130 RBI, 43 doubles, .898 OPS. Playing in Denver half the season means the 25-year-old could do it again. Only weakness is lack of SBs.
10. Miguel Cabrera, 1B, DET.
Still arguably the best overall hitter in the game, proven by .338 BA, .974 OPS in 119 games last year. Power is declining and injuries becoming a greater threat, but don't be surprised to see him bounce back a little to 20+ HRs, 100 RBI.
11. AJ Pollock, OF, ARI.
Maybe the biggest fantasy surprise of 2015: 20 HRs, 76 RBI, 111 runs, .315 BA, 39 SBs - yes, the last stat is the best, and the biggest reason for this ranking. Hitting ahead of Goldschmidt sure helps, and Pollock should have another greater multi-stat campaign.
12. Clayton Kershaw, SP, LAD.
The best fantasy SP without argument - sorry, Jake, Max, Zack. Career-high 301 strikeouts, 2.13 ERA, made up for so-so (not really) 16 wins. Just for fun, here's his WHIP/BAA last three years: 2013: 0.92/.195; 2014: 0.86/.196; 2015: 0.88/.194. Wow.
13. Anthony Rizzo, 1B, CUBS.
Played 160 games, which may have fatigued him late in the season, but could easily have another year of 30+ HRs, 100+ RBI, .280 or so BA - maybe even more RBI if the Cubs really are all that. Probably won't have 177 SBs again, but whatever you get is nice.
14. Jose Altuve, 2B, HOU.
His second consecutive 200-hit season also featured career highs in HRs (15) and RBI (66), but we buy him more for BA, which was down from .338 in 2014 to .313 and SBs, down from 56 to 38. A return to 40+ SBs would make him a top 10 candidate.
15. Max Scherzer, SP, WAS.
Really close call with the next guy, but I have to take Scherzer's proven consistency. Little known fact on the Year of Jake was that Max had a career-high 276 strikeouts and career-low 2.79 ERA and 0.92 WHIP. Blame his 14-12 record on his underachieving team.
16. Jake Arrieta, SP, CUBS.
Really wish he could match or beat what he did last year, but that's asking an awful lot. I think a regress from 22-6, 236 strikeouts, with a 1.77 ERA, 0.86 WHIP can still be pretty sweet. I'm think more like 18 wins, 220 strikeouts, 2.25 ERA, 0.99 WHIP.
17. Madison Bumgarner, SP, SF.
Barely a notch below the previous two, and if you want proven consistency, Mad-Bum, with 18 wins each of the last two years, might be your preference, but probably won't deliver the strikeouts game to game that the other two will.
18. Manny Machado, 3B/SS, BAL.
Surprised those who thought injuries or character issues would limit his value by playing a full 162-game slate last year. His 35 HRs, 86 RBI, 20 SBs came off as revelatory. Probably a notch below Bryant/Donaldson/Arenado at 3B, but SS status adds value.
19. Mookie Betts, OF, BOS.
Loses 2B eligibility this year, but 18 HRs, 77 RBI, 21 SBs, 92 runs point to a solid multi-stat threat who could improve all those categories this year. Eight triples helped him achieve 68 total extra-base hits, most of any player with fewer than 20 HRs.
20. Jose Bautista, OF, TOR.
I have Joey Bats ranked much lower than most, even though he's a lot of fun to watch. His 40 HRs last year were his most since 2011; 114 RBI and 108 runs were his most since 2010. That's where the value stops, and at 35, going 40/114/108 again seems unlikely.
21. Zack Greinke, SP, LAD.
Stunning numbers, including career-best 19 wins, 1.66 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, had the misfortune of happening in the Year of Jake, and curious move to ARI paints him as a slight risk, but productive offense could help him reach 20 wins for the first time.
22. Chris Sale, SP, WHITE SOX.
Ranked higher elsewhere on strength of 274 strikeouts, and I really want to join the club, but the Sox have failed him year after year. Will get his share of double-digit strikeouts games, but a ballooning ERA and late-season trouble suggest fatigue is an issue.
23. David Price, SP, BOS.
18-5 record last year between DET and TOR made for his best since his 2011 Cy Young season, and BOS has reloaded for a big run. Curiously has never had a WHIP below 1.01 in his career, but another year of 18 wins, 225 strikeouts, 2.45 ERA would be fine.
24. Jose Fernandez, SP, MIA.
Can a pitcher with 19 starts in the last two seasons be worth this ranking? It's all about his 2013 rookie campaign of 12 wins, 187 strikeouts, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and the hope he stays healthy and is still improving his game.
25. Felix Hernandez, SP, SEA.
18 wins were his most since 2009, but strikeouts fell below 200 for the first time since 2008 and ERA shot higher than 3.50 for the first time since 2007. Counting on a little bounce back in those numbers as SEA improves and he gets crafty in his age 30 season.
26. Jose Abreu, 1B, WHITE SOX.
Pretty low ranking for a guy with 66 HRs, 208 RBI his last two years. Chalk it up to his BA dropping from .317 to .290, a lack of SBs, and the likelihood he won't score 100 runs playing for the Sox - yet, the power should be there again this year.
27. Dee Gordon, 2B, MIA.
It's all about the SBs, all 58 of them last year. However, his .333 BA was a breakthrough, an example of what makes him look a little more like Jose Altuve than Billy Hamilton. If MIA improves, a season of 50 SBs, .315 BA and 100 runs would earn him this rank.
28. Matt Harvey, SP, NYM.
With no innings restrictions this year, some see him as a Cy Young candidate, so he may go earlier in some leagues. 13 wins, 188 strikeouts, 2.71 ERA, 1.01 WHIP last year suggest 15+ wins, 200+ strikeouts If the Mets are good again.
29. Jacob deGrom, SP, NYM.
I wouldn't bat an eye if he goes well ahead of Harvey, since he had better numbers: 14 wins, 205 strikeouts, 2.54 ERA, 0.98 WHIP. Harvey is thought to have the higher ceiling, but deGrom could have won 20 last year if the Mets had been better early on.
30. Charlie Blackmon, OF, COL.
If you love Pollock at No. 11 but can't get him, target Blackmon, a slightly down-market version of the same player. 2015 stats: 17 HRs, 58 RBI, 43 SBs, 93 runs, .287 BA. 15 more SBs last year than in 2015, so maybe he settles around 35 this year.
31. Joey Votto, 1B, CIN.
Should be higher based on strength of amazing comeback season: 29 HRs, 80 RBI, .314 BA, 11 SBs, 95 runs, 1.000 OPS and an MLB-leading 143 walks. But hard to see a repeat at 32 with a team intent on rebuilding.
32. Chris Archer, SP, TB.
Breakout 2015 campaign was softened a little by a late-season fade, by 252 strikeouts in 212 IP put him in the top tier discussion. Can he do better than 12 wins with the Rays? 3.23 ERA and 1.14 WHIP were improvements on 2014, so could be even better.
33. George Springer, OF, HOU.
Injury shortened a season that appeared to be building on his brief 2014 run of 78 games, which featured 20 HRs. He hit 16 HRs in 102 games in 2015, but a BA jump from .231 to .276, along with 16 SBs, showed promising multi-stat value.
34. Nelson Cruz, OF, SEA.
All he did last year was hit a career-high 44 HRs after everyone said he would never hit 40 again, and raised his BA from .271 to .302. If you're worried about HRs, go get him, though no speed to speak of.
35. Edwin Encarnacion, 1B, TOR.
If you like his teammate Joey Bats, but miss out, grab Big Eddy. Career-high 111 RBIs and 94 runs to go with 39 HRs (most since 2012) for a team that beat up baseballs all year long. Like Bautista, his value is limited by lack of SBs and middling BA (.270s).
36. Yoenis Cespedes, OF, NYM.
Similar stats to No. 35 - 35 HRs, 105 RBI, 101 runs, .291 BA, and his great run with the Mets last year may have helped win fantasy leagues. Few SBs and a streaky tendency can hurt when it isn't helping, but another reliable power bet if that's what you need.
37. Dallas Keuchel, SP, HOU.
AL Cy Young and 20-game winner seems like he should be higher on this list. His 216 strikeouts are top tier, too, though it took him 232 IPs, so he doesn't have the K per 9 IP figures of most ahead of him. Safe bet if you want to take him a few spots higher.
38. Gerrit Cole, SP, PIT.
Another Year of Jake victim, with his 19 wins going somewhat unnoticed. 202 strikeouts and 2.60 ERA leave him at the edge of top tier starters, but he could still have a season of 20+ wins, 225 strikeouts if Pirates score enough runs for him.
39. Starling Marte, OF, PIT.
Streaky and speedy, he posted 19 HRs, 81 RBI, 30 SBs (for the second straight year) and a .287 BA, so nearly a 20 HR/30 SB guy, and he should do it this year. Not quite the extra-bases power of Pollock or SB opportunism of Blackmon, but getting there.
40. Stephen Strasburg, SP, WAS.
Still gets top tier rankings, but now has too many injury-shortened seasons for me to buy him higher. Still, 155 strikeouts last year in 127 IP is pretty alluring, and if he manages to pitch even a conservative 170 IP, could be a candidate for 15 wins.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.
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