Unlike some of our other awards where there was very little dissension in the ranks, the Rotographs staff were pretty split as to who would be our Hare for the National League. For those who missed Eno’s introduction, the Hare is essentially the best sell-high player of the season. I’m not sure what it says about the NL that there were just too many good options; I went in thinking that it would be Bryan LaHair in a runaway, but once I started thinking about my options, he barely remained in my top three.
In the end, the vote winner was Carlos Beltran, though perhaps things might have been different if playoff production counted. Beltran started the season as though he were going to replace Albert Pujols single-handedly, which was especially amusing given the start Pujols had. By the end of the season, Beltran ended up with a 125 wRC+ and 3.6 WAR, while Pujols finished with 132 wRC+ and 3.9 WAR. It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish, and Beltran did not finish particularly well.
The ideal time to move Beltran would have been June 25 when his value peaked — though holding him until the All-Star Break hardly would have dampened his value — and trading him then would have brought a king’s ransom in return. At that time, Beltran was hitting .313/.402/.590 with 20 home runs, 57 RBI, 46 R, and even seven steals. Across the board production like that from a player who was drafted in the low to mid-100s had owners feeling pretty bullish on Beltran.
Unlike some of the other candidates who received fewer votes, Beltran didn’t collapse all the way to being abjectly bad. From June 26 on, he hit .230/.295/.412 with 12 HR, 40 RBI, 37 R, and 6 SB, and while that’s nowhere near the level he was at in the first half of the season, it’s something. Obviously, as with any player that received votes in this category, moving Beltran would have been the better option, but at least he gave owners some value even if it was paltry production compared to what he gave them in the early part of the season.
As hard as it would have been to foresee Beltran’s collapse coming, my vote went to a player whose downfall came suddenly and who gave owners literally nothing once he stopped producing: Melky Cabrera. Cabrera gave owners nothing but a poke in the eye when he was suspended for violating MLB’s joint drug agreement, and while it seems ungrateful to complain about getting .346/.390/.516 with 11 HR and 13 SB from a player drafted 150 or later in most leagues, suddenly being bereft of a player owners had come to count on isn’t a situation most of us plan for. If the fantasy equivalent of Ruben Amaro Jr. made Hunter Pence available, perhaps things weren’t so bad, but it’s not hard to imagine that losing Cabrera hurt a lot of teams’ chances in the stretch run.
Honorable mention in this category has to go to LaHair and not just because his name makes it clever and fits well. Remarkably, LaHair still had an .800 or better OPS as late as August 10, though that has virtually nothing to do with how he was performing at the time and everything to do with how good he was at the start of the season. It’s difficult to say exactly when LaHair’s value peaked, since few people would give up a valuable asset to get a player based on one good month, but his numbers slid almost completely unimpeded from May 3 to the end of the season. A balance must be struck between plausibility of success and his actual performance.
His highest trade value — such that it was with a .405 BABIP — was probably May 28. He was hitting .312/.402/.596 with 10 HR and 22 RBI and had about two months of solid production to his credit. At that point, his continued success was nominally convincing and while it’s unlikely that a sophisticated fantasy player was going to make a major splash for him, it’s not hard to imagine getting, say, Rickie Weeks for him. After that point, he hit just .221/.282/.347 with six more home runs and just 18 more RBI over the course of the rest of the season. He might not have been quite the dead weight that Cabrera was, but he certainly did a pretty good impression of a corpse from June 1 on.