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Nine for now

Nine For Now

It was a sad week in the Yankees Universe as the winningest franchise in all of sports lost two titanic figures, public address announcer Bob Sheppard and principal owner George M. Steinbrenner III. Having grown up in the Bronx, smack dab in the middle of the Steinbrenner heyday, having heard literally thousands of players come to the plate to the dulcet tones of Sheppard's godly voice, I couldn't help but reminisce about the Yankees of the past.

While the professorial Sheppard drew nothing but praise, respect and admiration from all who came into contact with him and his work, that wasn't always the case for the brash, cantankerous, overbearing, sometimes petty, bully that Steinbrenner was for much of his tenure. However, for as much bad as the man showed, especially in dealing with his managers and players, he always wanted to win and did everything in his power that he thought would make his team better.

Steinbrenner often treated his real-life team as a fantasy squad, and like all of us, he had his ups and downs. During the dark period from 1982 to 1994, a time the recent five World Series titles has helped push to the dark recesses of Yankees fans memories, the biggest criticism of Steinbrenner was that he sacrificed his young talent to acquire high-priced veterans. Who can ever forget Frank Costanza's disgusted rhetorical question to Larry David's portrayal of "The Boss" on Seinfeld asking "What the hell did you trade Jay Buhner for?" referring to the 1988 deal that sent the then-young slugger who'd end up with 310 career home runs to the Mariners for DH Ken Phelps, who'd hit just 17 home runs for New York. In the later years Steinbrenner's advisors convinced him to be less impetuous with young players, resulting in long careers for the homegrown Core Four. Still, a few current former Yankees farmhands are making an impact away from the Bronx. Here are the Top 9.

For more insights, follow SI's fantasy expert David Sabino on Twitter at SI_DavidSabino.

1Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
Alfonso Soriano, Cubs
Not long ago Soriano was one of the most coveted players in fantasy baseball, combining both power and speed. However, his power numbers have dropped (15 home runs, .534 slugging percentage) and his speed has all but disappeared (four stolen bases in '10, 13 over the last two seasons). On the bright side, he's been slightly better during his career in the second half (.521 slugging compared to .504 before the All-Star Game).
 
2Austin Jackson, Tigers
Austin Jackson, Tigers
The AL leader in hits (94), runs (52) and stolen bases (14) among rookies, the sky's the limit for the speedy centerfielder acquired in an offseason three-team deal involving Curtis Granderson. His lack of power production dampens his value for the rest of the season, but for those in keeper leagues, he's certainly one to target for your 2011 squad.
 
3Ted Lilly, Cubs
Ted Lilly, Cubs
The left-hander is having a bizarre season on the North Side, posting a respectable 4.08 ERA and 1.15 WHIP yet winning just 3 of 11 decisions. Look no further for an answer than the Cubs' 2.41 runs of support for him, the lowest for any starting pitcher in baseball. Lilly has been rumored to be on the trading block and could move prior to the July 31 deadline, so despite the lack of wins and strikeouts, he's worth a speculative pickup for a potential late-season surge in wins.
 
4Juan Rivera, Angels
Juan Rivera, Angels
Recent vision problems that saw Rivera develop a blood buildup behind the eyes have been the latest issue for the Angels left fielder. Playing without Vladimir Guerrero and the injured Kendry Morales, the Angels and fantasy owners were counting on Rivera to hit like he did last season, when he hit 25 home runs and drove in 88 runs, but thus far his 10 home runs and 34 RBIs are a big disappointment.
 
5Jose Tabata, Pirates
Jose Tabata, Pirates
The speedy Tabata may emerge as the biggest part of the 2008 trade that sent four farmhands to Pittsburgh for Xavier Nady and Damaso Marte, but for now, he's just struggling to become a reliable major league producer.
 
6Tyler Clippard, Nationals
Tyler Clippard, Nationals
After starting the year on track to produce the best middle reliever performance in recent fantasy history, Clippard has plummeted back to earth. Through May 14, Clippard was 7-1 with a 1.80 ERA, 1.12 WHIP and .188 batting average against. Since then he's 1-5, with a 4.73 ERA, 1.46 WHIP and .278 opponents' batting average.
 
7Cristian Guzman, Nationals
Cristian Guzman, Nationals
A two-category (runs and batting average) player at best, Guzman has no power or speed. As the Nationals fall further out of contention, the veteran, who left the Yankees as part of the 1998 trade that sent Chuck Knoblauch from Minnesota to New York, could see himself leaving the Nation's Capital for a bench role on a contender.
 
8Melky Cabrera, Braves
Melky Cabrera, Braves
Once a useful extra outfielder for the Yankees, Cabrera has become nothing more than fantasy waiver wire fodder in his first year in the National League, batting just .259 with three home runs. His slugging percentage is lower than those of San Diego's Jerry Hairston Jr. and David Eckstein, two players you really never want to carry on you roster, no matter what kind of league you play in.
 
9Shelley Duncan, Indians
Shelley Duncan, Indians
Known as much for being a bench cheerleader as for being a slugger, Duncan has found a niche in Cleveland, slugging four of his five home runs since June 15. He's been getting consistent at-bats and could provide another 5-10 home runs between now and the rest of the season. The other ex-Yanks Duncan beat out for this last spot were Phil Coke, Ian Kennedy, the injured Mike Lowell and Randy Choate.
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