We resume our march through 1980's-inspired team names to a comic whose time never arrived, the bobcat goldthwaits. The real question isn't why bobcat never quite became as succesful as craptastic modern day hacks like Rob Schneider, David Spade and Louie Anderson; it's why the Healer chose this guy for his team name. Where's the love for Rodney? Sam Kinison? Hell, you could have split the difference and named it Dr. Babar and nobody would've gotten pissed off. Unlike some others in the league though, at least it's a real name. On that note, let's look at 2005's surprising squad that suffered a youth regression last year, bobcat goldthwaits.
Team History: One of the Original Six in this league, the bobcats had been somewhat in the category of loveable losers for the initial years of the league, bearing a strong core in hitting plus Chris Carpenter, but unable to assemble the necessary parts to rise out of the second division. Until 2005 where out of nowhere, the broken shift keys flew into contention and briefly flirted with the title before settling for a strong 4th place on the strength of surprise seasons from role players and pitching reclamation projects. That run to the top (where second place was missed by under 5 points) was followed last year by a rebuilding term, where the squad trended young and took a ton of young arms in the hope of developing studs from within. The result has been a mixed bag of some great potential, some classic vets, and some oddball decisions.
Infield: Michael Barrett (C); Richie Sexson (1B); Josh/Jesse Barfield (2B); Felipe Lopez (PG, St. John's); Ryan Zimmerman (3B). Some good stuff here, some not-so-good stuff here, which may almost be the mantra of this squad. Zimmerman's a stud at the corner, the only problem with him being that there's enough good 3B's all of a sudden that he's no longer a huge edge at position that he was say 5 years ago. Lopez is a great stats guy if you need steals (which this team does) and Sexson, while not a building block, is a fine gap-filler at first. I'm a bit bearish on Barfield, but perhaps that' just because I remember his dad sucking before and after his Yankee tenure. And then there's Barrett, who's been passed around like Lindsay Lohan at this point. I can't think he's leading you to anything greater.
Outfield/DH: Vladimir Guerrero, Jason Bay, Magglio Ordonez, Jim Thome. On paper this is nothing shy of tremendous, but aside from Bay, there's a lot of injury risk here. Vlad's often good for some nagging annoyances, Magglio once had to go to the Netherlands for medical treatment, and Thome only has about 4 functioning vertebrae remaining. You've gotta think if someone told Bobby that he'd get 600 games out of this quartet, he'd take it and run.
Bench: Pudge Rodriguez (C); Adrian Gonzalez (1B); Rich Aurilia (Util); Dave Roberts (OF); Coco Crisp (OF). Is there a mandate that each team has a P.O.S. on its bench that I didn't get? I mean, first Melvin Mora, now Rich Aurilia? Please tell me that the Ekos aren't carrying the dessicated remains of Dick Schofield on their bench. THAT rant aside, this bench is actually quite strong. Gonzalez & Crisp are excellent flyers on guys that might show improvement and be useful, while Pudge & Roberts both could be super trade bait in June for a team that needs a catcher with a pulse or steals, respectively.
Starting Pitching: Matt Cain, Ervin Santana, Cliff Lee, Tom Glavine, Kei Igawa; John Maine. Youth will be served here on a staff that has enough upside to make Hubie Brown choke on his dyed-grey phlegm. Glavine apparently is around to be a camp counselor to the kiddies, because frankly, even as an optimistic Met fan, I'm dubious that he can repeat last year. Cain & Santana represent guys who can step up to the top level; Lee and Mainre are fine as staff fodder, though hardly guys you want to make key components of a contender, and Igawa is...well, currently possibly in the Yankees bullpen. Some good stuff here, some question marks, but at least we don't see execrable forces like Woody Williams and Jason Marquist being trotted out for old time's sake.
Relief Pitching: Joe Nathan, Bobby Jenks, Mike Gonzalez. By contrast to the starters, they're going top heavy with a dice roll and a question mark. Nathan's as solid as they come, but Jenks could morph into Fatter Rob Dibble in a heartbeat. Gonzalez isn't closing....yet.....but may also have to contend with Rafael Soriano by the time the fork in Bob Wickman's back punctures his heart. Speaking of Fat Bob, doesn't it just seem like yesterday when he was the throw-in player in the Steve Sax-Melido Perez swap?
Breakout Candidate: While Brandon Webb & Jake Peavy get all the hype, I think I'd rather have Matt Cain than either of them. He's got the injury nexus issues to contend with, but I think he hits the next level this year and contends for the Cy Young.
On the Wrong Side of the Hill: Rich Aurilia? Meet Melvin Mora, your competition for Most Irrelevant and Misguided Fantasy Pickup. Beyond this exercise in silliness, you've gotta think the cliff is approaching rapidly for Thome. He was pretty awesome last year, but this may be the last year you get out of him before he hits Griffey Status.
X-Factor: Kei Igawa might be the definition of this category. Despite having some cute-ass kids (right), he doesn't have a spot in the rotation yet, though you have to think that Carl Pavano will give him every chance to make it happen. Igawa was billed as the Japanese Ted Lilly. Considering the Yanks threw away the American Lilly for Jeff Weaver, that's damnation by faint praise to the nth power.
Verdict: There's a master plan here, and it's starting to take shape. The outfield hitting is tremendous, and there's some great kids with upside in the infield, coupled with some interesting flyers. The starting pitching is allllllmost there, it's precisely one ace shy of being top-shelf; by contrast, the relievers are top-heavy and without any depth whatsoever. I think these guys contend....in 2008. This looks like an excellent year for consolidation and lining up chess pieces to make master strokes for contending next year, including perhaps some sharp trades and infield pieces being picked up. Unless Cain & Santana bust out, in which case, a shot at the money is NOT out of the question.