Five days till Opening Day, i.e., when the Mets exact revenge and kick the ever-living shit out of the Cardinals. Eat it, Elders. Who's next? Ah yes, our token Yankee fan, The Spam Avengers!
Team History: The Spam Avengers joined us in the 2nd year of the league, taking the place of somebody that we've totally lost track of (Val? Barto? Random dude from St. Louis?), and proceeded to draw laughter from the league for taking Jason Giambi over Barry Bonds in the expansion draft. The joke was quickly on the rest of the league when he overcame a huge early season start by your humble narrator to take the league in his first year. Since then, we've had no finishes worse than 4th by this squad, and even those 4th place finishes have been by infintessimally small percentages. It's a story when this team doesn't contend. Also notable is that they've now had the same team name for 4 straight seasons, a mark only matched by Evil Empire. (I could be wrong, but I believe the Torkies were something even more asinine back then.)
Infield: Mike Piazza, Justin Morneau, Tad Iguchi, Jose Reyes, Aramis Ramirez. At first blush my shoulders shrugged, but this is a very VERY well constructed infield on further examination. Reyes is an obvious stud, and even if he regresses in the power categories, he's still good for 100 R's and 50 SB's. I love Piazza as a candidate to hit 30 dingers this year, which should offset the inevitable Morneau regression. Add the fact that Aramis really belongs on the top level of players and never gets the credit he deserves, and we're staring at a very very potent IF, boys and girls.
Outfield/DH: Jermaine Dye, Barry Bonds, Ichiro!, Jason Giambi. If you go by the assumption that Dye & Giambi are past their prior injuries, and will only be slowed by aches & pains, then this is nothing shy of excellent. And well rounded--Ichiro! provides the necessary steals, while Bonds bops. And they all provide a solid OBP by hook or by crook. Very good, if not stellar.
Bench: Mike Cameron, Morgan Ensberg, Nick Markakis, Ray Durham. We've got three candidates I like to have a bounceback/breakout year in Cameron, Markakis & Ensberg, each of which is a smart addition to the bench. Having a careful eye on the OF/DH situation will make this work even better, as Bonds is probably only playing ~120 games, so watching lineups like a hawk and spotting Cameron/Markakis correctly should pay off. Durham had a monster year in 2006 that I think he's unlikely to repeat, but I'm nit-picking, he's probably a better starting 2B than 1/3 of the league is sporting.
Starting Pitching: Scott Kazimir, Erik Bedard, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Scott Olsen, The Big Eunuch, (gulp) Bartolo Colon, (double gulp) Mark Prior. The big names on this squad are obviously the Eunuch, who is who he is at this point, and Dice-K. Yet, I can't help but think that Bedard is actually the star of this rotation, which indicates its depth. There's a pissload of K's to ensue from these guys. My reservations (besides counting on anything from Prior & Colon): (i) there's a bunch of guys here on shitty team like the D-Rays, Marlins & O's, who aren't going to chalk up a lotta wins, (ii) there's a lotta guys in the AL, which won't help the rate stats, and (iii) there are a bunch of guys here we're crossing fingers over. This could finish like a Peter Gammons column: if Dice K adjusts well, and if Johnson regains his confidence, and if Kazimir stays healthy, and if Olsen avoids the sophmore jinx.....
Relief Pitching: Trevor Hoffman, Francisco Cordero, Dan Wheeler, Mike Capps. By contrast to their IF, this is a group I like less after closer examination. Yeah, Hoffman is Hoffman, but he's about 3 sliders from getting forked in the back. Cordero's ok...but I can't shake the feeling he's about to revert to TX form, which sucked. Dan Wheeler's a pitcher without an opportunity in a tater-tastic park. Which leaves one question: who the fuck is Mike Capps?
Breakout Candidate: I may be a year early on this one, but I think Markakis is gonna be a star, and this is a great spot for him to flourish, what with OF issues and some big names in their walk year. If he does hit the ground running this year, we're looking at a tough squad.
On the Wrong Side of the Hill: Well, I've already mentioned my questions about Durham & Hoffman...and we know that Johnson's kinda old....I dunno, would Mike Cameron even count? Pass.
X-Factor: This team has a triuumverate of X-Factors. Bonds, Prior & Colon have a range of expectations that you can't match anywhere else, and frankly, there isn't an outcome that would shock us, besides them all having clean healthy and scandal-free seasons. Or Colon checking in at under 275.
Verdict: It's interesting, I thought this was the 2nd best team after draft day, but now that we've done these previews, I'm less convinced. This isn't to say that the team stinks and that they won't improve, there are a LOT of tradeable parts here (Markakis, Olsen, etc.) and the holes aren't big. This is most certainly an upper level team, and I'd be shocked for them to be selling instead of buying on July 1. But a lock for the top? Not quite.