What comes with the rampant (and usually merited) criticism is the unassailable fact that this has been the best team and owner in the league's 6-year history. Since changing their name from Toilet Phace to its current iteration, they have yet to finish out of the money and have a pair of league titles, and the owner will still argue that he should have won in 2003 but for the innings limit rule. What's made this even more impressive is that the league's level of difficulty has increased, what with the expulsion of 3-4 owners who didn't know their asses from the elbows and the addition of stalwarts Darrin, Scot and Alex, all of whom have a title to their credit. This team, unlike the Yankees, Rangers and Mariners, is proof that you can win with A-Rod.
Sadly for the Torkies (though not the balance of the league), 2008 represents a fulcrum year for the squad, as A-Rod next year becomes a 4-slot keeper under the new rules, and it's hard to see how they'll be able to keep him plus additionally expensive players like Chase Utley, Joe Mauer and Chone Figgins. So while it's not quite an end of an era season for this team, the immediacy of the pending availability of those players will make him, by necessity, an active trader throughout the year, be it as a buyer or seller.
2007 Recap: The 2006 Champs burst out to an epic lead by Memorial Day, amassing a 15+ point lead by June 1st. In keeping with league history, the lead fizzled by the All-Star game and they were caught by It's Enrico Pallazzo by August, who ran away with the title. This is the third time we've had a team open a huge lead in May (me in '03, Alex in '04) to watch it disappear by mid-summer. Let's call this the Terry Leach Phenomenon, named after a perennial quick starter that lapsed into craptitude every August.
Infield: Joe Mauer, James Loney, Chase Utley, Alex Rodriguez, Mike Young. When you start out with one MVP (A-Rod) and one shoulda been MVP (Utley), you can run mediocrities in the other 3 slots and be okay. Which they haven't done--Young is underrated and a nice bounceback candidate; Mauer's a catching stud; and Loney has Breakout Star written all over him, so long as Torre doesn't bench him for Nomar. Here's the best IF in the league, folks.
Outfield: Magglio Ordonez, Bobby Abreu, Manny Ramirez, Chone Figgins. An interesting vet collection that's high OBP, could slug 100 homers, and is probably good for 50 steals. Let's call this an "asset", though I'll note that Magglio is prime to bounce off last year and nobody likes Manny this year, meaning he'll hit 45 home runs
Bench: None. Well, that was easy. This squad always goes light on offense, and Figgins can play supersub, but I have to believe they'll be dropping a fizzled starter for something like Nate McLouth come May. Speaking of which...
Starters: Clay Buchholz, Adam Wainwright, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tom Gorzelanny, Franklin Morales, Scott Baker, Boof!, Scott Olsen. Now that's a lot of young pitching. This seemingly inscrutable nontet can be divided into young Rockies, young Twins, druggies, guys from bad NL Central teams and Buchholz. The hedges are all over the place here--the Rockies guys should get W's but kill the rate stats; the Twins and NL Central guys may win a combined 30 games but strike out 1000 hitters, and Buchholz may spend significant PT in Rhode Island. This staff makes Jake's look secure. However, the owner's bold enough to act on the waiver wire with vigor, so I suspect we'll see some new faces come July.
Relievers: Jon Papelbon, Trevor Hoffman, Brandon Lyon, Jon Broxton, Heath Bell, Brian Fuentes. It's a mixed bag of closers here, with a young guy on a good team (Paps), a fair guy on a good team (Lyon), and an old guy on a fair team (Hoffman). The sad part is that Broxton's (left) the 2nd best pitcher here and he'll be of minimal value barring injury.
Breakout Star: James Loney will make me regret dumping him in favor of Matt Garza. Bank on it.
Bust Potential: Bobby Abreu does get the benefit of being on the Yanks for his counting stats, but I don't like his OBP and HRs to stay up.
X Factor: I can't pick just one from that staff can I? Actually yes--Adam Wainwright may be an ace in the making, and if he doesn't show signs of injury after tripling his workload last year, he could be the ace the team needs. He could also be on Dr. Frank Jobe's ER table in May.
Prediction: This offense is too good not to get the team 45+ points on the half of the ledger, but there's an abundance of reliance on lottery ticket pitchers and surprisingly little in the way off good trade bait. It's stupid to count out an owner that's finished worse than 4th exactly once, but this team needs a lot of arm help, and barring that, is going to struggle to compete for the top spot.