Monday, March 17, 2008

Season Preview 2008: Wu Tang Financial

Leading off my quartet of previews is something we haven't seen before: a resuscitated name in Wu Tang Financial. Now, we've had a bunch of squads that have had the same name year after year (Evil Empire, The Spam Avengers, Le Dupont Torkies, to name three). We've had folks like myself, Teddy, Andy and Scot who cycle in a fresh name every year. We had M**e, who stubbornly refused to actually name his team, and has rightly been banished to the Duke Snider penitentiary. And we have Ironhead, who changes his name every lunar cycle, yet somehow keeps it consistent by failing to ever note that his keyboard has a shift button.

But Jon's the first guy to hit the way-back machine for his team name, which is good from the perspective that naming your team after Phil Mickelson or James Garfield is pretty moronic. At the same time, it's not like he's channeling some great wins from the past by dredging up the old nom de plume; it's one thing if Jake wanted to bring back whatever his team name in 2002 was, but revamping a failure? An interesting gambit.

Which brings us to his roster, which in and of itself is an interesting gambit. For the third straight year, WTF has assembled a team of hard throwing starters and burly hitters that pound the ball a lot, but can't run for shit. In short, he's put together the Nintendo Ice Hockey team with 5 fat guys. How does that play out in rotisserie baseball?

2007 Summary: A decent-if-boring 8th place finish for the Bloated Southpaws was made possible from a year of a ton of home runs and wins. The downfall between them and true contention was the fact that only three guys accumulated saves for their entire roster (one of which, Joel Zumaya, had exactly One Save), and a total lack of any footspeed, keeping their R's and SB's in check. This is what happens when you load up on blubbery guys who hit the ball a long way.

Infield: Kenji Johjima, Prince Fielder, B.J. Upton, Troy Tulowitzki, Edwin Encarnacion. Youth is well-served here, with the exception of Johjima, who's probably the definition of Replacement Level Catcher. What I like here is that all of the infielders help a different statistic: Fielder's a power stud, Upton's perfect for steals and run, Encarnacion is nice with RBI's, and Tulowitzki should be solid for OBP. Presuming that there isn't much of a regression from last year's nice seasons for the non-Edwin portions of the infield, this is a nice productive group.

Outfield: Rick Ankiel, Fat Squirrel, Lance Berkman, Jay Bruce. A useful collection of outfielders that's no worse than good at any position, as even I've come around on the virtues of the Burrell. If Ankiel develops, this is a pretty nice collection of men patrolling the green, albeit 4 guys with absolutely no speed whatsoever.

Bench: Rafael Furcal, Kelly Johnson, Coco Crisp, Mark Reynolds. Furcal and Johnson are nice backups at positions where the squad's got guys who both injury prone and prime candidates to revert to the mean, so they're a sensible addition. As defense is not a category, I cannot fathom what the hell Coco Crisp is doing here, unless they wanted a mascot for kicks.

Starters: Carlos Zambrano, Chris Young, Javier Vazquez, Scott Kazmir, Derek Lowe Face, Zach Greinke, Barry Zito. Stealing Kazmir with the 5th pick of the draft turned the staff from mediocre at the top to very solid all around. Jim Duquette's legacy is a veritable stud, and the pair of Zambrano and Vazquez is a nice combination of good innings, wins and strikeouts. Greinke's a neat breakout candidate, and while I can't say a lot of good things about Lowe, Young and Zito, they're far from the worst candidates to provide a lot of K's and some solid innings. This isn't a top-shelf staff but it's one with a lot of good players at the core.

Relievers: Francisco Rodriguez, Chris Ray, Joakim Soria, Cla Meredith. The team's biggest weakness, but one that can be overcome with either a few key injuries or a good eye over the waiver wire. K-Rod is at least a nice start to getting 40+ saves, and there's a chance Soria wins the Doug Jones Award for the most statistically productive closer on a crappy team, previously held by luminaries like Bobby Thigpen, Bob Wickman, and repeat winner the Late Rod Beck. Have to think some of the depth noted above may need to be traded out for some saves.

Breakout Star: On everyone's list, Jay Bruce is either the #1 or #2 prospect. The ballsy pick of Bruce in the 2nd round indicates the franchise believes, and I can't argue with them. Here's to him breaking out in his rookie year into a Ryan Braun-esque phenom.

Bust Potential: I'll go on the record as skeptical that Chris Young can repeat his All-Star performance of last year. Partly because I think he's overrated and mostly because I think he's now in front of a porous defense and is lacking a good offense to produce, I like him to regress to below the median. Plus, everyone hates Princeton kids.

X-Factor: The Cincinnati Reds have jerked around Edwin Encarnacion for three years now, refusing to just give the guy a starting role desipte him having a helluva bat. It would seem that a change of manager would be the perfect remedy for him, right? Wrong. Welcome to Ohio, Dusty Baker, hater of young players and walks. This is a pick that could yield anywhere between 8 and 35 homers.

Prediction: This is a surprisingly solid all-around team without a real weakness to be seen, with the exception being the lack of closers, which is the easiest problem to remedy during the season by trade or by the waiver wire. I'd pencil them in for a mid-pack finish as currently constituted, with a decent amount of potential to move up with a couple of savvy trades.

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