Yes, it's once again the most pointless-est time of the year here at the GRBG, when we take a shot at previewing the championship prospects of each of the teams in the league. While we enjoy these previews, we've always been a little leery of making firm predictions. We don't want to hurt feelings (including our own) by forecasting teams to finish in the toilet. And we also don't want to look like total idiots when it turns out our predictions were brutally incorrect.
As a result, we've added a new wrinkle this year. Once we've talked our way through all of the teams, we'll be turning to Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA projection system to predict the league. We have already run the projected lineups for each team through the system. While we don't want to spoil the results, we will say that PECOTA has a clear favorite this year, and predicts there will be new blood at the top of the heap.
But before we get to the computers, let's take an old-fashioned look at each of the teams, starting with Mission Accomplished. This franchise has been on a rebuilding program that has stretched on further than the rebuilding of Tikrit. This year, though, they actually traded for players rather than future draft picks, and managed to assemble a serviceble core on offense.
As a result they've adopted Dubya's optimistic slogan as their team name this year. The name is fitting, given that this team likely won't actually accomplish their mission until another five years and one regime change have passed. On a related note, we predict the league will admit its first black owner in 2014.
Almost certainly the strength of the team this season, with The Best Fantasy Player in Baseball (Albert Pujols) anchoring a unit that also boasts top-3 catcher Brian McCann and solid citizens Kelly Johnson and Garrett Atkins. Ryan Theriot is also present, presumably because Rey Ordonnez was unavailable. But hey, there are a couple of teams with multiple viable SS options, so the Theriot hole might be patchable via trade later in the season. Joey Votto is lurking, and a good bet to produce more RBI this year with Junior Griffey and Adam Dunn gone from Cincy.
Young, fast, and stupid. Or, in other words, the Revenge of Esix Snead. The OF is built around future stud Matt Kemp, who fronts a group of talented young flakes. It's inarguable that Lastings Milledge, Adam Jones, and Shane Victorino can run; it's considerably more arguable whether two of the three will be any good at baseball this year. This is the part of the team that hasn't quite turned the corner from win-later (maybe) to win-now. That said, there's enough slugging in the IF that the team might be able to get away with starting a bunch of swift lottery tickets in the OF. The team's upside and downside are mostly concentrated here; if the OF comes through, the offense should be top-3 in nearly every category.
There's a lot of youth on display here as well, though the team's young pitchers have proven a lot more than its young outfielders. Jon Lester, King Felix, and Matt Cain give the team a great young base of starting pitching, and they've built in some upside by banking on bounce-back years from former fantasy studs Justin Verlander and Fausto Carmona. Although the staff is young, all of the starters have shown themselves capable of handling a heavy workload. That combination of youth and proven durability make this staff one of the best overall injury risks in the league. Which is kind of funny, given the bullpen.
It's not that the relievers are all that fragile. It's that the relievers won't be worth very much unless there are some injuries in front of them in real life. Jose Arredondo and Hong-Chih Kuo have great stuff, but are buried behind relatively young, healthy closers. So while they'll help out the team's rate stats, they do nothing to fill the hole in the saves column.
The only closer on the roster right now is Charlie Villanueva's cousin Carlos. And since Carlos is worse than Charlie at every single athletic task other than growing eyebrows, it's unclear how many saves he'll rack up before crashing back to earth in middle relief. Unless both Arredondo and Kuo are promoted to closer, it's unclear how this team will escape the basement in the saves category. It's awfully tough to hit the board starting in an 11-point hole like that. Something will need to change here.
Even with the issues at closer, this team has enough firepower and upside to keep the owner in the top half of the league, and focused on this year instead of some amorphus future horizon. In other words, expect a marked increase in trade proposals and TA word counts this season.