Today's season preview is of the team of the 2002 show finisher and 2005 runner-up, my co-author Teddy. In terms of the team name, gone are oblique references to baseball, inside jokes about a road trip, and hipster ruminations on Worcester, MA. Instead, we get something called "Uneviable Position". My first thought was that this was a reference that I just missed, but a google of the phrase yields links to articles about Tim Geithner, Yemen, the Louisville women's basketball team, and everyones favorite female politician, Sarah Palin. You know what? I'm chalking the team name up to either being a fond reminiscence on the Palin Experience or my co-author showing some sympathy for Levi Johnson, a man who last fall redefined being in an unenviable position.
The reason that the team name has to refer to one if these random items is that this appears to be one if the cintenders this year, as the keeper list includes the best pitcher in baseball, some stud hitters, and (gasp) two Yankees. How does it all shake out for Tripp's Papas?
An ecclectic mix of players that should pan out to being decent if unexciting. Adam Dunn and Brian Roberts are both reliable performers on their side of the infield with good power, OBP and steals combined to be dangerous. It's the other three positions where it's a bit more dicey, as Villa Napoli, JJ Hardy and Mark Reynolds all look to be slightly above replacement level for their positions, but none are studs. It's equally likely that Jed Lowrie and/or Andy Laroche are the team's starters and are the make-or-break performers that determine the team's success.
Starting off with Ryan Lloyd Braun is always good, and rounding him out with Soriano and Pence is nice so long as those two guys keep running. If they stop, then they're problems. The variance here is going to come from a pair of utterly insane, talented and fragile outfielders: Milton Bradley and Elijah Dukes. We know both can play. We know both can't stay healthy for too long. And we know both are the leading candidates to be this decade's Joey Albert Belle. Keeping these guys healthy and productive will go a long way to this team being competitive offensively.
The early season loss of Ervin Santana looks deadly on its face, but examining this team's rotation shows a depth that's good enough to overcome his demise. Starting off with Johan St. Johan is clearly a blessing, as his offseason injury issues aside, he's gonna have a tremendous year. What's really good though is that this team has assembled three types of starters for the rest of the rotation: (a) high upside/high collapse studs in Burnett and Brett Myers; (b) inning eating grinders in Blanton and Gilgamesh; and (c) a pair of flyers I absolutely love: Annibal Sanchez and Ubaldo Jimenez. It's not unlike the BoSox plan of taking a bunch of cheap lottery tickets for the pitching staff and seeing how they play out; Meche and Blanton will provide enough decent quality innings that really, only 2 of the other 5 starters need to pitch well for this team to compete. One of the best staffs in the league for sure.
Shockingly, this is actually not a bad pen, what with Rivera holding down the fort as the closing ace, Troy Percival and Kevin Gregggg as nominal closers who could lose their jobs or save 40 games each, and deep sleeper Raffy Perez as a contributor. If you split the difference on Percival/Greggggg and say they add up to 1 1/3 good closers, this is fairly respectable.
This is a smartly constructed roster with some minor flaws in the infield, and some health and development question marks on offense in general, but absolutely nothing that can't be repaired in season or fixed with some not-out-of-the-questions overperformances, as this pitching is sneaky strong. Definite contender for the money.