Up next on the preview conveyor belt is one of four teams using the same name as last year. Given none of this group finished higher than fifth place, you'd think someone would have rethought this strategy. Alas. Anyway, time for a look at Jeters Never Prosper.
Since winning the inaugural season and coming in second the following season, it's been something of a binary result for the Calcified Minkas. In the next seven seasons, they have a pair of 3rd place finishes, four finishes in either 6th or 7th, and one seemingly aberrant 9th place finish. You know what you're going to get with Jake's teams--a lot of veterans, some questionable starting pitchers, a few injury reclamation projects, and an odd infatuation with Derek Jeter for someone that's not a Yankee fan.
So what does 2011 have in store for the original champs? Let's have a look-see.
On their face the names look quite impressive: Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, Derek Jeter, Aramis Ramirez and Ian Kinsler, with Justin Morneau in the DH slot for now. That group has won 2 MVPs, has made a combined 25 All Star teams, and this year will gross $88.1 million in salary. So why am I underwhelmed?
Let's start with injury concerns. In his 5 seasons, Kinsler has topped more than 130 games played once, and at that, only hit 144. If he's not healthy, he can't contribute. Morneau appears to have the same neurologist as Wayne Chrebet as it's still unclear when he'll be cleared to play from last July's concussion. While Mauer is great, as a catcher, he'll never play more than 140 games. And A-Ram, quietly, has missed 120 games over the last two years. The most reliable players for PAs are the team's best (Fielder) and worst (Jeter).
I would say let's look to their backups, except the only backup infielder is Scott Rolen, who has never been a paradigm of health and is 36 years old. (There's also Aubrey Huff's first base eligibility, but given that they have Fielder and Morneau, so what?) So while there's some nice potential for production here and no real sinkholes beyond Mr. November, you have to expect that they're going to need about 500-750 PA's from players currently not on their roster.
Zero stars and zero scrubs. Angel Pagan had a nice year as the Mets' best outfielder last year, which is damnation by faint praise. Huff seemed to have found the fountain of youth last year, and should put up solid stats, and the same is true for Nick Markakis. And Jason Kubel is fine as your 4th outfielder. But the upside here appears to be league-average hitting. Unless Markakis finally explodes or Pagan takes an unexpected leap forward, we're not seeing big production from this crew.
In years past we've killed Jake for being cavalier with the risks he takes in the starting rotation. Last year I called it the "Aces and Flyers" method; in 2009, Teddy called it "Brandon Webb and a whole bunch of kids"; in 2008, Teddy dubbed it a staff "assembled by Bear Stearns" and "bordering on ridiculous."
But I'm hear to praise Jake, not to bury him. This year's staff is one of his best and has the potential to be one of the league's best. Jered Weaver remains an underappreciated ace and is a nice anchor. While I'm not as high on Dan Haren as my colleague, he's unquestionably a fine #2. John Danks, the Cum Dempster and Jair Jurrjens are all solid citizens. Brian Matusz and Jeremy Hellickson are potential aces in the making. Hell, even the flyers are defensible--if his arm stays attached, Anibal Sanchez is good, and what's wrong with playing the DL-stash game with Johan St. Johan?
This looked like an okay pen until Brian Wilson went down, but reports are that he should be fine in a week or two. If he is, then the 1-2 punch of him and K-Rod is perfectly fine. Jonny Venters and Evan Meek are interesting plays--they both are nice pitchers that need the closers in front of them to falter, and both Craig Kimbrel and Joel Pederast just might do that. Fun gambles.
It's the pitching that leads me to think that this squad will be mildly frisky this year, as good starters plus decent contributions from the infield should lead the team being in contention. But the outfield needs to be upgraded substantially if they're going to compete--it's tough to see an Aubrey Huff-lead squad of outfielders contending for the title. What does give these guys some hope is the fact there's a lot of tradeable assets for a team building for 2012: Hellickson, Matusz, Santana and Jesus Montero are all guys that would fetch a bounty on the open market. So I forecast another middle of the pack finish unless a big move is made come June. That's up to the owner.