Next up in my somewhat rushed charge through my half of the season previews is last year’s champion, The Spam Avengers. This team found itself in an unusual position following the season, in that it had too many single-slot guys it wanted to keep. It’s supposed to be pretty well impossible to have that particular problem as the defending champion in a keeper league, so at first glance you’d have to assume that TSA are the favorites heading into this year as well.
League history backs up that first impression. Here are the year-after finishes for the previous winners of the league: 2, 2, 3, 3, 2, 2, 1, 5. Only one team has failed to hit the board the year after a win, and that was last year’s version of the Torkies, who were coming off two straight wins and finally had to cut loose a bunch of high-slot guys from its dynastic squad. As noted above, that’s a very different situation from the one facing TSA heading into the offseason. So pretty much regardless of what we say below, the numbers say to pick TSA to hit the board this year.
The IF is anchored by two guys who each managed to complete the rare Double Leap last season: Robbie Cano and Joey Votto. Three years ago, Cano had an OBP of .305 and Votto was literally insane. Two years ago it seemed like both guys made the Leap: Cano added 11 additional HRs and 50 points of OBP, while Votto established himself as an everyday player. But then they both Leaped again last year: Cano added 25 or so RBI and yet another 30 points of OBP, while Votto went figuratively insane and was the non-Pujols division MVP. At this point, it seems like there are no more leaps left for these guys. But no more are really needed—even with a little regression, both guys would be near the top of the heap at their positions.
Ryan Zimmerman gives the team another guy whose performance has improved over the past few years, and gives good production at what has become a shallow position. To the extent there are question marks, they come at the other IF slots. Carlos Santana is coming in with Matt Wieter-level hype. TSA will have to hope that he doesn’t also provide Wieter-level production. At SS, Jimmy Rollins is one of the few guys on the roster who has been heading in the wrong direction over the past few years—one more anti-leap and he’ll be down to fantasy replacement level. But even these question marks can’t dampen the enthusiasm over a very strong squad.
Here’s a fun question: what exactly is this team’s starting OF? Based on how things are currently arranged, it looks like three-category accumulators Jacoby Ellsbury, Drew Stubbs, and Nick Swisher are the chosen three. But Carlos Quentin, Jason Bay, and Manny Ramirez are also on hand, and you could see a future in which those three guys are the starters, at least while all three are healthy. Assuming good management and good luck on daily swaps, this group could be great.
Top heavy as a Barbie doll. It’s tough to argue with Cliff Lee, Clay Kershaw, and David Price up front. But there’s not much behind those three in terms of depth. Brett Myers had a quiet bounce-back season last year, but has an injury history and plays for a lousy team in a lousy park. Jorge de la Rosa was also dinged up last year, though his peripherals bode well for this season if he can stay healthy. Scott Baker is his own team’s #5 starter, so he’ll miss some starts, especially early on in the season when there are more off days.
And that’s it. There are 5.5 SPs on hand, with no room for additional flyers because of the logjam of outfielders described above. The roster imbalance might resolve itself as the year goes on, but for right now there’s not much margin for error down here.
Carlos Marmol aids the team by providing saves plus rate stats that won’t pull down the team average. Leo Nunez and Francisco Cordero are more accumulators, and neither is a lock to end the season as closer, given Florida’s budget woes and the looming presence of Aroldis Chapman in Cincy. If the back-end starters come through, the team can carry Nunez and Cordero’s rate stats; if not, the team might take a little step back from its insane ERA and WHIP performance from last year.
This will not really come as a shock, but these guys are pretty good. That said, we do think the pitching staff as currently constituted is a little weaker than we had assumed on first glance—not weak, mind you, but maybe not the rate stat monster it was last season. Still, both the numbers and the walkthrough show this team is one of the favorites for this season.