For my money, the best year in music during my lifetime was 1991, when rock had a resurgence, grunge took off, and we were freed from the shackles of crap like Simply Red and Jody Whatley. Yes, the Pixies got the ball rolling with Doolittle in 1989, but the sheer quantity of great albums crested in '91.
In other news, that was twenty fricking years ago. I, like the rest of my contemporaries in this league, am quite, quite old.
For the six team previews that I'll be doing, the hook will be using lyrics and songs from 1991 albums while weaving in some actual thoughts and analysis on the rosters that teams have put together. It's a gimmick we've used before but now you'll have it in spades with flannel and Seattle coffee.
First up is my favorite album from the year, Pearl Jam's Ten. Formed from the wreckage of Mother Love Bone and originally named--quite spectacularly--Mookie Blaylock, Eddie Vedder's band's first album still holds up well today, and the first side* is laden with classic guitar riffs and songs that define the early 90s. The band and album spawned a series of imitators from Stone Temple Pilots to Seven Mary Three, so I suppose from that perspective, you could argue it was a disaster because it heralded the crap that made up the late 90s.
*Yes, I'm aware that there is an entire generation out there that is unfamiliar with the terms "sides" and the act of flipping over a record or cassette. Piss off.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from the album's greatness is perpetual cellar dweller, Wu Tang Financial. Last year, Jon assumed his usual place at the ass of the league, and was stepped on further by losing the lottery and having to trade up for the first pick. Will this be the first year that he finishes in the money?
Take a good look, this could be the day.
My reservations about drafting him aside, Teddy's point on Ryan Howard is correct: the dude can rake, and at a minimum will contribute to 3 of the 5 hitting categories. Which is good, because the balance of the starting infield is either speculative or guys I don't love. I've already opined on Brandon Phillips, and Yuniel Escobar is about replacement level for shortstops. Matt Wieters and Pedro Alvarez are in the post-hype phase of their careers, and while they certainly aren't horrible, theyneed to take a big step forward for this team to contend this year. Although he's not starting currently, I actually like Sean Rodriguez a lot and think he'll be their second best infielder.
And now my bitter hands cradle broken glass.
The Gravel Pits start 2011 with Grady Sizemore looking broken, Domonic Brown actually being broken, and Carlos Beltran being shunned off to right field following leg surgery that may have turned him into a gimp. It's important that at least one of these guys comes back and is productive this year, because the balance of the outfield, while decent, is not championship caliber. Mike Stanton is a great young talent and could be a stud...in 2 years. Hunter Pence is underrated as a fantasy contributor and is a nice 3rd outfielder to have, but if he's your most steady contributor, you're in trouble. And Alfonso Soriano and Torii Hunter were last useful in 2007. So barring inventing a time machine that goes both forward and backwards or a group rate at The Mayo Clinic, this outfield appears to be fairly middling.
Praying...now to something that never showed him anything.
Let me get my bias out of the way first: I am of the opinion that pitchers are inherently risky, put up fantasy numbers that are tough to predict from year to year, and if you're going to roll the dice, it should be with starters. For better or for worse, this owner appears to agree with me, because after great young starter Tommy Hanson, all we get are a lot of question marks. What the hell happened to Josh Beckett last year? Is James Shields cooked? Is Javy Vazquez going to succeed in a crappy small market? And is Clayton Richard really a hockey player?
I have no problem with taking flyers on guys with upside, and to their credit, this team has guys that will strike out batters. The problem is that I don't like any of these pitchers--Beckett's 2010 scares me, Shields and Vazquez strike me as over the hill, Brandon Webb hasn't pitched for two years, and Joe Blanton is Just a Guy. What's also odd is that these pitchers aren't good options for 2012. If you're going to build for next year, fine. Then go after young guys with upside. Because the only pitchers that are "young" are Hanson and Richard, and the latter is not an instrumental part of a fantasy team.
She could play pretend, she could join the game boy.
There's just something appropos about the team's best pitcher being a middle reliever. Aroldis Chapman is an other-worldly talent caught between a rock (Francisco Cordero's contract) and a hard place (Dusty Baker being Dusty Baker). If he doesn't start or close, he's of use but is not a conduit to success. And make no mistake--this bullpen needs him to close. Chris Perez is the definition of a middling closer--on a 60-win team, no less--and my hatred for Broxton is well-documented. So unless Chapman starts making appearances in the 9th inning, this will not be a strength either.
Seemed a harmless little fuck.
For the first time in a couple of years, there appears to be a solid plan on offense: build around young hitters (Wieters, Alvarez, Stanton and Brown) and add in high end talent when appropriate (Howard, Pence, Hanson). And there are a couple of fun chips for 2012--in addition to Chapman, Stephen Strasburg is on the DL for the year, and Philipps and Broxton are the kind of guys that will fetch good value at the trade deadline. This isn't the worst team in the league anymore, but it doesn't look like they'll be cashing a check this year.