While still the league's most successful all-time franchise, the past couple of years have not been kind to the Torkies. They've gone from 1st to 5th to 10th in the standings, and from 101.5 to 68 to 47.5 in points. Much of that was down to an inevitable team reboot following back-to-back wins. But we're now in year 3 of the rebuild, so it's legitimate to ask whether the team has gotten itself back into contention for a run at the board.
Much like Real Madrid, the Torkies have chosen to build their infield offense around attractive metrosexuals and the Portuguese. Madrid has managed to kill both birds with one stone by bringing in Portuguese hair gel afficionado Cristiano Ronaldo as their star striker. By contrast, the Torkies have diversified. New first-rounder Mark Teixeira fills the Portuguese quota. But does he meet the attractive metrosexual requirement?
So, no. As a result, they've brought back aging centaur enthusiast Alex Rodriguez to fill that role.
The rest of the IF is unsettled. As of now, the team has Michael Young queued up in the 2B hole. But while I think Young will crater this year, they also have top prospect Dustin Ackley around, and could even move Ben Zobrist back to 2B. The situation is somewhat similar at SS and C, where the team has multiple options. However, unlike with 2B, all of the SS and C options are below average except in SB. If A-Rod and Teixeira mash, the Torkies will be able to patch together the holes. But both have posted multiple year-over-year declines, and are on the wrong side of 30. So while they'll still be good, we don't think they'll be able to cover for the profound lack of power at the other IF positions.
As noted above, Zobrist could play in either the IF or OF, so it's a bit tough to judge this group. But any way you slice it, the key guy is Lance Berkman. If he stays healthy and repeats last year's bounceback, Zobrist and Shane Victorino can perform the supporting roles for which they are intended. If not, the OF situation mirrors the problems in the IF--they will steal a ton of bases, and do OK in R and OBP, but will do nothing to fill the HR and RBI categories. Having one unit like that is fine. Saddling both units with the same weakness is problematic.
The Torkies are continuing a multi-year tradition of relying heavily on RP to carry their staff. That strategy leaves them vulnerable in two categories: W and K, where the lack of regular IP (the Torkies threw the second-fewest innings in the league last year) prevents the team from amassing counting stats. The Torkies seem to be aware of that vulnerability, and have moved to patch it with a bunch of high-K, high-BB, high-variance pitchers. The ace is Adam Wainwright, who is nice to have but also hasn't pitched in the bigs for a year. Gio Gonzalez made a nice leap last year, but is still wild, as is Johnny Cueto. Francisco Liriano is also on hand. I know the numbers don't back this up, but I think this is the year he gets his third wind. And Michael Pineda is also lurking, although his age and early shoulder injury make us very nervous.
The upshot is a rotation that is more complementary than dominant. But, of course, that's about all they're intended to be.
There are only 9 pitching slots in our league; the Torkies have 6 closers. Yes, at least one is hurt (Drew Storen) and at least two others suck (Chris Perez and Jim Johnson). But the Torkies have pretty much guaranteed themselves 11 save points before the year even starts. We assume that the hope is that the traditionally more favorable ERA and WHIP rates for relievers will give them a leg up in those categories as well.
It's a fun strategy. But we wonder if this year's team doesn't push it just a little bit too far. The picks that were used stretching the 'pen from 4 closers to 6 might have been better used on some thumpers. So while this unit will be great, query whether the opportunity cost might have been too high.
We think this team mostly comes down to whether A-Rod and Teixeira slug at an elite level this year. As inveterate Yankee haters, though, we can't quite bring ourselves to admit that possibility. If that's right, there just isn't enough offense on the roster to make a run at the board. That could change if some of the high-slot offensive guys (Braun, Tulo, AGonz) change hands. But the GM is going to have to show off some of his old skills and grab one of those guys if he wants to avoid a mid-pack finish.