Sunday, April 1, 2012

Season Preview: The Spam Avengers

With apologies to Quentin Tarantino and David Mamet, our favorite screenwriter currently at work is Scarsdale native Aaron Sorkin.  In addition to his fine television work--The West Wing needs no introduction, and there were elements of Sports Night and Studio 60 I liked--he's batted 6-for-6 on movie screenplays.  A Few Good Men is a pop culture icon, The American President is a criminally underrated movie and possibly his best piece of writing, and The Social Network was deservedly award winning.  ("You don't have to study."  "Why not?"  "Because you go to B.U.")  Even Charlie Wilson's War and Moneyball, while not perfect, were good films.

And yet, my favorite Sorkin movie remains Malice.   It has an absolutely fabulous cast: 4 Oscar winners (Nicole Kidman, Gweneth Paltrow, Anne Bancroft and George C. Scott, though you have to be on the lookout for the last two); Alec Baldwin at his absolute smarmiest; Bill Pullman in his most meaningful work other than Spaceballs, and appearances from two of my favorite actors, Tobin Bell and Peter Eyebrows.  It has a convoluted plot that, while absurd, is riveting.  The dialogue is as snappy as you'd expect from a Sorkin picture.  And it's a fabulous entertainment, if not a Great Film.  Call it a guilty pleasure if you'd like--I plead guilty.

So for my final preview, let's look at the 2-time defending champions through prism of vaguely applicable quotes from Malice.  We begin.


"Scotch.  Bring a bottle of scotch."

This infield is 3/5 of the way to greatness with MVP candidates Robinson Cano, Carlos Santana and Joey Votto on the roster.  I particularly like Santana as a stud this year; the Indians have said they're going to use him at first base and DH to increase his at bats, so getting 150 games out of a breakout candidate on top of two guys who are among the top 3 of at their positions is a boon.

These guys are going to have to be fabulous, however, because the rest of the infield is clearly a work in progress.  Mike Moose Tacos is a promising young player who showed painfully little last year, and can't be seen on the same tier as the Hosmer/Lawrie/Trout level of young players.  He could break out but there's an even better chance he spends part of the year in AAA.  Erick Aybar is a great defensive player, who will steal 25-35 bases for this team, and contribute nothing else of value.  An addition is going to be necessary if this team wants to threepeat, because the only help off the bench is the completely pedestrian Martin Prado, he of the career net -4 steals.


"Bad things happen to good people all the time, Andy.  Sometimes for no reason at all."

This was the team's weakest area last year, but the rest of the roster was so strong that it almost didn't matter.  Unfortunately, it may matter this year, what with the team hemorrahging some keepers.  Jacoby Ellsbury is an obvious stud but also an obvious regression candidate.  I love Cameron Maybin as a breakout candidate this year, but query what beyond steals he's going to provide in a fairly punchless Padres lineup in a cavernous ballpark.  After that, it's spin the wheel of replaceable outfielders--Carlos Quentin has the upside to give the team some useful production, while the less this team plays Alexis Rios, Melky Cabrera and Nick the Greek, the better.

The real saving grace for this team's hitting is that they're absolutely stacked with runners, as they have 4 guys who could steal 40 bases.  So there are some good trade chits here and the owner knows how to play the market with the best of them in this league.  It would not surprise me if this was a team active early and often to deal steals for power.

Starting Pitching

"Speak of the devil!" "And the devil shall appear."

Cliff Lee is gone, but David Price and Clayton Kershaw remain, giving the team two bonafide Cy Young candidates.  What's interesting is that this team has eschewed the method of stacking up on lottery ticket pitchers for the next tier and instead gone with three pretty consistent bets: Matt Garza is what he is (very solid); Hiroki Kuroda is switching leagues but is going to actually get some run support for the first time, and Jon Niese profiles to be the next Jon Garland.  (I am completely ignoring Erik Bedard from this analysis because he's never healthy.)  This doesn't seems as strong or deep as some of the other rotations we've covered, but perhaps we're biased from remembering last year's pitching bonanza on this squad.

Relief Pitching

"I'm gonna take out your lungs with a f--king ice cream scoop.  Do you understand me?"

Mariano Rivera and Kyle Farnsworth give the team two closers, and the likes of Jesse Crain and Grant Balfour give them some backup options if their teams' initial closers collapse.  This won't be a saves haven, but it should add up to a middle of the pack finish in saves.


"You ask me if I have a God complex.  Let me tell you something: I AM God."

The best quote of the movie from the highlight of the movie--which was used by John Lee Malvo nine years ago--goes right to the heart of a team that's won two straight years and has a third title under his belt.  It's difficult to maintain dominance under the league format for more than two years because the keeper rules force you to lose players.  And the fact that this team dealt off 2012 picks for last year's title made reloading a little more difficult.  Still, while this team doesn't have the depth it did last year, it has six players who stand to contend for year-end awards, the greatest closer of all time, and an owner who has done it three times before.  Not the favorite, but definitely a contender.

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