Last year was supposed to be the coup de grace for the broken Caps Lock Keys: strong offseason acquisitions like Albert Pujols gave them an offense to be reckoned with to match a good top of the rotation. It had been a long time coming but we all felt that Sahil had finally built a team that should contend for the title, and he was predicted to finish in third as a result. Huzzahs were given out and we all just waited for him to cruise to a medal finish.
Then Albert Pujols started off his California career 1-for-100, CC Sabathia had a bad April, Jose Bautista finally suffered a decline and an injury, and the next thing we knew, the Healer was down for the count. He now enters 2013 with markedly less hype, having only one pick in the first three rounds and using it on a closer. But has he turned into the new Will, succeeding when everyone thinks he'll fail? Or is he just back to the same old Ironhead?
How much you like this infield is how much you think that 2012 represents what players will do in 2013. Four-fifths of the starting roster - A.J. Rosenpenis, Adam LaRoche, Jose Altuve and Alcides Escobar - put up stats infinitely better than any prior season, with the first two combining for 60 home runs with no speed; the latter two combining for 68 steals with no power. If they all repeat their 2012 performances, them plus a possibly rejuvenated Ryan Zimmerman could yield a very nice infield. The problem is that there isn't a single person on earth who thinks this will happen; while Altuve and Escobar are young enough that they could maintain last year's running frenzy, Rosenpenis' and LaRoche's year scream fluke. Bench player Marco Scutaro is more of the same.
The saving grace is that there's a ton of depth here and beyond Scutaro, it's mostly guys with upside. Eric Hosmer is still a lot of talk and little production, but he's still in his early 20s and is a popular breakout pick. Neil Walker is very useful at second base; him and Altuve, spotted correctly, could actually produce above-average stats for the position. Russell Martin is also not a horrible idea; yes, his stats were not exactly great last year, but the NL shift plus playing the positively shitty rotations littered around the NL Central should help.
Continuing the fluke theme, last year Joshes Willingham and Reddick combined for SIXTY-SEVEN home runs. Now we understand that this team has had a good offense because it picked up a guy who looked like the greatest fluke of all (Jose Bautista) at the right time and has ridden him to approximately 200 home runs. So it's possible he's acquired a boatload of guys who are all peaking at exactly the right time and threaten to make a fantasy version of the '27 Yankees. But we're more than a little skeptical. Willingham is 34 years old and last year was the only time he topped 30 dingers. Reddick is at least young, but only hit 12 out of the park after the '12 ASB. It's more probable that he just had the greatest two months of his life than he turned into George Baruth.
The other two slots are manned by Bautista and Josh Hamilton, who are two of the ten best fantasy hitters in baseball. So if there's even just middling production from the other two slots, this should be one of the better outfields in baseball. But color me skeptical that they'll get another epic season from the Joshes.
What looks okay on paper could get ugly quick. CC Sabathia has already started the season with decreased velocity and coming off arm surgery, while Madison Bumgarner finished 2012 with basically a dead arm. If both don't rebound this is going to be a titanic liability, because it falls off really quickly. Matt Harrison managed to have a very good '12 without actually having good fantasy stats and is an inning eater at best. Ditto for Wade Miley. Alex Cobb is the worst pitcher on the Rays. And Mike Pelfrey is possibly the worst pitcher in baseball. So yeah, some arms or rebounds are needed here.
Chapman and Jonathan Broxton lock up the Cincinnati closer role and Grant Balfour is Oakland's fireman, so there's some value here. The X-factor is whether Frank Francisco can (a) reclaim, and (b) then keep the Mets closer job, without (c) annihilating the rest of this team's stats. Still, relief pitching is so cromulent this year that this appears to be an average-at-worst pen.
This squad is clearly a notch below the top contenders - their starters aren't strong enough to carry K's and W's, and they're a bit reliant on guys who are older and off of peak years. But that sad, this is far from a BAD team, and is one that should rack up a ton of points on offense and some saves. A 6th place finish is hardly out of the question. A trip to the medal stand? That might be too much to ask.