I don't recall ever having a team that has been so utterly pummeled by adversity to start the season as my AL Tout Wars team has. I'm not saying I've never seen one; I'm just saying that I've never had one. Maybe I'm like Chevy Chase after one of his pratfalls - popping up immediately and acting as if nothing happened - but I've never felt better about the chances of this team.
Here we are a month into the season and I still don't have a complete team. Before the end of last week, I didn't have a regular cornerman, my middle infielder was in the minors, only 2 of my outfielders were healthy and my firstbaseman, thirdbaseman and DH were in the worst slumps of their careers. Add to that my starters have been robbed of at least 6 wins due to incompetent offenses, bullpens or both, and I had every reason to pack it in before the first of May.
So why am I smiling?
Deal of the Century
Well, for one thing, I addressed my lack of production from the corner spot by trading from strength to get a quality thirdbaseman. I dealt Hideki Irabu, Jeff Zimmerman and Olmedo Saenz for Robin Ventura and Lou Pote. I really didn't have any reason to get Pote, but he seemed like a decent middle reliever to replace the ERA, WHIP and Ks of my now vacant 3rd closer spot. I do think that Irabu will be a good closer, so I wasn't at all ashamed to shop him. I was reluctant to trade away Zimmerman, not because I thought he'd be a good closer, but because I thought that if he was out for the season, I could recover the FAAB money. As it looks now, he's going to have surgery to clean out his elbow and be back around the All-Star break, so I likely wouldn't have gotten the FAAB money anyway.
It probably seems like I should have gotten more for my closer(s), but they just aren't worth as much in 5x5 as they are in 4x4. I could've traded for John Olerud, but he's a notoriously fast starter and has a habit of hitting much worse after May. Ventura, on the other hand, is a fairly consistent performer - career monthly batting averages of .277, .265, .275, .265, .271 and .277 - and I like his RBI potential with that line-up in Yankee Stadium. Another advantage Ventura had over Olerud in this case was that he played third base. I already had 2 first basemen - Clark and Fullmer - and didn't really need a third.
Under the Rainbow
I thought I had taken care of the middle infield spot with the free agent acquisition of Jason Romano. Even though he was going to be playing center field, he played most of his games at second base last year and therefore qualified in the middle infield. However, the Rangers, who seem to be grasping at anything and everything resembling warm bodies these days, picked up Calvin Murray off waivers, which marked the end of my Romano experiment. I will keep him on the team for a while on the reserves; the Rangers are staffed with many injury-prone players. Romano may yet get another chance.
Mark Quinn will be returning from the DL very soon, probably by this weekend. I was encouraged to read that he had been talking with George Brett about hitting while he was on his minor league rehab. If a conversation with a Hall of Fame hitter from your own organization can't get you straightened out about selectivity at the plate, I don't know what will. When he does return, my team will have 5 outfielders for the first time this season. More importantly, it will have 4 outfielders who'll be getting regular playing time. If Gary Matthews Jr. can somehow get things going, that number might reach 5, but I'm not holding my breath.
Cristian Guzman's ailing knee is reportedly not serious, so he should be back in the line-up by the middle of May. Damian Easley should be close to returning which will boost the production from the middle infield from zero to something. When I left the draft, believe it or not, I really did expect more than 25 hits, 8 runs and 8 RBI out of my middle infield in the first month. More to the point, I did not expect my offense to be dwarfed by everyone else's; perhaps meager, but not awful. This month will be much improved.
And it's almost impossible for Brad Fullmer, Tony Clark and Travis Fryman to continue their season opening slump much longer. The schedule should help Fryman some, as the Red Sox will be facing Texas, Baltimore, Kansas City and Detroit for much of the next month. Fullmer should likewise get new life, as the Angels square off against a struggling Blue Jays staff, and two series against Detroit, two teams he has done well against in his career (1.321 OPS and 1.139 OPS respectively).
So by the end of May the offense should look fairly respectable.
Seems like Old Times
Just like the offense, the pitching hasn't gotten in gear yet either. Ramon Ortiz and Roy Halladay have pitched reasonably well so far, but have a grand total of 3 wins between them, thanks to failures in both their respective bullpens and offenses. Ortiz had gotten a total of 9 runs of support in his last 4 games before Tuesday's 21-run, record setting outburst at the expense of the Indians. Likewise, Paul Wilson and Tanyon Sturtze have been victimized whenever they've had strong outings. While it's not likely that Toronto, Anaheim and Tampa Bay are going to turn into offensive powerhouses overnight, a normal level of run support and bullpen competence will yield much better win totals. The team strikeouts, ERA and WHIP are pretty much in line with what I expected and the combination of Rivera and Escobar should keep the team at the top of the saves standings.
Spies like Us
So what we're shooting for is 12 points in saves, 10-12 in ERA, WHIP and Ks, and somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 points in wins. On offense, I think this team is capable of 5 points in homers, and 6-7 points in runs and RBI, and 8 points in steals and average. If I reach those levels, that should give me somewhere in the neighborhood of 80-85 points, which by the end of the season should be very competitive, if not a winning total.
"...Make... Make Your Future..."
Now it's only a matter of the players doing their thing. They have to stay healthy and perform to their demonstrated ability. When that happens, the standings should take care of themselves. The Zen philosopher Basho once said, "a flute without any holes is not a flute. And a donut without a hole is a Danish."... wait... no... Actually, Ty Webb said it better when he said, "there's a force in the universe that makes things happen, and all you have to do is get in touch with it. Stop thinking, let things happen and be the ball. Find your center, fear nothing, feel nothing." I'm already there, Ty.