XFL Epic Fail
January 21, 2011

Back in November I was feeling cautiously optimistic about my recently completed auction/draft in the XFL League.  Just to highlight, I had much of my roster already covered with keepers and only needed to augment with a few starting pitchers, a cornerman, a catcher and a couple of outfielders.  I failed to grab some much-needed speed but felt good about the rest of my effort. 

Fast foward three months and of the 11 spots I needed to fill in November, I now feel good about only five of my choices and one of those (Brian Wilson) was clearly an overpay.  In the meantime, I also got bad news that one of my closers (Rafael Soriano) decided he'd rather be a set-up man for the next three years in a park that is unsuitable to his skills.  What this all means is that rather than picking up some depth in the April draft and prospecting on the future, I now need to legitimately fill six roster spots with regulars in a snake draft where I traded away my 5th round pick and that my best choice in the first round will be the 348th best player in the majors (or a minor leaguer). 

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I want to go back and take a look at where I made my mistakes.  On a positive note, I still like my three of my first four pick-ups.  My first get was Brian Wilson, who turned out to be a huge overpay but I still like this chances to produce great numbers.  My second pick-up, Derrek Lee, should be fine in Baltimore.  It's true he'll face tougher starting pitching in the AL East than he did in the NL Central, but Camden Yards (his new home ballpark), Rogers Center in Toronto and Yankee Stadium are all more conducive to hitting home runs than his old home park of Wrigley Field, and Boston's Fenway Park, along with the aforementioned AL East parks, is better overall for offense.  He'll lose out on visits to homer-happy Great America, but the parks in St. Louis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh all rate as neutral or even pitcher friendly.  Of his new division rivals, only the Rays play in a park that isn't hitter-friendly.  And while the sample sizes are very small, only one pitcher from this division has had reasonable success getting Lee out: AJ Burnett.  All of the others against which he'll see signficant plate appearances against, Lee has at least a .333 average against and that includes Mariano Rivera.  So all things being equal, this Lee pick should turn out pretty well. 

My next pick-up was Alex Avila.  The signing of Victor martinez shouldn't affect his production too much as they have him slated to DH mostly and spell Avila.  Gerald Laird is gone so there really aren't any other player who will push him for time.  It's his job and given what he did in August and September (.270/.350/.400), there's reason for optimism that he'll be more valuable than his price ($7).  His minor league numbers (.280/.372/.424) certainly support that conclusion.

Ricky Nolasco followed Avila.  He's been a bit of a mystery because he keeps posting the kind of rate numbers that indicate a top starter yet he fails to live up to the top starter billing.  He's the new Javier Vazquez, a comparison that has been made by many.  Great strikeout rates, great control, yet he keeps getting undone by an unfortunate home run rate.  More unfortunate is the fact that the home run rate is fully supported by the number of fly balls he surrenders.  Actually, he's been a little on the lucky side as his FB/HR rate is a little under major league average so he should be giving up more homers.  That said, the Marlins defense has been terrible for a while and with the improvements they've made over the last year I think Nolasco could still give up a ton of homers and end up improving overall because more of those homers will be of the solo variety.  They're still not a great defensive team, perhaps not even average, but they are better and that should mean an improvement in both WHIP and ERA for Nolasco.  That also means that Josh Johnson suddenly must be entered as one of the favorites for the NL Cy Young award.  But that's a different story and XFL team.

This is where the end begins, with the very next player thrown out for bidding: Johan Santana.  I'll confess to be a big fan of Santana, probably moreso than is safe to admit in a draft.  So in that respect I am glad I rostered him.  But from a standpoint of expecting production?   I think I overplayed my hand here and "overplayed" is a gross understantement.  Sure, Santana is a great competitor and no one will question his tenacity or his devotion to his rehab.  But the last guys who had this kind of shoulder surgery are Chien-ming Wang and Mark Prior.  Both guys threw harder than Santana before their surgeries and neither guy throws hard enough now to make a major league roster.  I'm afraid I will be the last guy in XFL to ever roster Santana and I will have wasted $12 of the $13 I spent on him at the draft. 

I nabbed Edwin Jackson with my next pick and even though he pitches in the AL and in a great park for homers, I still feel good about him this year.  Don Cooper is a great pitching coach who rarely gets any recognition outside a WGN broadcast, but he has turned Gavin Floyd into a solid starter and Mark Beurle into a borderline Hall-of-Famer.  Edwin Jackson has Hall of Fame stuff and in half a season under Cooper turned in possiblly the best half season of his career.  I'm eager to see what he can do with a full spring training under Coop.

Matt Joyce seemed like a pretty decent pick-up for a buck with Carl Crawford's imminent departure.  With the Rays easing Desmond Jennings into the full-time gig, Joyce was a good bet to pick up a lot of at bats against right-handers as both a left-fielder and a DH.  But now that the Rays have signed both Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez, Joyce is left without much of a role, if any at all.  Which means I spent an active roster spot on a guy who'll spend much of the year in AAA.  Yay me.

Pat Burrell's bat came alive when he made the move back to the NL and San Francisco was glad to re-sign him after their championship season.  Here I'm a little more optimistic about playing time because I'm not sold on the idea that a) Mark DeRosa can stay healthy for a full season, b) Pablo Sandoval will get back to his 2009 form , or that c) last year's Andres Torres was the real Andres Torres.  To my mind, Burrell gets playing time if any one of those things don't happen.  And even if they do, I still think he gets 400 at bats, which should be enough to be useful in the XFL format.  Still it's not a given and it could end up being another wasted roster spot.

Brandon Webb got a nice contract from the Rangers and with an organization that is as heavy into scouting as the Rangers, I have to imagine that they are fairly confident that he will at least be somewhat close to what he once was.  But even if he does, it might not be until the second half that we see that form.  Until then it's not like he'll be pitching in the most forgiving environment.  Realistically, I could be waiting all year on him, so he's not an arm I'm seriously counting on in 2011.  The greatest irony here is that in previous years if I knew a guy was just coming back from shoulder surgery, I would never seriously bid on him.  If there was a risk I could get him for a buck, I would not even throw out his name.  And yet with this draft that rule seemingly disappeared from my Hammurabi Code and I spent real money on two shoulder surgery guys, Webb and Santana.  I'm tempted to launch an investigation as to what my kind of hallucinogen was introduced into my drinking water that weekend.

Tim Stauffer still has a rotation spot in San Diego as far as I know, and his run of quality starts to finish the season gives some room for optimism for 2011.  As a starter he pitched 39.1 innings, gave up 31 hits, 12 walks and struck out 23.  Those aren't ace type numbers but they are pretty good.  For the year he allowed a BABIP of .265; unfortunately his career rate is .291... so the hits allowed will likely climb toward about a hit per inning... which means that 1.093 WHIP he posted as a starter last year will probably finish closer this year to the 1.36 WHIP he's posted for his career... which means basically he's exactly like a dozen other starting pitchers I can pick up off the waiver wire early in the season... which means another roster spot wasted at the draft and another $3 in salary down the tubes.

Chipper Jones was my last pick-up.  I'm not sure I need to say more than that.  He was a great player for such a long time and he still gets on base and has power enough that if he played 140 games he'd be well worth the risk.  The only trouble is that Chipper will be 39 this year and has topped 140 games only once since 2003.  He's played fewer than 110 games three times over that same span so it's three times as likely I'll get two thirds of a season from him than a whole season.  What's more, Jones had a pretty good spring training last year and still got off to a pretty woeful start.  The only bright side is that he still has a great eye at the plate so his on base percentage is still a plus for a league like the XFL.  But if that's all he brings to the table, it's not going to help the cause much if he only plays 110 games... or worse still, if he decides to retire midway through the season as he threatened to do last year.  For Jones to have a positive impact, it is a necessity for him to get out to a strong April.  I'm hoping his pride as a once-great player drives him there.

But beyond the individuals, my strategy with the $1 players was hugely flawed.  At the end of a keeper draft, the $1 players I should have picked up shoud have had at least a decent keeper value.  It doesn't matter if Chipper Jones has a nice year this year because there's no chance he'll be a keeper.  At best, he's another $1 or $2 end game grab next year.  That's pretty much the same story with Pat Burrell.  Only if he goes back to being the old 30 homer, .350 on base Pat Burrell is there a chance I keep him beyond this season and even then it's iffy.  I should have speculated with a much younger player even if I didn't think his stats would have been quite as good because at least there's hope for value down the line.  So instead of Chipper Jones at the corner, I should have speculated on somoene like Edwin Encarnacion.  We know pretty much what Chipper's upper limit of production will be this year unless he's made friends with Barry Bonds' chemist.  We don't have a concrete idea what Encarnacion's upper limit is because he's still young enough to develop further.  Even with my $1 end game players, I should have been drafting for 2011 and beyond. 

So where does this leave me?  In all likelihood, I now need to look at acquiring a closer to replace Soriano just to stay within a reasonable distance of the leaders, a cornerman, two outfielders and three starting pitchers who won't kill my team WHIP and ERA.  Frankly, with all that to make up, I'm not sure if I should dump this season and trade for 2012, or see if I can get lucky with the supplemental draft and find some gems.  Regardless of which route I take, how should I get there?  Should I load up on prospects with my 14 spring picks, or should I draft players who might have value (potential closers, guys with speed, etc).  Do I trade what I get for a better shot next year or do I put everything into winning this year?  There has been no trend yet as to which style wins the XFL.  Some years it's a team that traded everything to win this year, other years it's a team that has consistently been in the top 5 and finally breaks through. 

The supplemental draft is a little more than two months away.  I would like your opinion.  Here are the current rosters as well as a list of many of the free agents.  Tell me what you think I should do.  Tell me which players you would target if you had my roster, or if you have trade ideas tell them too.  Currently I have the 3rd pick overall in a snake draft of 15 teams.  My 5th and 7th round picks are held by other teams but I have extra picks in the final round.  I'll post the best strategies during spring training.