JLB 2007 Winter Report

By Chris McDonald

 

 

In perhaps the least dramatic season on the field in JLB/JFBL history, the Sterling Starfish steamrolled to their second championship in franchise history.  The boys from Loudoun took over first place on April 9th and never looked back, never leading by fewer than 10 points after the second week of the season.  It was a shocking result for a season that seemed to have many contenders when the gates opened.  Even the 2001 season, which featured the Gamers’ famed 19-point margin of victory, included a few second-half lead changes.  Nothing of the sort occurred this year, however, as Sterling was so comfortably ahead that they began trading away veterans in their walk years with several weeks left in the season.

 

Of course, that is not to say that the League was devoid of all excitement.  It experienced a moment of trepidation when original League member Brian Winings expressed a desire to vacate his position as owner and General Manager of the Reston Robots.  Never before had the League witnessed any owner wishing to voluntarily forsake his membership in this exclusive fraternity, nor had many even considered it a possibility.  Winings’ announcement was a good wake-up call for the League, however, as it opened the door for other owners to express their frustrations with the League’s increasing complexity.

 

The transition from JFBL to JLB has been nothing if not complex, but hopefully the metamorphosis is nearing its completion.  As the League has now undergone two full seasons under the new rules, most of the legal loopholes have been closed and Constitutional wrinkles ironed out.  For the first time in memory, we come to a winter meeting with no pressing legislative issues to discuss.  Here’s hoping that we can settle down into a Pax Jeffersonia and appreciate the fruits of our labor in the coming years.  On to the awards…

 

 

MVP Award: Hanley Ramirez (123 R, 27 HR, 75 RBI, 51 SB, .329 AVG)

In the closest MVP race in JLB history, the young shortstop from Sterling beat out his fellow infielder, Alex Rodriguez, by one vote.  The thought of these two superstars playing side-by-side for the next four years is a scary one for the rest of JLB, but the frightening thing for Starfish fans is how close they came to losing this five-category stud.  Ramirez was brought in to Sterling midway through the 2006 season after he was being blocked and outperformed by Orlando Cabrera in Clifton.  It was out of the frying pan and into the fire for Hanley, though, as repeated failures to unload incumbent shortstop Miguel Tejada left Ramirez in a familiar place—on the bench.  Rather than waste his value, Sterling resolved to trade Ramirez instead, and in December even agreed in principle to a 3-way deal that would have sent him to Fairfax and netted 1B Justin Morneau from Great Falls.  It was only when Clifton came asking about Tejada at the eleventh hour that this prodigious talent was able to remain in Sterling.  Finally given a shot as a full-time regular, Hanley blew away even the most outlandish projections by coming in third in the League in runs scored, second in stolen bases, seventh in batting average, and providing solid power numbers from the top of the order.  Perhaps his most important number, however, was his salary—just $400,000.  That bargain gave Sterling much-needed cap room to fill out its roster in the offseason, and was certainly the deciding factor in the voters minds that chose Ramirez as MVP.

 

Cy Young Award: Jake Peavy (19 W, 234 K, 2.36 ERA, 1.03 WHIP)

Centreville’s undisputed ace rebounded from a disappointing 2006 campaign with his best season yet, becoming the first non-Hero to win the Cy since Mark Prior claimed the award in 2003.  Peavy didn’t miss a start all year, and led all JLB starters in strikeouts, ERA, and WHIP.  He was one win short of the seemingly unobtainable quadruple crown.  His season was no fluke, either, as he improved his already strong peripherals across the board, delivering a higher strikeout rate and decreased hit, walk, and home run rates.  Speculation around Centreville has attributed Peavy’s resurgence to the pressure taken off of him by the team’s offseason acquisitions.  With the additions of John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar, both top-10 starters until Escobar’s second-half injury, Peavy no longer felt the burden of leadership that weighed him down last year.  Others receiving votes included Erik Bedard, Fausto Carmona, and Chris Young.

 

Rookie of the Year Award: Prince Fielder (109 R, 50 HR, 119 RBI, 2 SB, .288 AVG)

The big bopper from Fairfax mashed his way to this award and in the process ingrained himself as a fan-favorite on the up-and-coming Firemen.  This new prince of pop led all first basemen in home runs and drove in more runs than any Firemen since Larry Walker plated 122 in 2001.  Fielder’s extraordinary power led this Fairfax team to a 66-point season, besting their previous franchise high by almost 20 points.  With a talented young clubhouse, including a frightening rotation, a new era of competitiveness should be dawning in Fairfax.  Fielder won the award by a large margin, but several other youngsters received single votes, most notably Cole Hamels, Nick Markakis, and Russell Martin.

 

Mike Durgala General Manager of the Year Award: Chris McDonald

The second installment of the Durgala Award goes to the General Manager of the champion Starfish.  Though the trophy will forever have the year 2007 imprinted on it, it was moves made during the 2006 season that set the foundation for this year’s title run.  Mid-season trades brought in Jorge Posada, the number one catcher in 2007, and Jeremy Bonderman, whose strong first half helped establish Sterling’s insurmountable lead.  The real coup, however, was a pair of trades with Clifton that occurred six months apart from each other.  The net result was acquiring Hanley Ramirez, Takashi Saito, Jeremy Hermida, and Felipe Lopez in exchange for Todd Helton, Miguel Tejada, Jon Lester, and cash considerations.  While Helton and Tejada continued their post-steroidal declines, Ramirez was JLB’s 3rd-ranked player in 2007 and Saito was its 8th-best pitcher.  That ridiculous talent upgrade helped offset questionable moves like dealing Dan Haren and Hunter Pence for Derrek Lee and paying Curt Schilling a record $11 million for 119 innings pitched.  When all was said and done, though, Sterling stood atop the JLB standings for the second time in three years, and that has been the most important factor in voters’ eyes when determining the GMOY.  It remains to be seen what it would require for a GM to win the JLB championship and yet fail to be named the recipient of the Durgala Award.

 

 

1st place: Sterling Starfish (57 hitting, 45 pitching) – After an extremely disappointing 2006 season, Sterling GM Chris McDonald entered the offseason ready to blow up the Starfish.  Sterling actively shopped former JLB All-stars Gary Sheffield and Billy Wagner but found no takers—to the present delight of the Sterling faithful.  The Starfish reluctantly became buyers, and then coasted to the title thanks to the second-best offense in JLB history.  Absolutely dominant seasons from Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez were supplemented by surprising resurgences from a trio of aging outfielders—Bobby Abreu, Gary Sheffield, and Ken Griffey, Jr. (average age – 36) all turned in top-30 seasons for their position.  Combined with a very strong bullpen, the Starfish juggernaut’s 102-point season ending total was the best since the Gamers tallied an astounding 106.5 in JFBL’s inaugural season.

 

2nd place: Centreville 66ers (41.5 hitting, 51 pitching) – The 2007 campaign was a consolidation year for the relocated 66ers, as young studs Ryan Howard and Jose Reyes regressed from amazing to merely excellent and, despite significant roster turnover, Centreville turned in its second consecutive second-place finish.  Newest JLB owner Debdeep Maji immediately made his presence felt in the front office, adding John Lackey and Kelvim Escobar to a stellar pitching staff that won the second-most games in JLB history (97).  This club will for years possess the fingerprints of the late Mike Durgala, however, as many of his savvy draft picks came into their own in 2007.  Ryan Braun, Chris Young, and Felix Hernandez all showed flashes of their immense potential, while youngsters like Howie Kendrick and Yovanni Gallardo are knocking on the door, ready to contribute.  This Centreville club should be a good one for years to come.

 

3rd place: Reston Roundabouts (49 hitting, 38 pitching) – For the first time since their dismal opening season, the Roundabouts failed to finish in the top two spots in JLB.  On first glance, one might assume that 4-time GM of the Year Dan Hausman might have finally had an off year, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Reston knew from the start that it needed to overhaul it’s over-the-hill starting rotation, and acquired Ben Sheets and Tim Hudson to anchor a new look staff.  The ‘Bouts offense was carried by its middle infield, as Brandon Phillips and Jimmy Rollins were both MVP candidates.  Hausman has been stockpiling draft picks for the second straight offseason in an effort to rebuild on the fly; based on the results so far, it may be a long time before the Roundabouts ever drop out of the money.

 

4th place: Herndon Heroes (38.5 hitting, 40 pitching) – Herndon continued its incredible run of being the last team in the money for the fourth consecutive year (3rd place in 2004 and 2005, 4th place in 2006 and 2007).  The outcome might have been different for this popular preseason favorite had former Cy Young Award winner Chris Carpenter not suffered a season-ending elbow injury in week one.  That void was too much to fill, as the staff that had ranked as the best in JLB for three years running fell to third in 2007.  On the bright side, the offensive performance was the best Herndon has seen in the past five years.  The Heroes had yearned to find a long-term solution at first base ever since prematurely cutting David Ortiz in 2003, but GM Danny White finally got his man in switch-hitting slugger Mark Teixeira.  A much less heralded but equally as valuable addition to the lineup was rookie Nick Markakis, who quietly turned in a top-10 season among all outfielders.

 

5th place: Clifton Clams (39 hitting, 38.5 pitching) – The Clifton Clams were one of the more fascinating teams to follow in 2007.  Through the tireless efforts of GM Jon Lasken, the former cellar dwellers improved for the third consecutive season and came up a single point shy of finishing in the money for the first time in franchise history.  The Clams went for broke this year by maxing out their payroll several weeks before Opening Day.  The additions were a mixed bag, however, as while Aaron Harang was the staff ace Clifton desperately needed and Corey Patterson brought some much needed team speed, the expensive Miguel Tejada continued his frustrating decline and Frank Thomas finally showed his age.  The brightest star, however, was certainly Matt Holliday, who emerged from relative obscurity to post the second-best season in JLB this year.

 

6th place: Fairfax Firemen (28 hitting, 38 pitching) – In a season reminiscent of the Annandale Ants’ 2004 campaign, the Firemen effortlessly climbed into the top half of the standings on the backs of several young stars.  First baseman Prince Fielder hit a franchise record 50 bombs and won the Rookie of the Year Award, Alex Rios produced in all five categories, and B.J. Upton finally found a position.  Most impressive, however, was the precocious starting rotation, which outperformed every other staff this side of Centreville.  C.C. Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Scott Kazmir, Fausto Carmona, and Jered Weaver all won at least 13 games and all are 27 or younger.  With plenty of talent still in their system and coffers spilling over with saved cash, it’s only a matter of time before Fairfax makes the leap into the upper echelon of contenders.

 

7th place: Reston Robots (37 hitting, 29 pitching) – The Robots were in a money spot as late as August 4th, but a second-half swoon dragged them down to the bottom half of the standings by season’s end.  Magglio Ordonez carried the offense on his back all year as Troy Glaus and Carlos Delgado began showing signs of age.  The starting rotation witnessed a changing of the guard for Reston this season, as cagey veteran free agent John Smoltz handed over the reins as staff ace to up-and-comer Cole Hamels.  Both hurlers turned in top-15 seasons among all pitchers.  GM Brian Winings became the first JLB member to hire outside help for the front office, bringing in Matt Hausman to assist with the daily operations of the organization.

 

8th place: Great Falls Grenades (26 hitting, 35 pitching) – Great Falls entered the last offseason with a clear plan in mind—upgrade its league-average pitching staff to match its strong offense in order to get back into contention.  By swapping slugging first baseman Justin Morneau for Carlos Zambrano, GM JD Moss hoped he had done just that.  Unfortunately, Big Z had an off year and the pitching treaded water while the Grenades’ hitting took a turn for the worse, losing 20 points and dragging the organization down to its worst finish in franchise history.  Future JHOFer Albert Pujols wasn’t his typical self, and one has to wonder if his lingering plantar fasciitis could make his hefty contract a $100-million mistake.  Meanwhile, Brian McCann and Jeff Francoeur, two of the newer ‘Nades that were being counted on to be middle-of-the-order run producers this year, regressed from their strong performances last September.

 

9th place: Burke Boomerangs (29 hitting, 21.5 pitching) – After being one of the feel-good stories of 2006, everything came undone for Burke in 2007.  A year after ranking above the median in 9 out of 10 categories, these Boomerangs managed to do so in only one this season.  Young phenom Joe Mauer never got going thanks to chronic knee trouble, Andruw Jones had the worst year of his career, and Jermaine Dye was a sorry excuse for a designated hitter.  Even career years from Eric Byrnes, Torii Hunter, and especially Josh Beckett weren’t enough to prevent a 41-point dropoff, the largest in JLB since the Clams’ precipitous 45-point fall in 2002.  With Jones and Beckett entering their walk years, it will be interesting to see if GM Josh Bertman attempts to flip them for youngsters that could be a part of the next contender from Burke.

 

10th place: Oakton Outlaws (10 hitting, 33 pitching) – In 2007 they demonstrated their acute ability to recognize star pitching talent, picking up Dan Haren, Gil Meche, and John Maine before all three turned in career years.  Now Oakton just needs to apply that eye for talent to the batting side of the equation.  Oakton fans witnessed the worst offensive performance in JLB history this season (tied with the Firemen of last year), thanks to a lineup that featured just one position player (OF Carlos Lee) ranked among the top 60 players in the game.  On the bright side, OF Hunter Pence and SS Troy Tulowitzki seem poised to step into the heart of that lineup in 2008 and make an immediate impact.

 

11th place: Reston Roosters (24 hitting, 13 pitching) – The Roosters 2007 infield could hold its own next to any other in JLB, and with 1B Adrian Gonzalez, 2B Chase Utley, 3B Garrett Atkins, and SS Michael Young all under contract through at least 2009, it might provide GM Dan Fleeter a foundation upon which he can build a contender.  He’ll have plenty of work to do, however, as the rest of the squad leaves much room for improvement.  The entire Reston outfield hit 17 fewer home runs than Alex Rodriguez hit by himself.  Chien-Ming Wang delivered a solid performance as the leader of the pitching staff, but the confusing relegation of former ace Brett Myers to the bullpen left him with little help on the mound.

 

12th place: Falls Church Foxes (11 hitting, 8 pitching) – The Foxes took sole possession of last place on June 19th and ran away with it, distinguishing themselves as the first team in JLB history to manage a sub-20 point season.  Falls Church set two other records by finishing no higher than 9th in any category and by missing out on the Joe by a whopping 83 points.  Of course, this is all part of the master plan of GM Carlton Davis.  The rebuilding effort is nearly complete, and the core pieces are in place for the Foxes to start making their way out of the cellar.  A 2008 starting rotation of Erik Bedard, Matt Cain, Phillip Hughes, Tom Gorzelanny and Tim Lincecum could take the League by storm.  The question is not if Falls Church will use its deep pockets to make a huge splash in free agency in the coming offseasons, but how soon.