2008 Winter Report

by Debdeep Maji

Owner, Centreville 66ers

 

A year ago, Sterling jumped out to a commanding lead early in the season, and never looked back.  This season, the drama returned to JLB.  After a hard fought summer, Centreville was able to finally chase down and pass Herndon on the season’s final day, escaping with the franchise’s first ever JLB title.  

 

As we conclude the third season of JLB (and eighth overall), the state of the league has never been stronger.  All of the major rule changes have been enacted and only occasional tinkering remains.  The majority of our owners are active, involved, and working towards a title.  The league was very fortunate to add two energetic new owners to oversee the Arlington franchise, and they are poised to make an impact in 2009.

 

2009 should be an epic season.  Nearly every team in the league has a realistic shot at being in the money this year, including some new faces.  It will be fascinating to see how the season plays outs.

 

2008 JLB Awards

 

MVP

 

David Wright, 3B, Herndon Heroes

115 R, 33 HR, 124 RBI, 15 SB, .302 AVG.  Yahoo! Rank: 2

 

2nd: Lance Berkman, 1B, Centreville 66ers

3rd: Manny Ramirez, OF, Oakton Outlaws

 

Wright was the anchor of the Heroes squad that finished in 2nd place.  He is a true five-tool player, and most importantly for Herndon GM Danny White, he is locked up for the next three seasons at just $1.6m per year.   Wright was top five in the league in both runs and RBI, and top 15 in home runs.  

 

Twelve players received MVP votes, the most of any category.  Berkman’s ridiculous five-tool first half led the 66ers to an early lead, and despite a slow finish, ended up being Yahoo’s #6 player.  Oakton traded John Maine for Manny Ramirez in the offseason, and Manny responded by almost single-handedly keeping the Outlaws offense afloat.

 

Name

1st

2nd

3rd

Total

David Wright

4

3

2

31

Lance Berkman

2

3

 

19

Manny Ramirez

3

 

 

15

Hanley Ramirez

1

1

4

12

Albert Pujols

1

1

 

8

Chase Utley

 

2

 

6

Jose Reyes

1

 

 

5

Grady Sizemore

 

1

2

5

Roy Halladay

 

1

 

3

Jason Bay

 

 

2

2

Ryan Howard

 

 

1

1

CC Sabathia

 

 

1

1

 

Cy Young

 

CC Sabathia, SP, Fairfax Firemen

17 W, 251 K, 2.70 ERA, 1.11 WHIP

 

2nd: Roy Halladay, SP, Sterling Starfish

3rd: Cliff Lee, SP, Reston Roosters

 

Sabathia was the main reason that the Firemen were able to accumulate 54 of 60 possible pitching points, despite lacking a true #2 starter behind him.  Pitching 253.0 innings, Sabathia turned in the performance of one-and-a-half #1 starters all by himself.  After Sabathia struggled through his first four starts, GM Mike Keenan thought his season might be doomed.  Sabathia responded by dominating the rest of the way.  Without him, there’s no telling where Fairfax would’ve landed in the standings.  A free agent this offseason, he has a legitimate chance to break Jorge Posada’s record as the highest paid player in JLB history.

 

Halladay’s ridiculous seasons (#1 rated pitcher, #3 overall) are now so expected that nobody seems impressed when he posts a 1.05 WHIP and wins 20 games.  Cliff Lee, on the other hand, came out of nowhere to win 22 games for the Roosters (#4 rated pitcher).  The Roosters will try to build around him for his final season under contract, but if they fall out of contention, look for GM Dan Fleeter to move him to a contender midseason.

 

Name

1st

2nd

3rd

Total

CC Sabathia

8

1

3

46

Roy Halladay

1

6

4

27

Cliff Lee

1

2

 

11

Mariano Rivera

1

 

3

8

Brandon Webb

1

 

 

5

Joakim Soria

 

1

1

4

Jake Peavy

 

1

 

3

Francisco Rodriguez

 

1

 

3

Rich Harden

 

 

1

1

 

Rookie of the Year

 

Ryan Braun, 3B, Centreville 66ers

92 R, 37 HR, 106 RBI, 14 SB, .285

 

2nd: Geovany Soto, C, Reston Roundabouts

3rd: Chad Billingsley, SP, Reston Roosters

 

This award seemed to confuse voters.  Braun is not an MLB-rookie, as Centreville held off his JLB debut until 2008.  Soto is the favorite to win the NL Rookie of the Year, but is a step 2 in JLB.  Some voters included both on their ballots, but each was left entirely off of three submissions.  Regardless, Braun posted huge numbers for the title-winning 66ers.  Owner Debdeep Maji refused to promote him last season, and still managed to finish in 2nd thanks to the contributions of Mike Lowell.  This season Braun not only hit for power, but finished strong as Centreville ran down Herndon.  His walk-off grand slam on the final Thursday of the season put the Heroes on notice.

 

Soto was picked up be late last season by savvy GM Dan Hausman, despite many of his colleagues claiming that they were “just about to pick him up.”  Soto ranked 5th amongst all catchers this season, but Hausman has already parlayed his strong debut into a couple of pieces for his future, Justin Verlander and Elvis Andrus.  Soto will try to continue to contribute with Fairfax.  Chad Billingsley garnered four votes for his strong rookie season.  He ranked 42nd amongst all pitchers, posting a 3.14 ERA, striking out 201 batters, and winning 16 games.  He’ll help anchor a strong Roosters rotation next year, pairing with Cliff Lee and Jon Lester.

 

Name

1st

2nd

3rd

Total

Ryan Braun

7

1

1

39

Geovany Soto

4

3

2

31

Chad Billingsley

 

3

1

10

Dustin Pedroia

1

1

 

8

Carlos Quentin

 

2

1

7

Ryan Ludwick

 

1

1

4

Edinson Volquez

 

1

 

3

Matt Kemp

 

 

3

3

Stephen Drew

 

 

3

3

 

Mike Durgala Award

 

Debdeep Maji, Centreville 66ers

 

2nd: Mike Keenan, Fairfax Firemen

3rd: Danny White, Herndon Heroes

 

This award will never be more aptly named.  The Centreville/Annandale franchise won their first JLB title in 2008, and Durgala’s fingerprints were all over the club.  Howard, Berkman, Reyes, Braun, Peavy, Hernandez, Liriano, K-Rod, Ryan, and Hoffman were all holdovers from the Annandale club.  Even many newly acquired players, like Ichiro and Shields, were obtained using minor leaguers that were left over from Annandale.  Durgala quietly put together a tremendous core that was ready to take the next step and compete for a title.

 

Mike Keenan’s long rebuilding process finally paid dividends, as the Firemen finished in third place.  Some would label this a disappointing finish for the preseason favorites, but that would be ignoring how far Keenan has brought the franchise.  In the league’s first six years, the Firemen had never finished better than 9th (they finished 6th last season).  They saved up money, traded for prospects, and have built a solid core that should be competing for the money again in 2009. 

 

Two plot lines continued for GM Danny White and the Herndon Heroes this season.  One, White is still one of the leagues most underrated GMs.  No matter what shape Herndon’s roster appears in before the season, he always finds a way to get them into contention.  This is White’s fifth straight season finishing in the money, the longest active streak in JLB.  Unfortunately, the other story is Herndon’s inability to take home a title.  2008 marks Herndon’s most disappointing finish yet, leading for much of the last month before losing first place during the season’s final hours.  White’s job in 2009 will be tougher than ever, as he loses Webb, Beltran, and Lidge.

 

Name

1st

2nd

3rd

Total

Debdeep Maji

8

2

2

48

Mike Keenan

2

2

2

18

Danny White

 

4

3

15

Chris McDonald

1

2

2

13

Carlton Davis

1

2

 

11

Arlington

 

 

2

2

Dan Hausman

 

 

1

1

 

Team Capsules

 

1st Place: Centreville 66ers, 97 Points (54 Hitting, 43 Pitching)

 

Early in the offseason Centreville announced that Deep Maji took over as Vice President and the team’s top investor.  In his first season he led the Sixers to their first title in franchise history.  Centreville combined a dominant lineup with a solid pitching staff to win their first league title.  Lance Berkman rebounded from a mediocre season to get MVP votes, Ryan Howard led the majors in HR and RBI, and Jose Reyes turned in another “routine” top-10 season.  From the mound, the Sixers got huge contributions from Ricky Nolasco (0.92 WHIP in 110.2 IP), and Francisco Rodriguez (62 saves were 18 more than the next best).  But oddly enough, the names Sixers fans will always remember might not be Berkman and K-Rod, but Litsch and Ohlendorf.

 

Good Moves: In Centreville’s 2007 2nd place finish, they had 7.5 points in SB and just 2 in AVG.  They addressed both problems by sending four prospects to the Robots for Ichiro Suzuki, who hit .310 and finished 4th in JLB with 43 SB.  Victor Martinez got hurt, and the Sixers moved quickly, outbidding several clubs for the services of Ryan Doumit.  At a cost of only $1.2 million, Doumit became one of the league’s most productive catchers.  When the pitching was struggling, the Sixers rolled the dice, trading future prospect Yovani Gallardo to Great Falls for James Shields.  Shields did his job, picking up 6 wins, a 3.51 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP.  When Braun went down briefly, Melvin Mora was signed for the minimum, and he hit .366 with 20 R, 6 HR, and 25 RBI in just 93 AB.  Centreville’s best move, however, involved no high-profile players.  Realizing that their only chance to overtake Herndon on the season’s final day was to surpass them in strikeouts, Centreville signed Odalis Perez, Jesse Litsch, Kevin Millwood, and Ross Ohlendorf.  The four struck out 19 in their starts, and the Sixers finished 3 strikeouts (and half a point) ahead of the Heroes.

 

Bad Moves: When you win a title, it’s rare that you did too many things wrong.  But in a season where they needed all the pitching they could get, Maji was slow to promote Ricky Nolasco, letting him pitch some strong innings for 3A Chantilly.  Centreville’s starters worked for offensive starved teams like San Diego, Seattle, and Toronto, and Centreville was slow to find an alternative, leaving them with only 4 points in wins.  Centreville likely got less out of the second base position than any team in JLB.  One GM pointed to these moves, saying that it shouldn’t have been this close, as Maji was too hesitant to upgrade his team in the midst of a competitive cycle.

 

2009 Outlook: The Sixers window is closing, but they return the majority of their core in an attempt to defend their title.  They head into the offseason already possessing six strong starters (Peavy, Hernandez, Shields, Liriano, Nolasco, and prospect Kershaw) and two closers.  The offense has few holes as well.  Centreville will look to FA for a catcher, a third baseman, and an outfielder.  Maji will also have to decide if he is happy going into ’09 with Kendrick as his second baseman.  The offseason acquisition of 2B/3B Chone Figgins gives Centreville some flexibility as they enter free agency.  The Sixers have less cash than most of the other teams in the league, but with so few holes to fill, they should be able to add competent players.  Along with Falls Church and Fairfax, the 66ers have to be considered one of the favorites heading into 2009.

 

2nd Place: Herndon Heroes, 96.5 Points (46 Hitting, 50.5 Pitching)

 

Herndon leaned on its top-heavy pitching staff to finish half a point out of first.  Everyone knows about Santanta and Webb, but the Heroes finished first in ERA and second in WHIP without any other pitcher throwing 110 innings for them.  Offensively, they rode MVP David Wright, star OF Carlos Beltran, and 1B Mark Teixeira.  It was another outstanding season from the most consistent franchise in JLB (well, maybe second most consistent, to the Clams), but they will always remember 2008 not for what they did, but for what could’ve been.

 

Good Moves:  Herndon did a great job piecing together a pitching staff with few recognizable names.  Their marquee free agent signing, Kelvim Escobar, missed all of 2009.  But veteran Mike Mussina, upstart Justin Duchscherer, and uber-prospect Joba Chamberlain combined to give Herndon solid innings.  The bullpen was tremendous, and White added Ryan Franklin and Joel Hanrahan, which gave him 21 low cost saves.  Herndon’s only big trade in 2008 was acquiring Justin Duchscherer.  While that sounds like it must’ve been a steal, the man he was traded for (Kevin Youkilis) earned MVP consideration in MLB this year.  So far, we have to call that trade a push.  Cheap signing Ty Wigginton hit .330 for Herndon, including 8 HR in just 115 AB.

 

Bad Moves:  Varitek completely collapsed this year, and by the time Herndon made a move to replace him, Varitek had turned in 263 AB hitting just .213.  In a season where a half of point meant everything, pulling the plug on Varitek sooner might have been the difference... but credit White for acquiring a capable replacement in Ramon Hernandez.  White will also look back on the 66 AB given to Mike Jacobs, where he hit just .136 with 1 HR, and wonder what else he could’ve done.  But Herndon came under the most fire for their in-game management on the season’s final day.  While Centreville was signing pitchers left and right, some gossip blogs have reported seeing Herndon GM drinking at a bar watching the Redskins play.  By the time they had figured out what happened to them, they were half a point behind. “Obviously this must be the worst fantasy feeling in the world,” Roundabouts GM Dan Hausman said.  “I blame myself if I’m in [White]’s position, and probably kill myself… definitely cry.”  Arlington co-GM Brian Greenhalgh wasn’t quite as harsh as Hausman, saying “Danny might not be Bill Walsh, but he's no Romeo Crennell either.”

 

2009 Outlook: The Heroes have more work to do this offseason than any 2008 contender.  They have lost Brandon Webb, Carlos Beltran, and Brad Lidge to free agency.  They need a shortstop, a couple outfielders, an upgrade at catcher, a utility player, and two or three starters.  To make matters worse, only the Clams have less cash on hand than Herndon.  One league GM predicted that “this will be the year that the Heroes collapse.”  But don’t count Herndon out.  They still have Santana, two solid closers, Teixeira, Uggla, Wright, and Markakis.  Despite this remaining talent, if Herndon continues their streak of finishes in the money in 2009, it might be White’s best job yet as Herndon’s GM.

 

3rd Place: Fairfax Firemen, 82 points (28 Hitting, 54 Pitching)

 

It feels like Fairfax has been rebuilding since the league’s inception, so it was a welcome change to see the Firemen climb the standings this year.  Considered by many to be the preseason favorites, the Firemen fought through disappointing seasons from nearly all of their offensive starters.  Prince Fielder, B.J. Upton, Carlos Guillen, and Alex Rios were all worse than the year before, while Carl Crawford had a very disappointing season.  If Fairfax GM Mike Keenan had been told that his offensive would supply 28 points and high-priced free agent signing Aaron Harang would struggle (4.93 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), he would be thrilled to know he finished in third.  The rest of the Firemen pitching staff picked up the slack, as JLB Cy Young winner CC Sabathia combined with the league’s best bullpen to win three pitching categories outright.

 

Good Moves: Fairfax was wheeling and dealing in the offseason, sending two disappointing prospects and a first round pick to acquire Carl Crawford and Jose Valverde.  While the headliner in the deal had a bad year, Valverde had 43 saves, more than a K/9, and a 1.14 WHIP… and he’s signed for next year.  Keenan paid a high price for free agent reliever Mariano Rivera (3rd ranked pitcher, 8th overall), but he was handsomely rewarded with a 1.40 ERA and a 0.67 WHIP.  Keenan gave up relatively little to acquire Carlos Lee from Oakton, a deal which would’ve looked even better if Lee had stayed healthy.  Still, Lee was one of the lone offensive bright spots in Fairfax.  Keenan went back to the Outlaws in June to acquire 2 wins and 16 saves from Kerry Wood, trading away Andrew Miller and Josh Fields, neither of which profile as JLB starters. Late in the season bargain sign Jensen Lewis ($700k) picked up 10 saves for Fairfax with strong ratios.  Grant Balfour contributed to the great bullpen with his league minimum sign in early July.  All in all, Keenan could do little to get the offense going, but every bullpen piece he touched turned to gold, and he was a clear winner in all of his high profile trades (with the Zumaya/McGowan result still pending).

 

Bad Moves:  The Fireman had a lot of money to spend in the offseason, but most of their big name signings were disappointments.  Harang (2 years for $18m) has already been mentioned, but Carlos Guillen (1/$9.0) finished the season in 3A, Edgar Renteria (2/$4.0) could do no better, and Jim Thome (1/$6.6) posted decent power numbers while hitting .236.  Eager to dump the bad Jorge Cantu contract, Keenan paid $5.1m of the $6.0m owed to Cantu to send him to Sterling, only to see Cantu have a breakout season (as a Clam).  Still, it’s clear that the good outweighed the bad for Fairfax in 2008, which is why they were able to finish third despite so many subpar performances.

 

2009 Outlook:  Keenan has already taken strides to fix his offense, trading a disappointing starter and a hot prospect (Verlander and Andrus) to get catching stud Geovany Soto.  He used his bullpen surplus, trading Soria to Falls Church for MVP candidate Dustin Pedoria.  Suddenly, the offense is rounding into shape, but big questions remain.  Fairfax has holes at SS and 3B, and six question marks (great? terrible?) in the outfield.  Rotation anchor Sabathia will test the free agent waters, leaving a thin staff behind.  Keenan has some cash to spend, and has made some savvy moves early in the offseason, but he has more work to do if he’s going to better his 2008 performance next season.  One GM questions whether he will get there, saying “I’m not sure Fairfax will be able to capitalize on their peak with a championship.”

 

4th Place: Sterling Starfish, 80.5 Points (29 Hitting, 51.5 Pitching)

 

Much like the Firemen, the Starfish combined an inadequate offense with a stellar pitching staff.  Sterling picked up 57 of 60 hitting points in their title run a year ago, but this year, lacked the exceptional play from role players beyond the big two (Hanley Ramirez finished ranked 5th, while Alex Rodriguez finished 14th).  Cy Young runner-up Roy Halladay (#1 ranked pitcher) led a starting staff that included 18 wins from Daisuke Matsuzaka, 16 from A.J. Burnett, and 154.1 decent innings from Josh Beckett.  McDonald built a bullpen that had five players contribute at least 15 saves.  Sterling was one of several teams to spend nearly all of their cash in free agency, but still found themselves fading out of the money race.  GM Chris McDonald worked to reinforce his roster, squeezing into fourth place.

 

Good Moves: This guy got GM of the year votes?  It’s hard to find any moves that were clear wins.  McDonald acquired Beckett and Andruw Jones from (then) Burke GM Josh Bertman for a prospect package headed by Jacoby Ellsbury.  This seemed like a steal at the time, but Jones collapsed (7 for 53 as a Starfish) and Beckett had a disappointing year (by his standards).  While many overlooked the aging Randy Johnson, Sterling paid him a reasonable price ($3.1m) and got nearly a strikeout per inning and a 1.22 WHIP.  Jon Rauch was inked for two seasons, and quickly took over the Washington closer role for Chad Cordero, accumulating 18 saves before being shipped to Arizona.  Their acquisition of Cantu was more of a desperation cash grab than a clever acquisition, as they quickly sent him to Clifton.  Late in the year McDonald moved to acquire Vladimir Guerrero in a salary dump from the Robots; it remains to be seen if this will prove to be a good decision.

 

Bad Moves: McDonald got off to a quick start, outbidding Oakton and signing Jorge Posada to the most lucrative contract in league history ($14.9 million).  He also signed Gary Sheffield ($3.51) and Barry Bonds ($1.6), who combined to hit .197 and hit 5 home runs.  He gave up two first round picks to acquire Nate McLouth and Todd Jones; McLouth struggled, while Jones pitched 1.0 inning (18.00 ERA) for Sterling.  While none of his trades were clear wins, most of the rest didn’t hurt the Fish too badly.  You can argue McDonald gave up too much for Kevin Gregg, or Pat Burrell, but none of those trades look terrible in retrospect.  Perhaps the biggest problem with Sterling was not the bad contracts, but the poor day-to-day managing.  Sterling “forgot” to start A.J. Burnett for his final outing of the season (8.0 IP, 11 K, 1.13 ERA, 1.13 WHIP).  The 11 strikeouts Burnett racked up would’ve gained McDonald three more standings points and placed him third place, several points ahead of the Firemen.  It’s possible that being the GM and the manager at one time is just too much work for McDonald.

 

2009 Outlook:  Any team that has Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez, and Roy Halladay has a chance to contend, but the Starfish have few resources to fill their holes, as only Clifton projects to have less uncommitted cash.  The optimist would say that they have no remaining offensive holes, as they have several options at catcher, a capable second baseman, and three solid outfielders.  McDonald will likely look to bolster his offensive bench, but he’ll focus most of his resources on starting pitching, where he returns only two capable starters.  Closers Francisco Cordero and Matt Capps should return.  Many have counted Sterling out, but to me, they are the league’s most underrated team entering the offseason.  If McDonald can have a more successful offseason, the 2007 champs might be back for another fight.  Early word out of Sterling has McDonald close to trading both Rodriguez and Ramirez, which seems a year too early.  The Starfish have a chance to squeeze into the money in 2009, and elite players like those two would have similar trade value with two years remaining on their contracts.  McDonald should build around his three stars, and wait until next year to rebuild the Fish.

 

5th Place: Reston Roundabouts, 78.5 Points (41.5 Hitting, 37 Pitching)

 

JLB’s most successful franchise finished out of the money for the first time since the league’s inaugural season.  The Roundabouts were the most active team in the free agent market last offseason, signing big name stars, middle tier players, and cheap guys in need of a break.  Ultimately, the Roundabouts lacked the impact players needed to compete for a title.  Their highest ranked hitter (Jermaine Dye) was 30th amongst position players, and the Roundabouts didn’t have enough depth to deal with the struggles of Paul Konerko or injuries to players like Chipper Jones and Milton Bradley.  As Hausman said, “I had a miserable fantasy season all year long.”

 

Good Moves: Last offseason Hausman traded Chad Cordero to Great Falls for five-star prospect Dexter Fowler and a 2nd round pick; Cordero was injured and ineffective all year.   Hausman continued to make good decisions in the free agent market.  Big signs John Lackey and Chipper Jones might not have been worth every penny, but they provided solid production for Reston, and Hausman identified some great buys for lower prices.  Milton Bradley was signed for $1.1 million, but provided a half season of elite at bats.  Jermaine Dye for $2.0 million proved to be a bargain, as Dye hit 33 HR for Reston.  The Roundabouts picked up another elite arm by trading a 1st round pick to Falls Church for Edinson Volquez.  Volquez limped to the finish line, but not before striking out a batter per inning for the ‘Bouts.  His best trade may have acquiring Rich Harden from the Robots for three second round picks.  The oft-injured starter finally kept it together for a full season, and ended being JLB’s sixth-ranked pitcher.  Proving that he can find closers out of nowhere, Hausman signed Salomon Torres to the minimum in mid-May, and was rewarded with 27 saves and a 3.24 ERA.

 

Bad Moves: When Hausman acquired closer J.J. Putz (and Troy Glaus for the minimum), it looked like it was just another brotherly steal.  But Putz struggled through injuries, and prospects Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto burst onto the scene with big years for the Robots.  Two days later, Hausman would make the worst trade of the year, trading Manny Ramirez to the Outlaws for John Maine.  Ramirez was JLB’s fourth-ranked player this year, while John Maine finished with a 4.18 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and missed multiple starts due to injury.

 

2009 Outlook: The Roundabouts have been active early, trading their prized pickup from last season, Geovany Soto, for starter Justin Verlander and shortstop prospect Elvis Andrus.  It will be interesting to see if this leads the Roundabouts into a rebuilding mode.  Hausman has always shied away from tearing his team apart, but with the league more competitive than ever, he might not have a choice.  He enters the offseason with a thin rotation, likely only one closer, and only two startable offensive players (Soriano and Hart).  Rumor has it that Hausman has been shopping his two most valuable assets, Harden and Soriano, which may signal a change to come in Reston.  One GM sees a down year for Hausman, saying that “if he doesn’t trade with his brother, his well for low-cost replacements will be closed.”  With such a stunning track record, you can never count out the Roundabouts… but never before has Hausman entered an offseason with such dim prospects. 

 

6th Place: Falls Church Foxes, 66 Points (43.5 Hitting, 22.5 Pitching)

 

The Foxes finished out of the cellar for the first time since moving to Falls Church, as their rebuilding process finally began to pay dividends.  The Foxes assembled one of the league’s best offenses, getting solid contributions from regulars, but also enjoying breakout years from Ian Kinsler, Dustin Pedroia, Stephen Drew, and Carlos Quentin.  The pitching wasn’t as effective, as the Foxes couldn’t find a #2 starter to work behind Cole Hamels.  It was an odd season for the Foxes, as they spent money and upgraded at some spots, but resisted going all the way and trying to get into the money.  It was an odd allocation of resources, but their goal has always been to compete in 2009, and they are primed to do that, right on schedule.

 

Good Moves: Foxes GM Carlton Davis pulled off one of the best trades in JLB history, picking up Cole Hamels from the Robots in one of new GM Matt Hausman’s first moves. They gave up three marginal prospects, two second round picks, and a few pick upgrades, and got the 7th ranked pitcher in JLB.  Davis moved closer Troy Percival at the right time, getting a first round pick for him and missing out on Percival’s 7.78 ERA with the Roosters.  The Foxes picked up two first round picks by moving Nate McLouth and Todd Jones to Sterling.  It remains to be seen what the first rounders will turn into, but Todd Jones pitched 1.0 inning with the Starfish, while McLouth hit .251 after the trade.  $300k signing Frank Francisco contributed 5 saves and a sub-1.00 WHIP, and might end up in the closer mix for Texas in 2009. 

 

Bad Moves:  The Foxes spent $8.8 million in 2008 on Billy Wagner, $4.4 million on Percival, and $4.1 million on Todd Jones.  It was an odd strategy to spend $17.3 million on closers in a season that the Foxes had no intention of competing.  Davis added his name to Dan Hausman’s career victim list, sending Edinson Volquez and a pick upgrade to the Roundabouts for a 1st round AM pick.  The Foxes had a shot at the money this season if they could have upgraded their pitching staff, but instead they allowed NL Cy Young award winner Tim Lincecum to stay in AAA all season long.  Their insistence on protecting Lincecum’s 2014 season at the expense of competing in 2008 exemplified the Foxes poor “half-way” strategy from this year: add valuable players, but not go far enough to get into the money.  It’s as if they were playing for 6th place from day one.  [For his part, Davis sent me a long e-mail claiming that Lincecum’s promotion would not have meant a fourth place finish on its own, citing his long-term plan to compete in 2009.  It’s a hard hypothetical to be positive about, but if the Foxes were in contention for money late into the season, they could’ve made another small move or two to get them over the hump.  My contention remains that GMs need to be ready to adjust to circumstances, and in 2008, third/fourth place was there for the taking.  The Foxes chose to pass on any chance of it to save a few dollars in 2014.  It is certainly an interesting debate that kept the Foxes internet fan message boards humming all season long.]

 

2009 Outlook:  The Foxes have been busy already this offseason.  With a surplus at 2B, they sent Pedroia to the Firemen for breakout closer Joakim Soria.  A week later, Davis brought on the ire of fellow league members by jumping in on a done deal between the Roundabouts and the Robots, acquiring closer candidate Joey Devine for a 1st and 2nd round pick.  The trade was viewed as legal and allowed to stand, but in a league of friends, the long-term damage done to the reputation of both GMs could end up being more significant than the contributions of Joey Devine.  All that aside, the Foxes enter the 2009 season as the heavy favorites to take home the title.  They have two top-tier starters and rotation depth behind it, two solid closers, and solid JLB-level starters at nearly every offensive position.  They will enter free agency with the most cash in the league and very few needs.  Expect them to go hard after elite talent like CC Sabathia, Brad Lidge, and Carlos Beltran.  If Sterling decides to move Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez, Falls Church is rumored to be the most likely landing spot.  Anything can happen in JLB, but Rodriguez/Ramirez or not, the 2009 title is the Foxes to lose.

 

7th Place: Great Falls Grenades, 63.5 points (38 Hitting, 25.5 Pitching)

 

2008 brought more of the same to JLB’s most consistently mediocre franchise.  This marked the fifth straight year the Grenades finished between 5th and 8th place (they were 2nd in 2003).  The lackluster performance certainly wasn’t due to a lack of effort from the front-office – Great Falls GM J.D. Moss is known to spend sleepless nights in his office – but they simply haven’t been able to get over the hump.  The Grenades face the same decision this offseason that they face every offseason: add to the core and try to get into the money, or tear it down and try to build for the future.  As Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane says, “You’re either on the verge of something special, or you’re building for something special.  Anything else is foolish.”  The Grenades have been stuck in-between for quite some time, much to the dismay of some of their star players.  “Albert Pujols is wasting his career with them,” one GM told me.  It’s possible Moss has begun to find direction.  He moved James Shields to Centreville and picked up pitching prospect Yovani Gallardo.  Later in the season, he had a huge cash dump to Arlington, sending Carlos Zambrano, Roy Oswalt, Rafael Furcal, Marcus Giles, and Mike Lowell for Kelly Johnson and Aubrey Huff.  Great Falls now joins the ranks of the rich, as only four teams have more free cash than the Grenades.  It remains to be seen what they will do with it.

 

Good Moves: Moss picked up setup man Brian Fuentes on the cheap, and had the good sense to give him a two-year deal.  Now that he’s likely to close next season, he turns into a valuable trade chip.  They also capitalized on Ryan Ludwick’s hot start, adding him for $600k and watching him hit 24 HR. 

 

Bad Moves: Moss, a conservative GM, rarely makes any high profile moves, good or bad.  The Grenades looked to add a closer last offseason, sending five-star prospect Dexter Fowler and a 2nd round pick to the Roundabouts for Chad Cordero.  Cordero gave Great Falls two-thirds of an inning in 2008.

 

Funny Story:  Great Falls signed Yankees middle reliever David Robertson on July 28th and instantly put him in the lineup against Baltimore.  Moss was excited about the signing, as Robertson had pitched well in relief and had never – incredibly – allowed a home run in his professional career (majors or minors).  He started the top of the 6th for the Yankees on his first night as a Grenade.  The inning went as follows: Single, wild pitch, infield single, fly out, infield single, walk, *long* upper deck grand slam, walk, Robertson pulled.  0.1 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 ER, 1 HR.  This was one of my five favorite memories from the 2009 season.  He was recently non-tendered.

 

2009 Outlook: Great Falls has reportedly been shopping Fuentes and Broxton, and some GMs believe McCann or Sizemore could be had for the right price.  They have a lot of cash and payroll flexibility, but probably too many holes to fill out their near-empty starting rotation.  Rumor says they are debating the “27 point strategy”, where you use a pitcher early in the season to post strong ratios, and then not use any the rest of the year, getting 12 points in ERA and WHIP, and 1 point in the other three categories (more on this strategy in the “Clifton Clams” section).  If they do this, they can focus their resources on hitting, and perhaps get enough points there to force their way into 4th place.  They would likely be better served by trading their assets and building for the future.  We’ll see which course Moss tries to take. 

 

8th Place: Reston Roosters, 59.5 Points (33.5 Hitting, 26 Pitching)

 

Remarkably, this is the highest finish in Roosters franchise history, as they had never before finished higher than 9th.  The Roosters had strong contributions from many players on offense, but were hurt by a lack of attention to the day-to-day roster.  They finished a combined 105 games short of the positional maxes (the second highest total in JLB) leaving countless stats and points on the table.  They were inactive in the trade market for the most part, but did end up signing several big name free agents, including Magglio Ordonez, Torii Hunter, Ivan Rodriguez, and Ted Lilly.  They were in the hunt for awhile, but ultimately the Roosters lacked the firepower to compete with some of the better teams. 

 

Good Moves: GM Dan Fleeter moved Justin Duchscherer to the Heroes for Kevin Youkilis last offseason.  While Duchscherer had a breakout season, Youkilis is probably the better bet going forward. 

 

Bad Moves: Fleeter, sensing he was in the hunt, traded a first round pick for closer Troy Percival.  Percival struggled before getting hurt and losing his job.  They did the same thing in paying the Clams $5.1 million for Rafael Soriano, who never appeared in a game for the Roosters.  One GM told me that he finds Fleeter difficult to deal with, as it’s very hard to get responses to trade offers.

 

2009 Outlook: The Roosters have one of the league’s best young pitching staffs, with Rookie of the Year candidate Chad Billingsley, Jon Lester, and breakout start Cliff Lee.  This rare collection of arms had one GM label the Roosters as “the potential surprise team of 2009.”  Another GM agreed, saying that the Roosters are in “a great position to finish in the money in ’09.”  A team that was once one of the league’s richest, the Roosters now sit in the middle of the pack financially.  Unless they can add offensive fire power, they might be wise to complete a quick and aggressive rebuild around their young starters.  With the contracts of Chase Utley, Magglio Ordonez, Torii Hunter, Cliff Lee, Brett Myers, Ted Lilly, and Chien-Ming Wang all expiring after this season, the Roosters could undertake a quick rebuild that would leave them in good shape talent wise (and financially).  If the Roosters make a push in free agency this offseason and fall short, they’ll be out of cash and out of talent.  This is a critical offseason for GM Dan Fleeter. 

 

9th Place: Arlington Arsenal, 43 Points (21 Hitting, 22 Pitching)

 

With former Burke Boomerangs GM Josh Bertman taking financial control of the Outlaws franchise, the league turned to a pair of new and enthusiastic owners, Justin Warren and Brian Greenhalgh, to take the reins.  They inherited a team that had cash, several solid players, and a decent farm system.  They instantly made their presence felt, trading pieces and setting themselves up with the talent to make a run for the money in 2009. 

 

Good Moves:  Arlington’s first big trade sent Pat Burrell to Sterling and picked up pitching prospect Jair Jurrjens.  While Burrell had a strong season, and is signed to a reasonable deal in 2009, Arlington acquired a pitcher with some upside that will help fill out a developing rotation in the future.  They continued to auction off assets later in the year, selling Ryan Dempster’s services to the Roundabouts for $2 million. 

 

Bad Moves: I disagreed with their biggest move of the season, but it’s far too early to call it a bad move (see below).  Beyond that, the Arsenal had a very solid rookie season, staying on course for their rebuilding plan by moving assets and holding on to young players.

 

Interesting Moves:  In late August, the Aresnal used their financial flexibility to acquire a lot of talent – and bad contracts – from the Grenades.  Great Falls GM J.D. Moss sent $28.8 million in 2009 obligations to Arlington to clear space on his own payroll.  These contracts include some solid performers (Roy Oswalt and Carlos Zambrano), a hard to predict player (Rafael Furcal), and the worst contract in JLB history (Marcus Giles).  Ultimately, I think Arlington committed too much money without getting any star performers, bloated their 2009 payroll, and lost some of their cash advantage over the rest of the league.  But at this point, it’d be unfair to label this a “bad move”; the success of the investment will depend on how they surround these players in 2009.

 

2009 Outlook: Arlington enters free agency as JLB’s wild card team.  They have three solid starters and three more solid backend types, an elite closer, an elite catcher, and some other potential impact offensive players.  To contend for the money, however, Arlington will have to spend a fortune over the next few months filling their key holes and upgrading spots.  One GM sees them trying just that: “Can you spend your way into the money?  We’ll see very quickly, and this will set the course for a lot of teams.”  I think they would be best served to hold off another year and save up for a big splash in 2010, but the Great Falls trade leaves them pot-committed for a run in 2009.  Arlington is rumored to be a potential landing place for Alex Rodriguez, which would make this team an exciting one to watch in 2009, but might hurt the future success of the club.  The worst case scenario would be to go for it all, and come up just short.  Regardless of what they choose to do, Arlington’s offseason will be the most interesting – and unpredictable – in the league.

 

10th Place: Oakton Outlaws, 41 Points (21 Hitting, 20 Pitching)

 

Former Burke GM Josh Bertman took over financial control of the Oakton franchise early this season, but the results were similar: a third straight tenth place finish.

 

Good Moves:  Oakton flipped Neil Walker to the Robots for Carlos Delgado, which looked at the time like an odd move for the team until Delgado rebounded to have his best season in several years.  Later in the offseason they picked up Manny Ramirez from the Roundabouts for John Maine.  Maine battled through injuries and poor performance, while Ramirez hit .332 with 37 HR and finished 3rd in JLB MVP voting.  Oakton picked up Kerry Wood from Clifton for a pick, and later flipped him to Fairfax for Andrew Miller and Josh Fields.  It seemed at first like he didn’t get enough for Carlos Lee, but Lee soon went down with an injury, making this trade a win for Oakton as well. 

 

Bad Moves: For a team that came in a distant tenth, it’s pretty hard to find a bad move in their transaction thread.  Oakton did bid 2 years / $24 million on Jorge Posada, but it’s possible he was just trying to drive Sterling up.

 

2009 Outlook:  As shown above, Oakton has shown to have a sounds baseball operations department.  So why are all these good decisions not leading to better finishes?  It seems at times that Oakton lacks any type of larger plan.  They hold on to their prospects, but are hesitant to trade veterans and engage in a full rebuild of any type (this is known as the “Great Falls” approach). 

 

Oakton needs to commit to a plan.  They have considerable cash resources (only three teams have more money free after removing existing payroll) and a solid farm system of future stars, but they lack the talent to compete at the JLB level.  It will be interesting to see if Oakton pushes hard in either direction.  By saving more money with a low payroll and trading Haren, Jenks, and Ramirez, Oakton could be ready for a huge run in 2010 when prospect Matt Wieters graduates to the JLB club.  Much like Arlington, it’s also plausible to see a huge spending spree and some clever trades getting Oakton into the money in 2009.  This will be a critical offseason for the Outlaws, and should be fun to watch.

 

11th Place: Reston Robots, 39.5 Points (11 Hitting, 28.5 Pitching)

 

When former Robots GM Brian Winings decided he no longer wanted to participate in JLB, he brought in new GM Matt Hausman.  Hausman’s first season at the helm has been a bumpy one.  To his credit, he quickly identified that his team was too far away to compete, and aggressively engaged in a rebuild.  His pursuit might have been a bit too aggressive, as he wasn’t always able to get full value for the players he was trading, sometimes because he failed to shop his players to all eleven teams.  Still, Hausman is an active and involved GM who has been good for the league.  Hopefully he will transition into a much more successful second season.

 

On the field, the Robots were plagued by one of the worst offenses in JLB history.  No player on the Robots hit 25 HR, no player scored or drove in 80 runs, no player stole 15 bases, and no player with 200 AB hit .300.  Reston performed better on the mound, led by a breakout season from Ervin Santana and solid contributions from Derek Lowe.

 

Good Moves:  The Robots opened the season strong, holding in the money positions for much of the early part of the season.  Many GMs would’ve seized on this opportunity, but Hausman wisely realized that some of the early season performances (like Mark Reynolds) were flukes, and stayed strong to his long-term plan.  One of their only rebuilding trades that looks good so far is trading Putz and Glaus to the Roundabouts for Otsuka, Votto, Cueto, and some picks.  Putz struggled in 2009, and is now a setup man in New York.  Votto and Cueto both showed potential to be JLB contributors down the road.  Brandon Lyon, Rick Ankiel, and Derek Lowe were all good value signings. 

 

Bad Moves: Early in his tenure, Hausman traded step-2 ace pitcher Cole Hamels to the Foxes for Billy Butler, Desmond Jennings, and Matt Antonelli (and a few pick upgrades).  This trade has been well documented (read http://jlbreport.blogspot.com/ for the full report on the trade at the time), but it looks like it will turn out poorly for the Robots.  Hamels was not a player they had to trade, and if they were to trade him, he was someone they could’ve demanded an elite player for.  They did the same thing shortly thereafter, trading Jose Valverde and Carl Crawford for two prospects and a 1st round AM.  The Rich Harden deal worked out poorly, but I’m not sure that seemed like such a bad deal at the time (although Arlington co-GM Brian Greenhalgh immediately declared on the message boards: “That trade reeks of brother collusion”).  The Robots inexplicably took on two bad contracts AND gave up Lyon and Okajima in the same deal.  Lyon lost his closers job and Okajima struggled, but the Robots are still on the hook for three more years of Ian Snell and another year of Juan Morillo (who is Juan Morillo?).

 

2009 Outlook: The Robots are one-year in to a long-term rebuild.  They lack much talent at the JLB level, and while they have a deep farm system, it lacks high-ceiling players.  They need to draft well, continue to save cash, and work their way back into the money race down the road.  Reston is unlikely to contend in 2009.

 

12th Place: Clifton Clams, 33 Points (23.5 Hitting, 9.5 Pitching)

 

Clams finished out of the money for the eighth straight season this year, and came in last for the third time in the league’s eight-year history.  Clams GM Jon Lasken (recently dubbed the “Matt Millen of JLB”) debated using the 27-point pitching strategy, and was off to a good start (had solid ratios early, leaving him with 1/1/1/12/12), but got “bored” and decided to begin using pitchers again.  The result was one of the worst pitching performances in league history.  Their offense failed to live up to past year’s success, leaving the Clams stuck in the basement.

 

Good Moves: Lasken picked up power prospect Chris Davis when he dumped Kevin Gregg to Sterling.  Matt Aviles was a savvy signing at SS who can be a backend starter or solid bench player for Clifton.  Kuo might not be worth a 2nd round pick long-term, but he had a great season after Lasken acquired him. 

 

Bad Moves: The Rafael Soriano signing turned out to be a disaster, but he did get out of some of the contract by sending it to the Roosters early in the season.  They traded a 3rd round pick for Edwar Ramirez.  A third round pick isn’t incredibly valuable, but a Ramirez-like reliever can be found anywhere, for much less (Ramirez was just non-tendered).  His mid-season call-up of Josh Hamilton shows the Clams confusion of where they stand.  Hamilton burned his step 1 season hitting 9 HR for a 12th place club.  Lasken was trying to avoid standings points penalties, but Hamilton was the wrong guy to do this with (the Taveras trade was a much smarter way of going about it).

 

Telling Story: Lasken spent months trying to convince me to trade him for Aaron Rowand, before realizing he had non-tendered him weeks earlier.  Too many, this fits a pattern.  Lasken needs to stop pushing players that I would hate to acquire,” one senior GM told me.

 

2009 Outlook:  Clams GM Jon Lasken would never concede the point (saying his team has the “best long term core” in the league), but from the outside, it’s hard to imagine Clifton contending in the near future.  They have some pieces: Holiday, Cabrera, Hamilton… but they have limited pitching, no impact prospects, and the least uncommitted cash in the league.  One GM told me that Clifton is “the team without a clue.  You cannot compete with $90m and as little talent as he has.”  The Clams need to go about a proper rebuild.  Even if they don’t focus on prospects, they need to at least save cash.  Finding a taker for Adam Dunn or Miguel Tejada would be a good start.