February 10, 2003

Introducing your Minnesota Gophers...

First of all, I sincerely applogize to any of you extremely opposed to hearing about my Diamond-Mind keeper league team(s). If that is you, this column is definitely not for you.

However, I did get a ton of responses each of the times I have discussed my teams and, since yesterday was the final day to "re-sign" keepers for next year in one of my leagues, I thought it would be a good time to tell everyone how my team, the Minnesota Gophers, is shaping up.

The last time I talked about my team, I had a lot of decisions to make.

Basically, I had acquired a lot of young "prospects" the year before and pretty much none of them panned out in 2002.

So, I could either stick with the prospects and let them eat up huge portions of my team payroll or try to rebuild on the fly, to keep compete this year.

As you may have guessed, I chose to rebuild on the fly, because I can't stand not competing, even for one season.

In the last 45 days or so (since I originally wrote about my team) I have made more trades than I thought humanly possible.

And, that is coming from someone that once, while playing in an ESPN.com fantasy league, ended the season with not a single player among the 28 I originally drafted.

Here is a quick recap of a few of the trades...

(Keep in mind, the league has player salaries and team salary caps, so not every trade is simply talent for talent, a lot of it is dumping big contracts, working the cap and so on)

Traded away Carlos Pena ($23), Mike Fetters ($3) and Olmedo Saenz ($3) for Johnny Damon ($27).

Traded away John Valentin ($3) for Rick Helling ($12).

Traded away Jose Vizcaino ($3) for Mark McLemore ($7).

Traded away Tom Goodwin ($3), Rick White ($5), Felix Heredia ($4) and Chad Paronto ($3) for Ken Huckaby ($3) and Greg Myers ($5).

Traded away Ken Huckaby ($3) for Gabe White ($5).

Traded away Gabe White ($5) for Andy Ashby ($10), Placido Polanco ($9) and Mark DeRosa ($5).

Traded away Gary Bennett ($5) and Eric Owens ($3) for Randy Johnson ($98) and Ellis Burks ($23).

Traded away Quinton McCracken ($3) for Andruw Jones ($34).

Traded away Michael Tucker ($9) for Mike Fetters ($3) (yes, the same Fetters that I traded away earlier).

Traded away Freddy Garcia ($38) for Johan Santana ($5).

Along with all this trading, I also flat out released a bunch of players:

Juan Uribe ($22)

Lee Stevens ($13)

Luis Alicea ($3)

Nick Neugebauer ($18)

Nate Cornejo ($13)

Kurt Ainsworth ($17)

Shawn Estes ($15)

Josh Beckett ($37)

Adam Dunn ($58)

Tim Redding ($13)

Travis Harper ($3)

Keith Lockart ($3)

Travis Fryman ($4)

Nick Johnson ($29)

Some of those guys just plain sucked (Lockhart, Stevens, Alicea) but most of them were simply way too expensive for me to justify keeping them after how they played in 2002 (Beckett, Dunn, Johnson, Neugebauer). I was able to trade a few of the guys I was going to cut, but the guys on that list were pretty much untradeable with their salaries.

As I said, yesterday was the final day to "re-sign" players for next year, which means every team now has their roster set and the league will be heading toward the draft/auction.

For my team, there is bad news and good news.

First, the good news...

I have 25 players on my roster and every "normal" position is filled.

I have 5 starting pitchers, a full-bullpen, a backup catcher, 2 backup infielders and 2 backup outfielders and a full, every-day lineup.

Now, the bad news...

The team salary cap is $400 and I am currently at $385, meaning I have a grand total of $15 to spend in the draft.

To put that in some context, I had over $200 to spend in the draft last off-season and, this year, the majority of the other 23 teams have at least $100.

In fact, 9 teams have over $200 and 4 teams have over $280 to spend!

I was really fond of the draft last year, it is a lot of fun bidding on players and all that.

But, I saw an opportunity to build my team prior to the draft, while other teams tried to clear cap room.

I won't be able to bid on Mark Prior or Austin Kearns or Hank Blalock or any of the other 2002 rookies that are available.

But, what I do have is a full roster that is ready to play right now, without having to worry about filling holes in the draft.

So, without further adieu, I present to you the 2002 Minnesota Gophers of the TRHL:

SP Randy Johnson

SP A.J. Burnett

SP Andy Ashby

SP Rick Helling

SP Johan Santana / Ryan Rupe

RP Tony Fiore

RP Scott Eyre

RP Mike Koplove

RP Mike Fetters

RP Joey Eischen

C Ramon Hernandez

1B Jim Thome

2B Mark McLemore

SS Andy Fox

3B Mark Bellhorn

LF Johnny Damon

CF Andruw Jones

RF Gary Matthews Jr.

DH Ellis Burks

C Greg Myers

IF Placido Polanco

IF Mark DeRosa

OF Moises Alou

OF Michael Cuddyer

As far as star-studded fantasy baseball teams go, this isn't one of them.

My only real stars are probably Randy Johnson, Andruw Jones and Jim Thome.

But, I think I have a whole bunch of productive players and, overall, a good team.

Some notes...

Much of my offensive attack is based on platooning players.

Mark McLemore hit .283/.384/.408 against righties last year, but only .152/.348/.273 in a very limited numbers of ABs against lefties.

So, he is my starting 2B against righties, while Mark DeRosa starts there against lefties, against whom he hit .293/.369/.448.

Andy Fox is my starting shortstop against righties and he hit .277/.369/.369 against them.

However, he hit a putrid .148/.208/.193 against lefties, so Placido Polanco gets the start at SS against them (he hit .338/.390/.490 vs lefties in 2002).

In the outfield, Gary Matthews Jr. hit .292/.376/.462 against righties, so he gets the start in RF against them, while Moises Alou starts in his place against lefties, against whom he hit .322/.402/.470.

The other guys will all play pretty much everyday.

Thome crushes righties (.333/.485/.766) and was respectable enough against lefties (.245/.358/.497) to stay in the lineup.

On the other hand, Bellhorn destroys lefties (.303/.397/.672) and does alright against righties too (.241/.365/.452).

Johnny Damon does well against lefties and righties.

Ramon Hernandez can't really hit anyone, but he's there for his defense, so he plays pretty much everyday, with Greg Myers playing some of the time against right handed pitching (he hit .227/.357/.412 against them).

Andruw Jones surprisingly stunk against lefties last year, hitting only .228/.370/.367 against them, but he's so good defensively that he stays in my lineup against them.

He's a no-brainer against righties, against whom he hit .270/.365/.536.

Speaking of Andruw, my trade for him a few days ago created a very strange situation in my outfield.

You see, Diamond-Mind assigns each player defensive ratings at each position they played in 2002.

The ratings are Excellent, Very Good, Average, Fair and Poor.

For example, Jim Thome got a "Fair" rating at 1B, while Moises Alou was "Average" in both LF and RF.

Anyway, I already had Johnny Damon as my center fielder, where he got a "Very Good" rating in 2002.

Then, I traded for Andruw, who also had a "Very Good" CF rating.

Neither of them was rated in LF or RF, so one of them is going to have to play out of position for me this season.

I am leaning toward putting Damon in LF and not Andruw, because Andruw's throwing arm was rated higher.

Either way, I am planning on having the best defensive outfield in the league, with 2 gold glove caliber center fielders manning LF and CF, while Gary Matthews Jr. patrols RF, where he received a "Very Good" rating.

Okay, so that covers my hitting and defense.

My pitching is, in my opinion, the strength of my team.

I think my top 2 starters, Randy Johnson and A.J. Burnett, are as good as any team's.

Everyone knows about The Big Unit and, if you want to learn some more, go check out my Johnson/Koufax discussion from last week.

A.J. Burnett is a lesser known star.

Check out his numbers from 2002:

 IP      ERA       K     BB     HR     OAVG

204 3.30 203 90 12 .209

Those are some very good numbers.

Burnett struck out almost exactly 1 batter per inning and, while walked quite a few, he did very well keeping home runs to a minimum.

Overall, batters hit .209/.299/.309 against him, which is just phenomenal.

Actually, to be exact, the .608 OPS against was #2 in the entire National League, behind only Odalis Perez (.605).

Yep, Odalis Perez led the NL in OPS against and A.J. Burnett was 2nd!

I have been following Burnett a lot on this site, particularly during last season.

I devoted a couple of entries entirely to him.

Actually, the first entry in the history of Aaron's Baseball Blog was entitled, "A.J. Burnett and Jeff Torborg."

Yeah, I wasn't such a snappy headline writer back then.

At the time (August 1st) Burnett was pitching brilliantly, but was worrying me because of the huge pitch counts his manager, Jeff Torborg, was allowing him to rack up.

Here is what I said back in that first ever post:

Burnett has been one of baseball's top pitchers throughout the season and he was awesome tonight, but the way his manager, Jeff Torborg, is using him has me worried about his future.


There is just no way that a 25 year old pitcher in his 2nd full season in the majors should be allowed to consistently throw that many pitches, start after start after start.


Burnett has been great this year and he looks like he will be a stud for years to come. But the way he is being treated makes me think he is in line for some arm troubles.

I hope I am wrong.

Sadly, I was extremely right.

Amazingly, the first ever thing I wrote on this site was a correct prediction!

That has been overshadowed by the fact that I have yet to make another even remotely correct prediction, but that's beside the point.

In fact, within only 2 weeks from the time I wrote that, Burnett was on the DL with arm problems.

I made sure to let everyone know how brilliant my prediction was (just as I am doing now) and wrote an entry entitled: "I hate to say I told you so" in which I said:

Since that post, Burnett has started 3 games.

93 pitches on August 7th

123 pitches on August 12

117 pitches yesterday

And today, just as I predicted, A.J. Burnett was placed on the disabled list after complaining about a sore elbow.

According to what I have read, he is likely done for the entire season.

One quote by Marlins' "manager" Jeff Torborg really got to me.

When asked if Burnett would be rushed back into the rotation, Torborg said:

"We would never do anything to hurt him. With the future this guy's got, no way."

What a F@!%ing moron!

What language!

I was so immature back then.

Oh, by the way, Torborg is still a f@!%ing moron.

Burnett actually did not miss the remainder of the entire season, just most of it.

He came back on September 14th, about a month after he went on the DL, and pitched 1 inning in relief against the Braves, walking 3 batters and allowing 3 runs.

He pitched again in relief a few days later against Montreal and gave up another 2 runs in only 1 and 2/3 innings.

Burnett finished up the year back in rotation for 2 final starts, both good ones (10 2/3 IP and 1 ER).

My point in all of this?

1) Burnett had a great year.

2) He is a key to my Diamond-Mind team.

3) Jeff Torborg is an idiot.

4) I actually have made at least 1 good prediction on this website.

After my top 1-2 punch of Johnson and Burnett, my rotation gets a little less reliable.

Andy Ashby and Rick Helling are in the #3 and #4 slots, basically to eat up innings and not be completely awful.

Ashby pitched 182 innings for the Dodgers last year and posted a 3.91 ERA.

That isn't a great number for someone pitching in Dodger Stadium, but I like the innings and he should be an "average" starter for me, which is what I need.

Helling pitched 176 innings for the Diamondbacks and had a 4.51 ERA.

Bank One Ballpark was actually quite a good place for hitters last year (and the last few years) so a 4.51 ERA there isn't horrible.

Not great, but not horrible.

The #5 spot in my rotation will be split between Johan Santana and Ryan Rupe.

I can't just have one starter because Santana only pitched 108 innings last year, while Rupe pitched only 90.

So, they'll split the duties and combine to pitch about 195 innings, which is what a normal rotation spot would be counted on for.

Rupe had an awful ERA last year, but his performance outside of that was actually pretty decent.

He held batters to a .243 batting average, which is very good.

He also struck out 67 batters in only 90 innings and walked only 25.

His one weakness was giving up homers (he served up 11) and that is why his ERA was so poor.

But, for about 15 starts, he should be decent for me.

And Johan Santana is someone I have talked about on this website about a million times.

To make a long story short, I think he is going to be one of the best pitchers in Major League Baseball very soon.

The main thing holding him back is the fact that he doesn't even have a spot in the Twins' rotation this year, something that I think will eventually change, whether because of injuries to other pitchers or Santana just being to good to keep in the bullpen.

If you read this blog often, you know that I believe strike outs to be the #1 key for a pitcher's long-term success.

And Santana racks up strike outs with the best of them, literally.

Johan struck out 137 batters in only 108 innings last year, which works out to 11.38 per 9 innings.

If Santana had pitched enough innings to qualify for the league ERA title, that figure of 11.38/9 IP would have ranked #2 in all of MLB, behind only Randy Johnson.

For some comparison:

Johnson = 11.56

Santana = 11.38

Schilling = 10.97 K/9

Pedro = 10.79 K/9

Clemens = 9.60 K/9

By the way, A.J. Burnett ranked 9th in baseball at 8.94 K/9.

Trading Freddy Garcia for Santana was a bit of a risk, but I think it will turn out to be an excellent trade for me.

Garcia is good, but I think Johan will be great.

Plus, I saved $33 on the deal for this year and Garcia will soon be getting too expensive to retain anyway.

Okay, so that covers my starting rotation.

What about the bullpen?

I'm glad you asked.

My bullpen is made up of 5 guys that are pretty much no-names.

Believe it or not, each of them was picked up during last season was $1.

During the off-season, $1 players see their salaries increase to $3, which means my 5-man pen will combine to cost me $15 this year.

That's a hell of a bargain.

My closer is Joey Eischen.

I actually talked about him a little bit last week in an entry, so rather than come up with stuff to say about Joey Eischen for the second time in a single week...

As for Joey Eischen, I realize a lot of you probably have never even heard of him before and you guys are the upper percentile of baseball freaks.

Joey Eischen is a very important person in my life because he will serve as the "closer" on my Diamond-Mind team next season.

"Joey Eischen is going to be your closer next year?"

Yes, he is.

Remember, DMB uses last year's stats in the current season, so Eischen will be serving as closer and pitching like he did in 2002.

Check out the stats:

Player           IP      ERA     SO     BB      H     HR     OAVG

Joey Eischen 54 1.34 51 18 43 1 .224

If you didn't know who those numbers belonged to, you would have no problem believing he was a big time closer, right?

The late-inning fate of the Minnesota Gophers of the Three Run Homer League rests upon the left arm of one Joey Eischen.

I hope it doesn't end up turning out as bad as it sounds!

I am expecting big things from Eischen.

He held lefties to an amazing .173/.244/.247 and was pretty good against righties too, holding them to .261/.323/.306.

Setting up Eischen from the right side of the pen will be Mike Fetters, Mike Koplove and Tony Fiore.

Fiore will also be used as a long-reliever because he has good stamina and is able to pitch a lot of innings.

He pitched 91 innings for the Twins last year with a 3.17, holding opponents to .224/.317/.360.

Fetters will be asked to simply get out right handed hitters.

If he sees 1 lefty this entire year, that will be 1 more than I'd like.

You see, he held righties to .230/.329/.311, but somehow managed to allow lefties to hit .306/.451/.435.

Like I said, he won't be seeing many left handed hitters.

Mike Koplove is my true setup man and will be asked to pitch the 8th inning of close games most of the time.

He pitched 62 innings for Arizona last year, holding opponents to .213/.281/.276, which is just awesome.

He is an extreme ground ball pitcher and gave up only 2 homers in those 62 IPs.

From the left side of the pen, I have Scott Eyre as my official LOOGY ("Lefty One Out GuY")

Eyre is pretty much the opposite of Fetters in that he'll be asked to face as many lefties and as few righties as possible.

He limited lefties to .233/.307/.322, but righties did well against him, batting .317/.389/.441.

So, there you have it.

My platoon filled lineup with Thome, Burks and Andruw Jones in the middle.

My "1-2 punch and a bunch of [mediocre]" rotation.

And my $15 bullpen, which is really the biggest strength on my whole team.

With only $15 bucks to spend in the auction, I am not counting on getting much useful, so I'll spare you the details of that.

But, you can count on frequent in-season updates as Thome, Johnson and the rest of the Minnesota Gophers continue their journey to the 2002 TRHL Championship!

*****Comments? Questions? Email me!*****

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