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Pressing issues for the Nats this off-season

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Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Will Dusty get another contract here? Photo via UPI

Since our season is over (but the hot-stove has not yet kicked in), i’ll piggy back on the recent posts to this same topic done by Mark Zuckerman at MASN and by Chelsea Janes at WP.

Their posts both touched on some of the same issues; i’ll take those issues and add in a few of my own.

Major issues for the Nats to address this coming off-season, how I would address them and what I think the team will do:

  1. Resolve Dusty Baker situation.  Many reports have noted that the team wants him back and that he wants to return.  I see little that he could have done differently in the 5-game NLDS loss to use as evidence that he’s not the right guy (you can’t lose when your pitchers throw 6 no-hit innings in playoff starts), and he’s so clearly a better man-manager than his predecessor Matt Williams that I see no reason not to extend him.   I know that the Lerner’s don’t like to do long term contracts, and lets just hope they offer Baker the raise he deserves for two straight division titles (and, in my opinion, the NL Manager of the Year in 2017 award that he should get for working around so many injuries this year).
  2. Should we bring back Jayson Werth?   Yes he’s the “club house leader,” yes he’s been here for seven years and has settled in the DC area.  But he struggled this year with both injuries and performance, is entering his age 39  year, posted a negative bWAR in 2017, and the team has a surplus of outfielders who are probably MLB “starters” heading into 2018, more than we can even field.  I think the team says to Werth something along the lines of the following: Go see if you can find a DH/part time OF job in the AL for a couple years until you’re done playing and then we’ll hire you back as a special assistant/hitting instructor/bench coach or something.  I’m not entirely convinced that Werth is a DC lifer though; he’s been kind of a nomad in his career.  Drafted by Baltimore, traded to Toronto (with whom he debuted), traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers, signed as a FA with Philly for four years, then with us for seven.  Yes he’s been with us the longest, but this isn’t a situation like Ryan Zimmerman where we’re the only org he’s known.  I think he heads off to the AL for a couple years then comes back to the fold with a front office job.
  3. What do we do at Catcher?  I’ll quickly repeat what we’ve been discussing in the comments of previous posts; yes I know Matt Wieters struggled badly at the plate this year, yes I know he botched the 5th inning of that fateful game 5.  But he’s not going to decline a $10M offer after this season, nor is the team going to swallow that amount of money.  Prepare yourselves for another season of Wieters, who we can only hope bounces back in his “contract year” and gets a bump in performance.  Meanwhile, as much as we love the Jose Lobaton cheerleader routine, we do need more production from the backup.  Even though Lobaton got just 158 ABs this year, he still managed to put up a -1.0 bWAR figure.  That’s hard to do.  If only we could just have him only play for us in the playoffs … (big hit in game 5 in 2017, the clutch 3-run homer in 2016).  I suspect the team will go with Wieters and Pedro Severino as his backup, getting Severino at least two starts a week to get him up to speed on MLB pitching, then making a 2019 decision based on whether Severino looks like he could hit enough to be a full time starter or if he remains the backup to some FA acquisition.  We have others in the pipeline who may prove themselves worthy soon (Raudy Read in AAA, Taylor Gushue in AA, Jakson Reetz in High-A, Tres Barrera in Low-A, plus long-serving minor leaguers Spencer Kieboom and Jhonatan Solano in the AAA fold who may or may not come back for 2018).
  4. Will they pursue FA extensions with key players?  Namely, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy.  Lets take them one by one:
    1. Harper: lets face it, there’s NO WAY he’s not hitting free agency.  Scott Boras client with a chance to set the all time contract record?  Both guys have the ego required to pursue that avenue.  And yes, while some Boras clients (Stephen Strasburg) have taken pre-FA deals, very few do.  You hire Boras generally to get the biggest value deal and to leverage his relationships with owners so as to negotiate directly with them and that’s what Harper will do.
    2. Rendon: he’s still got two arb years: what I think the team will do is do a 2-year deal to buy out the Arb years and get cost containment.  MLBtraderumors projected Rendon’s arb salary for 2018 at $11.5M and they’re usually pretty accurate; I could see the nats offering Rendon a 2yr/$26M deal for $10M in 2018 then $16M in 2019 or something like that … maybe a little higher in his final year given his MVP-calibre season.  That’d be good for the team because Rendon might be a $20M/year player, and good for Rendon b/c he’s injury prone.  Past this though … Rendon is also a Boras client but he projects to me kind of like Strasburg in that he’s low-key and may want to commit to DC longer term.  Of course, Rendon is also a Houston lifer (born, high school and college there) so he could also want a return trip home to play for his home town team.  Probably an issue for the 2020 hot-stove season.
    3. Murphy: the Nats have gotten such a huge bargain with the Murphy signing.  He’ll only be 34 at the beginning of his next deal, and he plays a position (2B) that isn’t nearly as taxing as an OF or other infield position.  I would feel completely comfortable offering him another 3 year deal, increasing the dollars to maybe $16M/year (3yrs/$48M).
  5. Do they need to pursue a Starting Pitcher?  Absolutely, 100% yes.   Joe Ross is out for basically the whole of 2018, they traded away all their AAA depth last off-season, and the guys remaining in AAA (A.J. Cole and Erick Fedde) did not grab the 5th starter job like they had the chance to in 2017.  Edwin Jackson probably earned himself a shot elsewhere but was too inconsistent for my tastes.  I think the team splurges here, trying to get the best additional veteran starter they can find either on the free market or in trade.  The market for starters is intriguing: Yu DarvishJake Arrieta are Cy-Young quality arms available.  There’s some decent SPs like Masahiro Tanaka and Johnny Cueto who can opt out but who also may just stay put.  There’s #4 starter types like Lance Lynn and Jeremy Hellickson who are available and could be good 5th starters for us.  There’s guys who have put up good seasons but have struggled lately (Jaime GarciaFrancisco LirianoClay Buchholz) who could be intriguing.  So it’ll be interesting to see who they get.
  6. What is the Nats 2018 outfield?  Do they stick with Internal options or do they hit the FA/trade Markets?   I like a potential 2018 outfield of Taylor/Eaton/Harper.  I like Taylor in CF providing better defense than Eaton right now, given that ACL injuries really are 2-year recoveries.  Given Taylor’s big 2017 and his “Michael A Tater” NLDS, he’s more than earned a starting spot in 2018.  That leaves some surplus in the OF for 2018 … something we’ll talk about next.  There are some intriguing names out there on the FA market (J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Lorenzo Cain) who could slot into either LF or CF as needed and give a hopeful boost to the offense … but are any of those guys and their 8-figure salaries guarantees to be better than the cost-contained Taylor?  I don’t think so, and that’s why I think we stick with him.
  7. Do the Nats leverage their sudden depth of position players in trade this off-season?  In particular, i’m talking about Wilmer Difo and Brian Goodwin, both of whom played extremely well when given the opportunity and who both proved that they’re MLB starting quality.   If we stick with Taylor as a starter, then you have both Goodwin and Andrew Stevenson as able backups and that’s one too many.  If we (going back to the previous point) buy another outfielder, then that’s even more surplus.  I’m of the opinion that the team needs to sell high on both Difo and Goodwin and acquire needed assets (5th starter, bullpen help, near-to-the-majors pitching prospects).
  8. What do we do with the benchDrew, Lobaton, Kendrick, de Aza, Raburn all FAs, Lind has a player option but may want to try to parlay his excellent PH season into a FTE job.  So that leaves … not much.
    1. We have already talked about a backup catcher above
    2. We need a RH bench bat who can play corners (1B/LF): that was Chris Heisey to start the year .. but he’s long gone.  Kendrick ably filled this role … but he won’t sign back on as a utility guy given his excellent 2017.
    3. If Lind doesn’t exercise his $5M player option, we’ll need a big bopper lefty on the bench again.  We do have a guy like this on the farm and on our 40-man (Jose Marmolejos) but is he MLB ready?  He had a nice AA season, but AA to the majors is a jump.
    4. If we flip Difo, we’ll need a backup middle infielder.  Do we keep him assuming that Turner/Murphy will get hit with injuries (as they both are apt to do?)  Turner missed months, Murphy missed nearly 20 games in each of the past two years; is that enough to keep someone around versus flipping them?
    5. We do seem OK with backup outfielders right now, assuming that Andrew Stevenson is sufficient as a 4th OF/CF-capable defensive replacement/pinch runner type.

So, that’s potentially a brand new bench.  Luckily its not too hard to find veteran big-hitting RH or LH bats; we seem to do this every year and have some luck.  Middle infielders?  Would you sign up for another year of Drew?  I don’t think I would at this point; he just seems to brittle to count on.   I suspect the team will be quite active in this area.

9. What do we do with the bullpen Right now, given the departing FA relievers (Perez, Kintzler, Blanton, Albers), our “standing pat” bullpen for 2018 looks something like this:

  1. Closer: Doolittle
  2. 7th/8th inning guys: Madsen, Kelley, Glover
  3. Lefties: Solis, Romero
  4. Long Man: Grace/Cole
  5. Minors options: Adams, Gott

So, that’s a pretty solid looking bullpen if two guys in particular are healthy: Kelley and Glover.  Our entire strategy in the off-season seems to hinge on the health of these two.  I have no guesses; so lets assume one of them is good and one of them has a significant all of 2018 injury.  That means we probably pursue another Matt Albers type in the off-season.  Meanwhile, there’s a difference of opinion on the value of both our current lefties: Romero’s ancillary numbers were barely adequate and lefties hit him for nearly a .300 BAA, so he’s not exactly an effective lefty.  Solis blew up this season, posting a seasonal ERA of nearly 6.00 (his FIP was much better) and getting demoted at one point.  But he gets lefties out, Baker trusts him, and I can’t see him not being a part of the solution.  If the team thought they could improve upon Romero, perhaps they also pursue a lefty reliever (or resign the swashbuckler Perez).  I’m ok with Grace as a long man (though his K/9 rates leave something to be desired) but I’d also like to see the team convert Cole to relief at this point.  There’s some options issues to consider; Solis, Romero, Cole, and Grace are all out of options for next year, so they all either make the team or get cut loose.

 


So Summary:

  1. Bring back Baker
  2. Say good bye to Werth
  3. Stand pat on catcher with internal options
  4. Buy out Rendon’s arb years this year, talk about Murphy next year
  5. Get a decent 5th starter
  6. Go with Taylor/Eaton/Harper with Stevenson as your backup in the OF
  7. Yes, trade Goodwin and Difo for stuff
  8. Get one middle RH reliever, one middle LF reliever, convert Cole to relief
  9. Cattle call for bench bats next spring.

Am I missing anything?  Lots of talking points here.

 

 

Congrats on 4th Title in 6 years and a mailbag to kick off discussions

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Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

Can Harper come back from this unnatural-looking injury? PHoto via si.com

The subject says it all.  This is easily the earliest the team has ever clinched; normally its like the 2nd to last game of the year.   (Previous clinch dates in order: 10/1/12, 9/17/14, 9/25/16).  I will be adding the 2017 clincher to my running/ever growing list of notable Nats games, to be republished this off-season after we win the World Series ;-).

From a content generation standpoint I have started (after not doing them in 2016) the pitching staff reviews for the minor leagues … but they’re slow to develop because we ran through SO MANY pitchers in AAA and AA.  So those are coming eventually.  Its been a challenging couple of months for me personally, hence the lack of content.

Meanwhile, with the off-day comes a mailbag from Nats beat reporter Jamal Collier.  Since i’ve been struggling with content generation lately, lets do a response to kick off some conversation.


 

Q: What does your beat reporter’s gut tell you about Bryce & October? If Werth can’t get his timing either… OF is looking tough

A:  Well, this is the million dollar question isn’t it?  I read somewhere and will paraphrase someone’s research about the Nats offense with and without Bryce Harper … and its about a run/game less.  That’s significant.  His knee injury was worse than we originally thought and includes a calf strain too.  He’s got about 3 weeks left to get back.  My prediction is that Harper makes it back but is hobbled/not 100%.   Meanwhile Jayson Werth has fewer at bats in June/July/Aug/Sept combined than he had in April alone, and now he has a shoulder issue.  No wonder the team called up its #1 prospect Victor Robles.  I’m also beginning to think that Robles is part of the post season discussion, since these two guys are struggling and Alejandro de Aza isn’t exactly lighting the world on fire.

OF prediction for October: Werth, Michael Taylor and Harper starting but struggling, with the team turning to Howie Kendrick as needed and carrying Andrew Stevenson as its 5th/defensive replacement/pinch runner.  Robles comes into play if there’s another injury over de Aza or Rafael Bautista or anyone else we can think of.

Collier thinks Harper will be there in October but doesn’t speculate any further on the OF


Q: Right now, I have no faith Kelley won’t give up hard hit balls whenever he comes in. Odds he makes the playoff roster???

A: We may have to revisit our post-season roster predictions, published on 8/26/17, given what’s been going on.  At that time I went with Doolittle, Madsen, Kintzler, Albers, Glover, Perez, Grace,  Romero as the bullpen, leaving out Shawn Kelley.  However, it does not look like Koda Glover is making it back, so we need another name up there.  That could be a lefty like Solis, or one of struggling vets in Kelley/Blanton, or perhaps more likely Edwin Jackson.  Nonetheless, I think Kelley has pitched himself out of contention.

Collier agrees; he does not think Kelley merits a spot on the post-season roster either.


 

Q: Will @EJ36 be on the postseason roster?

A: Well, speaking of.  Yeah I think he makes sense as the 8th man in the bullpen right now.  He can spell a starter if they get into trouble early and he’s certainly pitched like he deserves it.  He also has experience relieving and could come in and throw middle innings if need be.  I like him as the Glover replacement in the above question.

Collier completely agrees.


 

Q: Based only on the Nats Park locations: what’s better, Ben’s or Mike Isabella’s?

A: I don’t know how anything can ever top Ben’s Chili Bowl for ballpark fare.

Collier is a huge fan of the subs at Mike Isabella’s.  Maybe he doesn’t like getting chili all over his game notes.


 

Q; Will some of the vets who don’t make the playoff roster still travel with the team?

A: Oh yeah, they’re still part of the team and will want to take part.  They know how things go; you can get onto the NLCS foster even if you’re not on the NLDS roster.  You aren’t going to just give up on your season’s accomplishments because you got squeezed out of the roster.

Collier says the same.


 

Q; Since Goodwin looks like he is not returning, who do you think will be our backup CF for the playoffs?

A: I kind of answered this above, but I do think its going to be Stevenson over Robles or others.  Primarily because I think he’s more of a CF than other options, he’s sufficiently fast to pinch hit, he’s older and more experienced, and he’s projecting to be a very good defensive CF (24.5 UZR/150 in his limited time there).

Collier goes with Stevenson too.

 

 

 

 

 

Gold Glove Awards review with Advanced Metrics

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Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013.  Photo via espn.go.com

Andrelton Simmons put up what most consider the best defensive season of 2013. Photo via espn.go.com

The recent years have been a rise in all sorts of statistical analysis in the game of baseball (as we all know), and one of the more important areas of research has been the measurement and tracking of defensive metrics.  The data we have at our disposal is not yet infallible, but the data has opened our eyes to the real impact that some major leaguers have on the defensive side of the ball.

We’re all quite familiar with the WAR-based arguments that have completely consumed last year’s AL MVP award voting as an example of modern statistics helping to shape the selection of a traditional award winner.  However, up until 2013, the Gold Gloves remained an award that was given out without practically any consideration given to any advanced metric, and the awards have been embarassed in recent years with some amazingly inept selections.  The two most laughable selections of recent memory were Rafael Palemeiro in 1999 (given a Gold Glove for his play at 1B despite the fact that he only played 28 games in the field that  year) and Derek Jeter in 2010 (a year in which he posted a -5.1 UZR/150, was dead last among all 59 AL shortstops in Total Zone Total Fielding and had the selection was openly mocked by the normally staid Baseball-Reference.com website).   Even the more defensible gold gloves over the past few years have been considered “wrong” by the stat-crowd, to the point where a number of national writers openly mock the awards and go out of their way to “ignore” th em.

This concerns me as a fan, and as someone who is keenly interested in the Hall of Fame merits of players.  I absolutely believe that when it comes time to judge players on the whole of their careers, that individual awards such as the Gold Gloves, MVP and Cy Young awards matter.  I want these awards to be relevant and properly awarded.

Two things have happened lately that give me hope:

  1. Bill James and a varied panel of baseball writers, statisticians in the field and former players now vote on The Fielding Bible awards each year.  The 2013 Fielding Bible awards are not league specific; they recognize the best in the majors at each position each year.
  2. The Gold Glove award committee for the first time in 2013 has incorporated a statistical element to the traditional surveying of players and coaches to choose the award winners.

(All winners/leaders listed below are on one common Google XLS here.  Listed are the winners of the GGs, Fielding Bibles, and then the leaders in each league by position of these Defensive stats: UZR/150, DRS, FRAA, and Total Zone.  I haven’t gone into the various definitions and pros/cons of these stats; I have a planned off-season defensive statistical overview post where I’ll go into greater detail).

First off, if you believe that the Fielding Bible panel has picked the best possible awardees, then you’ll be happy to note that every Fielding Bible award winner also received a Gold Glove this year.  Here’s the Fielding Bible winners by position for 2013:

Pos Fielding Bible Winner
C Yadier Molina, STL
1B Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
SS Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL
LF Alex Gordon, KC
CF Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR

Now, here’s the Gold Glove winners, with the Fielding Bible award winners bolded:

Pos AL GG Winner NL GG Winner
C Salvador Perez, KC Yadier Molina, STL
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS J.J. Hardy, BAL Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Carlos Gonzalez, COL
CF Adam Jones, BAL Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Adam Wainwright, STL

As you’ll see below by looking at the various defensive metrics out there, most of the Gold Glove winners were merited.  In fact, there only seems to be one egregiously bad selection here (which we’ll get to below).  Nearly every other winner was at the top of one or more of the advanced metrics available by position for his league:

UZR/150 leaders per league (again, with Fielding Bible winners bolded):

Pos AL UZR/150 NL UZR/150
C
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Ben Zobrist, TBR Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Yunel Escobar, TBR Andrelton Simmons ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF David Murphy, TEX Starling Marte, PIT
CF Colby Rasmus, TOR A.J. Pollack, ARI
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

Defensive Runs Saved leaders per league:

Pos AL DRS NL DRS
C Salvador Perez, KC Wellington Castillo, CHC
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Anthony Rizzo, CHC
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Darwin Barney, CHC
SS Pedro Florimon, MIN Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Alex Gordon, KC Starling Marte, PIT
CF Leonys Martin, TEX Carlos Gomez, MIL
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Gerardo Parra, ARI
P

FRAA Leaders per league:

Pos AL FRAA NL FRAA
C
1B Eric Hosmer, KC Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Ian Kinsler, TEX Donovan Solano, MIA
SS Nick Franklin, SEA Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Nolan Arenado, COL
LF Andy Dirks, DET Carl Crawford, LAD
CF Alejandro De Aza, CWS Brandon Barnes, HOU
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Hunter Pence, SF
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Andrew Cashner, SD

And lastly here’s the Total Zone Total Fielding leaders:

Pos AL Total Zone Total Fielding NL Total Zone Total Fielding
C Matt Wieters, BAL Yadier Molina, STL
1B Mike Napoli, BOS Paul Goldschmidt, ARI
2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS Brandon Phillips, CIN
SS Jayson Nix, NYY Andrelton Simmons, ATL
3B Manny Machado, BAL Juan Uribe, LAD
LF Alex Gordon, KC Chris Heisey, CIN
CF Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS Denard Span, WAS
RF Shane Victorino, BOS Norichika Aoki, MIL
P R.A. Dickey, TOR Patrick Corbin, ARI

So, after looking at all these leaders, lets talk a bit about the Gold Gloves and ask ourselves whether they did a good job representing the best defenders this year.  Position by position:

CatcherSalvator Perez is as good an AL pick as any; the only other AL catcher in the mix is Matt Weiters.  On the NL side, Jadier Molina has earned his reputation and backs it up on the metrics side.  His only challenger being the little known Wellington Castillo from Chicago.

1st Base: Hosmer and Goldschmidt seem as good of picks as any; only Mike Napoli and Anthony Rizzo seemed close in either league.  Napoli may have been a better pick than Hosmer on the weight of the evidence.

2nd Base: There’s several decent candidates who were not honored, but I don’t think anyone is arguing vehimently against either Pedroia or Phillips as the winners.  Darwin Barney may be the most egreiged candidate.

Shortstop: the amazing Andrelton Simmons led every possible statistical category; there was no chance he was losing.   J. J. Hardy‘s selection wasn’t bad per se, but as you can see from the above tables four different AL shortstops led each of the four statistical measures.  None of them was Hardy though, making you wonder if his gold glove was slightly on reputation.

3rd Base: One day Manny Machado will move back to short (maybe) and challenge Simmons for the title of “Best Shortstop in the Game.”  But for now he has to settle for easily being the best defensive 3B in the game.  As with Simmons, Machado led every possible defensive measure at his position.  On the NL side, the choice of Nolan Arenado was a sound one, with only Juan Uribe really challenging him.  Thankfully the award didn’t go to someone like David Wright or our own Ryan Zimmerman based on reputation.

Left FieldAlex Gordon was a sound choice; the NL choice of Carlos Gonzalez may have been a disservice to one Starling Marte.  However, picking individual positions for the OF is somewhat tough, especially for the corners.  Fangraphs lists RF winner Gerardo Parra as a left-fielder for some reason.

Center FieldCarlos Gomez is a great pick (and is one of the reasons I posted my “Why no MVP support for Gomez” post in this space, which by the way, got almost no reaction from the readership…).   Adam Jones was nearly dead last in some of these range metrics and unfortunately has gotten this award via reputation (and his arm; still one of the best) as opposed to performance.   Jones is clearly the “Derek Jeter” of 2013, and the voters really erred badly on his selection.   Its hard for me to say who I would have preferred; Jacoby Ellsbury is the biggest name among the four guys who led the four different defensive numbers, but Ellsbury’s arm is weak (nearly last of any CF in the league) and a better candidate would have been Leonys Martin.

Right FieldGerardo Parra and Shane Victorino are the leading candidates for their leagues and both selections are warranted.  I know that Hunter Pence led the NL in FRAA, but his arm is awful (one of the worst of any RF in the league), so that has to count against him.   In fact, Victorino was as good as or better than Parra in most of these metrics (with the exception of Arm; Parra has one of the better arms in the league).  I’m guessing its arm strength that tipped the Fielding Bible balance to Parra.

Conclusion: I think the Gold Gloves did a pretty good job in 2013 of identifying the best overall defenders at each position.  With one significant exception (Adam Jones).  I think its time the sportswriters who have been purposely ignoring the awards come back into the fold.

 

2013 Fantasy Baseball post-mortem

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Verlander just killed me this year.  Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

Verlander just killed me this year. Photo unk via rumorsandrants.com

My standard disclaimer; this is a whole huge post kvetching about my 2013 Fantasy Baseball team.  If you don’t play fantasy, feel free to skip this 3,000 word missive.  I’ll insert a “jump” line here so that RSS readers don’t have to see this whole massive post :-)

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