It was April 2nd, 1996 and a peppy kid dreamed to be exactly where he was now – except no one really dreams of being in Cleveland. The city by the lake isn’t the kind of place where dreams come true in sports – hell, nothing good in Cleveland has occurred in the form of championship recognition since the 50’s with Jim Brown and Otto Graham winning titles. Sure Cleveland’s had its moments. The Indians were good for a stretch in the 90’s, the Browns in the 80’s – they had and lost LeBron, only to get him back – but still the bridesmaid, never the bride and their hopes were always creatively ripped out of their chest only to be shown their still beating heart – Kali-Mah!
But on this Opening Day in 1996, new beginnings and hope belonged to the visiting team. It was a sunny, brisk 38 degrees, with the wind blowing out to centerfield at a cheery draft. Jacob’s Field, the epicenter of tribe fans wearing red, white and blue – a bunch of wahoos. Long sufferring baseball fans in Cleveland had witnessed the eclipse of the dark-ages of baseball in their city, no longer made fun of by Hollywood and each season was a year long celebration that few players/fans ever experienced. The Tribe was loaded and fresh off a 100-win season and their first World Series appearance since 1954 – they would win 99 games in 1996 and again have the best record in baseball. Do you remember Kenny Lofton, Julio Franco, Carlos Baerga, Albert Belle, age less Eddie Murray, Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez, Sandy Alomar, Omar Visquel – this was Cleveland’s Steel Curtain of baseball – the crowd was like a pack of crazed jackals and into town come the Yankees to start the season and another frenzied march to glory, to finally capture a title – all the Yankees brought with them was a new manager and a new shortstop. “It’s our year!” – Cleveland fans shouted.
Game 1 of the season is rarely a hitchhiker’s guide to the future, but on this day – the God’s of baseball anointed a team, a manager and a shortstop for the next decade. The Yankees would go on to win their first division title since 1981 and their first World Series since 1978. Joe Torre would win the first of his 1,173 victories as manager of the Yankees – establishing during his 12 year tenure, 12 straight post-season appearances, winning 10 AL East crowns, 6 AL Pennants and 4 World Series Championships.
For the 22 year old shortstop, thrown to the wolves in Cleveland, all he did was become the first rookie shortstop to start the season for the Yankees, since 1962 – record his first-ever hit off El Presidente-Dennis Martinez, for a home run – building a resume for dramatic moments the rest of his career. Career-In Memoriam, we do not get to watch Derek Jeter play shortstop for the Yankees anymore and it’s amazing to think back to that brisk April day in Cleveland where the legend began.
With Opening Day approaching, a time where we move past the winter of last year’s struggles to blossom once again on what might be. A time to share a hot dog and a beer with someone special, a time to return to your youth, looking forward to it like a birthday party. Baseball is seductive to anyone with an enduring interest, knowing exactly how it should be played, secretly believing they could do it – if only the good lord saw fit to make them less inept. At least Fantasy Baseball let’s you prove your GM skills. So you weren’t successful today, like baseball, there’s always tomorrow’s lineup. In honor of the approaching National Holiday here are some alternate position examinations:
Matt Wieters – had Tommy John surgery so his issue becomes how many at-bats can he get to, but if he can reach at least 400 of them, he should bounce back.
Aside from Goldschmidt and Miggy there are several other 1st basemen to consider. Like Adam Lind for the Brewers who gets a shot to start full time and should hit in the 5 hole were he could hit 20+HR’s. Someone who was productive last year that should see a regression this year is Chris Carter.
Chase Utley – the Phillies could be terrible but Chase will bat 3rd and will have a chance to provide a surprising rebound – not sure what kind of dead-cat rebound it’ll be, but it could be considerable, for stretches at a time.
Stay away from Xander Bogaerts and Jean Segura as both are slotted to bat 8th. For Xander, batting 8th in what might be the best offense is bad news – batting 8th is never a positive for your lineup. For Segura and Bogaerts potential on the field does not equate fantasy value consistent enough.
Kris Bryant – whenever he gets called up, he has the potential to be a dominate player and another in a growing list of young talent in the game. But the questions remain, relating to his strikeout rate – almost 30% last year in Triple A. What does that mean for daily leagues? It means that you should watch his Batting-Average-Balls-In-Play, because if that doesn’t negate the strikeout rate then he will be a consistent hit-or-miss play. Either way he will be fun to watch.
Christian Yellich – is getting a lot of press and is part of one the best outfields in the NL – however consider how often he hits fly-balls – less than 20% of the time. If you believe he gets 600 plate appearances this year, only 120 of those will generate fly-balls – then multiply that by his Home-run/Fly-ball rate which was 15% last year (3.5% higher than his average) – that is 18 HR’s and he is batting second and likely will not steal as often in front Mike (Giancarlo) Stanton.
Michael Cuddyer – has only recorded 500+ plate appearances once in the last 3 years and now that he is with the Mets and still batting 5th, there is not much to suggest that he has much value left in the tank – or the health to sustain solid numbers.
Corey Dickerson – has the batting average talent, but struggles against lefties and until you see that change you have to pay attention to that matchup. However if he gets 600 plate appearances he could be a top 5 outfielder with a healthy Tulo and CarGo.
You have to look at how many innings they pitched last year. Example being Bumgarner pitched 270+ innings in 2014 and so expect him to have rest and lightened workloads to save him – plus the Giants only win in even years. Too many innings is the result we see from all those pitchers breaking down – it has the Tigers worried for Verlander and Wainwright is 700 innings removed from Tommy John Surgery. Think of it like this – pitchers usually are in the 25-30% risk for injury category and Wainwright is more like 40%. So look for those new young guys that have the promise for consistency like Jake Arrieta, Jacob DeGrom and Carlos Rondon.
As they said in Bull Durham: “it’s an easy game, you catch the ball, you hit the ball, you throw the ball…and sometimes it rains”