Part I: A Season to Forget, if not for the Lasting Effects of Trauma
By this time last preseason your humble correspondent was predicting that the Feesh would scrap for the NL East wild card, and possibly for the division. And why not? Three years removed from the implosion of 2012 and the sinkhole in the standings the AA Feesh had occupied since, things were finally looking up. The team had reconstructed the face (I’m Castor Troy! I’m Castor Troy!) and extended the contract of the Iron Giant to the tune of a third of a billion dollars – backloaded like a prospector’s mule, to be sure, and with an escape clause after a few years that would let him bail if he liked the lay of the free agent land better than what he already had (see below):
We want an escape hatch!
But what of that? The Big Star was locked in his orbit for at least a few more years, and the roster was further bulked by the addition of San Francisco teddybear Michael Morse to provide some punch at first base, free agent Matt Latos to add some sizzle to the rotation until El Keed returned with his rehabbed bionic elbow; speedster Dee Gordon at second to pair orf with Adeiny Hechavarria at short, and can-do journeyman Martin Prado to provide competent glovework at third and VETERAN PRESENCE in the clubhouse where his experience and wisdom would flow osmotically to the rookies like the sound of one Werner Erhard lecture clapping. And behind the plate, many of us – me included – anticipated a bounceback season from Jarrod Saltalamacchia, signed the season before to be the un-Black Hole Buck.
Of course it didn’t work out that way and, figuratively speaking, the roof soon caved in on Macondo Banana Massacre Field. On opening day, it rained suddenly and play had to be halted while someone scrambled to shut the top. Rotation II stalwart Henderson Alvarez’s shoulder came apart like the transmission on a Yugo. Mike Morse couldn’t hit a beachball with a cricket bat and was shipped by midseason. Saltalamacchia in a crouch was more productive in an outhouse than behind the plate, and he too was personally driven to the airport by Scrooge McLoria’s favorite parking attendant. Latos was bad enough, and macabre enough in his dermal deshabille that would shame a Maori working for the Yakuza, that even when he pitched well, he seemed to pitch badly. Gold glove left fielder Christian Yelich hurt his back diving for a ball. Center fielder Marcell Ozuna left his head in a cryogenic cylinder next to Ted Williams’ and played the first third of the season as if he were staring perpetually into some parallel dimension. Scrooge McLoria, in one of his not infrequent eruptions of pique, had him exiled to New Orleans for which he was vilified in the spawrts pwess for unfairly manipulating his unwanted outfielder’s service time. And the ancient Ichiro Suzuki wound up playing 153 games in the outfield, the last 50 or so wearing a respirator, and put up some of the worst number of any player – a horrible way to limp towards that magical 3000 hit finish line.
And then disaster really struck. The Iron Giant – who was in the earlier goings of a Gojira season – fouled a pitch orf the handle of his bat the shockwaves from which zoned in on his left hamate bone and snapped it in two like a graham cracker. Gone in June, along with even the most irrational prayers of the team’s most devoted fans. There is no way to emphasize what a huge blow his broken hand was to the team.
Or maybe there is. Anyway…..
Part II: Where they Go From Here
As we approach spring training, there is some reason to hope that the Feesh will be able to stay in the mix in 2016. The Meerkat was jettisoned during the orfseason and latched on with the Gnats. Donny Baseball was imported from Tinseltown to sate Scrooge McLoria’s mania for celebrity managers, even as Donald Trump apparently hired one of his illustrious predecessors, Ozzie Guillen, as a campaign speechwriter. The Feesh revamped their entire scouting and farm system personnel, and best of all, they brought Barry “Better Living through Chemistry” Bonds in as nutritional counsel…what? Oh. My mistake. Batting instructor, and to provide VETERINE PRESENCE in the clubhouse and limousine pool.
First base is now staffed by the hulking sophomore Justin Bour, who stepped up bigtime behind the Iron Giant last season and gives the team some serious lefthanded pop. The question is whether he can learn to hit lefties. Bour was put on a weight reduction program during the orfseason and I look forward to seeing what kind of shape he reports in next week. A slimmed down Bour, the team figgers, is not in as much danger of being poached for his horn.
Behind the plate, the Feesh turfed their “catcher of the future” J. T. Realmuto from AA once they realized that Saltalamacchia was finito. Still a work in progress, this kid definitely showed terrific promise; he’s an accurate-throwing, line drive doubles-dealing and very fast backstop who ackcherley hit an inside-the-park home run last season. Hilarious.
The Young Core
Otherwise the Feesh made no real changes to what the local spawrts tork pwess and raydeeo call their “talented young core.” NL batting champ and perennial blur Dee Gordon returns at second, and the acrobatic and rapidly improving at the plate Adeiny Hechavarria is back at short. Martin Prado, who (not that it matters all that much but I find it amusing) closely resembles the terrific Cuban-American artist Enrique Martinez Celaya, is back with his solid keystone korner play and inspiring (so I’m told) clubhouse leadership. The outfield once again is staffed by Christian Yelich in left, Marcell (“New Orleans is like a jail”) Ozuna, beloved of ownership not, still patrolling center with his howitzer arm, and the Iron Giant, whose fielding has often been underrated by the stupid, has been re-established in right. The gantries and fueling systems for his moonshots will, presumably, have been refurbished and re-installed at home plate by the time the season opens.
And of course, Tommy is back, standing guard over the outfield like some grand guignol Coatlicue. It’s so comforting to have him out there:
As far as the merry-go-round, El Keed returns riding a crest of orfseason bad publicity about his wild-eyed salary expectations and the abrasive relationship between the team and fearsome agent Scott Boras (who was also embroiled in the Ozuna brouhaha last season and all of the orfseason). All eyes will be upon him to see if he can pitch an entire season and put up the kind of numbers he’s been putting up since he accidentally brained the Iron Giant during a workout in spring training three years ago. To make up for the loss of Alvarez, the Feesh signed Sun Yat Sen or someone like that….huh? Oh, that was just a cartoon. Sorry. They signed solid free agent Wei-Yin Chen as their number two stud, and will then have a plethora of young as well as decrepit arms to choose from to flesh out the staff. Tom Koehler is a pretty good bet for number three, and then you’ve got David Phelps, Jared Cosart, Justin Nicolino and the inexplicable Edwin Jackson vying for the fourth and fifth spots. My guess is that Jackson will wind up as the designated mopup man, but guys like that have an odd tendency to “find themselves” suddenly after a couple of years of slump. We shall see.
The Feesh boolpen is an embarrassment of riches, starting with presumed closer A J Ramos, backed by the bulleteering Carter Capps, Mike Dunn, Brian Ellington, Adam Conley, Kyle Barraclough and of course the perennial “sixth starter” and long relief weltschmerz Brad Hand. There are others; the team has, as always, a very well stocked larder of young arms.
Coming orf the bench, the Feesh added loudmouthed washout Chris Johnson (between whom and El Keed there has been bad blood in the past, so this counts as one of the personnel department’s headscratcher acquisitions) who is supposed to provide righthanded platoon support to Bour at first if the big guy can’t solve lefties, the inevitable multi-talented Derek Dietrich, Jeff Mathis as backup catcher and whiffle bat inning accelerator, and of course as the Feesh’s answer to The Return of the Living Dead , the ebullient Ichiro Suzuki, chasing down 65 hits to get to the magic 3000. I really do wish him luck but let’s face it, watching him by the end of last season was anguishing.
Prediction: this team, barring another hecatomb of injuries, will definitely compete. With the Mutts and Gnats ahead of them, they have an outside shot at the bonus wild card if the Iron Giant has a whole season like the one he started out last year and if Justin Bour continues to emerge, but I think the youngsters on the pitching staff probably need another year of seasoning to make the difference.