Pippin the Dog’s 2004 USML Projections

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      Andy Klein

      USML Season XVI: Pippin Returns!

      “I’m back.”

      -Pippin, March 20, 2004

      A. History

      Sixteen seasons. Damn. We’ve been playing for a long time.

      Many things, of course, have changed since the USML’s inaugural season. On the roto side of life, for example, we now scour up-to-the minute internet stats instead of once-a-week reports. In real life, we’ve seen our families grow, our mortgage debt increase, and, most noticeably, our bald spots expand. (And before you protest that last crack, Kerber , let the record reflect that some of us remember when you drafted with a full head of *brown* hair!) Hell, we’ve been playing so long that two players at this year’s draft table were in diapers the first time that Blocker called out “Doug Jones for a dollar!”

      But, while some things have changed, others have stayed the same. As always, this year’s draft concluded with a gaggle of owners crowded around Winick, anxiously awaiting the verdict from his super-secret, pay-only guru-based information. The outcome was predictable. “I,” declared Winick, “will win.”

      As some of us recall, Winick’s post-draft victory proclamations used to drive Alex Liberman crazy. To calm Liberman, the “Candyass Predictions” were first issued in 1991, projecting that the Klein Nine (rather than Winick) would capture the crown.

      Winick, of course, scoffed.

      Blocker gasped.

      But when October of ‘91 rolled around, Candyass proved right on target.

      Two years later, K-9 mascot Pippin the Dog (then a one-year old pup) joined the anti-Winick projection forces. At the time, no one could have foreseen Pippin’s incredible gift for Rotisserie clairvoyance. But for the next four years, Pippin’s predictions were astoundingly accurate.

      In 1998, Pippin walked away. Why? Some think that Jeff Cohen slipped something into her water bowl during a visit to Birmingham. Others blame threats from Brad Jansen. But with the Riptorn Reign of Terror over (at least for now), Pippin has decided to once again step to the plate.

      So, without further ado, here are Pippin’s 2004 projections.

      B. The Projections

        The Daddies have improved dramatically since Pippin was last on the scene. In those days, the league played Gammons like a fiddle, bidding up mediocre Orioles to his never-ending detriment. Today, however, Rick is better known for cold-blooded trades (can anyone say Bob “One Elbow” Wickman?) and draft-table savvy. This year, Pippin loves the Daddies’ modestly-priced power (Sweeney at $23, Glaus at $20, and Juan Gonzales at $19). She also admires a pitching staff that features a strong top of the rotation (Hudson, Loaiza, and Moyer) along with two closers. Winick may jump out to an early lead. But, come October, the title will go to Gammons.

      2. BERLINERS
        Winick says he’ll win in a walk. Robbins’ computer agrees. But Pippin says, “not so fast”! Jeff and his acolytes might spin it differently, but Pippin knows that the Vazquez purchase was a mistake, leaving the Berliners vulnerable on offense. One big injury (Tejada?), one big trade to the NL (Soriano?), and suddenly Jeff’s lineup is not so invincible. Yes, Pippin knows that Crawford and Blalock are young stars, unlikely to slump. But, after them, there’s a lot of Kotsays and Karroses and Melhuses out there. Pippin certainly sees Winick making an early run. But, in the end, it’s the runners-up circle for the Berliners.

        True to his team’s name, Doug stormed away from the draft table, muttering about his prospects for the coming season. But when the dust settled, it appeared that the AYM had assembled a strong squad. Pippin especially likes the deep rotation – a group that will be even better if Doug’s beloved “El Duque” displaces Jon Lieber in New York. Pippin also likes the AYM’s collection of solid blue-collar offensive players (Matsui, Guillen, Koskie, Gerut, etc.). One problem, though. The AYM are slower than Kerber in the rotation draft. To make a real run, therefore, Doug will have to actually consummate some of those trades that he regularly proposes on his cellphone. Pippin’s final take? In the money, but no crown.

      4. KLEIN NINE
        Had Pippin issued projections immediately after the draft, she would have picked the Nine to win. But within a week, the bad news began to pile up. First, it was Wickman’s elbow. Next, it was Ramon Ortiz’s apparent banishment to the Anaheim bullpen. And then it was the painful reality of having Scott Schoenweiss in the starting rotation. The cold, hard truth is that the Nine won’t take the crown this season. Nonetheless, Pippin knows that Nine ownership hates finishing out of the money two years in a row. With that in mind, look for the Nine and its potent offense to push its way into fourth place by season’s end.

        A pre-season trade? A draft day gamble on an injured Gary Sheffield? Maybe Giselle is finally pulling the Bomber strings! Uncharacteristic maneuvers aside, Pippin sees this year’s Blocker team as nothing better than middling. The major problem, of course, is the Bomber’s abysmal pitching staff. There’s way too much money invested in crappy starters (Ponson for $17, Lohse for $12, and Rodrigo Lopez – again! – for $7). And, while locking up all of Tampa’s saves is nice, it’s not exactly a recipe for eleven sure points. A wheeler-dealer might be able to make something of this team. But we’re still dealing with Blocker here, which makes fifth place the logical prediction.

        After years of cellar dwelling, last year’s Brat squad seemed poised to make a title run. So what did John n’ Jeff do? They employed a wimpy “play for fourth” strategy and hoarded marginal keepers like Toby Hall, Adam Kennedy, and Eric (“.235”) Munson. Pippin doesn’t see things improving for the Brats this year. The Brats spent too much money on risky pitchers (Rodney, Zambrano, Batista, etc.). And their outfield of Alex Escobar, Reed Johnson, and Laynce Nix isn’t exactly murderers’ row. All that aside, Pippin notes one curiosity with the Brats’ roster. When Cohen flies in from Kansas to draft, the team always has a ton of Royals. This year, Fruit came from Minnesota and ended up with no fewer than five Twins among the starting twenty-three. In the future, Pippin suggests that the Brats consider bringing a New Yorker to draft!

      7. RED HOTS
        Year after year, Rich trusts his draft day fortunes to artificial intelligence. And year after year, the outcome leads real-life humans (and canines) to scratch their heads. The computer told you to draft only three starting pitchers in a 5X5 league?! (Sorry, we don’t count Riley). The computer told you to pay *how much* for Fullmer?! In the end, Pippin can’t help but wonder whether Winick sent a “worm” to Rich’s laptop during a break in the festivities. When one adds all of this to Rich’s inability to lay off “magic bean” prospects – even in the auction – it looks like a long year for the not-so-mighty Red Hots.

      8. CALAMARI
        Early in the draft, Team Gallo bought Vlad Guerrero for a cool $39. While everyone else congratulated the rookie franchise on buying its first player, Jim Barrett stared intently at his retained player list. “I kept Magglio Ordonez,” one could almost hear him think, “for FORTY DOLLARS?!” At that moment, the season effectively ended for the Squid. That’s not to say Jim didn’t gamely fight back. He went out and spent $90 on Pudge, Palmeiro, Boone, and Kevin Brown. The problem, of course, is that these players average 37 years of age and are likely to spend several months each on the DL. Pippin’s guess is that Jim will be among the first to play for ‘05. Can anyone fit that $40 Ordonez salary under the cap?

      9. BUDDHA’S GOP
        Those who hoped for a patsy to join the league were sorely disappointed when Buddha started to draft. Although new to the USML, Buddha proved himself a wily roto vet by immediately setting 2004 aside and drafting for future value. In the end, Pippin thinks Buddha did a damn good job. His squad includes undervalued closers (Cordero, Koch, Riske, and possibly German); top-flight prospects (Rios and McPherson); and marketable players at weak positions (Chavez at 3B and Pineiro at SP). Buddha even managed to buy Bobby Crosby, which no doubt will be helpful if he later negotiates with Robbins. There’s no hope for the Republicans this year. But Pippin suspects that this is a franchise to be reckoned with down the road.

        Unlike Buddha, the Gallo Boys set out to buy a competitive team. It’s not that they did anything especially dumb. It’s just that they stood almost no chance in a league where most rosters were stocked with undervalue. In the end, it’s likely that the Cups will have to entertain dump offers. With that in mind, Pippin is starting a pool for the date on which Winick makes his first offer of a useless prospect for Nomar or Vlad. It’s even money that the winning pick will be before Tax Day!

      11. NUKES
        Ten years ago, Pippin’s Projections stated: “Pippin the Dog has trouble understanding what Kerber did on draft day. Then again, most people have trouble understanding what Kerber does on any given day.” A full decade later, this statement rings truer than ever. Most pre-draft observers felt that the Nukes were well positioned to take on the front-running Berliners. After the draft, however, these same observers could only shake their heads at Kerber’s roster. The Nukes’ pitching might be OK. (“Might” being the operative word, given that the rotation includes the likes of Kim, Leiber, and Garcia). But the offense is a disaster. The Nukes will finish near the bottom of the standings in HR, RBI, and runs. And if Sanchez hits poorly and loses his job in Detroit, they will tank in steals as well. Pippin can’t imagine Kerber sitting still once he sees the writing on the wall. Instead, she’s looking for a massive midseason dump and yet another rebuilding effort.

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