It's been a joyous off-season in Austin as the City Limits celebrate their first World Series win. Endorsement deals are up, the season-ticket sales team is raking in record commissions, and there are even rumors of an "All-City-Limits-All-The-Time" talk radio station.
Nonetheless, an air of paranoia pervades the home office, with team management perpetually huddled in tense meetings.
An unnamed team source told this reporter that concerns about the team centered on three areas:
1. 5th Starter/Bullpen: Carlton Fleming handled the #5 starter job admirably the last 2 years, getting 42 starts. But he left for free agency and at 39, may not have much left. Right now it appears the job will go to a Delino Colon, Marc Bates and Ed Allen committee, although Bates has been surprisingly (inexplicably?) good the last 3 seasons and could win the job outright.
The pen was a huge strength last year and the team was sorely tempted to re-sign Manny Christians, who was lights-out as Matt Skinner's primary setup guy. You have to make way for youth at some point, though - Joshua Franklin is ready for prime time and Rey Jung has nothing left to prove at AAA - so management said "thanks" to Manny and moved on.
2. The Lineup: or more specifically, the leadoff slot. 2 years ago, SS William Satou stunned The Bigs by stealing 142 bases hitting leadoff. 2-3-4 batters Rosa, Keagle and Williams all had 100+ RBI - even though Satou has shaky on-base skills, when he did reach first he almost always stole his way to second or third. With the shift to a more traditional power-oriented offense last year, Satou dropped to 9th in the order - with fewer plate appearances and more runners on in front of him, his steals dropped to 45 and he became the forgotten man of the offense. The problem is that the team has no prototypical leadoff hitter - rookie CF Rich Porter had the job most of last year, but with 30 HR's and a .328 OBP he looks more like a middle-of-the-lineup guy. Ken Keagle is the team's best on-base guy and has the requisite wheels, but he's also the obvious choice for the #3 hole.
3. Bench Production: Mariano Terrero was heroic as a utility man last year, posting an .887 OPS while filling in at 6 positions, but he's a DL trip waiting to happen and the other backups were total busts. Management dipped into the free agent waters to address this shortcoming, landing veterans Marcus Reboulet and Jay Walker for backup OF, DH and pinch-hitting duty. The last roster spot is still up in the air - the choices seem to be Season 6 2nd-rounder Benny Bennett, Season 7 1st-rounder Clayton Olson, or another elderly free agent.
One thing's for sure: it'll be no easy task to even get into position to repeat. But if management paranoia is any measure, the team is poised for another great season.