In 2004, the Minnesota Twins prepared to introduce their fans and the league to their celebrated #1 draft pick, Joe Mauer. So confident were they that Mauer's introduction would go well that they traded their valuable (if relatively unspectacular) former starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants for three pitchers.
Then, in the second game of the season, Mauer suffered a knee injury. To replace him, the Twins brought in Henry Blanco, who had a good April (hitting .262 with 3 HR and 10 RBI) but who slumped afterward to the point where his only real value to the team was his ability to play catcher (he finished the season 5.5 runs above replacement, which included a +7.5 RAR adjustment for being a regular catcher). [Others may point out that Pat Borders also caught for the Twins, but Borders played in just 19 games and hit .286/683 as a Twin, so he was adding only marginal value as well.]
Mauer eventually returned from his injury, but his limited play only allowed him to post a WAR total nearly identical to that of Luis Rivas.
Despite all this, the Twins repeated as AL Central champions for the third year in a row.
One could argue that the example of teams like the 2004 Twins shows that teams without "star players" can win and get to post-season play. However, even the 2004 Twins had their small share of recognition: Johan Santana won the 2004 AL Cy Young award going away, Joe Nathan was selected to the 2004 AL All-Star pitching staff, and both Torii Hunter and Lew Ford received votes for the 2004 AL MVP award
My goal was to see if it would be possible to put together a true 'no-name' list of players (or at least a list of 'he's good, but I didn't think he was that good' players) that could be shown to be statistically capable of winning a division title.
So, here are the ground rules:
- The team consists of a regular 25-man roster with all the usual positions filled (5 starting pitchers, 8 starting position players, at lease one backup catcher, at least one utility infielder, etc.)
Yes, I know that most teams actually have more than 25 'contributors' to their season, thanks to injuries or what-have-you, but allowing more than 25 players seems like something of a cop-out ("I can't find 25 players who could win the pennant, but I can find 30!"), so I'm simplifying.
- No person on the team can appear on Joe Posnanski's list of the top 32 players in baseball.
That was the list that inspired the concept -- can you have a winning team without having any of those 'star' players?
- No person on the team was named to the 2010 All-Star team.
DJL44 has a great post in the comments of the previous All-Value post with a roster of players who didn't make last year's All-Star team, and I'll reference it where possible.
- No person on the team can have received a vote for a major post-season award.
If you got a vote for Cy Young, even just one, then somebody thought you were good -- so sorry, Francisco Liriano, you're not under consideration. Likewise, even a single vote for MVP meant somebody thought you were one of the best if not the best player in baseball -- so sorry, Delmon Young. Just for the challenge, I'll even count Rookie of the Year as a major award -- so sorry, Danny Valencia.
So, given these parameters, could you build a roster that should win a division title? And how would you demonstrate that?