Sunday, November 29, 2009

Season 10 outlook: AL East

Philadelphia Cheesesteaks

The Cheesesteaks have gone 6 straight years without failing to make the playoffs. Will this be the year to break the streak? In a word... maybe. Make no mistake about it: Philadelphia has gotten worse. They lost Kirk Kirby and Chuck Carson to free agency, which would have been bad enough, but they also lost longtime starter and 2-time Cy Young winner Andre Plesac. To make matters worse, those holes were patched by promoting 29-year old rookie Adrian Champion and 32-year old rookie Rico Romano, not exactly what you'd expect from a team looking to make a run at the World Series. Their only free agent signing was 36-year old Carlos Perez who, despite looking great for New Orleans last year, came into spring training looking like he had aged ten years (they're on the hook for 3 years/$16m, by the way). Maybe the organization believes there's not much to change after winning your division by 14 games the previous year. But with the entire team getting a lot older and with valuable pieces moving on to greener pastures, it's hard to say whether this team will be its usual impressive self or whether it will begin to sink in the division. Their only saving grace might be the weakness of the other teams in the East, but that sure won't help them come playoff time.

Durham Doormats

Confidence wasn't exactly inspired when the Cherokee moved to Durham and named themselves the Doormats. But this team that surprised everyone with an 86-win season last year likely won't find themsevles at the bottom of the standings any time soon. The bad news is, it's unlikely they'll find themselves near the top, either. After losing a slew of players to free agency like Matty Padilla, Heath Duffy, and Taylor Standridge, most of the Doormats' offseason moves involve promotions. Brian Wan should be a dependable defensive shortstop with home run power, Harry James has been an excellent all-around hitter in the minors, and Dale Simon has shown the ability to crush bad pitches. But none look like they will be legitimate superstars, and while they will be good major leaguers, the Doormats' pitching looks to be even weaker than it was last year (with a 4.93 team ERA) which will provide an uphill battle for the team all year. It's also hard to predict how the team will do with so many people being replaced this season. If anyone makes a run at the division title besides Philadelphia, it will be Durham, but they need to make sure they have the pieces in place to take advantage of their opportunity this year.

Hartford Stags

Hartford was dealt a serious blow when 4-time All-Star Bob Wood headed to Pittsburgh, and a slightly less serious one when reliever Brian Aaron went to division rival San Juan and weakened a pitching staff that already had a 5.42 ERA last year, 5th-to-last in the majors. They did add Jorel Austin and Geraldo Balboa, but they'll need to do a lot more to improve that pitching staff if they want to be contenders. As for their offense, while Wood is clearly in decline, it's unreasonable to expect guys like Robert Rogers to pick up the slack (after having a career year last season), or a guy like Kane Hobbes who is clearly on his last legs. Overall, there's not much to say about Hartford except that they don't look to come close to contending this year, and in fact it wouldn't be too surprising if they manage to regress from last year's 77-85 record.

San Juan Slumpbusters

San Juan has had a bit of a strange offseason. They lost Jake Koch and Walter Miceli this winter, and they replaced those players with the inferior Rob Michaels and Brian Aaron, respectively. Then they bagged Lonnie Cox, who didn't even play in the majors last year. It seems their strategy was to patch holes through the Rule 5 draft, but the only player of any value that they obtained was the mediocre Aramis Leon. For a team that finished the year with only a .758 OPS and a 4.95 team ERA in season 9, they needed to do more than that to compete. The Slumpbusters will likely be able to stay afloat with around 70 wins, and may even break out of the cellar if the Stags decline, but the team is clearly in a massive rebuilding mode and it seems it will be several years before we can expect a good baseball team in San Juan.

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