Los Angeles War Rhymers
The strength of this team has been its pitching for several years now, and the Rhymers (formerly the St. Louis Start of Something) finished in the top 3 in ERA last year yet again. So what was management's plan to secure a 6th straight division title for the franchise? Err... clean out its pitching rotation. Rabbit Williams, Richard Giovanola, Ryan Gragg, and Antonio Glynn all had ERAs of 4.03 or less, and they've all been let go; Raul Hernandez, another sub-4 ERA reliever, was released. Former Cy Young winner Ivy Christensen is also gone, and slugger Alfredo Kelly has been allowed to walk. These losses, however, were not without gains-- the new-look War Rhymers include free agent signings John Becker, J.R. Spooneybarger, Cody Lloyd, and Samuel Calderon, all of whom have had success. Overall, it certainly looks like the franchise will be worse for the wear this year-- even with some good signings, they have lost too much talent to realistically expect to win 97 games again this year. But 90 isn't out of the question if things go well, though a figure in the 80's seems more likely. With rumors swirling that other players are on the block, LA might not yet be done changing the faces on the roster, but this still appears to be a winning franchise for the moment-- perhaps the only one in the division.
This is a totally different team than the one we saw at the end of last year, and not just because of the new stadium or the logos on their uniforms. Clayton Kennedy, Wes Brown, J.R. Spooneybarger, Alex Melendez... the list of key departures goes on and on, and in their places, several free agent signings. Bingo Baker is now a Butcher, as professional platoon man Nick Miles. But Arizona is clearly in a massive rebuilding mode, and with so much talent shedded from the roster with little effort to replace it, look for this team to take a drastic turn this season. They aren't going to lose 100 games, but they may well end up on the wrong side of .500 very quickly. Stopgaps like Bobby Wheeler aren't going to help much either.
Las Vegas Madness
The Madness are clearly tired of losing, and they've made the moves to prove it this offseason. In a blockbuster deal with Ottowa, the Madness snagged Jose Bravo, Benito Terrero, and Ober Torres, three players the other teams will be sorry to have in their division. They also took the talented Dallas Phillips in the Rule 5 draft, a player with the potential to have an immediate impact as a rookie. Meanwhile, Vegas made a huge splash in the free agent market by signing closer Carlton Harding to a $35 million deal, and they snagged other decent players in Darryl Michaels and Wayne Tanner as well. The Madness have indeed been busy this offseason, and while they likely won't become a winning franchise overnight, they are prime candidates for most improved team in the majors and they may just creep up to 2nd in the division. With their vastly improved pitching, they may just beat the odds and become true contenders this season, but their success remains to be seen.
The Alohsa have been busy themselves doing a lot of house cleaning this winter. Franchise anchors Rafael Gutierrez and Miguel Sierra have moved on, and the Alohas have tried to fill the void by singing a flurry of pitchers including starters Roger Kelly and Alton Bevil and relievers Phillip Savage, Otis Hyers, and Marvin Barker. Normally quantity is no replacement for quality, but these pitchers all have the potential to be effective enough to give the Aloha some real quality in the bullpen and the rotation. On the offensive side, players who produced well last year like Neifi Romero and David Billingsley are gone, only to be replaced with mediocre "prospects" like Emmanuel Romero and Kent McRae. Their biggest offensive upgrade is undoubtedly rookie Harry Mateo, who provides middle-of-the-order hitting ability. All in all, it's difficult to say exactly how all these moves have affected the Aloha, but on paper it seems they have improved themselves this offseason. They're focusing on youth on their offense and effectively patching holes on their pitching staff. The new franchise ownership seems to want to make baby steps toward respectability, but if things keep going the way they are, they should be a competitive franchise before you know it.