Tuesday, December 29, 2009

rxw1 - The Newest Owner Hall of Fame Inductee!

Congratulations to rxw1, this season's inductee into the Owner Hall of Fame!

One of the league's original owners, rxw1 has been the mastermind behind the Tampa Bay Thunder for 10 seasons. The team's humble beginnings saw a lukewarm first 4 seasons, marked by a surprise 91-win season and the first of several trips to the World Series (an epic 7-game loss to fellow Hall of Famer Starbuckdc's Fargo Wood Chippers). The Thunder's fortunes have fared much better over the past 5 seasons, however, with the team finishing 1st in the AL South each of those seasons and boasting an unprecedented 3 straight World Series appearances (including season 8's sweep of the Charleston Riverdogs for rxw1's first World Championship). The Thunder have gotten off to a comparatively rocky 43-38 start this year , but they currently sit atop the division once again and have shown few signs of slowing down despite growing divisional competition.

Welcome, rxw1, to the Owner Hall of Fame, an honor you have clearly earned.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Owner Hall of Fame: Season 10

Well, it's that time of year again: the owners of the 32 major league clubs will be voting one of their own into the Owner Hall of Fame. This year, however, there are a few tweaks to the system.

First, in order to qualify, an owner must have had his team for at least 5 years (unless no suitable candidates exist with 5 years' experience to round out the 5 nominees). Length of time with the league and amount of success are both factors for nomination-- owners who have taken their team to the playoffs many times, and those who have had success while in the playoffs, will be preferred, although exceptions may be made for owners who have only been to the playoffs a few times but have reached or won the World Series multiple times. Also, an owner must still be with his team at the time of the vote in order to qualify for nomination; bpdelia, for example, is not eligible for nomination even though he brought home 2 championships because he is no longer an active owner in the league.

Finally, last year's winner, Starbuckdc, will have the tiebreaking vote in case there is a deadlock, though unless there is a tie his vote still only counts as one. In the event of a tie, all active members of the Owner Hall of Fame will collectively get to cast a tiebreaking vote, and if there is still a tie after that has been done, the most current active winner get to cast the deciding vote.

Phew, well, now that all the ground rules have been covered, it's time to vote! You have until Sunday, December 27th, at 8:00 PM EST to cast your ballot, at which time the newest member of the Owner Hall of Fame will be crowned! Good luck to all our outstanding candidates.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Season 10 outlook: NL West

Seattle Strikers

The Strikers were most definitely the surprise team of the season last year, going from 79-83 in season 8 to 98-64 in season 9 to win the division crown and make the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Not content to rest on their laurels, Seattle has attempted to better themselves this offseason with some key acquisitions. Naturally, this also means getting rid of some dead weight like 6-time All-Star Miguel Aguillera (he's been an All-Star 6 times??) and former All-Star and Gold Glover Harry Flores. Aside from those moves, however, most of Seattle's major changes have been additions. LF Joel Moore won't win any MVPs, but he's versatile and provides a not-awful bat in the lineup. Taylor Standridge, generally well-regarded for his fielding, makes a decent addition up the middle. And Vince Jefferson and his career .834 OPS should be a welcome addition to a lineup with a below average .777 team OPS last year. But of course, the strength of this team continues to be its pitching staff, which was top of the majors in ERA last year. Newly acquired Rodrigo Roque will be a sturdy reliever (though the team oddly traded Phillip Allen to get him). Alex Montero, Brooks Mullins, Angel Suarez, and all the rest seem to be picking up where they left off last season-- their team ERA of 3.84 currently ranks fourth in the majors, and it looks to be another good year for baseball in Seattle.

San Francisco Giants

If Seattle was last year's biggest surprise, one could make a case for the Giants being the 2nd biggest; they went from 83 wins to 93, securing a Wild Card spot and their first playoff appearance in team history. They did a bit of tinkering this offseason, but nothing too major: the loss of starter Bingo Baker will probably hurt them, but their only other major loss was Aaron Murphy, which probably constitutes addition by subtraction (his OPS last year was .499, which was beaten by many slugging percentages). While the Giants neglected to make any big free agent moves this winter, they did call up several prospects. Yeico Mercado, the highly-touted Dominican reliever, had a 2.76 ERA in 245 minor league innings before getting brought up. Cody Jennings is a former second rounder with a 3.62 ERA in 71 minor league starts (he is starting his ML career in the bullpen). And Carlos Benavente, a utilityman with a .949 minor league OPS, should give the G-Men an offensive and defensive boost. The Giants floundered in obscurity for so many years, it's a breath of fresh air to see them become a dominant force and build their team the right way: from the ground up, using prospects, and eventually becoming good enough to compete. There are bright days ahead for this team.

Colorado Springs Night Watchmen

Oh, how the mighty have fallen. It was just 3 years ago when Colorado Springs won 96 games and a hard-fought World Series title. Last year, the Watchmen won 76 games and watched the playoffs on TV. So what did they do to right the ship? First, they cast off the misfits-- Victor Mendoza, Bartolo Bournigal, Andres Amaro, Ramiro Alvarez, and Miguel Martinez all failed to pull their weight last year, so they're gone. Even Roy Franco was deemed too old, so he was jettisoned as well. Then they went out and got some new faces. Former starter Mark Matsumoto is playing the role of setup man for the Watchmen this year, though Hugh Hudson was given up to get him. Bigtime slugger Matty Padilla was brought in to provide a great middle-of-the-order bat, and Danny Busby, while not the slickest fielder, will provide some good offense while playing up the middle. Alex Melendez, coming off the best year of his career, will likely play a backup or platoon role this year as a free agent acquisition. Colorado Springs probably won't be going back to the World Series this year with their current team, but it's hard to deny that they're moving in the right direction after taking some big steps backward the past two years, and they should certainly be at least .500 or better this season.

Scottsdale Scorpions

The Scorprions were an absolute mess last year, losing 108 games in their only year in Los Angeles and being forced to continue ticking the option clock of the man who was formerly their best prospect, Omar Cornejo, until his development and future were thrown into question when he was boneheadedly called up to the majors 2 years ago at age 18. The franchise's fortunes were not greatly helped by its offseason moves. Daniel Porter was allowed to walk, as was borderline player Walter Mullin (but even a borderline player would be useful to this team). The team's free agent signings weren't awful, but they won't do much to help this team. Among Darron Haad, Joshua Park, Homer Browning, and Alex Grey, there's not a true impact player in the bunch. Jorneymen J.T. O'Donnell, Rafael Flores, and Ralph North were also promoted, but they'll just act as stopgaps. The bottom line is that this team will need a massive overhaul in order to even sniff competitiveness within 3 years; the franchise needs to pray that Cornejo is ready for the bigs as of his 21st birthday and that prospects like Raymond Simmons and Alex Allen pan out like they should. If the franchise doesn't build a solid foundation with its young players, it may never get out from under its own futility.

Season 10 outlook: NL South

Charleston Riverdogs

The Riverdogs appeared in the World Series just two years ago, but you may not have known it from watching last year's team, which won only 89 games despite playing in arguably baseball's worst division. Nevertheless, it's hard to fault a team that made its second consecutive ALCS appearance, though they were involved in some give-and-take this winter. The team's biggest loss was likely that of 6-time All-Star Einar Tatis, and they also dealt Felipe Ibanez and Del Moya. But the Dogs also gained a few valuable new pieces. Juan Otanez has been dynamite in his first 19 games since being acquired via trade from Minnesota, and Ivan Perez is a defensize whiz. But potentially the biggest acquisition is that of Rafael Gutierrez, a man who was very up-and-down with Oakland but who clearly has the potential to be a staff ace (albeit without the ability to pitch even 170 innings). Charleston gave up a lot this offseason, and their hopes largely rest on their core players rather than their newest roster members, but perhaps it's easy to play it safe when the rest of the division is so far from contention. Anything can happen in the playoffs, and getting there is 90% of the work; if the Riverdogs think they can shed some talent and still make it there, who are we to argue?

Iowa City Crystal Innseekers

The Cursed Franchise is under its 7th ownership group in as many years, and it already has a new look to it after a flurry of moves this offseason. Former All-Stars Luis Ramirez and Tony Santana are gone, as well as Barney Gabriel (easily the team's most valuable pitcher last year). Ken Harvey, who was decent in season 9, was released, as well as the mediocre Richard Andrews. In their places sit various new acquisitions. 3-time All-Star Luis Valdes was signed to a long-term deal, as was useful reliever Stan Woodson. Career minor leaguer Jerome Maxwell was signed to be the team's backup catcher, though he isn't very useful either on offense or defense. Wayne Jones was taken in the Rule 5 draft and has allowed a .915 opponent OPS so far this year; Barry Brown was also taken in the Rule 5 to be the team's main catcher even though the pitchers have complained that he doesn't have a great understanding of calling games. It should come as little surprise that with these moves, Iowa City has begun the year tied for an ML-worst 6-14 record, and it only looks to get worse from here. If the new ownership is planning to bruild this team from the ground up, it had better dig a very deep hole to accomodate the foundation it will need for this team to succeed.

Texas Beavers

Everything's bigger in Texas, and the Beavers took this rule to heart when they instituted perhaps the biggest roster overhaul of any team this offseason. Former All-Star Harry Quinones is gone after a disastrous Season 9 that included an endless DL stint, and the pitching changes continued with the departures of Alton Bevil, Ricardo Encarnacion, and Orlando Johnson. And those who didn't leave (like Ernest Bruske and B.C. Nunez) were given their outright release. And for those who survived even that round of jettisons, the talented young Clay Park was dealt for setup man Bernard Hoffman. Then came the free agent signings: durable starter Albert Farnsworth and minor leaguers Bernard Yeats and William Davenport were first (Farnsworth seems to be the only one who will help the team solidly). Darryl Bergen, a former minor leaguer and 4th round draft pick, was given an astounding $15 million, 3-year deal. The Beavers made some more reasonable signings with Willie Barajas and slugger Tom Chambers, but overall their choices were puzzling. Texas also called up Lorenzo Guererro and Zeus Collins, though it appears the mediocre Don Brown will be joining them. It is exceedingly unclear what the Beavers' plan is to compete, but since many of these moves look like stopgap measures as best, don't look for Texas to be particularly competitive as this season wears on.

Monterrey Jacks

It hasn't quite happened in Monterrey, as the Jacks again made very few moves this offseason to bolster a club that once again lost over 100 games last year. The good news, sad as it seems, is that the Jacks didn't really lose anyone of consequence this winter; new Bead Buster John Huang and his career ERA of 5.50 was probably their biggest loss. The bad news? The most impactful player the Jacks obtained is David Bako, a former outfielder/utilityman for Minnesota now riding Monterrey's bench. So why do the Jacks look a little better this year? Their young players. Former 2nd overall pick Dock King continues to mature, even though his ERA is a bit high at the moment and he will likely never be able to pitch too deep into games. Season 7 1st overall pick Oscar Osterbrock was called up and has been struggling at the ML level (though he is an improvement over the team's other options). Highly touted Dominican free agent Miguel Mesa is also on the roster, though he hasn't exactly torn things up either. Ok, so it's a learning process for these guys, and the team lacks true mentors for many of its young stars. Still, expect the Jacks to be very competitive once these young players mature-- just not this year.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Season 10 outlook: NL East

New York Moneymaker

The Moneymaker surprised everyone last year with a 94 win season and the team's first division title in 3 years. What did the Cha-Chings do to celebrate this success? Nothing. Well, nothing good, anyway. New York did not make a single addition to their team this offseason, unless you count the promotion of reliever Rafael Lima (and his current ERA of 6.52 in 9.2 ML innings). The team isn't that much different from last year's, but they lost some key players: Jorel Gray (barely any stamina, but in his 26 innings last year he posted a 1.73 ERA), Alejandro Sierra (starting off the year strong with a 1.371 OPS in his first 17 games as a Canary), and Phillip Savage (solid 4.17 ERA last year in relief). New York obviously hasn't been devestated by its losses, as the team is still a respectable 10-8 so far this season, but shedding talent is never a good thing and there is little to make people believe the team will crack 90 wins again this year. In a tough division that included the 87-win Kardinals and 82-win Juice last year, New York may have seriously hindered their chances to repeat as division champs through lack of improvements this offseason.

Kansas City Kardinals

Perhaps someone forgot to tell the NL East that the Winter Meetings were going on; the Kardinals also seemed asleep at the wheel this offseason, though their amount of moves still made them look like wheelers and dealers compared with the Moneymaker. Kansas City almost lost Kiki Duran and Louie Cruz to free agency, but they negotiated for days and finally resigned them both to good deals. They also signed Wes Sanders, who has performed well for them so far this year. Now, the bad news: the Kardinals let go of Julio Parra and Tom Chambers, and while neither of those losses will kill the Kards, they were both good pieces for them last year. Overall, this is mostly the same Kardinals team we were treated to last year, though that might not be good enough, even in a somewhat weakening division. The Kards didn't win enough games to stay in the thick of the Wild Card race last year, so Kansas City fans had better hope for weak divisional competition if they want to make the playoffs this year.

Jacksonville Juice

At the beginning of the offseason, Juice star Lloyd Patrick declared "We'll be back. Nobody's keeping us down next year." Indeed, a 16-win drop from season 8 to season 9 seemed odd to many people, and the majority of baseball pontificators have picked Jacksonville to reclaim the division crown with a good season. The Juice added some excellent pieces like 2-time All-Star Jake Koch, stud reliever Albie Johnson, and workhorse setup man Raul Hernandez to bolster an already impressive roster. They traded Domingo Navarro and allowed the aging Frankie Herman to walk, but the Juice have definitely improved their team overall. A somewhat overlooked move has been the promotion of starting pitcher Robert Singleton, a very pleasant surprise with a 2-0 record and 1.31 ERA in his first 3 starts. They also cut some dead weight like Randy Reynolds, who was basically just taking up a roster spot. Yes, things are looking awfully bright in Jacksonville, and while they now lead the division by only a slim margin, that gap may soon grow as Jacksonville is clearly the only one of the 3 top teams in the division to make any serious improvements.

Cincinnati Firestorm

With a 70-92 record in season 9, the Firestorm were faced with a legitimate question: add immediate improvements to try to contend now, or cut losses and attempt to build for the future? It seems the Firestorm has still not resolved that question, as it's unclear what their goals were heading into this offseason. The team cut ties with pitchers Junior Johnson and Jorel Austin, as well as journeyman Vern Dillon, seemingly for salary reasons. But then the Storm signed Robin Sanders to a $21.6 million deal and traded for Domingo Navarro, a good pitcher who nonetheless still has $12 million left on his current deal (they also dealt prospects in Lefty Moehler and Patrick Haley for the privledge). They also recently acquired Phillip Allen from Seattle. These moves are all well and good, but the question remains: why? It's noble to want to increase the team's win totals even by just a few, but the club is tying up quite a bit of money in players who likely won't even be around when the team actually becomes competitive again. Cincinnati has probably improved a bit this offseason, and should be a bit tougher for teams to beat, but don't be surprised to see them finish last (or close to it) again this year.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Season 10 outlook: NL North

Fargo Wood Chippers

Hope springs eternal in Fargo, and why wouldn't it? Their fearless leader wasn't inducted into the Owner Hall of Fame for nothing, and indeed this offseason was a prime example of what you should do if you have a very strong team: very little. Robin Sanders is gone, but Fargo knew very early on that he wasn't coming back. Eric Presley got dealt, but he was a weak hitter anyway. The Chippers did deal young reliever Omar Sanchez, a former 2nd round pick, but with his career ML ERA of 6.39, I think we can all but declare him a bust. Other than that, Fargo's management seemed to take an extended vacation this winter. They promoted two decent young relievers in Miguel Gabriel and Grant Young, and they got touted shortstop prospect John Li in the Rule 5 draft, so in effect the team has in fact marginally improved-- but this is largely the same Wood Chippers team we saw last year, and seeing as how the franchise has won at least 93 games and won the division every year of its existence, resting on their laurels and cruising to another division title doesn't seem like a half bad idea. At 7-2 thus far, look for another 100-win season for the Chips.

Helena Ass Clowns

Helena had an easy road to the playoffs last year, finishing 5 games ahead of Kansas City to nab the 2nd Wild Card spot even while playing in a division that included the stellar Wood Chippers and the alright Clementes. That road may not go through Helena this year, and if it does, it may be a bit bumpier. The Clowns lost several major pieces this offseason, including 3-time All-Star catcher Antonio Zhang, 3-time All-Star CF Luis Valdes, and Albie Johnson, an excellent closer with a 2.89 career ERA. They attempted to replace the talent with inferior relievers Howard Fischer and Ruben Mesa and career underperformer Willis Walter, but their free agent acquisitions will fall short of the expectations set for them. The Ass Clowns are still a very effective team and are still capable of soaring to another playoff appearance this year, but they cannot continue shedding talent and expect to consistently win.

Pittsburgh Clementes

The Pittsburgh Clementes have often been the "sexy pick" of preseason pundits, only to fall short of expectations and miss the playoffs year after year. They have certainly set out to change that this offseason with a major overhaul of personnel. Harry Cedeno, Otis Hyers, and Samuel Calderon are just a few of the big names that are no longer present on the Clementes roster, and in their places sit guys like 2-time Cy Young winner Andre Plesac and 4-time All-Star Bob Wood. These would seem like dream pickups 5 years ago, but both of these players are aging rapidly and are clearly not the same players that once dazzled fans with their abilities. Still, they do potentially bring somethin to the table, expecially if they can recapture some of their old glory. Meanwhile, the highly decorated Einar Tatis, who is still in his prime, should provide a big improvement. Chris Thompson isn't the greatest pickup, but he will provide marginal depth at the back end of the rotation. It's difficult to predict whether the Clementes will climb out of the hole this year, and their early 3-6 record indicates that improvements still need to be made, but at least their fans can sleep soundly knowing that management is making an effort to reverse their fortunes.

Sioux Falls Canaries

If Canaries management has any sense of reality, they'll be the first to tell you that Sioux Falls is not winning the division this year. But that doesn't mean they can't try to make improvements, and the Canaries' offseason moves are proof positive that the club is heading in the right direction. The franchise cut ties with Danny Busby (who seems like he's been in decline forever), injury-riddled reliever Charlie Holdridge, and the aging Esteban Uribe. In their places are 2-time All-Star Alejandro Sierra, solid CF Toby Thompson, and shortstop Kirk Kirby. Alright, so they're not exactly building for the future, but if this team can go from 60 wins to, say, 75 wins, that would be a huge improvement and a great relief for the fans. Perhaps the team's greatest offseason victory was grabbing 22-year old Max Guillen, who has changed cities more times in the past 2 years than I can count, in the Rule 5 draft. Some thought he wasn't ready for the majors, including myself, but he hasn't let up a run thus far in the majors so a reservation of judgement may be warranted. Sioux Falls has the right idea, and as long as they draft and trade wisely, they could steadily climb their way up to .500 and beyond.