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.
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.
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.