Sunday, December 6, 2009

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.

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