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.

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