Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Congratulations to Toe64, the newest member of the Owner Hall of Fame!

Congratulations are in order for toe64, this year's inductee into the Owner Hall of Fame after edging out bjohara1 by 4 votes in this season's polling.

toe64 has been with the league since the very beginning, owning and operating the Colorado Springs Nightwatchmen since Season 1. During that time, the team has posted a very respectable 948-736 record, including 6 division titles and a World Series trophy in Season 7.

toe64 has been praised for not being a spendthrift owner; in all but two seasons, the Nightwatchmen payroll has exceeded $100 million, proving that even in the small market of Colorado Springs, toe64 is committed to putting the best possible product onto the field for the fans. Despite a few bumps in the road, the Nightwatchmen are competitive once again and are currently chasing a seventh NL West title.

Congratulations to all the nominees, and we welcome toe64 into the prestigious and exclusive Owner Hall of Fame for Season 11!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Owner Hall of Fame: Season 11

It's a new season and a new round of voting for this year's Owner Hall of Fame. All 32 owners in the league are eligible to vote, and as per last year's rules, the votes of current Hall members Starbuckdc and rxw1 will be used to break a tie (with the vote of rxw1, the most recent member, ultimately prevailing in the event that the decision is still deadlocked).

As per last year's post:

"...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."

One other minor change: I added an option for "blank ballot." If that option ends up winning, there will be no inductee into the Owner Hall of Fame that year (so as to not force owners to vote someone in if they feel no one is deserving).

Voting ends on Saturday, March 27 at 8:00 PM, so make sure you think long and hard about your decision and get your votes in by then!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Season 11 outlook: NL West

San Francisco Giants

This is how you know a team is well-rounded: Bret O'Leary, one of the top young pitchers in the game, and Alex Alou, who was in the midst of a career year, went down with a shoulder aneurysm and elbow tendonitis, respectively, just weeks into the season last year, and the Giants still handily won a fairly challenging division. Alou is back now, but O'Leary will start the season on the DL; if the Giants want another shot at the playoffs this year, they had better find some more tricks up their sleeve. Fortunately, there seems to be no shortage of such tricks in San Francisco, as Brent Beam's callup at the end of last season signaled that the Giants were prepared to replace O'Leary with a young (and capable) arm. Dealing the overpaid Justin Johnson for Diego Rivera and prized prospects Billy Kashmir and Joey Kirk will also give the Giants some financial flexibility without hurting their win totals now or in the future, so I wouldn't be surprised to see San Fran make another move to improve themselves as well. The Giants don't look like a 93-win team on paper, but that's how many games they won last year even with devestating injuries, so it's hard to really fault them. Still, they were carried by Max Campos, a guy I do not see hitting .291/.350/.503 again this year, and Lonny Sojo, a guy whose 3.08 ERA last year was well below his career average of 4.45. They appear to have the heart to succeed, but as far as talent goes, I'd be a bit wary of the Giants' prospects to match their win total from last year, especially with O'Leary riding the pine for the first two months.

Colorado Springs Night Watchmen

The Watchmen didn't lose too many faces this year, but they lost easily their most important one: 29-year old Rob Lee, whose towering bat won back-to-back MVPs in his two seasons in Colorado Springs and garnered 6 All-Star appearances in his still-young career. Although the newspapers put Rob Lee in the headlines this winter, the Night Watchmen also had another, more under-the-radar loss with 3-time All-Star Donnie Wells, another very painful blow to the franchise. The only new face on the team this year is 38-year old Trent Sisler, once a Cy Young winner but now light years removed from his halcyon days. The one bright spot for Colorado Springs is the four first-round and two second-round picks they're left with; these picks should ensure a bright future for the club if used correctly. But with a lack of real pitching depth and a gutting of the lineup, the only thing that will put Colorado Springs into the playoffs is the relatively weak division they play in.

Seattle Strikers

After winning their first division title ever with a 98-64 performance in season 9, Seattle's encore was a 76-86 stinker in season 10 that left them in third place and struggling to pick up the pieces. The Strikers actually had a real strong spot, finishing 7th in the majors with a 4.02 team ERA. But they were third-to-last in the majors with a pathetic .709 team OPS, which surely did them in. For most teams, this would present an obvious solution: go out and get more hitting. So Seattle tried to do just that, offering a $110 million contract to Rob Lee... but when Lee spurned the Strikers to go play in Syracuse, Seattle knew they were done for if they didn't make some moves fast. Greg Tomlinson was a decent pickup for them and is a good batting average/speed guy that Seattle can stick at the top of the lineup. They also made a couple of deals, trading a package of Jimmie Washington and two minor leaguers to Cincinnati for Yuniesky Mercedes, and dealing a pitcher in Hootie Baker for a much-needed slugger in Bryce Hatcher. Lefty killer Jumbo Lugo could prove to be a steal of a waiver wire pickup in a platoon, and a late signing of Russ Barker gives them a nice upgrade defensively and offensively. The failure to nab Lee certainly meant the difference between being a power team this season and being on the cusp of a playoff appearance, but in a weakening division and with a few smart upgrades, Seattle is definitely in a stronger position to end up in the postseason than they were last year.

Scottsdale Scorpions

The Scorpions felt the sting of another 100-loss season last year (their fourth straight), and ownership was so outraged with the direction of the team that they replaced their GM midway through spring training. As such, the team's crippling failure to improve shouldn't be shouldered upon their new fearless leader, but it is impossible to deny that Scottsdale will be going nowhere this year. The Scorpions did manage to nab Toby Thompson, which serves to offset the losses of Joshua Park, Charles Chang, Humberto Azocar, and Albert O'Malley, but none of those players were much of a help anyway. I would be shocked if the Scorpions lose fewer than 95 games this year, and to be honest, it looks like another long year for this franchise as a fifth consecutive 100-loss season seems likely to be on the horizon.


1. Seattle
2. San Francisco
3. Colorado Springs
4. Scottsdale

Hey, I couldn't go this whole offseason without making at least one bold prediction. I think Seattle has what it takes to compete this year-- they won 76 games last year with one of the worst offensive units in the majors, but they have improved enough to convince me that their team OPS will see a spark this year. And when you win that many games with an offense that bad, it means the winning potential of each additional OPS point is magnified tremendously. I don't know if they'll definitely win the division, but I do think it will at least be close. Meanwhile, San Francisco looks to regress while it deals with a key injury and players that probably won't repeat the successes of last year. Colorado Springs was gutted this offseason and will easily finish 3rd, though they'll still be miles ahead of the woeful Scorpions.

Season 11 outlook: NL South

Charleston Riverdogs

The Riverdogs have quietly been one of baseball's best teams over the past 5 years; they've only failed to win fewer than 90 games once, made the playoffs 5 years in a row, made the World Series back in season 8, and managed to make it to the NLCS 3 straight times coming into this year. Everyone has come to expect that Charleston will be a competitive team each year, but I believe few realize just how rock-solid the franchise is. Consider their savy offseason moves: they've had six departures this offseason (Kevin Xaio, Casey Nielsen, Walter Miceli, B.C. Nunez, Willie DeLeon, and Denny Wang) but only one of those players (Nunez) was any sort of an asset for them last season. That's efficiency. Now take a look at their only two major league acquisitions this year: Jonathan Grebeck (a pitcher still so freakishly good at age 36 that they're likely reserving his parking spot in Cooperstown as we speak) and Bobby Donahue (a reliever with a 3.32 ERA over the past 3 seasons). So this franchise, which has been built to win for the past 5 seasons and won 101 games last year complete with a trip to the NLCS, has shedded 5 useless players, replaced a decent reliever with an even better one, and added arguably the best pitcher on Earth this offseason. Is there any question whatsoever that this team is a favorite to at least reach their 4th consecutive league championship series? Not in my mind.

Monterrey Jacks

The good news last year was that Monterrey finished with their best record in seven seasons. The bad news was that that record was 78-84, good for a .481 winning percentage. Toss in the fact that they're unfortunate enough to share a division with Charleston and it's easy to see why this franchise's fans have some gloomy prospects for this season's playoff chances. But all hope is not lost for the Jacks this year; last season was a major improvement, and it's important to remember that this is a very young team with some very bright prospects in the pipeline. The departures of Bob Howard and Carmen Franco through free agency saw two positively mediocre pitchers walk away from Monterrey, but the Jacks weren't done. Billy Ray Diaz, Cristian Governale, Rich Sheets, and David Bako were among the mediocre players handed their outright release this winter by a franchise desperate to prove it's ready to take the next step in finally becoming a contender. The Jacks' free agent signings, Johan Martin and B.C. Nunez, are a sure step in the right direction, but Monterrey is clearly relying on its young talent to get the job done this year. Dock King, Oscar Osterbrock, Miguel Mesa, and Robert Tannehill are just a few of the players age 24 and under who Monterrey is expecting big things from this season. One wonders if the Jacks have prevented these players from truly reaching their full potential by throwing them to the wolves so quickly, but Monterrey should find out this season whether these young players are the answer or it's time to start the rebuilding process yet again.

Texas Beavers

We all knew the state of Texas was feeling the heat of the recession, but apparantly, the Beavers aren't immune to economic problems either, as they laid off a grand total of 31 players this offseason, young and old, some of whom were major leaguers. Max Padilla walked away on his own for free agency as well. To fill all those holes, the Beavers made a bottom-scraping free agent signing (Vicente Ayala) and then promoted 6 players to the majors, some of whom actually belong there. Alex Ordonez looks poised to be an outstanding 1-inning closer, even if he's had a rough go of it in the majors in previous tries. Matty Coco and Vic Diaz are both patient righty smashers who will give opposing pitchers absolute fits. And Don Li has a shot to be a good ML starter, even though his minor league handling never allowed him to reach his true potential. They also promoted Tomas Martinez (who has issued 100 or more walks 3 of his last 4 minor league seasons) and Pete Valentin (a below-average fielder who has, I admit, hit well in the minors), but I don't expect either of these players to be huge contributors. Still, no one they promoted is awful, and most of the players they released are, so it's hard for me to believe this team won't improve markedly from last year. Many of their best players (like Jorge Rincon, Peter Mullin, and Lorenzo Guerrero) are 27 or younger, and in fact their current ML roster contains only 3 players older than 28. Given the youth and continued development of this roster, while I don't think Texas quite yet has what it takes to be a playoff contender, I believe they may be the most improved team in the NL when all is said and done.

Iowa City Crystal Innseekers

In their one season in Mexico City during season 9, this franchise surprised most pundits when they finished 2nd in the division with a 73-89 record, improving upon their previous season by 16 wins. However, instead of continuing their upward trend, this team backslid horribly last season, decreasing their win total by 14 and finishing dead last in the NL South for the first time since season 4. Sadly, Iowa City doesn't look like they'll be much of a surprise team this season, though a few positive offseason moves could have given them hope to avoid another 100-loss season. The Innseekers lost Ron Forbes to free agency and will attempt to replace him with Trevor Hitchcock, whose 6-year minor league career has yielded a 5.31 ERA. They also signed Wilson Thornton, owner of a 9.15 career ERA, though his "stuff" shows he can bring that number way down with hard work. It seems Iowa City is biding their time while they wait for recent draftees like Jeff Moore and Bryant Clayton to develop, but until reinforcements arrive, this is still a bottom-dwelling franchise.


1. Charleston
2. Monterrey
3. Texas
4. Iowa City

No surprises here; it looks like everything will be in its place from last season. Charleston comes back stonger than ever, while Monterrey and Texas have made moves designed to improve themselves but not become dominant just yet. Monterrey has an outside shot at a wild card slot, but more likely the only team going to the playoffs from this division (and the only truly playoff-caliber team of the bunch) is Charleston.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Season 11 outlook: NL East

Jacksonville Juice

Jacksonville won the East in style last year, going 102-60 and nearly breaking the franchise's all-time wins mark of 104. After making it all the way to the World Series (only to lose to juggernaut and favorite Ottawa), the Juice GM said this offseason, "Because we came so close to the title last year, we felt like we would bring the same group back for another run at it. But we also felt the one glaring need we had was in our starting rotation. This was never more apparent then in the World Series, when our top starters were severely gassed." As such, Jacksonville went out and nabbed two excellent starting pitchers in Russell Wheeler and Carlos Soto out of free agency this winter, making the Juice even more dominant than before. Those pitchers replace the vastly inferior Wesley Quinn and Placido Fernandez, both of whom left for free agency this offseason. 1B T.J. Harding is also gone, but he constitutes a relatively minor loss. On the whole, this Jacksonville team has been fine-tuned and improved in all the right areas to be considered a serious contender for a World Series run this year and a formidable foil for all opponents in the NL.

Kansas City Kardinals

When Kansas City dumped pitcher Phil Shaw this offseason, they had some wondering whether the Kardinals now lacked the chops to get back into the playoffs after a big 91-71 season last year. Those fears were quickly put to rest when they gave a 5-year, $100 million contract to 26-year old Alex Guerrero this winter, a surefire Cy Young Candidate who brings 2 Gold Gloves to Kansas City as well. There are some concerns about his health (he tore his labrum twice in the minors), but as long as he doesn't get injured, Kansas City has quietly got one of the most well-put together teams in the league. They have a few nice standbys in the batting order (Ichiro Pong, Kirby Page, Rafael Encarnacion) along with some solid starting pitchers (Robinson Maddux, Darron Herndon, Gregg Thomas) that give them a chance to win every night. And with the most durable starting lineup in the majors, they'll get more starts out of their best players than any other team in the league. That will go far for them down the stretch and around playoff time, and the Kardinals could be a big surprise this year.

New York Moneymaker

After an 88-win Season 10, New York has been busy this offseason... but it's mostly with contract extensions and arbitration hearings. Veteran Trent Sisler was a key loss for them, but at age 38, he wouldn't have much to keep, either. They replaced him with 36-year old free agent John Becker, whose upside is similar to Sisler's this year. Bruce Jodie and Milt Matthews were both scrap heap pickups this year, but other than that, New York has been sitting pretty. And after 2 straight playoff appearances, it might not be such a bad plan. New York management feels the pieces are in place to make the playoffs yet again this year, and it's hard to disagree with them. Sluggers Jorge Johnson, Lonny Infante (who just got a brand new deal), and Vicente Gonzalez only look to improve this year, and the Moneymaker were already 2nd in the NL last year with a .791 OPS. Their 4.47 ERA should have prompted them to pick up some more pitching, but that will be the make-or-break aspect of their season this year; if starters like Rob Murray and Ronald Leon can deliver this year, New York might just find themselves in 100-win territory. But with opponents OPSing .746 against New York pitchers last season, one has to wonder whether their pitchers can even reproduce last year's mediocrity this season.

Cincinnati Firestorm

After having losing seasons 4 out of the last 5 years, Cincinnati has decided that it's time to rebuild. Their biggest moves were losing Harry Lofton, Doc Daniels, and Jo-jo Loiselle, and their only major league trade was dealing for defensive catcher Jimmie Washington (which cost them the offensively superior Yuniesky Mercedes). Cincinnati looks like they will decline a bit this season as they try to rebuild for the future, though good pitchers like Pedro Baez and Felipe Lira may keep them afloat this season. But the fact that their leading home run hitter last year had 16 should tell you that Cincinnati won't be a serious threat this year.


1. Jacksonville
2. Kansas City
3. New York
4. Cincinnati

Jacksonville's offseason acquisitions are just too good to ignore, even in a fairly crowded division. They take the East again. Kansas City will finish second again this year but should easily take a wild card spot-- although they have some excellent team aspects that warrant great consideration, I just don't think they'll quite overtake Jacksonville this season. I wouldn't put a first-place finish past them, though; it's within reach. New York feels they have the pieces in place to make a real run this year, and while a wild card berth isn't out of the question, they haven't given me much reason to believe this team will be significantly improved from the Season 10 edition. Cincinnati is a non-factor as they haven't made any attempt to get immediately better this offseason.

Season 11 outlook: NL North

Fargo Wood Chippers

Fargo runs like a well-oiled machine. They are the only franchise to win their division in every year of the league's existence, and they have failed to win fewer than 100 games only 3 times (and fewer than 98 games only once). As such, it's no surprise that year in and year out, they make shrewd moves throughout the offseason to keep their team at the top. Their GM has publicly stated this year that "they had better win the series this year because I don't like playing golf with domi. He plays by 'Winter rules.'" Ouch. Fortunately for the Chips, their World Series aspirations are not without merit. They saw no major free agency departures this year, though they did deal Desi Fernandez and John Li to Toledo for superstar catching prospect Pablo Maduro (just another example of this Hall Of Fame ownership team striking while the iron is hot). But other than that, last year's 101-61 team is coming back to the party, with many of their young players like Tony Guerrero, Al Nen, Karim Ontiveros, and Roland Sweeney getting a year older (and a year scarier). Other franchises must envy the nonstop train of success that runs through Fargo, but with such an eye for talent, it's hard to see this unstoppable locomotive ever slowing down.

Helena Ass Clowns

What has happened to Helena? Last season, the team went 86-76, missing their annual wild card berth for the first time in 5 years. They know they can't compete with Fargo, but is that any reason to throw in the towel? Apparantly it is, because the Ass Clowns have done little to improve themselves this year, and in fact look poised to either stagnate or backslide. The team allowed former Cy Young winner Carlos Soto and former All-Star Russell Wheeler, two of their best three starting pitchers from last year, to walk, and they've made no attempt to replace them. Hunter Powell and Ruben Mesa have also been let go, but they weren't much to write home about to begin with. Aging reliever Frankie Herman was their only indulgence this offseason. It's not even as if they can use the excuse that last year was a fluke; Buck Leonard hit 43 homers with a .382 OBP, while Willis Walter matched a career high with an .850 OPS; on the pitching side, Wayne Perez had a career year with a 3.14 ERA. It's puzzling to figure out exactly what Helena's game plan is for this season, but if it's to win the division or even contend for a wild card spot, the Ass Clowns will be sorely surprised this year.

Rochester Royals

After eight seasons of losing in Pittsburgh, the Clementes picked up their bags, changed their name to the Royals, and shipped off to Rochester in search of the franchise's first-ever playoff appearance. Unfortunately, they must have forgotten to load several of their good players into the U-Haul van, because the likes of Bob Wood and Einar Tatis seem to be history in Rochester. 2-time Cy Young winner Andre Plesac is also gone and likely headed for retirement if he doesn't get a contract this Spring. Granted, these men were all getting old, but they may have been the best hope this team had for improving upon its 97-loss performance last year. The "youth movement" angle also doesn't work when you consider that their two free agent pickups, Aurelio Rodriguez and Brandon Jacobs, are 31 and 34, respectively. Rodriguez may still have some gas left in the tank, but Jacobs is nearly finished as a hitter and should certainly never suit up as a shortstop again (he seems to be more of a right fielder type now). Otto Plesac was also selected in the Rule 5 draft, but let's face it: Rochester hasn't added any difference makers this year, and at that point, bringing in middling free agents and rule 5 picks is like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Until Rochester finds a player or two to build around, both on offense and in the rotation, they will never end Fargo's reign in the division.

Trenton Thunders

It's actually a bit surprising that this team fared as poorly as they did last year. Sure, a team OPS of .733 and a team ERA of 4.77 aren't great any any measure, but they don't seem "100 losses" bad. Nevertheless, this franchise finished 62-100 in season 10, and turnover was expected by the fanbase when the franchise was bought by new ownership and moved to beautiful Trenton, NJ. Naturally, the franchise hasn't made one impactful free agent signing this offseason. Veterans Gordon Graves, Toby Thompson, Samuel Hughes, Alejandro Sierra, and Hod Adams are yesterday's news in Trenton, and every last one of their seven free agent signings were 24-year old rookies. Power hitter Desi Molina is comparatively the most talented of the bunch, but Jim Magee, Jalal Mayne, Alvin Mahler, Kurt Aldridge, Rabbit Cox, and Walt Walters would all get cut from the Bad News Bears. Hopefully Chico's Bail Bonds agrees to sponsor Trenton's minor league system, because that's where these guys belong (as filler). The recently promoted Vince Brock may give them a small measure of help offensively, but overall, it'll be news when this team strings 2 wins together this season.


1. Fargo
2. Helena
3. Rochester
4. Trenton

Interchange numbers 3 and 4 however you wish. Other than that, I'm about as sure of Fargo's 11th-straight 1st place finish as I am about taxes being due in April. Don't be shocked to see the Chips win this one by at least 25 games. And by the looks of things, it'll be a while before they're even really challenged in this division.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Season 11 outlook: AL West


While the world was watching the dogfight in the AL North, many missed the equally entertaining scuffle in the Wild West, where three teams finished within four games of each other for the division title. Arizona, a team that had actually gotten worse by 4 wins, managed to take the division title with an 82-80 record, and therein lies how the West was won: there simply isn't an abundance of legitimate competition. The BUTCHERS sought to change that this winter, however, with several moves designed to make them into a more legitimate playoff contender... at least for this year. If I asked you what Bob Wood, Ewell Thompson, Jonathan Pillette, Russell Saunders, and Bobby Ray Karnuth, all had in common, you'd probably respond that they'll all be eligible for AARP soon, and you'd be right. But this geriatric crew is also the bulk of this offseason's free agency haul for Arizona. Ok, so they only got Spring Training invitations (with the exception of Wood, who got a 1-year deal), but it does seem a bit alarming that the BUTCHERS will be relying on this crew to add wins to their record this season. Arizona did make a solid signing with 26-year old Jesse Guerrero, but it seems obvious that Arizona will seek to improve through their major promotions this year, namely 21-year old catcher Tony Olmeda and masher Antonio Mota (whose minor league success they hope will translate to the majors). They should improve upon their win total from last season, but even if they do win the division, the question is still whether this crew can win a playoff series once they make it there, and the prospect still doesn't look great this year.

Oakland Raiders

In their last season in Sin City, this franchise was in first place for much of last year before falling behind and missing their first playoff berth in 6 years by one game after their pitching staff crumbled and dropped 7 of their last 10. Outraged, the owners fired the general manager and moved the team to Oakland, seeking a fresh start. New management took little time making changes, and the overhaul that this team has gone through over the past several months is quite evident. The new GM has said publicly that he has a plan for his pitching staff, and all those who don't fit that plan have been jettisoned; that includes 4-time All-Star Darryl Michaels, who Oakland may have felt has gotten old quickly. A couple dead-weight position players, like part-timer Bernard Dickson, were released as well. After that, the Raiders began to load up on new faces for the upcoming season. They made big waves in the free agent market, signing former All-Star Hugh Hudson to a bigtime deal, as well as relievers Domingo Calvo and Felix Vanguri. Re-signing Sammy Lee and Andrew Page helped them retain some dependable pitchers as well. Alfredo Kelly and Curt Dresden should also be solid additions on the offensive side that were nabbed up in free agency. But the Raiders' biggest move was a trade that proved highly controversial within the Oakland ranks (and had one coach nearly threatening to resign): a deal that sent young first baseman John Wolf to Syracuse in exchange for Daryle Moran and Chris Damon (a deal that looks like it could end up being a huge boost for Oakland, given their lack of depth at those positions last season). They also dealt catcher Tom Gonzales for more pitching help in rookie Danny Koch, but then strangely turned around and dealt two young pieces in Orber Torres and Felipe Rosario as well. Overall, Oakland seems to have made all the right moves this offseason to at least improve upon last year's record (and help stave off another end-of-the-season collapse). They, like Arizona, will likely improve this season, and fans and management alike are looking forward to the opportunity to win a division title in their first season in Oakland, but given that they've declined to make the big moves necessary to truly transform into a top team, their prospects for a playoff appearance still seem unclear.

Honolulu Warriors

Last season, the Honolulu Aloha managed a respectable but inadequate 78-84 wins as one of the more milquetoast teams in the league. This year, the team has attempted to undergo a transofmration of attitude, changing their name to the Warriors to signal a new era in Honolulu baseball. Unfortunately, a transformation of roster would have been more appropriate, as a few key moves would have easily nudged this team into playoff territory. Instead, Honolulu's biggest moves were departures, with several major leaguers from last year leaving for free agency, key among them being 2-time Silver Slugger Hack Rucker, former All-Star and Gold Glover Harry Flores, and former MVP and 4-time All-Star Lawrence Butler. Former Gold Glove 2B Glenn Mack, who barely played last season, also got the boot when he was released this winter. Following those moves, Honolulu brought in, presumably, the one man they felt could bring back all the offense lost by that flurry of departures... Emilio Johnson, a rookie catcher and former 4th-round pick who has been in the minors for 6 years. Let's just say this division might be a 2-horse race this year...

Fresno Grab Yo Socks

When Alex Guerrero and the new Fresno management got into their legendary tussle this winter that ended with Guerrero being released on the spot during his arbitration hearing, many fans thought that this would be just another year of woeful baseball from a suddenly woeful franchise. But of all the teams in the American League who have attempted to rebuild this offseason after a disastrous Season 10, Fresno has probably been the most successful. Mediocre players like Stuffy Lindsey, Russ Barker, John Moran, and John Becker were given their walking papers; not atrocious players, to be sure, but bad enough that the new Fresno ownership decided to replace them with players that actually gave them a chance to get to the next level. In all, Fresno signed eight free agents to help them, including 4-time All-Star slugger Bill Maurer, 3-time All-Star SS Donnie Wells, 2-time All-Star Jesus Roque, 2-time Silver Slugger Hack Rucker, decent SP Kevin Xaio, solid #5 starter Gordon Graves, high-OBP 1B Stewart Bryant, and patchwork long reliever Dorian Meyers. All of these free agents will serve a purpose on a team riddled with holes after last year's 67-95 fiasco. Ace Felix Wilson was also dealt away, but Fresno got stud relievers Chick Linden and Chili Mussina to make up for the loss. Fresno may not be the powerhouse that this team used to be when it was in St. Louis-- the pitching is simply not there-- but I will eat my hat if this franchise manages to lose 95 games again this year. And it won't.


1. Oakland
2. Arizona
3. Fresno
4. Honolulu

One note about this prediction: while I am not bold enough to predict as much outright, I would not be at all shocked to see Fresno sneak into the #2 slot by the season's end as their fortunes rise with so many new faces on the roster. The top 3 teams in this division have made both good and bad moves, leaving me to wonder which ones will work out best for the respective teams involved. This is probably the most difficult division in the AL to predict, and possibly in all of baseball. One thing I will say, however, is that I am fairly confident in Honolulu's 4th place finish, as they failed to make a single improvement after overachieving mightily last year.

Season 11 outlook: AL South

Tampa Bay Thunder

Tampa Bay managed to take this division last season with 90 wins, despite stiff competition by an 89-win New Orleans team that was in it until the end. But with 3 straight World Series appearances from seasons 7 through 9, with a win in season 8, it's hard to question the Tampa Bay gameplan, and the Thunder seem to be betting that last year's squad simply underachieved. There have been a few departures: decent players Daniel Porter, Felipe Romero, and Stewart Bryant all departed for free agency, and disastrous pitchers Wilson Thornton and Jimmie Otanez were released. But the Thunder have made a few additions as well, dealing prized prospect Danny Koch for lefty slayer Tom Gonzales and snagging mopup man Paul Glanville in the Rule 5 draft. All told, though, the core of last year's team is still here, and that's what's important; Will McCarthy, Hank Nelson, and Ben Hogg are just a few of the players Tampa is banking on to return to form this year, and if they play to their potential, there's no telling how successful the Thunder could be this year. At the moment, however, Tampa Bay's main focus needs to be winning the division over the Bead Busters (and potentially a breakout Nala Bears team), and one questions whether they've taken appropriate steps to ensure that outcome this season.

New Orleans Bead Busters

New Orleans went 89-73 games last season and missed the wild card by 10 games. They're not stupid; they know that the AL North will more than likely produce both wild card teams again this season, and New Orleans' goal needs to be to overtake Tampa Bay for the division crown. There has been a good deal of turnover this offseason in the Bead Busters' quest to make that happen, most notably the departure of aging former superstar Clayton Kennedy, who has yet to find a home. Hugh Hudson, Turner Spiers, John Huang, Tanner McKinley, and Rich Benoit are among the other faces that won't be seen around New Orleans this year, and many of those departures may constitute addition by subtraction. In terms of addition by addition, the Bead Busters' biggest improvements this year came with their new position players. Justin Johnson, acquired via trade, has the potential to be a difference maker on defense while still providing quality offense. And 6-time All-Star Einar Tatis, signed for a mere $8.4 million over two years, brings an .889 career OPS into the heart of the New Orleans lineup. Bounceback candidate Luis Seguignol was also a shrewd pickup, though the acquisitions of pitchers Carmen Franco and Rico Lee were patchwork moves that show this team still has holes to fill. It does seem to have been a positive offseason for this squad, and it might just be enough to overtake Tampa Bay, but if the Thunder's core players come roaring back this year, New Orleans may regret not investing in more of an eventful offseason. A big comeback year from $19.9 million man Steve Minor, who managed only 21 homers and 15 doubles last year, would also go a very long way toward a division crown.

Nashville Nala Bears

The Nala Bears' local ad slogan says it all: "The Time Is Now." Management truly believes that Nashville will shine this year, and with the team having increased its win totals over the past 3 years, they are certainly moving rapidly in the right direction. This team is a far cry from the ones that lost a combined 335 games from seasons 7 through 9, and they continued to shed reminders of their losing past with the departures of Doug Hall and Ken Abbott this winter. The brightest spots from last year, i.e. the youth, are all returning, and they look to show off their true abilities this year. Ben Morton, in particular, is ready to turn the corner and show that he can carry a franchise with his bat, and Tino House and Wilfredo Aquino will both look to establish themselves with their first full-season campaigns this year. The Nalas made only 3 notable new acquisitions: Rob Michaels (a Gold Glove fielder with a decent bat), Kevin Richardson (a fixer upper in the back of the rotation or long relief) and Junior Lee (a waiver wire pickup likely brought on for his defense). Pitching will be the weakness of this club; Andres Park (he's 28 already?) will be the anchor of the staff, coming off a 4.42 ERA last season, and they will look for rookie Bruce Fuller to contribute, but talent is a bit thin. While reinforcements are coming (and plentiful), the staff will be lacking this season, and that may torpedo the Nalas' playoff hopes before they ever get off the ground. This is undoubtedly a team headed in the right direction, and there is a possibility that they will shock everyone this year with a playoff run, but a run at .500 is more likely. Maybe the time isn't right now, but it's coming... and soon.

El Paso Illegals

There's not much to say about El Paso because, quite frankly, they haven't done much to better their situation this year. They let professional gopherballers Napoleon Kinkade, Benny Velazquez, and Pedro Batista all walk, but they went out and replaced them with the likes of Jaime Paronto (5.91 minor league ERA) and Catfish Rhodes. They signed minor leaguer Bing Maduro, though if he's getting paid more than the mascot, they got ripped off (and I doubt the mascot is making more than $6,000,000 this year). They also overpaid for throwaway Kane Dolan ($5.5 mil this year). I'm surprised the team bothered to show up to spring training following this display of apathy. At least El Paso fans will get to look forward to the draft.


1. New Orleans
2. Tampa Bay
3. Nashville
4. El Paso

I have a hunch that New Orleans will win the division by a slight margin, just like Tampa did last year. An injury here, a lucky break there, and it could all change, but I don't think either team wins this division by more than 5 games. Nashville believes they have what it takes to compete this year, but with the wild card seeming like a real longshot, they'll have to leapfrog two established teams this season for the division title if they want to get a playoff berth, and it seems unlikely they'll add the 20-or-so wins it will require to make that happen. Fortunately, they'll still finish at least 25 or 30 games ahead of El Paso, who can start booking October vacations right now.

Blake Robinson Injury

I feel compelled to update my thoughts on Minnesota's place in the AL North given the recent injury of Blake Robinson, who will spend the rest of the season on the bench after blowing out his elbow in a recent Spring Training game against Colorado Springs.

Robinson was sort of an interesting specimen; after failing to meet expectations in Syracuse's minor league system, he was shipped to rival Minnesota, where he struggled in his rookie season. But he turned it on in a big way last year, as he broke out with a 3.81 ERA in 182 innings at the age of 26. With the loss of Jonathan Grebeck, the PeaceFrog were undoubtedly hoping for Robinson to have a monster year and emerge as a key member of the rotation.

Robinson wasn't a make-or-break part of this team, but his absence will definitely plague an already hurting rotation. As it stands, it seems Minnesota's rotation will shape up to be Phil Shaw, Dan Shipley, Omar Siqueiros, William Busby, and Wesley Quinn. Only one of these pitchers (Siqueiros) is under age 32, and these 5 pitchers combined for a 4.30 ERA last season. Minnesota's still a great team, and they may still win around 95 games this year, but in this division, it's very difficult to leave them at 3rd in my predictions, so I am altering my AL North prediction: Milwaukee finishes 3rd (with a wild card berth) and Minnesota barely finishes fourth. Again, it's still anybody's division, but losing a pitcher like Robinson can only serve to hurt the PeaceFrog this season.