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.
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.
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.
2. San Francisco
3. Colorado Springs
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.