Sunday, June 13, 2010

Season 12 outlook: NL West

Seattle Strikers

Seattle has been all over the place for the past few years. After winning 79 games in Season 8, the team exploded with 98 in Season 9. Then, they disappointed with only 76 wins in Season 10, but surprised yet again with 90 wins and another division title last year. So which Seattle will we see this year? The answer is a much different one, given the flurry of changes that occurred this offseason. Vince Jefferson, a surprisingly good bat from last year, is gone, as is Pedro Batista, who had a career year as a reliever and starter for the Strikers last season. Taylor Standridge, Greg Tomlinson, and Louie James were among those who followed. The trading of Efrain Matsumoto and Brooks Mullins for prospects seems to indicate that the team is in rebuilding mode, but management insists that this isn't the case... yet. And this claim seems to be backed up by the fact that Seattle was one of the most active teams on the free agent market this winter. Julius Sowders, Casey Nielsen, Jake Canseco, Jayson Crawford, Peter Whang, Jorge Cueto, Kirk Kirby, Preston Williams, and Donaldo Torrealba are all brand new faces on this year's team, yet there is not a single marquee name among them (unless you count the past-his-prime Sowders), which says that Seattle was more interested in quantity this year than quality. The Strikers may still have it in them to win north of 90 games-- their pitching, the core of which is still around, was 4th in the NL last year with a 4.11 ERA-- but time will tell whether all the new additions will help the team's chances or hurt the clubhouse chemistry. The division was exceptionally weak last year, and if Seattle wins it again, it will be because of the NL West's weaknesses, not Seattle's strengths.

San Francisco Giants

Last year I wrote that with their overachievement in Season 10, plus an injury to their best player, pitcher Bret O'Leary, San Francisco would disappoint and only finish in 2nd place. And that is exactly what they did, regressing toward a win total more befitting their situation and level of talent. After losing Denny Lui, Bill Cohen, and Willie Pearson to free agency, one would have expected the Giants to go out and inject some new blood into the team for the upcoming season, but San Francisco largely decided to stand pat this year, signing only a handful of minor league free agents and making no major league trades. The team did call up a couple of non-prospects in Stevie Moseley and Darrell Bland, but other than that, the major league squad will look much like it did last year. Perhaps the Giants are hoping that a full season from O'Leary, plus player performances similar to what they got in Season 10, will make them a playoff team again, but that is a bit of a risk when you're talking about a team that won a mere 79 games last season. It's hard to know whether they're correct, but the team is far from complete top to bottom, making this a year when San Francisco could be particularly vulnerable.

Colorado Springs Night Watchmen

Just four years ago, Colorado Springs was celebrating their eighth straight playoff appearance (never having missed the postseason in franchise history) and were only one year removed from a World Series victory and their second straight World Series appearance. But that was a long time ago, and three straight Octobers sitting at home-- with a mere .473 winning percentage over that span, including only 67 wins last year-- is enough to make any fanbase question the direction of the franchise. After losing a host of players to free agency, including Barry Gibson, Steve Brock, Alex Melendez, Roy Hiatt, Danny Busby, Rob Buckley, and Albert Polanco, it certainly looked like it was spiraling downward. But the Night Watchmen had an ace up their sleeve, trading for 3-time MVP Steve Minor, a powerhouse bat who's enough to turn any team's pessimism into optimism. They also dealt for Ryan Gonzales and claimed Ronnie Miller off waivers, bolstering their pitching staff this season. And they promoted a bit of talent as well, bringing up defensive whiz Flip Mills, slugger Polin Romero, and catcher Kelvin Easterly. It seems diffcult to believe Colorado Springs will be as bad as they were last year, and with the addition of Minor and some other key components, they are likely to improve upon their record from Season 11. But unfortunately, many of the problems that plagued the club last year (like a 5.35 team ERA) still largely remain, making this a potential year to forget for the Night Watchmen.

Scottsdale Scorpions

Ah, last but not least, the team that seemed to make headlines every other day this past winter with their marquee offseason moves. New management came in last year, watched this team go 65-97, and immediately vowed never to come close to such a dismal record again. So they tossed aside many of the players responsible for last year's disaster, including Homer Browning, John Huang, Anthony Stroud, Alex Grey, Toby Thompson, and Leo Priddy, and went out and got themselves some shiny new free agents. Vic Servet, decorated with Rookie of the Year honors, four All-Star games, and Silver Sluggers at 2B and CF, will give the team defensive versatility and offensive firepower. Omar Siqueiros, an MVP candidate last year who boats five Silver Sluggers at SS and five All-Star game appearances, gives them a great bat in the lineup and a good glove up the middle. Tim Juden, an All-Star with four different clubs, looks to continue his solid career with the Scorpions. All-Star Victor Daly brings two World Series rings to the table, as well as a great 3.45 career ERA. Former Rookie of the Year Steve Brock also has a World Series ring, not to mention a stellar track record as a starter. And the usually-reliable and very talented Esteban Dotel looks to rebound from an off year and aid Scottsdale as well. They've even added youth, trading for stud Darren Bailey and promoting Damaso Infante, two guys who could easily compete for Rookie of the Year honors, with several other prospects in the minors looking to come up soon as well. And let's not forget about the first full season of the guy Sports Illustrated called "the greatest international free agent of all time," Jorge Renteria, who put up a ridiculous 1.157 OPS last year in 230 major league at-bats and is already looking like a favorite to win a couple NL MVP awards before he's done with arbitration. All in all, Scottsdale is unquestionably the most improved team of the year, and ownership has said that their goal is to make a run at the playoffs as early as next season. But don't count them out of the playoffs as early as this season.


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

Scottsdale goes from worst to first this year as they make moves that put them leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. Their starting pitching will be the biggest concern, but if Raymond Simmons pitches like I know he can and some of the other starters come through, Scottsdale's potent offense should carry them to enough wins to clinch the division and secure the team's first playoff appearance since Season 4. Meanwhile, Seattle will likely put up a good fight despite making so many roster changes, while San Fran will likely struggle a bit as they return a duplicate of the team that was so disappointing last year. Colorado Springs will be much improved with the addition of Minor, but with such poor pitching, I just can't see them competing at all this year.

Season 12 outlook: NL South

Charleston Riverdogs

The Fargo Wood Chippers seem to always get the press in the National League. They undoubtedly deserve the praise, considering their rich tradition of winning and the fact that they had the best record in the NL last year. But although Fargo ended up winning the NL pennant and advancing to the World Series, it is very possible that Charleston, not Fargo, was the NL's best team in Season 11. Their .834 OPS easily led the NL, and their pitchers led the league in opponent BA (.251), opponent OBP (.311), and opponent slugging percentage (.380), not to mention strikeouts (1198) and WHIP (1.28). Given these numbers, it's easy to see why the Riverdogs enter the season as an easy favorite to win the South, even over the ALCS-appearing Monterrey Jacks (more on them below). But what's even scarier is that Charleston figures to be even better this year after making one of the biggest free agency signings of the winter, nabbing future Hall of Famer Frank Martin and bolstering an already intimidating lineup. The team's only real losses were space-wasters Bobby Donahue and Glenn Mercedes, probably constituting addition by subtraction. And Enos Jones will likely see his rookie season this year and immediately compete for Rookie of the Year honors. Toss in the acquisition of stud prospect Carl Esposito this winter, and Fargo may have to move over as the most celebrated team in the NL. Charleston is loaded with talent and hungry for a championship this year, and it's not a stretch to say they'll finally do just that.

Monterrey Jacks

Announcers used all sorts of adjectives to describe the Jacks last year as they launched multiple upsets en route to an ALCS appearance-- "scrappy," "pesky," "sneaky"-- but their postseason success should have come as little surprise to most baseball fans, as this team was clearly built for the postseason, not the regular season. Go into a short series with Dock King, Oscar Osterbrock, and Dean Harvey as your starting pitchers and drop your mediocre #4 and #5 guys, and suddenly the Monterrey Jacks have one of the best rotations in the playoffs. But making the playoffs is half the battle, and the Jacks almost missed them last year due to those very bottom-of-the-rotation pitchers going a combined 19-20, as well as a bullpen that went a mediocre 30-26 with a 5.30 ERA. Changes were clearly on the horizon, and the most important was bagging starter Bill Richard and replacing him with phenom rookie Willie Jacquez, a move that will give the team a much more consistent set of pitchers from top to bottom. Reliever B.C. Nunez also left, but the Jacks responded by signing Willie Pearson and Robin Schalk, both of whom will strengthen a weak bullpen. Monterrey improved offensively as well, dumping part-timers Bobby Valent and Craig Howell but signing Jared Brown and Willie Ayala and promoting catching prospect Max Perez. Like Nashville, Monterrey is a young team that, through sheer maturity and development, probably could have improved by doing nothing this offseason. But with these moves, the Jacks have given themselves great reason to believe they will make a return to the playoffs this year, and if they play their cards right, they may even manage to give Charleston a run for their money.

Texas Beavers

Once a yearly threat to make the playoffs (though they seldom delivered), Texas has played third fiddle in the NL South for 3 years strong, and while they have no chance of finishing fourth this year, they still have little chance of catching up to the division's top two teams. That hasn't stopped them from making a slew of roster moves, however, to improve their chances and add to last year's fairly disappointing win total. Tom Chambers, a borderline MVP candidate as recently as Season 10, all but vanished last season and has now left for free agency, as have the solid Willie Barajas and William Davenport. They've promoted several youngsters, including Dean Podsednik, Brooks Schalk, and Miguel Morlan (though only Podsednik really looks like he'll be a big help this year). But the intriguing aspect of the Beavers' winter was the many trades that were made. They nabbed slugger Juan Torres from Ottawa, but had to give up relievers Clarence Cain and Alex Ordonez to get him. They got Paul Wang (who seems to have lost some of his pop) from Chicago, but gave up pitcher Harry Lunar. To make up for these pitching losses, they also dealt for Atlanta's Jorel Austin and Toledo's Santiago Mercado-- but they had to give up Don Li (another pitcher) and Jose Martin, respectively, to get them. It seems to be that Texas is going for a more offensive-minded approach this year, and they should certainly see an increase in runs scored with these acquisitons. But with the lack of improvements to their pitching staff, the Beavers probably won't have much hope to reach the playoffs this season. Another third place finish looks like Texas' destiny, but an increase in wins to around 85-- or even as many as 90 if they're lucky-- also seems to be on the horizon.

Richmond Red Devils

My mother always said that if you have nothing to say, you should say nothing at all. Well, I can't just leave this preview blank, so I'll say the nicest thing I can think of: Richmond fans likely have a great amateur draft to look forward to, with the franchise holding the first overall pick. Other than that, though, this year looks like another summer of misery for fans of this cursed franchise, which is on its eighth ownership group in nine years. Last year, while the franchise played in Iowa City, the team blew away the bottom of the barrel and finished dead last in the majors with a disgusting 6.35 team ERA. They placed only ahead of Toledo in the majors with an unsightly .724 team OPS, and were also terrible in the field, finishing second-to-last in the majors with a .975 fielding percentage. The team did make some moves this offseason, but at this point, it feels like they're just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. A parade of miserable players including the likes of Brian Frey, Dusty Dorsey, Frank Wang, Wilson Thornton, Al Pinzon, and Jay Spencer all either left for free agency or were given their walking papers this winter. Their two major signings, B.C. Nunez and Max Padilla, are both coming off poor seasons but sadly will be enormous upgrades for the team. Andrew Wilkerson was promoted and should improve the team with his bat and glove, but oddly, the team's best move this offseason was a Rule 5 pick, selecting the supremely talented Pedro Cordero, who immediately becomes the second- or third-best hitter on the team. This franchise has still got years before it can ever hope to be in the playoff discussion, but after losing a National League-record 119 games last season, this team looks sure to at least surpass the rock-bottom depths it dealt with last year. Before this team ever thinks about championships, it has to climb the very high ladder toward 63+ wins.


1. Charleston
2. Monterrey
3. Texas
4. Richmond

Charleston should take the division and may lead the NL in wins this year, though Monterrey should put up a good fight. Last year's Wild Card drama in Monterrey may disappear this season as the team slides much more comfortably into the playoff picture, and 100 wins is not out of the question. Texas should be just fine, and should finish well over .500, though playoffs will not be in the cards for them. Richmond will still lose north of 100 games, but has still made improvements from last year. This is a rare division in which all four teams should improve upon their win totals from last year, though only Charleston and Monterrey look like true playoff contenders. And once again, if the Jacks do make the playoffs, don't be surprised to see them go far again with their ever-improving rotation.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Season 12 outlook: NL East

Jacksonville Juice

One could call last season a disappointment for the Juice. A year removed from reaching the World Series, Jacksonville repeated as division champions but then failed to even get out of the play-in round, losing in upset fashion to Monterrey. Clearly shaken by the turn of events, Jacksonville has made several moves this winter in an attempt to avoid such a possibility in October, though they lost several good players in the process. Julius Sowders gave many good years to the franchise, but he got old, so the Juice sacked him. T.J. Harding, Carlos Soto, Will Bergen, and Jake Koch are also no longer with the franchise. Many of these losses hurt the Juice roster, so new acquisitions were in order. Antonio Morton is a key addition to the Juice bullpen, while Jeffrey Rivera, who was good with Syracuse last year, will fit right into the rotation. Rivera, however, cost the team Karl Shumaker, a productive batter and versatile fielder. Rafael Romero could be good for the rotation too, but he cost them Brian Biddle, who looked brilliant in limited action last year. The team will also go a bit younger this year, showcasing the rookie seasons of former first-rounders Hiram Franco and Davey Decker, both of whom could find themselves in the Rookie of the Year hunt. This may be the last hurrah for the Juice as we know them, with the impending free agencies of 2-time MVP Lloyd Patrick and former Silver Slugger Hector Cairo, so it's a must-win season for the impatient management and fanbase alike. But with so many pieces of the puzzle leaving this offseason, the Juice still have a hill to climb.

New York Moneymaker

New York missed a Wild Card berth by the slimmest of margins last year, and they believed all they needed was a minor re-tooling this offseason. Indeed, despite their noticeable lack of postseason success, they've made the playoffs 5 times, including twice in the last 3 years, and rarely seem to be in danger of slipping. This year has proved no different, with the Moneymaker making a few key offseason moves but not taking too many risks, so as to preserve the franchise's seemingly infinite supply of sturdy, but not outstanding, seasons. The only real losses this winter were John Becker, Melvin Guerrero, and Harry Nieves, none of whom are a threat to derail the franchise anytime soon; they were replaced by the equally mediocre Connie Stynes and Denny Lui (though Lui is a great candidate to have a big year after mysteriously losing his once-impressive power over the past two seasons). The big signing, however, was Samuel Dallaero, a longtime Philadelphia mainstay who will immediately improve a bullpen that saw several ERAs north of 5 last year. It may not be the most exciting offseason for Moneymaker fans, but that seems to be business as usual for New York, and indeed, it seems to be working, as there is little doubt that this team will secure at least 85-90 wins yet again and remain in the Wild Card hunt, as they do each season.

Kansas City Kardinals

I think I may have to tag the Kardinals as my most disappointing team of Season 11. In this space last year, I wrote that Kansas City had it in them to overtake Jacksonville the for the division, but that even if they didn't, they would easily secure a Wild Card spot. Well, one year and only 86 wins later, the Kardinals had a fine season but fell well short of expectations. That's not for lack of ability, though. I said that they were one of the most well-put-together teams in the majors, and they did not disappoint in that regard; they amazed most observers by using only 11 pitchers over the course of the entire season, and eight of their nine starting position players played in at least 149 games last year. So what happened? Well, the #4 and #5 starting pitchers were awful, including Darron Herndon, who is no longer with the team (though Robinson Maddux, who does have great natural talent, still is). Their hitting was decent, but with a .770 team OPS, it was exactly average in the NL (mostly due to the weaker hitters having down years dragging down the truly impressive ones). But other than that, the team seemed to perform as expected, and Kansas City seems determined to keep the gang together for another run, making virtually no acquisitions this offseason. Aside from Herndon, KC lost a few other relative disappointments in Wes Sanders, Harry Figureoa, and Louis Cruz, but overall, this still looks like a team bound to make a lot of noise this year, and it would not surprise me in the least if last season's expected success simply came a year late.

Cincinnati Firestorm

Cincinnati has been far from a devestating force in baseball over the past five years, but with a .474 winning percentage over that span, it's very surprising (and a testament to the strength of the division) that they've managed to finish in dead last all five years. But it's also encouraging, as Cincinnati's ability to remain at least mildly competitive makes them a yearly candidate to potentially break out, given the right offseason moves. They left a lot of people scratching their heads, however, at the moves the franchise made this past winter. It was bad enough seeing Alexander Grant and Patsy Cummings (bad as he was last year) file for free agency, but the team felt it had not seen enough departures, so it released Shep Rudolph and Stan Lowe, as well as a whole host of other players who spent some time on the big league roster last year. They did sign reliever T.J. Starr and promoted LF prospect Grant Tucker to the bigs, but Cincinnati once again failed to make the quality (or quantity) moves that would have allowed them to escape the cellar of a very competitive division. Aside from their two new faces this year and the slew of old faces who were shown the door this offseason, this still looks like the same 70ish-win team we've seen for years now, and they will likely remain solidly in 4th this year.


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

It almost seems like I'm stubbornly saying "I'll keep making this Kansas City-will-be-really-good prediction until it comes true," but really, this does look like a team capable of finishing in 1st place, especially with other teams getting a bit weaker around them. Jacksonville is still a very good team, but they've suffered too many losses this season for me to remain confident in their ability to secure a division crown. New York looks like a fine team that may just narrowly finish in 3rd (or narrowly finish in 1st, frankly, in what looks to be a tight division). The only thing I'm sure of is Cincinnati's 4th place finish, as they've really made no moves big enough to convince me of their improvement this year.

Season 12 outlook: NL North

Fargo Wood Chippers

What is there to say about a franchise like Fargo? Going into season 11 averaging about 102 wins per year over the course of the franchise's history, one would have had to imagine the wheels were bound to fall off eventually. But naturally, confounding no one's expectations, the Chippers put up another ho-hum 108-win season, claiming an NL pennant along the way and steamrolling the competition on their annual dominance tour. Things don't look to be much different this year. Their only free agency loss was Victor Daly, now on Scottsdale, though Pedro Cordero and Archie Tewksbury were also traded for prospects to secure Fargo's future dominance. But other than that, the team that led the NL in ERA and finished second only to Charleston in OPS will be making a triumphant return this year, hungry for another title. Even the team's coaches have all returned, making this the true makings of a Fargo dynasty. For most teams, making no offseason moves is a sign of weakness. But when your team features a whopping 7 returning All-Stars (Daly was an eighth), plus the NL Cy Young winner and 3 each of last year's Silver Sluggers and Gold Glovers, last year's most decorated NL team has little reason to worry about the franchise's security atop the division for the foreseeable future.

Helena Ass Clowns

Monkey see, monkey do, I suppose. Helena has lived in the shadow of its more successful division-mate, Fargo, for the entire life of the franchise. Sure, they took a Wild Card spot last year (their 7th time as a Wild Card team), but they've never won the division and are still a team with holes to fill. But that didn't stop them from taking the Fargo approach this offseason, making virtually no major moves and standing pat in an attempt to live off last year's successes. They did make one key acquisition in Albert DeRojas, an average pitcher who may help out in long relief. But that surely won't make up for losing Jamie Paronto, Frankie Herman, Darryl Michaels, Ruben Mesa, and even Rodney Witt, all of whom are gone this year. And in one of the most boneheaded moves I have ever seen by a GM, the Ass Clowns dealt former first rounder and prized prospect Charley Roosevelt for Pedro Cordero... then missed the league deadline for putting Cordero on the 40-man roster and allowed him to be taken in the Rule 5 draft, leaving the team with nothing in return but holes in their pockets. It seems odd indeed for Helena to be so complacent with their team, considering they are not competing merely with the 3 other teams in their division, but, as they have no hope of an NL North title, virtually every other team in the NL that is vying for a Wild Card spot. Can they still beat out the likes of Monterrey, New York, Kansas City, and others who would gladly swap spots with Helena? Their odds have gotten worse with their lack of positive moves this offseason.

Cleveland indians [sic]

This franchise has never finished higher than 3rd place, has had only one winning season in its history, and is coming off a 99-loss season. It seems fitting, then, that new ownership has seen fit to make the team as unassuming as possible, giving its name a lowercase "i" and moving it to the home of the Unassuming Hall of Fame (and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I guess), Cleveland, Ohio. Benny Velazquez and Fonzie Kirk have both departed from last year's team, and the franchise has not made any major league acquisitions. Therefore, I declare that Cleveland will win the division! No, actually, I'd be astonished if they managed to keep their heads above water long enough to win 60 games. Their best hitter last year, Alexander Delaney, had a career year that you can bet he will not repeat. They let Chris Thompson, a guy with a 5.23 career ERA, make 33 starts, something they seem determined to do again this year. And the plan seems to be to put Corky Whitehead back at SS, where he looked positively awful last year, as he appears to still be their best option up the middle. Good luck with this one, Cleveland fans.

Trenton Thunders

Now here's a franchise on a downward spiral. After finishing in dead last each of the first 4 years of the team's existence, they pulled themselves up by their boot straps, finishing in 3rd in Season 5, then finishing with 93 wins in Season 6 and nabbing a Wild Card spot. In Season 7, they won 92 games and secured another Wild Card spot. Then they won 67 games. Then 60. Two years later, they won 58. And here we are today, back where the franchise started: mired in last place. Unfortunately, things don't look a whole lot better this year. Manny Martin, Carlos Diaz, Kirk Kirby, and Daniel MacDougal all walked this past offseason, and their only major free agent signing is Pedro Batista, who is coming off a career year with Seattle. They did promote Vasco Romano, a catcher who won't wow with his bat but calls a great game and may be in the hunt for a few Gold Gloves in his career. But other than that, and the Rule 5 selection of roster-filler Eddie Wingo (who Nashville didn't even want back), Trenton doesn't look like they'll be threatening Fargo or Helena anytime soon. This will be another season of doom and gloom for the Pride of New Jersey.


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

One of the easiest predictions I'll make all year, with the exception of the order of #3 and #4 (though really, considering these teams will be miles away from Wild Card spots, that won't matter much this year). Fargo is still the same great team and remains a favorite to at least reach the NLCS for the eighth time in franchise history this year. Helena should remain in the hunt for the Wild Card even with the team's failings this offseason, though whether they will actually get it is up to them. Trenton finishes ahead of Cleveland because they already looked like a better team last year that got merely unlucky. Look for the Thunders to finish out of the cellar for the first time in 5 years this season, though 65 wins should be considered the ceiling for this team in Season 12.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Season 12 outlook: AL West

Salem Witch Hunters

Salem hasn't been a truly competitive franchise, even in the now-perennially weak AL West, in quite a while. The team is coming off a division crown in Season 11 (their first in 7 years) but with a pathetic 78-84 record that the team (and the entire division) should be ashamed of. Fans of the franchise surely did not want to enter the playoffs for the first time in 7 seasons like that, and Salem management has done all they could to at least help the team finish above .500 this year. House was cleaned, with wastes of roster space like Rudy Grey, Domingo Calvo, William James, and Wayne Tanner all getting the boot. A couple of useful parts, namely Sammy Lee and Andrew Page, were also jettisoned, but their departures made way for a wave of free agent signings. The team's prize acquisition, T.J. Harding, should be immediately inserted around the middle of the order and provide the lineup with a solid anchor. Clay Henderson is usually reliable as a platoon catcher. Shep Rudolph and Jumbo Appier both bring quality relief skills to the table, while Gordon Graves is a work in progress who nonetheless could be useful in long relief or as a mopup man. Wiki James has consistently fared well in the minors and could be an intriguing bat off the bench for the Witch Hunters as well. Salem failed to make a true marquee move this winter (unless you count Harding) but has clearly gotten better, both in the bullpen and at a few key positions, and I have little doubt that they will crack .500 this year. They still have a long way to go if they want to advance deep into the playoffs, but making the postseason is half the battle, and the Witch Hunters have bettered their chances this offseason.


A team that would have finished fourth in the North and South (and would have been one precious game away from doing so in the East), Arizona nevertheless finished second in the hopelessly weak AL West last year with 73 wins, and only 5 games out of first. Not about to take their failings lying down, the BUTCHERS have taken steps this offseason to win now, seeking to leapfrog an also-improved Salem team for the spoils of the division. They did suffer a few key losses in pitchers Bingo Baker, Bob Howard, and Jumbo Appier, but they may have improved upon last year's staff anyway, signing Omar Siqueiros, a much-touted young arm who curiously flamed out after an excellent first full season. If he is able to live up to his potential in Arizona, he will be a steal at only $6 million a year for five years. Arizona will also be harvesting their talented crop of prospects this year, calling up several youngsters for their rookie seasons. No fewer than three former first-rounders (Rex Billingsley, Hal Burns, and Rondell Kirwan) will be starting the year in the big leagues, and all three will be called upon to bring this team above .500. Jesse Guerrero and Tom McMillan are two players who likely won't be competing for Rookie of the Year honors this year, but could contribute positively to the team's efforts. The BUTCHERS' theme this year is clearly youth, and the team's reliance on their young talent could prove to be either a blessing or a curse. But either way, a year closer to their Season 10 division-winning 82-80 season seems more likely than a repeat of last year's debacle.

Anaheim Anabolic Amigos

One look at the initials of this franchise's new name tells you all you need to know about it. Indeed, this team has looked like a AAA organization for the better part of the last 10 years, and last year's 67-95 finish left a sour taste in the mouths of fans in Honolulu, the city where the team unsuccessfully moved in an attempt to rejuvenate interest in the franchise. The team is back on the mainland now, but after 7 straight losing seasons, little fanbase to speak of, a depleted minor league system, and discord in the clubhouse, this team has got a long road to walk if it wants to get back to respectability. The people of Anaheim seem to be cautiously optimistic, buying into the new management's plan for the future but recognizing that it may take a long time to restore the team to prominence. A couple of warm bodies were signed this winter (Antonio Reid and Matt Leius) but the focus this offseason was clearly on the future, with the team pouring its resources into a new scouting department, new coaches, and a new state-of-the-art training and health facility aimed at keeping the team healthy and on the field. Perhaps it's one of the first truly smart offseasons this team has had in a while, though only time will tell if the new GM will be any good at retooling a completely hopeless franchise. For now, however, the smart money is on Anaheim to finish nowhere near the top of the division this year... but in 5 years? We'll see.

Vancouver Vacuums

It's still hard to say exactly where this franchise went wrong. The boneheaded loss of Alex Guerrero last season still smarts, and could be a big reason for the continued losing. I said last year that I would eat my hat if the team repeated the previous season's 95-loss performance, but they went and did exactly that, finishing with a 67-95 record for the second year in a row despite winning more than 90 games each of the previouw 5 years (anyone know of a good hat sauce?). The fan outrage forced them to flee north of the border, where new management seeks to turn this team around fast. Adam Podsednik, J.R. Spooneybarger, Darrel Prince, Gordon Graves, and Samuel Calderon all contributed to the team's losing ways last year, so management left them behind in the States this winter. Peter Whang was also given his outright release despite having a decent ERA last year. Their replacements will likely be cheap Rule 5 roster fillers; Chien-Ming Pong actually has decent power, but Trevor Stahoviak, Deivi Quinones, and Octavio Cedeno are clearly just keeping roster spots warm while the team looks for long-term solutions. I may sound like a broken record, but despite not making any major improvements this year, I fail to see how a team with stars like Jim Byrne, Eli Mercado, and Gold Glover Tyler Torres can't at least be remotely competitive, which is why I will give them the benefit of the doubt... again. I'm not counting on them to be in the division title hunt this year, but there is no reason why this team can't finish comfortably in 3rd.


1. Salem
2. Arizona
3. Vancouver
4. Anaheim

Salem and Arizona both look improved this year, but Salem's improvements are more of a sure thing. Arizona is relying on young players, which as I said above, could help them or haunt them. I would rather toss my support toward Salem, a franchise that made smart free agent signings and is steadily moving upward. Arizona may well win the division, but I'll believe it when I see it. Meanwhile, Vancouver seems to have the pieces in place to avoid another 90-loss season, but a complete failure to make any consequential moves this offseason means they will be firmly in the bottom half of the division no matter what. Anaheim will probably finish fourth, and any wins this year will likely be gravy for them.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Season 12 outlook: AL South

Tampa Bay Thunder

Tampa Bay had every right to come into this season confident in their chances at a successful title defense; in taking down juggernauts Syracuse and Fargo last October en route to the franchise's 2nd World Championship, the Thunder showed that even with only 89 regular-season wins, they were a durable and well-built team. A such, Tampa Bay's moves this offseason weren't so much sweeping changes as they were minor tweaks and adjustments to an already meticulously-assembled franchise. Longtime reliever Trey Borland, easily the franchise's career saves leader with 187, was allowed to ride off into the sunset after several disappointing seasons, and former All-Star Rafael Cervantes was dealt to Austin. The team also declined the option of Jayson Crawford, but other than those losses, Tampa Bay has kept last year's core intact, with a few additions. Einar Gil, a touted Dominican prospect, will make his rookie debut this year after being acquired in a trade, and outstanding Kabul native Efrain Matsumoto will play his first full ML season as well. C.J. Tucker has a bit of power and may be used in a utility role. As per usual, Tampa Bay doesn't look like a 100-win team-- their team ERA of 4.63 was about league-average last year and their .798 OPS was solid if not quite elite-- but they have very few glaring weaknesses and might go deep into the playoffs again this year... if they win the division, of course.

Nashville Nala Bears

For perhaps the first time in franchise history, Nala Bear fans have something to be excited about. With zero playoff appearances under their belt and zero seasons of at least 85 wins, it's no surprise that Nashville has had a hard time drumming up fan interest in recent years. But that is very likely to change this year, as the team is coming off a well-earned 82-80 season (their first above .500 in 10 years) and what would have been an opportunity to claim the AL South crown had it not been for a devestating late-season collapse. Nashville is nothing if not young, and the players to watch this season are all in their 20's. Perennial MVP candidate Ben Morton and Season 11 sensations Tino House and Wilfredo Aquino will continue to lead the offense, but they'll have a full season of help from Gustavo Medrano, who showed much promise in 360 at-bats last year. The cornerstone of this team is starting pitching, with Max Mateo, Andres Park, and Bruce Fuller looking to improve upon their Season 11 numbers, but the real story this year might be Dan Siebert, a former #1 overall pick whose studly minor league numbers may force a midseason callup this year. The team didn't make any major offseason moves, but with a franchise built on youth development, free agents may not be necessary at this time. Nashville has all the talent in the world, but this season will tell whether their players are ready for primetime.

New Orleans Nighthawks

After two straight seasons of missing the playoffs, including a woeful 75-87 season last year (a franchise worst), New Orleans ownership went out and got themselves a shiny new GM and a shiny new name on the uniforms in an attempt to turn the corner and get this team back to the playoffs. With the new GM's trade of future Hall of Famer Steve Minor to Colorado Springs, the name of the game seems to be "re-tooling." The winter saw a slew of other names take their last walk down Bourbon Street as well, including Ronnie Payton (an All-Star coming off one of the greatest defensive years for a 2B in history), former All-Star Bobby Perez, former Gold Glover Bo Bailey, and a bunch of other guys who weren't too helpful to New Orleans last year (including Clyde Burns, Hunter Powell, Clay Henderson, Carmen Franco, and Max Padilla). Sergio Hull and Donaldo Torrealba were released outright, and then the signings began. Alex Escuela has had limited ML experience, but is a good defensive catcher with a bit of a bat. Bob Stewart won two World Series rings with Fargo and could come back to prominence in New Orleans. Frankie Herman and Vince Baker are both way over the hill but might have something to offer for the bullpen. Hunter Healy and Barry Gibson may be looked upon to fill SP roles this year, and Rob Michaels brings a decent bat, a World Series ring, and a Gold Glove to the mix. John Wolf, acquired in the Minor deal, looks to really break out this year. Overall, it may be hard to judge the Nighthawks because the team has undergone such a radical change, but the problem of age has been dealt with and the new management has made some relatively shrewd moves to improve upon last year's disaster. Losing Minor will be a big problem for the Nighthawks, but they shouldn't be totally counted out just yet and could improve upon last year's win total with luck.

Austin Tumbleweeds

For years, fans of this franchise prayed to be able to escape the yearly mediocrity that befell them, constantly finishing around .500 and not making any noise in their sole playoff appearance. Well, they got their wish, as for the past three years, this franchise has gone from mediocre to frighteningly awful, with three straight seasons of more than 100 losses. Unfortunately, fans might have to pray extra hard to escape the mire that will be Season 12, as the team has done precious little to improve the franchise's short-term chances. Karim Franco, one of the team's only exciting players from last year, is gone, as is two-time Gold Glove 1B Reggie Bowman. Miguel Pena was claimed off waivers as a stopgap, but the only really interesting move made by the Tumbleweeds this winter was a deal for Rafael Cervantes, whose two World Series rings and loads of talent will be wasted on this team. Perhaps management is counting on their prospects to help them in the future, and to be fair, they do have a few intriguing names down on the farm. But if Austin doesn't get their act together soon, they may soon have some true Tumbleweed mascots at Dell Diamond, because the fans won't be there forever if the franchise keeps losing.


1. Nashville
2. Tampa Bay
3. New Orleans
4. Austin

The only certainty here is Austin finishing in the cellar, and probably eclipsing 100 losses for the fourth year in a row. New Orleans projects to finish third, but it's hard to see how the new team chemistry will serve them this year, and they may surprise some people; I do stand firm with my prediction for them, though, as they still seem very far behind Nashville and Tampa Bay, both of whom look like good bets to win between 90 and 100 games this year. For now, I will tip my hat to Nashville, a team that had some bad luck last year and that is continuously adding young talent to the roster from their plentiful minor league system. Tampa Bay is a good team, but in taking a nonchalant approach to their offseason they risked leaving open a few vulnerable aspects to their game, especially pitching. Of the AL East, AL South, and AL West, this division seems to be far and away the most likely bet to achieve a Wild Card berth, though beating out the AL North teams is still going to be a tall order.

Season 12 outlook: AL East

Chicago Wind Tunnel

That Chicago (née Philadelphia) won the AL East last season is no great surprise. While I predicted them to come in 2nd last year, I also noted that it was very possible that they would finish 1st, commenting that age was their main problem (a problem that they overcame). What did surprise was how well they did-- an 89-win season isn't spectacular, but it is a far cry better than many people expected from a franchise that only won 72 games in Season 10 and didn't make many offseason moves. So which year was the fluke, last year or the year before? The new Chicago management decided not to find out, opting instead to give the franchise a new look that it so painfully needed and transforming the team this winter. Potential Hall of Famer Rich Meyers is gone and is expected to retire if he doesn't get a new contract this spring. So are Alfredo Casey, Ramon Shigetoshi, and Samuel Dellaero, players who were beginning to serve as little more than wrinkles for an old team. One-time MVP candidate Paul Wang is gone, too, having lost much of the devestating power that once made him so formidable; he was traded for Harry Lunar, a young project who has the potential to be a pretty good starting pitcher. 1B Charlie Thomas was dealt for more pitching help in Alex Meng (who the franchise then oddly left open to the Rule 5 draft, allowing him to be snatched away by Colorado Springs) and the inconsistent Rafael Romero was traded to Jacksonville for youngsters Brian Biddle and Yorvit Diaz. 2-time Silver Slugger CF Julio Tavarez and former All-Star Stevie Forbes constituted the team's major free agency acquisitions, further showing their commitment to youth. It will be interesting to see how well this team performs with so many new faces, but a transition year might be unavoidable here. Two of the team's top four hitters from last season are gone, and the team's pitching has been gutted (and wasn't great to begin with). The new faces will be the key to the team's success, although the relative weakness of the rest of the division won't hurt either.

Durham Doormats

The lights are on, but no one seems to be home. Check that... the lights aren't even on, and the cobwebs have descended on Durham Bulls Athletic Park, where the only thing active this winter has been the fanbase voicing its displeasure on a daily basis. After winning the team's first-ever division crown in Season 10 with a surprising 89-73 season, the team backslid horribly into a 77-85 campaign last year. Apparantly content with a second-place finish, the Doormats have done virtually nothing to improve the team this year, leaving fans to wonder whether management cares at all. Key players Bob Stewart and Fergie Gray were allowed to walk, and the team has replaced them with... sock puppets? Scare crows? No one really knows, but it certainly isn't free agents. Durham has poured more money into its prospect budget this year, perhaps signalling that the team is more interested in the future than the present, but for a team that won the division only two years ago, the sight of white flags seems like a cruel gesture to the fans. If the Doormats don't make some kind of move to improve their situation in a hurry, they might just finally live up to their team name this season.

Atlanta Red Tide

Young fans barely remember the halcyon days of this franchise, when they would routinely make the playoffs and even managed to bring home two World Series titles. Sadly, those days are in the rear view mirror now, but management in Atlanta is making an effort to restore the franchise to its former glory. Pitching was a major concern last year, so the team sought to bolster their efforts on the rubber. All-Star Jorel Austin was wisely traded at the height of his value for Don Li, who performed poorly last year but has some great tools and is only 23. Austin will be replaced by Rudy Jameson, another live young arm who should develop into an important piece of the puzzle in Atlanta. The young Victor Rijo, acquired in another deal this offseason, will likely crack the rotation and is hoping to help immediately, while Jorge Figureoa will likely be called up to start this season as well. It's also do-or-die time for Chet Spencer, as management has openly said that he must live up to his hype (and his contract) this season if he wants to keep his job in Atlanta. The Red Tide's pitching problems aren't nearly solved, however, so the team decided to focus on improving its offense as well this winter. Charlie Thomas and Kennie Borland are both big upgrades at the plate, and Rey Rossy was also acquired as the team waits for Robin Risley to break into the majors (which should happen sometime this year). The Red Tide are far from a complete team, but they have made moves this offseason designed to at least catapult them into 2nd place. It may be several years before this team makes real waves in the AL, but for now, they are certainly heading in the right direction.

Toledo Addicts

This franchise has been a disaster from day 1. The team has finished under .500 in every year of its existence, ownership has changed more often than Diana Ross' outfits, and the franchise is coming off back-to-back 100-loss seasons. For a history like that, management seems awfully optimistic about this team's future, but maybe they have reason to be. Free agency losses gave the team six picks in the top 100 in last year's draft, and their system is now stocked with talent. Free agency losses this year include Jin Pan and Joshua Meyer-- not exactly crippling for the team. And while they traded away several pieces in Santiago Mercado, Felipe Rosario, Ryan Gonzales, and Connie Stynes, they have acquired loads of new talent. Trades have delivered them Jose Martin and Darin Newfield, both of whom will start this year and both of whom will be immense upgrades for the team. Meanwhile, the team has made a slew of free agent acquisitions, including Geraldo Domingo, Daniel Alexander, Andrew Page, Farmer Davis, and Pedro Balboa, constituting a total overhaul of Toledo's pitching this year and turning last season's weakness into a potential bright spot this year. Rule 5 selection Josias Ontiveros, a former 2nd-round pick, should also help with that mission. The team's few true pitching talents from last year remain, including Orber Torres (currently slotted in as the Opening Day starter) and Jesus Amezaga (an intriguing pitcher who will likely be tried in several roles this year). Management believes the team will be a winner in Season 15, and is looking to build up the franchise's talent base until then. The current veterans are keeping roster spots warm for future stars like Christian Lee, Houston Baptist, and Brian Sveum, and in a few years, this team might really be something to behold. But despite their improvements this season, it may be another long year for Toledo fans.


1. Chicago
2. Atlanta
3. Durham
4. Toledo

Chicago wins the division by default, given the amount of games they won it by last year and the fact that the teams below them haven't made sufficient improvements to pass them. Atlanta will pass the stagant Durham, though it may be closer than people think. Toledo has the biggest potential to surprise this year; there is virtually no way they'll win the division, but I wouldn't put it past them to have a surprise year given all the positive moves they've made. For now, though, I will be slotting them in 4th, and I will leave it up to them to surprise me.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Season 12 outlook: AL North

Another year, another season of Pine Tar baseball! Last season proved to be a whirlwind, with Tampa Bay taking home their 2nd World Series trophy by beating the heavily favored Fargo Wood Chippers in 6 games. This season is shaping up to be even more fierce and exciting, and as always, your favorite (and only) official league blog has preveiws for all 32 major league teams. Read on as we take a look at our first division, the AL North, which handily broke its own record for most wins by a single division last year, with the Syracuse Snow Pirates taking the division crown with a major league-record 121 wins.

Syracuse Snow Pirates

All has been mysteriously quiet out of Syracuse this winter. It does get mighty cold up there, but management has braved the snowstorms to acquire marquee players each of the past 2 years (namely Warren Hargrave in season 9 and Rob Lee in season 10). This year, however, the franchise has decided to hold off on making any major acquisitions, deciding to keep payroll lower this year and instead pour more money into their prospect signing efforts to ensure a bright future. The Snow Pirates weren't totally quiet, of course, dealing a member of last year's vaunted rotation, Jeffrey Rivera, to Jacksonville for Karl Shumaker, who is expected to replace the departed Vic Servet in center field. There has been a bit of an "out with the old" vibe this offseason, with the team seeing franchise mainstay Servet and veterans Alex Garrido, Willie Ayala, Don Wang, and Vince Baker all exiting Syracuse, but the team has made efforts to replace them by claiming Otis Hyers off waivers and announcing that stud prospects Omar Gabriel and Jose Moreno will likely find their way to the majors this year. The team has a bit of a new look, but the core of a roster that recorded an AL-record 3.22 team ERA last year (1st in the majors), an .831 OPS (3rd in the majors), and a .989 fielding percentage (2nd in the majors) is still around, making this look like another year of legitimate title hopes for the Snow Pirates.

Ottawa Otters

Otter management made it clear last year that anything other than 1st place would be considered a disappointment to their fans. Despite recording 104 wins, the 4th-highest total in the majors, Ottawa managed to disappoint, losing the North by a whopping 17 games (not much to be ashamed of with such a dominant Syracuse team in the division). Perhaps content to rest on their laurels, the Otters haven't made their usual effort to gain leverage in the arms (and bats) race that is ever-escalating in the AL North. Ottawa saw some tough losses, including MVP candidate Omar Siqueiros, durable #5 starter Jake Canseco, Stevie Forbes, and Esteban Dotel. No major free agency moves were made (other than the re-signing of their own players) but the Otters attempted to bolster their bullpen by dealing Juan Torres for Alex Ordonez and Clarence Cain, and they made an effort to fill their gap at SS by trading Vic Guzman to division rival Minnesota for Ossie Gibson. This year may be a true test of Otter management, as they try to prove that they can make winning moves and not merely rely on the players acquired by the last regime. After breaking out with 113 wins two years ago after taking over the franchise, ownership saw their victory total dip to 104 last year, and another decline may make fans worry that the current GM is merely weakening the team he inherited. In an AL North where any team can emerge at the top of the division, the Otters should be feeling the pressure of the fanbase this summer if they don't deliver.

Milwaukee Cream Citys

Milwaukee found themselves in the playoffs for the first time in 3 years last season, with the franchise's first-ever campaign of 100+ wins. They may have trouble reaching that plateau again after losing several of their key pieces this offseason to free agency. 4-time MVP Frank Martin, despite his season 10 neck injury and subsequent decline, is undoubtedly the Cream Citys' biggest loss after posting a .985 OPS last year. Julian Martinez's power will also likely be missed, but the departures of pitchers Zephyr Wasdin and Tim Juden will likely be even more of a hindrance if the team can't find suitable replacements within the organization. Milwaukee did find some hitting help in free agency, signing Jorge Rincon and slugger Kenny Beard, so offensively the team should be at least similar to what we saw last year. Rule 5 pick Miguel Quixote should also help out defensively in a big way. But it will be the pitching that should be the most interesting twist in the equation. The top 3 of AL Rookie of the Year Malik DeJean, Placido Fernandez, and Walt Stark seems all but assured, but DeJean and Fernandez may have pitched over their heads last year and Stark isn't getting any younger. The most worrisome positions are #4 and #5, which don't seem to exist on the Cream Citys' current roster. They have a few guys in AAA like prospects Orlando Gutierrez and Collin Hardtke, as well as journeymen William Hiro and Julian Hernandez, who could compete for those spots, but Milwaukee would surely feel safer if they had two more reliable options on the roster. The fate of the bottom of their rotation could be the difference between the Cream Citys being a playoff team or an also-ran this year.

Minnesota PeaceFrog

Last year was a disappointment for Minnesota, plain and simple. The franchise's 86-76 record, while sturdy, was tied for the lowest in franchise history, and the team missed the playoffs for just the second time ever, finishing dead last in the AL North for the first time. It wasn't particularly close, either, with the team finishing 35 games behind the Snow Pirates and 17 games back of the Otters and Cream Citys. The PeaceFrog looked woefully outmanned last year in a deep AL North, and much of it had to do with pitching-- the PeaceFrog's 4.88 team ERA placed them below the curve in the majors, and not even their team OPS of .823 (4th in the majors) could save them. It's a surprise, then, that Minnesota seems to have done so little to improve their pitching. They did dump some underperformers in Wesley Quinn and Willie Webber, but they didn't sign anybody to replace them. Some of their problems stemmed from Blake Robinson missing the year after undergoing elbow surgery, but he can't be trusted to put up his past numbers after sustaining that type of injury. An overall lack of stamina and ability will hurt the PeaceFrog, as they didn't have anyone pitch at least 200 innings last season and only had one pitcher on the whole roster (the aging Phil Shaw) manage an ERA under 4. They may be hoping their offense will save them, but they allowed Gary Dolan and his .505 slugging percentage to walk, and their big acquisition this year was Vic Guzman, a capable player who nonetheless has only 119 ML at-bats to his name and cost them CF/SS Ossie Gibson. Overall, unless Minnesota's pitching becomes a revelation and their hitting manages to outdo their Season 11 numbers, the PeaceFrog will again be looking up at the rest of the division this season.


1. Syracuse
2. Milwaukee
3. Ottawa
4. Minnesota

As the great Clubber Lang once said, "My prediction? Pain!" The AL North looks to be tough once again this year, though curiously, it wouldn't be surprising to see each team lower their win totals from last year. Syracuse seems like the only lock to reach 100 wins (as long as everybody stays healthy), especially as they return the top 3 AL Cy Young finishers, the AL MVP, and the AL Gold Glove winners at SS and 2B. Minnesota seems virtually destined to finish 4th this year after a disappointing offseason. The more interesting fight will be between the #2 and #3 teams, especially if there's a legitimate Wild Card challenger from another division (thus making it even more vital not to fall behind). I give the edge to Milwaukee because their biggest question mark, the bottom of their rotation, has a good chance to be ably filled by their minor league talent. Ottawa's problems cut a bit deeper, and they haven't done enough this year to make up for their relative shortcomings. Anything can happen in this division, but unless the Otters have several surprises or Milwaukee really drops the ball with their pitching, I am fairly confident in this prediction.