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.
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.
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.