Monday, March 29, 2010

AL East Season 15 Preview

Season 14 Recap: The Katanas won their 9th straight AL East title, although D.C. kept it fairly close and claimed the first wildcard spot. Rochester and Pittsburgh both finished over .500, with the Allegheny's improving by 19 wins. In the playoffs, D.C. was upset in the play-in round by Boise, while Cleveland lost the ALCS to Jackson. In the major awards, D.C.'s Victor Morales won his second MVP, and teammate Rob Workman took both the ROY and Cy Young awards.

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 1st, Team ERA - 2nd, Fielding % - T 7th
Sayonara: SP Bucky Alston, SP Edwin Hill
New Faces: none
Rookie Possibilities: C Dizzy Johnson (a Season 10 2nd-rounder) looks like he's won the vR side of the platoon. Season 9 2nd-rounder Alfredo Lopez has a utility role. Thomas Simpkins, a Season 11 1st-rounder, takes over in CF with Bill Priest moving to 2B.
OUTLOOK: The Katanas did some impressive reloading during the offseason, adding rookies Johnson and Simpkins. They'll have their usual fearsome attack and solid pitching, lead by SP's Benitez, Brocail and Torres and closer Roger Lawson. Watch for MVP-caliber seasons from Jacque Fitzgerald (again) and 1B Luke Joyner. Likely finish: 2nd

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 3rd, Team ERA - 4th, Fielding % - T 10th
Sayonara: RP Johnny Whitaker, SP Ray Barnes, LR Luke Moreno
New Faces: RP Alex Diaz
Rookie Possibilities: Season 10 2nd-round pick Brutus McKinley has won the starting C job. Season 8 IFA Alex Baek has nailed down a rotation spot. Rule 5'er Jeff Smith gets a LR job, and Larry Sutton (Season 9 2nd rounder) moves into a setup role. Season 11 1st-rounder (#2 overall), SP Omar Carrasco, will almost certainly get the call shortly, and OF Mark Gang (Season 11 IFA) is ready for ML duty.
OUTLOOK: I think this is the year D.C. finally overtakes Cleveland...they'll probably need a big contribution from Omar Carrasco to do it, and 26 games into the season, Carrasco still sits in AAA - what's up with that. Season 14 phenom Rob Workman is off to a great start, as is their top slugger, Eric Brantley. Reigning MVP Victor Morales has started slowly, but you can bet he'll heat up. Likely finish: 1st

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 2nd, Team ERA - 13th, Fielding % - T 2nd
Sayonara: RP Randy Seneca, SP Kevin Brooks, CF Wally Reid
New Faces: LR David Valdes, RP Oswaldo Escuela, SP Edwin Hill, SP Hector Martin, 2B Alfonso Cordero
Rookie Possibilities: Season 11 1st-rounder (#10 overall), SP Rich Grace, joins the rotation.
OUTLOOK: The Phantoms have a diversified offense (9 players with double figure HR's last year) - that will help soften the loss of Wally Reid. 3rd-year man Jesus Gomez is a budding star at SS - this may be the monster breakout year for him (nothing wrong with his first 2 seasons, though). Pitching is where Rochester must improve if they're going to challenge the Big 2 of the division - rookie Rich Grace is a nice addition, but I don't see their free-agent signings making a difference Likely finish: 4th

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 6th, Team ERA - 9th, Fielding % - T 2nd
Sayonara: LR Tike Porter, RP Bo Thomas
New Faces: none
Rookie Possibilities: Season 13 #1 (#5 overall) Gene Cuddyer gets the call at 1B. Season 11 IFA Hector Colome has won a bullpen job. AAA RF Joaquin Alvarez (Season 14 IFA) probably needs another minor leage season. AAA RP Louie Yang (Season 12 IFA) might see big league action this year.
OUTLOOK: I really like their front 3 starters Wanatabe, Cerda, and Cruz; they were good last year and I think they'll be better this year. Rookie 1B Gene Cuddyer has probably been called up a season early, but it'll be a big plus if he can hold his own - he should still improve a lot over the course of the season. Kaz Lim's stamina is diminishing quickly, but he should still be able to deliver good numbers. These guys have more improvement coming this year...too bad they're in a division with Cleveland and D.C. Likely finish: 3rd

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

NL East Season 15 Preview

Season 14 Recap: Burlington took its 3rd straight division title. The other teams were in various stages of rebuilding, although Indianapolis improved by 10 games. The NL East took home no major awards last season.


Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 9th, Team ERA - 9th, Fielding % - 11th
Sayonara: RP Don Lee
New Faces: 1B James Riggs, 3B Wes Phillips
Rookie Possibilities: Sammy Canseco, R.A. Everett, and Sammy Coronado join the LR/starter group. AAA SP Joaquin Polanco is ready should any of the startes falter.
OUTLOOK: Wes Phillips is getting long in the tooth, but he should still help an offense that was too reliant on COF's McDowell and Beckett. Lotta rookies joining the staff - that's not usually great news. Look for some uneven performances from the newbie pitchers. My guess is the lake Monsters will be about on par with last year...the question is whether someone can improve enough to overtake them. Likely finish: 1st

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 12th, Team ERA - 13th, Fielding % - T 4th
Sayonara: RP's Wolf Ellis and Lawrence Simpson, IF Ismael Lima, IF Brad Hart
New Faces: SP Cory Mitchell, 2B Tim Murray, LF John Li, RP Eric Langston
Rookie Possibilities: LR Richie Reuschel has made the roster. AAA IF Benji Cedeno and SP Efrain Zhang look like they could help at some point this year.
OUTLOOK: Could see a big jump in run production with Hart, Murray and Li on board. Mitchell will help the staff, but it will take some surprise big seasons from other pitchers for them to overhaul Burlington. Likely finish: 2nd

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 11th, Team ERA - 14th, Fielding % - 14th
Sayonara: C Lou Riley, CF Carlos Cairo, OF Harry Seguignol, OF Gary Goodwin.
New Faces: RP Russell Forest, RP Diego Martinez, 1B Sean Rakers, OF Omar Cruz
Rookie Possibilities: IF Charles Wakeland has a utility role. LF Garrett Fordham has the LF job, at least for now. Domingo Guillen has claimed a rotation spot. Relievers R.J. Abbey and Buzz Beck open in the 'pen.
OUTLOOK: With the end of the Goodwin era in Toledo, a step backward and more rebuilding ins likely. There are still some quality bats here that could bring good prospects in trade: watch for C Ted Stein, 1B Rafael Carreras and IF Robert Scarsone to be in new unis sometime this year. Likely finish: 4th

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 7th, Team ERA - 15th, Fielding % - 16th
Sayonara: OF's Juan Rivera and Elroy Gant
New Faces: none
Rookie Possibilities: 3B Luis Diaz gets a shot after only a year in the minors. Rule V slugger Miguel Colon gets to see what he can do as a big league DH. Carl Reed will be a backup OF. Fonzie Tessmer starts the season in the rotation.
OUTLOOK: Didn't do as much in the offseason as Jacksonville, but I think they'll still improve. They have a respectable offense, and rookie 3B Diaz could help. While you'd have to say they're still very much in rebuilding mode, their top prospects are moving up and they shouldn't be more than a season away from making a significant move. Likely finish: 3rd

Thursday, March 18, 2010

AL West Season 15 Preview

Season 14 Recap: Boise won the division by just 3 games over Portland; San Diego was just 5 back in Belle's tightest division. Season 13's champ, Salem, dropped by an astounding 45 wins with basically the same team last year. The Posse has won the division 4 of the last 6 years.


Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 11th, Team ERA - 12th, Fielding % - 12th
Sayonara: 1B Robinson Bird, Util Rock Doster, RP's Barney Jacquez and Orlando Pujols, C Edwards Ross, 2B Mariano Pulido, Util Yamil Mondesi
New Faces: SP Humberto Urbina, RF Harry Rodrigo, C Diego Rios, RP Mickey Hermanson, 3B Jumbo Barry, CF Tony Saitou
Rookie Possibilities: Andrew Corino (Season 10 #1 - 13 overall) could win the starting SS job - they need a defensive upgrade there and he's the best bet. If that doesn't work, Season 9's 1st-rounder Hugh Rivera (AAA) could get the call. Season 11 #1 Wayne Evans looks to have won a spot in the rotation.
OUTLOOK: The Posse doesn't have a dominant hitter. Still, they had 11 players hit double-figure homers last year. Rick Clontz is their most reliable table-setter (.365 OBP); unfortunately, he's a bit of a liability in CF. LF Gil Chang is probably the best power threat...he's capable of bettering last year's 22 HR's and 57 RBI. Look for SP P.T. Navarro to put it together at age 29. He's got Cy Young-caliber stuff, but other than a few flashes of brilliance in Season 13, has yet to harness it. Milton Starr is also capable of better numbers than he's put up in his first 5 years. If the Posse gets breakout seasons from those 2 plus decent performance from rookie Evans, their pitching could be vastly improved. Their bullpen is nothing special and could really use a late-inning stopper. Likely finish: ?

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 13th, Team ERA - 8th, Fielding % - T 1oth
Sayonara: C William Katou, SS Fred Bailey
New Faces: RP Doug Brown, 1B Jin Lee, LF Roland Piatt, 3B Jung Cho, SP's Socks Cammack and Vance Scutaro
Rookie Possibilities: Season 12 IFA Desi Guillen (C) appears to have made the roster. A pair of 2B join him: Victor Miller, Season 13's overall #1, is up (perhaps a season early), as is Season 12's #1, Destin Sellers. CF Fernando Cordero (Season 11 2nd-rounder) also gets a shot. The staff gets a couple of fresh young faces in Butch Daniels (Season 11 supplemental pick) and Tyrone St. Clair (Season 10 supplemental) - both probably slated for long relief. AAA SP Augie Fujiwara (Season 11 IFA) could possibly help this season.
OUTLOOK: It's wholesale rookie promotion time in Portland. The 2 best ones, Miller and Sellers, are probably up a season early and are likely to struggle. The Grillers have a couple of emerging stars on offense (1B Brant Cooney and SS Frank Suzuki), one average-ish contributor (RF Miguel Camacho), and the rest of the offense is a pretty motley crew. The rotation is respectable - the addition of Vance Scutaro should help. Doug Brown should also be a big boost to the bullpen. Likely finish: ?

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 16th, Team ERA - 7th, Fielding % - T 14th
Sayonara: none
New Faces: 3B Midre Ordonez, RP Darren Gardner, SP Carlos Colon, RP Horacio Valdes
Rookie Possibilities: Rule V 1B Daniel Unroe seems to have won the 1B job, fellow Rule V'er Peter Lyon will see action at 2B, Juan Carrasco (Season 10 IFA) and Jimmie Ibanez (Season 12 IFA) will share time at short, and Pascual Castro (Season 11 2nd-rounder) and Livan Rivera (Season 10 IFA) will both see time in right. AAA RF Stan Burnett likely needs another year.
OUTLOOK: The Surf Babies need more punch on offense. DH Lewis Paquette lead the team with 15 homers last year, and there are no candidates to better that mark by much. LF Diego Coronado is capable of decent numbers, and Midre Ordonez ould be a welcome addition, but no other spots in the lineup inspire much confidence. Pitching's another story. Fernando Nieto, Mike Bass and Ernest LaRocca lead a capable rotation; new closer Darren Gardner joins Sal Speier at the top of an unglamorous but effective bullpen. Likely finish: ?

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 9th, Team ERA - 16th, Fielding % - 16th
Sayonara: SS Miguel Ordaz, RP Wolf Drew, RP Darwin Jones, RP Mariano Guerrero, SP Damian Wang, 1B Willie Magadan
New Faces: IF Ismael Lima, LR Jon Spence, RF York Wilson, SP Charles Matsumoto, C Lewis Bell
Rookie Possibilities: Mark Liverman (Season 11 supplemental pick) will get lots of AB's against righties, probably at 1B. AAA RF Ray Krause (Season 11's #1) is nearly ready. We're betting Season 12 #1 (6th overall), SP Ernest Terrell, is an early callup.
OUTLOOK: This team is going to score more runs, despite the move to a neutral ballpark. There's no way C Brad Anderson is going to OPS .647 again, and Lewis Bell wil help against lefties. Leonardo Hardy and Carlos Escuela are 2 of the best young offensive infielders around. Jose Vargas and Alex Paniagua are still dangerous. The question is whether the staff can rebound from last year's disaster. The rotation, starting with Matsumoto, should be better. The other 4 are almost certain to improve on their ERA's from last year (in the 5's, 6's and 7's). The 'pen's nothing special but I would expect most of them to better last year's numbers (especially Johnny Wood and his 9.42 from a year ago). Likely finish: ?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

NL West Season 15 Preview

Season 14 Recap: Oakland won the division by 17 games en route to its 2nd WS Championship (first was in Season 4). Las Vegas improved by 6 wins (to 96), but lost in the division play-in round. San Jose improved by 4 games, while Fresno took a step back by 9 games. Vegas' John Li won the NL MVP, while Oakland's Gary Ramsay took the Cy Young.

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 2nd, Team ERA - 1st, Fielding % - T 1st
Sayonara: RP's Joe Hodges, Patsy White, Russell Forest; SP Kyle Bradshaw, OF Vinny Zhang
New Faces: RP's Nipsey Parnell, Tike Porter, Orlando Pujols; OF/1B Rafael Machado, 3B Frank Nicholson, IF Mitch Hall
Rookie Possibilities: RP's Brad Matusz (Season 12 #1 pick) and Geronimo Guzman (Rule 5) could make the roster. AAA C Alex Martin (Season 12 IFA) could contribute but there's no room for him.
OUTLOOK: Zhang will be missed, but the offensive nucleus is intact: RF Joe Rivera, LF Wilfredo Feliz, 1B Erubiel Maduro, C J.T. Burns, and SS William Kwon all OPS'd above .840 last year. The Surenos' repeat chances probably hinge on the fortunes of the 2-5 starters: Bailey Rolls, Jumbo Vargas, and Brad Matusz were all excellent last season (all had ERA's of 3.02 or less) and will need to repeat those preformances. They'll likely be good enough. Likely finish: 1st

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 5th, Team ERA -3rd, Fielding % - 12th
Sayonara: RP Eric Riley, OF Nerio Johnstone, LF John Li
New Faces: none
Rookie Possibilities: Junior Torres got a cup of coffee last season and joins an already-excellent bullpen. They have a pair of starters in AAA who might help this season: Season 12 IFA Luis Cortes and Season 10 #1 pick (28 overall) Damon Ramsey.
OUTLOOK: Li was far and away their top run producer - no making up for that loss without a major trade. Catchers Brendan Keeler and Bill Wengert both hit over .300 - is one of them trade bait for a slugging OF or 1B? This would be a very good time for a comeback by RF Hughie Bruskie - his HR's fell to 16 last year (from 33, 48, and 36 his first 3 years). Vegas' pitching was A+ last year and there's no reason to expect a falloff. Their starting 5 (Yamamoto, Jensen, Santiago, Maxwell and Miyakazi) all had sub 3.50 ERA's, and closer Juan Gomez (94 saves in the last 2 seasons) could be the best in the biz. Likely finish: 2nd (and could make it closer if they can add a 100-RBI bat)

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 13th, Team ERA - 10th, Fielding % - T 7th
Sayonara: SP Alex Cruz, RF York Wilson, 2B Tim Murray
New Faces: CF Charles Perez, IF Brad Hart,
Rookie Possibilities: Mickey Maxwell (Season 7 2nd-rounder) takes over at 1B, Davey Santayana (Season 10 1st-rounder) gets a shot in RF, and Rule Fiver Reid Rey gets the call in the bullpen. AAA SP Jon Cosby (Season 11 1st-round pick) could possibly help this season.
OUTLOOK: The Bees need to score some more runs - between the free agent signings, the rookies, and the likelihood of a bounce-back season from C Derek Walker, they have a shot. They had some great pitching performances last year - swingman Albert Ortiz (5 wins, 5 saves, 2.42), closer Adam Lieber (24-of-29 saves, 2.47), SP Craig Hague (5 wins, 2.87 ERA despite suffering another injury), and SP Carl Benson (9 wins, 3.08) stand out. A nice improvement is possible but there are a lot of "if's". Likely finish: 3rd

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 14th, Team ERA - 11th, Fielding % - T 1st
Sayonara: 1B Hanley Woods, RP Dwight Long,
New Faces: RF Juan Rivera
Rookie Possibilities: Rule 5'er Edgardo Vazquez looks like he's nailed down one of the starting infield jobs. Season 12 2st-rounder (#4 overall), LF Phillip Cooke, will probably get the call early and is a likely ROY candidate. Season 11 #1 (also 4 overall), SP Kennie Frascatore, has one of the livest arms in Belle and is ML-ready. He's also a likely ROY candidate. AAA RP's Chris Joyce and Magglio Uribe, are more marginal prospects but could be pushed into ML duty.
OUTLOOK: Things are looking up in Fresno with the arrival of high first rounders Phillip Cooke and Kennie Frascatore. Both are exceptional prospects - both could contend for ROY. They join a core group of young vets (C Jacob Nomura, LF Ernest Farr, and RF David Whitehead) that could lead the Grizzlies into contention...maybe soon, but not now. They still have too much work to do on the staff, although if they can coax a decent year out of Terry Pote, they could challenge San Jose for third. Likely finish: 4th

Sunday, March 14, 2010

AL North Season 15 Preview

Season 14 Recap: Cincinnati skunked the division, winning 93 to finish 26 up on runnerups Augusta and Madison (now Buffalo), while Columbus started tearing down and won only 58. The division brought home no major awards. The Waste Managers won their first-round playoff series against Nashville (3-0), but lost in the second round to eventual AL Champ Jackson (3-1).
Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 7th, Team ERA - 6th, Fielding % - t 4th
Sayonara: the whole crew is back
New Faces: no trades or FA signings
Rookie Possibilities: Andy Newman appears to have nailed down the #4 or #5 starter job. Season 11 IFA Al Solano (LF) and Season 12 #1 pick Matty Maduro (RP) are ready to contribute.
OUTLOOK: Cincy boasts a nucleus of excellent hitters in their prime years. 2B Carlos Pineiro (.316/25/81, 42 SB) may have had the best season of any leadoff hitter (I'm guessing he hit leadoff) last year. 4 players had 94+ RBI, lead by Carlos Cairo (.289/32/110). Carlos Javier has front-of-the-rotation stuff; the rest of the rotation is solid but not spectacular. The bullpen gets by on quantity of arms rather than outstanding talent, although Ashley (injured), Gonzalez, Lowry and Valentin all had very good seasons last year. Likely finish: 1st

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 12th, Team ERA -15th, Fielding % - t 6th
Sayonara: SP Turner Cromer, RP Oswaldo Escuela, 1B Larry Keisler, C Lewis Bell
New Faces: C Melvin Vina,
Rookie Possibilities: IF Rod Goldberg (Season 10's #1 pick) is ready to debut.
OUTLOOK: With Bell and Keisler gone, the Bears are in danger of sending out an even punier offense than last season. 2B Roy Drew, 3B Matthew Ryan and C Quilvio Nunez need to step up with better seasons - good possibilities with all. Mickey Beckett and Jacque Butler are pretty good on the front end of the rotation, and Thomas Martin seems well-suited to a 100+ inning setup role; after that the staff trails of badly. Likely finish: 4th

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 14th, Team ERA - 11th, Fielding % - T 6th
Sayonara: 1B James Riggs, RP's J.J. Little and Dario Darr, LF Samuel Blair.
New Faces: 1B Hanley Woods, RP Danny Hernandez, C's William Katou and Buzz Arnold, RF Vinny Zhang, CF Jimmie Castro
Rookie Possibilities: Doyle Pellow (Season 7 sandwich pick) looks like he'll make the roster as a defensive utility man. RP Danny Hernandez has been kicking around the minors for 7 years and finally gets a shot. Season 13 first-rounder (#3 overall) Daniel Tankersly will start the season in the rotation. AAA 3B P.T. Flores could help against lefties (can't hit righties for crap, though).
OUTLOOK: With Katou, Zhang and Woods joining Bartolo Olivares (.292/26/73), Jose Polanco (.282/32/75), and Hack Bush (.281/27/74) in the lineup, the offense should jump a few notches. Tankersly will help a rotation anchored by solid vets Dan Cirillo and William Innoue. At presstime, the Wings only had 7 pitchers on the big league club, and there's no help in AAA. They have a little cap room left, so we'd guess they're still negotiating hard with some of the holdover free agent pitchers. Likely finish: 2nd

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 15th, Team ERA - 14th, Fielding % - T 14th
Sayonara: 3B Frank Nicholson, 1B Marvin Page, SP Charles Matsumoto, LF Emmet Green
New Faces: SP Kyle Bradshaw
Rookie Possibilities: 2B Fernando Espada was one of the seasons's top international singings, last year, absolutely murdered AA, and showed he was ready for the bigs in a 17-game cup of coffee (.304/4/15). Season 11 #1 (23 overall) Pascual Pena moves in as the DH. Both these guys should be very good - look for one or both in the middle of the ROY race. Barry Snopek (season 7 #1 - 25 overall) takes over in CF - he could be adequate at the plate but could struggle defensively. Jeffrey Fields (Season 11 3rd-rounder) and Willie Lopez (Season 9 IFA) look like they'll battle for pt in right. Rule 5 draftee Dion Hull could nab the #5 start job. The prime dividend of last year's Fred West trade, OF/1B Andrew Davis, could get the call if any of the COF's struggle early.
OUTLOOK: No team has undergone a more complete transformation over the last year than the Criminals, so they're tough to predict. They have some very talented rookie position players, but I doubt their pitching will improve much. They could battle for 2nd, but I think they'll eventually settle in 3rd behind Buffalo. Likely finish: 3rd

Friday, March 12, 2010

Who Was This Years's Biggest Bargain FA Signing?

We've run polls in previous seasons about the best FA signings, which sometimes means the best player signed at any price...I mean, can anyone really argue with the Victor Morales signing after the season he had last year?

This year we'll try to ignite a debate about the best bargain free agency signing...the best player per dollar, if you like. The nominees are:

William Katou, C - Buffalo Wings: 3 years, $4.1MM per year. One of the best-hitting catchers in Belle, and 80 pitch calling to boot. The only knocks are a poor arm and diminishing endurance. Quite a deal for a 2-time All-Star and 3-time Silver Slugger.

Mitch Hall, OF/1B - Oakland Surenos: 1 year at $4MM and a mutual option year at $5.3MM. Lifetime .880 OPS, 5 All-Star Games, a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and 4 WS rings speak for themselves. At 34, can still hit, but defensively he's probably no longer an infielder. Biggest risk is the low health rating.

Matt Wallace, OF/1B - El Paso Karn Evil 9: 2 years, $5.2MM per year. In 12 seasons he's had only 2 in which he OPS'd under .900 (.877 and .897). Lifetime .970 OPS, 4 All-Star Games, 2 Silver Sluggers. Durability and power have slipped but the other hitting ratings are still solid.

Doug Brown, RP - Portland Bar & Grillers: 1 year, $1.995MM. Poster boy for the theory that something other than control and splits matter. 3 All-Star Games and a career 4.10 ERA (take out his first 3 seasons and that number drops a lot). The case for Brown as the best bargain is helped by the fact that it's just a 1-year deal.

Joe Rivera, RF - Oakland Surenos: 2 years, $5.2MM per year. Yeah, he's 34, but the ratings - even power - are holding up great. 2 MVP's, 2 World Series Rings, 4 All-Star Teams, 3 Silver Sluggers and a Gold Glove for good measure.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

NL North Season 15 Preview

Season 14 Recap: Syracuse took the division for the 6th straight year, but Sioux Falls jumped into contention with a 25-win improvement (to 101). Ottawa got over .500 for the 2nd straight year; Trenton entered rebuilding mode in earnest. The Stoned Presidents' SS, Jim Olson, took ROY honors, while Saltine Warriors closer P.T. Lincoln nabbed FOY. Sioux Falls had Oakland down 2-0 in the Division Playoff Round, but lost 3-2; Syracuse advanced to the LCS and lost to Oakland 4-1.

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 6th, Team ERA - 2nd, Fielding % - t 7th
Sayonara: P's Brian Nakajima, Felix Woodward, Diego Martinez, Hector Martin; IF Thomas Montero.
New Faces: FA P's Alex Cruz, Alex Torres
Rookie Possibilities: RF Vic Andrus and RP Carl Hume could possibly contribute.
OUTLOOK: Free agency hit Syracuse as hard as anyone, especially in the pitching arena. They'll likely struggle in that department, but they have a knack for rehabbing SP's obtained in midseason trades (see Ruben James and Norm Rose). The offense, lead by 1B Marquis Seo (.347/24/98) and LF Alberto Pinzon (.322/18/95), is intact and should be comparable to last season's. Likely finish: 2nd

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 1st, Team ERA - 8th, Fielding % - t 4th
Sayonara: SP Tyrone Broome, 3B Jung Cho
New Faces: SP Frank Huff (trade with Burlington)
Rookie Possibilities: not exactly a rookie, but Marty Daly spent last year in AAA after coming over from Austin. He could win the 1B job, with Jimmie Stokes moving to the OF and Felix Koh becoming a utility player.
OUTLOOK: Excellent. They scored 865 runs last year and should be around that level this season. SS Olson (.290/34/131) leads an attack that had 5 players with 98+ RBI. Ironman Huff becomes the #1 starter and could easily win 20 with this lineup behind him. Likely finish: 1st

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 4th, Team ERA - 5th, Fielding % -13th
Sayonara: P's Humberto Urbina, John Spence, Luis Romano, Nipsey Parnell; SS Darrell Sellers
New Faces: FA RP Shane Sirotka
Rookie Possibilities: Season 11 IFA Julio Santana is set to join the rotation. Season 12 1st-rounder, 2B/OF Rolando Terrero, could use a year in AAA, but could probably hold his own in the majors now. SS Ariel Johnson, a Season 10 IFA, won't hit much but could be a late-inning defensive specialist. Clay Merrit, Season 12's #2 overall, will likely debut next season.
OUTLOOK: Young team, still improving. 2B Brandon O'Halloran (.319/20/119) and RF Ray Henley (.262/23/86 after coming over from Nashville in a trade) are the sluggers, while CF Chip Cromer (.400 OBP, 43 SB) and SS Cesar Liriano (.376 OBP, 33 SB) set the table for a balanced offense. 3 very good SP's (Arias, DeJean and DeJesus) - all 27 or under - and #'s 4 and 5 are adequate. The bullpen and team defense remain glaring weaknesses...if they could address those issues I think they could push Syracuse for 2nd. Likely finish: 3rd

Season 14 Rankings: Runs - 15th, Team ERA - 12th, Fielding % -15th
Sayonara: SS Amp Hall, SP Magglio Nunuez (trade)
New Faces: none from FA or trade
Rookie Possibilities: Season 12 IFA Miguel Puente will be the starter at 3B, Season 10 IFA Harry Viriato gets a shot at the rotation
OUTLOOK: It's not turned around yet but the right moves are happening. They got a pair of nice prospects for Magglio Nunez, have the 7th pick in the draft, and should be able to compete in the international market. They'll be marginally competent with the current cast of mostly-budget major leaguers, but give 'em a couple of seasons to compete with the rest of the North. Likely finish: 4th

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

More FA Day 3 Signings

Gary Goodwin got all the attention on Day 3 of Free Agency, but there were several other significant signings. Other Type A and B players to sign:

Portland signed 3B Jung Cho for 3 years, $18MM. Nothing too exciting here...he's a major leaguer who gets perhaps a little more dough than he deserves. Grade C+

Matt Wallace picks El Paso - 2 years, $10.4. He's always been marginal as an infielder - his range confines him to OF and 1B now, but he can still hit. 350 homers and a .323 lifetime average - HOF candidate? I like these short-term contracts for aging-but-still-good vets by rebuilding teams...helps them compete without tying up $$ forever. And he could always be midseason trade bait. Grade A.

Juan Rivera got a pretty rich deal - 3 years, $20MM - from Fresno. Solid player - like to see more power in RF but that's nitpicking. Grade B.

Burlington stretched out to 3 years and $14.7MM to get Wes Phillips. Originally a member of the Burlington organization, he was traded to Jackson in Season 6 and was a steady power source in many of their pennant drives. His ratings are holding up well so far, but I fear they'll start tumbling by next year. Still, he should help keep the Lake Monsters contenders. Grade B.

So, who's still out there? Among pitchers, Cory Mitchell, Felix Woodward, Hector Martin and Lawrence Simpson are probably the prime names still available. There are still plenty of run-of-the-mill hitters available, but top names have thinned out. 2B Sammy Reyes is probably the top position player still out there.

Why haven't we heard anything from Syracuse and Cincinnati? They're both somewhat budget-constrained, but I was expecting this pair of division winners to be aggressive this preseason. Not so far.

Competing Bidder's Comments On Goodwin Signing

Tongues are a-wagging all over Belle about the Goodwin signing. Here's what one of the competing bidders for the RF's services had to say:

"I bid on Goodwin and had the lead 3-4 times, the last coming with an overall package of $95M. I about crapped my pants that I might get him at that price, but I was hoping that would be high enough that the other bidders might drop out, and I could sneak in a little lower bid. Great hitter, but that glove and his durability kept me from wanting to get too crazy throwing money at him."

BIG Moves in the NL

The last couple of cycles have seen some BIG NL moves involving some big-money players.

One was an old big-money player - Burlington's SP Frank Huff, who's in the 4th year of a 5-year, $18MM/year contract. Off-season rumors have had him moving to numerous contenders - Austin is one we can confirm - but the contract was obviously difficult. In the wee hours this morning, Sioux Falls pulled the trigger, sending a pair of minor leaguers and Bill Mills' expiring contract to the Lake Monsters for Huff and $3.5MM cash.

We like this move for the Stoned Presidents. Their hitters made the headlines last year, but a lot of their improvement was due to pitching - their team ERA improved from 4.48 to 3.68. Huff gives them a true #1 starter, and it didn't really cost them any players or prospects. Even though he may well test free agency in 2 years (54 patience), this move vaults Sioux Falls right to the top of the NL hopefuls.

The new big-money player is Mexico City's Gary Goodwin, who just signed a $110MM, 5-year max deal. Max-dollar deals are tough to grade...if the player puts the team over the top and they win a WS or 2, it looks like a great move. If the player wins an MVP and the team fizzles in the playoffs, well... On the other hand, this is one the Desperadoes HAD to do. They had the most FA money available, and Goodwin was the premier hitter available. And they still have cap room to address other needs. Not a bargain, but Grade A.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Jacksonville Strikes Again

As predicted, the Jokers spent again in the PM2 cycle, enticing former San Jose 2B Tim Murray for 2 years, $19MM. On the plus side, Murray's ratings are holding up well at 34; on the downside, probably a bit steep for him. Grade C+. The immediate problem for the Jokers is what to do with 2 quality 2B - Murray and George Kipling. They're no doubt trying to trade one for pitching - think the Lake Monsters would trade Frank Huff within the division? A move to RF for Murray might be more likely.

There were a few other FA signings of note today that got under the JBT radar.

Oakland re-signed Joe Rivera to a 2-year deal for $5.2 per year. Rivera's range is steadily deteriorating but it's still plenty good for RF, and he's still one of the top power hitters in Belle. Grade A. On a side note, it's good to see Joe go back to Oakland to pass 600 career HR's and move into first place on the career homers list.

Sioux Falls also re-signed one of their home-grown stars, locking up 2-time All-Star Ricardo Nunez for 5 years, $40MM. Plays every game and you know what you're getting - OPS in the 800's all 7 seasons. Grade B+

San Jose got former Mexico City CF Charles Perez for 2 years, $10.8MM. Always an underrated player, Perez should be a nice bargain for the Bees (even if he has to move to LF next season). Grade A-.

In the rehab signing of the day, the Salem Goonies brought back Alex Paniagua for 2 years, $5.6MM. Yeah, his power's slipping fast, but he could hit well enough to be a great bargain at 2.8 a year. Grade B+.

Big Names Sign Early in FA

While there are still plenty of stars holding out, this year's free agency saw a flurry of early signings by big-name players.

So far, Buffalo and Memphis lead the way with 2 signings each, but 7 teams have signed contracts that could alter the balance of power in their divisions.

Let's start in Buffalo. New skipper gumbercules hasn't even figured out where his office is yet and he's already landed a pair of vets who, though aging, can still rake. Vinny Zhang and his lifetime .427 OBP come on to patrol RF for the next couple of years for $5MM per (average). Grade A. Then they go get William Katou - probably a future Hall of famer - for 3 years and a measly $4.1MM a year. Grade A and a candidate for Best Bargain In Free Agency.

The NL South may end up becoming the highest-payroll division: Mexico City and Memphis seem to be making big-money bids to get parity with Austin. The Desperadoes reeled in Wally Reid for a 5-year deal at $9.5MM a year, plus a $5MM bonus this year. Some may predict that his range will diminish too far to stay in CF for the duration, but I think his hitting will hold up. Not a cheap deal, but still a solid Grade B. The Mudcats grabbed perhaps the best SP available in Brian Nakajima (3 years, $9.5MM per). Good job not having to tack on a 4th year there - Grade B+. Memphis got another SP, Barry Carew, for 2 years, $6.2 per. I like this signing for their ballpark - Carew has a long history of doing well in big ballparks (see Tacoma years) and not-so-well in smaller spaces (See Trenton years). For this price - Grade A-. Look for both teams to keep spending.

San Jose got in on the action by signing IF Brad Hart to a 4-year deal averaging $7.925MM a year. Hart's a decent player - better than decent defensively - but this price tag is a little on the high side. Grade B-

Salem got a good-hitting catcher for a couple of years (at $5.2MM/year) in Lewis Bell. Bell's has a .406 lifetime OBP and decent pop (160 HR's in 7 seasons). The only question about this deal is why they didn't tack on another year or 2. Grade A.

Kyle Bradshaw inked a 2-year deal ($11.6 over 2 seasons) with Columbus. Not exactly sure why the Criminals went for a 37 year-old veteran while they're in rebuild mode, but there is an option on the second year...this may be a good way for them to stay competitive without commiting to long-term contracts. Grade B.

Finally, reigning NL MVP John Li signed with the upstart Jacksonville Jokers for 5 years, $10.875MM a year. That's an expensive deal, but Li has delivered pretty consistently. Grade B. The Jokers still have a lot of dry powder - this may be the year we see a challenger emerge in the NL East.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Free Agency Begins

Free agency begins amid the usual rampant speculation about who the big players will be and where the big names will land.

Pittsburgh and Austin were last year's big spenders: the Alleghenies' spree sparked a 19-game improvement and respectability in the tough AL East; the Chaloupas won their first division title in 11 seasons.

Who will open the wallets this season? The candidates include almost every team - there's a lot of payroll space available out there. A few teams look like they've cleared massive space to land multiple bigtime names here - we'll confine a few juicy rumors to speculation about particular players.

Who's out there? Well, there may not be a superstar ala Brogna last year or Morales the year before, but this class is chock full of star-caliber players, especially among hitters: RF Gary Goodwin, 2B Ricardo Nunez, SS Brad Hart, LF John Li, CF Wally Reid, 2B Joe Rivera, RF Vinny Zhang and CF Charles Perez should all draw big offers.

The pitchers are shorter in number and longer in the tooth but will still help contenders. The prime targets will likely be Brian Nakajima, Felix Woodward, Cory Mitchell, Kyle Bradshaw and Lawrence Simpson.

Winter Meetings News

The first couple of days of the Belle Winter Meetings featured dozens of trade rumors but only two actual transactions.

The Wings and the Karn Evil 9 kicked off trade activity with a minor deal. El Paso got setup man Mark Martin, who had 11 saves and a 3.95 ERA last year, for Hal Williamson, an infield prospect and season 13 sandwich pick (#43).

In the first deal with pennant race implications, Austin bolstered its pitching staff by parting with 2 prospects for Trenton's Magglio Nunez. Nunez has 68 wins and a 3.22 ERA over 7 seasons, and is expected to move into the Chaloupa rotation despite being a little short in stamina for a starter. Trenton worked a good deal, getting infielder Tony Amaro (#13 overall last year) and SP Tommy Lloyd (#20 overall in season 13).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Winter Meetings Begin

Belle's Winter Meetings began this morning in the Grand Ballroom of Harrah's Hotel and Casino in beautiful downtown Shreveport, LA, hometown of both Joey Belle and your illustrious commissioner.

The meetings began with the traditional welcoming of new owners by the GM of last season's champion, Oakland's rlahann:

The NL North's Trenton Troglodytes retain their ballpark and name but have been taken over by tom-servo. Aka stiller609, he has a long record in a number of worlds...we're looking forward to seeing what he can do with a team that seems to be in rebuild mode but has some talent.

cmthieme takes over at the helm of the AL West Salem Goonies (formerly the Tucson Sidewinders). He has 13 seasons and 2 WS titles in Maris...he'll have a challenge on his hands with a team that won the AL West in Season 13 but fell on hard times last year.

Finally, welcome to the new owner/GM of the AL North Buffalo Wings (formerlyMadison Badgers), gumbercules. gumbers has 3 WS titles on the resume and is widely-renowned for his blogging skills.

New owners, welcome to Belle. We hope you have a long, enjoyable and prosperous stay.

Winter Meetings continue today with the re-hiring of coaches and decisions about retaining free agents and arbitration.