Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Catching Up On Offseason Moves

The high activity level of this offseason continues...

The Free Swingers (who else?) pulled off an interesting trade with Columbus, getting the extremely powerful but wildly inconsistent Andrew Davis, and sending over last year's surprise .300 hitter, Walter Day. Davis had a promising Season 17 with the Criminals, hitting .290 with 32 homers in only 379 AB's, but saw his OPS drop nearly 300 points in last year's terrible campaign. Day was a second-rounder who had spent 4 seasons in AAA before getting his shot last year, and he made the most of it. This looks like a deal where Columbus is opting for a more predictable commodity, and Chicago is betting the friendly confines of Wrigley will be more compatible with Davis' big uppercut swing.

On the FA front, New York snared a good defensive SS in Omar Freeman. He should be a step up offensively from last year's SS Mateo Cortez. Freeman signed for $23.5MM over 4 years.

Chicago struck again, landing Elroy Gant for $30MM over 4 years. The Free Swingers have now assembled one of Belle's most impressive lineups - the NL looks like it will be hyper-competitive this year, but Chicago has to be the early favorite to repeat as NL Champs.

Jacque Fitzgerald re-signed with Cleveland for $22.8MM over 4 years. There would be something odd about Fitzgerald in anything other than a Katanas uni...well, we know what cap he'll be wearing on his HOF plaque.

More Big FA News

Some more A/B free agent signings earlier today:

El Paso signed a pair of Type B players: former Jacksonville reliever Quilvio Rodriguez (2 years, $2.6MM) and former Little Rock SS (and Season 12 AL ROY) Jerry Bernero (3 years, $16.9MM). The Sun Kings join Scottsdale as the most active FA players so far, with 3 A/B signings each.

Toledo added Victor Sosa (2 years, $7.6MM) to the bullpen...can the Mud Hens shake things up enough to get into the NL East race? They've added SP Jesus Javier and RP Sosa on pretty nice contracts. Young superstar 2B Marty Coco (#2 overall in Season 15) and RP Phil Feller (a second-rounder in Season 15) are ML-ready. These guys could make some noise this year.

2 very big names also re-signed with their old clubs: Rafael Brogna returns to Pittsburgh for 3 years, $15.2MM, and Mexico City pulls off their second re-signing, getting Pedro Encarnacion to come back for 5 years, $42.5MM.

Surenos, Free Swingers Make A Deal

Oakland has been shopping IF prospect Benj Green all over the Winter Meetings; they found a taker this morning, and's the super-proactive Chicago Free Swingers.

Chicago gets Green, Season 15's 7th overall pick. He's a defensive whiz who can handle either 2B or 3B and could hit .250-.270 with 15-20 HR's. The Surenos get SP Louie Paniagua, a SP with 46-48, 4.25 ERA lifetime numbers, Wolf King, a less-talented version of Green, and $5MM cash.

The trade continues what is becoming a decidedly National League trend in the offseason: of the trades and A/B FA moves made so far (with each side of a trade counting as 1 "move"), the NL has made 21 moves to the AL's 6.

Big First Day For Free Agents

Six type A/B free agents signed this morning, with a couple of other significant signings going down.

Scottsdale continued to be the biggest off-season mover and shaker with a pair of A/B deals. They ignored injury concerns about John Tamura, inking the OF to a 3-year, $6.8MM per year contract, and committed $4.4MM a year for four years to reliever Tuck Barkley.

Starter Tomas Martin got a nice $5MM bonus as part of a 2-year deal with El Paso; he joins an increasingly-solid rotation for the Sun Kings.

C Macbeth Crawford joins the new Omaha franchise on a 2-year, $7.8MM deal. A catcher for his entire career, he'll be the regular DH for the Middle Americans.

Chicago jumped into free agency to get reliever Bosco Swann for 3 years, $4.8MM per year. This is likely the first of many free agent signings by the Free Swingers, who are looking for a return ticket to the World Series.

Toledo made a splash with a 3-year, $21MM deal for SP Jesus Javier. Javier is coming off one of his best seasons and shows no signs of slowing down at age 35.

In a mild surprise, Mexico City rewarded Luis Redondo for 13 years of loyal service with a 3-year, $26MM contract. Redondo is capable of having as good a year as anyone - he has a Cy Young over the fireplace - but is coming off his two worst seasons (both 5+ ERA).

Salem quietly added more offense, getting Marquis Seo for a bargain $3.5MM a year for 2 seasons. Seo's power isn't what it used to be, and he needs quite a few days off, but he's still a solid .300 hitter.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tip For Rebuilding Teams

I wasn't bright enough to figure this one out before it happened, but I stumbled onto it so thought I'd share.

One of the problems many rebuilding teams face is the lack of minor-league talent coming up to the majors. It's tough to piece together a contender entirely through free agency (and even when you do it's easy to end up with some bad contracts in the out years). You have to get some young, cheap talent coming up, so you go to work rebuilding through the draft and the international market.

Any time you can do something to get one more piece for the future, it's quite a bonus. I stumbled onto one way in Season 17, when I took over the moribund Buffalo franchise (now Detroit). Here's what happened:

I had the #1 pick in the draft, and also thought I would get some comp picks for Type B free agents (I ended up with 4). So the basic rebuilding goal for the year (get 1 star-caliber prospect and 1 or 2 others who had a shot at ML careers) was in pretty good shape through the draft.

I also wanted the team to be much more competitive than the 49 wins my predecessor had posted in Season 16. Since I would only lose a 2nd-round pick by signing a Type A FA (the "top 16 discount"), I targeted C Richie Elder and signed him pretty early to a 4-year, $5.6MM per year deal. I figured he'd be a cornerstone of the offense for 4 seasons, that his ratings wouldn't decline much over the course of the contract, and that I might not get another chance at a Type A for a 2nd-rounder.

Richie started hot, although my team struggled as expected. I started looking around for trade possibilities. I contacted several teams about Elder and got only minor interest and a couple of so-so offers. Then I took a look at the New York Necromancers. They were clearly a team on the way up. They had a loaded farm system and needed a C. They had rookie monster Ellie Roenicke at 1B, and more importantly, nowhere to put former #19 draft pick Miguel Rivera. Seemed like a natural.

We made the deal, and I think it's worked out well for both teams. New York just missed the playoffs the last 2 seasons, but is still improving. Richie's been solid and shows no signs of slowing down. Rivera would've still been in AAA with the Necromancers (or traded somewhere else), but instead won AL ROY for Detroit last year.

Rivera isn't an All-Star. He lacks power for a 1B and needs too many days off. But he's a good fit for my ballpark...he's a switch-hitter and his value isn't based solely on his power rating. If and when my team becomes a real contender (unlike last season's crazy-lucky squad), he'll probably be a part of it. A great pickup for a cost of the #61 pick in a not-great draft.

A lot of things went right for that to fall into place. I got a fairly young FA for a pretty good price, and found a ideal trade partner. I could very easily still have Elder on the roster, which wouldn't be so bad.

I'll definitely try to pull this off again with another rebuilding team...there's very little downside in signing a Type A when the only thing it costs you is a 2nd-rounder.

Updates to Single-Season and Career Records

Been a couple of seasons since we updated all the records, and there have been a few changes of note.

The only single-season record set last year was Roger Lawson's 53 saves, which tied the mark originally set in Season 14 by Syracuse's P.T. Lincoln.

On the career records front, Skip Leon finally packed it in last season, falling 51 hits short of 3000. Among active players, Matt Wallace (2628), William Pierce (2622), and Rafael Brogna (2523) are in hailing distance of 3000, but it's 33 year-old Victor Morales (currently 2581 hits) who seems a lock to be Belle's first member of the 3000 club.

Skip did manage to sneak past the 2000 RBI mark, finishing at 2020.

Joe Rivera stroked 24 homers last year to become the "Babe Ruth of Belle" - first to reach 700 homers (currently on 710).

Victor Morales scored 125 runs last year to extend his career mark to 1855. With probably another 6 productive seasons ahead of him, he could well surpass 2500 runs scored by the time he's done.

Neifi Foster swiped 65 bags last year to move past Lon Andrews on the career stolen base list - the new mark is 658.

Biggest Free Agent Class Ever Set To Start Signing

Based on the number of available players, the JBT is projecting that this season will be the biggest ever in terms of the number of Type A and B free agents signed.

Season 16 saw 32 A/B's signed, the biggest number so far. There are at least (we usually miss a few) 44 A and B free agents available.

Over on the hitter side, there are at least 25 A/B's available, headed up by SS Jesus Gomez. Gomez will no doubt command a mega-contract, but may well be worth it. Just 27 (the poster child for why you don't want to take players to arb 3 times), he already has a ROY, 3 All-Star Games, and 3 Silver Sluggers on the CV. Other top names among the position players are OF's John Tamura, Theodore Beckett, and Ray Henley; C Odalis Gutierrez; and future Hall-Of-Famers Jacque Fitzgerald and Rafael Brogna.

Among the pitchers there are at least 19 A/B's, including SP's Jesus Javier, Lorenzo Rodriguez, Theodore Fox, Jacque Butler, Pedro Encarnacion, and Luis Redondo; and relievers Fausto Cedeno, Crash Carter, Bosco Swann and Tomas Cruz.

The first signees (the ones who get only one offer and decide to take the bird in hand) should be inking deals in the morning; stay tuned to the JBT for the latest in free agency and other off-season news!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Trades Heat Up On Arb Day

One day before free agency starts, trades have started heating up, with numerous teams getting in on the action.

Defending WS Champ Salem jumped into the trade fray in a big way, landing New York's Christopher Booker for RP Harry Gumbert, 2B prospect J.P. Bennett, and RP prospect Gerald Fisher. Booker may be a 1-year rental, but well worth the price for the champs to replace the departed Elroy Gant. The clincher for the Necromancers may have been the inclusion of Fisher, a sleeper 3rd-rounder with lousy stamina, but a wicked sinker and decent splits.

continued downsizing the payroll this morning, sending reliever Odalis Torcato to Oakland for catching prospect Junichi Yosida. Torcato was the 5th pick in the Season 12 draft (Jacksonville franchise), but has been disappointing in 4 ML seasons, posting a 4.71 ERA in just 179 innings. Yosida was the 32nd pick of the Season 16 draft (Oakland); he could be the Free Swingers' backup C this season.

The Surenos struck again, picking up IF Rod Goldberg from Rochester for SP Tony Familia, a supplemental pick last season. Goldberg may move into the starting SS role for Oakland.

Scottsdale made its 2nd blockbuster deal, sending RF Trenidad Medrano (#7 pick in Season 13), 3B prospect Buddy Offerman (#12 pick in Season 17), and RP prospect Eduardo Tavarez (Season 16 IFA) to Syracuse for 2B Theodore Maxwell and reliever Dingo Hawkins. Maxwell, the 8th pick of the Season 14 draft, teams with the just-acquired Jim Olsen to give the Vipers the best-hitting middle infield in Belle. Syracuse appears to be in sell off veterans/rebuild Clarence Marte next?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Vipers, Free Swingers Make 1st Trade

The Scottsdale Valley Vipers and the Chicago Free Swingers have made the season's first trade, and it's a big one.

The Vipers get highly decorated (4 Silver Sluggers, 5 All-Star Teams) SS Jim Olson from the Free Swingers in return for 2B prospect Javy Matos (Season 15 #5 overall), RP prospect Trent Durbin (Season 14 #46 overall) and OF prospect Al Mesa (Season 15 IFA).

Scottsdale's motivation for the deal seems pretty clear: they have prospects to give and need some offense to support an excellent young pitching staff. Chicago had $85 million already committed to ML payroll and alternatives at SS, so Olson was expendable. Both teams are expected to make strong bids to contend in their respective divisions.

In other trade news, Jacksonville and Detroit agreed to a smaller deal. Veteran OF Hack Bush, coming off an injury season, goes to the Jinxed for minor league SP Carl Hardy. Jacksonville appears to have been shopping for a lefty bat; Bush was Detroit's highest-paid player - they probably figure he was expendable since they won the division without him last year.

Welcome To All and Especially Our New Owners

Welcome, all to Joey Belle Season 19.

We have 3 new owners this year. Starting in the NL, new has taken over from elgman and moved the franchise to Scottsdale. New is anything but new to HBD, with 91 seasons and 9 World Series titles to his credit.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, mikeyfrog joins us for his debut HBD season. He takes over one of the most storied franchises in Belle history, the 11-time division champ former Jackson Holes, now moved to Austin as the Horned Frogs.

Last but not least, our new AL West combatant is coachmoss with the Omaha Middle Americans. Coachmoss has 5 playoff appearances among his 14 seasons.

Good luck to our new owners this season!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Awards Review

AL MVP: Carlos Escuela won his 2nd straight; JBT predicted correctly and also opined that Cuddyer would get up to 10 votes - he got 11.

AL Cy Young: Edgardo Valdes won with 14 votes to Cerda's 8; JBT missed on this one - we thought Cerda's higher win total would be persuasive.

AL ROY: Rivera won pretty easily. JBT was correct and predicted a "hefty vote total" - Rivera's 17 votes were the 2nd-most.

NL MVP: Ellie Roenicke's big power year powered him to the highest vote total (18) - correctly forecast by JBT.

NL Cy Young: Clay Merrit and Bruce Friend share the award. JBT correctly picked Friend but overlooked Merrit.

NL ROY: Chantres edged Day 13-11. JBT was right in predicting a close vote, but we thought Day would prevail.

Goonies Sweep For First Championship

In another surprising twist to a surprising playoff season, Salem swept Chicago to earn its first-ever Belle World Championship.

Both teams had ridden some savvy free agent signing to division championships. The Free Swingers signed 7 free agents in the off-season, most notably P's Milton Starr, Del Ramirez and Roger Lawson. The Goonies spent liberally themselves, inking Ruben James, Geoff Sosa, Jacob Franklin and Jose Vargas.

Chicago had a tough route to the Series: a 5-gamer over San Juan (losing Cy Young co-winner Bruce Friend in the process), then coming back from a 2-1 deficit to beat New Orleans in 6. Salem lost former Cy Young winner James late in the season (for the entire playoffs), survived a Round 2 dogfight with Richmond, then knocking out defending champ Pittsburgh in 6.

Game 1 was in doubt until the 9th. Leading 3-2, Salem posted 4 in the top half (Escuela and Krause homers) for a 7-2 opening win.

Game 2 stayed close as well but was less in doubt. Chicago got only 3 runners into scoring position; Merrit, Franklin and Tollberg combined on a 5-hit shutout. Chavez (twice) and Hardy homered in a 6-0 win.

Game 3 may have been the Swingers' chance to get back in the series. They got solo homers from Stokes and Durbin, but could manage only 2 more hits. Placido Chavez cranked 2 more longballs for the Goonies, who took a commanding lead with a 4-2 win.

Salem smelled blood on Game 4, jumping out to a 10-1 lead after 4 innings. Credit for not quitting...they battled back with 5 runs, but the Goonies proved too tough. Salem held on 10-6 for the series sweep and their first Belle World Championship.

Congrats to both cmthieme and coach34 on fantastic seasons - on to Season 19.

Friday, March 4, 2011

PITT Blitzes DET To End Gangstaz' Season

The World Champion Alleghenys totally dismantled (and that description is an understatement) Detroit in the 2nd round, outscoring the Gangstaz 33-4 in the 3-game set. It's hard to pick out only a couple of Pittsburgh standouts, but you'd have to say Bucky Daal and Rafael Brogna with 7 RBI each.

Detroit GM blanch13 was philosophical about the shellacking: "Our plan is to build long-term and be competitive while we do it. Our division competitors were down this year and we got very lucky in the first round against Cleveland. I'm not surprised or discouraged about the way we played against Pittsburgh - we'll be back here in a year or 2 or 3 and our youngsters will be tougher for the experience."

In other playoff action, Salem and San Juan won to take 2-1 leads, and Jacksonville held off elimination with a clutch 8th-inning rally at home.

The playoffs continue this evening in the pm2 cycle.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

z0601 On Upsetting Ottawa In Round One

z0601 has advanced from being a rookie "grasshopper" asking a million questions (back in Seasons 14-15) to an accomplished owner with his 3rd straight division title. The JBT just caught up with z to get his thoughts on the big upset win over Ottawa in the first round of the playoffs:

Did you see the win over Ottawa coming? If so what made you think you could upset the defending AL champs?

To be honest, did I like our chances? Yes. Did I think it would happen? NO. For whatever reason, we seem to match up well against Ottawa in a short series and gave them all they could handle in the post season last year and almost pulled off a bigger upset then. Once I saw we would face them in the playoffs out of the gate again this season, I knew we had improved from last year could maybe win it in 5 games, but never in a million years did I think we would sweep them. I knew if we could get our starters to not put us in a big hole early, I believed that our bullpen could close out close games. Everyone had been saying all season long that our Bullpen was a liability because we had so many 1 run games this season and our luck would run out at some point. Our bullpen has usually not been the problem, it has been our starters not being sharp from the start and putting us behind early and having to climb out of a deficit in most games. The big question in my mind was how would we get across the plate and keep them from doing the same with our rock in the middle with Jose coming off the DL but we did.

What surprised you about the series?

That their normally dangerous hitters couldn't get on track and never really seemed to find a rhythm. I think if they had gotten some runs in Game 2 and built up their confidence, you would have seen a totally different series and most likely a different result. The fact we won the last two games by 1-run each still amazes. We could have very easily been looking at a 2-1 hole heading back to Jacksonville with two swings of the bat in either game.

How do you see your chances against New Orleans?

The fact that it is a short series is the only reason we have a shot against New Orleans in my opinion. In a short series anything can happen. Our starting pitching will be key once again, as will our ability to get some hits of their great pitching. If we can do that we have a chance, if not I think we might get the broom broken out on us which has happened before and is never a fun way to end a season.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Surprises Rule In Play-In Round

Upsets were the order of the day in Round One, with 3 teams with the lower regular season winning % taking home wins. Convincingly, too - no series went to 5 games.

Detroit topped Cleveland in 4 in a major shocker. The Katanas top-ranked regular season pitching staff was thoroughly mediocre, posting a 5.29 ERA against the Gangstaz' lineup of has-been's and castoffs. Harry Encarnacion hit .455 for DET while Robert Franco had a pair of homers.

In the other AL matchup, Richmond ousted D.C. in 4 games. The Poor Men won the critical close games, getting shutout efforts in Games 1 and 4 from Charlie Cosby and Juan Gil (plus relief help in both). Edgar Redondo had 2 longballs and 4 RBI for Richmond.

In the NL, Jacksonville stunned defending AL Champ Ottawa with a sweep. Other than the 3rd inning of Game 1 (4 runs), the Ice were clueless against the sneakily effective Jinxed staff. And J'Ville mustered just enough offense against and DeJean and Merrit in Games 2 and 3 to eke out 2-1 wins. Quilvio Marrero knocked in 3 runs for Jacksonville, but the MVP's of the series were the Jinxed staff - they held Ottawa to a .214 batting average and no homers.

San Juan's win over Vancouver may not have been a huge surprise (in fact, they swept favored Vegas in the first round last year for their first-ever playoff series win) but the way they did it was: they just beat the 'livin crap out of a very good Victory squad. They scored 5 runs in the first inning of Game 1 and kept pouring it on, outscoring VAN 27-5. The Senators OPS'd .874 for the series; Kenneth Scoroposki drove in 6 to pace the offense.