Friday, February 5, 2016

Season 33 NL North Preview

The Expos replace Lanning...Cubs and Brewers attempt to improve while rebuilding...Reds shore up defense

Montreal Expos
Season 32:  95-67
GM: EasyE7273

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses: they were the picture of a balanced offense on their way to the North crown last year - 3rd in runs, 3rd in HR's, 3rd in SB's, 5th in contact (batting average) and OBP.  The big deal for them will be replacing FA Freddie Lanning, but their farm system has it covered.  The pitching staff was pretty good (3.60 ERA - 8th), especially ace SP Jim Colin (14-9, 2.64), closer Sam Lynn (46 saves, 2.64), and setup man Trevor Snider (2.60 ERA).  Starter Mel Durham got roughed up to the tune of a 1.38 Whip and .711 OPS-against, but still managed a 3.33 ERA.  Don't expect a similar magic act this year.

Addressed In Offseason: Only moves so far are the promotions of  Leonardo Grimm (SEA 30 #15),  Wesley Duffy (SEA  29 #17) and RP Alex Valentin to the major-league roster.  Grimm will make the Expo fans forget Lanning quickly - he's a rare combination of contact and power.  He looks to be the everyday LF with Duffy the first bat off the bench and primary backup at 1B, LF and RF.  Lingering question:  can their pitching take them deeper into the playoffs?

Chicago Cubs
Season 32:  67-95
GM: helop

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  The Cubbies have been bopping along in semi-rebuild land since Rico Uribe's last big year.  They did have a major-league offense, scoring 737 runs (4th), but the staff (4.68 ERA - 15th) had little beyond Nelson Jenkins they could count on.  Fortunately, their drafts have pumped up their farm system (and future prospects) considerably.  They look like they've hit home runs with their last 2 #1 picks, SP Alex Lloyd (#7 in Sea 31) and speed/power switch-hitter Reggie Hunter (#4 last year).  They do have a couple of AAA pitchers that might be able to help, namely Kennie Grilli and Rocky Clinton.  Season 30's #10 overall, CF Steve Mench, might also get a ML shot, but they may give him another AAA year to develop true CF range.

Addressed In Offseason:  Upgraded 1B (over the dozen or so they used last year)  by dealing a minor prospect for the serviceable (and cheap) Omar Duran.  That move also steadies LF by letting Alfredo Nieves set up shop there full-time.  Their only other move so far was adding short reliever Esmerling Javier on a 1-year deal.  I'd have liked to have seen them add some better pitching, but perhaps their AAA guys get a shot.  It looks like another rebuilding year on the South Side, but at least the rebuilding is gaining traction.

Milwaukee Brewers
Season 32:  67-95
GM:  bfunk

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  The Brewers employed the "bunch-of-almost-shortstops" offense last year, which produced an average-ish attack (663 runs - 9th) without much power (165 HR - 13th), but only mixed results on defense (a very good 80/31 +/-, but a .980 fielding % with 121 errors).  C Patrick Boyer led the full-timers with an .885 OPS, and 2B/3B Victor Armas chipped in an .836, but after those 2 there were few batsmen to cheer.  The pitching didn't fare any better, finishing as the 14th-ranked staff by ERA.  There were solid individual performances - RP Esmerling Vazquez closed 14 of 17 and posted a 2.90 ERA, LR Lonnie Rincon notched a 3.15 ERA over 128 IP, and Jesse Rivera put the finishing touch on a fine career with a 3.54 ERA over 216 innings.  Velazquez left for greener FA pastures and Rivera is likely calling it quits.  They have a modest $63MM ML payroll (at the close of free agency) - a number that will improve considerably with the expiration of Midre Johnson's contract at the end of the season.

Addressed In Offseason:  Traded 2 career minor leaguers to PHI for Douglas Mateo , a reasonably effective (3.98 career ERA) but seemingly overpriced starter.  I'm a bit puzzled by this one, but Mateo should be better than most of what they trotted out last year.  They also gave SP Kent Shaw 4 years x $5.4 million - he might be an improvement.  The Brew Crew will likely dip into AAA early with versatile IF Laynce Taubensee and OF Jarret Boyd. They'll still have some roster-filling to do from FA leftovers.

Cincinnati Reds
Season 32:  45-117
GM: wrecks

Season 32 Strengths/Weaknesses:  The Reds started last season as a total disaster with an absent owner.  Our replacement performed heroically in what was a lost season at the ML level.  They picked up Cecil Dougherty
to be their C of the future with the 3rd selection of the draft; he joins Season 31's #1, Stan Robinson, and Sea 32 IFA Pablo Suarez to form the nucleus of an excellent farm system.  The have the first pick again, and their ML payroll is minimal, so they could add another big prospect through IFA.
Addressed In Offseason:  Cincy  SS's, 2B's and CF's committed an astounding 125 errors and bad plays last year, so 3 of new GM wrecks' first moves were to trade a pair of moderate pitching prospects for Roy Adkinsson and Duke Kulik, and to sign Joaquin Nieves to play CF for a year.  He also signed defensive C Norm Roberts to a league-minimum 1-year deal.  None of this will help score runs, but it will at least help a shaky pitching staff get the other guys out.  They will undoubtedly hit Rule 5 and the FA bargain basement to fill out the rest of the roster.  The farm system will be a powerhouse by the end of this season...the biggest question is whether wrecks will hit the MWR. 

Season 33 Outlook:

This division came first because it's the easiest to call.  Montreal wins big again, as its division mates are all in various phases of rebuilding.  The Cubs and Brewers look like they'll be in the 60-70 win range again, and the Reds would have to try hard NOT to improve quite a bit.  Let's go out on a limb and predict exactly 59 wins for them.

Awards Watch:  The Expos certainly have players who could contend for major awards. SP Jim Colin has CY potential.  2B Miguel Arias could be a serious MVP contender if he could combine last year's power and Season 30's contact into 1 year.  And LF Leonardo Grimm is the early fav for ROY.

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