Friday, May 20, 2016

Season 34 AL East Preview

Boston Red Sox 
Season 33:  91-71, won Division, advanced to ALCS, lost to Anaheim
GM: Spistol

Offseason:  After re-signing P's Sherry Grey and Skeeter Wilkinson, the only FA defection of note was SP Alex Burks.  They signed FA P's D.J. Mauer and Jimmy Griffin.  Their bigger offseason moves were the promotions of 2B's Peter Magnusson (Sea 31 #11) and Ronnie Burns (Sea 30 #5), and LR Oswaldo Oliva (Sea 27 IFA).

Outlook:  Magnusson and Burns are both natural 2B's (or even CF's), but with 2B and CF well covered in Boston, both are in search of positions.  Burns is taking LF for now, and an injury to 1B Matt Lawrence opened a spot for Magnusson.  Both are power hitters who could have some issues against RHP and offer plus defense just about anywhere.  Either or both could be on the ROY ballot.  Other than those additions, it's about the same profile as last year...a high-scoring, average-pitching team.  But those 2 rookies could be what gets them over the top in the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians
Season 33: 74-88
GM: jgnjr

Offseason:  One again, the tribe was almost completely quiet on the FA and trade front this offseason.  So other than rookie OF Julian Almonte (Sea 30 IFA), it's almost identical to last year's roster.

Outlook:  Starting to be a few signs of aging in the lineup:  C Ralph Dunn is 36 and now out for 70 games with a broken arm, and 1B Rod McNeil is 35 and not the power threat he used to be.  They weren't a very good offense last year (658 runs) and there's no reason to expect them to improve.  There's more talent on the staff, especially in the persons of SP Murray Hudson (3.46 ERA) and LR Jose Serra (career 3.27 ERA) - the pitching has been average-to-above-average the last few seasons.  SP Dan Lewis (Sea 30 #8) probably gets the call shortly, and probably becomes the #2 starter behind Hudson.

Probably a .500 team at best...<EDITORIAL BEGINS>  competent but unexciting.  I'd love to see some kind of big shakeup here.  Trade everything, build the farm for a couple of years (to go along with the 2 nice prospects from last year's draft), or, blow out free agency next year.  Anything but the perpetual around-.500. <END OF EDITORIAL>

New York Yankees
Season 33: 65-97
GM:  fsubwj

Offseason:  The Yanks lost 7 free agents from last year's ML roster (although only 2 - C Rich Daniels and 3B Julio Noesi - signed elsewhere).  They filled all the holes with promotions, giving them one of the youngest and cheapest rosters in Major Leagues.  The question is, "is it just young, or is there young talent there?

Outlook: There's starting to be some talent showing up.  SP Vin Gumbs (Sea 32 #1 overall and promoted last year after 1 MiL season) took his lumps last year but still has a couple of seasons of good ratings growth ahead of him.  Brace Wooster was #10 overall last year and gets the similar fast trip to the majors.  He'll likely get hit hard this year, but will grow into a nice starter.  Closer Mendy Dietz (Sea 30 #12) took a more conventional route to the bigs, and was very good (24 saves, 3.00 ERA) as a rookie last year.  Sure, some of the other youngsters are cheap filler, but they're getting there.  Still building this year, but in a couple of seasons NY will be shaking up the East.

Baltimore Orioles
Season 33:  73-89
GM:  NormanW5

Offseason:  Not much offseason action in Baltimore...but they seem to be much improved.   What happened?

Outlook: For starters, some of their hot prospects who struggled as rookies grew up and improved.  SP Flip Harris (Sea 29 #1) actually had a couple of rough seasons to start his career, but now looks like he's figuring it out (2-1, 3.00 ERA so far).  2B Keith Townsend (Sea 30 #3) is hitting over 100 points above his rookie season OPS.  Team OPS is 33 points ahead of last year, and Team ERA is nearly a full run a game better, so everyone's contributing.  The Birds had almost as bad a defense as Arizona last year (214 errors and bad plays, but at least they came up with 59 good plays).  It's much better so far, but I fear it's smoke and mirrors (SS Woody Brown's range would be no better than OK at 3B).  You never know - if they can maintain their relatively "hot" defensive play, they might stay in it.

Division Outlook:  

Boston wins again.  The Orioles entertain with young stars and a defense that implodes. The Yanks are respectably competitive with a $23MM payroll.  And the Indians, ah the Indians...around .500 again.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Season 34 AL West Preview

Anaheim Angels
Season 33: 98-64, won Division, advanced to WS, lost to Pittsburgh
GM: kennedrj

Offseason: The Angels had to negotiate a couple of free-agent potholes this offseason.  The big one was the loss of 20-game winner (and lifetime 3.12 ERA) Pedro Nunez, who bolted to Detroit for a big-$ deal.  They also lost long-time lineup bulwark Orlando Acosta, who despite showing some signs of decline was a good performer last year.  They replaced some, maybe most, of Nunez' innings with FA's Adrian Caruso (pitches over splits theory) and Lariel Blanco (going strong at 38).  2nd-year man Lorenzo Saenz (.702 OPD last season) takes over right field.  Angels' management also tells us they'll bring up AAA left-handers Santos Chavez (Sea 31 IFA) and Erasmo Miranda (Sea 30 IFA) at Game 20.  Not sure what their roles will be but you have to think they'll get a chance to start.

Outlook:  MVP Enerio Amaro was the AL's dominant offensive force last year, but the Angels are far from dependent on him.  They scored 833 runs last year (4th), and did it with contact (.269 BA - 2nd), power (255 HR's - 1st), and patience (551 BB's - 6th).  They even run some - 134 steals.  They had the 2nd-best AL ERA (3.72)...may have to spread Nunez 240+ innings around more this year, hut should be able to compensate.

The Angels have now won 90+ games 10 of the last 11 seasons, and gone to the WS 6 times in that stretch.  Don't against either this year.

Seattle Mariners
Season 33:  66-96
GM: captain10a

Offseason:  The Eswalin Camacho era is over in Seattle.  Camacho posted 233 wins and a 3.02 career ERA over his (likely HOF) 17-year career.  With his departure and those of DH Larry Sewell, RP Rabbit Martin, SS Richard Mohr, and SP Dave Frascatore, plus last year's 66-96 record, it seems the Mariners are entering rebuild mode.  They did re-sign SP Zach Lennon and brought in a handful of low-cost FA's, but the real focus is now on rookies Dan Lorenzen (SP), Stan Jackson (SP), Carlos Odor (LF), Rafael Gutierrez (SS), 2nd-year C Deven Carter, and RF Gerald Crane (now recovered from last year's nasty forearm injury).

Outlook:  Partly sunny (lots of young players) with frequent showers (losing streaks). Having Crane back for a full campaign certainly helps...the team should be reasonably competitive.  Plus, they're getting youngsters onto the roster and the payroll's headed the right way (and more relief next year when they can dump Wiki Saenz' contract).  Not a threat to make the playoffs this year, but things are going the right way.

Arizona Diamondbacks
Season 33: 74-88
GM:  drichter

Offseason:   Arizona re-signed it's 2 biggest free agents - RP Esmerling Vazquez and Clinton Skinner - losing only C/DH Henry Young.  They mined the FA fields for pitchers Jerry Baker (very nice 1-innings specialist for near the minimum), swingman Lee McCarthy (good but fragile arm), middle man Sam Lynn, and lefty-hitting C Patrick Boyer.  The made a trade for 2B Bryant Cashner, and tapped the farm system for RF Luis Mendoza (Season 32 #7), SP Erv Daley (Sea 30 #1), and RP Tom Williams (Sea 32 #34)...some serious young talent has arrived.

Outlook:  After struggling through his rookie season, SP Patrick Hunter (the #7 overral pick in Sea 29) showed signs last year of realizing his immense talent.  If he realizes it fully this year...and is joined in that realization by former #1 pick out, the Snakes could do some damage.  With an above-average offense (and that's with SS Sodowsky having a down year), they only won 74 last year.  See where I'm going?  If Hunter and Daley find it and the pitching is greatly improved (5.07 ERA - dead last in Sea 33)...and if Sodowsky bounces back (and his early 1.018 OPS suggest he will)...they "Could Be  A Contendah!"

D'Backs, can we talk about defense?  200 errors and bad plays led to an astounding 101 unearned runs last year.  And they'll probably be in that ballpark again - Vince Hawkins in CF is a bad plan, and 3B Adam Andrelczyk with his patented 7-hop throws to 1B is an even worse one (but hey, he's hitting).  Sodowsky at SS will be responsible for 40-50 of those errors and bad plays.

What the hey, you can't fix everything at once.  They're ripping the cover off the ball, they're 10-4 and everybody's having fun.  They'll be much improved, but won't catch the Angels.

Oakland Athletics
Season 33: 90-72, Wild Card, advanced to 2nd Round and lost to Anaheim
GM:  billhowell75

Offseason:  Last year's surprise playoff team had to deal with the loss of 6 significant contributors in FA, so they had their offseason work cut out for them.  The started by re-signing SP's Rosado and Hiljus, and added Jesus Francisco from St. Louis, so the backbone of their staff is locked up.  Those signings chewed up a lot of cash, so they had to promote a number of rookies to the staff. We probably all have some less-than-talented arms for mopup and LR slots, but Joaquin Floriman and Brandon Boyer on a ML roster?  Seriously?

Outlook:  Not quite sure what's going on with the A's.  2 of their Big 3 starters are pitching well (Hiljus has started poorly), but the rest of the staff has been atrocious (7.65 ERA), and the offense is off last year's pace by a fair amount.  The situation seems salvageable, but some fast action is needed.

Divison Outlook:

I love seeing a team like Arizona make the big leap into contention.  Hopefully they'll maintain the pace, but something tells me they won't actually hit .300+ all year.  Ultimately their defense will keep them from challenging the Angels.  

GM majnun's Atlanta preview:

(Editor apology:  I omitted GM majnun's commentary from the Braves' team preview.  My bad- just overlooked it.  Fits better in the preview, but here it is).

Here's GM majnun's take on the Braves chances this year:

"The Braves had the best record in baseball last year, so not many changes were needed. The only big weak spot was third base, so a trade was made for Hal Hernandez. Offensively we underperformed last year, so even if the pitching regresses I feel good about our chances for the playoffs."

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Season 34 NL South Preview

Houston Astros
Season 33:  99-63, Wild Card, advanced to NLCS, lost to Pittsburgh
GM:  steelforge

Offseason: The 'Stros had a few FA losses but none from the core group that has produced 4 World Championships in the last 7 years.  They were pretty aggressive in free agency this year, the boldest move probably signing 36-yo RP Brian Murata to a 5-year deal.  It's a team-friendly $5.5MM and $6.3MM this year and next, then goes to $8.8MM, $6.0MM, and $8.5MM for his age 38, 39, and 40 seasons.  steelforge is going all-out to win a couple more titles while the window's still open.  They also inked Kyuji Yang and Christopher Healy on budget deals to form a potent 1B committee with Hippy De Aza, gave a boost to the defense by getting Shannon Romero at SS and Francisco Lopez at CF (bargains both, imo), and grabbed another bargain in short reliever Esmerling Javier.

Outlook:  Playoffs for as far as the eye can see.  They look like they're going with a 4-man rotation (Moya, Ward, Martin, Davis) and bringing in Murata after the starter for 2-4 innings whenever he can go.  Interesting experiment.  The Stefan Palmeiro 2B experiment is doomed to fail, the bad plays mount for the lefty-throwing Palmerio, the manager will adjust.  I love Houston's free-agent moves...they'll be over 100 wins again.

Atlanta Braves
Season 33: 103-59, Won Division, lost to Houston in Round 2
GM: majnun

Offseason:   Atlanta also lost only fringe players in free agency, but that's where their similarity to Houston's offseason ends.  Rather than a number of budget deals, the Braves went big with a 5-year, $42.8MM deal for power-hitting SS Richard Mohr; and traded for slugging infielder Hal Hernandez, lefty SP Paxton Buhner, and short RP/closer Ray Ferrell.

Outlook:  This offense might overtake D.C.'s as tops in the holes anywhere.  Mohr won't hit for average but might hit 40 longballs, Hernandez will also find his new home park more to his liking, and Freddie Lanning will be better than last year.  Look out 800 runs. Their rotation doesn't match Houston's but it's plenty good.  Wayne Counsell matches Murata's quality and volume pitch-for-pitch; Cruz, Rowe, Ferrell and Jose Palmeiro join him to rival D.C.'s bullpen as the league's best.  

St. Louis Cardinals
Season 33:  79-83
GM:  jclarkbaker

Offseason:  SP Jesus Francisco (3.45 ERA in 229 IP) departed for a big contract in Oakland, and Asdrubal Azocar pursues 600 HR as a Cardinal. That was about it for free agency.  And they promoted 3B Christian Robinson (Season 31 #17) to round out the roster.

Outlook:  With Pederson, Jeffries, et al, the Cards have been one of the better pitching teams the last several seasons...the problem has been scoring runs.  Even at 35, Azocar will help, but it's not enough.  A rebound season from RF Jack Hodges (OPS off 150 points last year from Sea 32) would help, too.  They have a pair of nice pitching prospects - Sea 30 #14 Esteban Mateo and Sea 30 #17 Ross Cook - in those guys create enough of a pitching surplus to trade for a hitter or 2?  Slim chance of supplanting Atlanta or Houston, but somehow I think they'll get back above .500 and maybe contend for a wild card.

From GM jclarkbaker: Signed two OK FAs in Asdrubal Azocar (1B) and Nigel Sugawara (P) . Azocar gives me a bit of power-which I had none last year, and Sugawara gives me a left handed specialist/set up guy. My pitching should be OK. Hoping for some offense. Not counting on making any noise. Looking to future. Pretty much will be selling at or near the deadline.

Florida Marlins
Season 33:  67-95
GM: cyben5150

Offseason:  The Marlins lost RF Christobal Almanzar, short reliever Jorge Guerrero, and SP Julio Pettit in free agency.  They signed 1B Edwards McInerney and SP Bernie Amaro, and promoted 2B Minnie Priddy (Season 30 #39), RP Rick Fulchino (Season 29 #40), and RP Erisbel Chavez (Season 30 IFA).

Outlook:  Year 2 of the cyben rebuild.  They added a couple more SP's to the farm system last year via the draft and IFA (although they got a little unlucky - thin IFA year), and have the ML payroll pared down to $35MM this year.  It'll take awhile, but this team will contend. The interesting question is whether the Houston and Atlanta windows will still be open when Florida surges...then we'll really have some NL South fireworks.

Division Outlook:

Pick 'em between Houston and Atlanta.  Both improved this offseason.  I prefer Houston's rotation, but Atlanta's 'pen and lineup...I'll say the Braves take it but wouldn't be at all surprised if steelforge is wearing the crown at season's end.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Season 34 NL West Preview

San Diego Padres
Season 33:  70-92
GM:  cwaldenj

Offseason: The Pads said "sayonara" to Melvin Charleston and Paulie Pendleton - 2 of the mainstays of their run of West titles in the 20's - along with a bunch of other FA's.  They signed 12 free agents - 1B Vin Almonte and SP Louis Thomas probably foremost among them - as cwaldenj begins remaking the team in earnest.  They also picked up a pitcher and a prospect for 3B Hal Hernandez and SP Paxton Buhner.  

Outlook:  For the team's prospects this year, we turn it over to GM cwaldenj:  "All the new faces in SD have created enthusiasm and many questions.  The dark horse in the division signed a dozen veteran FAs which should comprise a majority of innings thrown and plate appearances in S34. The lineup and bench look to be deeper, but it will be seen if the SP can efficiently get outs and if the lineup can score enough to exceed last years win total. A preseason trade and many one-year contracts have left the franchise with a deeper farm system and a more flexible financial position over the next few seasons.

Colorado Rockies
Season 33:  95-67, Lost to Pittsburgh in Round 1
GM: grapeape

Offseason:   The Rocks were spared many free-agency casualties, losing primary 2B Bart Sanders and OF Carlos Terrero.  They pretty much skipped free agency, bringing up Season 29 2nd-rounder Dick Hickman for 2B.  Watch Season 30's #22 pick Amos Gregorio -  he looked very good in 66 innings last year and could move into the #1 starter role sometime this season.

Outlook:  The Rocks got to the WS in Season 30, but haven't made any playoff noise since despite 2 more division titles.  It's essentially the same squad as last year, with Gregorio on board for a full season.  With the top 7 NL teams all between 92 and 103 wins last year, Colorado has a good a chance as anyone to go all the way if they make the tournament. They likely will, but need to keep an eye on the Giants.

San Francisco Giants
Season 33:  86-76
GM:  basilleaf2

Offseason: Kiki Mijares (3B, 27 HR's and 94 RBI) was a pretty big free-agent loss.  It's not yet clear who will replace him at third, as their gaggle of talented 2B's are all...2B's.  They did shore up the short relief corps with Fritz Miles and Rabbit Martin, and reinforced the OF with Jesus Nunez and Melvin Charleston.  They also have the dividends from last year's Camacho trade at AAA - COF Doug Lindor and CF Yamil Pino - although Lindoor could use one more year of seasoning. Pino is ready now and CF Ismael Prado has 2 years on his contract...Prado for a 3B, anyone?

Outlook:  This was the team closest to cracking the "Big 7" last year, and they challenged the Rockies for most of the year.  I still think 2B Paco Sandoval could win an MVP, and if he and LF Julio Nunez ever put together big years in the same season, the Giants could do something special.  I think they need a couple of moves to challenge, though...find that 3B, and find a way to get an ace to replace Maicer Camacho.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Season 32:  67-95
GM: chisox378

Offseason:  LA had to replace a fair chunk of their pitching staff plus 3 hitters who mattered, so we're looking at a pretty complete roster makeover.  From free agency, Jarred Campana joins the 1B/OF committee, Eury Benitez becomes the backup C, and Juan Cordero comes home to play 3B after a 3-year hiatus in Pittsburgh.  The big move though, was a max deal for Otto Little, so now the Dodgers have a staff ace.  The farm system is contributing as well: Neftali Padilla (Season 29 #36) gets the starting catcher nod, Ali Alvarez (Season 30 #67) wins the RF job, and Eswalin Solano (Season 30 #34) and Vin Owen (Season 31 #37) make the bullpen.

Outlook:  LA's pitching was 15th in team ERA last year; it can only improve with Little in the #1 spot.  The offense wasn't bad last year (667 runs - 7th), and with Campana and Cordero they should be able to produce about as well this year.  The Dodgers committed 132 errors and made 95 bad plays last year - both tops in the NL.  They haven't made any moves to improve their defense and will have to before they threaten anyone.

Division Outlook:  
Colorado again, with the Giants 5-10 games back again.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Season 34 NL East Preview

Washington D.C. Nationals
Season 33:  97-65, lost in 2nd Round to Pittsburgh
GM:  chase39

Offseason:   No free agent losses of any importance and no free agent signings.  The only rookie to crack the Opening Day roster is RP Will Rathjen, a 3rd-rounder who turned into a ditr and should be on the ROY ballot (if he can get enough innings in D.C.'s already-sterling bullpen).

Outlook:  We said here last year they have no weaknesses, but that understates the case. They have 4 #1 starters in Benavente, Camacho, Velazquez and Spruill, with a #2 starter (Lee) in the 5th spot.  They have 3 absolute studs (Stevenson, Cervantes and Satou) in the bullpen.  The offense led the NL in runs (with 790) again, with 7 regulars OPS'ing over .800.  Only a spotty record (15-22) in 1-run games (compared to Atlanta's 30-19) kept them form having the NL's best regular-season record last year.  They're the favorite to win the East and the WS.

New York Mets
Season 33: 92-70
GM: overeasy

Offseason:   They're one of the league's youngest teams, so FA isn't hitting them yet.  They did step up and sign J.J. Bibby to be their closer for the next 3 seasons ($10MM per).  Rico Lopez got an early callup last year and OPS'd .799 as a 20 year-old - major contributions on the way.

Outlook:  No team in Major Leagues is as loaded with young stars as the Mets.  1B Ricardo Pena, 3B Lopez, LF Cecil Bonilla, and SP's Daniel Stevenson, Dante Day and Ruben Ozuna (2 CY's already) are all 24 or younger.  The overlooked guy, 25-yo SP Grant Young, has a 3.30 ERA over 4 seasons.  This team could win 115 games.  They play more defense than the Nats, especially at C, SS and CF, so they won't outscore D.C.  And they can't match Washington's bullpen.  I don't think they'll beat the Nationals, but with their star-power, they could.

Pittsburgh Pirates
Season 33:  94-68, won World Series
GM:  blanch13

Offseason:  Did lose a fairly important contributor (3B Juan Cordero) in FA; replaced him with a trade for 1B Andres Almora, moving Eddie Hamels to RF and R.A. Hollins to 3B.  The net is probably more pop at the expense of some defense at 3B.  SP Rafael Roque will make his regular season debut at Game 21after starring in last year's playoff run.

Outlook:  Only 1 real star on offense (ROY LF Robert Esposito), but they're competent offensively at 7 of 8 spots (except SS).  Even with a good offense (3rd in runs), they put up a stunning 114/14 on +/- plays.  When Roque arrives, they'll have their own Big 3 (with Milton Watson and Tony Baerga), and the bullpen, while not Nationals-esque, is more than adequate with Ernesto Johnson, Tito Grichuk and Frank Donald.  They'll probably be a it better than 94 wins this year.

Philadelphia Phillies
Season 32:  66-96
GM: tk21775

Offseason:  The Phils lost some older pitchers in FA - Steve Davenport, Benito Acosta, Dioner Encarnacion, and a couple of others.  They mostly went low-budget on the replacements - Andy Brantley for $1.3MM, Alex Burks for $2.3MM - but stepped up a bit to land Joe Roenicke for $4.8MM x 3 years. They also picked up Kiki Mijares to play 3B and Benji Nieto/Slash Rath to share 2B duties.

Outlook:  Not enough talent to hang with D.C., New York and Pittsburgh all season.  The offense is below average (560 runs last year) and the pitching isn't deep enough to weather 1400-1450 innings.  The front four of Alvin Phillips (12-10, 2.40 in 210 IP), Hooks Bogusevic (3.43 ERA in 134 IP), Roenicke (12-9, 3.07 in 198 for Montreal), and Earl Mesoraco (3.34 ERA over 7 seasons) is certainly good enough for them to surprise for awhile (as they did last year).  The bigger question is how they build a productive enough minor league pipeline to eventually compete in the East, while remaining competitive.  They have the 6th and 15th picks in this year's draft - nailing those would be a good start.

Division Outlook

I still think the Nationals are a nose better than the Mets and Pirates - a prediction that worked out last year.  Any of the 3 could go on a run and win the WS - if they get there.  Still, I'm picking Washington D.C. to take their 9th straight NL East title.