Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Season 36 NL North Preview

Montreal Expos
Season 35: 91-71, lost to Houston in Round 1

The Offseason:  Shook things up by trading coveted OF Leonardo Grimm to Seattle for SP Mitch Lee, and slugger Danny Barr and reliever Yunesky Baez to Houston for OF/1B Vin Almonte and  RP Mitch Mirabelli.  Free agency took a heavy toll this year, with ace SP Jim Colin jumping to Houston and 2B Miguel Arias leaving for Tampa Bay.  They countered in FA by signing SP Paxton Buhner (lifetime 3.32 ERA) and C Jose Gongora (lifetime .295 BA).

Outlook: Montreal led the NL in runs last year (799), but it's hard to see that happening when 3 of their top 5 OPS'ers (Barr, Arias and Grimm) have moved on.  2B looks like it might be a shared arrangement between defensive wiz Cesar Nicasio and the more offensively-talented Felipe Flores.  The arrangement may work out OK (especially in the budget department, as both are minimum-salary), but it won't produce runs the way Arias did.  They didn't really replace Barr, as most of his action last year came as a RF replacement for Orlando Figueroa. Backup or not, they'll miss the 23 longballs. Almonte is essentially an older, right-handed version of Grimm, so they replaced that production.  Still a good offense with those guys plus 1B Wesley Duffy (.274/25/88) and CF Jordy Pierre (.288/24/76).

I don't know what to make of Paxton Buhner.  I look at this ratings and don't expect to check his stats and find a career 3.32 ERA.  OK, 8 years pitching in ultra pitcher-friendly San Diego, but he did almost as well for 2 years in neutral Atlanta.  You never know, but I'd expect his ratings to eventually catch up with him.  Lee looks pretty good, but he's also benefitted from a big ballpark (Seattle) and it remains to be seen if he can really handle lefties.  Their other 3 starters (Stroman, James and Ross), all had better seasons last year than their career norms (in a year when their overall pitching ranked 13th in NL).

So, their pitching looks like a risk.  It could well be OK, but I'd guess it still come in in the lower half of the league.

Chicago Cubs
Season 35: 71-91
GM: helop

The Offseason:  They only lost some over-the-hill pitchers and backup C Jumbo Diaz in FA, and signed C Jamie Shibata and short reliever Malcolm Buxton.

Outlook:  The future is now for the Cubbies; slugger deluxe Walker Brooks has 4-5 prime years left, gets another lineup compliment this year in Adrian Garcia (Season 32's #5 overall pick), and has a pair of nice young starters at the top of the rotation (Alex Lloyd - probably the best pitcher in the Season 31 draft at #7 - and Nelson Jenkins).  Season 32's #4 overall, LF Reggie Hunter, had a very nice 266/31/90 as as a rookie; he'd be a real monster at 2B but they're an OF short of being able to do so.  In the meantime, Luigi Merced is adequate at 2B.  They also have to like what CF Steve Mench has done his first 2 seasons.  There was doubt about whether his range would play in CF, but he's been OK on +/- split and caught everything he's gotten to.  I know they only scored 629 runs last year, but I think this lineup is ready to go well beyond that.

After Lloyd and Jenkins, unfortunately, the pitching is a black hole.  There are a bunch of guys who have 1 good year out of 3 (Rocky Clinton ERA last 3 years: 4.35, 3.36, 5.12) and you never know which year this is.  The Cubbies were dead last in ERA last year...they could be better this year but it would register as a mild surprise.

Milwaukee Brewers
Season 35: 70-92
GM:  mjdato

The Offseason:  This offseason was about dropping payroll as the rebuild continues under mjdato.  The Brewcrew let 3 starting pitchers go (Doug Mateo, Al Polonia and Geraldo Iglesias) and replaced them with youngish free agents this year.

Outlook:  Let's face it, this year will be rough (keep that minimum win requirement in mind, mjdato).  But a bright future is already in sight, thanks to 4 seasons of good drafting and a bargain on a star IFA:

Season 35:  landed 3 #1's including #9 Nestor Bautista

Season 34:  Scored Ernest Chamberlain at #1 and added another supplemental #1

Season 33:  oops, whiffed on #4 Jorge Campos

Season 32:  Five #1's from #'s 13 to 42

And in Season 33, for the bargain price of $10MM, they signed monster IFA pitcher Salvador Johnson ***

By Season 38, Milwaukee could have a front 3 of Johnson***, Chamberlain and Bautista, and have about another dozen #1's on the ML roster. 

***yep, I missed that low durability, so he won't be a starter, and won't even get many innings as a reliever, but you still gotta love an arm like that

Cincinnati Reds
Season 35: 75-87
GM: wrecks

The Offseason:  Released pitchers Brad Knight, Furio Jefferson and Bob Philips; traded 3B Melvin Becker to Seattle for P Lyle Bush; signed P Cliff Smith; promoted 2B Enrique Johnson (Season 32 IFA).

Outlook: Speaking of rebuilds, look no further than here for one that's about to come to fruition.  After 6 years in the desert, Cincy is just about ready to unleash hell on the rest of us.
The Reds won 75 last year, and that was with prized #1 Stan Robinson struggling (.235/20/50).  Look for a vast improvement in his sophomore campaign. Likewise ace starter Pablo Suarez, who didn't really struggle at 11-10, 3.12 but can be even better.  We'll likely see C Cecil Dougherty (Season 32 #3) and Thomas Seanez (Season 32 IFA) at Game 20, and there's a boatload of ace prospects still in the low minors.

I don't know if the big breakthrough is coming this year or next, but the NL North status quo will be shaken up soon.

The Division Race: One
 of the tougher calls, as it looks like the Expos will fall off some and the Reds and Cubs are charging.  I'm going out on a limb and predicting Cincinnati will nip Montreal in a squeaker.

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