Friday, February 24, 2017

Season 34 NL South Preview

Welcome to the ever-interesting AL-South, where over the last 3 seasons Austin and Charlotte have turned the tables on Texas and San Juan (winners of the previous 11 South titles, frequently under different franchise names and locations).  With Texas looking like it's stepping back to regroup, it looks like Austin and Charlotte again, with San Juan scrambling to catch up.

San Juan Padres
Season 33:  82-80

Season 32 In A Nutshell
Very nice 11-win improvement, thanks to a jump from 15th to 10th in runs scored, and an even bigger jump from 12th to 5th in Team ERA.  1B Bip Thornton (.297/32/88) and 3B Branden Clarkson (.289/42/90) sparked the offensive resurgence; all 5 primary starting pitchers improved their ERA's from Season 32.

Biggest Offseason Moves
Let LR Raymond Peterson and 1B Matty Campos walk in free agency; made a huge defensive upgrade (and maybe a slight offensive upgrade too) in CF with FA Alex Prieto for a steal of a price at $5.6 million for 3 years - great under-the-radar FA signing.

Season 34 Preview
Padres, please tell me you're going to make Omir Stowers your primary C.  Yeah, average-at-best arm and pitch calling, but that bat is just too good to leave on the bench again.  I know Felipe Cervantes is the rarest of birds who excels defensively at both 1B and C (a quirk of the diamond-in-the-rough algorithm no doubt), but that .611 OPS last year was beyond painful.

Besides, San Juan now has one of the best defensive squads around - Gold Glovers at 3B and SS with Clarkson and Orlando Mendoza, and potentially in CF with Prieto.   Whoever mans 2B, be it Cookie Jamie, Alex Duran or Gerald Nakano, is also going to be more of a defensive force than run-producer.  Not sure how they land another bat at this late date, but I'd love to see them swing some kind of a deal for a solid hitter for 1B.

OK, the hitting vs. defense debate aside, their pitching needs to look more like last year's than Season 32's. Rodgers,  Duran, Bautista, Howard and Granderson started 145 games in Season 32 and 161 games last year, and all 5 improved their ERA's significantly.  All 5, in fact, went below their career norms last year, so you have to expect at least some of them to blow up a bit this year.

The Padres run a mostly long-relief bullpen (4 long relievers), possibly as a way to increase the odds of finding 3 or 4 hot SP's for a season.  Not a lot of breakout potential among this group, although Henderson Koloff has put together some good seasons. 

I think they'll get some good things from their 2 exciting prospects in AAA - SP Ezequiel Escobar (Season 30 #22) and RP Ozzie Martin (Season 30 IFA).  These 2 could be their 2 best pitchers in short order.

Prognosis:  If everything goes right, they might push Austin and Charlotte.  More likely, they improve some more from last year but still get 3rd place.

Trade I'd Like To See:  Louie Almonte (Season 33 #9), when he's healthy, for a banger 1B.

Austin Massachusetts
Season 33: 97-65, Won Division, lost to Syracuse in the Division Round

Season 33 In A Nutshell
9-win improvement and 2nd straight division crown.  Their pitching really came together, as 4 SP's (Dawkins - 2.22, Tepera - 2.78, Matos - 3.46, and Martinez - 3.88) posted sub-4 ERA's.  The offense was wildly productive again (837 runs scored - 3rd in NL) behind another monster Trace Clark season (45 HR, .445 OBP) and the late-season boost from Yean Carlos Gonzalez (.326/18/45 in 40 games).

Biggest Offseason Moves
Gotta give raybie credit - he's not afraid to make the big deal.  One was last year's trade for Gonzalez; they did give up a couple of good young pitchers in Torey Izquierdo and Miguel Cedeno.  But not their best young pitchers, so I lean toward this deal as a big win for Austin.  One downside: Gonzalez looks like a fair bet to go FA after season 38, so they may only get 5 seasons of Gonzalez for 20 or so controlled seasons of the 2 P's.  The second big move was the big FA deal for Bartolo Cela, which I love - it fills a critical position need, and I don't think his age-30's ratings decline (power mostly, but some range too) will diminish his value much over the contract.  My bigger concern is the injury risk. Their 3rd big move was the trade for C Rickey Long, which I don't think was well advised (other than it let them move on from Cy Knepper, which now that I look more closely, may have been worth it just for that)...more on that in Outlook.

Season 34 Outlook

In my (frequently wrong-headed) opinion, the Long trade forced them to play Clark at 1B and Gonzalez in RF, guaranteeing something like 35 bad plays at those 2 spots. Better to acquire a COF (in a preseason market awash with COF's...cripes, Columbus can't even get rid of Woody Reagan), put Clark at C, Gonzalez at 1B, and poof...erases 35 bad plays.  They're a playoff team even with the extra 35 bad plays, but in the playoffs 1 or 2 bad plays could send you packin'.

<<<<Interesting side note>>> Austin agreed to acquire "perfectly adequate" LF Ernest Stynes from New Orleans for defensive stopper Yangervis Vega, only to have the deal nullified when Vega went #2 in the Rule 5 draft.

The starting pitching should be sterling there a better rotation one through five in the NL than Dawkins, Tepera, Matos, Martinez and Ramos?  Buffalo and Salem beat them in team ERA last year but both had much greater bullpen contributions.  Give me Austin's rotation as the NL's best.

The bullpen will be better but needs depth.  Hong-Jin Baek will snap back from his worst season ever, and Livan Maduro will provide 70 quality innings again, but they could use probably 1 more quality reliever (maybe not even needed until the playoffs, so a trade deadline deal perhaps?).

I asked raybie for his comments on the team and here's what he said:

"I'm very optimistic this season because I feel like the team doesn't have any major weaknesses. I think my offense should be top 3 in league, even without the ballpark effect.  And I feel really good about my 1-4 SPs. I don't love my bullpen but hopefully I won't have to rely on them much. Of course 1B and RF will be defensive liabilities but if I'm gonna have duds in the field I want them at those 2 positions.

'Lee will be CF against LHP with Cela at 2B. Against RHPs I'll play Ryu instead of Lee, either at 2B or CF.

'One thing I'm going to be sure to do this season is make sure my guys are rested come playoff time. Even with a first round bye last season I still had guys at 95-97%. Dumb on my part."

Prognosis:  Best case 100 wins and Division crown.  If everything goes south they still get a wild card.

Trade I'd Like To See:  scrape together a couple of middling prospects or younger MLers and send them to Columbus for Jose Palacios

Charlotte Steam
Season 33: 94-68, Wild Card, lost to Syracuse in Round 1

Season 33 In A Nutshell
In a stunning turnaround, they went from 56 wins to 94. They promoted most of the prospects obtained in the Season 32 sell-off, made big trades for Harry Johnson, Andre Counsel and Jack Allensworth; and eventually came away with Bucky Champion in the great mid-season waiver kerfuffle.  One of the best-executed one-season turnarounds you'll ever see.

Biggest Offseason Moves
Parlayed a big suplus of COF's into SP's Vladimir Andujar (for Jenrry Zumaya) and Adeiny Cedeno (for Gustavo Trevino).

One might question giving that much for Andujar given that he's likely a 1-year rental, but they had (1) a real logjam of talent at COF, and (2) a pair of monster SP prospects at AAA (Paul Kinney, Sea 33 #2, and Geraldo Manto, a Season 33, $22 million IFA).  Next season might be early for both of those prospects, but Manto could certainly make the jump if needed.

Season 34 Outlook
Pep Walsh ( .289/38/122 and reigning NL ROY) leads the parade of young stars that includes 2B Fautino Castillo (.288/28/91) and LF Octavio Trevino (.269/28/96).  It seems like they've traded a dozen COF's this offseason, but still have Dallas Sever (.295/13/39 in 183 AB) to replace Zumaya in RF.  Brett McMahan, an 11th rounder who has morphed into one of Hobbs' best DITR's, looks like he'll get 300 AB's as the primary backup at 1B and both COF spots.  Charlotte was 2nd in the NL with 850 runs last year; they might not have the same depth and firepower this season, but I bet they'll still get well over 800 runs across.

Pitching was the big offseason focus.  I'm guessing Counsel, Allensworth, and Andujar are set as the top three starters; they have 5 more SP's vying for 2 rotation spots - maybe they just go with the hot hand and spread 65 starts among all 5 of those guys.  If I had to pick 2 for the rotation now, I'd go with Johnny Gardner (Season 30's #4 pick) and gee, I don't know.  I'd probably audition all season for the #5 starter.

The Steam's late-inning guys get the nod over Austin's, largely due to the presence of Bucky Champion, although Freddie Martin certainly had a nice rookie season.  One concern: with all the shuffling around last year, Champion managed to lose a couple of rating points.  Nothing major, but when you're paying $15 million a year, every point counts (and he certainly didn't dominate in his Charlotte stint last year - .782 OPS-against in 39 IP...something to keep an eye on).

Prognosis:  their pitching was quite good last year (right behind Austin's in Team ERA in fact), but some of those guys are gone and some bettered their career norms.  I think they've done enough with the additions, plus Champion for a full season, that their pitching could improve even more.  I think it's 50/50 between the Steam and Austin for the crown.

Trade I'd Like To See:  nothing obvious...they still have just 12 position players on the ML roster and I assume they'll add a couple of backup COF's.

Texas Choades
Season 33:  87-75

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Reached a 6-year high in wins but couldn't quite hang with Austin and Charlotte.  Got outstanding pitching performances from Joe Johnson (14-8, 2.73), John Reed (25 saves, 2.95 ERA), Corey Booker (0.99 WHIP, 5 wins after arriving in a late-season trade), and Joe Cunningham (16-8, 3.52).  The offense didn't quite measure up, falling from 770 runs to 701, as 1B Bob Tucker suffered through a "bad" season of only .286/39/113.

Biggest Offseason Moves
The free-agent departures of Corey Booker and John Shigetoshi marked the beginning of the "teardown" phase of the rebuilding plan, which has so far seen the trades of ace SP Joe Johnson (to Indiana for Phil Newfield and Gary Blair) and reliever Matt Naulty (to New Orleans for Bernie Escobar). On the free agent side they signed a couple of nice low-budget players in 3B Harry Estrada and OF Randy Floyd.

Season 34 Outlook
It's gonna be a long year (if all you're looking at is the W-L record).  

As constructed now, Texas is competitive but not a contender.  There's some pop in the lineup with Tucker and COF's Floyd and Willie Palmeiro (it's all righthanded but that's really splitting hairs at this stage).  They have a very nice defensive duo up the middle in Don Loretta and Patrick Bordick.  And the pitching staff still has some bright lights in Newfield, Cunningham and short reliever Reed.

Of course, "competitive" and "rebuilding" have to balance. Since the Choades won 87 last year, they can go pretty low and still make the 2-year mwr of 125.  Let's say they trade Tucker and Cunningham and only win 60 - they clear they clear the mwr easily and set up to make the mwr the following year with just 65 wins. And I think this team would win more than 60 even without Cunningham and Tucker.

Personally, I'm a huge fan of the "Charlotte 1-year turnaround model".  They won 81 games in Season 31, cleared out everybody in Season 32 and took their lumps with 56 wins, and bounced back with 94 last year.  Would love to see Texas follow the same path.

Prognosis: 4th, but the more interesting question is how they go about rebuilding

Trade I'd Love To See:  There are more than a handful of teams that would pay up for Bob about division-mate San Juan?  Tucker for Louie Almonte, anyone? How about the Orphans?  David James' contract is up this year.  Eddie Harvey's contract in Durham is up this year. Seems like there would be more than a couple of ideal deadline deals for Tucker.

Division Outlook
1. Charlotte
2. Austin
3. San Juan
4. Texas

Thursday, February 23, 2017

How The B.C.Alfonzo Trade Went Down (from the Washington D.C. Point of View)

In a very active offseason, Washington D.C. and Iowa City have just agreed to perhaps the biggest trade of all of them: Iowa City gives P Wladimir Mercado for D.C.'s B.C.Alfonzo, Hack Palmer and Rymer Deduno.  Here's how it happened from the point of view of D.C. GM foolsgold79:

"So Iowa City first approached me about sending Hack Palmer (Seas 32 #28 overall)  Rymer Deduno (Sea 32 #39 overall) and Oswaldo Seguignol from D.C. for Wladimir Mercado (Season 30 #2 overall). I was ready to pull the trigger on that deal, but I had already committed Seguignol in a different trade.

'I countered, asking for Iowa City to swap out Seguignol for a different prospect, but he couldn't find a good fit. That's when we began to talk ML players. Iowa City came back with the same deal, but this time with Jenrry Zumaya in place of Seguignol, and he would also send me a ML position player. Having just acquired Zumaya, I was hesitant.

'I tried to expand the deal to include Mercado and a second SP prospect for Zumaya and Deduno, however he balked at sending a second SP prospect. We briefly discussed a super deal next.

'This deal would have sent Kelvim Hasegawa and Jenrry Zumaya to Iowa City for Mercado and Theo Schulte (Sea 31 #6 overall), plus complimentary pieces. I wasn't ready to give up that much of my ML lineup, so I finally countered back with a couple of variations of the trade that was accepted, at the last minute inserting B.C. Alfonzo. I did make a brief run at sending everything to Iowa City for Chris Osborne (Sea 33 #1 overall) , but I was quickly rebuffed and told he wasn't available. This negotiation took place over three days and 30+ trade chats."

The B.C. Alfonzo Trade From Iowa City's Point of View

In a very active offseason, Washington D.C. and Iowa City have just agreed to perhaps the biggest trade of all of them: Iowa City gives P Wladimir Mercado for D.C.'s B.C.AlfonzoHack Palmer and Rymer Deduno.  Here's how it happened from the point of view of Iowa City GM slashtc:

"The trade started by him asking about pitching (as he did publicly I believe in the world chat). I told him I have some good pitchers, but they are young and controllable (and cheap) which was perfect for my rebuilding team. I view(ed) my future rotation as Chris Osborne (Sea 33 #1 overall), Theo Schulte (Sea 31 #6 overall), Mercado (Sea 30 #2 overall), Dan Keller (Sea 27 #5 overall) and a FA to be determined as my team gets better.

'It started that I offered him Mercado for the C (Hack Palmer -- Sea 32 #28) and DH (Rymer Deduno - Sea 32 #39) I ultimately got and the SS he had already included in another trade (Oswaldo Seguignol - which I wasn't aware of at the time). The big thing for me with the SS was he was a plus defender and a great batting eye (plays well in my park). 

'That started discussions where I told him I needed something of value to me beyond the 2 prospects coming back to deal Mercado. I asked for Zumaya while sending him back J.D. Booker. He didn't want to move Zumaya (understandably). We discussed various prospects that weren't good enough to help my team at all. We discussed Hasegawa but that deal started getting too complex with Aramboles going back to him.

'We had essentially reached a stalemate. He hadn't rejected a couple of the offers I made meaning he was still thinking about them. I told him a had some other inquiries about Mercado but I wouldn't make a move today without giving him a chance to decide first. He sent me two offers with BC out of the blue (he had not been in any previous discussions). One was for Mercado and Schulte where I got BC and Zumaya. I rejected that one right away as giving up half of my future rotation wasn't on my to do list. The other was the offer that I ultimately accepted, though I did think hard about it. 

'By ratings it looks like a no-brainer, but I have concerns about BCs health rating (and the fact he hasn't had a major injury yet) and his contract. This team is still at least 2 seasons from being really good. Once it is, he'll be approaching FA, which means other than draft picks (assuming no career ending injuries) I will have nothing to show for him. It's also $5M less that I can spend on IFAs after transfer and this is my last year to have a shot at that before I need to start adding ML pieces. What this may ultimately do is move my timeline up and I may become a player in FA next year."

Thursday, February 2, 2017

It's Awards Season


Afraid the MVP races are going to be boring this year (and they probably should be), as Jin-Chi Itou in the AL and Ike Allen in the NL put up 2 of the greatest offensive seasons in Hobbs history.

Where to start?  Itou's 67 HR's were the 4th-most all-time, his .758 slugging percentage was the best all-time, and his OPS of 1.180 was #2 all-time.  His runs created of 178.9 was #4 all-time and his rc/27 of 12.23 was 4th all-time.  Given that most of the top seasons in all those categories came in the early days of Hobbs and its higher scoring, Itou's year has a claim of being the best offensive season ever.

But so does Allen's.  He's not quite the power hitter Itou is - he "only" hit 51 HRs.  But he added 41 doubles and 9 triples for a total of 101 extra base-hits.  Our player records sections doesn't keep records of extra base-hits,  but 100+ seasons are exceedingly rare.  On top of that, Allen had 222 total hits - tied for 3rd all-time, and set a new single-season record for runs created with 191.675 (his rc/27 of 12.189 is right behind Itou's mark for 5th all-time).

There were some other great seasons - Hugh Pierre's .347/48/153 stands out - but Itou and Allen probably win in runaways.  Seasons like those just don't come around often.

AL Cy Young

Looks like the Sam Stock show (again), as the crafty middle reliever goes for his 3rd straight CY.

He should win again, and not because of the 32 wins.  For the 3rd time in 4 seasons, he led both leagues in all 5 qualitative categories (OAV, OBP-against, Slugging %-against, WHIP and ERA) by wide margins.  He led in Slugging %-against by 60 points.  For the 2nd time, he flirted with the magical .500 OPS-against barrier, finishing at .505.  As best I can tell, the only pitcher who has finished a season with a sub-.500 OPS against (with the required 162 innings pitched) was Orlando Fernandez in his incredible Season 22 (.485 OPS-against).

What will the AL's starters have to do to wrest the award from Stock in the future?  I don't know, but his most immediate threat may come from Stock-clone Bralin Kohn of Philadelphia.  The Erffdoggs appear to have used him much like New Orleans uses Stock - 2-3 innings at a time in the mid-game.  He responded with 22 wins and a fine 2.76 ERA in 160 innings pitched.

NL Cy Young

Finally, a race.  I think it comes down to Dawkins vs. Johnson in a matchup of 2 former winners.  Dawkins had the lowest OPS-against of the group - an excellent .585. Johnson wasn't much above that - .614 but in a little tougher park for pitchers.  It's very close to a tossup, but I'll go with Dawkins.


In an unusual twist, all 5 candidates are pitchers.  Makes the comparison a bit easier.  Kohn's qualitative numbers are far and away the best across the board.  OK, and Kohn threw more innings than all except Nunally (who tossed 8 more innings than Kohn).  Pretty easy call here - Kohn might win unanimously.


OK, sometimes WIS has "0's-across" on the stat line for awards candidates, and I'll bet it's cost players the award here and there.  Could happen with Buffalo's Laynce Vogelsong, who actually hit .365 with 19 HR and 62 RBI in 427 plate appearances.  Charlotte's 1B Pep Walsh (.289/38/122 in nearly 700 plate appearances) probably wins, and he probably deserves it given the almost 300 more plate appearances than Vogelsong.  But Vogelsong was quite a bit better by some measures...1.002 OPS to .860, for example.  Consider my ballot for Vogelsong a protest vote.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Around Hobbs At The One-Third Point (NL)

We're just about a third through the season...what's happening around the league?  A look at races, surprises and individual performances.

NL North

No big surprise that Buffalo is leading, but Iowa City has made a huge jump, from barely making the MWR last year to contender this year.  Chicago's not out of it but might need to make some pitching moves (4.59 ERA) to help out that league-leading offense.  Toledo needs to catch fire to make the MWR (currently on pace for 45 wins).

Odd stat:  The North has the top 3 scoring teams in the NL.

Top Hitters:  Chicago's Herm Stein (.352/12/32), Buffalo's Carlos Valdivia (.310/17/41), Iowa City's Juan Aramboles (.315/14/47)

Top Pitchers:  Toledo's Javier Gutierrez (3-1.1.62), Iowa City's Wladimir Mercado (5-0, 1.77), Iowa City's Yeico Ortiz (5-1, 2.59)

Top Rookies:  Iowa City's Julian Fernandez (.331/3/13)

NL East

Another non-surprise with Dover leading, but Syracuse has surprised by hanging only a game back.  Neither Jacksonville nor Trenton is out of it despite obvious rebuilding efforts.

Odd stat:  Dover is playing 70 points over its expected winning % despite an unremarkable 6-5 record in 1-run games.  Both Syracuse and 3rd-place Jacksonville have higher expected wins than Dover.

Top Hitters: Bartolo Cela (.383/14/46) (DOV), Woody Regan (.292/13/32) (DOV), Rick Black (.321/8/38) (SYR)

Top Pitchers:  Louis Wilson (6-3, 2.06) (DOV), Alejandro Sosa (5-2, 2.43) (SYR), Al Servet (2-5, 3.21) (SYR), 

Top Rookies: Tex Cromer (.313/6/23) (JAX), Doug Duncan (.259/12/42) (SYR), Milton Hutton (3-4, 3.63) (TRE)

NL South

Home of the NL's 2 best records with Austin at 33-17 an Charlotte at 31-19.  Austin has done it with Hobbs' best pitching (3.17 ERA)...Charlotte hasn't been shabby on the mound either (3rd in NL at 3.64), and the 2 NL leaders are 6th and 7th in NL runs.  Texas and San Juan round out 1 of 2 divisions where all 4 teams are .500 or better.

Odd stat:  AUS is 6th in scoring despite a lack of power (52 HR's - 12th - in a fairly hitter-positive park).  They make up for it with a .345 OBP (2nd).

Top Hitters: AUS Trace Clark (.324/11/34) leads the NL in OBP; SJU Brandon Clarkson (.334/18/38) leads NL in HR;  CHA Octavio Trevino (.291/11/41, .425 OBP)

Top Pitchers: AUS Derrick Dawkins (6-1, 1.83), AUS Willie Tepera (3-2, 2.29), AUS Torey Izquierdo (2-0, 2.34), AUS Juan Martinez (8-3, 2.42), CHA Rubby Franco (7-1, 3.75), TEX John Reed (10 saves, 0.87 ERA)

Top Rookies:  CHA Pep Walsh (.292/12/37), TEX Corban Miles (4 saves, 2.38 ERA)

NL West

Only 1 game separates everybody, as Salem's recent 3-7 and Scottsdale's 7-3 tightened everything up.

Odd stat:  Scottsdale is staying close despite a 4.82 team ERA - 15th in the NL

Top Hitters:  SAL Ike Allen (.338/16/48), SF Harvey Tracy (.327/14/47), HON B.J. Dunwoody (.305/15/41), 

Top Pitchers:  SF Chili Baker (6-3, 2.35), SAL Derrick Finley (4-2, 2.94), HON Earle Carraway (5-3, 3.19), SCO  Howie Iannone (16 saves, 1.56 ERA), HON Diego Romo (16 saves, 2.55 ERA)

Top Rookies:  ??

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Season 33 Al East Preview

Season 32: 106-56, Won Division, won World Series

Season 32 In A Nutshell
After knocking on the door for many years, the Blitz finally broke it down.  In most seasons Kelvim Hasegawa would've been the MVP (.321/35/129 with 51 SB's), but he had to settle for runnerup to Itou's 8th.  An early-season injury cost him 100 extra-basehits.

Season 33 Preview

Huntington pumps out the runs (977 last year) behind its contact/power/batting eye trio of Hasegawa, CF B.C Alfonzo (.319/41/137) and RF Olmedo Lee (.300/27/108).  Added bonus:  neither Hasegawa nor Alfonzo ever needs to take a day off (although Alfonzo does present an injury risk, having missed big chunks of Seasons 26 and 27).  They routinely pick up complimentary pieces for peanuts - this year's were C Eduardo Franco (4 years, $15.6MM) and Daryl Armstrong, who amazingly they got on waivers.  Their offense will be right there at #1 or #2 again.

As the team has aged it's the pitching staff that has taken the brunt of the losses.  The team ERA has risen from 3.29 in Season 30 to 3.79 in Season 31 to 4.10 in Season 32 (Who cares when your playoff ERA is 3.06, right?  But it's a trend worth watching).  Mark Martin had an incredible 3-year run as a sometimes-starter, sometimes middle-reliever throwing 140+ innings a year, but age had eroded his skills and he moved on for 1 more contract in Charlotte.  Jerry Ball and Boots Snider auditioned for that critical role last year; Ball failed miserably while Snider was encouraging in 85 innings. The reliable and sometimes-spectacular Shane Phillips and Vladimir Andujar will probably both get about 35 starts again and you know they're going to give you 450-470 good innings.  They're turning to Dioner Duran to fill the short relief hole left by Fausto Rodriguez.

A little unconventional but imminently effective...another 100+ win season coming in Huntington.

Durham Dark Monsters
Season 32:  75-87

Season 32 In A Nutshell

Well, the 2 years in Durham have produced more fireworks (scoring up nearly 20% plus an MVP for Monahan) but pretty much the same result.  Monahan (.279/51/137) and Eddie Harvey (.300/35/136) were outstanding, but the pitchers couldn't keep the ball in the park, allowing 247 HR's en route to a 5.08 ERA.

Season 33 Preview
The lineup gets a rookie-infused refit, with Victor Brady (Season 31 #11) at 2B, Jose Rosa (Season 29 #18) at SS, and Radhames Mendoza (OK, nor a rookie...200+ AB's last year) moving into starting roles.  Not stars but good compliments to the Monahan/Harvey RBI machine.  Vicente Rodriguez is pretty much a guaranteed .300 at DH, and Bernard Clifton is hugely valuable as a both a top leadoff man and defensive CF.  I don't know if they'll score more than last year's 807 runs, but it will cost them less to do it, and that's a good trend.

The Leon/Webster/Brooks - led rotation that looked so good in Burlington doesn't in Durham. While the 5.26 home ERA can be excused by pitching in a closet, the road ERA of 4.88 isn't appreciably better.  This year's FA addition, Christian Nakamura, isn't likely to help.  When they turn it over to the 'pen, it's old pro Yamil Duran who seems most capable - he managed a 3.82 ERA in his first year in Durham although he only pitched 33 innings (I'm guessing he was injured but didn't go on the DL).

The pitching will hold them back again, although the elevation of 3 rookies is encouraging.  This is probably the last season they'll be able to get a top prospect (or 2) if htey decide to trade Monahan...could we see a 1-year rebuild ala Charlotte with trades of Monahan, Harvey, Leon, Webster?

Chicago Capone's
Season 32: 66-96

Season 32 In A Nutshell

Trending down for a couple of seasons now as they concentrate on developing the farm.  The offense was pretty good (745 runs) with Jacob Sheldon smacking 40 HR's and Addison Oropesa posting a .298/.372/.578 slash in a shortened season.  The pitching really disappointed (5.10 ERA) with only long reliever Andy Richmond able to keep his ERA under 4.

Season 33 Preview

We're looking at another building year...much the same roster as last season.  The offense definitely has some pop with Sheldon at third, Oropesa in right, Javier Fernandez  (.279/28/108) at first and Vlad Henriquez catching (.266/28/79).  

Of the rotation, Eury Galaragga (injured last year, but a 3.68 ERA in Season 30) seems most likely to break out and have a good season.  While I'm not optimistic that Davey Bolick's ratings will translate to great succes, they will produce some interesting box scores.  Of the relievers, Pascual Hernandez has the stuff to produce good numbers, although it's been a few seasons since he has.

Some nice young stars to watch in Chicago, but very little pitching to go with them.  Let's hope they nail their #6 pick as well in this draft as they did with #12 (Zack Sears) last year.

Indianapolis 4th Chamber
Season 32:  80-82

Season 32 In A Nutshell

Steadily improving...52, 69,72,80 (those are the win totals the last 4 seasons).  The offense really arrived with 794 runs; Arthur Wells, obtained in an early-season trade, hit .282 with 31 home runs and a team-high 117 RBI.  The pitching staff improved but continues to rebuild.

Season 33 Preview

The lineup/run production is there: 1B Yean-Carlos Gonzalez and RF Darren Walton are superstars and MVP contenders; 3B Trenidad Durazo, LF Wells and DH Mule Byrnes are rising stars; Dillon Hull is among Hobbs' top CF's; and C Pablo Rosado and 2B Edgar Martin are + hitters.  This offense will improve on those 794 runs scored and could crack the top 3 in the AL.

The pitching staff is not as accomplished but it's getting there.  The Season 32 trade that brought Gonzalez also landed Geroge Camili, who's an anchor (250-260 innings) but not quite an ace (.693 career OPS-against).  
 Phil Newfield and Wily Osoria look to be of similar quality...looks like a rotation front 3 that's good enough if the offense really lights it up.
It's really a similar take on theoir late-inning guys - Sipp, Arcia and Caxito.  All are young and unproven...I think they'll all have their share of bright moments and more than a few epci meltdowns.

Division Outlook
It's Huntington again, all the way, although Indy will probably inch a bit closer.  Yes, Durham and Chicago have started well, but will be 3/4 sooner or later.