AL East Preview (Season 32)
Huntington Fire Blitz
Season 31 in a nutshell: Another great regular season, followed by an improbable playoff collapse. There is no reason to expect anything less than last season's division title, and they are overdue for a trip to the Series. Regardless, they have brought back the cachet of the early years of the franchise.
Who's out? 1B Raymond Lieber, RP Kurt Marte, RF Lewis Gilkey, RP Laynce Nash, RP Sammy Morales, 3B Bobby Michaels.
Who's in? C Jung Lee Wang, 1B Scott Barnes, SP Aramis Romo, RP Alexei Gardel, SP Cristian Remlinger
Season 32: Offensively, losing Gilkey and Michaels is going to hurt. Despite being 38 years old, Gilkey was still terrific and became just the third member of the 3000 hits club. There has been speculation that steelforge may be thinking of trying the C in RF gambit as he has 3 catchers who can hit in Wang, Joaquin Escobar and Aneury Saenz. Michaels was a force with both the glove and the bat., but his best two positions are also played by the best 2 players on the team, 3B Kelvim Hasegawa and 2B B.C. Alfonzo. CF Olmedo Lee is another fine bat, but his play in the field is a little uneven. Swapping him for Alfonzo's extra range might be something to consider. Barnes at 1B and Carlos tatis at DH help round out an excellent offense.
The pitching is not quite the same caliber. Remlinger and Romo join holdovers Vladimir Andujar, Shane Phillips and Lastings Wood in the rotation. All are servicable, but only Phillips stands out as ace material. The pen has a lot of depth, with Gardel joining Mark Martin, Fausto Rodriguez, Boots Snyder and Ismael Zurburan in a bullpen by committee. All in all, an easy pick to repeat.
Durham Dark Monsters
Season 31 in a nutshell: Second place, a game under .500. Are they going up or down? Well, the bullpen added several new faces, and the offense seemed to under perform in general, so I am looking for incremental improvement.
Who's out? No one of note.
Who's in? Relief pitchers Walt Hairston, Jarred Curtis, Yamil Duran and Joey Jones.
Season 32: Four good to very good relievers, with Duran being the best instantly improve the pitching staff. They join John Knight and Devan Lombardozzi in the pen. The rotation consists of two good pitchers in Gorkys Leon and J.T. Webster, and three question marks. tony Duran is a just fair SP, While Bert Brooks has his career off to a nice start, but that 51 vR suggests it is unsustainable. Vic Park.....well....anyone know what the league record for worst ERA is?
Offensively, things look a little brighter. 3B Joshua Monahan, 1B Eddie Harvey and CF Bernard Clifton are studs. Harry Mercado would be an all around good SS if his arm was more accurate. RF Benji Almanzar and DH Vicente Rodriguez are solid. COF Radhames Mendoza looks like fine talent but is possibly being rushed to the majors. There is enough here to score some runs. When all is said and done,look for small improvement. Maybe 3 games over .500 instead of a game under. Of course the greatly improved Indy squad could sabotage things.
Season 31 in a nutshell: 78 wins and third place in division. A fairly young veteran team with potential to be better than that record. (Also, a team that made a TON of moves.)
Who's out? RP Bud Bonilla, SP Doug Kaline, RP Enrique Nunez, LF Tex Guerrero, SP John Wheat, Victor Candelaria, RP Quilvio Castro, C Calvin Uribe, SP Kevin Lewis, LF Ajax Williams
Who's in? RP Vasco Gonzalez, 3B Mike Weinhardt, LF Timothy Denham, RP Andy Richmond, SP Charlie Zeile, SP Davey Bolick, Roberto Gonzalez, RP Domingo Hernandez.
Season 32: With all the recent moves, the Capones did get somewhat better, and Nesman does an interesting job of signing players with huge bonuses and low salaries, making players like Weinhardt a real value for the $$. But all the moves didn't net any huge gains. So how does it shake out? You start with the offense with this team, specifically RF Addison Oropesa, 3B Jacob Sheldon and 1B Javier Fernandez. All of them 26 or under and the nucleus of the club. Weinhardt, Denham, 1B Willie Palmeiro and C Vladimir Henriquez are the supporting cast, with Henriquez being the best hitter of the bunch, but questionable defensively. Young SS Charlie Ervin is a great fielder with a little pop.
The pitching doesn't fare quite so well. Eury Galarraga is probably the ace of the rotation, but starts the season on the DL. Bonk Maroth and Roberto Gonzalez, are solid starters, but everyone behind them comes with question marks. Davey Bolick will need a GPS to find home plate he is so wild (712 walks in 852 minor league innings). Charlie Zeile likewise has control issues. Kenshin Masao can't seem to translate his ratings to results and young Manuel Cubillan's weaknes vs righties is likely to get exposed this year. Newcomer Richmond may pulled from the pen sooner rather than later. Speaking of the pen, it starts with closer Pasqual Hernandez, who is quite good. His setup men Albert Guerrero, Vasco Gonzalez, Steve Lohse and Domingo Hernandez don't inspire a lot of confidence. Bottom line; the hitting could pull the team forward or the pitching could hold it back, especially with the low PC rated catchers. Bet on the final results looking a lot like last year, maybe a little worse if Indy goes flying past them.
Indianapolis Mo' Money, Mo' Problems
Who's out? 2B Joe Riggan, RPs Julian Scelfo, Luis Rodriguez, Phil Hughes, Roy Vining and Morgn Davidson, RF Fernando Iglesias, 2B Alfredo Tejeda, C Trevor Banks, SP Willie Perry
Who's in? LF Arthur Wells, SP George Camilli, 1B Yean Carlos Gonzalez, RP Felix Figueroa, C Aaron Delahanty, LF Harry Zorilla
Season 32: It is time for Iain to make his move. With the chaff cleared out, and extra wheat harvested, this will be a team to watch. The big move was the acquisition of young superstar Gonzalez at 1B. He teams with RF Darren Walton for an incredible middle of the order. They will combine with DH Mule Burns, 3B Trenidad Durazo, 2B Edgar Martin C Pablo Rosado and LF Wells for a lot of punch. Other new faces Delahanty and Zorilla add to a deep bench.
Among pitchers, Camilli was the big acquisition to anchor a staff that includes Lariel Vazquez, Phil Newfield and Kenneth Webster. The fifth starter may be an issue as neither Luis Rodriguez, vance Peterson nor Gary Blair look like long term major leaguers. The bullpen is Cory Calixto, Fred Scherzer, Felix Figueroa (closing) and some question marks. RuleV pickup Max Sipp may end up as an important member. So bottom line look for lots of offense (from both teams) when the Mo's play, but more importantly, look for a lot more wins. I foresee that second place in the division may be hard fought, and if one team pulls away from the others it will most likely be Indy.