Monday, February 27, 2017

Season 34 AL East Preview

Season 33: 96-66, Won Division, won World Series
GM: foolsgold79

Season 33 In A Nutshell
On the surface, this didn't look like one of the great teams of the steelforge era.  The Season 30 edition won 118 games, the Season 31 squad 109.  They lost CF B.C. Alfonzo right before the playoffs started and suffered through a subpar Kelvim Hasegawa campaign.  But they got hot at the right time (.302 batting average for the playoffs), dominating Durham and New Orleans (7-1 in those 2 series) before winning their 2nd straight World Title in a 4-3 drama-fest with Buffalo.

Biggest Offseason Moves

Landed young OF Jenrry Zumaya for the headed-to-FA-in-1-season Vladimir Andujar, and got SP Wladimir Mercado for Alfonzo and prospects Hack Palmer and Rymer Deduno.

Season 34 Outlook
With all the trades, it's tempting to think D.C. is rebuilding, but closer examination says otherwise.  Would they accept a bundle of prospects for Hasegawa or Lee?  Sure, but in the meantime they're still going to win a lot of games.

On offense they still have 2 of the 3 stars (Hasegawa and Lee) that have highlighted their last few seasons.  They added Zumaya, who will roughly make up for Alfonzo's lost production and balance out the mostly-righty lineup.  They still have the unheralded 1B Scott Barnes, who had the most-unnoticed .330/30/110 season ever last year.  DH Carlos Tatis is coming off a typical .283/27/76 season, and the Franco/Wang catching platoon combined for 25 HR's and 81 RBI.  

They're still looking for a CF, but this is basically the same lineup that posted 911 runs last year.  As it stands now, this is probably no worse than the 2nd or 3rd lineup in the AL.

The rotation has the potential to be quite a bit better than last year's.  Right now it's probably Shane Phillips (12-3, 2.97 in an injury-shortened season), Mercado (7-8, 3.53 last year for Iowa City), Louis Wilson (12-10, 3.41 for Columbus), Lastings Wood (7-5, 3.83) and Al Benitez (6-8, 5.14 for Indianapolis).  That's not a bad-looking group at all.

The bullpen has some potential as well.  Dusty Spivey took a few lumps but managed 17 wins (mostly in relief) and 6 saves.  Dicky Wang has bettered his career numbers (buy a lot) in each of the last 2 seasons, so let's hope that's his new normal.  Should foolsgold79 truly elect to contend this year, this is where he'll try to upgrade (along with CF).

Prognosis:  As they stand now, contenders.  Durham won 92 and Indianapolis is improved, but the Expos will be in it.

Trade I'd Like To See:  Looking around for someone who might trade a CF an a RP...small fraternity.  Nothing's hitting me in the face, tc me if some juicy speculation occurs to you.

Durham Dark Monsters

GM:  doume

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Nice 17-win improvement for the Dark Monsters.  They scored 72 more runs (879, 4th in AL) and posted an amzing jump in team ERA from 5.08 (14th) to 4.41 (6th).  Josh Monahan (.286/52/143) was on the MVP ballot (again), won his 2nd 3B Gold Glove and 7th 3B Silver Slugger, and made his 7th All-Star team.  I hope some of us who have seen him in his prime are still around when he's on the HOF ballot.  At that time, someone is sure to say, "But the guy only won 1 MVP."

Biggest Offseason Moves

Acquired SP Chun-Lim Xaio from Columbus for a trio of prospects, and signed free agents Josh Garcia (OF) and Melvin Chang (RP).

Season 34 Outlook
You'd think this would be a basher team, with Monahan leading the offense in a very cozy park, but it's really more of a contact (.274 BA), get-on-base (.342 OBP) attack that runs a lot (233 SB, tops in AL, with only 84 caught).

Leadoff man Bernard Clifton typifies the approach with 195 hits, 75 walks and 48 SB's.  The 27 HR's and 107 RBI (both career highs) didn't hurt.  1B Eddie Harvey continues the theme - 203 hits and a .301 BA.  Monahan follows at #3, with their next best power guys, RF Radhames Mendoza (.273/25/112) and C Pablo Tatis (.237/24/74) in the #4 and #5 RBI slots. 

Clifton (48 of 55) and 2B Victor Brady (49 of 63) are their primary base-stealers, although Monahan (35 of 42) and SS Jose Rosa were pretty effective thieves as well.  Brady and Rosa may be keys to the season.  They were both rookies last year and had their moments, but Rosa must improve defensively (25 errors, 12 bad plays) and Brady didn't hit enough (.687 OPS) to justify his barely-adequate glove.

It's the pitching, though that will more likely determine this season's fate.  Gorkys Leon (13-10, 2.93) and J.T. Webster (16-7, 3.23) probably both deserved CY consideration last year, given their home ballpark.  Webster seems to have adjusted better to the small park, posting numbers over 3 seasons only slightly higher than his Burlington norms.

Xaio appears to have replaced Christian Nakamura in the rotation, even though Nakamura (10-13, 4.06) was better than last year's #4 and #5 starters, Bert Brooks (19-8, 5.26) and Tony Duran (11-8, 5.67).

Yamil Duran has had a very good career, but has struggled in his 2 seasons in Durham (.772 OPS-against last year, a little better in Season 32).  Melvin Chang struggled in New Orleans last season after 10 straight sub-4.00 ERA seasons, so there's hope he'll get back on track.  

The rest of the bullpen is unproven, but I wouldn't be optimistic.

Prognosis:  You know they'll score runs.  It really just comes down to pitching (they didn't benefit from some flukey great record in 1-run games), and "regression to the mean" says their 2 top starters are not likely to duplicate last year's great seasons.  I see them falling off some, to 85 wins.

Trade I'd Like To See:  ??? Monahan to a contender for a 2B, 3B and RP ???  Much as I love Monahan, he's reaching the stage where the range, power and arm strength (all key components of his value) are taking hits every year.  The ballpark inflates his stats, making him look like more of a power monster than he is...somebody might bite.

Chicago Capone's
Season 33: 67-95
GM:  nesman

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Another rebuilding season.  Patience required.  They have 2 nice young stars to build around - Addison Oropesa (.291/32/99) and Jacob Sheldon (.253/42/99).  But Sheldon's 28 now - they need to pick up the pace of talent acquisition to take advantage of the prime years of these 2.

Biggest Offseason Moves
Made a modest free agent bet on wild but talented SP Hong-Jin Wang.  The ML roster is still incomplete; we're expecting some promotions and Spring Training FA signings.

Season 34 Outlook

Looks like more rebuilding, as the roster is still pretty incomplete.  Season 32's #12, Zeke Sears, is the only one that can help this year - he'd probably be their 2nd-best pitcher.    They have some other nice prospects (like last year's #6, J.P. Rapp) but they're in the low minors and won't help this year.

The lineup has some god compliments to Oropesa and Sheldon.  C Vladimir Henriquez hit .278/26/61, 1B Javier Fernandez .255/33/87, and DH Gaylord McIntosh .256/31/88.  So they can hit the long ball on you.  They go for defense at SS and 2B, although 2B Cambridge chipped in 22 HR's. 

Chicago's Team ERA last year was 5.40, and at this point there's no reason to expect better.  Pascual Hernandez is the only reasonably high quality pitcher on the staff, and he's a short reliever.  The rest of the pitchers on the ML roster (all 6 of 'em), are a little above replacement level.

Prognosis: 4th

Trade I'd like to see:  Things feel kind of stagnant with this team.  They could have improved the team a lot even with leftover free agents but even sat that out.  At this point I'd like to see them move Oropesa and Sheldon for 6 prospects.  They're both good power hitters who can field 3B...a pretty rare commodity and they have 2.  They need to do something to get this thing moving.

Indianapolis 4th Chamber                                  Season 33:  85-77
GM: iain

Season 33 In A Nutshell
Improved wins for the 4th straight year.  Made the big move for pitching late in the season by trading Yean Carlos Gonzalez to Austin for SP Torey Izquierdo and  RP Miguel Cedeno, but had plenty of hitting left with RF Darren Walton (.303/38/102), DH Mule Byrnes (.305/36/104) and 3B Trenidad Durazo (.281/25/83).

Biggest Offseason Moves

3 big trades netted relievers Roger Harvey and Ismael Zurburan from the quickly-rebuilding Expos, multi-time All-Star and Silver Slugger Vinny Catalanotto from Jacksonville, and coveted ace (and Season 30 NL CY winner) Joe Johnson from Texas.  Promoted Season 32 IFA Julio Cano.

Season 34 Outlook
Gutsy move to acquire Johnson in the last year of his contract...will he re-sign for a team-friendly 2-year deal?  No matter, iain is all-in for this year after a 4-season rebuild.

Joining Johnson in the new-look rotation are Izquierdo (9-9, 3.84 overall last year), Cano ($33MM IFA bonus), George Camili (19-10, 3.84 in a whopping 274 IP) and Wily Osoria (8-9, 4.64).  Best rotation in the AL?  Possibly, although I think D.C.'s could give them a run.

The bullpen definitely got a boost from the acquisitions of Harvey and Zurburan from the Expos, but it's still far from bulletproof.  Bet on a midseason deal for another RP.

The lineup has no holes with the exception of SS, and even there, Derek Cammack can draw a walk.  Dillon Hull (OPS .829) does it all in CF, Pablo Rosado ( .810 OPS) is a + hitter at C, and Jackie Blackwell (.831 OPS), with an occasional platoon assist from Alex Rijo, will be at least an adequate replacement at 1B for Gonzalez.

2 of the more interesting positions to watch will be LF and 2B.  The venerable Vinny Catalanotto takes over in left.  Will he have enough in tank to still OPS .850?  Edgar Martin has a career OPS of .732, although last season slipped to .678. He's just 27 - watch for a big comeback.

Prognosis:  1st place with 95 wins.

Trade I'd Like To See:  Once they  prove they're a playoff team, go get a top reliever to set up for the playoffs.

Division Outlook
1.  Indianapolis
2.  Washington, D.C.
3.  Durham
4.  Chicago

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