Wednesday, October 30, 2013

NL WEST - Season #27 Preview

Fresno Maize 'N Blue -
Season 27 Outlook - It's "World Series or Bust" for Fresno who will once again be led by Superstar Tomas Cairo. Cairo unprecedentedly led every offensive category in the NL last season while taking home his 4th straight MVP award. Young offensive stars Julio Osoria, Benny Uribe, Louie Ibanez and the newly acquired Cesar Molina will provide more than enough offensive support. Future HOF Stephen Rivera returns desperate for his first World Series ring coming off another monster season that saw him finish 2nd in the MVP voting.
The reigning Cy Young winner Octavio Valenzuela leads a stellar pitching staff that also features last season's Rookie of the Year - Hee Sop Higashioka and young stud James Lamb coming off a season that saw him go 16-2 with a miniscule 2.18 ERA. Former ROY Kurt Giambi makes a solid #4. The #5 spot is currently under construction with phenoms in the minors coming quick.

Key Additions : Blockbuster offseason trade which saw Raul Batista leave Fresno by bringing in young star Cesar Molina who will fill a much needed role in the lead-off spot creating runs with his bat and speed at a high OBP rate.
Our bullpen has been an Achilles' heel for this franchise for many seasons, but hopefully bringing in dominating closer Frank Maurer will pay immediate dividends.
We also jumped in heavily in the FA market signing All-star Shortstop Pedro Espinosa away from the reigning Champs Columbus to a massive 100m contract.
Added another nice bat in Javier Hernandez via trade so we feel collectively the additions this year far outweigh the losses.

Key Losses - Adding Molina at the expense of stud SP Raul Batista wasn't any easy decision at all, Nor was losing young prospect pitchers Tito Jodie and Domingo Iglesias in the Maurer/Hernandez trade.
Last year's big FA signing Walt Harnisch's time in Fresno was brief.. Coming off a sub-par season it was an easy decision to cut our losses now even if the return was minimal.

Top Prospects - Juan Tabata (OF) is ready for the ML right now, but having a loaded roster already should afford us the luxury of giving him a full season in AAA with his eagerly anticipated ML debut coming in early Season 28.
Chun Lim Tateyama (OF) and Buddy Williamson (1B) will see the big leagues one day, but more than likely it will be with another franchise.
One of the best pitching prospects in this world is Yuniesky Delgado and while he could win the ROY this year we will be patient and let him develop another year or two in the minors. We also have jumped into the IFA market already this year bringing in another future SP in Rio Maduro who appears to be on the fast track to the majors.. Other top prospects with ML futures would include pitchers Fernando Alomar, Damaso Mangual, Julio Ambroles and Ozzie Hasegawa.

In Summary - Fear The Maize 'N Blue !!!!!!

Honolulu Rainbow Warriors -
After yet another demoralizing playoff loss, the Rainbow Warriors set out to revamp their squad via free agency, hoping to finally get past the dual humps of Fresno and Mexico City. Alas, the owners of this world open their wallets with the ease of a cheap Tijuana floozy, and Honolulu struck out in its efforts to bring in marquee players to replace departed star Rickey Atchley.

Undaunted, Warrior management pulled off a trade for a young franchise cornerstone, 3B Derek Connor, while eating salary on a pair of disgruntled vets. The fan base is skeptical, but in the final year of the great Harry Palacios' time in Honolulu, the Rainbow Warriors are hoping for one final push to bring a title to the shores of Waikiki.

Seattle Somethings -
Season 27 marks the beginning of brand-new-everything for the perenially-last-place AL West franchise. New ownership has initiated one of the the most drastic relocations that can possiblly be done from a strategic standpoint, moving from maximum-hitter-friendly Coors in Colorado to the cavernous, pitcher-friendly, Safeco in Seattle

Upon taking over a franchise that has never won a single division title, ever, in the most competitive Mike Squires division, it is obvious that a dramatic strategic overhaul is necessary.

This franchise's predecessors did not seem to have any understanding of organizational consistency or vision of how they wanted to operate their franchise from top to bottom. They did not know whether they wanted to be a team that had great hitters or good pitching, focusing on young players or assembling a roster or overpaid veterans, emphasizing scouting but not investing budget on actually signing any prospects. The previous management also had glaring failures in the draft, as history shows that three out of four consecutive drafts five-eight seasons ago (and 4 of the first 5 picks in one of the drafts) targeted players that never signed. Those players would have been in their primes now, and the absence of high-end prime-age talent is Seattle's biggest problem heading in to seasons 27-29.

The minor league system that new ownership has inherited is a mess. Overall, the system does have a fair amount of decent prospects, but none of them are developing correctly. The previous owner did not pay any attention to assigning draft picks to the correct levels after being drafted, promoting youngsters to higher levels, assigning players to their correct roles, etc.

Additionally, the predecessors had by far the worst coaching staff from top to bottom, which stunted the development of every single player in the entire farm system. This was a result of misunderstanding how to assign the budget totals correctly. In seasons 25 and 26 Seattle had the lowest amount alotted to coaching, and ended up getting stuck with the worst fielding coach, bad minor league HCs and PCs, etc.

As a result, the Seattle Somethings are definitely a rebuilding franchise. HOWEVER, the ML level does have a fair amount of talent that is capable of mediocrity during the rebuild. The MLB roster that has been inherited is capable of winning 75-80 games, as long as the pitching staff settings (pitch counts and call bullpen) are configured properly.

The Somethings have one of the best hitting-catchers in the majors in Osuna, who also thankfully happens to be above average in pitch-calling. Van Hekken is a quality, plus-fielding 28-year old shortstop/ leadoff hitter who is signed thru season 28. 26-year-old Josh Wingo is impressive offensively and on the bases but lacks defensive acumen and may get moved to 1B in the future, as he is signed thru season 30+. Vin Ellsbury is a gold-glove-level 27-year old 3B who unluckily has a weak arm but luckily has multi-positional versatility. Because of this, Ellsbury is actually slated to play first base instead of the horrific-fielding DeRojas. With Ellsbury's outstanding glove, plus range, and good mobility, Seattle expects to have a productive infield defense to support its pitching staff.

The rotation has potential to be servicable, perhaps even quite good within the confines of Safeco. Womack, Clark, and Itou have exceptional stamina, and Almonte and Stratton (converted from bullpen) have the ability and the makeup to contribute quality totals in the range of 160-180 innings pitched. The bullpen is a work-in-progress and shapes up to be one of the youngest units in all of the ML. Seattle is searching hard to acquire power arms with effective stuff that can contribute high K/9 rates. 23-year-old rookie Cookie Nakamura is penciled in as the closer despite never having pitched above AA, thanks to the previous owner's mismanagement. Two relievers were added via rule 5, two were added via 1-year-deals in free agency, and two others were acquired in a trade with Baltimore.

On the downside, there is a large number of older players that need to be moved. 31-year-old DH/1B Emmett Collins was moved to Baltimore for pitching prospects. Legendary 36-year-old 2B Charlie Hull and 33-year-old CF Bruce Blasingame still have something to offer on the field for the club, especially with the unfortunate long-term spring training neck injury to CF Leon, who was projected to start. On the other hand, 33-year-old SP Jaret Sarafini has absolutely nothing left in the tank and his $5.8M salary is utterly unmovable. Seattle will regretfully have to eat the final year of his contract in AAA; luckily season 27 is the final season for him in the Seattle organization.

These multitude of poor signings demonstrate why free agency is the worst way to build/supplement a franchise. Seattle plans to shift its philosophy towards never signing a single high-profile free agent, ever, as it is the worst money that can possibly be spent. Seattle plans to build thru the draft, through IFA, and through rule 5. Regretfully, it will probably take 4-6 seasons for the club to start blossoming under the newly-implemented changes, and growing pains are expected. Once they take effect, however, Seattle has the ambition and competitive fire to mount a serious long-term challenge to perennial division/NL powerhouse Maize'N'Blue, as well as any others that may stand in its path to World Series titles.

Vancouver Big Blue Dogs -