The Fargo Dirtbags finally broke through and won their first World Series title last season. They look to become the first team to successfully defend the title at the expense of the other three teams in their division. Can fellow playoff team Chicago knock off the champs? What about rebuilding teams Philadelphia and Toronto?
We start in Chicago (last season- 1st in NL), where the NL's best offense improved in the offseason. The big bats of 3B Sean Simpson, 2B Neifi McBride, RF Bernie Soriano, and CF Paul Turnbow return, but they also added 1B Rico Valdes from Trenton (in a deal that had been rumored since last season), then made a huge splash by acquiring reigning MVP LF Osvaldo Johnson from San Juan. If Valdes gets on base and these guys stay healthy, this team could threaten the 1000 runs mark.
Fargo (last season- 7th in NL) also made a major offseason trade to upgrade the offense. 3B David Rushford comes over from Washington to provide some punch to what was a middling offense. He'll join LF Alex Lim and RF William Bolling in the middle of the Fargo order.
Toronto (last season- 12th in NL) is looking to the future, so they dealt a big part of their offense from last season. Dewey Greenwood and Rick Forster are in Cheyenne, so that leaves LF Kevin Yamakazi and 2B Paul Lamb to form a middle of the order with 3B Orlando Diaz, who came over from Cheyenne in the Greenwood deal. It's possible this lineup won't score as much as last season.
Philadelphia (last season- 15th in NL) has some decent pieces but not enough to sustain an attack. 3B Juan Rodriguez and 1B Reid Colbert are nice players, but they're not big-time players and have little around them. They'll be near the bottom again.
Fargo (last season- 1st in NL) won a championship based mainly on their starting pitching, and hopes of a repeat start here. Cy Young Award winner Javier Henriquez is, unarguably, the best starter in the entire league. Sammy Pierce, Jim Arnold, and Manny Christians back Henriquez to form what is probably the best starting rotation in baseball. Closer Alex Javier is gone (traded to Washington for Rushford), but they still have Bert Price, Chris Siddall, Alex Li, and free-agent pickup Ajax Drabek in the bullpen- Price is likely to get first crack at the closer's role. As good as Javier is, I think they have enough to make up for the loss.
Chicago (last season- 4th in NL) got a big-time arm to go with all those bats in Babe Broadhurst (formerly of Norfolk). He'll be the ace, so Marty Lane and Orber Marin can fall in line behind him- neither one of those is an ace, so Broadhurst enables them to fill their proper roles. In the bullpen, Tony Matos and Dude Huskey will be there to take the ball from the starters late in the games.
Philadelphia (last season- 9th in NL) will again be led by star Bernard Robinson, who could very well the best starter in the NL not named Henriquez. He'll have Turner Darr behind him, who is starting to develop, but there's little else in the rotation. Kid Johnstone is a solid option in the bullpen.
Toronto (last season- 10th in NL) could struggle to keep runs off the board. Harry Lee will be the Opening Day starter and look for Willis Casey to have a fairly good season, but, like Philadelphia, the depth just isn't there. Heath Rollins and Daryl McKinley could end up splitting the closer duties again- they did a decent job together, but can one of them grab the role?
1. Fargo won the division by 15 games last season. They'll win again, but it will be by less than 15.
2. It's conceivable that if they were in any other division in the NL, Chicago would be the favorite (it'd be close in the East with Atlanta). As it stands, don't pencil them in for a wild-card spot- you can write that in pen. They'll be in the playoffs.
3. If Bernard Robinson stays in Philadelphia all season, I'll take the Phantoms to nip the Toronto Toros for 3rd. Neither will be in wild-card contention.
4. Don't look for any big-time prospects to be called up from either of the two non-contending teams. Philly and Toronto do have some very good minor leaguers, but they're on the lower level.
5. Expect teams to call Philly about Robinson. I'd say he would be a good candidate to be dealt, but I've said that in the past and he's still a Phantom, so who knows? If Robinson is not available, I'd say that Toronto could be a seller, with Diaz, Yamakazi, and Lee likely to be sought after.