It's hard to argue against the NL North being the worst division in baseball last season. The division titlist, Philadelphia, only won 79 games and didn't win a playoff game. Can they repeat? Can Fargo return to its usual place atop the standings? Can rebuilding Kansas City or Pittsburgh reemerge?
Fargo (last season- 9th in NL) will sport a far different lineup than last season. Fargo management felt OF Ricardo Martinez and RF David Rushford needed some help, so they re-signed LF Alex Lim, then went out and got prized free-agents 3B Calvin Chang (Trenton) and 2B Jeremy Glover (Las Vegas). Gone is the disappointing William Bolling (traded to Atlanta). Their lineup should return to the top half of the league again.
Philadelphia (last season- 11th in NL) could use some help in the lineup. 1B Yuniesky Batista is the only home run threat, and outside of LF Manuel Bautista and IF Doc Bowen, there is little else. Sophomore 2B Brian Sweeney needs to improve to keep Philly in contention offensively.
Pittsburgh (last season- last in NL) has already traded its best hitter by far. CF Neifi McBride and LF Bernie Soriano return, but nearly perennial MVP candidate Sean Simpson (.335-33-96) has been shipped to Monterrey. It's time for 2B Evan Smith to step up.
Kansas City (last season- 13th in NL) will struggle again. Only 1B Fernando Ibanez topped 20 homers, and veterans like LF Kevin Yamakazi, 3B Orlando Diaz, and 2B Alberto Castro are being paid handsomely for little production.
Fargo (last season- 4th in NL) returns the normal cast of characters, like perennial Cy Young candidate Javier Henriquez, Orber Marin, and Sammy Pierce in the rotation. Joining them will be free-agent signing York Watson (Trenton). They lose Manny Christians (free agent- Austin), however. The bullpen is anchored by Bert Price, and Chris Jennings and Kevin Li form one of the best and one of the highest paid setup crews.
Philadelphia (last season- 8th in NL) finally saw what a deeper rotation can do. Stalwart Bernard Robinson finally got some help in the form of Albert Herzog (14-10, 2.85) and although Harry Lee and Turner Darr both finished under .500, they provided innings. The bullpen is a little thin, although Kid Johnstone had a very good season.
Pittsburgh (last season- 3rd in NL) has traded its best starter (Kenneth Graves) and its best reliever (Graham Rivera) this offseason. Returning are average to above average veterans like Orber Halter and an aging Babe Broadhurst. Expect former Syracuse closer Jared McMahon to get first shot at the closer role in Rivera's absence.
Kansas City (last season- 12th in NL) has some pitching talent. Scouts are high on Ozzie Acker, who had a nice rookie season last year, but Rob Cather may have a bigger upside. Those two will join veterans Willis Casey and Jeremi Gant to form a decent rotation. The bullpen could use some work, as close Mark Ott disappointed last season. Heath Rollins was good in his setup role.
1. Fargo should climb back to the top of this division.
2. I like Philadelphia for second.
3. I think Kansas City's pitching can hold on for third.
4. Philadelphia could be a popular team for other GMs to call at the deadline if they fall out of the race- veteran pitching is highly valuable.