Our tour of the league takes us to the AL North. This division has been dominated by the St. Louis River Rage, who have won 4 straight division titles. But Buffalo made a lot of moves in the offseason and seem ready to make a run- can they challenge and beat St. Louis? And what about Milwaukee and Ottawa?
Buffalo (last season- 5th in AL) had a solid core with MVP LF A.J. Leonard, LF Julio Diaz, 1B Harry Lee, and OF Tito Martin, but they felt they needed more to compete with the better teams in the league. To that end, they signed CF Paul Turnbow from Atlanta, 2B Derrin Hernandez from San Juan, and 3B Cap Herrera from Trenton. They should have a deep lineup (C Dean Buehrle could very well bat 8th or 9th), probably the deepest in the division.
St. Louis (last season- 9th in AL) should be OK on offense, if not great. LF Nick Hernandez is still at the top of his game at the top of the lineup, but they need some thump in the middle of the lineup- 1B/DH Burt Stevenson was the only 100 RBI guy from last season and he's 36 years old. I think 2B Rico Guevara will bounce back this season- he, CF Gary Nelson, and 3B Jim Clark will be expected to provide the power. They also have good professional hitters in Hernandez, SS Alex Silva, and RF Placido Sanchez.
Ottawa (last season- 11th in AL) has some top end talent but needs more depth. The position players that are the gems of the IHOP (International House of Players) movement are RF P.T. Lee and SS Alex Jose- they had monster seasons but nobody else drove in more than 70 runs. 2B Bob Hauser has the potential to be a good major league hitter. They'll see if OF Lawrence Black (from Salt Lake City) can hold down a full-time job.
Milwaukee (last season- 12th in AL) is trying to mix in some veterans with their young players. SS Ignacio Diaz and 3B Brook Teut had nice season, but the Manic Maulers fans are excited about 2B Lorenzo Santana, IF Max Javier, and 1B Julio Silvia. These guys, along with IF Henry Canizaro, are the focal points of the offense; the down side is they strike out a bit too much.
St. Louis (last season- 1st in AL) has a deep rotation and maybe the deepest bullpen. They're led by starter Yogi Anderson, but they've got more than that in starters Vernon Taubensee, Billy Nation, and Kevin Pong. Their bullpen is loaded, as Carlos Carrasco had a very good season as the closer, and there are plenty of good setup options in Lloyd Freel, Tino Okajima, Julio Navarro, and Vic Macias.
Ottawa (last season- 8th in AL) had a nice season overall, but they do have cause for concern. For starters, their best pitcher by far was Stephen Michaels- he turned 38 in the offseason, so the question as to how much he has left is valid. He'll be backed by future ace Andres DeLeon, solid starter Lonny Hernandez, and veterans Tony Rowan and Louie Bolivar. Closer Bert Price struggled last season and Achilles Hume left for Anaheim, so 39-year-old Dave Stewart is likely to be the main setup guy.
Milwaukee (last season- 10th in AL) is trying to find the right pieces for the staff. Oswaldo Astacio, recipient of one of the more surprising contracts in recent memory, pitched to an ERA over a run higher than he did in the NL (which is no surprise) and he's maybe not even the ace of the staff- Barry Rader had a better season. Kenta Martin, a young Japanese starter, looks like he could turn into a nice pitcher and Alex Calvo is a decent innings eater. Alexander Richardson struggled a bit as the closer, and the rest of the pen is questionable.
Buffalo (last season- 12th in AL) made some improvements- the question is how much did they get better. Jerome Oliver had his best season in years for New Orleans, so Buffalo brought him in to back D'Angelo Martin and Miguel Hernandez. George Hurst seems to finally have things figured out and may be better than Martin or Hernandez. Chris Lowry was brought back to eat innings at the bottom of the rotation. A big part of Buffalo's fortunes may rest on closer George Danks- he's got an electric arm but has yet to harness it. Tom Hernandez had a lot of money thrown at him to set up- he's been hit or miss over the past few seasons.
1. I like what Buffalo has done (for the most part) in the offseason- I like all their offensive signings and Oliver. I'm not sure it brings them up to St. Louis's level, so I'll take the Rage for first yet again.
2. Buffalo's moves puts them in the wild-card discussion. Not sure they can grab a spot, but they should at least contend.
3. I'll take Ottawa over Milwaukee- I don't think either team is awful. I don't see any of these teams losing 100.
4. Not sure any superstar from this division will move, as so many of them are still very young. I'd look at a guy like Ignacio Diaz from Milwaukee or Bert Price from Ottawa as a most likely to be traded candidate.