The National League West was the strongest overall division in the NL last season (as measured by total wins) and only a few off the pace set by the AL South, and produced 2 of the best 3 records in the NL. Despite the regular season success, the postseason was a bit of a letdown with the Oakland Bears and Anaheim Empire both losing in their first round of play (Oakland after a bye through the first round). With Oakland having the oldest active roster of any team in the ML (30.4 years on average) and Anaheim close behind (30.2), do they have another run or has the time come for the Oklahoma City Rough Neckers or Boise Blues to make a step forward in the division? Below is an overview of each team, in the predicted order of finish within the division.
Oakland Bears (boomer17)
Last Season Record: 103-59
Key Losses: 2B Don Janish (Free Agency – .298, 8 HR), 3B Mark Martin (Free Agency – .274, 10 HR), RP Juan Palacios (Free Agency – 3.71 ERA, 99.1 IP), RP Livan Mercedes (Free Agency – 4.04 ERA, 64.2 IP), SP/RP Moises Gomez (Free Agency – 4.54 ERA, 83.1 IP)
Key Additions: SP/RP Asdrubal Martinez (Waivers – Rookie), RP Richard Kotsay (Free Agency), SP Geronimo Calderon (Free Agency), 3B Juan Reyes (Rookie), RP J.P. Olivo (Rookie)
Overview: With a $108M+ team payroll, the Bears are again looking for the World Series ring they felt they were on their way to last year. Since that time they’ve lost several useful, if unspectacular pieces, and have only been able to replace them with a 9th year rookie (Martinez), two 7th year rookies (Reyes & Olivo), and two SP (Calderon and Kotsay) over 35. With Daryl Miller (.289, 47 HR), Vic Castillo (.311, 60 HR), and Eric Little (.280, 33 HR) the heart of the order is still fearsome, and Al Sisqueros & Rafael Espinosa still anchor the rotation. Of those 5 though, Miller is the only one under 30, which makes it hard to predict improvement from last year’s stellar record. This team’s window is closing (probable HoFer Gomez’s age, descent into mediocrity and release being one of the first signs), but the talent level of the pitching staff should ensure they remain competitive at least one more season. Without much in the way of immediate pitching reinforcements in the minor leagues, and the loss of many admittedly mediocre innings from their relief staff, the Bears could be in trouble if an injury strikes. As it stands, they should show some regression, but should still take the division. This team was built for more than a division crown, but will need some luck or unexpected performances to reach the World Series.
Oklahoma City Rough Neckers (madhungarian)
Last Season Record: 74-88
Key Additions: LF Julio Bonilla (Free Agency), SP Donnie Robertson (Free Agency), C/DH Yamil Estalella (Free Agency)
Overview: Oklahoma City has one of the younger rosters, and adds two-time and defending MVP Julio Bonilla as well as a solid hitting young backstop in Yamil Estalella and (thus-far) disappointing former top prospect Donnie Robertson, while losing nobody of note. Despite these additions, the pitching depth remains somewhat suspect, with the rotation unclear. If highly touted youngsters SP Jolbert Lee and 3B Richard Newson can take a step forward and Estalella can provide more on offense than he gives up as a relatively poor defensive catcher, this team could be ready to make some noise. Given the issues of the teams who finished ahead of them last season, and the promising additions this season, it’s tempting to predict a division title for the Rough Neckers. 29 games back is a lot to make up though, and the star power just isn’t there, so it and the Rough Neckers contend for, but lose the title to the Bears, while sneaking into the playoffs as the wild card. They remain a dark horse in the playoffs and should contend for the immediate future, especially if they can add another top level pitcher. Unfortunately Hiroki Martin seems to have stalled in AAA, and prospects Duke Cobb and Alfonso Bennett aren’t ready for the show yet.
Anaheim Empire (klown61455)
Last Season Record: 95-67
Key Losses: SP Jackie Venafro (Traded – 3.08 ERA, 210 IP), SP Vic Lorenzo (4.21 ERA, 194 IP), 2B Jesse Orosco (.289, 28 HR)
Key Additions: C Quinton Mitchell (Free Agency – Rookie), SP Felipe Alvarez (Free Agency), C Valerio Chavez (Free Agency), SP Miguel Mendoza (Trade – Rookie)
Overview: Last season the Empire had a better predicted record than the division-winning Bears, but lost the division and then went out in the first round of the playoffs. With $90M in payroll already, and only $92.5 available, it doesn’t look like they can be buyers during the season, so any improvement will come from within or from the already accomplished offseason moves. Like the Bears, AAA is relatively bare and stars such as Chris Friend, Roberto Esposito, Josias DeSoto, Tony Moreno and especially ace Herman Bonilla all seem to be noticeably older this spring. The trade of Venafro suggests that Anaheim can see the writing on the wall, and is looking to begin rebuilding. Additionally, Lorenzo and Orosco (both free agent losses) remain two of the better unsigned options in free agency, again suggesting an impending youth movement. This team could sneak into the playoffs as a wild card if everything goes right. A more likely case is an in-season fire sale, as true contenders pick off the older, but still very useful pieces on this roster.
Boise Blues (bigalric)
Last Season Record: 74-88
Key Losses: SP Derrek Delaney (Free Agency – 4.58, 169 IP), 1B Walter Dingman (Free Agency – .295, 25 HR)
Key Additions: SP/RP Todd Lewis (Free Agency), SP Tony Vega (Free Agency), SS Bob Herndon (Free Agency – Rookie)
Overview: Take away Boise’s play in the division (9-21) and they would support a much more respectable 65-67 winning percentage. With the division somewhat weaker, this should lead to some improvement. Despite a somewhat mediocre lineup on paper, scoring runs was not a problem last season, possibly due to playing in a park which greatly favors hitters. Run prevention was an entirely different matter though, as Boise was only 7 runs allowed away from leading the NL in that stat. Lewis and Vega were brought in to fix that issue, and while neither are all-star material at this point (despite Lewis’ one All-Star appearance 4 seasons back and Vega’s one perfect game in his rookie season, 6 years ago) they do help solidify the back of the rotation. While the starting rotation is mediocre, the Blues sport several top notch relievers, which enabled them to outperform their expected record. Combine some possible regression there, a weaker overall division, the additions to the starting rotation, and Boise should be improved, though likely not enough to matter. With no weak teams in the division, the Blues may still contend for last in the division, and will likely need a sell-off from Anaheim to avoid that fate.