A simple glance at last season’s records shows a competitive, relatively balanced league as every team won at least 72 games. Here, however, the first glance is a lie. After 6 consecutive playoff seasons, with the most recent 5 as the division winner, the Florida Falcons finally reached the ultimate goal and won the first World Series in franchise history. Returning an impressive amount of star players still in their prime, the East is the Falcons and everyone else, with each other team aspiring to be Robin to the Falcon’s Batman and sneak into the playoffs as a wild card where anything can happen. Unlike the other divisions in the NL though, the East has been fairly static with only small moves.
Florida Falcons (flyer497)
Last Season Record: 102-60
Key Losses: C/DH Yamil Estalella (Trade – .330, 13 HR, 176 PA), RP Frank Suzuki (Free Agency – 3.27 ERA, 52.1 IP), 1B John Horn (Free Agency – .271, 15 HR), LF Nigel Stewart (Free Agency – .263, 34 HR)
Key Additions: 1B Yovani Diaz (Free Agency), RP Plata (Free Agency), RP Fred Arnold (Free Agency), C Crash Anderson (Free Agency), CF James Chang (Trade), RP Walter Reynolds (Rookie), RP Dan Davenport (Rule V – Rookie)
Overview: The Falcons scored the 3rd most runs in the NL last season, and would have been #2 if they’d managed 4 more. They were also 3rd best in runs allowed and only 3 away from the top spot there. Besides the aging Bears and the currently-being-dismantled Empire, no team finished within 12 games of them. Which is to say there was very little work to be done to remain at the top of the NL for this season. Despite that the Falcons made several moves, upgrading at 1B, replacing a young part-time slugging catcher with an older part-time defensive catcher and trying to replace vaunted set-up man Frank Suzuki with a number of unproven relievers. As good as Suzuki is, his talents were spread over only 52 innings, meaning the biggest pain will be felt with the loss of LF Nigel Stewart. His contributions will be replaced by a combination of increased playing time for 2nd year player Rudy Montgomery and the addition of CF James Chang. Even that loss should be largely counteracted by the age of the Falcons (only 3 on the ML roster are above 30 years), and the Falcons should be just as good as last season. They may not win the World Series again, but they will certainly be the favorite to represent the NL and a solid contender to take it all.
St Louis Suds Buckets (wildpike)
Last Season Record: 79-83
Key Losses: LF Eugene Mays (Free Agency – .279, 60 SB), RP Willie Carrasco (Free Agency – 2.86 ERA, 63.0 IP), 2B JT Whitaker (Free Agency – .304, 7 HR), SP Henry Amaro (Free Agency – 4.10 ERA, 200.0 ERA)
Key Additions: 3B Jim Young (Free Agency), SP/RP Domingo Valdez (Free Agency), SP Frank Iwazaki (Rookie), SS Manny Breen (Rookie), 1B Ahmad DeWitt (Rookie)
Overview: While Jim Young may have been overpaid in Free Agency, the Suds Buckets are another team with a low enough payroll that it isn’t a problem especially as only a one-year deal. Young is also the only position player on the Suds Buckets above 30, though many are close to that point. With stars in RF Dennis Pan, SS Rigo Rios, an incoming assortment of exciting rookies, and a solid pitching staff the Suds Buckets should again be locked into a battle with the Flyers who finished 2 games ahead of them last season for the last wild card spot. The difference in this battle may eventually come down to St Louis; superior depth, and those new rookies. While the Suds Buckets couldn’t score enough runs to sneak into the playoffs last season, this season they will manage to sneak ahead of the Flyers, with the matchup contested until the last week of the season. Young may very well make no difference; he’s simply not that talented. However, his signing is indicative of wildpike’s do-for-it attitude, which will result in the call-ups and moves that enable St Louis to make the playoffs for the first time in the last 7 seasons.
Philadelphia Flyers (jp_chips)
Last Season Record: 81-81
Key Losses: RP Jo-jo Fossum (Released – 4.86 ERA, 90.2 IP), RP Bill Adams (Free Agency – 5.70 ERA, 42.2 IP)
Key Additions: RP Milton Wulf (Free Agency)
Overview: The Flyers have the second lowest allotted for payroll in all of the major leagues. Given this, it might be reasonable to expect them to be pushing up against that budget. Philadelphia remains fully $20 million under their payroll budget with a current payroll of just over $36 million, lowest in the majors. This frugality is particularly evident among position players where RF JC Faulk leads all hitters with a salary of $535,000. Despite this, scoring runs was not a problem last season, and the lineup remains unchanged. 2 mediocre pitchers were replaced with a different mediocre pitcher, but this team remains the same as last year, just a year older and closer to arbitration for the young talent. For a team that has never spent over $65M on payroll under the current ownership, this means we should see within the next few seasons a sale of these players for younger, cheaper players. The money saved on payroll continue to bolster the minors and prospects, but this season should see the Flyers challenge for the wild card, ultimately coming up a few games short and once again raising questions among the fan base about the major league payroll.
Norfolk Waves (jmayhew)
Last Season Record: 72-90
Key Losses: RF Tomas Nieves (Released – .259, 30 HR), RP/SP Rich Jarvis (Released – 4.17, 82 IP), RP Joe McKain (Free Agency – 3.18 ERA, 124.1 IP), SS Dennis Seung (Free Agency – .256, 17 HR), 2B Jerome Wells (Free Agency – .281, 18 HR), SP Josh Barrett (Free Agency – 4.57 ERA, 161.1)
Key Additions: LF Nolan Weeks (Rule V – Rookie), 2B Don Janish (Free Agency), CF Don Gang (Free Agency), SS Dixie Marson (Free Agency), RP Bert Campbell (Rookie), SP Bengie Estrada (Rookie)
Overview: Norfolk’s record last season was a testament to the strength of their pitching staff, which finished by allowing the 6th least runs in the NL. Despite this, the Waves finished below .450, by scoring even fewer runs than they allowed. Norfolk scored the 2nd fewest runs, and was one of only 3 NL teams to average less than 4 runs per game. The Rough Neckers, who finished with the fewest runs, brought in defending MVP Julio Bonilla, a man with 5 All-Star appearances, 2 MVPs and 5 Silver Sluggers. The Marauders swung a trade for 2 highly rated hitters in their prime (Enrique Bennett and Zachrey Barkett) who have combined for 4 All-Star appearances, 2 Silver Sluggers and a Rookie of the Year. The Waves additions can boast only 1 All-Star appearance (from Dixie Marson, 6 seasons ago) and Don Janish’s Gold Glove, which may help the pitching staff but means nothing for offense. The offense may not be worse than last season, but it should be close. Dover’s regression may prevent the Waves from having the most anemic offense, but the Norfolk offense will prevent the team from being a serious contender. Another .450 or so season seems likely.
1. Florida Falcons (NL East)
2. Richmond Firehouse (NL South)
3. Oakland Bears (NL West)
4. Cleveland Rockers (NL North)
5. Oklahoma City Rough Neckers (Wild Card – NL West)
6. St Louis Suds Buckets (Wild Card – NL East)
*The Rough Neckers finish with a better record than the Rockers, but take the Wild Card due to the Falcons winning the division
**Other strong candidates for 6th playoff spot are Philadelphia Flyers, Atlanta TomTerrifics, with the Monsters as a dark horse candidate.