The North was the National League division with the most parity last season, with only 20 games separating first from last (other NL divisions had gaps of 29, 29 and 30 respectively). The only division tighter was the AL South where the last and first were only 17 games apart. Unlike the AL South, this was accomplished in the NL North not by division-wide excellence, but rather by division-wide mediocrity. The division-winning Rockers had the 6th best winning percentage in the NL, and lowest of any division winner. Beyond them, no team finished with a winning record. This parity makes for a fascinating division as any team could surprise and sneak into the playoffs. The Rockers and Monsters are back, the Reds have relocated to Dover as the Punishment, and the Argonauts are under new ownership as the Pawtucket Anchors. Change is in the air in the NL North. Unfortunately, it looks like the change will be mostly in the negative direction.
Cleveland Rocker (hamhr)
Last Season Record: 88-74
Key Losses: SP Leo Young (Free Agency – 3.35 ERA, 217.2 IP), RP George Person (4.76 ERA, 107.2 IP)
Key Additions: SP Al Washington (Free Agency), SP Ken Barkett (Rookie)
Overview: The obvious story when looking at the Rockers is the loss of 6-time All-Star Leo Young to free agency. In this case, it’s just part of the bigger story. Combined with the loss of George Person and the release of the ineffective Ted Hoffman, the Rockers are missing 447.1 innings, just from those 3, the equivalent of nearly 50 full 9-inning regulation games. The job of replacing all those innings falls to free agent signing Al Washington who has never reached 151 innings, and promising rookie Ken Barkett. Barkett was a 1st round pick only 3 seasons ago, but may not be ready for the Show yet. The lineup still has stars in Rolando Baez (.261, 27 HR, 40 SB) and Brian Dixon (.264, 37 HR) who powered them to the 4th most runs in the NL, but the pitching may regress from mildly above average to completely average without a breakout performance from Barkett, leaving the Rockers a solidly .500 team or juuuust above. In any other division, that would keep them out of the playoffs. Here they compete for the division, ultimately becoming a sacrificial lamb in the first round once again.
Milwaukee Monsters (jhoege)
Last Season Record: 68-94
Key Losses: SP/RP Tiny Porter (Trade – 3.07 ERA, 88 IP), SP Pat Dickerson (Trade – 4.06 ERA, 155 IP), SP Alex Guillon (5.88 ERA, 159 IP), SP Mack Taguchi (Free Agency – 5.22, 194 IP), SP Domingo Valdez (4.69 ERA, 155.1 IP), RP Shawn Clinton (4.94 ERA, 135.2 ERA)
Key Additions: RP Harry Montanez (Promoted from Minors), SS Steven Purcell (Rookie), RF Ollie Yashian (Rookie), LF David Valentine (Rookie), RP Enrique Cerda (Rookie), RP Cecil Griffin (Free Agency), 2B Miguel Ontiveros (Free Agency), SP Russell Weinhardt (Waivers), SP/RP Buddy Whitesell (Waivers)
Overview: The Monsters have called up a number of high-ceiling prospects to bolster the lineup and signed 2B Ontiveros. Combined with speedster shortstops Omar Franco (.284, 49 SB) and Bert Hiatt (.257, 105 SB), the Monsters will score runs. They have the 2nd least experienced roster in the majors though, and were already a competent offensive team. The issue for the Monsters comes in the rotation and in the bullpen. Last season the Monsters allowed the most runs in the NL, despite playing in a relatively neutral park. A quick overview of the key losses shows nothing but pitchers and accounts for nearly 90 games worth, making the Rocker’s pitching turnover look stable by comparison. The talent lost is mostly mediocre (though Tiny Porter had two consecutive seasons with an ERA under 4 and over 200 IP before being used as a reliever last season for 88 innings) but the replacements seem to be notably sub-par, with players going directly from minor league waivers to the starting rotation. With possibly the worst pitching in the National League and the young hitters not yet ready to really mash, the Monsters will strive for a .500 season, and despite being within striking range most of the season, will again fall solidly short of that goal.
Pawtucket Anchors (jdv22) – replacing the Toronto Argonauts (cmonman)
Last Season Record: 80-82
Key Losses: 3B Matt Hernandez (Trade – .267, 28 HR), SP Benny Castro (Trade – 3.20 ERA, 202.1 IP), LF Zachary Barkett (Trade – .235, 27 HR, 28 SB), SS Enrique Bennett (Trade – .250, 19 HR, 32 SB), SP/RP Yonder Bautista (Trade – 4.18 ERA, 112 IP), CF Polin Alou (Trade – .271, 55 SB), RP Angel Diaz (Trade – 2.11 ERA, 38 Saves)
Key Additions: SS Terry Turner (Rookie), SP/RP Damon Jacquez (Trade), 2B Glenn Hollins (Trade), 1B JT Whitaker (Free Agency), RP Brandon Morton (Free Agency), RF Butch Mitchell (Free Agency), RP Carlos Lind (Free Agency – Rookie), 1B Gorkys Gil (Free Agency – Rookie), C Brian Spencer (Free Agency)
Overview: New owner jdv22 has come in, moved the perpetual also-ran Argonauts to Pawtucket from Toronto and gaining no fans in the process. Seeing limited results at the ML level, the Anchors have been exceptionally active in the offseason, trading off many of their most popular and effective players at the ML level, with SP Michael Gang and Bruce Turner both still openly on the block. Astute fans however will appreciate that this is no mere cost-cutting move (though it has also reduced salary), as the Anchors have received a bevy of minor league talent in return to pair with young potential stars already at the ML level such as closer Roy Thomas, trade acquisition 2B Glenn Hollins and SS Terry Turner who showed great potential as a late season call-up last year. The majority of the ML roster though has been filled with retread ML castoffs and quad-A level talent as the Anchors look to live up (down?) to their name. Check back in a couple of seasons, but for this next season the Anchors should sink toward the bottom of the NL North. They will be spared the bottom of the division only be the historic ineptitude of the newly relocated Dover Punishment.
Dover Punishment (cpunishment) – formerly the Cincinnati Reds
Last Season Record: 69-93
Key Losses: SS Al Oropesa (Trade – .249, 19 HR), RP Milton Wulf (3.56 ERA, 62.2 IP), SP Donnie Robertson (5.78, 180.2 IP), CF Don Gang (.235, 25 SB), C Otis Taylor (.280, 16 HR)
Key Additions: SP/RP Rip Kaye (Rule V – Rookie), SS Edinson Duranson (Rule V – Rookie), LF Howard Miles (Rule V – Rookie), 1B Willie Garza (Rule V – Rookie), C Charlie Sewell (Rookie), RP Benjie Cairo (Rookie), RP Dude Harper (Rookie), C Milt Miclat (Rookie)
Overview: The Punishment didn’t lose too much talent as far as the statistics show (though Oropesa, Robertson and Gang are all generally considered to have better tools than those numbers reflect), but the key is in what they did to replace them. Nothing. Or very nearly so. No free agency signings or trade acquisitions, though 4 Rule V selections did make the ML roster (two of whom – Duranson and Garza – have no at-bats above HiA thus far). The team is not without talent, bringing back 2nd year 1B Al Romero and 3B Bo Carver, acquired last season in a trade, as well as young reliever Corey Taylor. Unfortunately the rest of the young talent has stagnated at replacement level. Add in “rookies” like 34 year old catcher Charlie Sewell, the worst projected record last season before this loss of talent, and the least experienced roster in all of ML and owner cpunishment’s assessment seems accurate. “They stink”. With the least ML experience and least pro experience, the Punishment have a very real chance to be not just the worst team in the division, but in the entire league.