This entry marks the second of a series of previews by division for the young 24th season of Upper Deck. A run down of each team will be followed by an overall analysis of the division. Today, we will wrap up the west coast by previewing the NL West.
The Las Vegas Desert Dogs are only one full season removed from winning the NL West, but took a half step back last season. They won just 85 games, six fewer than the year prior and good for third in the most competitive division in the National League.
Despite the Desert Dogs’ well documented bullpen woes - including a slightly above average 20 blown saves - the club actually finished with a pitching staff that was well above league average by most metrics. What consistently plagued the team was an offense that triple slashed .251/.312/.409 - below average figures across the board.
Nonetheless, the bullpen may have cost the team a postseason berth, with a narrow margin of only three games deciding the second wild card team. As a result, Las Vegas did its best to shore up an aging and at times ineffective pen. They saved plenty of money by declining the $14.3M option of Roberto Nieves and allowed Harold Lee to walk after a largely ineffective season 23. They then moved to sign 37-year old Ernesto Cervelli, who brings a 1.29 WHIP and a career 3.59 ERA in nearly 1,800 innings pitched. Additionally, it is hoped that an early-season promotion of young flamethrower RP Wilson Cox will supplement the pen.
The club also signed C Orber Moreno to back up primary C Darron Wilson. Moreno provides top tier pitch calling and a solid bat off the bench. The biggest move, however, probably came in the form of a four-year extension for one star player, 1B Jamie Boyd. The left-handed first basemen has a career .838 OPS over parts of six seasons with the organization. The extension buys out first three seasons of free agency. Boyd will anchor the team along with LF Robin Fonville, 3B Frank Bigley, and SPs Zachrey Palmer and Andre Adams.
Key losses: RP Ernesto Cervelli, RP Luis Mantalban, LF Hideo Yang, SP Jamie Fulchino, RF Melky Gutierrez
Despite floating around .500 for a number of seasons, Omaha has helped its future efforts with several notable recent draft picks, including SP Tomas Cabeza and CF Yorrick Eyre. Last season at the Major League level, a below average offense was coupled with an average pitching staff. Unfortunately, an ownership lapse throughout the offseason may have hindered its present efforts to bring a championship to Omaha after two consecutive fourth place finishes.
Upon taking over of the front office, wxscott quickly made moves to stabilize the flailing organization. Veteran SPs Jose Pelaez and Randy Sweeney were signed to give much needed innings to an overworked pitching staff, and have thus far delivered. RP Armando Cruz was brought in to replace some of the innings lost by the losses of RPs Luis Mantalban and Ernesto Cervelli, signed by division rival Las Vegas.
Another key move came earlier this season, when SP Onelki Galarraga was extended for four years by previous ownership. His 1.32 WHIP over nearly 450 IP last two seasons certainly qualifies him as a rotation stalwart and worthy investment. However, the lapse in ownership also allowed SP Jamie Fulchino and OFs Hideo Yang and Melky Gutierrez to leave via free agency. The new ownership has since promoted the powerful LF Jason Evert to replace some of the lost production in the outfield. Yang and Gutierrez remain unsigned.
The Santa Cruz Mavericks have improved each season under bigpop34’s leadership, and made the postseason as a wild card team last season at 90-72. The pitching staff’s opponents’ average, on base percentage, slugging percentage, and team WHIP and ERA all ranked within the top four league wide, while its offense lagged slightly behind league averages.
Despite its pitching successes, the Mavericks allowed Travis Thurman and Francisco Abreu to leave via free agency. The two combined for nearly 50 starts and 300 innings pitched, pitching to a sub 1.20 WHIP and 3.30 ERA. To replace some of those innings, the team claimed SP Luis Sierra to fill out the rotation. The team also let utility infielder Jamie Won walk, and have essentially replaced his starts with free agent signee Curt Gant.
In other important moves that did not re-shape the roster, bigpop34 drew up a five-year extension for two-time All Star RP Mike Lasker, a valuable bullpen piece for the club, and retained backup C Mike Cashner, who has accrued significant playing time behind season 23 Silver Slugger C Everth Hernandez the past three seasons.
Key additions: SS Edgardo Colon
Key losses: None
Last season, Scottsdale won 104 games, good for their second consecutive playoff berth and the best season after a long rebuild under alexkluge’s leadership. Like division rival Santa Cruz, the Artichokes had a stellar pitching staff last season but, unlike the Mavericks, also had a top ten offense by various metrics.
After posting such a successful season, the Artichokes had a fairly quiet offseason, without much need to tinker. In the most notable offseason acquisition, the club upgraded at shortstop, dealing prospect Pablo Nuno for Edgardo Colon, owner of 130 career HR through eight seasons and a recent four-year contract extension that begins in season 25.
Certainly, the club’s biggest moves came more than 20 games into the season with the promotion of several prospects (and the demotion of various long-term players to create roster space). These include super prospect 3B Earl Reynolds, drafted by Scottsdale 6th overall in season 21. He will make his long anticipated debut shortly, as will season 20 first-rounder RP Polin Martin and season 19 draftees RP Woodie Hutton, and slugging 1B Ivan Montilla. These promotions should provide serious upgrade for a team that has begun the season 15-7.
NL West Analysis
The best division in the NL has certainly positioned itself to be the best once again. Las Vegas addressed a serious need - its bullpen - and currently has no reason to believe another step back awaits them. However, Scottsdale has managed to improve its already-top tier team and remains the team to beat in the West. Santa Cruz, another team that could justify making relatively few big moves this offseason, may see itself become a serious buyer in advance of the non-waiver trade deadline should it need a boost in this competitive division down the stretch.
Despite its slow start, Omaha, under new and steady leadership, also appears ready to right the ship and stabilize for the duration of the season - though the ownership turmoil that endured makes it difficult to envision the club working its way out of the cellar for a third straight season.