This entry marks the second edition of a series of previews by division for the upcoming 24th season of Upper Deck. A run down of each team will be followed by an overall analysis of the division. Today, we continue by discussing the NL North.
In season 26, the Detroit Tigers baseball club (formerly the Chicago Old Style) will take the direction of just the second GM in franchise history after a change this offseason. In season 25, the team had their third consecutive losing season, though 77-85 was good enough to tie for first in the NL North despite middling offense, defense, and pitching.
The Tigers’ new GM, mikesons1973, had no problem getting started quickly, and without the sentimentality of which any longtime owner might be guilty. Future Hall of Fame first baseman and longtime Old Style Orber Gomez (709 HR over 16+ seasons) was not re-signed, as with starters Octavio Castillo (241 career wins) and Junior Leroux, a reliable starter who underwent arm surgery last season. Defensive-minded shortstop Chico Marmol was also let go.
Mikesons1973 made some big plays to fill such big holes, however. A couple of non-tenders, SS Chad Tatum and CF Enerio de los Santos, offer defense and offensive upgrades over the position in the previous season. Starter Gavin Jackson was brought in on a five-year deal guaranteeing at least $32.25M, and, in another big splash, All-Star 2B Cyrus Barrett was acquired for a pair of prospects.
The Monarchs finished in third place with just 67 wins in season 25, the club’s thirteenth consecutive losing season. Despite an offense and pitching staff that rated as only slightly below average, Kansas City fielded the league’s worst defense (.969 fielding percentage). However, longtime GM urbanwarrior made some big plays this offseason in the hopes of cashing in on a weak division.
First, urbanwarrior participated in a blockbuster trade with the Richmond Brewers, sending workhorse starter Kareem Woodson (220+ IP in season 25), longtime 3B Paul Nakano, and starting 2B Johnnie Palmer to the Brewers for All-Star RF Shaggy Eickhoff and one of the best offensive shortstops in the league in Charlie Barry, vastly improving the club’s offensive prowess.
The club also signed starters Brett Lambert and Aneury Pascual to the rotation while also cutting ties with longtime Monarch SP Ben Thomas. Combine the offseason’s moves with ace SP Antone Gardner and SP Mel Valentin and Kansas City’s prospects are looking much better than last seasons.
On the strength of two consecutive 77-win seasons, the Syndicate are back-to-back NL North division champions, having made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. That said, Syracuse has not advanced to the National League Championship Series since season 13, and Iongtime GM hatton98 made some big moves this offseason to take his club to the next level.
After letting workhorse Yorman Velasquez and reliever Livan Gutierrez walk, hatton98 made huge strides not only to replace their productivity, but to exceed it. In separate deals, he parted with a pair of nice prospects, including 1B Wilt Schimpf, to acquire All-Star SP Carlos Beltre and elite RP Paul Stevens from Richmond and Oklahoma City, respectively.
Additionally, Syracuse added 3B Cesar Moraga, a defensively versatile player with some pop, and catcher Ted Carpenter to split time behind the dish. And last but not least, 2B Reymond Mota was signed to a five-year extension, guaranteeing that the Silver Slugger second baseman will be a Syndicate for years to come.
Key losses: SP Wellington Cervantes
In season 25, a below average offense and pitching staff doomed the Toronto franchise, then located in Dover, to a last place finish as they notched just 65 wins. In fact, the Blue Jays club has not had a winning season since season 18, and as such are rather far along in their rebuilding efforts.
New GM ghutton9 stayed the course this offseason, cutting ties with arbitration-eligible starter Wellington Cervantes, as well as letting a trio of old, declining starters whose contributions likely scored negative WAR figures in season 25. The most notable transactions included the signings of sometimes-starters, sometimes-relievers Geoff Berken and Dummy Power to eat innings.
The most notable players in the organization that should give the organization hope are SPs Denzel Charleston, who just notched his first big league season, and prospects Yangervis Lucano, and Joey Sappelt, both of whom were drafted highly within the past few seasons. Also close to the bigs is prospect 2B Terry Kickham, who has All-Star potential. Ghutton9’s first pick to continue the strong drafting efforts will be the third overall pick in this season’s draft.
NL North Analysis
Once again, the NL North was easily last season’s worst division in the league, with all four teams finishing with between 65 and 77 wins. Despite that, the Tigers and the Syndicate, who tied atop the division in season 25, both had very aggressive offseasons, hoping to capitalize on the division’s overall weakness and take first place by storm. Not to be outdone, however, Kansas City made some aggressive moves this offseason, as well. Despite having more ground to make up to win the division than Detroit and Syracuse, their hugely improved offense should allow them to compete
It is anybody’s guess who might come away with the division, although Toronto would be a surprise pick to come away with it. After the only quiet offseason in the division and a rebuild that is quite far along, the most pressing question for the Blue Jays management may be whether or not to cash in on star LF Eduardo Butera’s value by trading him in advance of this season’s deadline, thus acquiring more value for future seasons.