WAC: The Cheesewedgers managed to win 89 games, despite finishing in the middle of the pack in hitting and pitching, and committing a league-worst 134 errors. The key was the bullpen, which posted a 2.96 ERA, second only to Montreal's 2.78, and almost a full run and a half better than the starters. Forecast: A solid core with Posey, Chris Johnson, Matt Cain, and Jay Bruce, but a big problem with the falloff in Matt Kemp's production: WAC will be paying him $20 million for 263 AB's of .723 OPS. And Ike Davis (32 HR's last year) fell off a cliff. Stud: Nobody. Dud: Jaime Garcia (6.42 ERA v. 3.92). Draft Grade: C+. Scutaro was a big help, and Matt Adams looks to be a long-term value, but that's about it. Salary Cap: B. West Allis is $17 million over the cap, but has only three players making 8 figures in salaries, and plenty of room to cut.
MMM: The Maulers capitalized on a league-leading 3.35 ERA to sneak into the playoffs with an 83-79 record, before bowing out to Richmond in the 2nd round. Pitching and defense (.798 X-out %, 2nd best in the league) were the name of the game. Hitting certainly wasn't: Maui finished with a team OPS of .689, ahead of only Bowie's .673. Forecast: Bad seasons by Josh Johnson, Matt Garza, and Giancarlo Stanton will hurt, and Maui definitely needs a closer: Tyler Clippard led the team in saves last year with 15, despite a 4.70 ERA. Stud: Sean Marshall (3-1, 0.71 ERA v. 5-5, 2.51). Dud: Chad Billingsley (5-7, 5.53 v. 11-9, 3.55). Draft Grade: B. Pickup of Carlos Gomez was huge, if his breakout performance is real. Salary Cap: A. Maulers are $34 million over, but just cutting Billingsley, Garza, John Hanrahan, and Johnson will put them $18 million under. And big question is whether to pay $20 million to Ryan Howard for his 286 AB's and 11 HR's. Maui also has 10 AL players, by far the most in the league.
LIT: Despite playing in a bandbox, the Rockies could never get their offense untracked; they scored only 629 runs, fewest in the league. That was the key to their 76-86 record: their pitching (5th) and fielding (3rd) certainly wasn't the problem. Forecast: The Rockies have a key decision to make with Albert Pujols. He was the mainstay of their offense last season, hitting 33 HR's; nobody else had as many as 20. But he's getting $21 million in salary, injuries reduced him to 391 AB's, and his performance has been declining precipitously. On the other hand, the resurgence of Jayson Werth and Michael Cuddyer provides a basis for playing for the present, not the future. Stud: Nobody. Dud: Danny Espinosa (.577 OPS v. .717). Draft Grade: A+. In addition to Cuddyer, who led the NL in hitting, the Rockies picked up four other players who will be regulars next season. Salary Cap: A-. Despite paying big bucks to Pujols and Verlander, the Rockies are only $15 million over the cap.
CRP: After winning three straight championships, the Patriots had their worst (and only losing) season, going 70-92. Nothing worked: while Conn River hit 206 HR's, third-best in the league, they finished last in BA, 8th in RS, 10th in ERA, and 11th in errors. No starter finished with a BA above .268, and Jered Weaver and Homer Bailey both had losing records and ERA's north of 5.00. Forecast: The Patriots have a decision to make, too, this time with Josh Hamilton, who's making $23 million. The emergence of Paul Goldschmidt, who at a salary of $516,667 is the biggest bargain in the league, certainly poses some promise, but the outlook for Jose Reyes -- the only player who remains on the team that drafted him in the inaugural 2004 season -- isn't bright, either: he's in the AL, had only 382 AB's, and is making more than $13 million. Stud: Nobody. Dud: A long list, but we'll go with Weaver (8-13, 5.05 v. 21-5, 2.81). Draft Grade: C-. One of the problems with winning championships is that you wind up drafting at the bottom, and you don't get a shot at many quality players. The Patriots didn't. Salary Cap: B. The Patriots are only $17 million over, but have a lot of big contracts. A lot depends on what they do with Hamilton and Reyes.
BOW. Playing in the worst hitters park in the league didn't help the offense, as it finished with a league-worst .673 OPS. But it didn't help the pitching, either; Bowie had a 4.49 ERA, better only than Marriottsville. That explains a 56-106 record. Forecast: Some good picks last time around, a deep draft this time around, and a bounce-back season from Cliff Lee should help lead Bowie out of the darkness. Stud: Nobody. Dud: Jeremy Affeldt (1-8, 5.56 v. 1-2, 2.70). Draft Grade: A. Bowie picked up a SS (Andrelton Simmons), two OF's (Aoki, Domonic Brown), and a starting pitcher (Mike Leake). Salary Cap: A. The Bay Sox can put themselves $19 million under the cap just by cutting Roy Halladay, Affeldt, and Francisco Rodriguez.
RAZ: Richmond went 36-21 after a mid-season ownership change, vaulting into the playoffs with an 88-74 record and taking Castaic the full seven games before losing the championship series. Despite a .253 BA, good for only 7th in the league, the Razz finished with 780 runs, behind only Castaic. But it was the pitching which surprised: Richmond finished with a 4.19 team ERA; their previous low was 4.66. Forecast: Kershaw was huge again, but injuries to Hanley Ramirez (304 AB's) and Bryce Harper (424), the decline in David Freese, and the loss of Corey Hart, are going to present some challenges. Stud: Harper (.338/.394/.561 v. .270/.340/.477). Dud: Ramirez (.221/.286/.379 v. .257/.322/.437. Not likely to have this designation next year. Draft: A. Picked up Harper, Matt Carpenter, and Bronson Arroyo. Salary Cap: B. Richmond is $22 million over the cap, but there's a lot of fat. Yes, I'm looking at you, Dan Uggla ($13 million) and you, Chris Young ($11.5 million).
VBO: The Odd Sox have been one of the most consistent teams in the league, missing the playoffs only twice in ten years. Pitching and defense have been the key, and they were again this year: a second-best 3.56 team ERA, a league-leading .828 X-out %, and only 82 errors. The hitting picked up a bit, finishing in the middle of the pack rather than VBO's normal position near the bottom. Forecast: VBO has six players who have been with the team since 2009 or before, the most in the league (Texas also has six), and that old gang may be breaking up. Victorino's in the American League, Ethier hit 12 HR's last year, Rollins' OPS is down to a Satanic .666... Still, Ricky Nolasco keeps humming along, and then there's this guy named Scherzer... Stud: Jesus Guzman (.925 OPS v. .737, albeit in only 176 AB's. Dud: Broxton, VBO's erstwhile closer (6-10, 5.65, 7 blown saves in 27 chances, v. 4-5, 2.48). Draft: C-. First-round pick went to Adam Laroche, who pretty much went the way of VBO's first-round pick in 2011, Aubrey Huff. Salary Cap: B+. VBO's only $11 million over the cap, but has some big decisions to make, the biggest being whether to keep Victorino and his $18 million salary.
TEX: The Armadillos finished with 83 wins, and their stats reflect that middling status: 5th in RS, 7th in ERA, and 6th in X-out %. The problem was a right-hand leaning lineup that bashed lefties (19-10) but finished five games under .500 against normal people. It's also reflected in their record versus individual teams: they didn't go two games better than anyone else or two games worse. Forecast: The big problem will be replacing 400 of Ryan Braun's AB's. The second biggest will be what to do about the salary cap. (See below.) Stud: Nobody. Dud: Nobody. Draft: B. This would've been an A until Matt Harvey blew out his UCL in August, necessitating Tommy John surgery which will keep him out all of 2014. Pickups of Travis Woods, Wilson Ramos, Papelbon, and Mark Buehrle help, but Buehrle's now in the AL, which leads us to... Salary Cap: D. Texas is $37 million over the cap, and several key players have huge salaried: Fielder ($30 million), Kuroda ($20 million), Buehrle ($16 million), and Papelbon ($13 million). What's more, the first three are in the AL, taking up an extra roster spot. It's going to take a lot more than pruning to get Texas under the cap.
WES: A woeful offense was expected, and the Ripcats actually improved theirs, scoring 44 more runs, thus finishing 11th instead of last in that category. What wasn't expected was a collapse of the pitching staff, especially the bullpen: it went from a league-leading 2.56 in 2012 to 3.74, good for only 7th place, dropping them from 1st in team ERA all the way down to 8th. That goes a long way in explaining the decline from an 89-73 record to 74-88. Forecast: Freddie Freeman finally had the season to justify his selection as a first-round draft pick in 2012, Holliday was steady as ever, and Mike Minor improved markedly. But Starlin Castro had a horrible season, Pedro Alvarez spent the last three months of the season hitting .213/.279/.421, and the Ripcats are in desperate need of a right-handed hitter: they finished 17-27 against lefties. Stud: Nobody came close, unless you want to include Brian Schneider .824 OPS (v. .637) in 17 AB's. Dud: Any number of nominees, but let's go with Wandy Rodriguez (12-18, 5.29 ERA v. 13-14, 3.76). Draft: C. Adam Wainwright was a big pickup (did he really last until the 9th pick?) that should pay off for years, but after that there was nobody, and I mean nobody. Six of the players drafted can be dropped because they didn't even play in 2013. Salary Cap: B. Westpark's only $18 million over, and there's plenty of room for cuts. Starting with Rodriguez's $13.5 million.
MAR: Not hard to figure out how the Bones Demons lost 94 games: you need look no farther than the 5.16 team ERA, worst in the league. A full 15% of Marriotsville's innings went to pitchers with ERA's over 6.00, and the three top starters (in terms of IP) posted ERAs of 4.92, 4.93, and 5.23. Incredibly, the bullpen was even worse, posting a 5.69 ERA to the starters' 4.92; only two other teams had bullpens with an ERA above 4.00. Forecast: The return of Troy Tulowitzki and an even better season by the best hitter on the planet, Miguel Cabrera, will keep the offense humming along, Trevor Cahill and AJ Burnett will solidify the starting staff, and Edward Mujica's surprise emergence as a closer will help stabilize the bullpen. And let's face it: things couldn't get any worse. Stud: Several offensive players, but the award goes to Ryan Doumit (.305/.370/.493 v. .275/.320/.461). Dud: Several pitchers, but the award goes hands-down to Gio Gonzalez (11-12, 5.23 ERA v. 22-8, 2.89). Draft: Jason Kubel cratered, but Gonzalez has to be better, and AJ Burnett is a big pickup. Salary Cap: A+. Despite paying $28 million for Cabrera, Marriottsville is only $2 million over the cap.