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slant.gif (102 bytes) From the Desk of the Commish

Commish

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February, 2009

2009 Season Preview

A year ago, I wrote in this space that the Allentown Ridgebacks winning their third BDBL championship was a foregone conclusion:

Outlook: The Ridgebacks are not only the best team in the BDBL, but no other team is even close. It's hard to know when things got so far out of control. Perhaps it was when Ed traded Ryan Braun for David Eckstein. Or perhaps it was when Skizm traded Tim Lincecum for Frank Thomas. Maybe it was when John Gill traded Yovani Gallardo for Roy Oswalt. Or maybe it was when Tom picked up Heath Bell -- a pitcher that was passed up 840 times before the season, and for two free agent transaction periods after that -- at the Chapter Three deadline last year, and Bell magically transformed into a princess overnight. Whatever the case may be, the Allentown Ridgebacks are back, and they're fully loaded to win championship trophy #3.

Prediction: 1st place, and the BDBL championship, without breaking a sweat.

Sometimes it sucks to be right.

This year, I'm afraid the outlook is the same, in that the fate of this season appears to be a foregone conclusion.  Barring the most stunning upset in league history, the Los Altos Undertakers will win the 2009 BDBL championship.  What does this mean for the rest of us? It means we just try to enjoy the ride, remember that it's all about the journey and not the destination, and pray for the most stunning upset in league history.

In addition to predicting the Ridgebacks' third championship, I also correctly picked four of the six division winners and the OL wild card winner.  My most stunningly inaccurate prediction was picking the San Antonio Broncs (who finished 65-95 in last place) to win the Griffin Division.  I'm not sure what I was thinking there, but I blame Greg.

As a league, you also picked four of the six division winners (but not the same four.)  You also correctly picked the Cowtippers and Ridgebacks as the OL and EL champions, respectively.  But you voted for "Other" over the Ridgebacks to win it all, and three of you chumps actually thought the Cowtippers would win.  Will you never learn?

As has already been pointed out on the forum, the Ozzie League looks especially weak this year.  Aside from the world-beating Undertakers, there is no team that stands out as exceptionally dominant.  It's almost as if all the talent in the Ozzie League was consolidated into one team in order to break the streak of Eck League championships.

In contrast, the Eck League is overflowing with talent-laden teams, including all four teams in the Higuera Division.  How good is this division?  Three of the four teams currently rank among the top seven in the BDBL in VORP.  I had a difficult time picking a division winner, and I think that if we simulated 1,000 seasons, each team would win the division 250 times.  Ultimately, this race will be decided by managing, GM skills and luck.

As tightly-contested as the Higuera Division will be, the Person Division may be even more competitive.  Three of the top four teams in the BDBL, as ranked by VORP, hail from the Person Division.  All of this means that the best pennant race of all may be the Eck League wild card race.

So, even though Jeff's trophy has been pre-ordered, and champagne corks are already being popped in the Los Altos locker room, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited about the 2009 season.

Jump to:
Higuera | Person | Hrbek | Butler | Benes | Griffin

HIGUERA DIVISION

Allentown Ridgebacks

Owner: Tom DiStefano
2008 Record: 100-60 (1st place, BDBL champions...again)
Projected Rotation: Tim Lincecum, Jake Peavy, Scott Baker, Oliver Perez, Chris Sampson, Jorge de la Rosa
Bullpen: Carlos Marmol, Will Ohman, Dennys Reyes, John Smoltz, Ramon Ramirez.
Projected Lineup: Kelly Johnson (2B), Carlos Beltran (CF), Ryan Braun (LF), Justin Morneau (1B), Jay Bruce/Elijah Dukes (RF), Jorge Posada/Rod Barajas (C), Mark Reynolds (3B), Ben Zobrist/Nick Punto (SS).

Strengths: A Cy Young winner at the top of the rotation, a dominant closer in the bullpen and a lineup filled with all-star hitters.  Lincecum is the odds-on favorite to win the EL Cy Young, which would give Allentown five of the last eight.  Peavy and Baker give the Ridgebacks three #1 starters, which is certainly a nice thing to have.  Marmol held right-handed batters to an astounding 388 OPS last season.  And the 13 main hitters in the Allentown lineup combined for an 811 OPS in MLB last year, with nicely-balanced 828/803 splits.

Weaknesses: Unlike past incarnations of the Ridgebacks, the back end of this rotation is a little thin.  Perez shuts down lefties (521 OPS), but is a little vulnerable to righties (791.) And Sampson (117.1 MLB IP) and De La Rosa (130) are both limited in usage.  Posada (195 MLB PAs) is also limited in usage, which means Barajas (.249/.294/.410) will get the majority of playing time behind the plate.

Outlook: The defending champs lost several of their big contributors from last year (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Aaron Rowand, Ronny Cedeno), suffered a devastating injury to their $11 million all-star catcher AND a 23-year-old ace-in-the-making (Yovani Gallardo.)  And yet still, somehow, some way, Tom DiStefano manages to find a way to build a championship-caliber team.  Good for him.

Prediction: 1st place, and the Eck League title.  When in doubt, go with Tom.

Villanova Mustangs

Owner: Tony Chamra
2008 Record: 69-91 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Rich Harden, Chad Billingsley, Zach Greinke, Mike Pelfrey, Dustin McGowan, Erik Bedard.
Bullpen: Mike Adams, Buddy Carlyle, Chris Volstad, Eric Stults, Joel Hanrahan, Kyle Davies.
Projected Lineup: Brian Giles (1B), Randy Winn (CF), Brian McCann (C), Carlos Lee (LF), Andres Ethier (RF), Scott Rolen (3B), Aaron Hill/Kaz Matsui (2B), Juan Uribe/Jed Lowrie (SS).

Strengths: The starting rotation is very strong, with two 200-IP workhorses with CERA's around 3.60 and Harden, who may be the best pitcher in the league inning-for-inning.  The lineup is also very strong, with good on-base hitters up front and power hitters in the middle.  The presence of McCann gives the Mustangs a true rarity in 2009: a catcher who can hit.

Weaknesses: The decision to play Giles at first base is a curious one.  The Mustangs have a Vg-rated first baseman in Casey Kotchman (with 819/708 splits), but Chamra had to find a way to get Giles' bat into the lineup after committing $19 million to him over the next three years.  The hope is that by having an Ex-rated third baseman and an Av-rated shortstop and second baseman filling out the infield, Giles' defense will be offset.  Plenty of teams in BDBL history have attempted this strategy.  Some (such as the Litchfield Lightning of 1999-2001) have succeeded, while others (most notably the Manchester Irish Rebels and Madison Fighting Mimes) have not.

Outlook: The Mustangs are a very good team, and they will undoubtedly be competitive this season.  Villanova's starting rotation is a little less dominant than Allentown's, and Allentown's lineup also appears stronger on paper -- especially when taking Lee's ballpark factors into consideration.  So the Ridgebacks get the edge -- for now.

Prediction: 2nd place, and the EL wild card.  With Harden potentially making two starts per series, the Mustangs could do very well in the post-season.  If they add a power bat and/or an ace before the end of the season, I give them the edge over Allentown to win the EL title.

Kansas Law Dogs

Owner: Chris Luhning
2008 Record: 96-64 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Matt Cain, Derek Lowe, Randy Johnson, Gil Meche, Brian Bannister, Ian Smells.
Bullpen: Joe Nathan, Matt Thornton, Jesse Carlson, Solomon Torres, Scott Linebrink, Anthony Reyes, Jeff Karstens.
Projected Lineup: Mike Aviles (2B), Kosuke Fukudome (CF), David Wright (3B), Carlos Quentin (LF), Billy Butler/Lyle Overbay (1B), David DeJesus/Scott Hairston (LF), Yunel Escobar (SS), Brian Schneider/John Buck (C).

Strengths: This is a very good starting rotation.  Cain, Lowe, Johnson and Meche each threw 180+ innings in MLB last season with CERA's below 3.90 and opponent OPS's of 728 or below.  Last year's trade with Jim Doyle not only gave this team the ace of their starting rotation, but their cleanup hitter (Quentin) as well.  Not a bad haul for a relief pitcher.  Quentin teams with Wright in the middle of the lineup to form a very powerful combination.  The Kansas bullpen is also very strong, with several high-quality setup arms paving the way for dominant closer Nathan.

Weaknesses: The catching combo of Schneider and Buck is pretty wretched, but Kansas is hardly alone in having a giant gaping hole in their lineup from the catcher's position.  Aside from Wright and Quentin, there aren't any hitters in this lineup who strike fear into the hearts of opposing managers.

Outlook: The Law Dogs followed up their BDBL championship 2007 season by winning 96 games last year.  Unfortunately for Luhning, it wasn't good enough to make it to the post-season Tournament of Randomness.  This year's squad is actually better than that 96-win team in many ways, though this team could very easily win fewer games due to increased competition.

Prediction: 3rd place.  If the Law Dogs played in the Ozzie League, they'd have the honor of losing to the Undertakers in the OLCS.  But in this division, they'll be forced to watch the post-season from the sidelines once again.

Great Lakes Sphinx

Owner: Scott Romonosky
2008 Record: 59-101 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Johan Santana, Gavin Floyd, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jared Weaver, Zach Miner.
Bullpen: Bobby Jenks, Tony Pena, J.A. Happ, David Purcey, Zach Miner, Jesus Colome, Troy Percival.
Projected Lineup: Michael Young (SS), Shane Victorino (LF), Ryan Doumit (C), J.D. Drew (RF), Mike Lowell (3B), Chris Young (CF), James Loney (1B), Jeff Kent (2B).

Strengths: Johan Santana.  And for $20.5 million (and a guaranteed $61.5 million over three years, with a no-trade clause this year and no escape clause), he'd better be a strength.  Santana heads a starting rotation that includes five pitchers with 175+ MLB innings and CERA's between 3.80 and 4.10.  The starting lineup has no glaring holes from one through eight -- at least, not against left-handed pitchers.

Weaknesses: Against righties (which they'll probably face 90% of the time this season), the Sphinx are going to have some problems scoring runs.  Lowell, Cody Ross, Victorino, Chris Young and Michael Young all sport OPS's against right-handers that are more than 100 points below their OPS vs. lefties.  This is a problem, but perhaps an easily-fixable one.  The bullpen -- including new closer Jenks -- isn't particularly intimidating.  Normally, you'd like to see your closer with a K/9 rate above 5.6.

Outlook: Is this the year Great Lakes finally make it to the post-season?  Scott Romonosky certainly believes it is.  He believes it so strongly, he spent 32% of his team's total payroll on one pitcher, and made seven trades this winter in an effort to break his team's streak once and for all.  The biggest obstacle in Romonosky's path is the competition in this division.  In any other division, the Sphinx would look like surefire contenders, but in this division, someone has to finish in last place, and I'm picking the Sphinx to be that team.

Prediction: 4th place.  I predicted great success for the Sphinx in each of the past two seasons, and they made me look stupid both times.  Maybe my streak of stupidity will continue and Great Lakes will finally capture that wild card now that I've picked them to finish last.

PERSON DIVISION

St. Louis Apostles

Owner: Bobby Sylvester, Jr.
2008 Record: 98-62 (2nd place, EL wild card)
Projected Rotation: Kyle Lohse, Tim Wakefield, Adam Wainwright, Jose Contreras, Randy Wolf.
Bullpen: Jim Johnson, Brad Ziegler, Roy Corcoran, Francisco Cordero, Joe Beimel, Scott Lewis, Jensen Lewis, Chris Perez.
Projected Lineup: Dustin Pedroia (2B), Chris Iannetta/Kelly Shoppach (C), Albert Pujols (1B), Matt Holliday (LF), Aubrey Huff (3B), Nick Markakis (RF), Hunter Pence (RF), J.J. Hardy (SS).

Strengths: Ever since he was selected with the 18th pick of the 2001 farm draft, Pujols has been the #1 strength of this team.  This season, he is surrounded by a wide array of all-star hitters that comprise the best lineup in the Eck League.  While most teams have struggled to find a competent hitter behind the plate, the Apostles have the luxury of two.  Pedroia could very well score 200 runs this season batting at the top of this lineup.  And defensively, both Pujols and Pedroia possess Ex range.

Weaknesses: By now, Bobby Sylvester's disdain for pitching has become legendary.  Last year, he managed to win 98 games with a starting rotation filled with #4 and #5 starters.  This year, he's attempting to repeat that feat.  After trading away Joba Chamberlain, Hiroki Kuroda, Ubaldo Jimenez and Jesse Litsch this winter, the Apostles are left with another mediocre-looking rotation filled with journeyman veterans.

Outlook: Last year, I predicted the Apostles' lack of pitching would lead to a third-place finish.  Instead, they ranked fourth in the EL with a 3.82 ERA and won 98 games.  Their pitch-to-contact strategy (just 6.0 K/9 as a team), combined with a league-best .252 average on balls in play, made it possible.  Was it merely a result of luck, or has Bobby Sylvester discovered a secret DMB formula for guiding ground balls into gloves?  I, for one, am anxious to find out.

Prediction: 1st place.  While I remain convinced that Bobby's strategy of shunning quality pitching was a Daffy Duck trick, this lineup is so strong, they can win 95-100 games despite mediocre pitching.  This team can easily score 950 runs this season.  If they finish in the middle of the pack in terms of runs allowed (say, 750), that would give them 98 Pythagorean wins -- same as last year's win total.  And in this tough division, that should be good enough.

Nashville Funkadelic

Owner: Steve Osborne
2008 Record: 76-84 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Ben Sheets, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Armando Galarraga, Seth McClung, Darrell Rasner.
Bullpen: Kerry Wood, Octavio Dotel, Jesse Crain, Jeremy Affeldt, George Sherrill.
Projected Lineup: Jose Reyes (SS), Mark Loretta/Dan Uggla (2B), Ryan Howard (1B), Manny Ramirez (LF), Jason Bay (RF), Curtis Granderson (CF), Jesus Flores/Bengie Molina (C), Joe Crede (3B).

Strengths: Steve took a big gamble last winter by signing an injury-prone Sheets to a six-year contract.  So far, so good, as Sheets should be among the best pitchers in the Eck League this year.  Matsuzaka and Galarraga (an outstanding free agent pick-up last year) give the Funk three quality starting pitchers.  Wood takes over for long-time Funkadelic closer Joe Nathan, and should perform nearly as well in that role.  And the lineup is filled with all-stars, including Reyes, Howard, Ramirez and Bay.

Weaknesses: Against left-handed pitching, Nashville seems to need an infielder who can either play first (where Howard's OPS is just 746), second (where Uggla sports a 630 OPS) or third (where Crede owns a miniscule 353 OPS.)  Loretta (903 OPS vs. LH) can fill one of those holes, and Ryan Freel (824) can fill the other, but that still leaves a hole.  The back end of the rotation is thin, and finding enough innings to fill 160 games could pose a challenge.

Outlook: Playing in the league's best home run hitter's ballpark (modeled after Cincinnati's Great American Ballpark), the Funkadelic should once again rank among the league leaders in team homers.  They hit 211 last season, but ranked just sixth in runs scored, mostly due to the fact that there weren't enough runners on base (just a .329 team OBP) when all of those balls left the park.  This year, thanks to the resurgences of Bay and Ramirez, Nashville should score a few more runs than last year.  And with Sheets tossing more than 200 innings, and the addition of Galarraga to the rotation, the Funkadelic should improve upon their 76-84 record of last season.

Prediction: 2nd place.  Unlike the other teams in this division, Nashville owns a good balance of both pitching and hitting.  But their pitching is nowhere near as good as Southern Cal's, and their hitting isn't nearly as good as St. Louis'.  This division is so close, one trade (such as St. Louis' last-minute deal for Markakis and Wolf) could make all the difference between who plays post-season ball and who doesn't.  As the teams look right now, Nashville has a very good shot at both the division and wild card.

Southern Cal Slyme

Owner: Bob Sylvester, Sr.
2008 Record: 116-44 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: James Shields, Ted Lilly, Joe Blanton, Shaun Marcum, Jamie Moyer.
Bullpen: Hideki Okajima, Juan Cruz, Jose Valverde, Jared Burton, Kyle McClellan, Trevor Hoffman.
Projected Lineup: Torii Hunter (CF), Hanley Ramirez (SS), Nick Evans/Dan Murphy (RF), Carlos Guillen (LF), Ryan Garko/Adam LaRoche (1B), Victor Martinez/Yadier Molina (C), Ryan Zimmerman (3B), Adam Kennedy (2B).

Strengths: Ramirez should post MVP-caliber numbers in the heart of the lineup (unless he catches Jimmy Rollins Disease.)  The lineup has few holes in general, and the starting rotation (led by true ace Shields) and bullpen are very strong.  Having two quality left-handed starters and two quality lefty relievers will be an asset while playing in SoCal's lefty-friendly home ballpark.

Weaknesses: Neither Martinez (633 OPS) nor Molina (690) hit right-handers particularly well.  Kennedy can't hit lefties (596 OPS), and doesn't even hit righties particularly well (719.)  The only other options at second base are Anderson Hernandez (861/716 splits, but in only 91 PA's in total) and Alex Cintron (627/706 splits.)  And at third base, neither Pedro Feliz (636 OPS) nor Zimmerman (733) own league-average numbers against right-handers.  On the mound, once you get past Shields, the rest of the starting rotation is filled with holes.  Lilly was oddly susceptible to left-handed hitting (928 OPS), and neither Blanton nor Moyer is going to cause any opposing manager a sleepless night (unless they lose sleep over the prospect of losing to two soft-tossing control artists.)

Outlook: Everything that could have possibly gone right for the SoCal Slyme in 2008 went right...until the playoffs, of course.  Curt Schilling and Lilly each pitched far better than expected, Ordonez enjoyed an MVP season, and role players like Molina (875 OPS), Jacoby Ellsbury (881), Reggie Willits (828), Hunter (947) and Garko (894) each contributed far more than anyone imagined they would.  The Slyme will need more of that good fortune this season if they are to contend in this tough division.

Prediction: 3rd place.  A year after setting a new BDBL record for wins, the Slyme will be hard-pressed to break the 90-win barrier this season, due to the increased competition and the unlikelihood of Moyer and Blanton pulling a "Curt Schilling" in 2009.

South Carolina Sea Cats

Owner: Tony DeCastro
2008 Record: 62-98 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Mike Mussina, Jarod Washburn, Sean Gallagher, Cha Seung Baek, Daniel Cabrera
Bullpen: Matt Capps, Latroy Hawkins, Brian Shouse, Cesar Jimenez, Matt Lindstrom, Yusmeiro Petit, J.C. Romero, Fernando Rodney.
Projected Lineup: Felipe Lopez/Hank Blalock (3B), Nick Swisher (1B), Juan Pierre (LF), Stephen Drew (SS), Lastings Milledge (CF), Alexei Ramirez (2B), Ivan Rodriguez (C), Gregor Blanco (RF). 

Strengths: The Sea Cats have twice as many bullpen arms as any team would ever reasonably need.  Any one of those arms could become decent trade bait down the road.  Mussina, with his odd splits (583 OPS vs. LH, 849 vs. RH), will also have some trade value.

Weaknesses: This is the worst starting rotation in the BDBL.  And even with a bullpen full of quality relievers, you still have to get through the first five or six innings somehow.  Aside from Drew, the lineup lacks any sort of threat to opposing pitchers, and the bottom half of this lineup may be the weakest in the league.  Is Juan Pierre really this team's #3 hitter?  According to DeCastro, he is!

Outlook: The reason I referenced trade bait so often in the "Strengths" section is because this team has no chance whatsoever to compete this year.  The 2008 season marked this franchise's second straight 90-loss season, and the sixth time the team lost 90+ games in the league's first ten season.  90 losses for this 2009 team would be a best-case scenario.  More likely, given the number of dominant teams in this division and throughout the Eck League, we're looking at 100+ losses, and a $3 million+ penalty that will apply not only to 2010, but for every year thereafter.  This franchise is in desperate need of a makeover.

Prediction: 4th place, with an over/under of 50 wins.

HRBEK DIVISION

Akron Rche

Owner: D.J. Shepard
2008 Record: 79-81 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Javier Vazquez, Justin Verlander, Manny Parra, Johnny Cueto, Carlos Villanueva.
Bullpen: Taylor Buchholz, J.P. Howell, Jon Rauch, Jerry Blevins, Rafael Perez, Brian Tallet, Robinson Tejeda, Mike Gonzalez, Aaron Laffey.
Projected Lineup: Nate McLouth/Mike Cameron (CF), Milton Bradley (RF), Brad Hawpe/Daric Barton (1B), Aramis Ramirez (3B), Jason Kubel (LF), Jhonny Peralta (SS), Asdrubal Cabrera/Mark Grudzielanek (2B), Chris Snyder (C).

Strengths: Throughout his BDBL career, DJ has always stockpiled players like he's preparing for nuclear winter.  As of this moment, the Ryche totaled 6,935 MLB plate appearances last season, which comes to 7,629 BDBL PAs with 110% usage.  On average, a team only needs about 6,175 PA's to play 160 games, so the Ryche have more than 1,400 PA's here that they couldn't possibly use in one season.  In the infield, Omar Infante (824/711 splits in 348 PAs) would make a nice starter at three different infield positions (and two outfield!), yet in Akron, he's nothing more than a bench player.  In the outfield, Mike Cameron (951/761 splits in 508 PAs) and Jason Kubel (704/833 in 517) would be full-time starters for most teams, but in Akron, they are platoon players.  And in the pitching staff, the Ryche total 1,579 innings (1,737 BDBL innings with 110% usage), which is roughly 300 innings more than any team could ever use in a single season.  The bullpen includes nine quality relievers, and Akron plans to carry an EIGHT-MAN bullpen.

Weaknesses: Despite all that depth, the Ryche own just one first baseman (Barton), who owns mediocre 787/629 splits.  Shepard's solution is to start Brad Hawpe out of position against right-handed pitchers, which doesn't seem like the best solution.

Outlook: There's nothing not to like about Akron's chances of competing in 2009.  And I certainly wouldn't want to play an extra-innings game against this team after rosters expand in September.  (Come to think of it, maybe DJ's 26-inning marathon against Kentucky in 2002 is what led to his strategy of heavy stockpiling.)  In any case, the Ryche will be competitive this season, just as they always have been.  I don't see any reason to believe they'll blow away the competition and steamroll over the Ridgebacks and Undertakers en route to a BDBL championship, but crazier things have happened.

Prediction: 1st place.  Akron's lack of star power will become a problem in the post-season, and I predict a first-round exit no matter who they play.

Chicago Black Sox

Owner: John Gill
2008 Record: 89-71 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Brandon Webb, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Zambrano, Jeff Francis, R.A. Dickey, Glendon Rusch.
Bullpen: Takashi Saito, Frank Francisco, John Grabow, DJ Carrasco, Scott Schoeneweis.
Projected Lineup: Placido Polanco (2B), Alex Rios (CF), Evan Longoria (3B), Miguel Cabrera (1B), Vladimir Guerrero (RF), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C), Jeremy Hermida (LF), Marco Scutaro (SS).

Strengths: Gill's $25.5 million investment this winter in Webb and Guerrero filled this team's needs perfectly.  Webb could become the first Chicago pitcher ever to win the Cy Young award, and Guerrero provides valuable protection for Longoria and Cabrera in the lineup.  Each of those three should create over 100 runs this season.  Oswalt and Zambrano complement Webb nicely in the rotation.

Weaknesses: The back end of the rotation is very thin, and every fifth game could get ugly in a hurry.  The bullpen could also use a legitimate stopper in the closer's role, which would push Saito into a more appropriate setup role.  And the bottom third of the lineup could also use a boost.

Outlook: The Hrbek Division appears to be wide open this year, and I would expect Gill to make a move early to fill those holes in his rotation and bullpen.  With a farm system loaded with talent, and several good, young players occupying the 35-man roster, there is certainly enough trade bait here to make vast improvements in those two areas.

Prediction: 2nd place.  Chicago's top five players are better than any player on the Ryche, but Akron has more depth to remain competitive over a 160-game marathon.

Atlanta Fire Ants

Owner: Gene Patterson
2008 Record: 42-118 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: John Danks, Ervin Santana, Jair Jurrjens, Kevin Slowey, Andy Sonnanstine.
Bullpen: Joey Devine, Hong-Chi Kuo, Jason Grilli, Ryan Madson, Sean Marshall, Eddie Guardado, Max Scherzer, Arthur Rhodes, Joe Smith, Jose Veras.
Projected Lineup: Mark Ellis/Blake DeWitt (2B), Ryan Church/Coco Crisp (LF), Denard Span (CF), Jason Giambi (1B), Matt Joyce (RF), Wily Aybar/Ian Stewart (3B), Orlando Cabrera (SS), Gregg Zaun (C).

Strengths: The best pitching staff in the Eck League -- second only to the Undertakers in the BDBL.  Danks and Santana are both #1 starters with nicely-balanced splits and dominant numbers across the board.  The rest of the rotation is filled with quality starters who will not only perform well, but pitch a ton of innings.  The bullpen is led by two closers with dominant splits -- including Devine, who held right-handed batters to a miniscule 312 OPS.  (That's OPS, not OBP.)  And like a few teams in the BDBL, the Atlanta bullpen includes more quality relievers than the team could ever use.  With TEN quality bullpen arms, at least three of those guys won't even be on the active roster.

Weaknesses: Some of that depth in the bullpen probably should have been sacrificed in order to add some bats to this lineup.  This may be the weakest lineup in the BDBL, with only one batter (the Pr-rated, slow-footed Giambi) owning an overall OPS above 850.  Aside from Span, there is no one to set the table at the top of the lineup.  And aside from Giambi, there is no one to drive home any runners that do happen to reach base.

Outlook: As greatly as the Fire Ants improved their pitching staff this year, it's difficult to imagine this team scoring any more runs than the one that lost a BDBL-record 118 games last season.  Atlanta has come a long, long way in a very short period of time, but they still have a long way to go.

Prediction: 3rd place.  Pitching staffs have a way of spontaneously bursting into flames.  (Believe me, I know.)  It's quite possible that a year from now, the same Atlanta pitching staff that appears to be poised for several years of dominance may completely flame out.  Because pitching is so fickle, teams must take full advantage of the opportunity to compete through excellent pitching.  For Atlanta, that time is now.

Cleveland Rocks

Owner: Mike Stein
2008 Record: 67-93 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Cliff Lee, Scott Olsen, Edwin Jackson, Carlos Silva.
Bullpen: Justin Masterson, Scott Shields, Josh Johnson, Tim Byrdak, Santiago Casilla.
Projected Lineup: Ray Durham (2B), Russ Martin (C), Chipper Jones (3B), Bobby Abreu (RF), Aaron Rowand (CF), Jerry Hairston/Fernando Tatis (LF), Jim Thome/Adam Dunn (1B), Troy Tulowitzki (SS).

Strengths: The Cleveland lineup should be able to cause some serious damage this season.  The 13 main hitters on the active roster compiled an OPS of 820 in MLB last season, with 852/808 splits.  Cliff Lee is a force to be reckoned with in the starting rotation.  (Now there's a sentence I never thought I'd type.)

Weaknesses: Beyond Lee and Olsen, the remaining starters would have difficulty making the five-man rotations of most other teams in the BDBL.  And the bullpen is extremely thin, and lacks a closer who can handle both lefties and righties.  The defense is also filled with Pr- or Fr-rated fielders at first, second, left (when Tatis plays) and right field.

Outlook: It looks like Mike Stein is employing the Bobby Sylvester strategy this season by virtually ignoring pitching and focusing entirely on offense.  This strategy has rarely worked throughout history, and it would be a surprise if Cleveland's offense were strong enough to overshadow their defensive liabilities.  If Stein decides to punt, there is no doubt in my mind that chaos will soon follow.  Lee is the biggest trading chit in the league right now, and where he lands will severely affect the outcome of the pennant races.  The last two times Stein held such a highly-coveted trading commodity, he seemingly acquired pennies on the dollar (although Lee -- who was acquired in the Jason Schmidt deal of 2005 -- inexplicably and unexpectedly redeemed that trade four years later.)  If he plays his cards right, Stein could get enough in exchange for Lee that the Rocks will return to the playoffs in 2010.  But if he plays them wrong...God help him.

Prediction: 4th place.  I also predict that Lee will be traded for several players on the Cleveland Indians.  But that one's a gimme.

 
BUTLER DIVISION

Salem Cowtippers

Owner: Mike Glander
2008 Record: 103-57 (1st place, OL champions)
Projected Rotation: Josh Beckett, Felix Hernandez, Justin Duchscherer, Brett Myers, Boof Bonser, Aaron Harang.
Bullpen: Grant Balfour, Manny Delcarmen, Edwar Ramirez, Brandon League, Justin Hampson.
Projected Lineup: Derek Jeter (SS), Ian Kinsler (2B), Mark Teixeira (1B), Matt Kemp/Fred Lewis (CF), Melvin Mora (3B), Josh Willingham (RF), Jody Gerut (LF), Javier Valentin/Kenji Johjima (C).

Strengths: The Salem pitching staff probably won't set any records this season, either, but they're still pretty good.  Despite the fact that four of the five starters from last year's squad spontaneously burst into flames, the starting rotation has been completely rebuilt from the ground up, and should be well-represented on December's Cy Young ballot.  The bullpen is led by two dominant closers, and the lineup features a top-ten hitter at five different positions.

Weaknesses: The back end of the rotation could make it difficult for Salem to sweep many series this season.  Myers, Bonser and Harang may be assets in 2010, but they're only inning-fillers this season.  There's no sugar-coating it: Salem's catchers are the worst in the league.  The Cowtippers will essentially be playing with a seven-man lineup this season, thanks to the epic collapse of Johjima.  And the Salem bench is among the weakest (if not the weakest) in the league.

Outlook: Another year, another contending team in Salem.  And, no doubt, another disappointing November.

Prediction: 1st place.  This Salem is nowhere near as good as last year's team, but it's still good enough to win this division.

New Milford Blazers

Owners: Anthony Peburn
2008 Record: 76-84 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Jeremy Guthrie, Dave Bush, Jorge Campillo, Brian Moehler, Clayton Asswipe.
Bullpen: Dan Wheeler, Brian Fuentes, Dan Giese, Doug Brocail, Jason Frasor, Garrett Mock.
Projected Lineup: Martin Prado/Ronnie Belliard (SS), Brian Roberts (2B), Troy Glaus (3B), Carlos Delgado (1B), Jack Cust (LF), Jim Edmonds/Gabe Kapler (CF), Ryan Spilborghs/Skip Schumaker (RF), Kevin Cash/John Baker/Dioner Navarro (C).

Strengths: The King of Cheese has out-cheesed himself once again.  This year's team will consist of four platoons filled by at least nine SUS bastards, each with 850+ OPS's in a small, statistically-insignificant handful of MLB at-bats.  Against both lefties and righties, the Blazers can field an eight-man lineup where every hitter owns an OPS of 800+ against the opposing pitcher.  This will undoubtedly result in an offense that scores 850+ runs in the cheesiest way possible.  The rotation is filled with quality inning-eaters and the bullpen is headed by a two-man closer committee.

Weaknesses: The starting rotation is missing an ace.  The $13 million man, Guthrie, posted nice 706/682 splits in 190+ innings, but he doesn't fit the profile of a typical #1 starter.  Offensively, Peburn's strategy of excessive platooning often leads to usage issues in the second half of the season.  Baker (233 PAs overall), Belliard (337), Cash (162), Edmonds (401), Kapler (245), Prado (254) and Spillborghs (275) will undoubtedly play every game against the Cowtippers, but over a 160-game season, they will have to sit the bench quite often, and (barring a few trades) their at-bats will have to go to replacement-level players.

Outlook: The patented Peburn strategy is to patch together a team of pinch hitters and relief specialists capable of carrying the team through 160 games while achieving some level of "success" (better defined as "not sucking.")  Lather, rinse, repeat.  This one-year-at-a-time strategy resulted in a triumphant 76-84 record last year.  With weaker competition in the Butler Division this year, expect a little better record.  And if there is any such thing as "poetic justice," that record won't be nearly good enough to compete for a playoffs spot.  While this strategy of exploiting DMB's weaknesses with respect to platoon splits has proven to work very well in the short term, it isn't very effective in the long term.  Because platoon players rarely perform well two seasons in a row, the roster must be completely rebuilt from the ground up every winter.  Not an easy task, and hardly conducive to long-term success.

Prediction: 2nd place.  If history is any indication, expect Peburn to flip some of his so-called "prospects" for more SUS scumbags throughout the season.  This will solve the usage issues he seems to have every year, and keep the team competitive through the final chapters of the season.  Baseball Gods willing, that's as close as the Blazers will get to the playoffs.

Corona Confederates

Owner: Ed McGowan
2008 Record: 98-62 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Aaron Cook, John Maine, Zach Duke, Jeremy Sowers, Jo-Jo Reyes.
Bullpen: Brad Lidge, Chad Qualls, Ron Mahay, Jake Westbrook, Brandon Lyon.
Projected Lineup: Christian Guzman (SS), Joe Mauer (C), Lance Berkman (1B), Prince Fielder (LF), Jorge Cantu (3B), Jeff Baker/Howie Kendrick (2B), Rick Ankiel (CF), Shin-Soo Choo (RF).

Strengths: There are no glaring holes in this lineup, and Berkman, Ankiel, Choo and Fielder all mash right-handed pitchers at an 890 OPS or better.  Playing in Corona's custom-built ballpark that is tailor-built for left-handed power hitters, all four should enjoy big seasons.

Weaknesses: It's hard to fathom how Corona will get through an entire season with this starting rotation.  The five pitchers above combined for just 770.1 MLB innings, which translates to 847.1 innings of BDBL usage.  160 games times 6 innings per start yields 960 innings, so Corona will have to find an extra 113 innings somewhere.  Duke, Sowers and Reyes combined for a 5.31 ERA in 247 MLB innings.  I'm projecting Fielder will play in left field, as there is no other logical place to put him when a right hander is on the mound.  Against lefties, he would become the league's best pinch hitter.  Having the 275-pound Fielder rumbling around in left field for 105 games or so will be amusing to say the least, but Corona fans won't find it nearly as funny as the rest of us.

Outlook: I think Ed made a small gaffe this winter when he placed a $10.5 million bid on Berkman.  I assume he was just looking to drive up the price, and -- like me -- assumed Berkman would go for far more than $10.5 million.  There are worse fates than being "stuck" with Lance Berkman for an entire season with no trade option, yet this team's money could have been better spent on pitching.  Without pitching, it's hard to see the Confederates going anywhere this season.

Prediction: 3rd place.  The balls will be flying out of Corona this season, both when the Confederates are at bat and when they're in the field.  Unless something drastic happens (like a Fielder trade for an ace pitcher), 2009 looks like a .500 season for Corona.

New Hope Badgers

Owner: Tony Badger
2008 Record: 73-87 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Andy Pettitte, Todd Wellemeyer, Doug Davis, Jason Bergmann, Jeff Suppan.
Bullpen: Kevin Gregg, Matt Albers, Sean Green, Wil Ledezma, Brad Thompson, Lance Cormier.
Projected Lineup: Alfonso Soriano (LF), Grady Sizemore (CF), Ryan Ludwick (RF), Derrek Lee (1B), Ty Wigginton (3B), Brendan Harris (SS), Willie Harris (2B), Ramon Hernandez (C). 

Strengths: Ludwick magically appeared from thin air, and now looks to be among the favorites to win the OL Babe Ruth award in 2009.  He's surrounded by a very impressive cast, including Sizemore, Soriano and Lee.  Playing in one of the league's few remaining hitter's parks, the Badgers should score a ton of runs this season.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, with this pitching staff, New Hope will likely allow far more runs than they will score.  The Badgers went into the auction with only three starting pitchers (Pettitte, Wellemeyer and Davis), a sub-par bullpen and no catcher or second baseman.  They emerged from the auction with the same holes in their roster and only $9.4 million left to fill those holes from what was undoubtedly our weakest draft pool in league history.  The bottom third of this lineup is far below-average, and the glaring holes in the rotation and bullpen haven't been patched.

Outlook: The Badgers went all out last year, trading several cheap pitchers to add John Smoltz down the stretch, and then taking on Alfonso Soriano's contract late in the season.  The result, unfortunately, was a last-place finish.  New Hope is now weighed down by several large salaries, which prevented this team from filling the holes that needed to be filled in the auction and draft.  2009 looks like a rebuilding year, though Tony Badger always seems to find a way to compete.

Prediction: 4th place.  Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a ton of trade bait here to use toward the rebuilding effort.  Of the free agents-to-be, Gregg and Wigginton probably have the most value, but would have to be sacrificed early due to usage issues.  The back end of this rotation is pretty scary, and will likely drag this team into 100-loss territory.

BENES DIVISION

Marlboro Hammerheads

Owner: Nic Weiss
2008 Record: 61-99 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Cole Hamels, Ricky Nolasco, Scott Kazmir, Tim Hudson, Mark Hendrickson.
Bullpen: Brandon Morrow, B.J. Ryan, Damaso Marte, Joe Nelson, Bill Bray, Mike Lincoln.
Projected Lineup: Orlando Hudson/Jose Bautista (2B), Eric Hinske/Steve Pearce (RF), Magglio Ordonez (LF), Alex Rodriguez (3B), Joey Votto (1B), Jimmy Rollins (SS), Gary Matthews (CF), Jamie Burke/Jeff Clement (C)

Strengths: The best pitching staff east of Los Altos.  Thanks to the Jim Doyle Charitable Giving Association, the Hammerheads own a starting rotation that is not only extremely talented, but extremely cheap and young as well.  The addition of A-Rod gives this team a legitimate MVP candidate in the heart of the lineup.  The infield defense is also a strength, with Votto (Vg) and Hudson (Ex) on the right side and Rollins (Av) and A-Rod (Av) on the left.

Weaknesses: Rodriguez's supporting cast is a little suspect at this point.  The last-minute trade that brought Ordonez to the lineup definitely helps, but it still may not be enough to consistently generate a few rallies.  Votto could provide decent protection, but only if he isn't penalized too heavily by ballpark factors. Players like Bautista and Hinske are quality platoon hitters, but those types of hitters don't always perform as expected in the BDBL.  There seems to be a glaring hole in center field, as Matthews (632 OPS) can't hit righties, and Melky Cabrera (670) isn't much better.  The catching platoon of Burke and Clement also leaves much to be desired.

Outlook: This starting rotation is capable of carrying this team to a division title.  And although Marlboro probably won't score 900 runs with this lineup, they won't need to.  The problems in the lineup are easily fixable through trade -- at least in terms of finding first basemen and outfielders.  The hole behind the plate may be a permanent problem.  The main problem now for Marlboro is that Nic has already blown through 40% of his allotted VORP cap.

Prediction: 1st place.  With A-Rod, Tim Hudson and Orlando Hudson all due to depart via free agency at the end of the season, the stars are aligned for Nic Weiss' first foray into the Tournament of Randomness.

Manchester Irish Rebels

Owners: Jim Doyle and Todd Bliss
2008 Record: 75-85 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: A.J. Burnett, Greg Maddux, Chris Young, Paul Byrd, Bronson Arroyo.
Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon, Chad Bradford, Leo Nunez, Brian Bruney, Odalis Perez.
Projected Lineup: Aki Iwamura (2B), Reed Johnson (LF), B.J. Upton (CF), Carlos Pena/Marcus Thames (1B), Kelly Shoppach (C), Adam Jones (RF), Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B), Yuniesky Betancourt (SS).

Strengths: Papelbon is among the most dominant closers in baseball (and given what Jim paid for him, he'd better be!)  Burnett is a quality ace at the top of the rotation, and his supporting cast of #3/#4 starters should perform well in Manchester's park.  The #3, #4 and #5 hitters in the lineup are all solid run-producers.

Weaknesses: Both ends of the lineup are a bit weak -- particularly the left side of the infield -- and the back end of the rotation may cause some problems.  In place of Betancourt (684/694 splits), Manchester could go with a shortstop platoon of Eric Bruntlett (742 vs. LH) and Alex Cora (741 vs. RH), though Cora's usage will only take him through a couple of chapters, at most.  At third base, Kouzmanoff (661/762 splits) seems to be the only viable solution there, although Bruntlett can spot start on occasion.  Doyle opened up a new hole in the outfield with his most recent trade of Markakis for Jones.  The upgrade at catcher makes up for part of that difference, but not enough to break even.

Outlook: It's an odd strategy, but would we expect anything differently from Jim Doyle?  The Irish Rebels once owned a young and dominant starting rotation that included Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and Scott Kazmir.  But Doyle traded away all three, and spent a whopping $35.5 million this winter to replace those arms.  The end result is a team that looks decent enough to possibly beat last year's 75-85 record, but probably not decent enough to beat the Hammerheads in the division.

Prediction: 2nd place.  The strategy here is pretty clear.  Doyle shelled out $35.5 million to fill his rotation this winter, but only $8.5 million of that (Burnett) is committed for 2010.  Doyle and Bliss are using the current rotation as a stopgap solution while waiting for all those young pitchers Doyle acquired in the disastrous Kazmir/Hamels trade (Gio Gonzalez, Phil Hughes and Franklin Morales) to ripen.  It remains to be seen how well that plan will play out.  For now, the Irish Rebels are good enough to avoid a rollover penalty in 2010, and possibly good enough to earn a bonus.  And next year, they'll have upwards of $27 million to spend on more stopgap pitching if their plan doesn't work out.

Ravenswood Infidels

Owner: Brian Potrafka
2008 Record: 99-61 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Roy Halladay, Mark Buehrle, Wandy Rodriguez, Braden Looper, Fausto Carmona.
Bullpen: Craig Breslow, Cla Meredith, Trever Miller, Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Brown, Duaner Sanchez, Ramon Troncoso.
Projected Lineup: Robinson Cano (2B), Marlon Byrd (CF), Ken Griffey/Brandon Boggs (RF), Luke Scott (LF), Todd Helton/Aaron Boone (1B), Edwin Encarnacion (3B), Jason Varitek (C), Maicer Izturis (SS).

Strengths: For the third year in a row, following his acquisition for the immortal Brandon Phillips, Halladay will anchor the Ravenswood starting rotation.  He should be among the league leaders in several categories, and should earn a number of votes for OL Cy Young before the year is over.  He is backed by three very capable arms in Buehrle, Rodriguez and Looper.

Weaknesses: This lineup has a lot of glaring holes.  At second base, Cano posted a 683 OPS against right-handers, and no other second baseman on the roster posted an OPS higher than 701 vs. righties.  At third, Encarnacion was merely average (767 OPS) against righties, and that number will probably fall after adjusting for ballpark.  In the outfield, Scott posted an OPS of just 702 against lefties, and he doesn't appear to have a viable platoon partner.  And like most teams, the catching position is problematic, as no catcher on the roster (with more than 154 total PAs) posted an OPS higher than 616 against right-handers.

Outlook: It's hard to imagine the Infidels scoring more than 700 runs this season.  And as good as this starting rotation is, 700 runs just isn't going to cut it.  With Halladay approaching free agency at the end of the season, he (along with Cleveland ace Cliff Lee) will be among the most highly-coveted players on the trade market this season.  The last time Potrafka owned a highly-coveted ace pitcher in his walk year (Johan Santana in 2006), he ended up with Encarnacion and Scott Olsen.  I think he can do even better this time.

Prediction: 3rd place.  It's going to be a tough year for Skizm, as we all know how much he enjoys losing.  But if he plays his cards right, he could set himself up nicely for a run at the division in 2010, just as he did in his rebuilding year of 2006.

Las Vegas Flamingos

Owner: John Bochicchio
2008 Record: 70-90 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Nick Blackburn, Greg Smith, Tim Redding, Luke Hochevar, Chien-Ming Wang.
Bullpen: Russ Springer, Tyler Walker, Saul Rivera, Rafael Betancourt, Manny Corpas.
Projected Lineup: Johnny Damon (CF), Delmon Young (LF), Mark DeRosa (1B), Chase Utley (2B), Xavier Nady (RF), Chase Headley (3B), Edgar Renteria (SS), J.R. Towles (C).

Strengths: Utley -- who combines a 915 OPS with Ex defense -- is always a strength.  Damon -- who will play his TENTH season with the Flamingos, under his third different contract -- is also an asset at the top of the lineup.

Weaknesses: With Wang losing half the season to injury, the Vegas starting rotation is in shambles.  Blackburn is a nice innings-filler at the back end of a rotation, but he's no ace.  And this team's #3 starter would have trouble fitting into the five-man rotations of most BDBL teams.  This team has no true closer, and features below-average hitters at third base, shortstop and catcher.

Outlook: Last year, Johnny Bo spent $24.5 million ($75.5 million over three years) on three risky "Type H" free agents -- a decision he would immediately regret.  Those three players (Travis Hafner, Betancourt and Penny) are earning the same $24.5 million this season, despite atrocious MLB seasons that have relegated all three to the reserve roster.  Despite that disastrous chain of events, Bochicchio dipped back into the Type H pool this winter, signing yet another risky player (Nady) to a guaranteed three-year deal.  That's $32.5 million in salary that will be allocated to those four players next year.  And Utley may miss a month or more of the MLB season.  The future is not bright in Las Vegas.

Prediction: 4th place.  Bochicchio should make it his #1 priority in 2009 to dump those ginormous salaries at the first opportunity.  To do so, he'll likely have to package those contracts with players like Utley, Wang, Young and Headley.  It's a tough pill to swallow, but the only other option is punting another season and building toward 2011.

GRIFFIN DIVISION

Los Altos Undertakers

Owner: Jeff Paulson
2008 Record: 83-77 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Ryan Dempster, Jon Lester, Matt Garza, Joba Chamberlain.
Bullpen: Mariano Rivera, Joaquim Soria, Jonathan Broxton, Scott Downs, Geoff Geary, Billy Wagner.
Projected Lineup: Mike Fontenot/Rickie Weeks (2B), Ryan Theriot (SS), Josh Hamilton (RF), Alex Gordon/Kevin Youkilis (3B), Adrian Gonzalez/Richie Sexson (1B), Justin Upton (CF), Raul Ibanez/Jose Guillen/Chris Duncan (LF), Chris Coste/Mike Napoli (C).

Strengths: Okay, let's put things in perspective.  As of this writing, the 13 pitchers on the Los Altos roster who pitched in MLB last season combined for a 2.78 CERA in 1,371 innings.  2.78.  I'll give you a minute to let that soak in.  Matt Garza posted a 3.47 ERA in 184+ innings, with 720/648 splits, and would be the ace for most teams in the BDBL.  On the Undertakers, he's a #4 starter.  Paulson paid a record $22 million for Sabathia this winter, and yet -- inning-for-inning -- he may not even be this team's best starting pitcher.  That honor may belong to the "swing man" in this rotation, Chamberlain, who will either become an eight-inning stud or yet another unbeatable bullpen stopper in the playoffs.

For the first time in the history of writing these season previews, I need to start another paragraph in the "Strengths" section, because the starting rotation isn't even this team's greatest strength.  Let's talk about the bullpen, which begins with Mariano Rivera.  Rivera held opponents to a 423 OPS last season -- 367 for lefties, and 483 for righties.  423. Again, I'll give you a moment to let that sink in.  If you thought Eric Gagne's 2004 season for Los Altos was the greatest possible pinnacle of achievement for a relief pitcher, Rivera could very well redefine that this season.  But Rivera is just one of SIX closers in the Los Altos bullpen.  Of those six listed above, all six held opponents to an overall OPS below 600 last season.  This team's sixth-best reliever, Broxton, posted a 2.48 CERA in 69 MLB innings, and held righties to a 445 OPS.  On this team, he's relegated to a mop-up man or ROOGY role.  It's comforting to know that even if I had beaten Jeff's ERA record last season, I wouldn't have held onto it for long.  This Los Altos pitching staff may beat that record by half a run.

Third paragraph.  If this team's lineup were filled with nine replacement-level hitters, the Undertakers would still win the BDBL championship due to the strength of the pitching staff.  But this lineup is far from replacement-level.  As I type, the 16 players on the 35-man roster compiled an 817 OPS in MLB last year, with nicely-balanced 820/816 splits.  Against left-handers, only one batter sports an OPS below 800 (Ryan Theriot, at 778.)  Against righties, only Theriot (734) sports a sub-800 OPS.  And in both cases, Jeff could insert Rafael Furcal (1066/982 splits) at shortstop for up to 180 PA's (roughly 45 games.)

And finally, let's talk about the bench.  With platoons at catcher, first base, second base, third base and left field, the other half of those platoons (who would all be starters on other teams) will be sitting on the bench, ready to wreak havoc on the opponent's bullpen.  I'm not even sure what to do about left field, as Ibanez almost seems like overkill.  But then, when you have SIX closers, I guess that sort of redefines the term "overkill," doesn't it?

Weaknesses: Ha!  If you find ONE, please let me know.

Outlook: It's difficult to imagine the Undertakers losing a single game this season.  100 wins is a virtual certainty, and 117 (which would establish a new BDBL record) seems well within reach.  117 wins would give Los Altos $5.5 million extra to spend not only in 2010, but in every year thereafter.  By 2011, the Undertakers will undoubtedly have reached the maximum $71 million overall cap, where they will likely remain for several years.  With Gordon, Upton, Matt Weiters, Weeks, Jason Heyward, Chamberlain, Garza, Matt Harvey, Lester, Brian Matusz, Soria, Julio Teheran and Alex White all years away from their primes, the Undertakers dynasty has just begun.  It will be a very long time before it comes to an end.

Prediction: 1st place, and the BDBL championship.  The Los Altos Undertakers have become the New York Yankees of the BDBL, as their talent is so overwhelming, anything less than a BDBL championship would be considered a colossal failure.  For the next several years, the best the rest of us can hope for is an historic upset in the playoffs.

San Antonio Broncs

Owner: Greg Newgard
2008 Record: 65-95 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Dan Haren, John Lackey, Edinson Volquez, Jesse Litsch, Ryan Rowland-Smith.
Bullpen: Cory Wade, Heath Bell, Darren Oliver, Chad Durbin, Renyel Pinto, Aquilino Lopez, Logan Kensing.
Projected Lineup: Conor Jackson/David Murphy (LF), Casey Blake (3B), Chris Davis (1B), Pat Burrell (RF), Vernon Wells (CF), Jose Lopez (2B), Clint Barmes (SS), Jason Kendall/Miguel Montero (C).

Strengths: A very deep lineup filled with power hitters.  I couldn't even find room in the projected lineup above for Jayson Werth (1020/767 splits), who would be a starter on most teams.  Counting Werth, there are six hitters on the San Antonio roster who posted an 800+ OPS in MLB last season.  Beyond the hitting, the pitching staff is also very impressive, led by Cy Young contenders Haren and Volquez, and backed by three quality arms.  And the bullpen is filled with solid pitchers with strong splits.

Weaknesses: The defense includes two Pr-rated fielders (Davis and Burrell), but we're picking nits at this point.

Outlook: Let's face the facts.  In any other division, this would easily be a division championship team.  But this Griffin Division race was wrapped up long ago, and likely will be a certainty for years to come.  Newgard will have no choice but to be happy with an OL wild card and a shot at one of those infamous BDBL playoffs upsets.

Prediction: 2nd place, and the OL wild card.  I predicted this team would win this division last year, so I'm hoping to redeem myself with this prediction.

Bear Country Jamboree

Owner: Matt Clemm
2008 Record: 91-69 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Hiroki Kuroda, Joe Saunders, Paul Maholm, Francisco Liriano, John Lannan.
Bullpen: Ramon Ramirez, Sergio Romo, Javier Lopez, Brian Wilson.
Projected Lineup: Alberto Callaspo (2B), Corey Hart (RF), Miguel Tejada (SS), David Ortiz (1B), Adrian Beltre (3B), Carl Crawford (CF), A.J. Pierzynski (C), Hideki Matsui/Mark Teahen (LF).

Strengths: The Bear Country bullpen includes a couple of relievers with eye-popping splits.  In particular, Romo (a right-hander) held lefties to a 295 OPS in MLB.  (That's OPS, not OBP.)

Weaknesses: It sure is strange to see the Bear Country lineup without A-Rod.  His absence leaves a gaping hole that is not adequately filled by Tejada, Ortiz and Beltre.  The starting rotation begins with three #3-type starters, but lacks a true ace (or even a #2 starter.)  The last-minute addition of Lannan solves the problem of usage this team may have encountered later in the year, but adding another soft-tossing #4 starter won't propel this team into the post-season.

Outlook: With the trades of A-Rod and Tim Hudson, the injury to Liriano, and the free agent departures of Brandon Webb, A.J. Burnett and Carlos Guillen, the Jamboree roster has been decimated.  2009 will definitely be the beginning of a major rebuilding effort.  How long that effort lasts depends on the health of Liriano, the return to form of Ortiz, Crawford Tejada and Matsui, and how much value Clemm can add this season.

Prediction: 3rd place.  Even in a division that didn't include the world-beating Undertakers, the Jamboree would have a tough time competing.  2008 was most likely Clemm's final opportunity to win the Griffin division title, and he took full advantage of that opportunity.  But it looks like it's going to be awhile before the Jamboree play November baseball again.

Sylmar Padawans

Owner: John Duel
2008 Record: 73-87 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Jason Marquis, Jonathan Sanchez, Dana Eveland, Jon Garland, Adam Eaton.
Bullpen: Francisco Rodriguez, Jose Arrendondo, Huston Street, Alex Hinshaw.
Projected Lineup: Ichiro Suzuki (CF), Aaron Miles/Brandon Phillips (2B), Geovany Soto (C), Nomar Garciaparra/Mike Jacobs (1B), Garrett Atkins (3B), Garrett Anderson (LF), Emil Brown/Greg Dobbs (RF), Jason Bartlett (SS).

Strengths: In a year where good-hitting catchers are as rare as good stocks, having a hitter like Soto behind the dish is a real asset.  K-Rod and Arrendondo make a formidable pair in the bullpen, and have the ability to shorten a few games.

Weaknesses: Marquis (4.35 CERA, 702/783 splits) would make a decent #4 starter, but as an ace, he leaves a lot to be desired.  The rotation only gets worse from there.  The starting lineup includes only two players (Jacobs and Soto) with an 800+ OPS against right-handers.

Outlook: Playing 16 games against the Undertakers (and another 16 against San Antonio) sure isn't going to help this team attain a decent record.  The Pads have an all-star catcher and two all-star relievers, but little else to generate any sort of optimism or excitement.  Aside from those three, there are few marketable players on this roster that would generate any sort of interest in trade.  (And at $7.6 million in salary next year, Rodriguez would be tough to move.)  In other words, it's going to be a long and bumpy road ahead for this franchise.

Prediction: 4th place, with triple-digit losses.  (The same prediction I made for this team last year.)