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

Commish

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February, 2010

2010 Season Preview

A year ago on this page, I wrote:

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.

Sadly, little has changed since then.  After taking home his first of many BDBL trophies, Jeff Paulson's dynasty appears to be as formidable as ever.  It would take a Springfield Nuclear Power Plant softball team-like rash of bad luck to derail the runaway Undertakers, and the best the rest of us can hope for is one of those playoff upsets that have become so common throughout BDBL history that they can hardly be called "upsets" anymore.

In the battle to decide who will lose to the Undertakers in the OLCS, the Salem Cowtippers, New Milford Blazers and Ravenswood Infidels appear to be the best candidates for that unhappy fate.

In that other league, where they play a lot of games against a computer and barricade themselves in their basements during BDBL Weekend, the Ridgebacks appear to have returned to greatness after a blissful one year respite.  But their return trip to the BDBL World Series won't be an easy one, as the St. Louis Apostles, Great Lakes Sphinx and Atlanta Fire Ants all look like strong contenders.

Last year, my predictions on this page showed just how out of touch with reality I was at the time.  Not only did I completely misjudge my own team's ability to compete, but I only correctly predicted three of the eight teams that made it to the playoffs.  It was by far my worst prediction performance in my 11 years of writing this column.  Surprisingly, the league's predictions were just as bad.  Of the six division winners, you all correctly predicted only two -- the same two I predicted (Los Altos and St. Louis.)  Out of 11 voters, four of you actually picked someone other than Los Altos to win the OL title.  No one picked the Southern Cal Slyme to win the EL title.  And only half of you (7 out of 14) picked the Undertakers to win it all.  One of you even picked SALEM to win it all!

I guess it just goes to show how unpredictable this game can be.  And that's a good thing...right?

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BUTLER DIVISION

Salem Cowtippers

Owner: Mike Glander
2009 Record: 76-84 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Dan Haren, Felix Hernandez, Jeff Niemann, Ross Ohlendorf, Edward Mujica
Bullpen: Trevor Hoffman, Darren O'Day, Darren Oliver, Frank Francisco, Danny Herrera
Projected Lineup: Brian Roberts (2B), Chipper Jones (3B), Mark Teixeira (1B), Matt Holliday (LF), Matt Kemp (CF), Josh Willingham (RF), Kurt Suzuki (C), Omar Infante/Julio Lugo (SS)

Strengths: Last year, the Salem pitching staff was listed as the team's greatest strength.  They finished with the fifth-worst team ERA in the Ozzie League (4.75.)  This year's starting rotation is better than last year's, so does that mean they'll finish with only the sixth-worst team ERA in the OL?  Haren and Hernandez certainly look like a formidable duo at the top of the rotation on paper.  The bullpen is strong and deep.  And the starting lineup is filled with players who should earn lots of votes in the all-star balloting.

Weaknesses: The bottom of the lineup is very weak, with the catcher and shortstop positions dragging down the rest of the lineup.  Because of that, this team isn't going to score 1,000 runs this year.  And with three switch hitters hitting in a ballpark that hurts left-handed hitters, it's likely that most of the Salem lineup will perform worse in the BDBL than they did in MLB '09.  Defensively, the Cowtippers feature two "Fr"-ranged infielders (three when Lugo starts), and two "Fr"-rated outfielders, which means the Salem pitching staff will also likely underperform as compared to their MLB numbers.

Outlook: On paper, the Cowtippers look like a division-winning team.  But as we witnessed last year, what happens on that little electronic field sometimes has no correlation whatsoever with how a team looks on paper.

Prediction: 1st place.  Salem returns to the playoffs on the strength of their pitching and offense.  But the defense and shallow lineup keep this team from being a top-tier contender for the OL title.  If they make it back to the post-season, expect a first round exit.

New Milford Blazers

Owners: Anthony Peburn
2009 Record: 95-65 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Gavin Floyd, Yovani Gallardo, Clayton Asswipe, Brett Anderson, Clayton Richard
Bullpen: Ryan Franklin, Nick Masset, Dan Meyer, Dan Wheeler, Arthur Rhodes, Jason Frasor
Projected Lineup: Alberto Gonzalez/Skip Schumaker (2B), Maicer Izturis (SS), Carlos Delgado/Randy Ruiz/Russ Branyan (1B), Casey Blake (3B), Jack Cust/Ryan Roberts (LF), Eric Patterson/Andres Torres (RF), Elijah Dukes/Dexter Fowler (CF), Dioner Navarro (C)

Strengths: Thanks to two of the most lopsided trades of the past several years, the Blazers own perhaps the best starting rotation in the BDBL.  (Thanks again for that, Scott and Tom.)  And as always, the New Milford bullpen is overflowing with the type of annoying assholes you come to expect from the Blazers (and Undertakers, for that matter.)  In particular, Frasor (391 OPS vs. RH) and Rhodes (380 OPS vs. LH) will give opponents massive headaches throughout the season.

Weaknesses: New Milford scored 869 runs last season with a lineup that can best be described as a collection of lifelong pinch hitters, fourth outfielders, utility infielders and the type of yellowish/greenish slime you find on the bottom of garbage cans.  This year's starting lineup looks even worse on paper, and they won't have the advantage of hitting in New Milford's bandbox this year after Peburn moved to a custom park this winter.  The park still favors lefties, but not nearly as much as it did last year.  And savvy teams can load up on left-handed pitching against the Blazers to neutralize that threat.  Because there are so many platoons in this lineup (five of the eight lineup spots), opposing teams can easily exploit those platoons with a "cover pitcher" strategy, or simply by going to the bullpen early and often.

Outlook: The Blazers will be able to compete year in and year out based on the strength of their good, young, cheap starting pitching.  Peburn's bush-league strategy of employing short-usage scumbags never gets tiresome.  As always, he will mix-and-match his large collection of pinch hitters and relief specialists to cheese his way into contention, and it would be no surprise at all if he wins another division title.

Prediction: 2nd place, and the OL wild card.

Corona Confederates

Owner: Ed McGowan
2009 Record: 70-90 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Scott Feldman, Zach Duke, Aaron Cook, Ervin Santana, Jeremy Sowers
Bullpen: Sean White, Brandon Lyon, Alberto Arias, Randy Choate, Aaron Heilman
Projected Lineup: Shin-Soo Choo (LF), Chone Figgins (3B), Joe Mauer (C), Kendry Morales (1B), Corey Hart (RF), Jeff Baker (2B), Ben Francisco (CF), Christian Guzman (SS)

Strengths: Joe Mauer, Joe Mauer and Joe Mauer.  Seven years after Bobby Sylvester traded a young Joe Mauer to Paul Marazita in exchange for Juan "Stick Boy" Cruz, Mauer could very well become the first player in BDBL history to hit .400.  He could also become the first player in BDBL history to win an MVP award for a last-place team.  The lineup surrounding Mauer actually isn't bad at all, and other than shortstop there are no glaring weaknesses.

Weaknesses: This starting rotation is just horrendous.  When Scott Feldman is the ace of your staff, you know you've got issues.  If the Confederates owned a strong bullpen, the weakness of the rotation wouldn't be as much of an issue.  Unfortunately for Ed McGowan, the bullpen doesn't look much better.

Outlook: The Confederates franchise is in trouble.  After so many years of glory, this franchise has no player under the age of 27 who has a better than average chance of earning more than his salary in the next year or two.  And the farm system is completely barren.  Corona needs to work overtime this summer finding some way to improve this team's fortunes or it's going to be a long decade for Ed McGowan.  Unfortunately, other than Lyon and White, there isn't a lot of trade bait here unless McGowan wants to do the unthinkable and trade Mauer.

Prediction: 3rd place.  The only thing keeping this team out of last place is the presence of the Badgers.  If nothing else, McGowan will enjoy managing his team this season for no other reason than to watch Mauer as he breaks a couple of BDBL records.  Other than that, however, it's going to be a very challenging (and long) season.

New Hope Badgers

Owner: Tony Badger
2009 Record: 62-98 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Andy Pettitte, Doug Davis, Armando Galarraga, Brian Moehler
Bullpen: Lance Cormier, Mark DiFelice, Mark Lowe, Jose Mijares, Justin Miller, Leo Nunez, Brad Thompson, Sean Green, Wade LeBlanc
Projected Lineup: Grady Sizemore (CF), Rajai Davis (RF), Derrek Lee (1B), Ryan Ludwick (LF), Alfonso Soriano (2B), Ryan Raburn/Matt Tolbert (3B), Ryan Hanigan/Ramon Hernandez (C), Brendan Harris (SS)

Strengths: While none of those nine bullpen arms blow you away, it is a great deal of depth from which to deal.  (And many of those names will, most likely, be dealt.)

Weaknesses: Where to begin?  The starting rotation is nonexistent.  Pettitte should post decent numbers, but there is a very steep decline in quality after that.  "Pettitte and four days of rain" just doesn't have a very good ring to it.  While the lineup includes a few decent power hitters, most of those homers will be of the solo variety, as this team will have trouble getting on base.  Only one regular (Lee) posted an OBP above .361.

Outlook: The once-great Badgers franchise appears to be on the verge of finishing in last place for the third year in a row.  This 2010 team was doomed well before the winter began, as more than $21 million in salary was tied up among just three disappointing players (Soriano, Sizemore and Davis.)  Sadly, Soriano still has two years remaining on the monster contract awarded to him once upon a time by Billy Romaniello.  It's difficult to see a light at the end of this dark tunnel.  Even if Sizemore and Soriano rebound in MLB '10 (more likely for Sizemore than Soriano), there is no pitching help on the way, and no youthful hitters (aside from possibly Brett Wallace) who are poised to be big contributors to the lineup in a year or two.  In terms of rebuilding, there aren't a lot of marketable players on this roster.  Because Lee is a first baseman, the demand for him would be low.  Pettitte would probably land a decent prospect or two.  And the bevy of relievers on this team may be able to fetch a low-level prospect or a cheap role player for 2011.  The team's most marketable player is Sizemore, but with a $6.1 million salary in 2011, and signed through 2014, he's becoming less and less of a bargain with each passing year.

Prediction: 4th place.  It will be extremely challenging for Badger to avoid the 100-loss barrier and tack on another $3 million penalty to the $2.7 million penalty this team already carries over into 2011.  Luckily for Badger, there is a $7.5M cap on penalties, so it can't get much worse.

BENES DIVISION

Ravenswood Infidels

Owner: Brian Potrafka
2009 Record: 66-94 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Javier Vazquez, Wandy Rodriguez, Mark Buehrle, Carl Pavano, Brad Bergesen
Bullpen: Alfredo Aceves, Bob Howry, Ramon Troncoso, Brandon League, Joe Thatcher, Tyler Clippard
Projected Lineup: Kosuke Fukudome (RF), Todd Helton (1B), Pablo Sandoval (C), Adam Lind (LF), Robinson Cano (2B), Nyjer Morgan/Cody Ross (CF), Scott Rolen (3B), Bobby Crosby/Luis Valbuena (SS)

Strengths: The surprising signing of Vazquez (at a bargain salary of only $10M) may have sealed this team's future.  Not only is he among the best pitchers in the league, but he makes every other pitcher in this rotation better by pushing them down a spot.  The Ravenswood lineup is loaded with players who get on base (including five with an OBP of .369 or higher) and three big-time sluggers in Sandoval, Lind and Cano.

Weaknesses: It's nitpicking, but the team could use a better shortstop.  And there are some platoon split issues in the bullpen that could become problematic (but are easily fixable.)

Outlook: A lot of things went right for Brian Potrafka last year.  He took a gamble that Adam Lind's unprecedented hot streak during the first three weeks of the MLB season would continue throughout the rest of the year, and it did.  Cano figured out how to hit lefties.  Pablo Sandoval came out of absolutely nowhere to post MVP-caliber numbers in his rookie season -- and even caught enough innings to be rated behind the plate.  Potrafka paid $7 million for Wandy Rodriguez in the auction for only half a season's worth of performance, and Rodriguez followed that up with a stellar 200-inning season.  Brad Bergeson -- a Chapter Four pickup in the second round of the midseason free agent draft -- crawled out of the woodwork to become a half-season stud at $100K.  Nyjer Morgan got his first chance to play full-time at age 28, and excelled.  And even Carl Pavano -- a 23rd round draft pick last winter -- became a useful pitcher and pitched nearly 200 innings.  (And what were the odds of THAT?!)

Prediction: 1st place.  All the stars are aligned for the Infidels.  They'll have to contend with a very tough Meatballs squad to win this division, but with greater depth and better pitching -- and given Nic Weiss' penchant for throwing in the towel -- I predict the Infidels will finish on top.

Mississippi Meatballs

Owner: Nic Weiss
2009 Record: 72-88 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Cole Hamels, Joel Pineiro, Mike Pelfrey, Erik Bedard
Bullpen: Mike Adams, Andrew Bailey, Kiko Calero, Angel Guzman, Phil Coke, Brandon Morrow, Rick VandenHurk
Projected Lineup: Carlos Beltran (CF), Andre Ethier/Jose Bautista (RF), Troy Tulowitzki (SS), Joey Votto (1B), Manny Ramirez (LF), Dan Uggla (2B), Brandon Inge (3B), Brad Ausmus (C)

Strengths: An unbelievable bullpen, excellent defense, and arguably the best lineup in the Ozzie League.  Of all relief pitchers in the BDBL with more than 37 MLB innings, Bailey owns the lowest opponents OPS.  But on an inning-by-inning basis, no pitcher in the league will be as dominant as Adams, who allowed a ridiculous 341 OPS (that's OPS, not OBP) against lefties and a 284 OPS against righties (no, that's not a typo) in 37 innings.  As if those two weren't enough, Calero (587/475) is also among the best relievers in the league, and could easily close for any team in the league.  This team's fourth best reliever, Guzman (619/615) could also close for more than half of the teams in the BDBL.  Along with that dominant bullpen, the Meatballs own terrific infield defense, with two "Ex" fielders on the left side in Tulo and Inge.  And offensively, this lineup includes five hitters with an OPS above 850.

Weaknesses: Once you get past Pineiro and Hamels, the starting rotation is incredibly weak.  But this can easily be fixed through trading.  And we all know how much Nic loves to trade.

Outlook: The Meatballs will be a fun and exciting team to watch this season (as long as you're not playing against them.)  There are several good, young, talented players on this roster who should keep this team competitive for the next several years (assuming they remain on the roster.)

Prediction: 2nd place.  With a great bullpen, outstanding defense, a lineup full of power hitters, and a pair of aces in the rotation, the Meatballs have the type of team that can go deep into the playoffs if they can make it there.  Wouldn't it be fun if Nic and Bobby faced each other in the BDBL World Series?  That's not a prediction; just a question.

Kansas City Monarchs of Manchester, NH

Owners: Jim Doyle and Todd Bliss
2009 Record: 64-96 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: A.J. Burnett, Bronson Arroyo, Jake Peavy, Ricky Romero
Bullpen: Jonathan Papelbon, Phil Hughes, Jeremy Affeldt, Franklin Morales
Projected Lineup: Orlando Hudson/Akinori Iwamura (2B), Adam Jones/Franklin Gutierrez (CF), Carlos Pena (1B), Gary Sheffield (RF), Jorge Cantu/Kevin Kouzmanoff (3B), Jimmy Rollins (SS), Ronny Paulino/Kelly Shoppach (C), B.J. Upton (LF)

Strengths: A strong bullpen, led by Papelbon and Hughes, who each owns an opponents OPS below 640.

Weaknesses: Err...pretty much everything else.  Only two hitters on the entire Irish Monarchs roster managed an OPS above 800.  One of those hitters (Pena) owned a batting average of just .227.  The other (Sheffield) is 41 years old, had just 312 PA's last year, and is a Pr-rated outfielder.  The starting rotation starts out decently enough, and Doyle's $13 million investment this winter (Peavy) will be good for half a season, but there aren't enough quality innings here to sustain a winning ballclub.

Outlook: Some teams can get away with fielding a weak starting rotation and/or a weak offense as long as they own a dominant bullpen.  This is not one of those teams.  The Rebels/Monarchs will have a difficult time reaching .500 with this squad.  Which is nothing new, really, since Bill Clinton was still president the last time this franchise finished with 80 wins.

Prediction: 3rd place.  The Monarchs and Great Lakes Sphinx are the only two franchises in BDBL history to finish below .500 for ten straight seasons.  This year, the Sphinx appear to be on the verge of breaking that streak.  But there isn't any good reason to believe the Monarchs will break that streak any time soon.

Las Vegas Flamingos

Owner: John Bochicchio
2009 Record: 79-81 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Nick Blackburn, Brad Penny, Tim Redding, Brian Tallett, Randy Johnson
Bullpen: Rafael Betancourt, Clay Zavada, Tyler Walker
Projected Lineup: Johnny Damon (LF), Mark DeRosa/Travis Hafner (1B), Chase Utley (2B), Ryan Spillborghs (CF), Delmon Young (RF), Chase Headley (3B), Orlando Cabrera (SS), Gerald Laird (C)

Strengths: For the sixth year in a row, Chase Utley and Johnny Damon will be playing alongside each other in the Flamingos lineup.  For Damon, it will be his 11th consecutive year playing for the same franchise -- a BDBL record.  With those two power-hitting lefties sharing space in the same lineup for so long, you'd think the ownership would have built them a decent ballpark for power-hitting lefties.  But alas, the Coliseum is a little less than neutral in that regard.

Weaknesses: Last season, the Flamingos were the only team in the Benes Divison that scored more than 700 runs (730 to be exact.)  This 2010 squad will have great difficulty surpassing that milestone.  Traditionally, Vegas teams have never been particularly adept at getting on base, and this year's team continues that tradition.  Of the hitters on the Vegas roster, only two (Utley and Damon) posted an OBP above .360.  As bad as the hitting is, however, it looks terrific compared to the pitching staff.  Nick Blackburn would make a solid #5, or possibly #4, starter for a contending team, but he is this team's ace.  And because so much money was tied up among Penny, Betancourt and Hafner ($26.5 million), there was no money available to fill out the rest of the rotation and bullpen.

Outlook: Unlike last season, there are a couple of decent teams in the Benes Division this year.  While the competition has improved greatly in the past 12 months, the Flamingos have taken a step back.  Looking ahead, all three of those salary drags listed above will become free agents at the end of the season, leaving this franchise $26.5 million richer.  Johhny Bo would be wise to avoid repeating that same mistake in the 2011 auction and focus instead on stockpiling good, cheap, young talent.  There is some trade bait on this roster, and opportunities abound if you look hard enough.

The problem with this franchise is that the same mistakes seem to be made year after year.  Instead of stockpiling the roster with low-risk/high-reward young players with upside, John Bochicchio more often than not fills the holes in his roster with aging veterans with no prayer of adding any value to this team, either through present-day performance, future value or as trade bait.  For example, in this year's draft, Johnny Bo loaded up his roster with players like Randy Johnson (who is now retired) and Rod Barajas (who hit just .226 overall, and at age 33, has virtually no upside.)  This franchise has spun its wheels for 11 years, and has only won the division in years where the competition was so awful that no other option existed.  Unfortunately for Flamingos fans, this is not one of those years.

Prediction: 4th place.  Last year, I predicted the Flamingos would finish in last place, and they proved me wrong by winning the division.  I guess I haven't learned my lesson.

GRIFFIN DIVISION

Los Altos Undertakers

Owner: Jeff Paulson
2009 Record: 113-47 (1st place, BDBL champions)
Projected Rotation: C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester, Matt Garza, Joba Chamberlain, Brian Duensing
Bullpen: Joaquim Soria, Rafael Soriano, Michael Wuertz, Matt Guerrier, Jason Bulger, Scott Eyre
Projected Lineup: Marco Scutaro (SS), Kevin Youkilis (3B), Raul Ibanez (LF), Justin Upton (RF), Adrian Gonzalez (1B), Matt Wieters/Mike Napoli (C), Josh Hamilton/Laynce Nix (CF), Brandon Phillips (2B)

Strengths: The combined OPS of the players listed in the lineup above is 849.  Think about that.  While you're letting that sink in, consider the Los Altos bullpen, where no fewer than four relievers own an opponents OPS greater than 615.  And finally, take a look at the starting rotation, which includes three pitchers each with 200+ innings, a sub-3.70 CERA and an opponents OPS topping out at 695.  If any team owned just one hitter with an 849 OPS, one reliever with a 615 opponents OPS and one starter with 200+ innings and a sub-3.70 ERA, I would say that team could be competitive with just those three players alone.  Los Altos has a team full of these players.

Weaknesses: Unlike last season, the Undertakers have "only" three dominant starting pitchers, as Chamberlain proved to be a big disappointment.  Of course, Los Altos could throw Livan Hernandez every fifth day and he'd probably win more games than he'd lose.

Outlook: Unfortunately for the rest of the BDBL, the outlook for 2010 doesn't look that much different than last year.  Like last year, it would be a huge upset if the Undertakers do not win the BDBL championship, and it will take that type of upset for any of us to have a chance to unseat Jeff Paulson as the King of the BDBL.  Looking ahead, I don't see any light at the end of this tunnel.  Garza, Lester and Chamberlain are signed through 2015, and the free agent signing of Brandon Webb will add yet another ace to the staff.  Sabathia also has another year before his contract expires, and the entire bullpen is locked in through at least 2011 as well.  Offensively, the team will lose Youkilis and Ibanez after this season, but Upton is signed through the end of this decade, Wieters has yet to finish his option year, and the best hitting prospect in baseball (Jason Heyward) just happens to be an Undertaker as well.  I just don't see any end to this Undertakers dynasty any time soon.

Prediction: 1st place, and another BDBL championship.  Yawn.

Bear Country Jamboree

Owner: Matt Clemm
2009 Record: 79-81 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Roy Oswalt, John Lannan, Kevin Correia, Hiroki Kuroda, Matt Palmer, Joe Saunders
Bullpen: Brian Wilson, Pedro Feliciano, Ramon Ramirez, Jesse Chavez
Projected Lineup: Luis Castillo (2B), Miguel Tejada (SS), Carl Crawford (CF), Jermaine Dye (RF), Brad Hawpe/Hideki Matsui (LF), James Loney/David Ortiz (1B), Alberto Callaspo (3B), Chad Moeller/Henry Blanco (C)

Strengths: There are so many hitters on the Jamboree roster, I didn't know where to put them all.  Matsui (976/835 splits) should be a full-time player, but I have him splitting the position with Hawpe, who is also a full-timer.  The same goes with Ortiz (627 PA's) and Loney (652 PA's), who I have sharing first base duties.  Not even listed above are Mitch Maier (397 total PA's, 839 OPS vs. LH) and Nate Schierholtz (1026 OPS vs. LH, 308 total PA's.)  In total, there were 7,818 PA's available to the Jamboree before the draft even began, and there are over 8,300 PA's available right now.  (Over 9,200 if you account for the 110% usage limit.)

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, despite all the quantity, there isn't a lot of quality.  None of the hitters in the Bear Country lineup screams "MVP candidate."  The same goes for the pitching staff, where no one is likely to earn any votes for the OL Cy Young award.

Outlook: Baseball is a team sport, and you don't need superstar MVP/Cy Young candidates to win a championship.  Unfortunately for the Jamboree, winning a championship will be nothing but a pipe dream this season, and for many to come, thanks to the presence of the Undertakers in this division.  Even still, this team is good enough to make a run at the wild card, and is a good bet to finish above .500 and avoid that nasty penalty.

Prediction: 2nd place, by about 15 games.

Sylmar Padawans

Owner: John Duel
2009 Record: 72-88 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Jason Marquis, Jon Garland, Jonathan Sanchez, Kenshin Kawakami, Jason Hammel
Bullpen: Huston Street, Francisco Rodriguez, Latroy Hawkins, C.J. Wilson, Jim Johnson
Projected Lineup: Melky Cabrera (CF), Jeremy Hermida (LF), Alex Rodriguez (3B), Hunter Pence (RF), Michael Cuddyer (2B), Garrett Atkins/Mike Jacobs (1B), Elvis Andrus (SS), Wil Nieves/Humbero Quintero (C)

Strengths: Perhaps in an attempt to relive the magic of the 2006 season, John Duel has assembled an impressive collection of bullpen arms.  The Slyme bullpen includes no fewer than four relievers with an opponents OPS below 680.  Offensively, A-Rod, Pence and Cuddyer form a nifty trio in the center of the lineup.  (Yeah, I wrote "nifty.")

Weaknesses: Given the strength of the bullpen, the mediocrity of the starting rotation is not a big issue.  But the mediocrity of the lineup surrounding the "big three" is a bigger issue.  Aside from those three, no other hitter in the lineup owns an OPS above 800 against either lefties or righties.  Because of that, this team will have difficulty topping 750 runs scored.

Outlook: I've predicted 100+ losses for this franchise in each of the past two seasons, and they've finished with 87 and 88 losses.  Sylmar's 2010 team is better than either of the previous two, but the competition is as tough as ever.  A wild card run is probably too much to expect this season, but the Pads could make a run at .500 if everything breaks right.

Prediction: 3rd place.  In all likelihood, Marquis and K-Rod will be traded at some point this season, making this team far worse than they appear today.  I'm not going to predict 100 losses again, but it'll be close.

San Antonio Broncs

Owner: Greg Newgard
2009 Record: 102-58 (2nd place, OL wild card)
Projected Rotation: John Lackey, Jamie Moyer, Scott Richmond, Manny Parra
Bullpen: Joe Beimel, Grant Balfour, Neftali Feliz, Brandan Donnelly
Projected Lineup: Jhonny Peralta (3B), Miguel Montero (C), Nelson Cruz (RF), Chris Davis (1B), Jose Lopez (2B), Danny Murphy (CF), Clint Barmes (SS), Wladimir Balentien (LF)

Strengths: Hmm...  Gimme a minute or two...  Nope, I've got nothing.

Weaknesses: Really, there is no part of this roster that isn't a weakness.  And that's really an incredible statement, given that we're talking about a team that won more than 100 games only a few months ago.

Outlook: No team in BDBL history has ever gone from 100+ wins to 100+ losses in a single season.  There's a first time for everything.  San Antonio's offense is so weak, their MLB team OPS vs. lefties is just 673.  That seems almost impossible.  Prior to the auction, San Antonio's total team VORP was just 177.4.  Only the Chicago Black Sox ranked lower.  Given Chicago's massive spending spree in the free agent auction, it is pretty much a given that San Antonio now ranks last in that category.

Prediction: 4th place, and 100+ losses.

HIGUERA DIVISION

Allentown Ridgebacks

Owner: Tom DiStefano
2009 Record: 78-82 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Tim Lincecum, Scott Baker, Rick Porcello, Randy Wells, Ryan Rowland-Smith
Bullpen: Claudio Vargas, George Sherrill, Sean Burnett, Scott Downs, Burke Badenhop, Josh Outman, Leo Rosales, Dustin Nippert
Projected Lineup: Ben Zobrist (CF), Jason Bartlett (SS), Jorge Posada (C), Justin Morneau (1B), Ryan Braun (LF), Jay Bruce/Jayson Werth (RF), Mark Reynolds (3B), Ian Kinsler (2B)

Strengths: I don't even know where to put all the hitters on this roster.  For example, Garrett Jones posted a ridiculous 1046 OPS against righties.  Do you sit Morneau (836/906 splits) to play him?  Or Braun (1198/875)?  Or Bruce (643/825)?  Or Werth (1080/806)?  No matter which way you go, you're going to have to sit at least two hitters who would be starting for nearly every other team in the league.  Then there's Ben Zobrist, who qualifies at every position on the diamond except catcher.  He's most valuable at the positions that are traditionally filled by weak-hitting players, such as second base or shortstop.  But Bartlett (930/856 splits) is one of the best-hitting shortstops in the league, and Kinsler (1005/740) is among the best-hitting second basemen.  So instead, Zobrist goes to center field against lefties, and second base against righties.  And what about Angel Pagan (807/848 splits) and Jonny Gomes (914/859)?  There's simply no room for all of them in the starting lineup.  At any given time, there will be at least four players sitting on Allentown's bench who would be starters for almost every other team in the league.

Oh, yeah -- the starting rotation is also loaded, and the bullpen is deep, talented, good-looking, well-endowed, yada yada yada.

Weaknesses: Allentown's third-best shortstop is awful.  Completely awful.  They'll be in huge trouble if their starting shortstop injures himself early in the game, and his backup gets ejected by an umpire.  Huge trouble.

Outlook: It's difficult to imagine any team being more fortunate than the 2010 Ridgebacks.  The baseball gods continue to shine upon this franchise like no other (since the Zoots.)  Last year, Ben Zobrist -- a 28-year-old utility infielder with a career .222/.279/.370 batting line in his 145-game MLB career -- was visited by his Fairy Godmother and became an MVP candidate overnight.  Jonny Gomes, another 28-year-old part-time utility player coming off a season in which he posted a 666 OPS (an omen if there ever was one), evidently made a deal with the Devil and leapt to an 879 OPS.  Werth, a lifelong fourth outfielder, played full-time and had a career year.  Porcello excelled in his rookie season despite pathetic strikeout totals.  And Randy Wells -- a mid-season free agent pickup -- came out of nowhere to become one of the league's best pitchers.  When the baseball gods love you this much, there is no stopping you.

Prediction: 1st place, and the Eck League title.  Tom vs. Jeff in the BDBL World Series.  Sounds like fun.

Great Lakes Sphinx

Owner: Scott Romonosky
2009 Record: 61-99 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Ubaldo Jimenez, Johan Santana, Jared Weaver, J.A. Happ, Sean West
Bullpen: Ronald Belisario, Chris Perez, Todd Coffey, Matt Herges, Mitch Stetter, Koji Uehara
Projected Lineup: Martin Prado (2B), J.D. Drew (RF), Michael Young (3B), Jason Bay (LF), Prince Fielder (1B), Shane Victorino (CF), Carlos Ruiz (C), Erick Aybar (SS)

Strengths: The Great Lakes lineup doesn't include a single weak link against either lefties or righties (although it is much stronger against lefties.)  Incredibly, all eight hitters in the Sphinx lineup own an OBP above .350.  Jimenez is (unbelievably enough) a stud at the top of the rotation, and should be among the best pitchers in the league.  And Santana, Weaver and Happ form a very impressive rotation.

Weaknesses: The bullpen lacks a true stopper who can equally dominate both lefties and righties.  That problem is easily fixable, provided you have quality prospects and/or young players with upside to trade.  Unfortunately, this roster is in short supply of such players.

Outlook: Can you imagine how good this team would be with Gavin Floyd pitching every fourth game this year (and for the next several years?)  Ah, well.  That's all in the past.  What's done is done.  The only thing about this team that I don't like is the division in which they play.  Not only are the Ridgebacks a dominant team, but the Mustangs are a very tough competitor as well.  And the Law Dogs aren't exactly pushovers.  Because the Sphinx will be playing these great teams sixteen times each this season, their record will suffer.

Prediction: 2nd place, and the EL wild card.  Finally, after ELEVEN long seasons, the Great Lakes Sphinx franchise will be heading to the BDBL post-season.  It is likely to be a short-lived celebration, so Scott Romonosky should make the most of it.

Villanova Mustangs

Owner: Tony Chamra
2009 Record: 70-90 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Zack Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Jorge de la Rosa, Tim Wakefield, Trevor Cahill
Bullpen: Luke Gregerson, Brian Sanches, Elmer Dessens, Chris Smith
Projected Lineup: Derek Jeter (SS), Ichiro Suzuki (RF), Placido Polanco (2B), Andrew McCutchen (CF), Chris Iannetta/Brayan Pena (C), Matt Diaz (LF), Casey Kotchman (1B), Pedro Feliz (3B)

Strengths: If Greinke doesn't win the EL Cy Young award this season, it will be a tremendous shock.  He could be the most dominant pitcher in the Eck League since Pedro Martinez.  Greinke pushes the other pitchers in the Villanova rotation down a notch, which makes them all stronger.  And the Mustangs offense is interesting with the additions of gracefully-aging vets Jeter and Suzuki.

Weaknesses: Villanova's lineup lacks a single hitter with a slugging percentage above .500.  And the bullpen is missing a prototypical closer.

Outlook: It's difficult to avoid thinking that if Tony Chamra hadn't traded Brian McCann, Aaron Hill and Rich Harden this winter, the Mustangs could have had a legitimate shot at the wild card -- if not the division title.  As it stands, Villanova should finish around the .500 mark with Greinke carrying the team on his back.

Prediction: 3rd place.  If 'Nova falls behind early (which is likely), look for both de la Rosa and Wakefield to be dealt for future considerations.  If that happens, a .500 record would be just about impossible to reach.

Kansas Law Dogs

Owner: Chris Luhning
2009 Record: 99-61 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Matt Cain, Brian Bannister, Derek Lowe, Aaron Harang, Jeff Karstens, Gil Meche
Bullpen: Joe Nathan, Matt Thornton, Jose Valverde, Kris Medlen, Jesse Carlson, Greg Burke
Projected Lineup: Casey McGehee (2B), Billy Butler (1B), David Wright (3B), Carlos Lee (LF), Scott Hairston/Carlos Quentin (RF), Carlos Gonzalez (CF), Oscar Salazar (SS), Ryan Doumit/Omir Santos (C)

Strengths: Matt Cain is the gift that keeps on giving, and he's backed by a very strong bullpen.  The Kansas lineup is peppered with 800-OPS hitters up and down the order, against both lefties and righties.  And several players are rated at multiple positions, giving Chris Luhning a lot of flexibility.

Weaknesses: Once you get past Cain and Bannister (who is nothing special), the starting rotation is populated with pitchers with CERA's in the 4.60-5.30 range.  In a division that includes a modern-day Murderer's Row in Allentown, that is not a good thing.  The final numbers posted by this pitching staff will likely be worse than their MLB numbers, due to the fact that the Kansas defense is filled with "Pr"- and "Fr"-rated fielders.

Outlook: A year after coming within one win of 100, the Law Dogs suffered through some horrendous bad luck this past MLB season.  Quentin and Wright endured long-lasting slumps, each at an age (26) where they should have been at their peaks.  And Lowe had a horrendous season and became an enormous $15 million liability overnight.  It's difficult, if not impossible, to come back from so many tough breaks.

Prediction: 4th place.  This will undoubtedly be a rebuilding season in Kansas, and Luhning has quite a few pieces of prime trade bait.  It would be shocking if Wright, Quentin and Lowe didn't bounce back this MLB season, giving Kansas a great chance to compete in 2011.

PERSON DIVISION

St. Louis Apostles

Owner: Bobby Sylvester, Jr.
2009 Record: 103-57 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Rich Harden, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy
Bullpen: Hideki Okajima, Bobby Seay, Joe Smith, Kerry Wood, Brad Ziegler
Projected Lineup: Dustin Pedroia (2B), Evan Longoria (3B), Albert Pujols (1B), Brian McCann (C), Nick Markakis/Jeff Francoeur (RF), Luke Scott (CF), Magglio Ordonez (LF), Alexei Ramirez (SS)

Strengths: Has there ever been an infield defense better than this one?  The St. Louis infield includes no fewer than THREE fielders with "Ex" range.  That, in itself, is remarkable.  The fact that all three of those fielders just happen to be among the best hitters at their positions makes it almost unfair.  With three gold glovers in the infield, the Apostles could probably put five Carl Pavanos in the rotation and they'd finish with a team ERA under 4.00.  But this rotation is much, much better than five Pavanos.  With St. Louis' defense behind him, Chris Carpenter could set a new BDBL ERA record this season.  The only thing stopping him is St. Louis' home ballpark factors.  Wainwright, Harden and Kazmir very capably fill out the front four.

Weaknesses: As good as the infield defense is, the outfield defense is equally poor.  This team lacks a true center fielder and left fielder, forcing three "Fr"-rated right fielders to split those two positions.  The back end of the starting rotation is a little thin, and the bullpen lacks a closer.

Outlook: Can the Apostles make it two years in a row with 1,000+ runs scored?  Probably not.  But this team will easily top 850 runs scored.  And with the greatly-improved starting rotation and defense, this team should allow fewer than 750 runs.  That 100-run differential should be good for 95-100 wins.  Of course, the Allentown Ridgebacks owned a +101 runs differential last year and finished 78-82.  So you never know.

Prediction: 1st place.  For the first time in recent memory, after openly scorning starting pitching for years and years, the Apostles have an excellent pitching staff.  It'll be interesting to see how far this team can go with this added feature to their ballclub.

Southern Cal Slyme

Owner: Bob Sylvester, Sr.
2009 Record: 99-61 (2nd place, EL champion)
Projected Rotation: Josh Beckett, James Shields, Joe Blanton, Jordan Zimmerman
Bullpen: Francisco Cordero, Heath Bell, Carlos Marmol, Kyle McClellan, Evan Meek
Projected Lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Hanley Ramirez (SS), Ryan Zimmerman (3B), Aaron Hill (2B), Ryan Garko/Andy LaRoche (1B), Yadier Molina (C), Scott Podsednik (LF), Ross Gload (RF)

Strengths: Who wouldn't love having Ramirez and Zimmerman on the left side of the infield?  Not only are they among the best hitters at their positions, but they're above average defensively and signed at below-market salaries through the 2013 season.  The first six hitters in the Slyme lineup are above-average, and the rotation and bullpen are solid.

Weaknesses: The rotation lacks a true ace, the bullpen lacks a stopper, and the lineup lacks a hitter who can be a major threat against both lefties and righties.  Ramirez posted a lopsided split of 793/1014, and Zimmerman's split is nearly 100 points at 825/905.  The same drastic split exists for LaRoche (706/902) and Hill (897/806) as well.  The rotation will be short roughly 200 innings.

Outlook: Last year in this space, I predicted the Slyme would be "hard-pressed to break the 90-win barrier" and they won nearly 100 games.  Several hitters (Orlando Hudson, Ryan Garko, Torii Hunter, Zimmerman, etc.) posted an OPS last year that was more than 100 points above their MLB numbers.  Getting a repeat team performance like that is highly unlikely.  But then again, getting outrageous performances from hitters that are completely out of line with their MLB numbers seems to be a Sylvester family trait.  So don't bet against the magic continuing through to 2010.

Prediction: 2nd place.  The Apostles are just too stacked this year for the Slyme to compete for a division title.  That leaves Bob, Sr. to battle it out against the Sphinx for the EL wild card.  It should be a tight race.

Niagara Locks

Owner: Mike Ranney
2009 Record: 67-93 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Roy Halladay, Kyle Lohse, David Price, Vicente Padilla, Ian Snell, Chad Gaudin
Bullpen: Guillermo Mota, Juan Gutierrez, Josh Roenicke, Juan Cruz, Carlos Fisher
Projected Lineup: Chris Young/Curtis Granderson (CF), Yunel Escobar (SS), Ryan Howard (1B), Jesus Flores/Bengie Molina (C), Andy LaRoche (3B), Andruw Jones (RF), Michael Bourn (LF), Ronny Cedeno (2B)

Strengths: Halladay is the most obvious strength on this roster.  As the team's only likely all-star candidate, he stands out like a sore thumb.  And at $19 million in salary, he should.

Weaknesses: There are some very good hitters in this lineup, but many of them are susceptible to left-handed pitching.  Howard posted an OPS of just 653 against southpaws.  Granderson: 484.  And Escobar (a right-hander): just 691.  LaRoche (855/690), Molina (878/678) and Young (920/639) have some serious platoon issues against right-handers as well.  Beyond the lineup, the bullpen has issues as well.  There just isn't enough depth in the bullpen to get through an entire series.

Outlook: The Locks are playing their first full season under new ownership, and if the signing of Halladay is any indication, Mike Ranney clearly intends to make his own unique mark on this organization.  The Locks have several building blocks for the future in place, but 2010 is probably not their year.

Prediction: 3rd place.  Niagara has a few desirable pieces of trade bait on their roster, including Molina and Mota.  If Howard and Granderson learn to hit lefties in MLB this season, and Price takes a step forward, look out.

South Carolina Sea Cats

Owner: Tony DeCastro
2009 Record: 46-114 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Jarrod Washburn, Barry Zito, Dallas Braden, Livan Hernandez, Marc Rzepczynski
Bullpen: David Aardsma, David Robertson, Ryan Perry, Fernando Rodney
Projected Lineup: Craig Counsell (3B), Felipe Lopez (2B), Nick Swisher (RF), Marlon Byrd (CF), Stephen Drew (SS), Miguel Olivo (C), Juan Pierre (LF), Hank Blalock (1B)

Strengths: Washburn was brutal against lefties (535 OPS), which should come in handy in Fleetwood Walker Memorial, which is modeled after Yankee Stadium.

Weaknesses: Difficult as it is to believe, the new Yankee Stadium is an even bigger home run park for righties (factor of 130) than it is for lefties (119).  So the balls will be flying out of the park in South Carolina this year.  Unfortunately for Sea Cats fans, most of those flying balls will be hit by the opposition.  Washburn allowed 23 homers in 176 innings while pitching in Seattle last MLB season.  He could easily allow 30 or more homers in the same number of BDBL innings this season.  Meanwhile, the South Carolina lineup doesn't include many power hitters who can take advantage of their home park.  Only Swisher (29 homers), Blalock (25) and Byrd (20) reached 20 homers last MLB season.

Outlook: Last year I wrote in this space: "This franchise is in desperate need of a makeover."  The Sea Cats finished with 114 losses, wracked up $5.1 million in sticky penalty money, failed to acquire one free agent during the season with any significant value in 2010, and made just one trade, dealing the team's two biggest trade chits in exchange for Livan Hernandez and David Aardsma.  This year, a fourth straight last place finish appears almost a certainty, and avoiding another 100-loss season will prove challenging.  This team has some good trade bait in Washburn, Zito, Swisher and Byrd, and if those trading chits are used wisely, this franchise can finally begin to move in the right direction.

Prediction: 4th place, with an over/under of 60 wins.

HRBEK DIVISION

Atlanta Fire Ants

Owner: Gene Patterson
2009 Record: 94-66 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: John Danks, Jair Jurrjens, Max Scherzer, Kevin Millwood, Sean Marshall, Clay Buchholz
Bullpen: Hong-Chih Kuo, Ryan Madson, Sergio Romo, Brian Stokes, Chris Sampson, Wade Davis
Projected Lineup: Mike Cameron/David DeJesus (CF), Gordon Beckham (3B), Lance Berkman/Paul Konerko (1B), A.J. Pierzynski/Ramon Castro (C), Denard Span (RF), Willy Aybar/Ian Stewart (2B), Rafael Furcal (SS)

Strengths: The Fire Ants turned over three-fifths of their league-best starting rotation from 2009, and yet they still own one of the best in the league.  The bullpen includes several pitchers who could be closers for most teams.  And the starting lineup is significantly stronger than last year's division-winning lineup.  All eight positions in the lineup will include a hitter with a 770+ platoon OPS -- a very impressive feat.

Weaknesses: Boy, it's tough to find one.

Outlook: With the youth and upside on this roster, the Fire Ants could be the winners of this division for many years to come.  They should have little difficulty winning their second division title in a row this season.  And remember -- this is a franchise that lost a BDBL-record 118 games just two years ago!

Prediction: 1st place.  This team is every bit as good as the Ridgebacks, and an ELCS match-up between those two teams would be fun to watch.  But because the Baseball Gods never tire of shining upon Tom, I'm giving the edge to the Ridgebacks.

Akron Rche

Owner: D.J. Shepard
2009 Record: 77-83 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Justin Verlander, Randy Wolf, Tommy Hanson, Johnny Cueto, Aaron Laffey
Bullpen: Mike Gonzalez, Robinson Tejeda, Eric O'Flaherty, J.P. Howell, Kip Wells, Kevin Jepsen, Shawn Camp, Carlos Villanueva, Jerry Blevins
Projected Lineup: Asdrubal Cabrera (SS), Milton Bradley (CF), Nick Johnson (1B), Aramis Ramirez (3B), Jason Kubel/Seth Smith (RF), Nate McLouth/Fernando Tatis (LF), David Ross (C), Jayson Nix/Ronnie Belliard (2B)

Strengths: As always, D.J. Shepard has stockpiled his roster with more PA's and innings than any team could ever reasonably use or need.  The bullpen includes no fewer than eight quality arms, and there are so many hitters available on the bench that unless we change the rules and allow 40-man active rosters, several quality players will be sitting on Akron's inactive roster.  The list of hitters above doesn't even include Gerardo Parra (801 OPS vs. RH), Will Venable (836 OPS vs. RH), Travis Ishikawa (an Ex first baseman with a 730 OPS vs. RH), Nick Hundley (768 OPS vs. RH), Robinzon Diaz (794 OPS vs. RH) or Daric Barton (1083 OPS vs. LH.)  The starting rotation is excellent, led by Cy Young candidate Verlander, Rookie of the Year candidate (if we had such an award in the BDBL) Hanson, and free agent bargain Wolf.

Weaknesses: Despite all the innings available, the Ryche may have to hand the ball to someone like Cueto (4.57 CERA, 796/765 splits) more often than they'd like, as Hanson is only available to pitch 140 innings.  And despite all the PA's, the lineup still needs a catcher who can hit lefties.  In general, the Akron lineup against lefties is a little weak, with just three hitters (Ramirez and lefties Johnson and Smith) owning an OPS above 850.

Outlook: Last year, I predicted Akron to win this division, and they finished in last place for the first time in franchise history.  This year, Akron's pitching is better than last year's, but their hitting is a little weaker.  Unlike last year, the competition in this division appears to be a little weak, and the Ryche could easily sneak into the post-season once again.

Prediction: 2nd place.

Cleveland Rocks

Owner: Mike Stein
2009 Record: 83-77 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Josh Johnson, Ted Lilly, Ricky Nolasco, Edwin Jackson, Chan Ho Park
Bullpen: Jonathan Broxton, Trever Miller, Tony Sipp, Jensen Lewis
Projected Lineup: Chris Coghlan (LF), Brendan Ryan (SS), Torii Hunter (CF), Adam Dunn (1B), Bobby Abreu /Nolan Reimold (RF), Russell Martin (C), Freddy Sanchez (2B), Alex Gordon (3B)

Strengths: Johnson is a stud at the top of the rotation, and Lilly, Nolasco and Jackson are capable backups.  Broxton is a dominant closer, and Coghlan is a terrific leadoff hitter.

Weaknesses: The bullpen is in desperate need of innings, and the bottom third of the lineup is extremely weak.  The defense also includes three "Pr"-rated fielders in Abreu, Dunn and Coghlan.

Outlook: The Rocks always seem to be a couple players short of a playoffs team, and this year is no exception.  With another bullpen arm and maybe one more big bat in the lineup, Cleveland would look like a legitimate contender.  As it is, we're looking at another year with a record somewhere in the neighborhood of .500.

Prediction: 3rd place.

Chicago Black Sox

Owner: John Gill
2009 Record: 93-67 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Cliff Lee, Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Paul Maholm, Brett Tomko, D.J. Carrasco
Bullpen: John Grabow, Daniel Bard, Takashi Saito, Danys Baez, Blake Hawksworth
Projected Lineup: Fred Lewis/Drew Stubbs (CF), Victor Martinez (C), Miguel Cabrera (1B), Mike Lowell (3B), Ryan Theriot (SS), Felix Pie/Marcus Thames (LF), Travis Snider/Drew Stubbs (RF), Emmanuel Burris/David Eckstein (2B)

Strengths: John Gill's $46.5 million spending spree in the auction has given this team one of the best starting rotations in the league.  Lee, Dempster, Zambrano and Maholm can compete with just about anyone.

Weaknesses: The absence of Evan Longoria from this lineup is hugely important.  With him, this team might be a legitimate contender this season.  Without him, there just aren't enough quality hitters in this lineup to ensure the 800 or so runs needed to reach the 90-95 wins it will take to capture the division title.  Even with Longoria, 800 runs might be a stretch.  This Chicago outfield may be the weakest in the history of the league, and second base is a real garbage dump.

Outlook: 2010 looks like a placeholder season for the Chicago franchise, where they simply play out the string, hoping to avoid a big penalty, with an eye toward several years down the road, when the players acquired in the Longoria trade (Jesus Montero, Ryan Westmoreland and Josh Bell) may finally make an impact.

Prediction: 4th place.