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Commish

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February, 2019

2019 Season Preview

For the uninitiated, this is the article that I write every year where I make laughable predictions that prove I know nothing about baseball. Last year, for example, I predicted on this page that the Buckingham Sovereigns would finish in last place. Instead, they won 100+ games and the division. I also predicted a first place finish for the Myrtle Beach Hitmen (who finished in last place) and a BDBL championship for the Flagstaff Outlaws. On the other hand, I did correctly predict the winners of four of the six divisions and the EL champion. So maybe I'm not so bad after all.

There is nothing scientific about this article. I don't run any sims or crunch any numbers. I simply look at a team's roster and say, "This looks like a surefire 100-game winner" or "This dumpster fire of a team couldn't even compete in the Benes Division." These opinions are solely my own and not reflective of the league as a whole.

I began last year's preview by remarking how refreshing it was that there were no "superteams" in the league for the first time in years. Then the Outlaws went and won 115 games, firmly establishing themselves as a superteam. This year, I will repeat that same mistake by declaring the league to be superteam-free. In no particular order, the Apostles, Mustangs, Undertakers, and Cowtippers all look very strong on paper, but none looks like a classic BDBL superteam capable of winning 115+ games, running roughshod over the competition, and winning their division by the first of April.

A few stories worth following in 2019:

  • Will Bobby Sylvester become only the third person ever to win back-to-back championships?
  • Will Mike Trout and Max Scherzer finish the season wearing the same uniforms they wore on Opening Day?
  • Will Jim Doyle be able to find enough innings to fill 160 games after blowing $16 million on one part-time pitcher in the auction?
  • How many times will Chris Sale be used as a cover pitcher?
  • Will D.J. Shepard win the division title in his new Ozzie League home?
  • How many games will Jeff Paulson start an "opener?"
  • Will the league love or hate the new second wildcard?
  • Will the North Carolina Iron Spider Pigs set a new league record for merchandise sales?

We'll find out starting...now!

Jump to:
McGowan | Benes | Griffin | Higuera | Wilkie | Hrbek

WILKIE DIVISION

St. Louis Apostles

Owner: Bobby Sylvester, Jr.
2018 Record: 90-70 (1st place, BDBL champions)
Projected Rotation: Jacob deGrom (.521), Noah Syndergaard (.651), James Paxton (.662), Freddy Peralta (.622)
Bullpen: Edwin Diaz (.470), Jose Leclerc (.431), Dellin Betances (.578), Brandon Morrow (.555), Zach Britton (.605), Chad Green (.641), David Hernandez (.635), Arodys Vizcaino (.652), Kyle Barraclough (.675)
Projected Lineup: Tommy Pham (CF, .830), Anthony Rendon (3B, .909), J.D. Martinez (LF, 1.031), Yasmani Grandal (C, .815), Franmil Reyes/Yasiel Puig (RF, 1.028/.921), Yulieski Gurriel/Lucas Duda (1B, .889/.813), Adam Frazier (2B, .798), Alen Hanson (SS, .699)

Strengths: Among all pitchers in baseball with more than 90 innings pitched last season, deGrom owns the lowest opponents OPS (.521). He owned both left-handed batters (.579) and righties (.460). Despite Bobby Sylvester's claims to the contrary, deGrom is the odds-on favorite to win the EL Cy Young in 2019. He is backed by a pair of aces that would be the #1 starters for most teams in the BDBL: Syndergaard (154+ IP, 3.16 CERA, 659/641 splits) and Paxton (160+ IP, 2.98 CERA, 874/617 splits.)

The Apostles have, arguably, the best top-three starting pitchers in the BDBL. There is no argument, however, that they own the best bullpen in the league. Only eight pitchers in baseball faced 100 or more batters last season and held them to an OPS below .500. The Apostles own two of them: Diaz and Leclerc. Needless to say, Betances would be the closer for most teams, but in St. Louis, he is merely a right-handed setup man. Chad Green, the hero of last year's playoffs and a 2018 Cy Young candidate out of the bullpen, is relegated to a mop-up role this year. In fact, unless the Apostles carry twelve or more pitchers on their active roster, Green may be nothing more than a reserve this year.

Offensively, it doesn't get much better than J.D. Martinez. He is the odds-on favorite to win the EL MVP and Babe Ruth awards, and he could very well win both awards unanimously. He is surrounded in the lineup by all-stars Pham, Rendon, and Grandal, and strong platoons at first base and right field. The Apostles may not equal their runs total of last season (851), but they should come close.

Weaknesses: It was an odd decision for Sylvester to jettison Rich Hill, as it left the back end of this rotation even more barren than it already was. Syndergaard (154+ IP) and Paxton (160+) are limited to roughly five chapters each, and there was no #5 starter on the roster prior to the trade of Hill. Peralta is limited to just 86 innings of usage, and owns some ugly splits (.864/.396). I honestly don't know how the Apostles are going to find enough usage in the starting rotation to get through an entire 160-game season, but I suspect there will be much "bullpenning" involved.

Offensively, there are some platoon holes in the bottom of the lineup. Notably, Hanson (.439 OPS) can't hit left-handers, but has no platoon partner at short other than Gurriel (who is rated Pr in the field.) Frazier (.586) also struggles against lefties, but has no platoon partner at second base other than Gurriel (Fr).

Outlook: The defending champion Apostles are the closest thing we have to a "superteam" in 2019. Any team that includes Jacob deGrom and J.D. Martinez has to be considered a favorite to win the division at minimum. At present, there are a few holes that need to be patched, but Trader Bobby is always up to that task.

Bobby Sylvester has been stockpiling farm talent and wheeling-and-dealing at the trading table for what seems like decades, all with the goal of building a sustainable dynasty capable of winning multiple trophies. He has his first trophy in hand, and the next one is within reach. Despite the fact that Martinez, Grandal, deGrom, Betances, and Paxton are all free agents at the end of this season, this is hardly a "now or never" type of season for the Apostles. They have enough young talent to sustain a lengthy streak of dominance.

Prediction: 1st place and the BDBL championship. The defending champs are the odds-on favorites to win it all again. The Apostles Dynasty is now in year number two. How many more before it ends?

Southern Cal Slyme

Owner: Bob Sylvester, Sr.
2018 Record: 60-100 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Zack Greinke (.665), Sean Manaea (.663), Sean Newcomb (.679), Jameson Taillon (.681), Marco Gonzales (.720), Kevin Gausman (.753)
Bullpen: Yoshihisa Hirano (.615), A.J. Minter (.642), Raisel Iglesias (.663), Adam Conley (.642), Santiago Casilla (.545), Nick Wittgren (.629), Edwin Jackson (.687), James Pazos (.683)
Projected Lineup: Mallex Smith (CF, .773), Eugenio Suarez (3B, .892), Ryan Braun/Rhys Hoskins (LF, .863/.900), Jose Abreu (1B, .798), Harrison Bader/Justin Upton (RF, .886/.875), Luke Maile/Jorge Alfaro (C, .820/.732), Ketel Marte/Yoan Moncada (2B, .971/.759), Aledmys Diaz (SS, .756)

Strengths: If you're wondering why your team has so few innings of usage in 2019, it's because Bob Sylvester hogged them all. As I write, the Slyme have nearly 2,200 innings in total, which gives them over 2,400 innings in usage -- which is nearly two teams worth of usage! Not only does the Slyme pitching staff have plenty of quantity, but they have plenty of quality as well. The front four starters are all above-average, and the bullpen is packed with quality arms. I listed fourteen names above, which means at least two or three of those guys will be rotting away on the reserve roster this season.

Offensively, SoCal features a few full-time studs surrounded by a few monster platoons. Five different batters own an OPS of 850+ against left-handers, but only two hit right-handers at the same rate.

Weaknesses: Aside from Suarez (whose numbers will likely suffer in Slyme Stadium), there is no real threat in this lineup. Especially against right-handed pitching, there is an undeniable absence of impact bats.

Outlook: It's easy to forget that the Southern Cal Slyme dominated the Eck League not that long ago. This team has been so awful the past three years that it's become a habit to dismiss them as an afterthought. That is about to change quickly. Not only do the Slyme look like contenders this season, but the stars on this team are so young, they could dominate this league in short order.

Manaea, Taillon, and Newcomb are all under the age of 28. Not listed above are Lucas Giolito (age 24) and Dylan Bundy (26), who are both former top prospects capable of recapturing their former luster. Alfaro, Bader, Hoskins, Marte, Moncada, and Smith are all 26 years old or younger. The Slyme farm includes several top-50 prospects such as Brendan Rodgers, Alex Verdugo, Luis Urias, Luis Robert, George Valera, and Jarred Kelenic. Don't look now, but SoCal is poised to reclaim their position as a dominant force in the Eck League.

Prediction: 2nd place and the second EL wildcard. The Clash of the Sylvesters will be fun to watch in the years to come. This year, SoCal will have to settle for looking up at the Apostles from a fair distance throughout the season. Despite finishing behind the Apostles by double digits, I am predicting SoCal will win the coveted second wildcard. If all of my predictions hold, it will be Greinke vs. Kershaw in a one-game battle to advance to the Division Series.

Niagara Locks

Owner: Mike Ranney
2018 Record: 76-84 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Kyle Gibson (.701), Matt Boyd (.704), Tyler Glasnow (.688), Tyler Skaggs (.736), Clayton Richard (.770)
Bullpen: Matt Strahm (.564), Archie Bradley (.672), Robert Gsellman (.700), Noe Ramirez (.750)
Projected Lineup: Victor Robles (LF, .874), Xander Bogaerts (SS, .883), Joey Gallo (1B, .810), Robinson Chirinos (C, .757), Jurickson Profar (2B, .793), Ryan McMahon/Renato Nunez (3B, .967/.778), Jason Heyward (RF, .731), Kevin Pillar (CF, .708)

Strengths: The strength of the 2019 Locks is that there is no glaring weakness. The lineup is solid from one through eight. The bench is strong. The starting rotation and bullpen are filled with capable inning-eaters.

Weaknesses: The weakness of the 2019 Locks is that there is no glaring strength. Bogaerts is an all-star shortstop. Robles is an exciting young star-in-the-making. Aside from that...meh. In particular, this starting rotation lacks an ace, and the bullpen lacks a closer. Gibson would be a back-end starter for most teams in the BDBL, and Strahm (with lopsided 773/473 splits) would be a right-handed specialist. Here, they are expected to fill major and important roles.

Outlook: The Locks have a very bright future. In addition to Robles and Bogaerts (who is locked in through 2023), Niagara's roster also includes the #1 prospect in baseball, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., top-five prospect Wander F'ing Franco (whose middle name will forever match Bucky F'ing Dent's), and former #1 prospect Byron Buxton. Not to mention the presence of Adalberto Mondesi, Domingo Santana, and Christian Pache, who are all age-26 or younger.

The future is bright in Niagara -- at least, offensively -- but the present suggests a third straight 76-84 season is on the horizon. Pitching has been this team's Achilles Heel for several years now, and will continue to be unless some young pitching is acquired to match all of those great young hitters.

Prediction: 3rd place. The Locks have posted identical 76-84 records two years in a row. Can they make it three? If 76 is the over/under, I'll take the over. But only slightly.

South Carolina Sea Cats

Owner: Tony DeCastro
2018 Record: 67-93 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Max Scherzer (.580), Blake Snell (.554), German Marquez (.698), Antonio Senzatela (.763)
Bullpen: Diego Castillo (.554)
Projected Lineup: Jean Segura/Paul DeJong (SS, .803/.777), Brandon Nimmo (LF, .886), Gregory Polanco (RF, .839), C.J. Cron (1B, .816), Maikel Franco (3B, .780), Ozzie Albies (2B, .757), Paul DeJong (SS, .746), Brett Gardner (CF, .690), ? (C)

Strengths: The one-two punch of Scherzer (220+ IP, 2.02 CERA, 609/547 splits) and Snell (180+ IP, 1.95 ERA, 413/588 splits) is just about unbeatable. No one outside of St. Louis can compete with those two -- and St. Louis' #2 starter is limited in usage.

Nimmo was one of 2018's biggest surprises. He crushes right-handers (.946 OPS), holds his own against lefties (.742), and gets on base more than 40-percent of the time.

Weaknesses: There is no back end of this starting rotation worth mentioning. Marquez (196 IP, 3.45 CERA, 796/591 splits) is far better than his numbers appear, given that he pitched in Coors Field in MLB. However, once you get past his number-three slot in the rotation there is an enormous drop-off in talent. Likewise, the bullpen includes only one decent pitcher. Like many teams in the BDBL this season, I don't know how the Sea Cats will scrape together enough innings to get through all 160 games.

Offensively, there isn't much to generate excitement. Nimmo is surrounded by a handful of decent bats, but there are platoon issues up and down the lineup. Albies (.696 OPS) can't hit right-handers, and DeJong (.651), Franco (.644), and Gardner (.628) can't hit lefties. This team paid $6.5 million for DeJong a year ago and are on the hook for $7.5 million in 2020, and yet he needs a platoon partner!

Outlook: In 2017, South Carolina spent a whopping $13.5 million for Scherzer in the auction. They went on to win 64 games that season and 67 the next. Max Scherzer pitching for the South Carolina Sea Cats is like eating a Wagyu ribeye on a paper plate with a plastic knife and fork. It's still tasty, but would fit so much better somewhere else. Scherzer may have single-handedly saved this team from losing 100 games in each of the past two seasons, but...so what?

After spending one-quarter of their total team salary on one player, South Carolina had no money left to purchase a back-end of the rotation, a bullpen, or an offense this year. They may be banking on their two Cy Young-caliber aces carrying them into contention, but that seems like a longshot. If the Sea Cats aren't within striking distance of a playoffs spot by the middle of May, expect to see Scherzer's name on the Selling forum. Then let the bidding war begin.

Prediction: 4th place. The Sea Cats have won between 60-69 games five times in the past nine seasons. The last time they finished with a .500 record was 2011. The last time they finished above .500 was, believe it or not, 2006. For a team that has ranked among the top ten in our annual Farm Report ten times in the past fourteen years, you would expect better results. If they can get some good, young, cheap players in exchange for Scherzer, perhaps the pattern of mediocrity will finally be broken.

HIGUERA DIVISION

Kansas Law Dogs

Owner: Chris Luhning
2018 Record: 77-83 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Corey Kluber (.624), Luis Severino (.666), Brad Keller (.653), John Gant (.646), Jake Junis (.773)
Bullpen: David Robertson (.595), Lou Trivino (.603), Shane Carle (.616), Wade Davis (.615), Jared Hughes (.566)
Projected Lineup: Ben Zobrist (2B, .817), Ryan Zimmerman/Cody Bellinger (1B, 1.143/.880), Max Muncy (RF, .973), Avisail Garcia/Carlos Gonzalez (RF, .810/.828), Mike Moustakas (3B, .774), Salvador Perez (C, .713), Whit Merrifield (CF, .806), Brandon Crawford (SS, .719)

Strengths: For the second year in a row, Kluber and Severino form an imposing one-two punch at the top of the starting rotation that is difficult for most teams to match. The bullpen is deep and rock-solid, as is the Kansas bench. Not listed above are Robinson Cano (348 PA's, 893/818 splits), Wil Myers (343, 805/735), and Tim Anderson (606, 788/649).

The monster platoon at first base is truly frightening. There isn't a real weakness throughout the lineup with the exception of shortstop, where both Crawford (.693 OPS) and Anderson (.649) struggle against righties.

Weaknesses: Once you get past the front two, the starting rotation thins out rapidly. Gant (114 IP, 3.21 CERA, 662/629 splits) is available for roughly twenty starts. Keller (140+ IP, 3.39 CERA, 730/587 splits) is good for twenty-five. Then it's scraping the bottom of the barrel with guys like Junis (177 IP, 4.49 CERA, 786/760 splits.)

Outlook: This team finished below .500 a year ago with both Kluber and Severino playing the same roles they do today. Not much has changed offensively since last year when this team scored 734 runs. With the improvement by Zobrist (re-signed as a free agent) and the addition of Muncy, perhaps we could see an increase to the 750-780 runs level.

The biggest problem with this team in 2018 was that Severino (9-15, 4.60 ERA in 209+ IP, with 218 hits and 32 home runs allowed) didn't pitch like Severino. If there is any regression there whatsoever, Kansas can expect to improve on their 77-83 record of a year ago. If this pitching staff can hold the opposition to 750-780 runs, then we're looking at a .500 season. That seems like a reasonable expectation for this squad.

Prediction: 1st place. I know. I just predicted a .500 season for this team, and then immediately picked them to win the division. This is because I see the Higuera Division becoming the new Butler Division in 2019. I'm just not all that impressed by the other teams in the division. Of course I've been wrong before. Now watch all four teams finish above .500.

Great Lakes Sphinx

Owner: Scott Romonosky
2018 Record: 88-72 (2nd place, EL wildcard)
Projected Rotation: Trevor Bauer (.582), David Price (.691), C.C. Sabathia (.715), Michael Fiers (.746), James Shields (.754)
Bullpen: Kyle Crick (.569), Yusmeiro Petit (.649), Oliver Perez (.417), Brad Peacock (.722), Hector Neris (.803)
Projected Lineup: Jose Martinez (1B, .821), Manny Machado (3B, .905), Giancarlo Stanton (RF, .852), Josh Reddick/Brandon Belt (LF, .827/.822), D.J. LeMahieu/Brian Dozier (2B, .900/.718), Adam Jones (CF, .732), Matt Wieters (C, .704), Freddy Galvis (SS, .680)

Strengths: Bauer has transformed himself into a stud at the top of this starting rotation. In the fourth year of his four-year contract, he saved the best (175+ IP, 2.41 CERA, 570/595 splits) for last. He's backed in the rotation by a couple of very old and very large left-handed veterans: Price (176 IP, 3.38 CERA, 672/695 splits) and Sabathia (153, 4.10, 629/732).

Machado and Stanton form an incredible one-two punch in the heart of this lineup, just as they have in each of the past two years. This year they are surrounded by the surprising Jose Martinez (776/834 splits) and the decent platoon of Reddick and Belt.

Weaknesses: The bottom half of this lineup is pretty awful. Romonosky went Type H on Dozier a year ago, and was rewarded a year later with a second baseman with .643/.718 splits. I have Dozier platooning with LeMahieu only because LeMahieu was even worse (.675 OPS in Coors!) against righties. Galvis (.635 OPS vs. RH) desperately needs a platoon partner. Wieters (.705/.703 splits) is consistent in his mediocrity.

Outlook: As I write in this space every year, the Sphinx simply don't look like a contending team on paper. Yet, every year, they prove me wrong. Usually, I'm underwhelmed by their pitching. This year, I actually think their pitching is better than their offense.

Great Lakes has some huge salaries coming off the book at the end of this season; namely, Price ($10 million), Stanton ($10M), Sabathia ($5M), and Jones ($5.5M). Bauer ($3.1M) is a free agent at the end of this season as well. In other words, counting Shields, four-fifths of their starting rotation, most of their bullpen, and one of their biggest offensive weapons will all be free agents at the end of this season. The Sphinx have made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. If 2019 is the fourth in a row, it will likely be the last of the streak.

Prediction: 2nd place. Maybe Great Lakes will surprise me again by somehow squeezing themselves into the playoffs picture despite all the holes in their lineup. I'll predict they won't make the playoffs because I'm nothing if not consistent.

Buckingham Sovereigns

Owners: Tony Badger
2018 Record: 100-60 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Patrick Corbin (.607), Lance Lynn (.744), Zack Godley (.733), Anthony DeSclafani (.792), Dylan Covey (.735), Chad Bettis (.791)
Bullpen: Adam Ottavino (.509), Scott Oberg (.571), Brad Hand (.656), Jordan Hicks (.587)
Projected Lineup: Mike Trout (CF, 1.088), Miguel Andujar (3B, .855), Marwin Gonzalez (SS, .733), Teoscar Hernandez (LF, .771), Jay Bruce (RF, .680), Elias Diaz (C, .792), Logan Morrison (1B, .644), Richard Urena (2B, .703)

Strengths: Patrick Corbin. Patrick F'ing Corbin.

Weaknesses: Buckingham had $32.5 million to spend this winter, and blew 45-percent of it on Corbin. They dropped another $5.5 million on Hand and $10 million on Bettis, Covey, and DeSclafani. That left them with $2.5 million, with Morrison (624/650 splits) as their only viable first baseman, Urena (773/683) as their everyday second baseman, and Bruce (660/688) as the only real option in right field. It also left them with Bettis, Covey, and DeSclafani as their #3, #4, and #5 starters.

Outlook: Badger has justified the "all eggs in one basket" approach by correctly pointing out that it worked for him last year. A year ago on this page, I predicted the Sovereigns would finish in last place in this division. Instead, they won 100 games and the division title. At the time, I simply couldn't imagine that a starting rotation of Lance Lynn and four sub-par schmucks could ever finish .500 -- never mind win 100 games! Yet, Lynn won 20 games, no other starting pitcher on the roster finished with an ERA below 4.50, and Buckingham won 100 games on the strength of their bullpen.

That bullpen is every bit as strong in 2019 as it was in 2018. Maybe a team doesn't need starting pitching to win a division. Maybe we've all been doing it wrong for the past century, and preventing runs in the first five or six innings of a game simply isn't that important. Or maybe 2018 was a Daffy Duck trick the Sovereigns won't be able to repeat. We shall see.

Prediction: 3rd place. If this experiment fails to achieve the same results by, let's say, the all-star break, don't be surprised to see a Selling post for one Michael Nelson Trout. If that happens, wait for all hell to break loose. League history suggests that players as impactful as Trout never seem to fetch what we think they should. (See Barry Bonds as the most infamous example.) Then again, the last time a team traded someone as impactful as Justin Morneau, they received Mike Trout in return. You never know.

Saskatoon Sasquatch

Owner: Kyle Robinson
2018 Record: 86-74 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Carlos Carrasco (.669), Zack Wheeler (.611), Kyle Freeland (.666), Lance McCullers (.653), Kenta Maeda (.706)
Bullpen: Roberto Osuna (.578), Matt Barnes (.624)
Projected Lineup: Johan Camargo (3B, .806), Robbie Grossman/Michael Brantley (LF, .882/.889), Carlos Correa (SS, .728), Stephen Piscotty (LF, .821), Nelson Cruz (RF, .850), Kendrys Morales (1B, .769), Devin Mesoraco/Omar Narvaez (C, .708/.837), Lourdes Gurriel (2B, .755)

Strengths: Despite the off year by Correa, the middle of this lineup is rock-solid. The platoon of Grossman and Brantley should be very productive. Camargo was one of the most unheralded surprises of 2018, and is rated at three different infield positions. Cruz continues to rake in his old age. Piscotty enjoyed a tremendous (and heart-warming) comeback season.

What is truly remarkable about this team is that they greatly improved their starting rotation without making a single trade or acquiring a single starting pitcher as a free agent. A year ago, Freeland (5.32 ERA in 164 IP for Saskatoon) and Wheeler (5.65 in 36+) were just about useless. Today, they're valuable contributors at the front end of this rotation. Despite losing Yu Darvish to injury for most of the year, and McCullers for half, the Sasquatch rotation actually improved year over year.

Weaknesses: The bullpen seems like an afterthought. Osuna (38 IP) missed most of the season to injury, leaving Barnes (61+ IP, 3.08 CERA, 643/610 splits) as the only decent full-time reliever on this roster. Because of that, this team will likely struggle in close games, and lose many of those one-run games that tend to ruin a team's season.

Defensively, this team is a disaster. Mesoraco owns a poor throwing arm behind the plate. Morales has Pr range at first base (and posted a paltry .582 OPS against lefties, with no viable platoon partner.) Cruz is also rated Pr in right field. Piscotty and his Pr throwing arm will have to move out of position to left field just to make room for Cruz.

Outlook: Given the disappointing year by Correa and the injuries to Darvish and Osuna, this team should have no business winning games in 2019. Yet, incredibly, they look as though they won't be terrible. This lineup will score some runs. The only question is whether the bullpen and defense will be able to keep enough runs off the board to support this offense. At this point, unless GM Kyle Robinson fills some of those gaps through trade, I don't see this team preventing more runs than they score. Which means we're looking at a sub-.500 finish.

Prediction: 4th place. Maybe Saskatoon will repeat history by posting this prediction on their clubhouse bulletin board and using it as a motivational tool that carries them all the way to a division title. After all, it worked for Buckingham a year ago.

HRBEK DIVISION

Charlotte Mustangs

Owner: Tony Chamra
2018 Record: 101-59 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Jose Berrios (.665), Julio Teheran (.672), Kyle Hendricks (.685), Nick Pivetta (.743), Zach Eflin (.746), Michael Fulmer (.758)
Bullpen: Blake Treinen (.417), Jose Alvarado (.525), Corey Knebel (.659), Chaz Roe (.629), Jesse Biddle (.654), Xavier Cedeno (.590), Edgar Santana (.659), Greg Holland (.697)
Projected Lineup: Jose Altuve (2B, .837), Alex Bregman (3B, .926), Anthony Rizzo (1B, .846), Mitch Haniger (RF, .859), Juan Soto/Corey Dickerson (LF, .846/.827), Albert Almora/Jackie Bradley, Jr. (CF, .742/.768), Tyler Flowers/Austin Hedges (C, 1.117/.726), Addison Russell (SS, .657)

Strengths: Treinen is an absolute beast (80+ IP, 1.21 CERA, 462/372 splits.) He is backed by an endless parade of closer-like setup men. I listed fourteen pitchers above, so it's likely that at least two or three of those guys won't even make the active roster.

On the hitting side, Charlotte has so many great hitters I don't even know where to put them! Soto owns a .949 OPS against right-handers, for example, but where on earth would he play? Will Chamra turn Dickerson into a pinch hitter against lefties and righties? I didn't even mention Adrian Beltre (790 OPS vs. RH), who is wrapping up his BDBL Hall of Fame career. Regardless, the lineup is filled with 800+ OPS's against both sides.

Then there is the defense. The Mustangs could conceivably field a team where every position is filled with a Vg or better fielder with the exception of second base (where Altuve is "only" average.)

Weaknesses: Did you know Rizzo posted an OPS of only .684 against lefties last year? Neither did I until I just read it. Unfortunately, he doesn't have a platoon partner, so Charlotte will just have to make do with it. (Maybe they can trade one of their sixteen closers for a platoon first baseman!)

Russell (744/626 splits) suffers from the same platoon issue, but against right-handers. Of course, Charlotte can always move Bregman (rated Av at shortstop? Really?) to short against righties and give Beltre (.790 OPS vs. RH) some much-deserved playing time. Come to think of it, that is probably what Chamra will do.

Outlook: This looks like a better team on paper than the one that won 101 games last year. So why is no one talking about the Charlotte Mustangs as a "superteam?" Both the MVP (Bregman) and Cy Young (Treinen) could plausibly come out of the Mustangs organization. Perhaps more than any other team in the league, the Mustangs look like a lock to win 100 games and a division title.

Chamra won only one division title in his first (eleven-year) stint with the BDBL. He has now managed to win two titles in his second turn, and is poised to make it three in a row in only his sixth year as GM of this franchise. It's hard to believe this team lost over 100 games only three years ago.

Prediction: 1st place. If I were a betting man, I'd bet good money on a St. Louis vs. Charlotte ELCS. They are without question the two strongest teams in the Eck League this year. The winner of that series feels like a coin flip. In the end, I'm picking St. Louis based on the presence of Jacob deGrom and J.D. Martinez. Either way, the winner of the EL will likely be someone who has already won a BDBL trophy.

Chicago Black Sox

Owner: John Gill
2018 Record: 76-84 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Clayton Kershaw (.630), Madison Bumgarner (.694), Dallas Keuchel (.704), Cole Hamels (.746), Carlos Martinez (.647), Shane Bieber (.673)
Bullpen: Aroldis Chapman (.493), Edubray Ramos (.603), Robert Stock (.615), Richard Bleier (.673)
Projected Lineup: Bryce Harper (RF, .889), Willson Contreras (C, .860), Charlie Blackmon (CF, .860), Kris Bryant (1B, .834), Javier Baez (SS, .881), Phillip Ervin/Kyle Schwarber (LF, .749/.859), Eduardo Escobar (3B, .824), Jed Lowrie (2B, .801)

Strengths: Got lefties? Gill went a little nuts in the auction by adding three left-handed starting pitchers at a total cost of $26 million. Kershaw, Bumgarner, and Keuchel joined Hamels to give Chicago four lefties pitching in a home ballpark with above-average factors for right-handed singles, doubles, and home runs. It will certainly be interesting to see how that experiment works!

Chicago's main strength has always been offense -- and will likely continue to be with Bryant and Harper locked in through at least the 2023 season. Bryant pummeled lefties last year (1.138 OPS), but was weirdly mediocre against right-handers (.749). The Chicago lineup is filled with 800+ OPS's against both lefties and righties, to the point where I have a guy with a .801 OPS penciled in as the #8 hitter in the lineup!

The most intriguing player in the Chicago lineup is Blackmon. Will he repeat last year's ridiculousness by completely ignoring ballpark factors? Or will there be some late regression to make up for last year's ridiculousness?

Weaknesses: The lefty-heavy rotation could be a problem for Chicago as teams will inevitably load up on right-handed sluggers to take full advantage of the situation. Chicago's closer also happens to be left-handed.

Outlook: I'm on the fence about Chicago this year. Given this lineup and pitching staff, they sure do look like a playoffs contender on paper. But the whole lefty-heavy pitching staff thing makes me hesitate to go that far. In real life, this team would be a no-doubt contender. In the BDBL...I just don't know. It's practically guaranteed that this team will score over 800 runs -- again. Will they allow fewer than the 839 runs that scored against them last year? That remains to be seen.

Prediction: 2nd place and the EL wildcard. I'm betting that this team has enough talent to overcome the lefty-heavy approach. I'll also go out on a limb and predict (as I do every year) that Chicago gets off to a horrible start in Chapter One, John Gill tries to sell every player on his roster, changes his mind, and finishes with a strong second half.

Cleveland Rocks

Owner: Mike Stein
2018 Record: 53-107 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Justin Verlander (.602), Miles Mikolas (.627), Reynaldo Lopez (.713), Jaime Barria (.719), Ty Blach (.746)
Bullpen: Seung Hwan Oh (.620), Daniel Winkler (.645), Joe Jimenez (.645), Keone Kela (.605), Tommy Hunter (.745), Adam Cimber (.743), Ken Giles (.722)
Projected Lineup: Matt Duffy (3B, .727), Gleyber Torres (2B, .820), Trevor Story (SS, .914), Gary Sanchez (C, .697), Luke Voit/Ronald Guzman (1B, 1.169/.774), Melky Cabrera (LF, .755), Alex Gordon (LF, .694), Michael Taylor (CF, .644)

Strengths: Mike Stein spent $22 million on Verlander and Mikolas this winter, so let's hope they're a strength for the next three years. Verlander (214 IP, 2.16 CERA, 583/617 splits) should get a few Cy Young votes at the end of the year, so if nothing else, Cleveland will have something to celebrate after the regular season.

Weaknesses: Holy platoon issues, Batman! Nearly every pitcher on the Cleveland roster has a platoon split of more than 100 points, including Cimber (1062/610), Giles (654/788), Mikolas (722/504), Barria (614/824), Jimenez (703/595), Oh (915/459), Kela (780/474), and Winker (891/501). On the offensive side, Sanchez (872/636), Torres (912/785), Guzman (572/774), and Gordon (555/750) have massive splits.

Gordon's platoon issues are compounded by the fact that he has no platoon partner to face lefties. Greg Allen (.484 OPS) can't hit them. Neither can David Fletcher (.672), Dustin Fowler (.297?? Really??), Tyler Naquin (.563), Cory Spangenberg (.417), or Howie Kendrick (.669). Taylor can't hit lefties (.616) OR righties (.659), but has Ex range in center field, so will likely get most of the playing time there.

Outlook: Maybe Stein is tired of losing 100 games every year. That's the only explanation as to why he paid so much money for Justin Verlander. Verlander will be 38 in the final year of his new contract, and will earn the same $15.5 million salary he earns today. Best of luck with that!

The additions of Verlander and Mikolas (who will also earn a minimum two-year contract at the end of this season) propel the Cleveland Rocks from a 100-loss team to a 90-loss team. So there's that. With this team's core three Yankees (Torres, Sanchez, and Voit) there is a glimmer of optimism for 2020 and beyond, but in 2019, the best Cleveland fans can hope for is to avoid paying the maximum Rule 7.16 penalty next winter.

Prediction: 3rd place. Verlander will finish in the top five in ERA and sport a sub-.500 record. Lipstick, meet pig.

Myrtle Beach Hitmen

Owners: Mitch Gill (GM), Ryne Gill (manager)
2018 Record: 58-102 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Jake Arrieta (.724), Jon Lester (.733), Brent Suter (.754), Andrew Cashner (.856), Jeremy Hellickson (.677), Blaine Hardy (.698), Brett Anderson (.770)
Bullpen: Shawn Kelley (.618), Sam Dyson (.652), Will Harris (.591), Juan Minaya (.673), Nick Vincent (.662)
Projected Lineup: Daniel Descalso (2B, .789), Didi Gregorius (SS, .829), Randall Grichuk (CF, .803), Travis Shaw (3B, .825), Justin Bour (1B, .746), Charlie Culberson (LF, .792), Jose Pirela/Nomar Mazara (RF, .724/.783), John Hicks/Curt Casali (C, .822/.708)

Strengths: Veteran leadership? Clubhouse cleanliness? Vito the team mascot? I got nothing.

Weaknesses: Offense, defense, starting pitching, relief pitching, bench...you name it. Descalso (.889), Grichuk (.810), and Hicks (.822) are the only three batters with 300+ PA's and an OPS above .800 against lefties. Against righties, only Bour (.819), Culberson (.820), Gregorius (.854), and Shaw (.892) reach that level. Shaw (.599 vs. LH) has no platoon partner at third base except Culberson and Descalso, who are needed elsewhere. The same is true of Bour (.570 vs. LH).

Defensively, Shaw (Vg) is the only above-average glove on the diamond unless Jonathan Schoop (Vg at second base) comes off the bench (in which case, his bat is a liability.) Lester (878/696 splits) and Arrieta (812/656) both have major platoon splits. The less Cashner (153 IP, 5.69 CERA, 852/860 splits) pitches, the better. It looks as though the team will need his innings, though.

Outlook: How did this team get worse? Rebuilding teams are supposed to improve year-over-year, and this is Year Three of this rebuilding project. The Hitmen traded some major pieces last year (Mike Foltynewicz, Sean Newcomb, Jose LeClerc, Keone Kela) in an effort to win the Benes Division. It's hard to blame them for their optimism, given that I predicted them to win that division on this very page a year ago. Instead, they lost 102 games.

The year before, they traded Brandon Nimmo. Granted, no one saw Nimmo becoming a star at the time -- nor any of those other players mentioned above, for that matter. But when Myrtle Beach traded their biggest trading chits (Joey Votto, C.C. Sabathia, and Kyle Seager), they got players in return that just haven't panned out (so far): Kyle Lewis, Tyler O'Neil, Jurickson Profar, Juan Uribe, Yonder Alonso, Juan Lagares, Josh Naylor, Blake Rutherford, and Chance Adams.

They have steered clear of big-money contracts. Gregorius is the most expensive player on the payroll at only $6 million. They have also mostly avoided Type-H deals. Lester and Arrieta (both signed for $5.5 million this winter) are the only two Type-H's on the roster. This allows them tremendous financial flexibility, but that is only useful to a rebuilding ballclub if that money is not spent on aging free agents.

There is some cause for optimism on the farm, but the players most capable of becoming impact players (Jo Adell, Joey Bart, Alec Bohm, Andrew Vaughn, Mackenzie Gore, Forrest Whitley, Carter Kieboom) are several years away from helping this club. It looks as though this rebuilding project will last at least a couple more years.

Prediction: 4th place. Bour, Culberson, Descalso, and Harris are all free agents at the end of this season. Those are the type of role players that can usually be turned around for a cheap, young player with upside -- but it has to be done early. Early last year, for example, Cleveland traded a Harris-like reliever, Tommy Hunter, in exchange for Danny Jansen. Two years ago, the Blazers acquired Charlie Morton in exchange for...Daniel Descalso. Bargains can be had, but they come with risk. Successful rebuilding teams minimize their risks and maximize their return on investment. Myrtle Beach won't likely rebuild this franchise through only its farm. They'll need to take some risks on the 35-man roster as well.

 
GRIFFIN DIVISION

Los Altos Undertakers

Owner: Jeff Paulson
2018 Record: 83-77 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Gerrit Cole (.600), Seth Lugo (.595), Rich Hill (.689), Tanner Roark (.741), Chris Archer (.706), Alex Cobb (.814)
Bullpen: Sean Doolittle (.391), Seranthony Dominguez (.501), Ryne Stanek (.509), Collin McHugh (.542), Jeremy Jeffress (.530)
Projected Lineup: Matt Carpenter (2B, .897), Nolan Arenado (3B, .935), Jesus Aguilar (1B, .890), Matt Kemp (LF, .818), Steve Pearce/Shin-Soo Choo (RF, .959/.892), A.J. Ellis/Mitch Garver (C, .763/.806), Nick Ahmed/Brock Holt (SS, .769/.788), Kevin Kiermaier/Joc Pedersen (CF, .548/.893)

Strengths: Dude. Have you seen the crazy Nintendo numbers Sean Doolittle posted last year? Insane. Absolutely friggin' insane. 45 IP, 0.93 CERA, and -- get this -- 205/436 splits. .205! How is that even possible?! He will be vintage Eric Gagne for Los Altos in 2019. And he's hardly the only dominant reliever in this bullpen because, well, it's Jeff. Dominguez, Stanek, McHugh, and Jeffress would all be closers for other, lesser, teams. Here in Los Altos, they're each just another bullpen arm. Yawn.

Cole will get some Cy Young votes at the end of the year. Believe it or not, Lugo sports an opponents OPS that is actually lower than Cole's! The only question with the Los Altos pitching staff is how many of these guys will be employed as "openers." Given how hard Jeff lobbied for us to change our rulebook last year, it's a given that we'll see openers galore in Los Altos this year. Expect Lugo and Stanek to reprise the roles they served in MLB last year.

Offensively, the Undertakers feature .800-OPS sluggers up and down the lineup against both lefties and righties. Expect Steve Pearce (959/828 splits) to be deployed like a Soviet nuclear sub throughout the season, popping up in clutch situations like Superman emerging from a phone booth.

Weaknesses: The only question mark I can find is in center field. Pederson (512/893 splits) is the obvious choice against right-handers, but who is his platoon partner? Keirmaier (548/694) and Nick Martini (489/829) are the only other Undertakers rated in center field. Given Keirmaier's Ex range, I listed him above, but perhaps someone else plays out of position? Other than that, the Undertakers are as rock-solid and weakness-free as ever.

Outlook: Well, it was fun while it lasted. The Great Los Altos Undertakers Rebuilding Era lasted all of one year -- and the sons of bitches won 83 games! After that all-too-brief respite, Los Altos is back on top in this division, sporting a team that looks very much like an OL champion. SMH.

Prediction: 1st place and the OL championship. It will be interesting watching the league's two competing dynasties go head-to-head in the World Series. Will Bobby Sylvester unseat Jeff Paulson in this Game of Thrones or will Paulson pull a Circe Lannister and blow up Bobby's sept with a hidden cache of wildfire? Find out in the next exciting episode!

Kansas City Boulevards

Owner: Scot Zook
2018 Record: 95-65 (2nd place, OL wildcard)
Projected Rotation: Aaron Nola (.570), J.A. Happ (.677), Jhoulys Chacin (.655), Daniel Mengden (.699), Vincent Velasquez (.747), Mike Leake (.762)
Bullpen: Felipe Vazquez (.618), Joe Kelly (.662), Heath Hembree (.734), Adam Morgan (.698), Wander Suero (.719)
Projected Lineup: Daniel Robertson (2B, .797), Wilson Ramos (C, .845), Christian Yelich (CF, 1.000), Marcell Ozuna (LF, .758), Edwin Encarnacion (1B, .810), Daniel Robertson/Colin Moran (3B, .834/.790), Hernan Perez/Eric Thames (RF, .783/.804), Jose Peraza (SS, .742)

Strengths: Nola (a former Salem farmhand, I feel compelled to add) was one of the best pitchers in baseball last year. The OL Cy Young award will almost certainly be a race between Nola (212+ IP, 2.09 CERA, 559/582 splits), Chris Sale, and Gerrit Cole. Nola is backed by three above-average starters in the KC rotation.

In addition to the Cy Young, the OL MVP could come from KC as well. Yelich owned a perfect 1.000 OPS on the MLB season, with 983/1007 splits.

Weaknesses: Yelich could lead the league in intentional walks, given the rest of this lineup. Against left-handers, only Ozuna (.895 OPS), Ramos (.916), and Robertson (.834) pose a threat. Against righties, Encarnacion (.831), Ramos (.818), and Thames (.804) own the only 800+ OPS's besides Yelich's. Encarnacion (Pr) is a liability at first base, but his bat is needed.

In this day and age of out of control "bullpenning" it is strange to see a bullpen on a competitive team as thin as Kansas City's. Vazquez (70 IP, 3.00 CERA, 454/666 splits) is devastating to left-handers, and can toss a ton of innings. Aside from him, none of the other relievers on this staff would ever be confused for a closer.

Outlook: Scot Zook earned his way back to the postseason last year for the first time since 2002. He accomplished this feat despite playing in the league's toughest division, where all four teams finished above .500 for the first time in league history. He won't have that problem this year. I'm projecting only two .500+ teams in the Griffin Division, and the Boulevards are one of them. If the starting rotation carries this team, Kansas City could compete for another playoffs spot. A key acquisition (or two) could make all the difference.

Prediction: 2nd place and the OL wildcard. KC returns to the playoffs, where they may have to face their division rival. Yelich, Ozuna, Ramos, and Happ are all free agents at the end of this season, so this may be a now-or-never year for the Boulevards. Expect them to pull out all the stops.

Flagstaff Outlaws

Owner: Greg Newgard
2018 Record: 115-45 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Alex Wood (.664), Trevor Richards (.754), Robbie Erlin (.695), Joe Musgrove (.687), Yonny Chirinos (.687), Michael Wacha (.646)
Bullpen: Ryan Pressly (.604), Joe Smith (.645), Ryan Buchter (.646), Victor Arano (.673)
Projected Lineup: Denard Span (LF, .760), George Springer (CF, .780), Paul Goldschmidt (1B, .922), Aaron Judge (RF, .919), Jonathan Villar (2B, .766), Andrelton Simmons (SS, .754), Kevin Plawecki (C, .685), Eduardo Nunez (3B, .677)

Strengths: As long as this team has Goldy, Springer, and the Judge, they'll always have plenty of strength. Luckily for Outlaws fans, those three are all signed through the 2021 season. Both Goldschmidt and Judge posted 900+ OPS's against both lefties and righties. Springer, clearly the slacker, posted splits of "just" 834/757. Both Judge and Springer play above-average defense as well. Newcomer Simmons is one of the only Ex-rated shortstops in baseball.

Weaknesses: All things considered, Flagstaff's pitching staff isn't bad. Don't get me wrong -- it isn't good, either. All of their pitchers are limited in usage. Wood leads the team with 151+ innings. Richards (126+), Musgrove (115+), and Erlin (109) are the only others with more than 100 innings.

Offensively, the final two spots in the lineup are...not good. Plawecki (700/681) can't hit lefties OR righties. Neither can his backup, Andrew Knapp (642/601). Nunez (641/691) also can't hit anyone, but he's the best option at third base.

Outlook: After his devastating loss to Jim Doyle in the OL Championship Series last year, it was inevitable that Greg Newgard would be rebuilding this team in 2019. Losing Chris Sale and Zack Greinke from your pitching staff tends to lower a team's odds of competing. This isn't a typical rebuilding team, however. There are too many stars on this roster, and the Outlaws will not lose 90-100 games this year as they rebuild for 2020.

This pitching staff is better than it appears at first glance, and the offense will carry this team to victory -- maybe even more often than not. If Flagstaff finishes at .500 or above, it wouldn't shock me.

Prediction: 3rd place. With the Big Three locked up for 2020, the only question is where this team will find enough pitching to support their world class offense. Wood and Wacha will both return in 2020, and both are under the age of 30. It's possible one (or both) of them take a step up. Nick Kingham (27 years old) has shown some promise. The team's top prospect, Michael Kopech (23) still looks too raw. If one or two pitchers from that lot has a breakout season, it's possible Flagstaff's rebuilding period will only last a year.

Bear Country Jamboree

Owner: Matt Clemm
2018 Record: 90-70 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Jose Urena (.690), Dereck Rodriguez (.667), Luis Castillo (.732), Wade LeBlanc (.712), Carlos Rodon (.698), Ryan Yarbrough (.730), Andrew Suarez (.767)
Bullpen: Kenley Jansen (.635), Tony Watson (.599), Jose Alvarez (.613), Joaquim Soria (.619), Ryan Borucki (.705), Andrew Miller (.729)
Projected Lineup: Jeff McNeil (3B, .852), Isiah Kiner-Falafel/Daniel Murphy (2B, .801/.864), Kurt Suzuki (C, .776), Leury Garcia/Daniel Palka (LF, .794/.824), Mark Trumbo/Justin Smoak (1B, .782/.867), Elvis Andrus (SS, .675), Leonys Martin (CF, .747), Gerardo Parra (RF, .714)

Strengths: Once again, the strength of the Bear Country team is its bullpen. Although Miller (just 34 IP) turned out to be an $8 million flop, Jansen (71+ IP, 2.68 CERA, 573/689 splits) was mostly decent (and sometimes not.) Watson (66 IP, 2.21 CERA, 570/621 splits) is arguably the best reliever on the squad.

The starting rotation isn't flashy, but they'll get the job done. Urena, Rodriguez, LeBlanc, and Rodon are all above league-average, and the others are close enough. They'll keep this team in the game, provided the offense can score enough runs to make it a game. Speaking of which...

Weaknesses: Boy, this offense is just bad. In particular, left-handed pitching will eat this team alive. Martin (.575 OPS), Murphy (.563), Palka (.570), Parra (.510), and Smoak (.688) are useless against southpaws -- and those are some of the team's best hitters. The situation is a little better against righties -- but only a little. Smoak (.867), McNeil (.866), Murphy (.864), and Palka (.824) are all acceptable against right-handers, but none stand out as an offensive threat.

This team has defensive problems as well. Trumbo is rated Pr both at first base and right field. Palka is a Pr/Pr in both outfield corners. There is nowhere to hide either one except the bench, yet both are needed in the lineup against righties. The team's two shortstops have the opposite problem. Andrus (725/653) and Orlando Arcia (596/570) are both Vg-rated in the field, but neither one can hit.

Outlook: I may be wrong (it's happened before), but I don't see the Jamboree winning more than 80 games this season. If they score more than 700 runs it would be a miracle. Teams that scored fewer than 700 runs last year averaged 54 wins. I don't know if Bear Country will be quite that bad, but I'd put the over/under wins total at around 65.

Prediction: 4th place. Assuming this team falls out of contention early, free-agents-to-be Jansen and Suzuki should fetch a decent return in trade. The good news for Bear Country fans is that their future looks bright. Rodriguez, Castillo, and Rodon could be great. Eventually, Dylan Cease should join them in the rotation. Offensively, however, the Jamboree front office has their work cut out for them.

MCGOWAN DIVISION

Salem Cowtippers

Owner: Mike Glander
2018 Record: 93-67 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Anibal Sanchez (.633), Clay Buchholz (.620), Stephen Strasburg (.711), Trevor Cahill (.653), Mike Montgomery (.724), Felix Pena (.699), Steven Matz (.730), Sonny Gray (.768)
Bullpen: Taylor Rogers (.553), Pedro Strop (.541), Richard Rodriguez (.596), Shohei Ohtani (.621), Jonathan Holder (.589), Ryan Brasier (.482), Matt Grace (.638), Silvino Bracho (.670)
Projected Lineup: Francisco Cervelli (C, .809), Jose Ramirez (2B, .939), Justin Turner (3B, .924), Enrique Hernandez/Andrew Benintendi (LF, .780/.877), Hunter Renfroe (RF, .805), Mitch Moreland (1B, .758), Odubel Herrera (CF, .730), Trea Turner (SS, .760)

Strengths: This team has a ton of flexibility offensively, defensively, and throughout the pitching staff. Five different players on the active roster are rated at first base -- not counting Justin Turner, who is penciled in to play out of position at first against left-handers. Three players are rated at second base, six at third base, and three at shortstop.

On the mound, the usage issues on this roster (see below) may actually be an asset, as the Cowtippers aren't locked into a static rotation and can play match-up throughout the season. Sonny Gray and Montgomery are rated as both starters and relievers, and Ohtani will likely be used mostly in relief.

Speaking of Ohtani, he allows Salem the ultimate flexibility by being employed as the 25th man out of the bullpen and/or off the bench. He has over 400 plate appearances of usage this season, though he won't come anywhere near that number. He is a weapon on the mound, at the plate, and on the basepaths.

Weaknesses: Thanks to yet another highly-coincidental team-wide injury-plagued year, the starting rotation has become a hodgepodge of part-time pitchers. Jon Gray (172+ IP) leads all Salem pitchers in innings, but will spend all (or almost all) of the season riding the pine on the reserve roster. Sonny Gray (130+ IP) will join him there, with the exception of an occasional spot start. That leaves Matz (154) as the active roster leader in innings, followed by Sanchez (136+), Strasburg (130), and Montgomery (124). Salem will need to cobble together an entire starting rotation from these spare parts, which could prove challenging as the year progresses.

Outlook: Jeff Paulson has been loudly proclaiming Salem to be the team to beat in the Ozzie League. This is what we call a "diversionary tactic." I personally don't see this team as standing out above the crowd. No Cowtipper will earn a single vote for Cy Young. Unless Ramirez or Justin Turner exceeds expectations, no 'Tipper will earn a single MVP or Babe Ruth vote, either. This is a solid team, but it's a bit premature to break out the bubbly.

Prediction: 1st place. Which is a big deal. Despite averaging 90 wins per season over the past ten years, the Cowtippers have not won a division title since 2008. Fingers crossed that this streak finally -- finally! -- comes to an end in 2019. If the Cowtippers should make it as far as the World Series, a matchup against the Apostles is practically inevitable. The script writes itself, folks. See, first I lose my first four World Series to Tom DiStefano. Then, I lose my next two to the Sylvester family. It's poetic. It's all part of the wonderful symmetry of humiliation and disappointment that is the BDBL.

Joplin Miners

Owners: The Legendary William James Doyle, Esquire
2018 Record: 99-61 (1st place, Ozzie League champions)
Projected Rotation: Chris Sale (.532), Charlie Morton (.659), Masahiro Tanaka (.711), Danny Duffy (.767), Marco Estrada (.852)
Bullpen: Craig Kimbrel (.565), John Brebbia (.647), Jesse Chavez (.645), Chris Devenski (.719), T.J. McFarland (.631), Steven Wright (.643)
Projected Lineup: David Peralta (LF, .868), Mookie Betts (RF, 1.078), Freddie Freeman (1B, .892), Carlos Santana (3B, .766), Chad Pinder (2B, .769), Ender Inciarte (CF, .705), Jose Iglesias (SS, .699), James McCann (C, .581)

Strengths: Sale is the most dominant pitcher in baseball and should get some OL Cy Young consideration at the end of the season despite his reduced usage. His .532 opponents OPS is second only to Jacob deGrom. He will have 173 innings of usage in 2019, or roughly 29 starts. That gives him roughly five starts per chapter.

Betts should be an MVP candidate. Unlike last year, his platoon splits this season are perfectly-balanced: 1.207 vs. lefties, 1.037 vs. righties. He also has Ex range in right field with an Ex arm. He is surrounded in the lineup by Freeman, who also sports an Ex glove and well-balanced 923/878 splits. Peralta gives Joplin a third above-average glove, but with severely lopsided splits of 693/946. Inciarte (665/719) and Iglesias (865/656) also sport above-average range in the field.

Weaknesses: A bit of that range is negated by Santana's Pr range at third base, but with Freeman at first, it seems there is no other choice. Defense is the least of this team's worries, however. Of bigger concern is the pitching and the bottom half (or more) of the starting lineup.

Sale is without a doubt an ace of the highest order. Morton and Tanaka are both above-average starters, but are also limited in usage (30 starts for Morton, 28 for Tanaka.) After that, the starting rotation takes a nose dive into an empty cement pool. The top three starters have a combined 529 innings of usage this season. Assuming six innings per start, over 160 games, a team needs 960 innings from their starting rotation (unless they're following the ridiculous "opener" craze.) The Miners, therefore, are 431 innings short of quality innings in the starting rotation. (And Duffy and Estrada don't exactly qualify as "quality.")

Then there is the lineup. Pinder, Inciarte, McCann, and Iglesias are all well below-average offensively. Add the pitcher to that mix, and five-ninths of the lineup are below-average! In particular, McCann (514/602) is horrendous against both lefties and righties. Doyle would have been well-served to throw some cash at Tyler Flowers, Yan Gomes, Buster Posey, or Robinson Chirinos in the auction. Instead, he was laser-focused on placing all his eggs into one basket.

Outlook: In 2016, Jim Doyle went into the auction with $24.6 million to spend and a boatload of significant roster spots to fill. In particular, his starting rotation included only two pitchers with more than 110 innings. On the very first day of the auction, Doyle threw more than half of his total spending money -- $12.5 million -- at one player, Joey Votto. In that very same lot, he spent another $5.5 million on another first baseman, Adam Lind. As a result, he was forced to make sixteen picks in the $100,000 rounds of the draft just to fill his roster. Predictably, his New York Giants finished with the second-worst ERA in the Ozzie League and lost 94 games.

You'd think he would have learned his lesson. Instead, three years later, history repeated itself. Doyle went into this auction with $21.4 million to spend and a ton of holes on his roster -- including only two pitchers who threw more than 100 innings. On the second day of the auction, he threw three-quarters of that money at one player, Chris Sale. He was then forced to fill all of the glaring holes on his roster with fifteen $100,000 picks.

It's pointless to attempt to analyze why Jim Doyle does the things he does. What's done is done. For better or worse, Chris Sale is a Miner this year -- and for the next two years, guaranteed, unless he is traded. Can a team win a spot in the postseason with one great pitcher and an MVP candidate in the lineup? We're about to find out.

Prediction: 2nd place. My assumption is that any team with Sale and Betts should be able to compete. After all, even the Red Sox were able to win 108 games and a world championship with those two. Of all the major sports, baseball is the least conducive to the "all eggs in one basket" approach. It's a team game requiring a team effort -- especially when we're talking about a 160-game season. The Miners are far better in a short series than they are over a 160-game season. Fortunately, it's the latter that determines who gets to advance to the playoffs.

North Carolina Iron Spider Pigs

Owner: Ian Hartner
2018 Record: 45-115 (4th place)
Projected Rotation: Jack Flaherty (.635), Nathan Eovaldi (.685), Derek Holland (.718), Wei-Yin Chen (.749), Tyler Anderson (.757)
Bullpen: Steve Cishek (.593), Caleb Ferguson (.688), Tyler Clippard (.719), Justin Wilson (.682), Kelvin Herrera (.689)
Projected Lineup: Joey Votto (1B, .837), Matt Chapman (3B, .864), Buster Posey (C, .741), Michael Conforto (LF, .797), Scott Schebler (RF, .777), Roman Quinn/Ian Happ (CF, .884/.816), Rougned Odor (2B, .751), David Bote/Willy Adames (SS, .871/.786)

Strengths: Chapman is an MVP candidate in the middle of this lineup. He is surrounded by above-average bats, including former all-stars Votto, Posey, and Conforto. The lineup lacks a glaring weakness from one to eight. The ISP's even have the luxury of starting a shortstop platoon with 871/786 splits. The defense includes several above-average gloves, including Chapman (Ex), Votto (Vg), Conforto (Vg), and Odor (Vg).

The pitching staff isn't bad at all, all things considered. Flaherty and Eovaldi can hold their own against most teams. There are worse back ends of a rotation than Holland, Chen, and Anderson. The bullpen is relatively solid as well.

Weaknesses: New GM Ian Hartner may need to scramble to fill some innings later in the season. The team is currently around 140 innings short of having a full rotation. The only other issue is that Posey (.698 OPS) can't hit righties, and doesn't seem to have a platoon partner.

Outlook: Somehow, some way, a brand new owner came into the BDBL at the very last possible minute, took over a franchise that had been left completely in shambles, and cobbled together a team that looks...not that bad! Call me crazy, but I think this team can compete in 2019. I don't think they'll win a spot in the playoffs, but I think they'll finish somewhere around .500, and within screaming distance of the wildcard.

Hartner did lock himself into a three-year commitment to some veteran free agents that could backfire in the coming years. All things considered, though, I think those three (Posey, Votto, and Eovaldi) are safer than most free agent bets, and their salaries are hardly crippling. With Chapman, Conforto, Adames, and Flaherty, the ISP's have a solid core to build around. Yusei Kikuchi and Merrill Kelly should add to that core in 2020. The future looks bright in North Carolina.

Prediction: 3rd place. The ISP's don't have much in the way of trade bait, so it will likely be a quiet year from the trading perspective. That doesn't mean Hartner's job as GM is over until next winter. There is still a lot of value to be mined in free agency. Last year, Junior Guerra, Tony Watson, Richard Rodriguez, Anibal Sanchez, Jeremy Jeffress, Brock Holt, Seranthony Dominguez, Ryne Stanek, Max Muncy, Nick Kingham, and Clay Buchholz (to name only a few) were all picked off of the free agent scrap heap. A GM's job is never done!

Darien Blue Wave

Owner: Lee Scholtz
2018 Record: 51-109 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Jordan Zimmerman (.800), Matt Harvey (.783), Sal Romano (.784), Wade Miley (.636)
Bullpen: Scott Alexander (.667), Erik Goeddel (.604), Kohl Stewart (.672), Adam Warren (.694), Cody Allen (.740), Sergio Romo (.718), Hector Rondon (.695)
Projected Lineup: Starlin Castro (2B, .729), Matt Olson (1B, .788), A.J. Pollock (CF, .800), Josh Donaldson (3B, .801), Eddie Rosario (RF, .803), Yan Gomes (C, .762), Ian Desmond/Jose Bautista (LF, .840/.738), Amed Rosario (SS, .676)

Strengths: All things considered, this lineup isn't bad. Desmond (.840 OPS), Donaldson (.900), and Gomes (.840) smash lefties, and Olson (.830), Pollock (.830), and Eddie Rosario (.838) rake against righties.

Weaknesses: Wow, is this pitching staff bad. I thought last year's staff (and the year before...and the year before...) stunk, but this one makes the others smell like fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. The worst part about this pitching staff is that I don't see any light at the end of this tunnel. This team's best pitcher (arguably), Miley, is 32 years old -- and a free agent at the end of this season. Jason Groome, Adrian Morejon, and Ryan Weathers are all fine prospects, but they're all many years away from contributing. No one on this staff screams "useful 2020 pitcher."

Offensively, you can find a few more reasons for optimism. Olson is just now beginning his option year. Rosario is only 23 years old and already has a full MLB season under his belt. Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, and Jorge Soler are still on the right side of 30. Donaldson could bounce back. Yordan Alvarez, Adam Haseley, and Michael Chavis may be top-100 prospects.

Outlook: In our league's long history we have seen many transitions from one owner to another that left the new owner with the seemingly-impossible task of rebuilding a franchise that had been left in ruins. One example that comes to mind was when John Duel won the 2012 BDBL championship and then left us with a franchise he had purposely decimated in order to win that championship. It took six years to turn that franchise into a winner, but Scot Zook finally did that last year.

The most recent example is when Jim Doyle took a short sabbatical from the league and left us with the parting gift of his historically awful New York Giants franchise. Mitch and Ryan Gill have been in rebuilding mode for two years now, have lost 215 games in that time, and are still trying to dig themselves out of the hole that Doyle dug.

This Blue Wave franchise may have been in worse shape than any of the others. It's impossible to construct a skyscraper without a foundation, and yet that is the task faced by new owner Lee Scholtz. He tore this franchise down to its barest of bones and kept only 16 players from the existing roster. He then went into the auction with a league-record $52.3 million to spend.

A lot of new owners would have gone nuts in the auction and draft, tossed their money around willy-nilly, and signed a dozen aging vets to expensive, long-term, contracts. Scholtz avoided that temptation and spent his money frugally. In fact, he went "Type H" on just one player: Pollock. Unfortunately, it seems the rest of his strategy focused more on filling roster spots with warm bodies than with acquiring players who have either future value or present trade value. Bautista, Castro, Desmond, Donaldson, Gomes, Chris Iannetta, Allen, Harvey, and Rondon are all north of age thirty, have little trade value, and aren't likely to produce much in the way of future value.

Year One is a learning curve. Often, the best values are acquired mid-season. It will be interesting to see how this Scholtz climbs out from the hole he was tossed into.

Prediction: 4th place. It's not fun managing a team that you know will end up losing 100+ games. I don't envy Lee for the long season he is about to play. As we've seen throughout league history, however, good things often come to those who suffer.

BENES DIVISION

Akron Rche

Owner: D.J. Shepard
2018 Record: 85-75 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Mike Clevinger (.655), Jose Quintana (.737), Trevor Williams (.659), Robbie Ray (.706), Marcus Stroman (.759), Luke Weaver (.786), Garrett Richards (.688)
Bullpen: Josh Hader (.484), Corbin Burnes (.595), Jose Castillo (.520), Will Smith (.533), Brandon Woodruff (.641), Mychal Givens (.622), Jeurys Familia (.601)
Projected Lineup: Ronald Acuna (LF, .917), Joey Wendle/Kolten Wong (2B, .809/.752), Chris Taylor (SS, .775), Jedd Gyorko (3B, .762), Josh Bell (1B, .768), Yairo Munoz/David Dahl (RF, .838/.914), Starling Marte (CF, .787), Jonathan Lucroy (C, .617)

Strengths: As always, it seems, the Ryche have more players than they could ever possibly use. I listed fourteen pitchers above, which means up to four of them will be rotting away on the reserve roster. Somewhere in Africa, a little boy is going without a bullpen because D.J. is hogging all the relievers. The best of the lot, of course, is Hader, who held lefties to an insanely-low .355 OPS last year. Although that looks impressive, it's only the second-lowest LH OPS allowed on this roster. Castillo (.353) came in slightly below that figure.

The offense is led by the phenomenal phenom Acuna, who makes his BDBL debut at the tender age of 21. The Ryche franchise has always been known for its franchise pitching; namely Pedro Martinez and Justin Verlander. They've never really had a franchise hitter -- until now. By the time his Akron career comes to an end, he will own every franchise record in the book. As it stands, Jhonny Peralta currently owns the Akron franchise records for home runs (125), runs scored (479), RBI's (486), hits (948), and runs created (493.7). I figure Acuna will own all of those records by the end of the 2023 season.

Like the pitching staff, the offense has so many hitters I don't know where to put them all. Not listed above are Dansby Swanson (640/715 splits), Jesse Winker (690/874), and Jeimer Candelario (842/611) -- all of whom would find a loving home if only D.J. weren't so greedy.

Weaknesses: Many of Akron's starting pitchers have platoon issues that can be exploited. Clevinger (726/586), Quintana (696/748), Ray (455/780), and Weaver (841/724) are particularly lopsided.

Outlook: Attention, villagers! Attention! I hereby proclaim that from this point forward, the Akron Ryche are no longer meh! Team Meh has officially been retired, thanks to the presence of Ronald Acuna, one of the most electrifying players in baseball! All hail Ronald Acuna!

It's a new year, a new division, and a whole new league for the Akron Ryche. I believe they are the only franchise in league history that has switched leagues twice. Ironically enough, they were switched both times so that D.J. could compete in the same division as Mike Ries...who was then booted from the league shortly after realignment on both occasions!

Akron faces less competition in the historically-uncompetitive Benes Division. With such a solid rotation, dominant bullpen, deep bench, and strong lineup, I would be shocked if the Ryche don't improve on their 85 wins from a year ago.

Prediction: 1st place. The bullpen will carry this team throughout the season. If only we had a Rookie of the Year award in the BDBL, Acuna would be a shoo-in. Alas, he may need to settle for a few MVP votes.

Ravenswood Infidels

Owner: Brian Potrafka
2018 Record: 63-97 (3rd place)
Projected Rotation: Mike Foltynewicz (.600), Walker Buehler (.556), Eduardo Rodriguez (.681), Tyson Ross (.712), Jake Odorizzi (.743), Ross Stripling (.722)
Bullpen: Pedro Baez (.652), Roenis Elias (.642), Taylor Cole (.541), Tony Sipp (.583), Kirby Yates (.527), Brandon Workman (.705), Brad Ziegler (.713), Drew VerHagen (.645)
Projected Lineup: Nick Markakis (RF, .806), David Freese (3B, .830), J.T. Realmuto (C, .825), Khris Davis (LF, .874), Tyler Austin/Ji-Man Choi (1B, .846/.908), Niko Goodrum (2B, .747), Tyler O'Neill/Ben Gamel (CF, .800/.742), Marcus Semien (SS, .706)

Strengths: Buehler (137+ IP) and Rodriguez (129+) are limited in usage, but when they can join forces with Foltynewicz in the same series, Ravenswood will be very tough to beat. The bullpen has plenty of quality arms to ensure this team will be competitive in the late innings as well.

Weaknesses: There are several usage issues plaguing the starting lineup. Austin (268 PA's in MLB), Choi (221), Freese (312), Gamel (293), and O'Neill (142) are all severely limited. When they're not in the lineup, there aren't many adequate replacements. For every game that Freese sits, it means more at-bats for Kyle Seager (702/658 splits.)  When Gamel and O'Neill sit, it means more playing time for Gorkys Hernandez (673/678). Davis (Pr range with a Pr arm) is a liability in the field, but this team can't afford to lose his bat.

Even the one position that should be a strength for Ravenswood has its issues. Did you know Realmuto posted an OPS of just .651 against lefties last year? Neither did I. The only other catcher on the roster, John Ryan Murphy, barely fared better at .688.

Outlook: When Ravenswood puts their best nine men on the field, they look like a 90-win team. The problem is those nine men will be off the field more often than they're on it. If the Infidels can hold their own against the better teams in the league, and play better than .500 against the poorer teams, they may be able to sneak into first place. Their only competition appears to be Akron.

Prediction: 2nd place and the second OL wildcard. Of all the divisions, this one was toughest to call. I predict the difference between first and second place will be fewer than five games. A key move by either team during the season would blow up that prediction.

Las Vegas Flamingos

Owner: John Bochicchio
2018 Record: 83-77 (2nd place)
Projected Rotation: Mike Minor (.733), Ivan Nova (.769), Chase Anderson (.731), Joey Lucchesi (.766), Dan Straily (.754), Francisco Liriano (.771)
Bullpen: Craig Stammen (.583), Drew Steckenrider (.664), Andrew Chafin (.621), Chris Bassitt (.624), Dylan Floro (.634)
Projected Lineup: Andrew McCutchen (LF, .792), Scooter Gennett (2B, .847), Francisco Lindor (SS, .871), Mark Reynolds/Trey Mancini (1B, .858/.741), Derek Dietrich (3B, .751), Brandon Guyer/Curtis Granderson (CF, .804/.798), Adam Eaton (LF, .805), Max Stassi (C, .710)

Strengths: The top of the lineup is very strong, with Lindor (1.006/.821 splits) once again serving as the centerpiece for the fourth year in a row. The bullpen has quality and depth.

Weaknesses: Once you get past Lindor in the lineup, it's mostly downhill from there. A lot of usage issues plague this lineup as well. Eaton is only available for 407 plate appearances. Reynolds (235), Guyer (221), and Stassi (250) are also severely limited. When Reynolds and Guyer aren't in the lineup (which will be more often than not), this offense will be mostly non-existent.

The starting rotation has similar usage issues. Nova leads this team with 161 innings. Anderson comes in second at 158, then Minor at 157. No other pitcher will be able to pitch more than 24 games. Almost every one of Vegas' starters has platoon issues as well. Nova (835/707), Liriano (516/824), Anderson (677/785), Straily (830/669), and Lucchesi (630/800) all have platoon splits over 100 points.

Outlook: The last time the Las Vegas Flamingos won over 90 games was in 2001. They haven't lost 100 games since 2002. For seventeen straight years, Vegas has neither been really good or really bad. They've just been...meh. My friends! There is a new Team Meh in town, and their name is the Flamingos!

I don't see this year's version of Team Meh breaking the pattern. The pitching is meh. The offense is meh. The defense is meh. Meh times meh equals the same 65-85 wins we've seen from this team nine times in the past seventeen years. At what point do the Vegas fans revolt and demand a change in team philosophy?

Prediction: 3rd place. Meh.

South Loop Furies

Owner: Bart Chinn
2018 Record: 86-74 (1st place)
Projected Rotation: Rick Porcello (.698), Andrew Heaney (.719), Gio Gonzalez (.734), Junior Guerra (.767), Hyun-Jin Ryu (.622)
Bullpen: Carl Edwards (.583), Alex Colome (.645), Kevin McCarthy (.703), Victor Alcantara (.680)
Projected Lineup: Lorenzo Cain (CF, .813), Aaron Hicks (LF, .833), Yadier Molina (C, .750), Nick Castellanos (RF .854), Mark Canha (1B, .778), Asdrubal Cabrera (2B, .774), Adeiny Hechevarria (3B, .624), Miguel Rojas (SS, .643)

Strengths: The top of the lineup isn't bad at all. Cain (.395 OBP) is an excellent leadoff hitter, and brings an Ex glove to center field. Hicks (801/845 splits) and Castellanos (1004/807) bring a well-balanced attack to the plate.

Weaknesses: I struggled to put that lineup together, as there are no palatable options at second base, third base, or shortstop. Cabrera (.646 OPS) can't hit left-handers, but I saw no other option. He's rated below-average at all three positions. Hechevarria (.573) can't hit right-handers to save his life, but is rated at third and short. Rojas (634/647 splits) can't hit lefties OR righties, but has Ex range at short.

First base is another problem area. Canha (.665) can't hit right-handers, but neither can the only other viable first baseman on the roster, Greg Bird (.647). Unless the team wastes Molina (rated Pr at 1B) at first, I don't see who will play that position the majority of the time.

In the outfield, the problem is with the defensive alignment. Castellanos is only rated in right field, where he has Pr range and a Fr arm. Hicks is only rated (Fr) in center field, but that's where Cain plays. Hopefully, Cain's range is so extraordinary that he will cover the entire outfield!

Outlook: It seems almost as if GM Bart Chinn was so satisfied with his division win a year ago that he decided to rest on his laurels and take the winter off. He made two trades during the off-season. He added Gonzalez and Guerra to the rotation, and Molina behind the plate. The Molina acquisition was odd not only because the team already had their franchise catcher, Mike Zunino, but because Molina carried a $6.5 million salary. Gonzalez added a whopping $10 million to this team's payroll, which left them with only $3.5 million to spend on free agents.

It would take a lot more than $3.5 million to fill all of the holes on this roster. The decision to sign Rick Porcello to a $13.5 million salary two years ago really hamstrung this team financially. Thankfully, he comes off the books at the end of the year, along with Cain ($6.5M), Cabrera ($4M), Molina ($6.5M), and Colome ($2.1M). If Chinn spends that money wisely, and adds a few pieces for 2020 through trade and free agency, this team could compete next year. Until then, it looks like 2019 is a wasted year.

Prediction: 4th place. This franchise hasn't lost 100 games since Nic Weiss was the captain of this vessel. I predict that will happen this year. With all of those players above becoming free agents at the end of this season, this franchise will be starting from scratch in 2020 for all intents and purposes. Maybe that's a good thing.