Sunday, July 26, 2009

AL West Preview

The AL West was the busiest division in an otherwise quiet Jersey League off-season, as all three challengers took significant steps to knock off two-time World Series champ, the Las Vegas Dealers. Here is a quick round-up of the off-season activity.

The champion Las Vegas Dealers were relatively quiet, doing not much more than changing outfielders. Long-time Dealer power hitter RF Vitas Quinn left and brought a type B draft pick while Troy Powell brought a much-needed lefty bat and was signed for just $3.8M, with an option next year. The Dealers are still led by a very strong young rotation featuring Cy Young winner Max White, Darwin McBride, Lance Ward, Luis Rincon, and Rigo Franco.

The Iowa City Independence's 88 win season last year was their first .500 season and a wild card berth was the franchise's first playoff appearance. They're back this year with a new toy: two-time all-star Brady White, a type A free agent that cost three years at $7.8M. White, a 31-year old 3B, has 264 career HRs. Vancouver also signed Karim Espinosa to a 5 x $8.8M contract in his first year of arb eligibility. Espinosa, a one-time $22 million IFA bonus baby disappointed many Iowans last year with his .238 batting average, but he's an all-around player with speed who plays outstanding 2B, and most observers believe last season's poor offense was an abberation. The Independence will also benefit from having young Spike Chase for the entire season, after he impressed many in a late call up last year.

The Vancouver Asteroids made huge news this offseason with several key free agent signings, as new owner brooklynpunx jacked the payroll budget from $81M to $112M at the expense of scouting and prospects. This proud franchise has 4 wild cards and 2 division titles to its credit as it moved from Seattle to Portland and now Vancouver. The big signing was of course Bernie Gongora, a 5-time MVP and 7-time all-star. Gongora, a durable RF, has 564 HRs at age 29, and will likely hold the all-time Jersey League HR mark for many years. He better be good, with a 5 year no-trade contract worth a total of $110M. Also signed was Perry Ruth, who at age 35 won a 4 x $18.6M contract. Some question how much the SP, who already can't go as many innings as he once did, will be worth by year 3 and 4 of the contract. And, speaking of 35 year olds, the Astroids also gave a 3 x $7.3 contract to William Takahashi, who closed for Tacoma last year but will start in Vancouver.

The Salem Argonauts also are under new ownership as hooner65 takes over a once-proud franchise that fell on hard times. The team has had 6 different owners since deandg departed during season 4. As opposed to the Asteroids, the Argonauts seem to be taking a long-term approach to rebuilding the franchise, cutting salary and instead plowing the money into prospects. They made just one key FA signing, inking SS Gerald Koh for a reasonable sum to play SS. The Argonauts pulled off a blockbuster trade though, dealing away one of the Jersey League's all time greats, 7-time all-star and 2-time MVP Louie Hiro, to Trenton where he is owed $6.8M through season 12. In return, the Argonauts landed LF prospect Kevin Won, SP prospect Otis Hartley, and veteran slugger Elston McCall, who is owed the same salary as Hiro, but only through year 11. So, I guess, a bit of a downgrade at LF brings some nice depth to the Argonauts fairly bare farm system.

Best of luck to all!

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