SPIKES 2016 YEAR IN REVIEW AND A LOOK FORWARD TO 2017

My State College Spikes won the first ever OMBL World Series, and I still have a hard time believing it. Hell, I won 84 games and didn’t even expect to get past the first round.  Funny how things happen. Here’s that story from the GM’s perspective:

After the OMBL inaugural draft, I felt pretty good about my team going forward. I knew that my draft had produced a team that possessed the potential to succeed in the short-term and the long-term, yet it surprised me when the computer predicted my Spikes to finish with 97 wins before the first season. The season began innocuously enough, with my team hovering around .500, but midway through the first off, my Spikes caught fire and won 13 straight games.  Afterwards, however, the injury bug took infected a few key players for much of the season, including MVP candidate Joey Votto and young stud Mookie Betts.  Before the trade deadline, I had made a few deals, which included getting top prospect Sean Newcomb for Tyler Naquin and trading Byung-Ho Park for Jacoby Ellsbury, only to release him a couple weeks later. Once the deadline approached, I strategized by only approaching deals that would not only focus on the interim, but also the future. At the deadline, I traded for Marcus Stroman, Tony Zych, Zack Wheeler, Ryan McMahon, and Todd Frazier, but I’ll get back to these guys later. Also, I plucked a couple people from waivers, including Ben Zobrist and Curtis Granderson. Most significantly, I felt as if I did not compromise my future to acquire these players, and ultimately, I pulled the trigger at the deadline based off of my prediction that my team’s hot start would be enough to make the playoffs. As everyone reading knows: in the playoffs, anything can happen.  My postseason forecast did not come true until the last weekend of the season, and the odds were stacked against me in the first round against the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, my division rival which had won our division by a comfortable margin and had scorched me throughout the season. However, we split the first four games of the series, so it was time to win-or-go-home, but I made an error while setting my rotation in OOTP that forced Gerrit Cole to start the decisive Game 5 instead of my desired choice, ace Zack Greinke. Nonetheless, I rolled with Cole, and he rewarded me with a brilliant scoreless outing. Greinke ended up pitching the rest in relief to punch the Spikes’ ticket to the next round.  I paid close attention to the East Texas-Fort Myers Divisional Series, as the former had rocketed past me in the standings to gain the first wild card while the latter had struggled against my team as of late. After getting the State College-Fort Myers matchup I desired, Joey Votto, who had been slumping since returning from the DL, announced his comeback with a performance that warranted him the Championship Series MVP. My Spikes followed suit, with my starting pitchers throwing five quality games to win the pennant.  The World Series really frightened me. The Edenton Steamers had the better squad led by a ridiculous rotation anchored by Clayton Kershaw. During Game 1, however, Kershaw went down with a torn labrum, and my rookie sensation Steven Matz pitched eight scoreless for the win. Then, after dropping the next two games, Garrett Richards and Marcus Stroman pitched two great games to put me up 3-2 in the series. Game 6 at Edenton featured an early home run from–who else—Joey Votto, another great start from World Series MVP Matz, and, after Todd Frazier’s two-run home run in the top of the ninth put me up 6-2, Jeremy Jeffress, my team’s primary game-finisher, closed out the season. My State College Spikes, who had won 84 games and had sneaked into the playoffs after an up and down inaugural season, won the 2016 World Series. I’m very proud of it. I still can’t believe it happened.  My team’s strength was depth, especially starting pitching. Greinke was consistently excellent, Cole and Matz had temporary bumps in their otherwise stellar seasons, and Richards along with trade deadline pickups Wheeler and Stroman were invaluable, especially during the postseason. Others who found themselves in the starting rotation, like Cody Anderson, Charlie Morton, and Newcomb, did their part and earned their rings. My starting middle infielders, 2B Cory Spangenberg and SS Adeiny Hechavarria, played to their strengths and were team stalwarts. When Votto went down, 1B Greg Bird stepped in and had a great first month, and although 3B was a constant issue throughout the season, Frazier and rising star McMahon filled in admirably. Betts in right field, defensive wizard Byron Buxton in center, and slugger Khris Davis in constituted a versatile outfield, and the overshadowed contributions of Zobrist and Granderson translated into my easy decision to bring them back for 2017. Wilson Contreras and Gary Sanchez, the former of whom played 3B quite often, proved quite the diverse catching tandem, and DH Edwin Encarnacion’s home run count and postseason heroics will forever be in Spikes’ lore. In the bullpen, Jeffress, Nate Jones, Brad Ziegler, Joe Blanton, and Aaron Loup made up the bullpen constants, and Zych came back from injury in the World Series to notch a couple key saves. This team was an honor to manage.

That being said, the league gets better and smarter every season, and, to paraphrase my favorite GM (outside of Cashman, of course) Billy Beane, the playoffs are a crapshoot once you get there. Thus, as a GM, my one goal for this wacky offseason went as followed: Repeat.  In my quest for a dynasty, I traded away many important players of mine, including Stroman, Encarnacion, Bird, Sanchez, and Richards, and some of my minor league hopefuls like Clint Frazier, Luis Noguera, Daz Cameron, Anderson Espinoza, Hyo-Jun Park, and Willy Adames.  Moreover, the expansion draft and Rule 5 took away key players such as Greinke, Buxton, Todd Frazier, and minor league hopefuls like J.T. Realmuto, Trea Turner, and Dylan Cozens.  In the end, however, I have no regrets. Mr. Beane mentioned that a great starting rotation is the best weapon in the playoffs, so I signed Max Scherzer, who I have been coveting since the trade deadline last year, and traded for Corey Kluber to go along with Cole, Matz, Wheeler, and a future star in Newcomb. I beefed up the bullpen by trading for Jeruys Familia, Will Smith, and Andrew Miller, who will be joined by returning arms like Jeffress, Jones, Loup, and Zych. My offense last year struggled at times, so I upgraded at every position I could, singing Andrew McCutchen and Dustin Pedroia, picking up Jin-De Jhang as my backup catcher,  in Rule 5 and trading for Dee Gordon, Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Donaldson, and Addison Russell to complement Votto, Betts, Contreras, Hechavarria, Spangenberg, Granderson, Zobrist, and another future star in McMahon. Lastly, in my farm system, I have a collection of young guys who will have the opportunity to make a splash a few years down the road, including Blake Rutherford, Jose Velarde, Mike Donadio, and Bobby ‘Mississippi’ Enos.  All-in-all, I’m very excited for the 2017 season to begin. My State College Spikes have come a long way from the start of 2016, but after a great spring, we couldn’t be more ready to defend our title.  Oftentimes when I make a decision in OMBL, I think, “Well, it’s only just a game.”  However, it’s a hobby that I love, and I look forward to the upcoming competition. If it is only just a game, then game on.

SURGE NO MORE

The San Diego Surge are now the San Diego Surf Dawgs. The changes have come following the decision of an independent arbitrator charged with deciding whether the OMBL Surge or the Women’s Football Alliance Surge would continue to use the Surge brand. The owner of the Surge Women’s Football Alliance team based in San Diego claimed that the Surge name was her intellectual property and that she would never forget how she decided to name her football franchise.
“I was at a sorority party enjoying my favorite cocktail, Surge (the soda beverage) and Midori Melon when it hit me. Women should have their own football league! I was determined to have my own football team, and it would be called The Surge. “
The OMBL team will continue to utilize the current color scheme of Blue and Gold aiming to minimize fan-shock. The Dawgs are planning scheduled promotional nights for fans to exchange their Surge apparel for the new San Diego Surf Dawgs hats and tee-shirts. The Manager of the Surf Dawgs had this to say:
“it is absolutely absurd that and arbitrator would rule against an OMBL franchise in favor of a nearly unknown Women’s Football Alliance team, but the clubhouse is embracing the new brand and we love our new mascot, Sunny the Surf Dawg.”
The Coca-Cola company declined to comment siting that the legal preceding’s would not affect the sales of their retro – comeback soda, SURGE.

Introducing the Waco BlueCats

For the 2017 season, the Waco BlueCats will be the new rebranded team in the YBL South. They will replace the Neptune Beach Pearl, managed by co-commissioner Matt Wells. The decision was made after a very disappointing season revenue wise. Despite being just outside of Los Angeles, the team was able to draw just 22,386 fans per game, selling only 6,747 season tickets. This combined with a spot in the standings lower than expected, gave owner Quinn Orenstein a reason to sell the team. The new ownership group runs the largest chain of auto dealerships in Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana. All graduates of Baylor University, they have all been lifelong fans of baseball, even starting a statistical analytics group while in college. The five of them pooled the money they had made in the 25 years since graduation, and were able to purchase the team for just short of $1 billion ($958 million). The decision to move the team was imminent, and Waco (home of Baylor University) was the obvious choice.

The new stadium (named Sprite Zero Ballpark) will have less seating, only 36,000 total, but will focus more on luxury seating. There will be a ten foot pavilion, running the length of the net behind home plate. In there, padded chairs with extra leg room and wider seats will be sold on a game-by-game basis, and each seat will have 2 arm rests. There will be two rows of these seats, totaling close to 70 seats, and will all come with waiter service. They will also have a strong focus on family fun, having several grass fields for families to picnic on.

They have made the decision to not have any alcoholic signage at the stadium, as to not influence these families in any way. There still will be beer sold at the game, but away from the family sections and the kids fun zone. The ownership group has also brought in a group of 10 chefs that recently graduated from culinary schools around the world, and each will head up one of the major food stands in the park. This dedication to creating a fun, positive family atmosphere, with good food and games to play, is one reason they believe attendance will be in the 30 thousands on a daily basis.

On the other side, above the luxury suites and beyond the outfield fence, there will be large bars, where college students, specifically those of Baylor University, can get major discounts on ticket prices, as they will be standing room only tickets. There will be some seating, with typical bar food available, and the bars will over 30 beers on tap, including 2 from local microbreweries, which will be switched out every home stand.

Being a smaller town with very few major businesses, the luxury suites will only seat 12-18 fans, and will work on optimizing the space. All of the luxury suites will be connected to a large suite, where they can all mingle while watching the game. This is so that if one company gets several suites for any one game, they can all be together if needed, without creating any larger suites that will not always be sold.

With the rebranding and relocation, of course, means new uniforms, and a new logo. Without further ado, the unveil.

Home Uniform:

Away Uniform:

Alternate Uniform:

Alternate Logos:

 

The rebrand and relocation will also lead to new, higher expectations. Although they finished just 6 games out of a wild card spot (the team in that spot went on to win the championship), this is a team that will be expected to win the pennant year in and year out. With top prospects SP Julio Urias, SP Lucas Giolito, SP Jose Berrios, C Reese McGuire, 1B Dominic Smith, 3B Alex Bregman and CF David Dahl all expected to be on the major league roster for Opening Day, this will be a completely revamped team, with plenty of more talent waiting in the wings.

Top Free Agents – where should they go

With the free agent period upon OMBL, both the avid fan and casual fan begin to wonder where the top talent will end up.   Although there is not an endless supply of talent in this year’s free agent group, there are some difference makers, particularly for some teams looking to fill a specific need.

Andrew McCutchen (.301 avg, .387 OBP, 90 runs, 5.5 WAR)   Rumored to be seeking 23.6M for 5 years

A free agent with comp after rejecting MV’s qualifying offer, McChutchen could fit in nicely with a number of teams looking for a top tier center fielder – Kalamazoo, Fort Myers, San Jose and Milwaukee are candidates, but smart money is State College making an aggressive play for him.    With their outfield being the weak link in their line-up, McCutchen should lead the Spike offense from middle of the pack in the YBL to top of the division.  McCutchen would bring a veteran presence that is still producing, and could take pressure on youngers Byron Buxton and Mookie Betts, giving GM Jake Steele a number of options.  This acquisition could also allow the Spikes to put together a package to improve at SS, another area of need

Max Scherzer (8-16, 3.75 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 5.1 WAR)  Rumored to be seeking 21M for 5 years

The stats do not tell the story here as Max pitched for cellar-dwelling Milwaukee and the long season seemed to take its toll as his production fell off when the team was eliminated from contention so early.  As his 5.1 WAR indicates, Scherzer is still a top of the rotation talent that can anchor a rotation.  The only issue that gives anyone pause is a 5 year contract for a 32 old pitcher.   A number of teams can stand to upgrade their rotations and have the money to spend….Frisco got a superb year from Gausman, but a true number one can solidify that rotation, Princeton was led by surprise 23 year old Jorge Lopez who could use some help, but Halifax who was in first at the all star break and faltered down the stretch should be the front runner.  New GM Daniel Fireman knows that he has a solid offense and shoring up the pitching ranks can allow him to compete with the Spiders in the OBL North.  Look for the Highlanders to be aggressive in their offer to land Scherzer, probably front end loading the contract a bit with some team options on the back end of a four or five year deal.

David Roberson (3-3, 3 Svs, 2.90 ERA, 1.07 WHIP)  Rumored to be seeking 6.8M for four years)

Every team  looks to improve their bullpen, but the Rays and their 4.71 bullpen ERA are the most desparate.  Despite an impressive 30-22 record in one run games, many of their 102 losses were a result of the bull pen imploding, giving away the lead.   GM Rod Imbriani knows that although there is work to do across the lineup, that an immediate improvement in the bull will be the most beneficial.  Robertson, coupled with mid year acquisition Brad Boxberger should give the Rays a good back of the bullpen.  The Rays may still have some work to do with the bull pen, however, but there are other talented arms in the free agent ranks that would be an upgrade for them and the Rays have some money to spend;

Other high profile free agents:

David Price (10-14, 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 4.3 WAR) Looking for 20M per year for five years)…Edenton Steamers…..great 1-2 punch with Kershaw and the other teams in the division (FRI, STD, MB) all have weak records against LHP

Michael Brantley (.301/.353, 78 Runs, 3.7 WAR) Looking for $19.6M for five years)….a free agent with comp after rejecting Milwaukee’s qualifying offer….San Jose Giants….although younger, Adam Eaton does not look to put up the numbers Brantley will, and gives them a bridge to Justin Williams.

 

Finch, Steele named Managers of the year for OBL and YBL

Manager Jake Steel was speaking before a State College fan luncheon, when word came down that he’d been awarded the Youngsters Baseball League Manager of the Year. Steel’s face turned to surprise as the club’s owner made the hasty announcement.

 “Wow… how lucky can a guy be?… manage a great bunch of guys… have great fans… have a great season… and now this… life don’t get any better than this.”

State College fans applauded, recognizing how fortunate they were to have Steel at the helm. Both fans and players in attendance toasted their skipper as they truly enjoyed the day.

2016 was an extra-special season for Steel as he piloted the State College Spikes to a 84-78 record and a second place spot in the Youngsters Baseball League North Division standings. A record good enough to win the 2016 Manager of the Year Award.

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Ted Finch has molded the Edenton Steamers into a top-flight Oldtimers Baseball League team. The 2016 Skipper of the Year came into spring training with a commitment to getting the most out of his Steamers.

“I told them I had no preconceived notions about them, that all of them were blank slates as far as I was concerned. I told them to learn my system and we would win. I told them all the spots on the roster were open, that the best players would play — young or old, rookie or vet — and that I expected them to hustle, to work hard, and play as a team. They bought into it and made me look good.”

And Ted Finch certainly got the most out of his ballclub. The Steamers wrapped up the season in first place in the Oldtimers Baseball League South Division with a 98-64 record.

 

Spikes win the first ever OMBL championship!!

The State College Spikes are champions, today and forever. The Spikes topped the Edenton Steamers 6-2 at Steamers Ballpark today to claim the World Series crown.

“Nobody can take this away from us, not ever,” said series MVP and starting pitcher Steven Matz after his club had sealed the victory. “We worked hard and we accomplished our goal.”

The atmosphere was electric as the newly-crowned champs stormed the field at the conclusion of the game. Fans cheered, gloves flew in the air, high fives and hugs were the order of the day.

“From day one of spring training, I could see it in their eyes,” said State College manager Jake Steel. “The players had that look of intensity, of hunger, of a desire to accomplish something great, and today they did that. They’re champions of the world.”

The Spikes took the series 4-2. The new titleholders completed the regular season with a second-place finish in the Youngsters Baseball League North Division and a 84-78 record.