Winning is Great but Repeating is where it’s at

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Updated: October 13, 2013

Sunday, March 17th 2019

 

It’s peaceful in my office but I can still hear the excited chatter down the corridor as another school party passes through the visitor centre admiring the centrepiece display of the 2018 Planetary Extreme Championship trophy. Slowly I turn back to the myriads of organisational charts spread out all over my desk. We have a trophy to defend.

 

It’s been a hard off season despite all the partying that followed the capture of London’s first ever Championship. That partying was bittersweet too as when the staff returned from the mother of all holidays in the Caribbean they discovered that no-one had submitted our protected player list for the PEBA’s Rule V draft and we had lost probably Worcester’s most big league ready player in Dave Hurley. Dave had been very hopeful of a good camp in 2019 and staying with the team but unfortunately for him he was always deep in the shadow of Nathan Carter. Money has been tight, despite being the only PEBA team this side of the Atlantic, we have a very small market. We are growing our fan base though, from a low of 1.4 million fans in 2008 the Underground have steadily improved at the box office and last year broke the 3.5

Wembley Stadium

Wembley has been expanded for the second time to bring it’s capacity up to 45,000

million mark for the first time in franchise history. Two consecutive years of play-off baseball has its rewards. The board has decided for the second time in a few years to add another 5,000 seats to Wembley Stadium  bringing the capacity up to 45,000 which if we can sell them out would bring an extra $10m into the coffers. A not inconsiderable sum given our total payroll is just over the $100m mark.

 

There had been three players released after the Championship series, pitchers Miguel Rosa , Alfonso Robles and  outfielder Dennis Carter. Miguel who had pitched 188 games for the Underground in seven seasons owned a 67-78 record with a career 4.06 ERA. An inconsistent pitcher at times he went 10-14 in his last season and it was felt that it would not be value for money to extend his contract further. Alfonso fell into that category too, he was 1-5 with four saves in his final season of eight in London giving him a 21-21 career record with 16 saves and a 4.33 ERA. Not that shabby but he was often found wanting in the clutch moments and his salary could be better used elsewhere. Dennis was a different case completely, the franchise really wanted to resign him but the $9m+ it would take to get it done just wasn’t available. Sure his offensive numbers had declined in the last few years of his eight year tenure but he was still one of the best defensive players in the outfield corners and his .347 BA & 1.041 OPS playoff figures showed perhaps he isn’t done yet. Most teams looked at the declining numbers and passed on him leaving us very pleased to grab him again on a very team friendly contract. Even if he can’t arrest the slide of his production he can be a very useful defensive backup. Our only free agent pickup had been 28-yr-old pitcher Santiago Estrada, released by Manchester where he had compiled a 13-15, 3.62 record at Triple-A New Brunswick. Signed on a league minimum contract he will come to camp with a whole host of others competing for the #4 & 5 rotation slots. Also coming to camp on a conditional contract is 28-yr-old middle infielder Rusty MacCune] who has 17 games PEBA experience with Tempe Knights in 2015 & 2016. Microfracture surgery cost him most of 2017 but with over 400 games at Triple-A Chandler he will come to camp looking for that MI backup slot.

 

I suppose I’m lucky that most of the 25-man squad picks itself, but perhaps something of the Underground woes is revealed by the fact coming into the final stages of spring camp we still have 37 in camp. The biggest problem area is the outfield, we have eight players there chasing four, maybe five slots Tuo-zhou Yang is the only one with a lock on a berth, the rest is anyone’s to win. Wilson Vélez who was last a regular in London during 2015 is making a strong case at the moment as is Paco Shaffer who had cups of coffee with the Underground in 2016 & 17 but is approaching 450 games in Triple-A Worcester. Lorenzo Valenzuela has failed to reproduce his minor league hitting stats in two looks so far but no strikeouts in 12 AB’s might have but him ahead of Ralph Woods  & Robert Jacobs who are both proving free swingers at the plate. Dennis Carter’s defence will probably get him at least a back-up slot. Back-up infielders are in short supply in contrast, Rusty MaCune who last appeared in the PEBA in 2017 briefly with Tempe is trying out for the backup middle infielders role but for the hot corners it’s the same old faces that look to be the only applicants.

 

On the mound the #4 & #5 slots are being fought over by a raft of probably unsuitable arms. No.1 contender is seen to be

Erwin Callahan

Erwin Callahan is widely expected to claim a spot in the 2019 London rotation

Erwin Callahan, the Underground’s first round draft pick in 2016. His cup of coffee last September amounted to a 3-0, 1.57 ERA record and a big clamour for him in London. Free agent signing Santiago Estrada will be trying to prove he’s worthy of a PEBA slot after pitching just 1.7 innings in relief in the Show in 2014 for the Connecticut Nutmeggers. Since then he has amassed a 13-15, 3.62 record at Triple-A level. Bernie Jacoby who compiled a surprise 9-9, 3.81 record last year after being asked to convert to a starter will be looking to continue that. Outsiders look to be Bryan Bedell & failed 2016 waiver pickup Gabriel Álvarez. Gary Stanley is still considered the successor to Luis Mora when his contract becomes too hot for London to handle but Gary’s control has been sadly lacking in camp with six walks issued in just 4.1 IP while Luis has shown that news of his demise is premature with no runs given up & a 0.83 WHIP in his first four outings.

 

The official predictions of London slumping to a 63 win season might be a bit off the mark but how long can London mix and match while hoping it’s core of young stars stay healthy ? One thing is for sure the depth chart in the PEBA Champions is paper thin.