No Atlantic League team has signed a single player yet for the 2009 season.
Is that really a reason to hold off on predicting how the season will play out, though?
So here are five things that will take place in the Atlantic League this year, according to yours truly.
1) The Lancaster Barnstormers will finish ahead of the York Revolution in the final standings.
I know this will be sure to fire up the Revolution faithful, but in case you haven’t been paying attention, teams owned by Opening Day Partners tend to fluctuate in success from year to year. That means that ODP cannot possibly dump a third consecutive horrendous losing season on the Barnstormers’ faithful fan base, which lost the Community Cup (pictured above) to York in heart-breaking fashion this past year.
Lancaster, which now has a manager with a year of AL experience under his belt (Von Hayes; pictured right), should be much improved this season. Also, former manager Tom Herr has joined the ‘Stormers staff, so his knowledge of the league and his expertise should help tremendously.
Of course, some will say that the Hayes and Herr combination may struggle to get along (the very topic was discussed over at Barnstormin’ recently). But that shouldn’t be too large of an issue and it’s about time for Lancaster to return to the form it showed in the 2006 Championship season.
2) Chris Hoiles will finish out the year as Revolution manager.
There has been some debate in cyberspace about Hoiles’ job security, especially after the way his contract renewal was handled. But ultimately, Hoiles — entering his third years as manager — does a solid job and commands the respect of his players. That should mean something.
Hoiles also has to be given credit for enduring the long “road trip” to start the 2007 season (while Sovereign Bank Stadium was being finished) and he showed signs of turning into a pretty decent manager during the second half of last year. That time period obviously coincided with the arrival of Chris Ashby and Kennard Jones, among others, but Hoiles also proved more adept at handling his pitching staff and finding roles for specific players.
Lastly, only one manager has been fired midseason in Atlantic League history and that was Frank Klebe. Klebe was let go by the Barnstormers midway through 2007 before the team promoted pitching coach Rick Wise to manager. So considering that history, you have to like Hoiles to stay in York the entire year.
3) The Newark Bears will be an utter failure — on and off the field.
I’m not exactly going out on a limb with this one, but hey, pointing out the obvious is sometimes a tricky thing.
For starters, Newark’s Web site still remains under construction and we’re nearly two months from the start of the season. That can’t be good for ticket sales, and we’ve already heard about the club dismissing former general manager John Brandt, thanks to Atlantic League Baseball News. So who in charge in Newark really has in idea of how to turn around this market? (Maybe no one alive knows this).
Also, Newark is bringing in a first-time Atlantic League manager, which usually means a year of growing pains (see: Von Hayes, Chris Hoiles). Tim Raines will likely be surprised by the constant state of flux his roster will incur, and he has no proven track record of cultivating talent.
At the very least, though, the Newark situation is going to be very interesting to watch this year.
4) Long Island will miss the playoffs.
Over the years the Ducks have been nearly a lock to make the playoffs with its cast of expensive former major leaguers. And even though that talent hasn’t translated to much postseason success, Long Island is still in the mix just about every year.
That could change this season, considering owner Frank Boulton has taken the Bridgeport franchise under his wing with a financial bailout. Will the Ducks really have the scratch remaining to assemble its typical roster with guys like Carl Everett and Jay Gibbons? I’m not convinced.
Also, I’ll again bring up the first-time manager quagmire. Gary Carter takes over the reigns of the Ducks this year, and even though he has former manager Dave LaPoint as his pitching coach, the first year in the Atlantic League for most managers is usually a rough go. Also, how about LaPoint and Carter getting along? This is another interesting story line.
5) Atlantic League attendance will suffer across the board.
The national economic crisis is hurting us all in one way or another, and one might think that the Atlantic League and its affordable prices will look more reasonable than ever before because of this. But I’m not buying that line of thinking.
No matter the cost, fans are going to be more conscious of spending money this year. Whether you’re talking the Atlantic League or not, my guess is that the casual fan will opt to spend money on something else — or not at all.
Of course, the die-hards will remain. And the Revolution, plus the league’s other teams, will undoubtedly come up with new, creative ways to draw more people to the ballpark.
But when the unemployment rate is closing in on eight percent nationally it’s hard to believe that baseball fans won’t be effected.