Hammerheads Add Another Reliever, Send Thomasson to Big Easy

The Jackson Hammerheads‘ seemingly endless quest to bolster their bullpen continued today, as they acquired left-hander Tobias Dennis from the New Orleans Sazeracs in exchange for C Hong Thomasson.  It’s the second trade within two months between the two teams, who swapped starter Yu Chen for reliever Boss Walker in June.

“The Sultan strikes again!” exulted Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.  “They might as well FedEx us the championship trophy, because it’s going to be ours!”

Dennis has been the Sazeracs’ most reliable fireman by far this season.  In 59 innings, the 26-year-old southpaw has gone 0-2 with a 3.20 ERA and a .661 OPS against.  New Orleans selected Dennis in the expansion draft from Knoxville, where he went 7-2 with a 4.35 ERA in 2015.

“We really appreciate everything Tobias Dennis has done for us,” said Sazeracs owner Jeff Wiggins.  “We’re glad to give him an opportunity to go after another ring.”

Dennis seems likely to work the late innings for Jackson.  He joins a pen that’s crowded from the left side, however; Walker, Hilton Sircy, Rick Sheen, Josh Nichols, Brett Pollan, and Woody Flowers are all left-handed; closer Bobby Boniface is the only righty currently in the Heads’ relief corps.

“I can get both lefties and righties out,” said Dennis.  “I’m up for whatever role they want to use me in.”

In trading Thomasson, Jackson sends out a fan favorite, albeit one who received little playing time behind Clarence Doyle.  The 27-year-old Thomasson appeared in only 15 games for the Hammerheads this season, batting .276 with a .902 OPS.  He has a reputation as a strong hitter but a weak fielder.  For New Orleans, which has struggled to generate offense behind the dish, Thomasson could be just what the doctor ordered.  Starter Prince Carlo has hit .244 with a .583 OPS, while backups Dave Chavez and Dustin Gould have combined to post only a .143 average.

“Hong will always hold a special place in Jackson hearts,” said Butler. “We wish him well in the Big Easy.”

Butler then turned to the camera and raised his voice.  “But back to business… look out Knoxville, you slack-jawed [SOBs]!” the owner/whiz-kid GM hollered. “What you gonna do when the Heads run wild on you. brother????!!!”  Butler then ripped off his shirt and flexed his muscles, showing off a tattoo on his right bicep of a bald eagle attacking Smokies manager Snuff Wallace.

Sazeracs, Hammerheads Trade Hurlers

At this stage of the Patriot League season, most teams have a good sense of their shortcomings and the areas where they need help.  The Jackson Hammerheads, for instance, have struggled to identify consistent lockdown arms in the bullpen.  Meanwhile, the New Orleans Sazeracs are desperately seeking stability in their rotation.  The teams have struck a deal to try to address their respective weaknesses, with New Orleans shipping veteran left-handed reliever Boss Walker to Jackson in exchange for starter Yu Chen.

Boss Walker

The 35-year-old Walker has been used primarily as a lefty specialist by New Orleans this season, with a 1-0 record and a pair of save to go along with a 4.41 ERA.  He split last season between Salt Lake and California, providing some much-needed stability for the left side of the Sharks’ relief corps.  For Jackson, a team that’s already well-stocked with lefty relievers, they’re hoping to use Walker as a late-inning weapon against lefties and righties alike.

“We’re very excited to bring The Boss here to Jackson,” said Hammerheads owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler.  “He’s got the kind of experience and attitude we’re looking for in the late innings.  He’s the key piece to solving our bullpen puzzle.  The rest of the teams in the East should just save us all some time and give up now.  I’ll send them all tickets to our championship parade.”

Walker is a native of Mississippi, but he will miss the Big Easy.  “New Orleans is my favorite city in the world,” said Walker.  “But Jackson’s a better team, and I’m all in to get me a ring.  Besides, we’ll be through town pretty often, so I’ll have plenty of chances to get my jazz and jambalaya fix.”

Yu Chen

Chen represents an intriguing buy-low opportunity for the Sazeracs.  The 28-year-old Korean lefty came to Jackson last season in the disastrous Eddie Battin deal, and failed to establish himself as a fixture in the Hammerheads’ rotation.  After going 4-3 with a 5.23 ERA in 2016, Chen was exiled to the bullpen down the stretch.  He got another chance to start this season, but flamed out quickly and returned to relief exile.

Chen’s numbers this season testify both to his poor performance and his limited use: 0-1, one save, and a 9.39 ERA in only 16 1/3 innings of work.  Butler had been shopping Chen aggressively around the league, but found few takers.

The Sazeracs, though, are in desperate need of rotation help.  They’ve had a solid top two in Darius Tice and Matthew Erickson, but otherwise they’ve been plagued by injuries, ineffectiveness, and an addiction to the local nightlife.  One season-opening start, Norm “Rattler” LaForce, landed in alcohol rehab.

“It’s no secret that we need some help in the rotation,” said Sazeracs owner/GM Jeff Wiggins.  “We’re hoping that given a low-pressure environment and the chance to straighten out his mechanics, Yu will be able to rediscover the form that made him successful in Korea.  Let the good starts roll!”

As part of the trade, the Hammerheads and Sazeracs agreed to exchange players to be named later.  Both parties were tight-lipped on that aspect of the deal, but Butler reportedly submitted a lengthy list of conditions regarding the PTBNL exchange prior to the league office approving the deal.  According to sources with knowledge of the deal, the list was notarized and ran up to 10 pages.  Asked for specifics, Butler declined, saying, “Revealing those details might compromise other trades that the Sultan of Swap has in the works.  But we made sure to cover all appropriate contingencies.  The details will be revealed at the appropriate time.”

LaForce to Rehab, Others to Minors as Sazeracs Shake It Up

As the New Orleans Sazeracs were being slaughtered 20-2 by the last-place Jackson Hammerheads on Monday, a thought formed in the minds of owner/GM Jeff Wiggins and manager George Knox: enough is enough.  Although the Sazeracs are off to a solid start for an expansion team, hovering around the .500 mark, several players have clearly struggled, and rumors of a breakdown in team discipline are rampant.  In the weak of their humiliating defeat, Wiggins and Knox made a major roster shakeup, demoting some underperformers and trying to get the team’s party-hearty culture under control.

“Overall, I’m happy with how our team’s performed so far,” said Wiggins.  “But there’s a handful of guys who aren’t performing up to what we expect, and some guys who are clearly more focused on partying than playing.  That doesn’t fly around here.”

Topping the list of demotions was starter Norm “Rattler” LaForce, who started the infamous Monday game.  LaForce allowed eight runs over 4 1/3 innings, which put him at 0-3 with a 13.21 ERA on the season.  Worse yet, according to team sources, LaForce is one of the heaviest partiers on the team, regularly staying until closing time at the bars and clubs of the Big Easy.

Knox confirmed that the team has ordered LaForce to enter alcohol rehab before he reports to the minors.  “On the field, Norm wasn’t getting it done.  But it’s off the field where we’ve been really worried about him.  New Orleans is a city full of temptation, and Norm has been enjoying it a little too much.  Can’t have him doing that anymore.”

LaForce denied that he had a problem with alcohol.  “That’s a bunch of crap,” he told reporters.  “I’m sure as hell not the only guy on this team who spends time hanging out on Bourbon Street.  But I’ve had a bad start to the year, so it was easy to make an example of me.  It sucks being the scapegoat.”

Taking LaForce’s slot in the rotation will be left-hander Zeke Foster.  The 24-year-old Foster pitched out of the bullpen for Silver City last year, where he compiled a 4.91 ERA over 24 appearances.

New Orleans also sent down a pair of relievers, lefty Hal Gilreath and righty Barrett Turbeville.  Both of them appeared in the infamous 20-2 beatdown, and both have struggled mightily this year.  Gilreath’s ERA sat at 11.00 at the time of his demotion, while Turbeville’s sat at 8.22.  Both of them also were reportedly among the clique of hard partiers on the team, although neither was nearly as much of a problem as LaForce.  Neither Gilreath nor Turbeville have been ordered to go to rehab.

Taking their slots in the bullpen are a pair of right-handers, Jon Esquibel and Bradley Slinger.  Esquibel, a 21-year-old rookie out of Idaho A&M, is a hard thrower with a reputation for being somewhat homer-prone.  Slinger, 25, pitched in Jackson last year and went 4-2 with a 3.16 ERA before going down in August with a partially-torn rotator cuff.  He managed to avoid surgery, strengthening his arm through rehab.

According to Knox, Esquibel is expected to take on Turbeville’s late-inning duties, while Slinger is likely to see work as a long man.

In addition to shaking up the pitching staff, the Sazeracs also made a change in the backup catcher role, sending down Dave Chavez and calling up Dustin Gould.  Chavez has a reputation as a strong defender, but he looked utterly overmatched at the plate, going 1-for-12 during his brief time with New Orleans.  Knox confirmed that Chavez was being sent down solely for performance reasons, and that the team was not concerned with his extracurricular activities.

Wiggins noted that further changes could be coming, especially if certain team members don’t curtail their nightlife activities.  “I don’t mind guys going out and having fun,” the owner said.  “That’s what New Orleans is all about.  But when it gets out of control and starts affecting your performance on the field, that’s when I mind.  Hopefully everybody got the message.”

Hammerheads Get Fleitas Back, Send Jaramillo to N’Awlins

Ever since the Jackson Hammerheads lost 3B Kim Fleitas in the expansion draft, team owner/whiz-kid GM Steven Butler has been a man on a mission.  Butler, who has consistently argued that Fleitas was mistakenly left exposed in the draft, has tried everything to get Fleitas back into the fold.  According to sources, Butler had bombarded the New Orleans Sazeracs, the team that picked Fleitas, with trade proposals on a near-daily basis.  “When I want something, I keep going until I get it,” said Butler.

When the Hammerheads acquired 3B Max Ortiz from the California Sharks last weekend, it was widely seen around the league as an acknowledgement of defeat in Butler’s relentless pursuit of a reunion with Fleitas.  But on draft day, the Hammerheads and Sazeracs announced a surprising deal: Fleitas is coming home to Jackson, while RF Alex Jaramillo heads down to the Big Easy.

Kim Fleitas

“Victory is mine!” crowed Butler.  “It took a while, but I got my guy back.”

It’s not hard to see why Butler was so eager to get Fleitas back.  The 26-year-old third sacker hit .287 with 17 homers and 130 RBI last season, and was generally acknowledged as one of the league’s best at the hot corner, despite a shaky reputation with the glove.  “Kim’s a pretty quiet guy, but he’s definitely one of our team leaders,” said Hammerheads 2B Homer Righter.  “One of those guys who shows up every day, does his job and does it well.  I’m thrilled that he’s back.”

Alex Jaramillo

Few in the Jackson clubhouse had a similarly glowing assessment of Jaramillo.  The 26-year-old slugger, picked up from the Knoxville Smokies last season in the infamous Eddie Battin deal, put up disappointing numbers with the Heads, hitting .258 with 16 dingers.  In addition, he was an unpopular figure in the clubhouse, quickly earning a reputation for being moody and selfish.  It didn’t help matters that he was acquired for the hugely popular Battin, or that he got hurt shortly after arriving in Jackson and wound up spending over a month on the DL amid accusations of malingering.

“This is a great deal all around,” said one Jackson player.  “We get Kim back, which is a plus for us, and we get rid of Jaramillo, which is basically addition by subtraction.  Win-win.”

The Sazeracs are banking on a return to form for Jaramillo in an environment that might be a better fit.  Jackson has made a point of de-emphasizing power, a smart decision given the cavernous dimensions of Cash Carter Downs.  New Orleans has a more longball-friendly park, and they’re looking to Jaramillo to be a big bopper in the heart of their order.

“There’s a thing called talent!  We don’t have it,” said Sazeracs manager George Knox.  “Alex is a naturally talented guy, and this is a place where I think we can make the most of it.”

Asked if he was concerned about the negative reports out of Jackson about Jaramillo, Knox replied, “You can’t go through life thinking everyone you meet will let you down. Because if you do, a very bad thing will happen. You’ll end up like me.”

Now that Jackson has their old third baseman back, are they done dealing ahead of the season?  “No comment on that,” Butler said with a laugh.  “I’m a fishing guy, so I’ve always got my line in the water. ”

PBL Expands By 4 For Season 2

After a rousingly successful debut season, the Patriot League is growing aggressively for its second season.  Commissioner Jeremiah Mills has officially announced that the PBL will be expanding from 8 teams to 12 for the 2017 season.  “Our first season was a tremendous success,” said Commissioner Mills, “and we’ve clearly demonstrated that there’s an appetite and an audience for this.  I know going from 8 to 12 may seem like a big jump, but I see it as a sign of how well we’re doing that we’ve got four new owners who want to join us.”

These are the new teams that will be joining the fold next season:

carolina-cometsCAROLINA COMETS

The Comets, who will be joining the PBL’s Eastern Division, are the brainchild of owner Steven Roseman.  Roseman believes that there is a significant untapped market of baseball fans in the Carolinas, and he expects the Comets to demonstrate it.  Roseman has committed to his vision with money, constructing a retractable-roof stadium in Catawba, NC to house his team.  Catawba is located roughly equidistant from the Charlotte and Winston-Salem/Greensboro metropolitan areas, and he expects to draw fans from both cities.

Despite being housed in an up-to-date modern facility, Roseman expects his team to play with old-fashioned flair.  The Comets certainly won’t lack for color under the direction of manager Taylor “Two-Buck” Ashy, a protege of Knoxville Smokies skipper Snuff Wallace.  “Ol’ Taylor reminds me a lot of myself,” said Wallace, “only meaner, drunker, and crazier.”  The Comets will also get a healthy dose of flair from their hometown stars. Left fielder Stargell Jackson‘s father is a diehard Pittsburgh Pirates fan who named his son after his hero, Hall of Famer Willie Stargell.  Southpaw starter Randy “Satchel” Flats earned his nickname due to his multi-pitch arsenal and quippy nature, both reminiscent of Negro League great Satchel Paige.

kalamazoo-kazoosKALAMAZOO KAZOOS

The Kazoos will be competing in the league’s Western Division.  Owner Will Norman selected his team name to honor “America’s greatest musical instrument.”  He doubled down on the kazoo motif by naming his stadium Kazoobie Kazoo Field, securing the sponsorship of America’s oldest and most venerable kazoo manufacturer.

Norman’s unorthodox choices extend to his choice of managers.  Jacques “Zippie” DeFlute has no background in baseball.  The Montreal native played several years of minor-league hockey.  More recently, he has been a traveling musician.  Despite his lack of baseball experience, DeFlute’s upbeat, effervescent personality is sure to make him a hit with the fans of western Michigan.

The fans are also sure to love the Kazoos’ pair of hometown stars.  CF Damian Mash was a star at Kalamazoo College, and SS Johnny Shorts is a native of neighboring Portage.

The Kazoos hope to establish a regional rivalry with the PBL champion Milwaukee Bear Claws.  It seems likely that rivalry will be fairly one-sided at the outset, but as DeFlute said, “It gives us a goal to shoot for.”

 

 

las-vegas-narwhalsLAS VEGAS NARWHALS

The Narwhals are prepared to make a big splash in the Western Division.  Win or lose, the squad from Vegas is certain to attract attention.  From their striking violet-and-gold uniforms to their stadium, MGM Jackpot Field, which will be the second Patriot League stadium (along with Orlando) to have a built-in casino, the Narwhals are sure to be noticed.  The team is going to have the glitz and glamour of Sin City, which is the way owner Tricia Butler wants it.  Bright lights, big flies, and high scores… that’s what Narwhals baseball is going to be about.

The Narwhals’ style and flair starts at the top with manager Benjamin Banks Mahoney, who prefers to go by “B. Money.”  Mahoney’s goals for the season are to “win a lot of games and raise a lot of hell, and not in that order.”  Mahoney’s quest will be aided by the Narwhals’ local stars.  LF Andrew Zocken figures to bring a lot of pop to the heart of the Vegas order.  And ace pitcher Jose Oro has the golden fastball to blow it by visiting hitters.

Traditionalists are likely to hate the Narwhals, finding the uniforms gaudy and the stadium more like an amusement park than a ballpark.  But the team will fit well with its city.  The fans of Las Vegas can look forward to a summer of high scores and high stakes both on and off the field.

new-orleans-sazeracsNEW ORLEANS SAZERACS

While it’s far from clear how well the Sazeracs will fare in the PBL’s Eastern Division this season, the team is going to have a lot of fun along the way.  According to owner Jeff Wiggins, that’s by design.  Wiggins said he loves the Big Easy because it’s “a fun location [where you’re] able to bring your drinks wherever you want.”  He’s made it his goal to assemble a team that reflect the fun-loving spirit of the city.  He said that the team’s motto will be “Work Hard, Play Hard.”

The team’s outlook is also reflected in its name.  Wiggins named the team after the Sazerac, “a strong all-alcohol drink invented in New Orleans.”  Te Sazerac (made with 1/4 oz Absinthe, one sugar cube, 1 1/2 oz Rye whiskey or Cognac, and three dashes Peychaud’s Bitters) is one of the most famous products of New Orleans, and the name gives the team a true local flavor.  Continuing the alcohol theme, the Sazeracs will play at Abita Field, named after a local brewery.

The team will take the field under the veteran leadership of former Angels manager George Knox, who is known for having a “magic touch” with his players.  New Orleans will also be led by a pair of hometown heroes, outfielder Ben Williams and shortstop Al Angel. Wiggins believes that Williams and Angels will be wildly popular, because the fans “are just as likely to see them hitting a home run or making a game-saving play, as they are to see them out on Bourbon Street with everyone else.”

 

Along with the PBL’s expansion, Commissioner Mills announced that the playoffs will be expanding next season as well.  Going forward, the top two teams in each division will make the playoffs.  The winners of the two division series will face each other in the Patriot Series.

“We are confident that the expanded playoffs will only increase fan interest in our league,” said Commissioner Mills.  “This year, the action is going to be hotter than Snuff’s temper!”