Aging bison look to stay ahead of the herd

The season 11 Iowa City Bison look very much like an older version of the Season 10 bison. After two seasons on top of the NL East, management has done very few changes in the offseason. The team is drastically different from the Season 6 team that moved into Iowa City after playing several seasons between Columbus and New York.

Pitching remains the team's strength, with 31 yr old Cookie Ramirez returning as the staff ace for the 11th consecutive season, having won his first Cy Young award in Season 10. The rest of the rotation is rounded up by 35 yr old Brandon Freeman, Rick Cobb, Ismael Alvarado and Darrin Lloyd, although Jose Amaro and Pedro Saenz will challenge Lloyd for a spot in the rotation during spring training. The bullpen lacks a clearly defined closer; Brett Halter is likely to get the majority of the save opportunities, but Robert Owens may be ready to step into the role.

The team lost two significant position players in the offseason: 2B/CF Jimmie Henley (who signed a deal with the Chicago Billy Goats as a free agent) and OF Joe Eyre. Their speed on the bases and stellar defense, will likely be replace by a pair of Rule 5 draftees: Billy Hunter and Vic Saez. Failing to land a free agent, the team looks likely to rely heavily on aging sluggers 36yr old RF Mike Burrell, LF Vinny Funaki, 36yr old C Joel McNamara and 34yr old 3B Kenny Perez. The younger core of the offense is provided by 1B/LF Norberto Fernandez and CF Aaron Bailey, while the defensive gold glove platoon of Tony Tatis and Willie Lopez returns for a third season. Bo Wells returns on a limited role as part time 1B, occasional catcher and pinch-hitter extraordinaire. Likely to make the team as starting 2B is highly touted prospect Tyler Merrick, a shortstop in his minor league career.

The team is a combination of aging free agent and trade acquisitions, and some home-grown talent, but the fate of the Bison likely rests on the skills of some aging players and how well the bench players can fill in to keep them fresh. In a division where Buffalo, Cincinnati and Norfolk have significantly improved, the Bison herd will likely find themselves fighting to avoid extermination.

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