When time finally came to begin piecing together the 2014 roster, one of the first things York Revolution manager Mark Mason wanted was a club with a bit more stability than the one he had the previous year.
In his debut season as the York skipper in 2013, Mason watched six of his players retire, in addition to three others depart for foreign leagues, five get picked up by major league organizations and one more leave for personal reasons. By the end of the year, the Revs were forced to make 79 transactions, compared to the 60 moves made in 2012. Just nine of the players left on the roster at the end of the 2013 season were there on opening night. That contributed to a 65-75 record in 2013. York missed out on the postseason for the first time since 2009.
Stability, though, can be hard to attain in the independent Atlantic League. It's not easy finding players talented enough to compete but not so good they'll immediately get plucked off the roster by major league organizations. You could solve that potential issue by going with veteran types, but then retirement or injury, or both, could come into play.
So there's something to be said for the job Mason has done so far this season, leading the club to a September playoff berth by winning the first-half Freedom Division title. It's also only the second first-half division crown in club history.
How was Mason able to pull this off?
Well, in addition to meeting the stability criteria, he said back in January he also wanted a team strong in defense and pitching and quick on the base paths.
A speedy outfield mix of Eric Patterson, Justin Greene, Jason Repko and Sean Smith has made up one of the strongest defensive outfield units in the league.
Greene, the Revs' leadoff man, has arguably been York's first-half MVP with a league-leading .383 batting average in 43 games. A case could be made for Patterson (.302, seven homers, 45 RBIs), too. Four York batters have a batting average of .284 or better.
Smith (Southern Maryland) and shortstop Wilson Valdez (Camden) came over to York from different Atlantic League organizations to make the Revs quicker on the bases. Smith and Valdez are currently ranked in the top three in stolen bases in the league to this point with 28 and 23 stolen base, respectively.
York also has one of the strongest bullpens in the league, led by reliever Mark Hendrickson's team-best 1.95 ERA and closer Rommie Lewis, whose 17 saves put him on pace to smash the club single-season record (22) and club career record (31).
The starting pitching has, for the most part, been surprisingly dominant. That's a little surprising considering there were question marks surrounding just about every starter at the beginning of the year. York newcomer Mike McClendon hadn't been a full-time starter since 2007 and wound up performing so well the Rockies picked him up in May. Veteran Corey Thurman, 35, had his worst season in a York uniform in 2013 (6.49 ERA) but has returned to form this year (4.28 ERA) despite a rough outing Sunday. Jorge Martinez, 31, defected from Cuba last July and is pitching in the United States for the first time this year with York. He owns a 3.43 ERA.
And newcomer Alain Quijano, 31, has never earned an affiliated contract in his eight-year pro career but has posted a 3.48 ERA in his debut season in the Atlantic League. It's not a stretch to say York may not have won the first half had it not been for Quijano's efforts this past week. The veteran southpaw started on three days rest twice and held opponents to one earned run over 16 combined innings, including eight scoreless in Saturday's division-clinching win.
As a staff, York has a very solid 3.36 ERA. A lot of this can be attributed to the work Mason, who was York's pitching coach from 2010 to 2012, and new pitching coach Paul Fletcher have done. But that's a story for another day.
As far as stability goes, York has been one of the most stable teams in the league despite McClendon, starting pitcher Anthony Lerew and reliever Julio DePaula getting picked up by big league clubs and starting pitcher Chris Cody leaving for Taiwan. The Revs have made 25 transactions to this point, meaning they're on pace for 50 total transactions this season, which would be about 30 less than they made last year.
Now, York will have the entire second half to rest. And, if he feels it's needed, Mason will be able to tinker a bit more with the roster in order to put his best team out on the field come playoff time in September.
— Reach John Walk at email@example.com.