March 10, 2042
Despite making the playoffs and winning their first Elf Division pennant in nine years and going all the way to the Return of the King Series for the first time since 2019, Old Forest management was not happy with their team. “Tear it all down!” seemed to be the mantra of Team Owner Honeysuckle Bracegirdle, GM Tom Bombadil and Assistant GM Ruby Muddyfoot. And with a flurry of trades in the offseason, the 2041 Merry Fellows were almost completely transformed into the version that will start 2042.
When the manager of nearly 25 years, Kigush Eyeslobberer, retired in 2040, it set off a chain of events in management that reverberate to this day. Eyeslobberer and his bench coach, G’Kar Moonpoker, where the on-field commanders of the Merry Fellows for the last 11 seasons. Moonpoker arrived in 2029 after managing the SFL Star Fleet Acadamy Cadets, while Eyeslobberer was away for two seasons as the manager of the SFL Narnia Badgers. Upon Eyeslobberer’s return as manager of Old Forest in 2031, the duo became inseparable. However, instead of offering the manager’s job to Moonpoker, the GM decided to keep him at his post at least until his contract runs out in 2044.
The search for a new manager took from Eyeslobberer’s retirement in November 2040 until January 6, 2041, when they signed Sruul Cleavergobber to a 3-year deal. It was Cleavergobber’s first managing gig. He had been a pitching coach with the Osgiliath College Devilfish and bench coach for the Isengard Raiders from 2034 to 2038, but his reliance on sabermetrics was well-known. He didn’t like to play smallball, but other than that, he kept himself out of the tabloids and off the radar. But something happened 126 games into the season. It’s still unclear what, but after guiding them to 70 wins and leading the Elf Division, the team fired him on August 26. Two days later, Thigol Elruldor was hired as skipper.
Elruldor, 60, is well regarded as a field general. He earned that reputation by sticking to a balanced, measured approach. He insists that he doesn’t run things in a dictatorial manner, but he is known around the league as one of the toughest disciplinarians. Some thing that comes from his past experience managing high school teams and as the hitting coach for the Harlond College Pelicans from 2025-2030. In any case, he was fired as the Rivendell hitting coach in July before taking the reigns at Old Forest. Whatever happened, Elruldor guided the team to finish off the season and through the playoffs, all the way to Game 7 of the Return of the King Series. His winning percentage is slightly better than his predecessor’s was, but with just 31 regular season games under his belt, all eyes will be on him in 2042.
Old Forest had a staff ERA of 4.55, allowing 4.8 runs per game. Not the worst in the Shire Conference, but there was some room for improvement. Well, the team really took that to heart, tearing up the rotation and excavating the bullpen.
Of the starters last year, one retired, three were traded, and one was released.
Galugol Eliolas, pretty much a guaranteed Hall of Famer, retired after spending his final season with the Merry Fellows, going 11-11 with a 4.97 ERA in 34 starts. Another future Hall of Famer, Bulbo Moss, was traded to Bucklebury. Elrealwyn Isadrielad was traded to Earthsea for SP Nuukor Glinkov. Vasanthi Brodrick was traded to the SFL Gallifrey Time Lords. And Gorbadoc Hedgeworth was released and later acquired by Lothlorien.
Of the probable starting five, none of them was with the team last year.
Ikag Nosethrottler, 26, has been the Numenor closer for the past three seasons. He was acquired in a deal that sent relievers Voilin Chiselmasher and Borowyn Denihil to the Kings. Nosethrottler has the stamina and the pitches for a shot at a starting role, and it looks like the Merry Fellows will give it to him. His 100 mph cutter is murderous, and when he mixes it in with his screwball and changeup, anything ball hit will be on the ground.
Carash Shushud came to Old Forest in a deal that sent reliever Tigan Oreshaker to the SFL Intergalactic Hitchhikers. Shushud, 31, was the 2038 Frodo Rookie of the Year for Rivendell. An injury in late 2039 put him on the IL for a good chunk of 2040, and he struggled in 2041.
Nuukor Glinkov arrived in the trade with Earthsea for Elrealwyn Isadrielad. Glinkovis a 29-year-old right-hander who can top out at 95-97 mph on the radar gun. His three-pitch mix includes a plus-plus fastball, a slider with hard bite, and a decent changeup. In 2039, he won 18 games for Earthsea in 26 starts.
Zoello Rodinger signed a fat contract with Numenor in January, only to be traded by the Kings to Old Forest in February. Rodinger, 28, was 12-12 with a 3.63 ERA with Misty Mountain last year. A good hitting pitcher, he has won three Gimli’s Axe awards as the best batter at the position. He has even played more than a few innings at 1B.
Agrunk Nosethrower, 25, came over in a deal with Moria after pitching the last two seasons at Minas Morgul. Nosethrower was 10-14 with a 3.94 ERA for the Slayers and won the Mordor Conference Legolas Fielder Award at pitcher.
Big changes as well can be found in the bullpen, starting with the trade of closer Francesco McKilligin to Bucklebury. McKilligin is a 5-time All-Star and the 2037 Gwaihir Reliever Award winner. He came to Old Forest as a free agent in 2041, after spending seven seasons in the Dol Guldur pen. While he pitched 67 games for the Merry Fellows, he only wound up saving 16. He went to the Fairies in a December trade.
In McKilligin’s place, the team picked up Asko Fern from the SFL Earthsea Dragons. Fern, 26, won the Fantasy League Reliever of the Year award in 2040 and is expected to match or exceed McKilligin. His curveball is his strikeout pitch, and he can throw a sinker between 96 and 98 mph. Toss in an occasional change, and the K’s just pile up.
Bolgag Ogredragger is one of the few familiar faces on the team, much less in the bullpen. He earned the bulk of the saves last year (21) while appearing in 64 games. His knuckle curve when combined with a 94 mph fastball keeps batters on their toes.
Last year’s SC Gwaihir Reliever winner, Darrick Hafer, joins a pretty stacked pen after a big trade that sent CF Ferdinand Greenthumb and SP Bulbo Moss to the Fairies for Hafer and 2B Aglanthol Elril-gambor. Hafer, 27, saved 55 games for Bucklebury last year, setting a new seasonal record.
In addition to the players mentioned above, Old Forest also traded 1B Diador Elrailbo, the MVP of the Fellowship Series last year, to the SFL Mos Eisley Wookies. DH Guggek Hammerarm, who had 30 HR last year, was traded to the Chiba City Neuromancers. 2B Galaudriel Elmalinde, was traded to Numenor for SP Gaudriel Lomeldur, who was then traded to Ravenhill for CL Joachim Murdock. Vagnar Elvawen, 3B, was traded to Earthsea for CL Asko Fern. and LF Gandeaden Elreodriel, was traded to Ravenhill for CL Atanarat Anara, who was then traded to Moria for SP Agrunk Nosethrower.
On top of all that, catcher Baztrak the Vague, a possible Hall of Famer, retired.
So, what replaced the Merry Fellows lineup?
Well, let’s not forget that Old Forest fans were introduced to the latest member of the Hubbard family last season. Alrond Hubbard, Jr. set the world on fire in his rookie season, setting a record for hits (248) and hitting .395 with 46 HR and 108 RBI. Hubbard, 19, was named to the Shire Conference All-Star Team, and he won the Frodo Rookie award, the Sam Gamgee Batter award, a Gimli’s Axe Award in RF, and the SC Aragorn MVP award. This Spring, Hubbard is learning to play 3B to add to his skills in RF.
Also returning will be Giden Eladriewen, the power hitting infielder who has base stealing speed and who may slot in as the new first baseman.
Imcir Lomeldur has a trophy case full of Gold Glove Wizard awards at 1B, but Old Forest got him for his bat. Lomeldur is set to DH after the lefty hit 170 HR for the SFL Dyson Spheres over the last five years.
Togo Bracegirdle, who can play at any position in the diamond, will likely be the starting CF for Old Forest. Bracegirdle, 26, was acquired in a trade with the SFL Star Fleet Academy Cadets.
Joining Bracegirdle in the outfield will be Teshome Timlussson, a 28-year-old walk on from the independent leagues who signed a 5-year, $77.5 million contract with the Merry Fellows. Timlussson has a swing that can produce above average power from the right side of the plate.
At catcher, Born Mulhall came to Old Forest in a multi-player swap with Bucklebury. Mulhall, 32, is not the best defensive catcher on the planet, but he can slug out some homers.
It’s been a wild ride this offseason for the Merry Fellows. A relatively new manager and a practically new team may have fans wondering what happened to last year’s model, but Old Forest is positioned to take their 2nd straight Elf Division pennant and try to make it past Game 7 of the Return of the King Series for the first time in 23 years.