Spring Training is finally here. The long winter of no baseball is over. Pitchers and catchers are reporting to their fields in Florida and Arizona and we are getting many photos of players in action. The media is buzzing everywhere trying to get scoops for their next articles. At the same time, there are people in the press ranking teams on who will be back in the playoffs this season or not making it anywhere at all. Unfortunately for our readership base, we will also be doing the trope of ranking teams. However it will be done by division, today focusing on the National League East.
New York Mets
Offseason additions: None
The Mets have had an underrated offseason. They managed to re-sign most of their free agents, including Jerry Blevins, Fernando Salas, Neil Walker (accepted a qualifying offer) and most notably Yoenis Cespedes. However, they lost their most consistent starter over the last three years in Bartolo Colon. The hope would be that with seven full-fledged starters ready in camp, the loss of Colon should not hurt as much.
That heads to the rotation, which still is a thing of beauty: Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo. While it is no guarantee all seven will be healthy at the same time, the Mets are depending on them all to be healthy in some fashion. This is especially true for Matt Harvey, who is coming back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. The surgery is one that people are not good at coming back from (see Chris Carpenter). The Mets have the better team on paper and can win the division, but they must have a healthy rotation. If at least three starters fall, they are in trouble.
As for the offense, this is a big season for David Wright and Lucas Duda, both returning from injury-plagued seasons (Duda with the stress fracture in his back and Wright with the fusion surgery in his neck). Casey Stern of MLB Network Radio/TBS noted that the best decision would to be platoon both Wright and Duda at first base for the sake of both of them. In Spring Training, this would be a wise decision if the idea is to be able to keep David Wright on the roster as a healthy player. Wright can slam southpaws and would DH in American League Parks. As for what would they do at third base, they have both Jose Reyes, who was great in his stint there last season, along with T. J. Rivera. There is no reason not to give it a shot.
This has been an unusual offseason for Mike Rizzo and the Nationals front office. The headliner of the offseason has been focused around two front office decisions. The first was their attempt to sign one of the prime free agent closers (Kenley Jansen, Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon) and failed, due to more deferred money on the front office’s part. There has to be some reason the Nationals keep deferring money (see Max Scherzer’s backloaded contract) and it is starting to cost them free agents. Jansen rejected a deal and re-signed with the Dodgers instead. The Nationals still need a closer, and it seems like Shawn Kelley’s job to lose.
The other highly alarming decision of the offseason was the gross overpay the Nationals gave for Adam Eaton. Eaton is a great player, but the cost for a leadoff hitter came at a majority of their starting pitcher depth. Unless the Nationals know something about Giolito and Lopez that no one else in baseball does, there is no way this deal will look good. If anyone in the rotation gets hurt (Stephen Strasburg, Scherzer, Tanner Roark, Gio Gonzalez, A.J. Cole and Joe Ross), there is no depth. Koda Glover does not project to be an MLB starter and is better suited for the bullpen. As a result, with Giolito and Lopez gone, there is a good chance that the Nationals are going to struggle if starters get injured.
Then there is the Bryce Harper “Problem.” Bryce Harper had a miserable second half of a 2016 season, especially after a hot start. As a result, people are now looking for a reason to be afraid that Bryce Harper is not the $400 million player that everyone expects he will. Harper, if healthy, should rebound and we will be back to expecting the $400 million player to be.
As for Ryan Zimmerman and Jayson Werth, they are aging. The Nationals just signed their backup to both in the form of Adam Lind. Zimmerman and Werth somehow manage to keep themselves going, though do not be surprised if 2017 turns out to be a major bust. However, we can only see by watching, but if the Nationals want to succeed without the rotation depth, their non 1-5 offense must step up.
Offseason additions: A.J. Ellis (signed as a FA), Severino Gonzalez (acquired from PHI on waivers), Jeff Locke (signed as a FA), Dan Straily (acquired form CIN), Junichi Tazawa (signed as a FA), Brad Ziegler (signed as a FA)
Offseason subtractions: Andrew Cashner (signed with TEX), Mike Dunn (signed with COL), Jeff Francoeur (free agent), Chris Johnson (signed with BAL), Chris Narveson (signed with CLE), Fernando Rodney (signed with ARI),
Players who need to step up: None
The Miami Marlins are in a bad situation right now. They are likely destined for a third or fourth place finish in the division, somewhat thanks to the death of star Jose Fernandez. The death of Fernandez was painful, but that was far from the only thing that may hurt the Marlins this season. Owner Jeffrey Loria is meddling in the business of the Marlins again, but not at the front office level.
The decision to sell the Marlins is a tough one because it means the owner has given up on the team. Yes, in the time the Marlins have been under his ownership he has never gotten a World Series title or playoffs win, but the mojo of an owner that has in effect given up has to hurt at the team level. If the owner has given up, who are they playing for? Don Mattingly has to shoulder all this and still ask the team to play their best.
With Loria being proposed for Ambassador to France for the United States, the “handshake agreement” for $1.6 billion is on the rocks with the Kushner family. The fact that the deal is in limbo because the owner may be getting a sweet job in Washington D.C. cannot help the on-field performance again because now there is no owner to play for again and he is not giving a damn about the team again. Loria has got to make team feel better about their status, because otherwise, there are going to be clubhouse problems.
Offseason additions: Bartolo Colon (signed as FA), R.A. Dickey (signed as FA), Jaime Garcia (acquired from STL), Luke Jackson (acquired from TEX), Jacob Lindgren (signed as a FA), Brandon Phillips (acquired from CIN), Sean Rodriguez (signed as FA), Kurt Suzuki (signed as FA)
This has been a busy offseason for the Atlanta Braves. If not for the gunslinger of the Pacific Northwest, Jerry diPoto, the Braves would have had the busiest. Atlanta and Seattle matched on multiple trades, with several players heading to Seattle for prospects. The Braves grabbed long-time Cincinnati Red second baseman Brandon Phillips after offseason acquisition Sean Rodriguez was injured in a car accident in Miami. The prospect base has improved massively and the front office deserves a lot of cred for their work.
That said, the team is not going to compete this year. They will be a pain in the neck for the Mets and Nationals because the team is pretty decent. If the Braves wanted a post-season run, they need to expect their non-Dickey/Colon/Julio Teheran rotation to step up. Mike Foltynewicz and Matt Wisler need to step up, along with Aaron Blair. The Braves have made sure that the door is still open in 2017 and 2018, so they must take advantage. As for Nick Markakis, they are going to need the years that Markakis had in Baltimore if they want a serious chance at competing. Anything like 2015 and 2016 and there is no way that offense succeeds, even with Freddie Freeman on it.
Offseason subtractions: Emmanuel Burris (signed with WAS), A.J. Ellis (signed by MIA), Severino Gonzalez (acquired by MIA on waivers), David Hernandez (signed with SF), Ryan Howard (free agent), Darin Ruf (traded to LAD)
Players who need to step up: Aaron Nola
Ryan Howard’s departure at the end of the 2016 season marked the end of the core that made up the 2008 World Series champions. (Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Carlos Ruiz) With that, the future is still the point for the Phillies. While they acquired pitcher Clay Buchholz from the Boston Red Sox, they managed to not block their starters. As a result, they have got to have Aaron Nola step up. Arguably one of the future aces of that rotation, Nola’s been unspectacular in the major leagues. There is enough trust that I would not be concerned yet.
Vince Velazquez has also got to step it up, considering he headlined the trade that sent Ken Giles to the Houston Astros. Nola did improve during the 2016 season, and there is reason to expect he will not stop. Jeremy Hellickson is destined for a deadline flip, especially after taking the qualifying offer. Adam Morgan’s career is probably over, destined for another Jonathan Pettibone.
The National League East is a different kind of beast. The Mets and the Nationals are clearly the teams to beat. They both have massive questions of their rotation, which are both injury-prone and in the latter case, depth-less. The Marlins and Braves will make sure that the Mets and Nationals earn their postseason bid. The Phillies are outright bad and just getting ready for when the future becomes reality. That said, the projected results should be:
New York Mets: 90-72
Washington Nationals: 88-74
Miami Marlins: 84-78
Atlanta Braves: 77-85
Philadelphia Phillies: 70-92