NL East Preview

This week the guys focus on the five teams in the NL East. In case you missed it, here’s everything you need to know about the AL EastAL Central, and AL West heading into this season.

Washington Nationals

Key Offseason Moves:

Lost Wilson Ramos and Mark Melancon to Free Agency

Traded for C Derek Norris from the San Diego Padres

Acquired OF Adam Eaton for Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning

Traded 2B Danny Espinosa to LA Angels for Kyle McGowin and Austin Adams

Signed C Matt Weiters to 2 year deal.

Signed 1B Adam Lind

Signed RP Joe Blanton

Season Outlook:

The story of the Nationals off-season was their mega deal to acquire 5 years of Adam Eaton for 2 top pitching prospects and a 2016 1st round pick. The national media immediately killed them for the trade saying they overpaid, but only time will tell. In the now, Eaton is an established MLB star that will have every chance to prove he is the CF he says he is. If he gets anywhere near his 6 win output of last year then look out for this Nationals team. In a corresponding move, emerging stud Trea Turner was shifted back to SS, and Danny Espinosa was sent to California. These moves together will be a major dent in the already weak Nationals defense, but boy this offense might be special. All world mashers Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy are back in the 3-4 hole and Anthony Rendon is manning the hot corner, making this Nationals lineup’s first 5 the best in baseball. If they get league average seasons from Matt Weiters. Jayson Werth or Ryan Zimmerman they will challenge the Cubs for the NL’s best offense. The Nationals also promise to have some solid depth, with solid MLB contributors Derek Norris, Adam Lind, Stephen Drew and Clint Robinson coming off the bench. There is little doubt this is a scary Nationals offense.

The Nationals made it very clear they weren’t against upgrading their rotation in a major way this winter, attempting to package their top 2 prospects+ more to swing a Chris Sale deal. It fell through, and they instead went for Adam Eaton and made no real upgrade to their rotation. That’s not to say this is a bad rotation though. Few teams can match the 1-2 punch of Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg, as both are clear #1 guys when on. Strasburg’s health is a real concern at this point, counting on him for a full season and the playoffs just isn’t rational. The back end of the National’s rotation isn’t filled with difference makers, but the combination of Joe Ross, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark is pretty terrific depth. The Nationals will have one of the best starting rotations in the NL, and one of the best offenses as well, so where’s the weakness?

The Bullpen SUCKS. Last years closer Mark Melancon is in San Fransisco and they struck out chasing Kenley Jansen, leaving them with nothing at closer. The David Robertson->Washington rumors haven’t slowed down all spring, but at this point if they were going to do it you would think they already would have. Joe Blanton was a nice late addition, but he’s a guy suited for the 7th inning not bottom 8 two runners on 1 out (Nobody besides Andrew Miller is “suited” for that). More likely they will be shopping heavily at the deadline looking for impact arms. Until then, the 9th inning is Shawn Kelly‘s (!!). I’m not even a traditional “closers” guy, but there isn’t a single “fire extinguisher” type in the bullpen. Most contenders have one. Simply put, this bullpen needs upgrading come August or the Nats have no shot at a World Series title. Just trade for David Robertson already.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Trea Turner, SS
  2. Adam Eaton, CF
  3. Daniel Murphy, 2B
  4. Bryce Harper, RF
  5. Anthony Rendon, 3B
  6. Jayson Werth, LF
  7. Ryan Zimmerman/Adam Lind, 1B
  8. Matt Weiters, C
  9. Max Scherzer, P

Starting Rotation

  1. Max Scherzer
  2. Steven Strasburg
  3. Tanner Roark
  4. Joe Ross
  5. Gio Gonzalez

Charlie Wooding

Mets

Key Offseason Moves:

Re-signed Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker

Lost Bartolo Colon and Kelly Johnson to free agency

Season Outlook:

Count 2016 as another shoulda-woulda-coulda season for the Mets after a heartbreaking loss in the NL Wild Card game put an end to their short-lived postseason run. Injuries decimated New York’s talented roster throughout the season, yet the Metropolitans fought their way to 87 wins and a second-place finish in the division. After a slow offseason limited to the re-signings of Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker, GM Sandy Alderson is betting that big comeback seasons from several of last year’s casualties will be enough to get New York over the hump.

The Mets’ offense was average at best in 2016, ranking 26th in the league in runs, 25th in batting average, and 17th in OPS. Part of the offensive anemia was attributable to the number of injuries incurred throughout the lineup. (Keep in mind that 35-year-old Curtis Granderson played the most games of any Met last year, logging 150 contests on the season.) The days of relying on David Wright are long gone, as the third baseman recently experienced yet another setback in his recovery from back, neck, and shoulder injuries. Despite a strained calf that cost him part of the second half, Cespedes still managed to end the season with 31 HR and 86 RBI. With the rest of their offense producing the way it did in 2016, the Mets had no choice but to re-sign the Cuban star to a 4-year, $110 million deal.

New York’s lineup doesn’t project to surround Cespedes with much help on the offensive side of the ball. Jose Reyes slides over to third in Wright’s absence but is nowhere close to being the dynamic spark plug he once was at the top of the order. Despite posting his most triples (5) and home runs (30) since his last All-Star season in 2012, Curtis Granderson only drove in 59 runs last year. Expecting the outfielder to replicate those power numbers as he approaches his 36th birthday is unreasonable. Deadline acquisition Jay Bruce was dreadful through August and much of September, hitting only .174 in his first 42 games with the team. Failing to provide the offensive spark Alderson envisioned when dealing for the 29-year-old, Bruce also negatively impacted the Mets’ outfield defense by pushing Granderson (with defensive ratings worthy of a corner outfield spot) back over to center. Gold Glove centerfielder Juan Lagares is currently the odd man out of the starting outfield rotation. Manager Terry Collins must figure out a way to balance the defensive dilemma Bruce’s presence creates with his potential offensive production. 

Much has been made of the injuries that plagued the Mets’ talented rotation last year. Matt Harvey looks to regain ace status after being shut down with thoracic outlet syndrome last year. Jacob deGrom also enters the spring recovering from surgery on the ulnar nerve in his throwing arm. Noah Syndergaard is healthy after battling a bone spur in his elbow for much of the year, while Steven Matz looks to have healed after his season ended early with surgery to remove his own bone spur. Highly-regarded prospect Zack Wheeler continues to rehab from from his 2015 Tommy John surgery. While the list of injuries goes on, the story remains the same. When this group is healthy, they are the best rotation in baseball. When they’re not, the Mets’ postseason hopes are in trouble.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Jose Reyes, 3B
  2. Curtis Granderson, CF
  3. Yoenis Cespedes, LF
  4. Jay Bruce, RF
  5. Neil Walker, 2B
  6. Lucas Duda, 1B
  7. Asdrubal Cabrera, SS
  8. Travis d’Arnaud, C
  9. Pitcher Spot

Pitching Staff

  1. Noah Syndergaard
  2. Jacob deGrom
  3. Steven Matz
  4. Matt Harvey
  5. Robert Gsellman/Zack Wheeler

John Hayes

Philadelphia Phillies

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Joaquin Benoit and Michael Saunders to one-year deals

Acquired Clay Buchholz from the Red Sox for Josh Tobias

Acquired Howie Kendrick from the Dodgers for Darin Ruf and Darnell Sweeney

Acquired Pat Neshek from the Astros for cash/PTBN

Season Outlook:

Were the Phillies’ offseason moves flashy?  Absolutely not…but they were the right ones.  After waiting it out far too long, the Ryan Howard saga is officially over in Philadelphia.  Young slugger, Tommy Joseph will now get his chance at first base to complement an already power-heavy heart of the order with Maikel Franco and recently acquired Michael Saunders.  Howie Kendrick also provides an experienced #2 hitter. But, I will make absolutely no promises that Kendrick, with his regressing abilities, is the right man for this role.

On the other side of things, the Phillies acquired two solid veteran relievers in Benoit and Neshek.  While I am not particularly crazy about the Buchholz trade, at worst it is a solid long-reliever coming out of the bullpen to not over-throw the young arms at the top of the rotation.  At best, Clay Buchholz wins 10-15 games as a#5 starter and finally earns his ridiculous contract.  Either way, I really like the upside of both Aaron Nola and Vince Velasquez moving forward.  I think they can both be very solid starters in the middle of the rotation.  I’m a little more bearish on Eickhoff than most, but he certainly could be a pleasant surprise as well.

Also, much like the Atlanta Braves, let’s take a moment to reflect on what the Phillies may look like in the near future. J.P. Crawford, #6 prospect in baseball, is another young shortstop who will be a rock solid defender with an above average contact bat and may be ready this year.  Mickey Moniak, #19, will take time to develop but looks like a great centerfielder with an above average bat, plus speed and an above average glove and arm.  Jorge Alfaro, #72, has serious pop in his bat and a cannon to go along with it from behind the dish and could be ready this year as well.  Sixto Sanchez will take time to develop control but is an absolute flame-thrower.

The Phillies certainly are still at least a few years away from actually being in the NL East Division Champion conversation, but this offseason was a large step in the right direction.  The team is no longer afraid of change and is in full rebuild mode.  If the Phillies can keep this momentum going, hopefully they will be able to organically grow talent within the organization.  My one concern is that unlike other re-building teams in the MLB, the Phillies really do not have any assets to trade with very few veteran players on this team.  Giving its youth a chance to play at the MLB level will undoubtedly spur development, but it may make 2017 fairly painful to watch at times.  Finding the balance between selling seats by promoting prospects and allowing players to develop for long-term success will be key.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B
  2. Howie Kendrick, OF
  3. Odubel Herrera, OF
  4. Maikel Franco, 3B
  5. Tommy Joseph, 1B
  6. Michael Saunders, OF
  7. Freddy Galvis, SS
  8. Cameron Rupp, C
  9. Pitcher Spot

Pitching Staff

  1. Jerad Eickhoff
  2. Aaron Nola
  3. Jeremy Hellickson
  4. Vincent Velasquez
  5. Clay Buchholz

Steve Campbell

Marlins

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Edinson Volquez for 2 years, $22 million

Signed Brad Ziegler for 2 years, $16 million

Lost Fernando Rodney to free agency

Season Outlook:

2016 was a difficult and emotional year for the Florida Marlins. The loss of Jose Fernandez left an unspeakably large hole in the fabric of an organization that has persevered in the face of uncooperative -if not negligent – ownership. Perhaps seeing the impact of Fernandez’s tragic death on his team and the Miami community provoked owner Jeffrey Loria to finally put the team up for sale. Perhaps he finally saw that the players and the fans deserved better.

On the field, things look slightly better than they did for most of last season. The offense should be more consistent with Dee Gordon back for a full season after his suspension. Gordon looks to continue right where he left off before MLB’s drug testers caught him red-handed, setting the table for the run-producers behind him. Martin Prado and Christian Yelich provide consistency getting on base, which certainly bodes well for Giancarlo Stanton‘s numbers. After dealing with a variety of injuries last year, Stanton may very well post a 35 HR, 100 RBI season if he remains healthy. Protecting Stanton is the job of Marcell Ozuna, who looks to build on his .266/23 HR/76 RBI line from last year. If Justin Bour and J.T. Realmuto provide the same pop at the bottom of the lineup that they did in 2016, the Marlins’ offense will trail only the Nationals’ in the East.

The pitching is a different story. The rotation was already the weakness of last year’s team before the September passing of Fernandez left Miami without a leader and an ace. While the Marlins continue to lack a dominant starter, the additions of Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily should help the staff with consistency and innings. The 2-year, $22 million deal given to Volquez may be the steal of the offseason if the 33-year-old can put last season behind him and return to his 2014/2015 form. Straily has the potential to become a solid number 3 starter if he can build on his success with the Reds from last year. Without any sure things in the rotation, don’t be surprised if the Marlins are active in the trade market for starting pitching throughout the season if they’re in the hunt for a wild card spot.

The bullpen is nothing to write home about, as Brad Ziegler and Junichi Tazawa replace the departing Fernando Rodney and Mike Dunn. The Marlins unfortunately don’t have much young pitching talent in the pipeline, either, as MLB.com Top 100 Prospect Braxton Garrett isn’t close to the Major Leagues after being selected in the first round of the 2016 draft. Manager Don Mattingly will have his hands full once again trying to manage a bullpen without any true shutdown relievers besides closer A.J. Ramos.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Dee Gordon, 2B
  2. Martin Prado, 3B
  3. Giancarlo Stanton, RF
  4. Christian Yelich, LF
  5. Marcell Ozuna, CF
  6. Justin Bour, 1B
  7. J.T. Realmuto, C
  8. Adeiny Hechavarria, SS
  9. Pitcher Spot

Pitching Staff

  1. Wei-Yin Chen
  2. Edinson Volquez
  3. Tom Koehler
  4. Dan Straily
  5. Adam Conley

John Hayes

Atlanta Braves

Key Offseason Moves:

Signed Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey to one-year deals

Acquired Jaime Garcia from the Cardinals for prospects

Signed Sean Rodriguez to two-year deal

Traded for 2B Brandon Phillips 

Season Outlook:

After a rough start, the Atlanta Braves had a surprisingly solid year.  68 wins may not look great; but when you consider the fact that the Braves played over .500 ball after the All-Star break, that’s definitely a step in the right direction as the team prepares for its move into SunTrust Park.  The Braves flew under the radar in the second half of 2016, as they were among the best in baseball on the offensive end.

While 2017 does not promise playoff hopes, let alone a .500 record, it will certainly provide hope to fans and ownership as the team moves forward.  Ender Inciarte is a legitimate gold glove centerfielder and can really hit.  Arizona is having nightmares thinking about how it traded a future everyday shortstop in Dansby Swanson for Shelby Miller.  Freddie Freeman is finally ready to step into the spotlight as a potential star in the MLB.  Now all that is left to do is get some more help for Julio Teheran in the rotation.

With GM John Coppolella’s recent track record, I like Atlanta’s chances of accomplishing that. While some people have been scratching their heads regarding the Colon and Dickey signings, I think that those are solid low risk, high reward moves.  Let’s be honest, the Braves are simply not ready to compete this year.   So, paying $20 million for a couple of 40+ year-old pitchers who will sell some tickets.  Colon is known to be a great mentor, as shown by the Mets young pitchers’ affinity for him.  Plus, if Colon has a solid campaign through the all-star break, I could easily see him being dealt to contender seeking help in the back of the rotation.

Oh, and did I mention the Braves farm system?  Ozzie Albes, currently ranked #10, is a very solid MIF prospect who will hit for great contact and speed and play as an above average second-baseman.  With Swanson and Albes up the middle for a good time to come, the Braves will have one of the youngest and most solid double-play combos in the game.  Kolby Allard, Mike Soroka, Sean Newcomb and Ian Anderson, #53, 78, 80 and 86 respectively, will undoubtedly take at least a year or two longer to develop.  But, if even just two of these young pitching prospects pan out for the Braves, these arms combined with the young lineup core could be dangerous.

Again, don’t expect much from the Braves in 2017, but just know that they could easily become a fixture atop the NL East in the near future if Coppolella plays his cards right and if recently promoted manager Brian Snitker can inspire his team, especially starting with its youth.

Projected Opening Day Lineup:

  1. Ender Inciarte, OF
  2. Adonis Garcia, 3B
  3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  4. Matt Kemp, OF
  5. Brandon Phillips, 2B
  6. Nick Markakis, OF
  7. Dansby Swanson, SS
  8. Tyler Flowers, C
  9. Pitcher Spot

Pitching Staff

  1. Julio Teheran
  2. Bartolo Colon
  3. Jaime Garcia
  4. Mike Foltynewicz
  5. R.A. Dickey

Steve Campbell

Predictions

Steve

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

Hayes

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets
  3. Miami Marlins
  4. Atlanta Braves
  5. Philadelphia Phillies

Wooding

  1. Washington Nationals
  2. New York Mets (WC)
  3. Philadelphia Phillies
  4. Miami Marlins
  5. Atlanta Braves

Bold Prediction

Steve: Zack Wheeler will be lights out when he does get the ball under a strict pitch and innings count, posting an ERA of 3.25 or lower and a WHIP under 1.2.

Hayes: The Braves will be one of the hottest teams in the first half of the season. This young roster will eventually come back to earth. The lack of pitching depth will begin to show. But for at least a few months, the rebuilding Braves will show a spark that Atlanta has lacked for quite some time.

Wooding: Bryce Harper goes 40 HR’s-120 RBI’s. With Anthony Rendon behind him to cut down on the Joe Maddon treatment, and 3 all-star caliber bats in front of him, a finally healthy Bryce Harper explodes in a major way this year.

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