Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Evaluating the NL East

USA Today Sports Images
R.A. Dickey's trade to Toronto makes the Mets better down the road, but not in 2013.
We're roughly halfway through the offseason, and though there are still plenty of significant decisions to be made before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, most teams' rosters already resemble something close to what they will in 2013.

It's been a particularly eventful Hot Stove League so far in the NL East, with all five clubs making major moves to reshape their rosters (some for the better, some for the worse).

The Nationals, actually, have been the least active team in the division, their only big-league acquisitions so far coming in the forms of Dan Haren and Denard Span. Of course, no team in the East entered the offseason with as few question marks, who were aggressive in plugging two of their only roster holes.

The Braves and Phillies have been a bit more active, trying to make the additions that will catapult them ahead of the division's new powerhouse. The Mets and Marlins, meanwhile, have been in tear-down mode, trading away some of their most-valuable assets in an attempt to restock for the future.

With all that in mind, let's recap what each of the five NL East clubs have done so far this winter, and whether those moves have resulted in a net positive or negative...

NATIONALS
Last season: 98-64, 1st place
Additions: RHP Dan Haren, OF Denard Span
Subtractions: 1B Adam LaRoche (for now), RHP Edwin Jackson, LHP Sean Burnett, LHP Michael Gonzalez, LHP Tom Gorzelanny, LHP John Lannan, C Jesus Flores
Net result: Slight negative, though that could change if LaRoche re-signs and if Mike Rizzo is able to acquire a left-handed reliever to replace Burnett. Haren could be an upgrade over Edwin Jackson, if his back and hip truly aren't an issue. Span will be an upgrade defensively, though it's debatable whether he's an offensive upgrade over whomever he ultimately replaces in the lineup (Michael Morse or LaRoche). In the end, though, Rizzo didn't need to do very much roster tweaking. And the two biggest reasons the Nats will be an improved team in 2013 are their two young stars who will be better and will be available for a full season for the first time: Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg.

BRAVES
Last season: 94-68, 2nd place
Additions: OF B.J. Upton, RHP Jordan Walden, C Gerald Laird, INF Ramiro Pena
Subtractions: 3B Chipper Jones, OF Michael Bourn, RHP Tommy Hanson, C David Ross, 1B Eric Hinske, RHP Chad Durbin, RHP Jair Jurrjens, RHP Peter Moylan
Net result: Even. The Braves signed Upton to the biggest contract in franchise history (five years, $72.5 million) but is he an improvement over Bourn, who departed via free agency? Yes, he hits for more power and is younger, but Bourn really made that lineup click out of the leadoff spot, and his defensive in center field was second-to-none. Atlanta did add yet another impressive arm to its already-deep bullpen when it acquired Walden from the Angels. And Laird is a solid No. 2 catcher who can start early n the season if Brian McCann isn't ready to return from shoulder surgery. Like the Nats, the Braves weren't a team with a lot of holes and already had plenty of young talent. They look like they'll be right back in the thick of the race again.

PHILLIES
Last season: 81-81, 3rd place
Additions: 3B Michael Young, OF Ben Revere, LHP John Lannan, RHP Mike Adams
Subtractions: OF Juan Pierre, 3B Placido Polanco, IF Ty Wigginton, OF Nate Schierholtz, C Brian Schneider, RHP Vance Worley, RHP Jose Contreras, RHP Josh Lindblom
Net result: Slight positive. Just when you thought they had reached the end of the road and were ready to rebuild, the Phillies went on a late-season surge that convinced team officials they could make another run at it in 2013. So Ruben Amaro traded for Revere and Young, who should help boost a lineup that ranked in the middle of the pack last year. Amaro did have to give up Vance Worley in the deal to acquire Revere. Whether ex-Nat Lannan can fill that void remains to be seen. And the biggest question of them all: Whether an ever-aging roster can stay healthy enough to make it through a full season intact.

METS
Last season: 74-88, 4th place
Additions: C John Buck
Subtractions: RHP R.A. Dickey, C Josh Thole, C Mike Nickeas, RHP Mike Pelfrey, OF Andres Torres, RHP Manny Acosta, OF Scott Hairston, RHP Jon Rauch
Net result: Moderately negative. Though they forked over nine figures to keep David Wright in Flushing for the rest of his career, the Mets decided not to sign Dickey to a contract extension and instead traded the knuckleball ace to the Blue Jays for a bunch of prospects. In the long run, it was probably the smart move, and catcher Travis d'Arnaud is going to be the real deal. But he's several years away, and what remains at Citi Field is not pretty.

MARLINS
Last season: 69-93, 5th place
Additions: RHP Henderson Alvarez, OF Juan Pierre, INF Adeiny Hechavarria, C Jeff Mathis
Subtractions: SS Jose Reyes, RHP Josh Johnson, LHP Mark Buehrle, RHP Heath Bell, OF Emilio Bonifacio, C John Buck, 1B Carlos Lee, RHP Carlos Zambrano, OF Austin Kearns
Net result: Significantly negative. Seriously, look at all those names who have been subtracted from the roster. How could any team recover from that? Just like the Mets, the Marlins will be better off in the long run, and GM Larry Beinfest's track record for acquiring top-notch prospects in exchange for quality big leaguers is rock-solid. But this was a 69-win team last season despite all the talent, and it's hard to see how they'll even match that record with the club they're projected to field in 2013.

62 comments:

Tcostant said...

Besides the Phils and the Nats, who will be better if their players just have nornal health vs. last year; ever other team got worse. Maybe the Braves stayed even. The Marlins - a bad team got worse. The Mets will allow more homers from those moved in fence then they will gain also lost a great pitcher.

RaleighNat said...

No way Braves are even. They lost Chipper and Bourn while adding Upton? They have more work to do.

Still, a 3 team race that may drop to 2 depending upon whether or not the Phillis recover or continue to decline.

Faraz Shaikh said...

don't forget beachy, he was winning Cy Young before TJS. He could prove to be next year's medlen for them.

Faraz Shaikh said...

And Mets should have traded wright also. If dickey got them two good prospects, imagine what wright would have gotten in a 'no decent 3b' market.

NatsLady said...

Mark, excellent and thoughtful post. Thanks much. Difficult to imagine that the Fish or Mets will have a play this year. Fillies--difficult to say, will depend a lot on HEALTH. Atlanta--a solid team, have to feel they will be the Nat's competition in the division again this year.

Faraz Shaikh said...

I am sorry to be a pain but travis d'arnuad played in AAA last season. he might be sharing catcher duties as early as next season with buck.

JD said...


Faraz,

The Mets couldn't trade Wright and continue to sell any tickets; they had to keep their FOF. Where Alderson messed up was letting Reyes walk; he should have traded him and he could have got a lot in return.

Eugene in Oregon said...

Three quick thoughts:

Regarding the Nats: While I recognize that Denard Span doesn't replace the HR/DBL/SLG-type numbers of either Adam LaRoche or Michael Morse, presumably the goal was to provide the same sort of 'click' in the line-up that you describe Michael Bourne as having provided to Atlanta the past few seasons. Time will tell, but I like the concept.

Regarding the Braves: From what I read, the fans -- maybe not so much the team management -- think they still desperately need either a LF or a 3B (Martin Prado would then move to the other position). They have a 4th OF and back-up 3B, but not a legitimate starter (according to many of their followers).

Regarding the Phillies: To me, they are a team with several very large question marks pencilled in to starting positions. Whether Michael Young rebounds, whether Ben Revere turns into a top-flight player, whether the aging (in relative terms) starting pitchers hold up, whether Messrs. Utley and Howard have complete, productive seasons are among those questions. I'd guesstimate there's about a 40% chance the Phillies put together an excellent season, challenging for the division championship, and about a 60% chance they collapse. But I don't see them finishing at .500 again.

JD said...


IMO,

The Phills are trending down because all their core players are well past their prime and the moves they made are ok but not significant enough to make a difference; still if they manage to remain relatively healthy (big if) they should be an 85 win team.

The Braves are the main competition but they will miss Chipper greatly; Bourne for Upton may in the end be a wash and their pitching has the potential to be less effective because so many of their pitchers had exceptional years which are hard to repeat (I am not buying Beechy just yet). I think they will be hard pressed to get to 90 wins.

On the Nats I think Desmond may go backwards a bit as well as Gio. LaRoche's year will be tough to repeat either by him or by whoever replaces him but a healthy outfield of Werth, Span and especially Harper should make for it. The loss of Burnett may cost a game or 2 as well. I think the Nats will be hard pressed to get to 98 because that's a hard number to reach.

All in all if things break as they should the Nats should win the NL east comfortably.

Faraz Shaikh said...

JD, you are right. Sandy still needs to sell tickets.

anyways, i thought deferred contracts are not allowed anymore. I read in an article that mets will be paying wright in 2021-2025 when he is not under contract technically.

JD said...


BTW,

I think the Mets - Jays trade makes sense both ways. Toronto is going all out this year and are actually well positioned to win their division. It's nice to have prospects but it doesn't do you any good if you are always finishing in 4th place. KC is trying to do the same thing only they are doing it poorly IMO because they gave away a top notch prospect and I don't think they will contend.

Faraz Shaikh said...

JD, only reason Royals might be able to save face and contend is because they play in AL Central which is the weakest division in all of baseball I think. Blue Jays look set for at least couple of seasons while other powerhouses in the division have taken a step backwards. That division race should be more close next season.

regarding Lannen's contract: I am thinking he signed a one year deal with Phillies to build value. Why did he sign with Phillies to pitch in CBP half his starts? Maybe there was not as much interest in him as we thought.

Don said...

Had we done something like this last year (and maybe Zuck did, I don't remember) it would not have shown much of what the Nats did in the off-season. And it does not mean that much anyway as no one expected the Nats to have the best record in the bigs (we were still seemingly a year or two away) or for the A's to win the AL West after dumping half their club and after the Angels and Rangers bulked up. Let's see how things shake-out over hte next couple of moths and revisit this list.

Doc said...

The Braves are beating us in the bullpen, big time!

Walden adds insult to injury.

So far, Rizzo is AWOL in re-stocking the BP!

Faraz Shaikh said...

Doc, I don't think Walden adds much to Atlanta's bullpen. Even on our bullpen, he would be 4th best reliever at best behind Storen, Clippard, and Stammen.

A Strong Package for Gorse Hackage! said...

Seriously, look at all those names who have been subtracted from the roster. How could any team recover from that?

Ozzie is also gone. That's maybe ten games right there.

A Strong Package for Gorse Hackage! said...

Of course, Ozzie won't be the only one not at Miami games this season.

John C. said...

I tend to think that the Braves have held serve, and they may yet pick up an OF (Bourn? Swisher? Mark Trumbo? Dexter Fowler?). Personally I hope they pick up Fowler, since I regard him as a prime candidate to regress. The Braves take a step back on offense with Bourn and Chipper only slightly offset by Upton. But even without Hanson their rotation will have a full season of Medlen and a half season of Beachy to go with some combination of Hudson, Minor, Maholm and Teheran. No more Jair Jurrjens to kick around. And the bullpen, already very good, got even deeper with the acquisition of Jordan Walden. They are a threat to win 90+ games.

A Strong Package for Gorse Hackage! said...

So far, Rizzo is AWOL in re-stocking the BP!

It's true, he's not winning December. Yet.

John C. said...

While I like Lannan, and get why he would want arrange it so he never had to pitch against the Phillies, I think there are problems with him being in Philadelphia. He has never pitched well in CBP, and if he struggles at all the fans will be all over him. It could get ugly. Helping that along is the fact that he is a high contact, high WHIP ground ball pitcher. As it stands, Philly's defense is awful at the corners (Howard and Young), bad at second base (Utley) and merely OK at shortstop (Rollins). Low K/ground ball pitcher plus bad infield is not generally a recipe for success.

John C. said...

What is the problem with the Nats' bullpen? They could use a LHP, sure, but it's only December 17. Even with Perry and Garcia auditioning for starting roles (and its always easier to move a pitcher from the rotation to the bullpen than vice versa) they have Storen, Clippard, Stammen, Mattheus, and HRod from the right side and Zach Duke from the left side in the Gorzelanny role. And Erik Davis and Cole Kimball as potential RHRP depth to go with Perry and Garcia.

It's not as good as the Braves, sure, but right now, that's an above average bullpen. Add one decent LHRP (and they are out there) and it goes from good to very good. If that's the worst problem the Nats have, that's a very good sign.

A Strong Package for Gorse Hackage! said...

So, just curious, if they were to re-sign Gonzales, would that be enough?

NatsLady said...

John C, the problem with the Nats bullpen is people want to complain and there isn't much to complain about.

1. Rotation is set.
2. Outfield is set.
3. Infield is set, with 1B open to two good options.
4. Catcher is set.
5. Bench is set.
6. Bullpen--could use another LHP.

Eugene in Oregon said...

NatsLady,

Exactly. And I have no doubt they'll acquire another LHRP (or two or three). Over the past decade, a number of teams have proved (or, at least, demonstrated effectively) that you don't need to spend a lot of money (or contract years) on relief pitching. As I've argued before, sign a couple of LHRPs to one-year contracts, let them compete in Spring Training, and go from there.

NatsLady said...

I thought about it. And thought about it. I would like to see Adam LaRoche at first base. That is all.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

I think as a division en toto the NL East has suffered a serious downfall. Nats are easily the best. Braves are meh, IMO. Phillies could sink like a stone, showing their age every bit of the way. Mets and Marlins may just be the two worst teams in baseball. Thank god we play them 38 times.

Assuming Rizzo isn't finished, Nats will further improve. Braves just don't impress. It's a two-team race right now, and it might just be a one-team race after July 30.

Nats win by 10, breezing.

Pass the Kool-Aid, Davey.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Anybody that thinks the 25 man or the 40 man rosters will be the same on April 1st as it is today is......well....April Fools!

1 loogy and a resolution to the LaRoche/Morse issue and I'll gladly enter ST and let the chips fall where they may.

I have no doubt Rizzo has several minor irons in the fire and maybe even a shocker but for now, I'm waiting for my first Viera scouting trip around February 1st.

Alphabet Soup Erik said...

Don't forget about Bill Bray...he wouldn't have signed here if he was told that he would be in AAA. He would have gone to another team. Hope he stays healthy because I think he will be on the roster if he does. He seems like a guy that will get better with age.

JD said...


Good point Erik. I predict that Bray will make the team and have a very good year.

Theophilus T. S. said...

Weird off-season. For example, Red Sox claim they are "improved" because they added "character" players who can't hit. They may sing kumbaya in the dugout but will finish in fifth place.

In contrast, the Marlins got rid of "character" players, e.g., Johnson, Buerhle, but could well be better because of the junk and clutter they got rid of (e.g., Reyes, Bell and last mid-season Ramirez). If the young pitchers -- not discussed much in Mark's post -- prove big-league ready, Marlins could be very passable. It's very difficult to be worse than 69 wins -- I know, the Nats have done it -- but the biggest part of getting better is pitching and the Marlins may sneak up on some people w/ some good arms.

I don't think the Braves or Mets are finished. Braves have spare pitching to fill holes at 2d and 3d/lf (wherever Prado doesn' play). The parts they've added will be less significant than the ones they will fill before ST.

Joe Seamhead said...

John C said: As it stands, Philly's defense is awful at the corners (Howard and Young), bad at second base (Utley) and merely OK at shortstop (Rollins).

John,I detest the Phills, but Utley is still not chopped liver, though doubtful that he'll ever again be the beast that he once was. I still think JRoll has a great glove, and a good arm, but his range isn't what it once was. Rollins' biggest problem is between his ears, as it is a long way between them on that big head of his. I agree 100% about Howard and Young. The only thing they ever done was yesterday.

NatsJack, April Fools indeed!

Don said...

The Yanks could not defend very well for the last several years. Tex at 1B is nice, Cano only OK, but Jeter and A-Rod were like statues. The Yanks OF D was not good either. Granderson is not a true CF, Swisher's a butcher, Garner is good but hurt too much and Russel Martin at C could not throw anyone out. Yet they managed to find the playoffs a bunch. Defense is somewhat overrated. The difference between an elite defender at 3B or CF and an average one is just not that big, but the difference between an elite SS or C bat to an average one is something significant. The Phils have guys who can hit and they have guys who can pitch, which makes them a dangerous club for 2013.

John C. said...

The Yankees have recently had very good fielding teams, although last year they were not good at all. Texeira and Cano are more than solid, as are Brett Gardner and Ichiro Suzuki. Although Rodriguez was not good last year (likely due to his hip issues) his UZR was 11.0 in 2011. In 2010, the Yankees were in the top five in MLB in converting balls in play into outs (according to Baseball Prospectus).

What has enabled them to survive the lean fielding years is two things: strikeout pitchers (fewer balls in play) and LOTS of runs.

Faraz Shaikh said...

did anyone get ESPN magazine HOF issue?

baseballswami said...

Sounds like Ross and Craig have returned to us soil. Good going, guys! Anyone hear Span's interviews today? Entertaining? Boring? Is he like Gio or Jordan?

NatsLady said...

i heard Span's interview. He is funny. Colin Power checked his biceps and he is in shape.

NatsLady said...

Sorry, Colin Powell.

BigCat said...

Nats should run away with the East as long as Laroche is signed

baseballswami said...

Nats Lady - that is very funny! He will fit right in here interacting with the big wigs. Can that dugout handle him and Gio?

Gonat said...

JIM BOWDEN‏@JimBowdenESPNxm

Padres are out on Edwin Jackson after refusing to go to 4 years....destination down to Cubs and Rangers

sjm308 said...

Big Cat - if we are going to run away with the East, the difference between Morse and LaRoche can't be more than a few games if that. Why would you think LaRoche is such a key? To me the key is our starting pitching staying healthy and if that happens we will be just fine no matter who plays first base. I think you are placing way too much importance on LaRoche, or is this your way of knocking Rizzo once again?

Feel Wood said...

The Nats can win the East without LaRoche. Unleash the Beast!

Eugene in Oregon said...

Well, the Blue Jays have finally and definitively proved they're serious about going 'all in' for 2013: They have signed Ryan Langerhans and invited him to MLB camp in the Spring.

UnkyD said...

LOL!!!

peric said...

Given his decent performances (albeit with injury issues) LHRP Bill Bray should be considered an addition. Just as much as Livo (also signed to a AAA contract) was Mark?

peric said...

Marlins looking to rebuild through the draft. But it'll be a lot harder thanks to the Nats-centric new CBA draft rules.

Poor Marlins fans. Poor LoMo. Poor GianCarlo.

peric said...

Anybody that thinks the 25 man or the 40 man rosters will be the same on April 1st as it is today is......well....April Fools!

Still think Rizzo has another blockbuster up his sleeve eh? I hope you're right. I know its nigh on impossible but I was hoping that Drew's idea of lefty David Price might be it ... but I gave up on the idea after he won the Cy Young.

What can you get for Goodwin, Karns, and perhaps Garcia? Let's assume they attempt to keep Perry somehow ... add in Morse, Lombardozzi, and Moore. All three starters not bench players.

Seems like a lot of value there but maybe I'm biased.

peric said...

No way Braves are even. They lost Chipper and Bourn while adding Upton? They have more work to do.

Its a major mistake to underestimate BJ Upton in CF. Even Mark does that. If he is at his best Upton is the better fielder than Bourn Mark. Period, end of story. Then there's the offensive potential.

The Barves are no fools. Just ask Roy Clark.

peric said...

The Nats can win the East without LaRoche. Unleash the Beast!

They should be favored just for the starting pitching BUT one might choose to wait and see how Rizzo connives to put together rotation depth in AAA. That could be the key to the whole thing.

peric said...

But he's several years away, and what remains at Citi Field is not pretty.

SEVERAL? He'd be way too old for his level and looking like Michael Morse once did? ~smiles~

peric said...
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peric said...
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peric said...

I'll repeat what I said earlier. If Morse has used PEDs at all within the past seven years, he's got to be one of the most clever users in all of MLB. And seven years is more than enough time for whatever advantage he gained from that prior use to have totally worn off.

True dat, this time he lifted and did it the natural way and it probably took him to right up to joining the Nats. The time off with the shoulder injury in 2008 probably helped significantly in that regard.

If he were doping he could have suffered the string of injuries that he has but would not been as slow to recover as occurred. He would have been back a lot faster.

flynnie said...

flynnie said...

When Kurt Suzuki arrived from Oakland, his slash line was .250/.286/.536. After Davey and Exckstein shortened his swing, he went to .267/.321/.404. This when most catchers decline from being beat up in the 2d half of the season. e.g. Brian McCann. Does Davey get enough credit as a swing doctor? Isn't he responsible for teaching Mike Morse to put his hip into it, a la henry Aaron?
December 18, 2012 10:29 AM

I got the slash lines wrong, and it's important. With the A's .218/.250/.286; with the Nats .267/.321/.404. That's a significant increase in slugging %, especially for a catcher in the 2d 1/2 of the season. Davey does things no other manager does.

peric said...
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peric said...

That's a significant increase in slugging %, especially for a catcher in the 2d 1/2 of the season. Davey does things no other manager does.

Give Suzuki some credit. Athletically, he is also in great shape compared to most other major league catchers no matter what age they are at. He may not be where Pudge was at his age but he is still in excellent shape. And that is probably why they Davey has said he is the starter coming out of the box at this point in time.

Ramos needs to lose a lot of weight and gain some flexibility especially now with a permanently altered knee. Its no longer the knee made by God.

Honestly, I think Solano looks like the best bet at backup just because of the energy he showed back there. But, I guess we'll see; as NJ observed about the 25-man one could say the same about the depth chart into the minors next season I wager.

baseballswami said...

Umm- Flores is still a Nat, right? He is under team control, hasn't been traded? Maybe he actually wins the backup job if Ramos isn't ready. I have heard no talk of him regarding a trade. Good kid- would like to see him in a good situation.

Joe Seamhead said...

I thought Flores was given his unconditional release.

natsfan1a said...

I believe he was non-tendered (if that's a verb) on November 30.

Tcostant said...

Last two statements are correct; Flores is free to sign a contract with any team.

A Strong Package for Gorse Hackage! said...

That is to say, his contract was finished and they didn't offer ("tender") him a new one. He don't work here no more.

JSLSais said...

Totally agree with SJM308...."the difference between Morse and LaRoche can't be more than a few games if that. Why would you think LaRoche is such a key? To me the key is our starting pitching staying healthy and if that happens we will be just fine no matter who plays first base. I think you are placing way too much importance on LaRoche..."

Don't understand this love affair with LaRoche. He had one good year, that is it. There is no consistency with LaRoche in terms of a very good player. He is 33 yrs old, prone to injury. He is a much better defender than Morse but the difference between 31 and 33 is like aging in dog years. Mark my word, LaRoche won't be able to duplicate his numbers because he isn't that good. I hope he signs someplace else. We need a power bat because the guy replacing Morse is not a power guy and what ailed us last year was OFFENSE!

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