Now, we’re moving on to the National League. This first NL preview will take a look at the East division, a division thoroughly dominated by the Phillies and Braves. While the Phillies reached the NLCS last year, it will probably be the Braves that will emerge as the team in the NL East over the next 3 to 5 years, as the Phillies are long in the tooth and low on prospects; indeed, their run is coming to an end. Odds and bets are taken from Bodog.
Odds of Winning World Series: 13/4
Odds of Winning NL Pennant: 8/5
Odds of Winning NL East: -325
2010: 97-65, 1st in NL East
For a team that came up short in the NLCS, things probably couldn’t be any bleaker than they are for the Phillies. They have the oldest team in baseball. Their 31.8 year age average for the lineup and 31.1 year age average for the pitching staff are the highest in baseball, by a relatively decent margin.
That’s not to say scouting director Chuck LaMar has done a bad job at the minor league level, though. LaMar tends to draft athleticism over coordinated talent, but it has worked out well so far and they have five solid prospects (Johnathan Singleton, Jarred Cosart, Brody Colvin, Jesse Biddle and Jiwan James) that could all end up bringing big contributions, but for right now the Phillies must focus primarily on winning with their aging lineup that they have, while slowly filtering in the youngsters over the next few years.
The real problem for the Phillies is that after 2012, Ryan Howard begins making in excess of $25 million and Shane Victorino and Cole Hamels become free agents. At that point, Philadelphia will have the funds to re-sign them, but it will definitely push the pay roll towards the high end of the spectrum that they can afford. With an extremely supportive fan base, they have sold out 123 home games in a row and enthusiasm is high.
The Phillies ranked top 5 in three different offensive categories (Pythagorian, True Batting Average, FRA) while maintaining the 4th highest payroll in the league. Given the talent rich nature of the Phillies, they should be able to maintain a high level of competitive play for at least 3 more seasons. The hope is that after those 3 seasons elapse, enough of their prospects will have developed into major league starters. For now, the Phillies must simply focus on winning while their core is in the end of their prime.
Odds of Winning World Series: 25/1
Odds of Winning NL Pennant: 11/1
Odds of Winning NL East: +375
2010: 91-71, 2nd in NL East
Bobby Cox, the demigod of Atlanta Braves baseball, walked away from baseball, but not without building one of the best farm systems and collection of young major league talent in the league. The Braves committed to under 30 players such as Brian McCann, Martin Prado, Eric O’Flaherty, Tommy Hanson, and Omar Infante, and Jair Jurrjens. Cox’s brilliance turned players such as Jason Heyward, Jonny Venters, and Kris Medlen (before the injury of course) in to stars and he also made starting pitchers out of Mike Minor, Craig Kimbrel, Michael Dunn, and Brandon Beachy.
The result of Bobby Cox’s player development is that Atlanta could possibly set themselves up a dynasty that will long outlast the other clubs in the majors. Their balance of experience and youth is difficult to create and as long as they are willing to pay their star youngsters when they reach arbitration, the Braves are going to be very good for a very long time.
Chipper Jones continues to plug away and is still a viable offensive option, despite coming up on 40 years of age. Like Ken Griffey Jr, his early arrival in the majors has rendered his knees and ankles with a lot of milage on them. It hasn’t been without negative consequences as Chipper fought with a torn left ACL. If Jones can continue to last a few more seasons playing third base, it will enable the Braves to keep Pardo in left field. Even so, Chipper Jones leaves some to be desired defensively and Uggla is not quite the defensive demon that he needs to be to take his game to the next level, either. Despite the defensive shortcoming sof Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla, the Braves are still left with one of the better offensive infield tandems due to their strong batting. Uggla hit .306/.408/.575 in 2010 and should produce similar stats this season.
The Braves pitching staff is solid, but unremarkable. The potential to be much better is there, however. The young pitchers in the majors as well as a few minor league prospects have left the Braves with a bright future. And Bobby Cox is a large reason why.
Odds of Winning World Series: 40/1
Odds of Winning NL Pennant: 20/1
Odds of Winning NL East: +900
2010: 80-82, 3rd in NL East
The Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria has done his best over the franchise’s history to save money, but it may end up being his dishonesty to the public that is his undoing. By giving false information regarding the team’s profit, he was able to dupe the city of Miami into building a new stadium for the Marlins. Now he has to rely on those same tax payers that were lied to filling the seats of his new stadium. Good luck with that.
The Marlins, for all the off field trash that their owner has heaped upon them, have two of the best young talents in baseball in Hanley Ramirez and Josh Johnson, but what good is it to field a mediocre team with a couple of great talents if people aren’t going to come out and see the team? The Marlins have continually ranked last in the league in attendance and until the new stadium is built, that won’t be alleviated, if it even is then.
The one thing the Marlins HAVE spent money on is player development. They rank as the industry leader according to some sources, and the effort has paid off well. The Marlins have a deep stock of infield talent that is going to be able to make their current veterans expendable. Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, and Logan Morrison will set the Marlins’ infield up nicely for years to come. Omar Infante was also a nice piece when acquired with Michael Dunn in the trade that gave up Dan Uggla. With Uggla’s replacements firmly in tact at the major league level, it made little sense to continue to use the 31 year old Uggla whose decline is imminent.
Given the strength of a patchwork bullpen and strong overall pitching, the Marlins have the offense and defense in tact that will be required to make a post season appearance and they have a legitimate shot at doing so, for sure. The problem remains, unfortunately, in the question “Will anyone in South Florida even care?”
New York Mets
Odds of Winning World Series: 40/1
Odds of Winning NL Pennant: 22/1
Odds of Winning NL East: +1600
2010: 79-83, 4th in NL East
The Mets are solid and tangible proof that spending money does not necessarily ensure victories and post season appearances. Former GM Omar Minaya spent money judiciously on players that were playing well and worth a lot, but were not by any means bargains, nor the type of players that would ensure the franchise’s continued success, given the age of the players. These players of course were second stinters Luis Castillo and Oliver Perez and free agent signees such as Francisco Rodriguez, who is signed for far too much and far too long than he should be.
For all Minaya did, there’s really only two acquisitions that made sense and were solid moves – the acquisition of Johan Santana and the trade for Carlos Delgado. Both were and still are top talents in baseball, but the team’s inferior coaching led to a number of odd scenarios, especially in the scripted batting order which did not feature an order that made sense, but rather one scripted by position. Manager Jerry Manuel was just employing a system that made little to no sense, and probably doing it out of “tradition,” or the way he believed a manager should coach.
The Mets have done just about everything the could to mold their team to their home stadium, and they have failed miserably. Despite having a lineup that could produce a lot of run production through home runs, management has no intention to move in the long fences and the team’s poor fielding doesn’t play to their advantage either given the fact they play in a pitcher’s ball park.
The Mets seem to be in suspended animation. They have a few good prospects in the wings (Jenrry Mejia and Ruben Tejada specifically and for two examples), but they are going to take their time developing them while they wait on $120 million dollars in contracts to expire in 2012. Following those contracts expiring, the team will begin to reevaluate and monitor existing young free agents by which they can shape their future fortunes. As for now, however, the Mets are highly unlikely to form any kind of contending run and seem destined for another season that hovers around the .500 mark.
Odds of Winning World Series: 80/1
Odds of Winning NL Pennant: 40/1
Odds of Winning NL East: +3000
2010: 69-93, Last (5th) in NL East
The Nationals have yet to become a relevant MLB team, but that statement might not hold true after this season, or possibly next. Armed with two blue chip pitching prospects, Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasberg, though both coming off injury, the Nats are sure to have one of the strongest rotations in the majors if both pan out and recover perfectly from their injuries (though this is obviously a dubious proposition).
The Nationals were able to avoid a second 100 loss season and the reason could mostly be attributed to having a very strong bullpen. The bullpen went from a -54.3 Adjusted Runs Prevented in 2009 to a much more respectable +43.6 in 2010, which is about a 10 win swing in itself. Indeed, the bullpen brought the status of the National’s prospects from hopeless to hopeful, and after the young arms are integrated properly with the current staff, the Nats should have one of the strongest pitching teams in the majors — or so goes the plan.
The Nationals are currently trying to model themselves after the turn-around Tigers, who were one of baseball’s worst The Nationals are currently trying to model themselves after the turn-around Tigers, who were one of baseball’s worst team ever in the early 2000s, but since 2006 have had a 95 win pennant season. It shows and provides hope for the Nationals that turnarounds of that nature are possible, if not even probable. The commitment towards developing their young players and emphasis on a strong farm system has enabled the Nats to acquire a low payroll high payout team. While there may be no reason to place even the most speculative bet on their chances of winning a pennant or even a division title right now, in a couple of seasons a bet might not be unjustified nor impossible.