The Nationals are the World Series contender in this bunch. Washington was regarded as the team to beat last season, and although they were, GM Mike Rizzo went out and bought himself Max Scherzer, making them even more the team to beat. Bryce Harper had an interesting take on the Scherzer signing, asking, "Where's my ring?" after finding out his club signed the ace righty.
The Nationals have only been a team since 2005 and made their second playoff appearance in 2014. Quickly, however, their season was over. The San Francisco Giants came in and beat the Nationals in two straight, including the longest postseason game in MLB history, a six-hour, 23-minute, 18 inning Game 2. The Nationals came back to win Game 3, but were eliminated in a 3-2 loss in Game 4 in San Francisco. After being the best team in baseball in 162 games, Washington was eliminated in just four.
Mike Rizzo went out and got himself Max Scherzer this offseason, signing him to a seven-season, $210 million deal, with half of the guarantee in deferred money, meaning that Scherzer will make $15 million over 14 seasons, even after becoming a free agent. Rizzo did lose the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera out at second base and Adam LaRoche out at first. The Nationals will shift Anthony Rendon to third and Ryan Zimmerman to first (so he'll be less injury prone) and acquired Yunel Escobar from the A's for Tyler Clippard. The Nationals are stacked all over the diamond and there is absolutely no reason to believe why they won't go deep into the playoffs with a rotation of Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Doug Fister, and Gio Gonzalez, with Tanner Roark moving to the bullpen.
When the Marlins made outfielder Giancarlo Stanton the richest player to ever play the sport, they promised to him that they are no longer rebuilding and are ready to take the next step toward contention. Stanton's huge $325 million deal was a big step towards that goal, but they solidified their intentions with the rest of their offseason. The Marlins have a solid and young team that could be a surprise in 2015, similarly to how the Royals had a solid and relatively young team that was a surprise in 2014. The Marlins improved by 15 wins from 2013 to 2014 and should have a similar improvement in 2015.
The Marlins main production last season came from their outfield corps, one that is among the best in baseball. Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna play alongside the monster in Stanton, and they hit for not too shabby .764 and .772 OPSs, respectively. At just a respective 22- and 23-years-old, Yelich and Ozuna are getting ready to take a big step into the limelight alongside Stanton in 2015.
This offseason, the front office went out and got the likes of Mike Morse, Dee Gordon, Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Ichiro Suzuki, and Martin Prado to add to their young core. They will also be getting Jose Fernandez back at some point during the course of the season, which is a real upgrade to their rotation that is already a great one with Henderson Alvarez, Jarred Cosart, Haren, and Latos. The Marlins will likely not be able to compete with the Nationals, who should run away with the division pretty easily, but this is a team that just finished 11 games out of a Wild Card last season. This type of improvement from them should make them serious playoff contenders in 2015, perhaps allowing them to sneak in for the first time since they won the World Series in 2003.
The Mets' improvement should not be as drastic as the Marlins, as they are still likely a year or two behind them in terms of development of their top prospects. While Miami has Yelich, Ozuna, and their shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria already in the big leagues, the Mets' best young players still reside in the minor leagues. The 2015 season should be one where they bring some of those young players into the Major Leagues for the first time and see some serious development. The Mets best years are still ahead of them, as we could see New York's National League team the playoffs as soon as 2016.
The 2014 Mets were a team that saw their best offensive performer be Lucas Duda, who posted a 137 OPS+ in 596 plate appearances. Other than that, the Mets offense was quite mediocre from an OPS+ standpoint. Jacob deGrom was the big story of the Mets last season. The 26-year-old starter went 9-6 with a 2.69 ERA, en route to the National League Rookie of the Year award. He was one of the few bright spots from the team in 2014.
This season, the Mets will get the addition of Michael Cuddyer to their outfield, who is a former batting champion while with the Rockies. He won't be the only big storyline for their team, as Matt Harvey, who sat out all of last season with Tommy John surgery, will return to the team and their rotation. Then, they've got Noah Syndergaard, still one of the best pitching prospects in baseball, with the opportunity to be in a Met uniform at some time this year. The Mets are improving and are getting themselves toward contention. This year represents a big year for growth for the team.
The Braves 2015 roster is so different that closer Craig Kimbrel made up t-shirts that had "hello my name is..." on them. Three of their starting nine and two members of their rotation last season are no longer with the team, either through trade or pursuing different opportunities via free agency. The Braves are rebuilding and are on the way down. They have a new stadium set to be completed in 2017, so that is the year they are shooting for to be contenders again.
The Braves finished tied for second in the National League East last season, even though they posted their worst record since 2008, when they finished with 72 wins. The Braves had built themselves into a constant winner. Last season, it was evident from the start that the team wasn't going to contend, with Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy both biting the Tommy John bug in Spring Training. Instead of getting them both back this year, Medlen nor Beachy were tendered contracts. Medlen is now a member of the Kansas City Royals, and Beachy is now a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Braves did a lot this offseason to continue their rebuilding project. They traded Justin Upton to the Padres, Jason Heyward to the Cardinals, while not re-signing Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang, who are now with the Twins and Phillies, respectively. The Braves rotation looks like this: Julio Teheran, Alex Wood, Shelby Miller (acquired in Heyward trade), Mike Minor, and Eric Stults. The Braves did add outfielders Eric Young Jr. and Nick Markakis to their club as free agent signings, but even still it's between them and the Phillies in the race for last place.
The Phillies have not lost 100 games since 1961 and before that 1945. Philadelphia is in for a historic season from their baseball team and not in a good way. I picked the Phillies to finish second in the division last season, even though all the other experts felt differently, and now I have learned not to believe the talk that "they can sneak in and win a Wild Card." The only good, truthful quotes out of Philadelphia this offseason were when team president Pat Gillick said that the team won't contend until 2017 and GM Ruben Amaro Jr. said that the Phillies were better without first baseman Ryan Howard than they are with him. Philadelphia is ready to rebuild and there is no hiding that.
Over the past two years, the Phillies have finished with 73 wins and 73 wins. Last season, the Phillies tried to piece together some aging free agents in order to make one last run at contention. They signed Marlon Byrd to a two-year pact, A.J. Burnett to a one-year deal with an option, and Roberto Hernandez to a one-year deal. They saw their veterans buckle down once again, which was the furthest thing from unexpected. The Phillies dealt Hernandez at the Trade Deadline and prepared for an offseason of moves.
This offseason, Phillies fans were aghast when they saw their team deal Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers for prospects. Then, the team moved Marlon Byrd to Cincinnati. Now, the Phillies could deal Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels at some point this season, which would bring in a massive haul. Jonathan Papelbon could also be trade bait, however, they have to find a team willing to take his salary. The team has a young bullpen, but other than that Phillies fans have to be looking for development from top prospects Aaron Nola and Maikel Franco in 2015, hoping that contention comes sooner rather than later.