It is officially six weeks away from baseball season. Pitchers and catchers began reporting for Spring Training earlier this week. Now, it is time for my divisional previews, with a new one coming out every Saturday leading up to the 2016 season. Today, I begin with the National League East.
1. Washington Nationals -- 2015 record: 83-79; Projection: 91-71
The best move the Nationals made this offseason was the hiring of Dusty Baker. Baker gives the team an identity. This is something that the Nationals lacked with Matt Williams, and the team crumbled down the stretch. With Baker, I expect the Nationals' chemistry to be improved. And with all the talent on their roster, including reigning NL MVP Bryce Harper, there is no reason to believe why they can't win the division.
Washington had something of a modest offseason but made a few key moves. I really liked the acquisition of Ben Revere. He will give them a presence at the top of the lineup that they truly missed all of last season. Revere is a catalyst and should steal plenty of bases in D.C., while playing a very good center field.
The pitching staff took more of a hit this offseason with the loss of Jordan Zimmermann to the Tigers. Now at the back-end of their rotation is Tanner Roark and Joe Ross, the latter of which posted a 3.64 ERA and a 3.42 FIP in 76 2/3 innings pitched last season. I am expecting the Nationals' pitching staff to hold up, which in turn should lead them to the National League East crown.
2. New York Mets -- 2015 Record: 90-72; Projection: 88-74
The Mets are going to take a small step back this year. Their lineup is not as deep as it was at the end of last season, when they made the run into October, winning the National League. The big offseason move for them was the re-signing of Yoenis Cespedes. Without Cespedes, the Mets' lineup could be an even bigger issue, as they were one of the worst offensive teams in baseball last season before their trade deadline acquisition of the Cuban outfielder.
The loss of Daniel Murphy is going to hurt the Mets more than they thought. Replacing him is Neil Walker, who they got in a trade from the Pirates for Jon Niese. I liked the move, but Murphy has slightly more offensive upside than Walker, posting a .770 OPS to a .756 OPS last season. Walker now heads to an even more extreme pitcher's park at Citi Field, while Murphy heads to a hitter's park out at Nationals Park. Lastly, the Mets cannot expect Cespedes or Michael Conforto to be as good over a full season as they were down the stretch last year.
On the other side of the ball, I love the Mets pitching staff. The only addition they made to it this offseason was the signing of Antonio Bastardo, who is a good seventh or eighth inning guy. Their starting rotation is amongst the best in baseball, boasting the likes of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Bartolo Colon. It will be hard to take two of three from the Mets, but the way to do it is to out-hit them. And that can be done.
3. Miami Marlins -- 2015 Record: 71-91; Projection: 78-84
Every year I look at the Marlins roster and wonder why this team isn't better than they are. They have some of the most exciting young talent in the Majors in Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, Dee Gordon, Marcell Ozuna, and Jose Fernandez. But yet this team continues to underperform year after year. So, I can't expect big things out of the Marlins anymore.
If there's one thing that is in their favor, it is the fact that they hired Don Mattingly to be their new manager. Mattingly has experience working with tough personalities in Los Angeles, notably Zack Greinke and Yasiel Puig. The Dodgers never went deep into the postseason, but Mattingly was the glue that held them together. In Miami, he will be expected to do the same.
How do the Marlins succeed this year? They need their rotation to come through. The team added Wei-Yin Chen during the offseason, but Jarred Cosart (4.52 ERA), Tom Koehler (4.08 ERA), and Edwin Jackson (3.07 ERA; no starts) to step it up. If they can, the Marlins might be able to surprise some people this year. But I wouldn't expect it.
4. Philadelphia Phillies -- 2015 Record: 63-99; Projection: 66-96
The Phillies will still be bad in 2016, but they won't be as bad as the Atlanta Braves. Philadelphia's rebuild is still in full swing, and the team should not be projected to do anything special this season other than perhaps see their top prospects begin to make their Major League debuts.
This offseason, the Phillies added three underrated pieces: Jeremy Hellickson, Charlie Morton, and David Hernandez. They aren't going to help the team during their next contending phase, but could be dangled as trade pieces at the deadline if they prove valuable. More notably, they subtracted hard-throwing closer Ken Giles to net them four prospects.
This is the first offseason for Philadelphia without Ruben Amaro Jr. since 2007-2008. Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak have done a solid job thus far as they look to make the Phillies more analytically-friendly and rebuild their core. In 2016, the Phillies may be a bit improved, but the will still be among the worst in the Major Leagues.
5. Atlanta Braves -- 2015 Record: 67-95; Projection: 62-100
The Braves, like the Phillies, are in the midst of a big rebuilding phase. This season will probably be a lost year too. Outside of Freddie Freeman, the Braves lack many top-tier players in both their lineup and starting rotation.
This offseason, the Braves have been focused on subtracting some of their talent. They traded Andrelton Simmons to the Los Angeles Angels and Shelby Miller to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The team brought in Ender Inciarte, Erick Aybar, Kelly Johnson, and Jim Johnson this offseason through trades and signings to provide depth (though Inciarte could be in Atlanta the next time they contend).
For the Braves to beat this projection, their rotation is going to have to step it up. The Braves rotation includes: Julio Teheran (4.04 ERA), Matt Wisler (4.71 ERA), Manny Banuelos (5.13 ERA), Bud Norris (6.72 ERA), and Williams Perez (4.78 ERA). If they want to finish in fourth, that rotation is going to have to outperform its 2015 result. I don't see that happening.