Do the Mets have the Arms to Win the N.L. East?

Joe Clark, Baseball Reporter

In Part 4 of Pantherbook’s MLB Preview, we move into the NL where we look at the NL East, home of the 2015 NL Pennant winner, the New York Mets
NL East

  • New York Mets (100-62)


Playing in a relatively weak NL East, and with the best rotation in baseball, I believe the Mets will reach 100 wins. Their rotation, led by Matt Harvey, is hands down the best in baseball, as Harvey is joined by Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Jacob deGrom, and Bartolo Colon. Zack Wheeler is expected to return around July, making their rotation even better. This rotation feature three of the top 20 pitchers in baseball in my opinion, with Harvey, Syndergaard, and deGrom. Matz has the potential to be a stud too, as he pitched well as a rookie last year. The Mets lineup isn’t lacking either, as Yoenis Cespedes returns to anchor a lineup that was significantly better after he was acquired at last seasons deadline. Michael Conforto is looking to have a huge year in his first full MLB season. Conforto and Cespedes are joined in the Mets OF by Curtis Granderson. Franchise icon David Wright returns as the everyday 3B, while FA signing Asdrubal Cabrera takes over at SS. Neil Walker, acquired in an offseason trade for Jon Niese, will man 2B. Lucas Duda, a talented power hitter returns as the Mets everyday 1B. Travis d’Arnaud, a talented young catcher will return as the Mets everyday catcher, although with competition from Kevin Plawecki. In their bullpen, Jeurys Familia will slot back into the closer role after being dominant in that same role last season. Addison Reed and Hansel Robles will serve as the bridge to Familia. Antonio Bastardo, signed this offseason will be a candidate for a 7th or 8th inning role. Lefty specialist Jerry Blevins also returns. The Mets are a strong candidate to win the World Series, and if they can get enough production out of their lineup, they could be very dangerous.

  1. Washington Nationals (94-68)

Led by Bryce Harper, arguably the best player in the league, and a top 5 pitching staff, the Nats will contend for the NL East crown and will almost surely lock up a wild card. Amid clubhouse turmoil, the Nats, the paper World Series favorites coming into the season, seriously underperformed, going 83-79 in a weak NL East. However, this season, with Dusty Baker at the helm, the Nats should be much improved. Max Scherzer is the ace of the Nationals’ staff, and he is followed by Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Tanner Roark, and Joe Ross, who pitched like a veteran in his rookie campaign last year. The Nationals lineup is solid, with veteran  Ryan Zimmerman playing 1B after making the switch from 3B. Mets postseason hero Daniel Murphy signed with the Nationals as a free agent, and will take over 2B. Danny Espinosa will play SS, which is a move I don’t understand at all. The Nationals have one of the best prospects in baseball in Trea Turner (.325/.389/.462 in the minors), and for some reason they decided to start Espinosa (.230/.301/.391) in the majors at SS. Turner is MLB ready, so that shouldn’t be the problem, and I suppose they could keep him down to hold off on him having enough MLB experience to earn Super 2 status quicker than they would like, therefore shortening his team control. Still, a team that wants to win now should not be starting players clearly inferior for monetary purposes. Turner wasn’t good in limited MLB action last season (.225/.295/.325) but he was rushed up because of injuries, and with his play in spring training, he showed he was MLB ready. Expect to see him in the bigs sooner rather than later. Anthony Rendon, an MVP candidate in 2014 who battled injuries last season, will man the hot corner at 3B. The Nationals paid a lot of money for Jayson Werth in 2011, with a killer beard and impressive seasons in 2013 and 2014, the return on investment was what the Nats were hoping for when they committed $126 million to him. However, a rough year last year (.221/.302/.384 with 12 HR and 42 HR in just 88 games) may worry Nats fans that he won’t produce this season. If he doesn’t, the trade to get Ben Revere from Toronto will allow them to slide CF Michael Taylor to LF, or use Taylor as a good fourth OF. Revere doesn’t have much power at all, but he’s your prototypical leadoff hitter (.295/.328/.348 with 176 SB in his career). Shift on over to RF, and you see a once in a generation type of player. Bryce Harper is only 23 years old, yet this will be his 5th year in the league. He’s younger than most prospects. Yet, he already has 3 AS game appearances, an MVP award, and a Rookie of the Year award. If you want to talk about getting on base, look no further than Harper. He led the majors with an astounding .460 OBP last season, in addition to a league leading .649 SLG%, contributing to a 1.109 OPS, which led the league. Harper is the type of talent that very rarely comes around, and the Nats are very glad to have him. With a top pitching rotation and a solid lineup around them, the Nats find their weakness in their bullpen, where despite having the ever-solid Jonathan Papelbon as closer, the bridge to him remains littered with question marks. Shawn Kelley, Blake Treinen, Oliver Perez, and Matt Belisle will have to produce this year for the Nats to win close games. Looking at the entire product though, Washington looks like a team that is poised to make a run for the postseason.

  1. Miami Marlins (70-92)

After you get two of the top teams in baseball in the Mets and Nationals, you get 3 of the worst in the Marlins, Phillies, and Braves. And unlike the Phillies and Braves, the Marlins will be bad for a long, long time. One of the most poorly run organizations in baseball, the Marlins have some interesting young talent on their big league roster, but they also have a lot of “He’s still in the league?” or “Who the heck is that?” When they moved into the beautiful Marlins Park in 2012, the Marlins were the fun team who had gone out and acquired a whole lot of talent. Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, and young slugger Giancarlo Stanton formed a core of a team expected to contend for the postseason. After a 69-93 finish, the win now plan was blown up and now only Stanton remains, albeit as one of the best young hitters in baseball. Last season, the Marlins were being hyped up as a team that could contend for a playoff spot. After finishing 71-91, and Marlins Park being near empty most of the season again, the Marlins went out and signed Wei-Yin Chen to provide support for Jose Fernandez, who although often injured, is one of the best pitchers in baseball when healthy. This came after speculation all through the winter meetings that Fernandez would be traded, but the Marlins had astronomical demands for him. That may be that, besides the fact Fernandez warrants a huge returns, the Marlins have an atrocious farm system. I’d put their system only better than the Angels’, with only Tyler Kolek and Kendry Flores as intriguing prospects. The Marlins do have a lot of young talent on their ML roster, as homegrown talents Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna, and Stanton form the core of a pretty talented outfield. I’d argue that their outfield is top 5 in baseball, especially if Ozuna returns to his 2014 form. The problem I have however, is I don’t trust the Marlins to keep it intact. Despite signing a 13 year contract, Giancarlo Stanton’s name is always mentioned in trade talks, and Marcell Ozuna was rumored in deals all winter. Nonetheless, Stanton alone is a top 5 position player in the league, and is a consistent 40-50 HR threat, and can bat around .260-.280. If they can keep these three together for the long haul, the Marlins may have some hope for the future. The Marlins starting rotation is top heavy, with Chen and Fernandez followed by Adam Conley, Tom Koehler, and Jarred Cosart, who could be pretty solid. Power hitter Justin Bour becomes the Marlins full time first baseman, and is joined on the right side of the infield by Dee Gordon, one of the fastest players in the league who broke out in his first year in Miami last year to the tune of a league leading .333 average with 58 SB and a gold glove. Gordon joins a formidable defensive duo, as Adeiny Hechavarria returns as the starting SS. Known mostly as a solid defender, he’s unspectacular, but gets the job done. His bat was a big question mark entering the majors, but he’s managed to become a decent hitter (278/.311/.365 the last two years). At 3B, Martin Prado, one of the most consistent guys in baseball will return. Prado probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves, but he is always a solid everyday player. The Marlins bullpen took a hit with Carter Capps’ torn UCL, but AJ Ramos can be a solid closer for the Marlins. David Phelps can serve as a spot starter or be a solid reliever, while prospect Kyle Barraclough will hope to play well in his rookie season. At catcher, the Marlins have JT Realmuto, who is a good defensive catcher, but his bat needs some work (.259/.290/.406 last season). His hit tool is around average, but his vision could use a lot of work, as could most guys who post an OBP below .300. Still, Realmuto is more than capable of being the Marlins’ everyday catcher. The Marlins have some talent, but they can never put it all together. They’ll have to hope that Don Mattingly can help the team put it all together and have some success. I’m skeptical, but i’ve been wrong many times before.

  1. Philadelphia Phillies (68-94)

Last year’s Phillies were this year’s Marlins, with less MLB talent on their roster. However, after the Cole Hamels trade in which the Phillies got an impressive haul of prospects back, the outlook started to look up in Philadelphia. Then, when they dealt Ken Giles to the Astros, they got back another impressive haul of prospects headlined by Vincent Velasquez. With Aaron Nola making his MLB debut last year to the tune of 13 impressive starts, all of a sudden the Phillies were an intriguing young team. That hasn’t changed. Their MLB roster is depleted, but if you look at their rotation, where they have Nola, Velasquez, and Jerad Eickhoff, who was acquired in the Hamels deal last year, or at 3B, where they have they have a great young player in Maikel Franco, or even at CF where they return last season’s Rule 5 draft pick Odubel Herrera, who was surprisingly very good last season (.297/.344/.418 with 8 HR, 41 RBI, and 16 SB), you can see that the Phillies have some pieces to build around for the future. That’s what the Phillies will be doing this season, as the players around their young talent are nothing to write home about. Ryan Howard returns for the last season of his atrocious contract he signed prior to the 2012 season, although it comes with a $10 million buyout. Howard has not been close to a player worth $25 million per season at all during his contract, and the contract is one of the reasons Ruben Amaro Jr (now the Red Sox 1st base coach) was fired as General Manager at the end of the 2015 season. The Phillies middle infield features Cesar Hernandez and Freddy Galvis, who is probably most known for getting suspended for steroids a few seasons ago. Hernandez is young (25) and he hit pretty well with Philadelphia last season (.292/.333/.369). He could make a case to be the Phillies’ 2B of the future. At 3B, the aforementioned Maikel Franco returns after an impressive rookie campaign saw him bat .280/.343/.497 with 14 HR and 50 RBI in 335 PA. He should have a breakout season this year, and with 30 HR power he could be a star for the Phils. Darin Ruf will backup at 1B and will start in LF, and he has 40 HR power, but his contact hasn’t come around enough for him to garner consideration for consistent at bats. Case in point-he hit 21 HR in just 268 PA last season but only batted .235. Odubel Herrera returns as the every day CF, while ex-Cardinals OF Peter Bourjos will take over in RF. Bourjos has speed, but if you aren’t on base speed doesn’t do much for you, and that has been Bourjos’ issue. In his heyday, he was a .271 hitter who hit 11 triples and stole 22 bases, but last season he hit just .200 and was caught stealing more times (8) than he actually stole a base (5). At catcher, Cameron Rupp, Carlos Ruiz’s backup last season, will take over as the starter. Rupp wasn’t very good last season (.233/.301/.374 with 9 HR and 28 RBI) but he wasn’t bad defensively, as he threw out 38% of runners. One of the main issue for the Phillies this season will be their bullpen. It’s a mishmash of waiver claims and 4A guys, with names like Jeanmar Gomez, and former Red Sox reliever Dalier Hinojosa, who made one appearance with the Sox but after being claimed off waivers by the Phillies posted a superb 0.78 ERA in 18 appearances out of the bullpen. Former Diamondbacks and Orioles reliever David Hernandez will feature heavily in the Phillies bullpen, as will ex-Astros starter Brett Oberholtzer who may be able to fill in as a starter for the Phillies as well. This is a Phillies team that you should look for in 2-4 years to maybe be a playoff team again, but for now they’re in the basement of a bad division.

  1. Atlanta Braves (61-101)

Let’s start this off by saying I absolutely love what the Braves did these last two offseasons. They knew they wouldn’t be much more than an 80 win team at best heading into this year, so they traded their top assets away and completely rebuilt their farm system in order to compete for when they move into their new stadium, SunTrust Park, in 2017. It’s the opposite of what the Marlins did when trying to get attendance to rise for the opening of a new park, as they traded away prospects for veterans they wanted to help immediately. Here, the Braves make moves a year before their big move for top prospects who will get MLB experience this season before becoming productive pros next season. They got a huge haul for Shelby Miller from the Diamondbacks, acquiring 2015 1st overall pick Dansby Swanson, in addition to pitching prospect Aaron Blair and OF Ender Inciarte. In trading Andrelton Simmons to the Angels, they picked up their top two prospects in pitchers Sean Newcomb and Chris Ellis, in addition to veteran SS Erick Aybar. Last season’s Craig Kimbrel traded netted the Braves prospects Matt Wisler, and Jordan Paroubeck, and a Justin Upton trade in the 2014 offseason got them pitching prospect Max Fried, OF prospect Mallex Smith, and 2B Jace Peterson. Thanks to these trades, the Braves have a well stocked farm system that has set them up well for the future. The only problem with these trades however, is they significantly damage the current MLB roster. While Julio Teheran returns as the Braves ace and Freddie Freeman returns as their 1B, the only other veterans of note on the Braves roster are OF Nick Markakis, SS Erick Aybar, and C AJ Pierzynski. All of these guys, with the exception of maybe Pierzynski, have solid trade value, and can get the Braves more prospects for their already loaded farm system. The Braves do have some other decent veterans, in 2B/OF Kelly Johnson, and SPs Bud Norris and Jhoulys Chacin. They have lots of youth on their MLB roster as well, with Aaron Blair making his MLB debut and Mallex Smith, Daniel Castro, Adonis Garcia, Matt Wisler, and Jace Peterson expected to play a role in 2016. Still though, these guys need to develop, and despite a decent bullpen anchored by youngster Arodys Vizcaino and veterans Jason Grilli and Jim Johnson, the Braves will struggle this year. Like the Phillies, watch out for them in two years.