Sunday, March 02, 2008

MLB Preview #3: NL East

Editor's Note: Regular KankaNation readers, please scroll down to see this year's Laetare Medal winner(s).

Philadelphia Phillies

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jimmy Rollins SS
Shane Victorino CF
Chase Utley 2B
Ryan Howard 1B
Pat Burrell LF
Geoff Jenkins RF
Pedro Feliz/Greg Dobbs/Wes Helms 3B
Carlos Ruiz C

Brett Myers
Cole Hamels
Kyle Kendrick
Jamie Moyer
Adam Eaton
JD Durbin

Well, this is basically the lineup that won the division last year. Rollins, Utley, and Howard are great, and Burrell is better than he's given credit for in Philadelphia. The rest, I suppose, are just good enough. It's an interesting battle at third base, where each candidate has his strengths and weaknesses. The bench features middle infielder Eric Bruntlett, who is a more than adequate backup for Rollins and Utley, and might even be able to find a starting job somewhere. The outfield is very deep, with Chris Snelling, So Taguchi, and Jayson Werth coming off the bench. I imagine that Snelling and/or Taguchi will see decent playing time as defensive replacements late in ballgames.
The rotation probably doesn't strike you as much, but that's most likely because you don't know that Kendrick was 10-4 with an ERA of 3.87 last year. Not too shabby. Myers is not only back in the starting rotation after a stint in the bullpen, but he'll also be the Phils opening day starter for his trouble. Eaton and Durbin may not have lived up to their past hype, but they're still serviceable number five guys. The bullpen is a good one, headlined by new closer Brad Lidge, if and when he becomes healthy again. He's in a new division now, and hopefully one that hasn't caught on yet to how he tips his pitches. Unfortunately, he's in a great hitters' ballpark, so it will be interesting to see how that wears on his already fragile psyche. Lidge has a great supporting cast, headlined by Tom Gordon, JC Romero, Ryan Madson, and JD Durbin's older brother Chad, who started for Detroit last year.

New York Mets

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Jose Reyes SS
Luis Castillo 2B
David Wright 3B
Carlos Beltran CF
Carlos Delgado 1B
Moises Alou LF
Ryan Church RF
Brian Schneider C

Johan Santana
Pedro Martinez
John Maine
Oliver Perez
Orlando Hernandez
Mike Pelfrey
Jason Vargas

I'm afraid to say it, but this is no longer a great lineup. It's still a good lineup, just not great. Of course, when you compare it to Philadelphia's, they come out pretty even. The big question this spring has been first base. Carlos Delgado isn't getting any younger, and they don't have a true backup for him. Their infield bench consists of three light hitting middle infielders in Damion Easley, Ruben Gotay, and Anderson Hernandez. Of course, they do have Endy Chavez and Marlon Anderson as outfield backups, so they can either put Anderson at first, or move Alou or Church to first and put Chavez in the outfield. It will be interesting to see how the new catcher platoon plays out, too. I assume Schneider will play against righties and Ramon Castro against lefties. Schneider was a decent bat in the past, but he didn't act like it last year. Meanwhile, Castro hit well in a reserve role. Perhaps a split of playing time will serve both of them well.
The big news this offseason, even outplaying the big Marlins-Tigers trade, was the Johan Santana deal. Santana wasn't himself last year, but that may have been due to his supporting cast in Minnesota. If Pedro can stay healthy, and if Maine doesn't fall off too much, this is a good rotation. And even if someone falters, Mike Pelfrey is waiting in the wings. The bullpen looks great, unless you're a pessimist. Billy Wagner has a great supporting cast, starting with Aaron Heilman. Duaner Sanchez is lights-out, but didn't pitch at all in 2007. Pedro Feliciano is only 32, but seems much older. Scott Schoeneweis is 35 and has been linked to steroids. And Jorge Sosa can't keep his ERA under 5 in even-numbered years. (That's not hyperbole, look it up.)

Atlanta Braves

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Yunel Escobar SS
Kelly Johnson 2B
Chipper Jones 3B
Mark Teixeira 1B
Jeff Francoeur RF
Brian McCann C
Matt Diaz LF
Mark Kotsay CF

John Smoltz
Tim Hudson
Tom Glavine
Mike Hampton
Jair Jurrjens
Chuck James
Jo-Jo Reyes
Jeff Bennett
Buddy Carlyle
Anthony Lerew

This is just an interesting team all around. They're part building for the future (Escobar, Johnson, Diaz), part ready to win right now (Jones, Teixeira, Francoeur, McCann), and part washed up (Kotsay). It's a decent team, and could surprise some people by coming in second place, but I'm not sure they can win the division. The bench is equal parts thin and young, featuring Omar Infante, Martin Prado, Scott Thorman, and Brandon Jones.
Like the lineup, the rotation is equal parts building for the future (Jurrjens, James, Lerew), ready to win right now (Smoltz, Hudson, Glavine), and washed up (Hampton). Between Jurrjens, Glavine, and Hampton, the rotation is almost more about storylines than it is about winning ballgames. The bullpen, meanwhile, doesn't feature nearly as many high-profile names. The talented Rafael Soriano will get a shot at closing, supported by Will Ohman and Manny Acosta.
Off-the-wall thought of the day: The Braves franchise can already boast Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth (who finished his career in Boston). Why not take a flier on the latest home run champ, Barry Bonds?

Washington Nationals

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Felipe Lopez 2B/SS
Christian Guzman SS/Ronnie Belliard 2B
Ryan Zimmerman 3B
Nick Johnson/Dmitri Young 1B
Austin Kearns RF
Wily Mo Pena LF
Lastings Milledge CF
Paul Lo Duca/Johnny Estrada C

Shawn Hill
John Patterson
Jason Bergmann
John Lannan
Matt Chico
Tim Redding
Tyler Clippard
Garrett Mock
Joel Hanrahan

Everyone who cares about the Nationals is looking at the first base situation. Following a solid 2007, Dmitri Young was given a multi-year deal. But Nick Johnson is back from injury this year. Who gets the starting nod? Presumably, Young won't be playing the outfield anymore, and they don't really need him there. Besides the talented young trio of Kearns, Pena, and Milledge, the Nats also have Elijah Dukes, Willie Harris, Ryan Langerhans, and Rob Macowiak coming off the bench. So Young or Johnson could be on their way out. The middle infield has a few options as well, or perhaps a platoon situation. In a limited role, Christian Guzman hit well for the first time in his life. Felipe Lopez, meanwhile, faltered. So we may see all three middle infielders share playing time. Ryan Zimmerman is a lock at third base, and really the only sure thing this club has going into this season and the future. Between Zimmerman, Young, and Johnson, that doesn't leave much playing time for reserve infielder Aaron Boone. The catching situation could be interesting. Paul Lo Duca is entering his age 36 year, and the Mitchell Report revealed he had a drug ring that would have made Manuel Noriega jealous. If Johnny Estrada, or a non-roster invitee like Humberto Cota or Chad Moeller, can hit worth anything this year, they may be in for some good playing time.
Who is Shawn Hill, and why is he an opening day starter? Well, he did have an ERA under 4 last year, albeit in only 97 innings of work. Plus, John Patterson was limited to only 7 starts last year. This team needs arms and it needs them in a bad way. Maybe the Nats can get good innings out of closer Chad Cordero and bullpen mates Luis Ayala and Jon Rausch.

Florida Marlins

Baseball Musings Team Offense
Baseball America Top 10 Prospects

Hanley Ramirez SS
Dan Uggla 2B
Jeremy Hermida RF
Josh Willingham LF
Mike Jacobs 1B
Cameron Maybin CF
Dallas McPherson/Jose Castillo/Jorge Cantu/Alfredo Amezaga 3B
Mike Rabelo/Matt Treanor C

Scott Olsen
Sergio Mitre
Andrew Miller
Mark Hendrickson
Ricky Nolasco
Rick VandenHurk
Anibal Sanchez
Daniel Barone
Josh Johnson

Let's see - the team that finished last in the division in 2007 also traded away its best hitter and staff ace. There's not much room for optimism there... unless you're a fan of young up-and-comers. On the plus side, Hanley Ramirez is one of the best shortstops in baseball. The outfield has three exciting young players in Hermida, Willingham, and top prospect Cameron Maybin. That trio will be mentored by recent free agent signing Louis Gonzalez. Prospect Rabelo and established backup Treanor should share time at catcher, and that might turn into a decent platoon. The position battle to watch is at third, where former Pittsburgh second baseman Jose Castillo, disgruntled former Rays infielder Jorge Cantu, and utilityman Alfredo Amezaga will try to beat out injury-plagues former Angels top prospect Dallas McPherson for playing time.
The rotation features the talented but volatile Scott Olsen, journeyman Sergio Mitre, superprospect Andrew Miller from the Tigers organization, and a cast of thousands fighting for the last two spots. The new closer this year is Kevin Gregg, surely to be the token "we need to take someone from every team" all star pick, as Rays and Marlins closers often end up being. He'll be supported by Taylor Tankersly and FuneralOnABoat, Eugelio De La Cruz.