Grading the Offseasons of Every NL East Team
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
It's been a crazy couple of months this offseason with some big-name free agents signing huge contracts with teams they weren't expected to. With the 2011 year now complete, it's time to take a look at the progress every team in the National League East has made—or failed to make—this offseason.
It can be said that the NL East was the most exciting division to watch this winter with a number of big-name moves. Newcomers to the division like Jonathan Papelbon, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and Gio Gonzalez are just a start and don't include intra-division move by Jose Reyes. With these moves, the NL East could potentially make a case to challenge the AL East for the best division in baseball.
Atlanta Braves C
Tyler Pastornicky is the biggest question mark the Braves have going into 2012.
The Atlanta Braves have been surprisingly quiet following a September collapse that cost them the National League Wild Card spot in the playoffs. The reason the team has been staying put is the same reason they don't receive a bad grade for doing so- they have enough talent on their roster that they don't need to make a big move.
The Braves were hit hard by injuries and slumps last season, which is the biggest part of why they failed to make the playoffs. Injuries knocked out the team's top two pitchers throughout the season, Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, as well as caused Jason Heyward, Brian McCann and Martin Prado among those to both miss time and struggle.
The team hasn't really brought in anyone other than Rule V pick Robert Fish, a reliever from the Angels. Drew Sutton, a utility infielder that hasn't stuck in the Majors yet, is the second biggest addition to the team. The losses were all guys the team didn't want to bring back like shortstop Alex Gonzalez, utility guy Brooks Conrad, starter Derek Lowe and a trio of relievers in George Sherrill, Scott Linebrink and Peter Moylan. Moylan, who wasn't offered arbitration, could still potentially return to the team,
A healthy 2012 could be all that is needed for the Braves to return to the playoffs. With starters like Hanson, Jurrjens, Tim Hudson, Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado in the rotation along with potentialy Kris Medlen, the Braves may have the deepest rotation in the game with their biggest issue being how to decide who to keep on the active roster.
The bullpen has the best trio of late-inning guys with closer Craig Kimbrel along with setup men Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty. The team also has proven guys like Medlen and Cristhian Martinez to fill out the pen in addition to some strong prospects such as JJ Hoover, Cory Gearrin and Jairo Ascencio. If Peter Moylan does come back the pen looks even better, but even without him it's potentially the best in the game.
The lineup is decent, but not special, however it has the potential to get there with a full season from Michael Bourn, more even production splits from Dan Uggla and a bounce-back year from Jason Heyward. The best thing about the lineup is other than shortstop, where Tyler Pastornicky is set to take over for Gonzalez, there isn't a real hole in the lineup.
Miami Marlins A+
Newcomer Mark Buehrle will help to solidify the rotation.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
The team that has made the biggest splash this offseason is the Miami Marlins. From the day they traded for new manager Ozzie Guillen to the day they changed their name from Florida to Miami along with new uniforms, through today after some big free agent additions, they have been the talk of baseball.
When rumors started coming up that the Marlins were interested in the likes of Jose Reyes, Albert Pujols, CJ Wilson and Mark Buehrle, many dismissed it as them not being serious suitors for the free agents from a cash perspective. However after the team signed Reyes, Buehrle and Heath Bell, they have proved they are for real.
The team has done a good job of filling needs. Buehrle and trade acquisition Wade LeBlanc will fill holes in the rotation, while Heath Bell will take over the closer role from the former Leo Nunez. Reyes adds another dimension to the offense as a true leadoff hitter and impact bat. Those moves are enough to bring the team up to an "A" grade considering their only losses were Nunez to identity issues and catcher John Baker, who was used to obtain LeBlanc from the Padres. Starting pitcher Javier Vazquez may retire, but that result won't be known for sure until it gets closer to spring training since it is all rumors at this moment.
The ability of the rotation depends on the health of ace Josh Johnson, who only made nine starts last year due to an injury. If Johnson is healthy enough to join Buehrle, Anibal Sanchez and Ricky Nolasco in the rotation then the team is in good shape. LeBlanc will compete with young guys Brad Hand and Alejandro Sanabia for the last spot in the rotation, unless Vazquez returns to take it.
The bullpen will be built around new closer Bell, but with Edward Mujica, Mike Dunn, Ryan Webb and Randy Choate the rest of the pen isn't weak. There are still some questions to round out the rest of the bullpen, but it doesn't appear like this unit will be a weakness.
Reyes addition not only gives the team something it missed, a true leadoff hitter, but likely fills the hole at third base where former shortstop Hanley Ramirez is expected to be moved. Young slugger Mike Stanton is an emerging star and other young guys like Logan Morrison and Gaby Sanchez are solid producers.
New York Mets F
Losing Jose Reyes is a major loss to the Mets.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
The New York Mets biggest offseason news is the fact that they lost Jose Reyes to division rival Miami. While the loss was totally expected, especially considering the Mets did not try to bring him back, the fact is that they hurt themselves by not trading him for prospects during the 2011 season. Allowing Reyes to walk for just draft choices is just not a good front office move.
The team has signed free agents relievers Frank Francisco and Jon Rauch, a pair of veterans with closing experience. Trading outfielder Angel Pagan to the Giants for Andres Torres and Ramon Ramirez is also a move that doesn't appear to be a good one for the club. The team has lost starter Chris Capuano as a free agent and has Jason Isringhausen as free agent at the moment.
It's easy to see why the Mets offseason was so bad. Losing your best hitter for just draft choices hurts, but they have also lost a starting pitcher and solid center fielder with the only improvements coming in the bullpen.
The rotation is a major question mark headed into 2012, although a healthy Johan Santana will help to fill the void left behind by Capuano. RA Dickey is another pitcher that will have a spot in the rotation, but he will be age 37 next season. Dillon Gee, Jon Niese and Mike Pelfrey will make up the rest of their rotation. When three-fifths of your rotation had earned run averages above 4.40, another missed the entire year and the other is only a few years shy of 40, there is reason to worry.
While the rotation has issues, the bullpen does look to be at least decent. In addition to Francisco and Rauch, young Bobby Parnell appears to have a high ceiling and could compete for the closer role. Pedro Beato and Manny Acosta are also solid players.
The lineup will be built around star third baseman David Wright, but there is little else unless Ike Davis looks like the Ike Davis that got out to a strong start to 2011 before an injury ended his season early on. The Mets also have Jason Bay, however he has done very little over the last two seasons and there is no reason to expect much from him at this point in his career. Recent acquisition Torres had a strong season in 2010, but struggled badly at the plate in 2011 and may only be a one year wonder.
The Mets have an awful team right now. The rotation isn't very good and the lineup will really struggle to score runs. Keeping Reyes may not be the reason they have a bad 2012 season, but it certainly will not help.
Philadelphia Phillies B
Jonathan Papelbon upgrades the closer spot in Philly.
Len Redkoles/Getty Images
The Phillies may have only made one major move, the signing of Jonathan Papelbon, but they have made a slew of smaller moves to help improve their ball club along with bringing shortstop Jimmy Rollins back. Signing Jim Thome to add insurance in case Ryan Howard misses time could be very important. Bringing in versatile utility player Ty Wigginton could help across the infield if Howard, Chase Utley or Placido Polanco go down again in 2012.
The team let go of starter Roy Oswalt, who would have been an over-priced pitcher after battling injuries in 2011, so declining his option was a necessary move. Ben Francisco was traded to Toronto after a disappointing season, so he will not really be missed. The team still has free agents like Raul Ibanez, Brad Lidge and Ryan Madson, although there is a chance that the players other than Madson return in some role.
Even with the loss of Oswalt, the Phillies have a strong rotation. The trio of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels is the best group of starters in all of baseball. Vance Worley, a huge surprise as a rookie in 2011, will hope to build of his success in 2012. The final spot in the rotation will likely see Joe Blanton, Kyle Kendrick and free agent addition Dontrelle Willis compete for it in the spring.
The bullpen looks pretty good, especially since Papelbon is a slight upgrade over Madson in the closer job. Young arms like Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes and David Herndon are all proven to be good pitchers. Veteran reliever Jose Contreras and the guys that fail to earn the final job in the starting rotation between Blanton, Kendrick and Willis will also help, along with a group of prospects ready to break through like Justin De Fratus, Joe Savery and Michael Schwimer. The return of Lidge in some role would also help the club.
The lineup has some major question marks due to health related issues, although there is the potential to be special. Star first baseman Ryan Howard has already started to see his production decline the past two years, and his Achilles injury in the playoffs could cost him some time next year. Second baseman Chase Utley has seen his production drop due to his own injury issues, and Rollins is no longer an MVP candidate.
Still that trio of guys can still produce and outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence are All-Stars. That's not all as guys like Carlos Ruiz and Placido Polanco are solid players and John Mayberry Jr. is coming off of a breakout season. The wild card is obviously former top prospect Domonic Brown, a player that has shown flashes but hasn't received significant time yet.
The Phillies grade of a "B" could easily be a "B+", however I thought that the losses of Ibanez and Lidge could be felt. Overall it's still been a quality winter for the Phillies.
Washington Nationals A
Gio Gonzalez heading to the Nationals makes them a contender potentally this year.
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
The Washington Nationals had been fairly quiet this offseason before making a big trade just before Christmas to pick up Gio Gonzalez from Oakland. Signing utility man Mark DeRosa and outfielder Mike Cameron as free agents could pay dividends if either has anything left in the tank, and the trade of Collin Balester to the Tigers for Ryan Perry is also a positive for the club.
The Nationals receive the grade of "A" because they didn't really need to make any bigger moves. Young pitcher Stephen Strasburg should be ready to throw close to a full season, injured first baseman Adam LaRoche will rejoin the lineup after missing almost all of last season, and super prospect Bryce Harper is likely to join the club this year.
The addition of Gonzalez to the rotation makes the future Nationals rotation scary. Strasburg has lived up to the hype thus far in his career and young Jordan Zimmerman couldn't have done much better in his return from Tommy John surgery last season. Solid innings eater John Lannan should be more than solid in a fourth starter role, and assuming he is even close to healthy Chien-Ming Wang is a good number five guy. That doesn't even include Ross Detwiler and Tom Gorzelanny
The bullpen has some very good talent as well. Young closer Drew Storen is a very strong pitcher and setup man Tyler Clippard has been among the best in the game each of the past two years. Perry and Henry Rodriguez are younger players with high ceilings in relief Sean Burnett is solid.
The lineup will be built around third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder/first baseman Mike Morse. A bounce-back year from $100 million man Jayson Werth is necessary, and getting a full season from first baseman Adam LaRoche will also help. A pair of the top rookies in the game from last year, catcher Wilson Ramos and second baseman Danny Espinosa, had solid starts to their career. If super prospect Bryce Harper could make an impact next year, the team has the chance to be a surprise contender.