Top 5 NL East Headlines Going into the 2012 MLB Season

Kyle KoppContributor IJanuary 5, 2012

Top 5 NL East Headlines Going into the 2012 MLB Season

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    Heading into the 2011 MLB season, the major headline of the National League East was the Big Four of the Philadelphia Phillies rotation. The four aces dominated most of the season and led the Phillies to their fourth-straight NL East Championship.  

    Heading into the 2012 MLB season, the Phillies should receive a lot more pressure from the other four teams in their division.  With the newly-named Miami Marlins spending spree bringing in three former All-Stars and rising stars Jason Heyward and Tommy Hanson of the Atlanta Braves, the NL East should be more competitive than in the last few years.  Here are five headlines that will be talked about during spring training and into the season.

The Newly-Named Miami Marlins Made a Big Splash This Offseason

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    The Miami Marlins are moving into a new stadium this year, and with the expectation of increased revenue and getting out of a horrendous stadium contract, the usually irrelevant Marlins spent almost $200 million on three All-Star free agents. 

    These three stars, Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Heath Bell, will make an immediate impact for the Marlins. The Marlins do have some question marks heading into the season, however, including whether Hanley Ramirez will fully accept a position change to third base. 

    New manager Ozzie Guillen is used to being the most outspoken person in the locker room, but with the personalities of Reyes and Ramirez, Ozzie will have his hands full trying to smooth over everyone's ego.

Phillies Look to Rebound from a Disappointing 2011 Finish

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    Heading into the 2012 season, the Philadelphia Phillies will once again be the favorite to win the NL East crown, and will be some people’s favorite to represent the National League in the World Series.

    These expectations are not unfamiliar for this Phillies team, as they have been favorites to be in the Fall Classic ever since they broke their 28-year championship drought in 2008.  However, the Phillies have not been able to match these lofty expectations the last few years. 

    There has been a downward trend for these Phils ever since they beat Tampa Bay in 2008, having lost in the Series in 2009, then losing in the NLCS in 2010 and their disappointing Game 5 loss in the NLDS last year. 

    Other than overpaying for Jonathan Papelbon earlier this offseason, Phillies fans have not seen the signature big signing or trade that they have come to expect from GM Ruben Amaro. 

    We know the pitching will be there, but it will be interesting to see if the bats can show up come October.

Where Will All-Star David Wright Land?

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    After losing shortstop Jose Reyes during the offseason to divisional rival Marlins, much of the talk in New York has been when and where All-Star third baseman David Wright will land. 

    After deciding not to trade Reyes before the trading deadline last season and only receiving draft picks after Reyes went elsewhere, most believe that the Mets will not make the same mistake with Wright.  This is Wright's last year under contract with the Mets, and with the state of the Mets' financial situation, it does not seem that the Mets will be able to afford to keep him. 

    There have been rumors of trade talks between the Mets and Phillies, with Wright going to the Phillies for a package centered around top prospect Dominic Brown.  It does not seem reasonable, though, that the Mets would want to trade Wright within the division. 

    My guess is Wright will be the starting third baseman for the Mets on opening day, and then be one of the top players being shopped around at the trade deadline in July.  

Will Byrce Harper Be on the Nationals' Opening Day Roster?

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    Ever since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was just 16 years old, Bryce Harper has been destined for greatness. 

    Expectations are high for the now 19-year-old left fielder, but maybe none higher than the expectations he gave himself during the famous SI interview, saying that he wanted to be a Hall of Famer and hit .400 in a season.  Harper first needs to make it to the big leagues. 

    The Nationals may have the biggest expectations in its franchise's history coming into the 2012 season.  With the return of flamethrower Stephen Strasburg, Jayson Werth's second season with the club and Harper shooting up the ladder of the minor leagues, the Nationals could take a big step forward this season. 

    Just like Strasburg did in 2009, Harper would attract bigger crowds for Nationals home games and increase revenue, and that might be a big incentive for the Nationals to keep Harper on their big-league roster for opening day.

Can the Young Braves Staff Become Elite?

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    After finishing second to the Phillies for the the last three years, the Braves are hoping to finally surpass the five-year NL East Champions.  To be able to do this, they are going to have to beat the Phillies at their own game. 

    With the Phillies pitching staff starting to age, the Braves staff is just getting into their prime.  With a 25-year-old Tommy Hanson anchoring their staff, the Braves are hoping that their starting staff can make a great leap forward this season. 

    Their other 25-year-old starter, Jair Jurrjens, is hoping to come back to the form that he started with at the beginning of the 2011 season, where he was mentioned in Cy Young talk before struggling after the All-Star break and suffering a September injury. 

    These two 25-year-old starters are going to have to lead the Braves throughout the season if they are going to have any chance of taking the NL East title.