Projecting the State of the NL East in 2015
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Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest in the National League East?
Currently, the title belongs to the Atlanta Braves, who are 4.5 games ahead of the Washington Nationals and 5.5 games ahead of the Philadelphia Phillies entering play Wednesday. But will that continue to be the case in 2015?
A lot can change in two years.
Players might get hurt or become ineffective. Players might also improve or prospects might take the place of an expensive, injury-ridden veteran. Organizations might seek new leadership or they could slash payroll. We're looking at you, Miami Marlins.
But that's why we're here to take a team-by-team look at what the landscape will look like in the NL East in 2015.
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Who is (probably) still here: OF Justin Upton, OF B.J. Upton, 2B Dan Uggla, OF Jason Heyward, SP Kris Medlen, RP Craig Kimbrel, 1B Freddie Freeman, RP Jordan Walden, SP Brandon Beachy, SP Mike Minor, SS Andrelton Simmons, SP Julio Teheran, C Evan Gattis.
Who could be gone: C Brian McCann, SP Tim Hudson, SP Paul Maholm, RP Eric O'Flaherty.
Future with team remains unknown: INF Paul Janish, 3B Chris Johnson, RP Jonny Venters, RP Cristhian Martinez, INF Ramiro Pena, OF Jordan Schafer, 3B Juan Francisco, INF Blake Dewitt, RP David Carpenter, RP Cory Gearrin, RP Luis Avilan, RP Anthony Varvaro, C Gerald Laird, OF Reed Johnson, RP Luis Ayala, IF Tyler Pastornicky, OF Jorge Constanza.
What prospects are possibly in the pipeline: RHP J.R. Graham, C Christian Bethancourt, LHP Alex Wood, LHP Sean Gilmartin.
What the organization might look like in 2015
Pitching staff: By this time two years from now, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Brandon Beachy (assuming Beachy recovers from Tommy John surgery and resembles the guy who is 12-10 with a 3.07 ERA in his first 41 career starts) could be the Braves top four starting pitchers. If this was done by design, general manager Frank Wren deserves a pat on the back.
Medlen will be 29 years old in 2015 and will be eligible for free agency after the season; Beachy will be 28 and won't be a free agent until after 2016; Minor, a left-hander, will be 27 and pitching in his first year of arbitration; and Teheran will be 24 and won't be eligible for arbitration until after the season.
Moreover, this projection doesn't even account for Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, the two veterans in the rotation who will be free agents next year. ESPN.com's Buster Olney thinks if Maholm has a good year (Maholm is currently 5-4 with a 3.83 ERA), then he might price himself out of the Braves' budget, which has been around $90 million for the last couple of years. If Hudson, who has 201 career wins, had it his way, he would pitch a few more years and retire with the Braves.
"Hopefully, I'll play a while longer, and hopefully it's here," Hudson told MLB.com in February. "I think when the day comes when I'm not a Brave or not playing for anybody, it's going to be a sad day around the Hudson house."
In the bullpen, it seems Kimbrel and Walden are the only pitchers safe. That's because a pair of southpaws, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty, underwent Tommy John surgery in the past week. O'Flaherty's operation might turn out better because it's his first whereas Venters had his second Tommy John surgery, which means the chances of a full recovery are considered less promising. Furthermore, since both pitchers are on the shelf for the beginning of next season, the Braves have no reason to re-sign O'Flaherty or tender Venters, salaries they might command if healthy.
Thankfully, bullpen help can be had on the cheap, which is why it's also so volatile.
Thus far, Anthony Varvaro (1-0, 2.16 ERA), Luis Avilan (2-0, 3.06 ERA) and Cory Gearrin (1-0, 0.87 ERA) have filled the void, albeit in less high-pressured situations. This trio won't be eligible for arbitration until after the 2015 season.
Everyday lineup: When 2015 begins, the Braves have only three players under contract. They are the Upton brothers and second baseman Dan Uggla. Basically, it's the good (Justin Upton), the bad (B.J. Upton) and the ugly. Ooops, meant to say Uggla.
On the bright side, right fielder Jason Heyward, first baseman Freddie Freeman and shortstop Andrelton Simmons will all turn 25 and still be under team control for at least one more season. Heyward, who has already made an All-Star team and won a Gold Glove, will be a free agent after the season; Freeman, who came in second in the 2011 NL Rookie of the Year voting, will be a free agent after the 2016 season; and Simmons, who some feel will win a Gold Glove some day, is under contract through 2018.
The biggest question marks, besides second base (because of Uggla's hideous decline) and possibly center field (because of B.J. Upton's streakiness) are still third base and catcher.
Currently, Chris Johnson (.342 batting average, three home runs, 13 RBI) and Juan Francisco (.260, five home runs, 16 RBI) are sharing third base, and so far, so good, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. But by 2015, it could be an expensive platoon as both players will be eligible for arbitration.
At catcher, the big question is Brian McCann. A free agent after this season, McCann is hitting .282 with four home runs and 12 RBI after coming off the disabled list on May 6 as he recovered from offseason surgery for a torn right labrum. If McCann leaves, Evan Gattis (offense) and Christian Bethancourt (defense) could form a cheap and productive platoon.
“We haven’t made any determination one way or the other — we’ll see how this season plays out,” Wren told Foxsports.com's Ken Rosenthal in March. “Mac has been so good here for so long, we want to be open-minded and see how it can work for both of us.”
2015 NL East finish: Second place; accumulates at least 90 wins and qualifies for playoff as a Wild Card entry.
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Who is (probably) still here: SP Jacob Turner, RP Ryan Webb, RP Steve Cishek, RP Mike Dunn, 1B Logan Morrison, SP Henderson Alvarez, SP Nathan Eovaldi, SS Adeiny Hechavarria, INF Donovan Solano, C Rob Brantly, RP A.J. Ramos, SP Jose Fernandez, 2B Derek Dietrich, RF Marcell Ozuna.
Who could be gone: OF Giancarlo Stanton, SP Kevin Slowey, SP Ricky Nolasco, 1B Greg Dobbs, 3B Placido Polanco, OF Juan Pierre, RP Chad Qualls, C Miguel Olivo.
Future with team remains unknown: C Jeff Mathis, OF Chris Coghlan, CF Justin Ruggiano, RP Wade LeBlanc, RP Jose Ceda, RP Duane Below, RP Chris Hatcher, INF Chris Valaika, C Kyle Skipworth, INF Nick Green, 1B Casey Kotchman, OF Austin Kearns, OF Matt Diaz, SP Alex Sanabia, RP Brad Hand, RP Dan Jennings, OF Jordan Brown, SP Tom Koehler, RP Sam Dyson, 1B Joe Mahoney.
What prospects are possibly in the pipeline: LF Christian Yelich, LHP Justin Nicolino, CF Jake Marisnick, LHP Andrew Heaney, LHP Adam Conley, C J.T. Realmuto.
What the organization might look like in 2015
Pitching staff: Although Jacob Turner, Henderson Alvarez and Nathan Eovaldi are slated to still be with the organization in 2015, the Marlins should only put that in pencil due to command issues (Turner) and injuries (Alvarez and Eovaldi).
At least the Marlins have 20-year-old stud Jose Fernandez (2-2, 3.31 ERA), who has drawn comparisons to King Felix.
“He reminded me of King Felix,” Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told the Sun-Sentinel. “Same body, kind of the wide lower half, that turn he has and kind of the attack from there to the strike zone. Obviously, not as polished. It seemed like if guys had good swings he came back with the heater. It was almost like, ‘Go hit this one.’ He’d try to throw harder.”
And if Turner, Alvarez and/or Eovalidi don't pan out, the Marlins should still have prospects Justin Nicolino, Andrew Heaney and Adam Conley to turn to. What we can also be certain is Ricky Nolasco will be long gone by then as Nolasco told the Miami Herald he'll be traded by the July 31 trade deadline. Kevin Slowey might follow Nolasco when he becomes a free agent after the 2014 season.
While the starting rotation might still be in shambles, the Marlins could have a good, albeit expensive (at least in owner Jeffrey Loria's world) bullpen. Steve Cishek, Ryan Webb, Mike Dunn and A.J. Ramos will still be under team control, but only Ramos won't be eligible for arbitration until 2016.
Everyday lineup: In two years, one of the best outfields in the minors will be with the Marlins. And that doesn't even include 23-year-old slugger Giancarlo Stanton.
Marcell Ozuna is already in the big leagues, and Christian Yelich and Jake Marisnick might not be too far behind. Meanwhile, many expect Stanton to be traded as early as this offseason, if not by 2014, according to ESPN.com's Jayson Stark.
If they trade him in-season, they probably wouldn't get any major league talent," said one exec of Stanton. "So given everything that's happened with their team and their attendance, are they really in a position to make a deal for him where they just get back prospects? Probably not. So they're better off keeping him all year and trading him in the offseason, so they're getting some major league pieces in return.
The double-play combo of Adeiny Hechavarria and Derek Dietrich should be in its third year in 2015, as well as catcher Rob Brantly and first baseman Logan Morrison, assuming Morrison's knees hold up. Morrison is still on the disabled list as he recovers from surgery to repair his right knee.
Third base should be the only hole left, but regardless of who fills it, this could be a lineup that's high on average and light on power.
2015 NL East finish: Fourth place; outside chance of a .500 season.
New York Mets
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Who is (probably) still here: 3B David Wright, SP Jonathon Niese, 2B Daniel Murphy, RP Bobby Parnell, RP Scott Rice, SP Matt Harvey, RP Jeurys Familia,
Who is (probably) gone: SP Johan Santana, RP Frank Francisco, SP Shaun Marcum, RP LaTroy Hawkins, RP Brandon Lyon, OF Marlon Byrd, OF Rick Ankiel
Future with team remains unknown: 1B Ike Davis, RP Scott Atchison, SP Dillon Gee, INF Ruben Tejada, INF Justin Turner, OF Mike Baxter, OF Lucas Duda, OF Colin Cowgill, RP Greg Burke, RP Jeremy Hefner, OF Kirk Nieuwenhuis, OF Jordany Valdespin, RP Jenrry Mejia, RP Josh Edgin, C Anthony Recker, C John Buck, OF Andrew Brown, RP Robert Carson, SP Collin McHugh, 1B Zach Lutz, CF Juan Lagares.
What prospects are possibly in the pipeline: RHP Zack Wheeler, C Travis d'Arnuad, RHP Noah Syndergaard, OF Brandon Nimmo, SS Gavin Cecchini, 3B Wilmer Flores, RHP Rafael Montero.
What the organization might look like in 2015
Pitching staff: Matt Harvey has been lights out and left-hander Jonathon Niese has been signed to a long-term contract. All that's needed is for Zack Wheeler to round out the three-headed monster.
Harvey is 5-0 with a 1.55 ERA in his first full season after going 3-5 with a 2.73 ERA last year; Niese showed improvement last season after compiling a 13-9 record with a 3.40 ERA. Wheeler, meanwhile, struggled earlier this year, but he regrouped as he has gone 2-0 and yielded just three runs in 20 innings in his last three starts. However, Wheeler went on the disabled list after he was diagnosed with “mild inflammation” of his right AC joint, according to the New York Daily News.
In the bullpen, the Mets might have found their closer in Bobby Parnell, who has a 4-0 record with six saves and a 0.93 ERA. The issue, though, is finding a bridge from Harvey, Niese and Wheeler, to Parnell at the end of the game.
Outside of Parnell, there doesn't seem to be another long-term answer in the bullpen. The good news is owner Fred Wilpon said during spring training there shouldn't be any financial constraints moving forward. The bad news is buying bullpen help can be disastrous. For instance, Frank Francisco is earning $6.5 million from the Mets this season even though he has yet to pitch a game because of offseason surgery in December to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. Last season, Francisco recorded 23 saves but had a 5.53 ERA in the first year of a two-year, $12 million deal.
Everyday lineup: Thank goodness for David Wright. The face of the Mets is hitting .301 with six home runs and 28 RBI, and it seems Wright and second baseman Daniel Murphy are the only dependable bats the organization has.
Despite smashing 32 home runs last season, first baseman Ike Davis has been on a downward trend for at least a year running and is currently hitting .149. Meanwhile, outfielders Lucas Duda and Collin Cowgill will both be 29 years old in 2015, but have yet to prove they can handle an everyday job. Finally, light-hitting shortstop Ruben Tejada may be 23 and is considered the shortstop of the future, but he has hardly played like one as he's hitting .210 and has committed seven errors, tied for most in the majors.
The only help coming down the pipeline is catcher Travis d'Arnaud, if he can stay healthy. d'Arnaud suffered a nondisplaced fracture of the first metatarsal in his left foot while attempting to catch a foul ball last month.
"It's just a matter of confidence, guys getting on a roll," Mets hitting coach Dave Hudgens told MLB.com a few weeks ago. "Hitting's contagious. Guys start rolling a little bit, they get confidence. We stick with the same approach, we don't deviate from what we do, and eventually we come out of it."
Although the Mets sport a bunch of Nerf bats, they might be in a better position than the Marlins because they currently seem to have more high-end pitching that will pan out, and more importantly, they have the money to try to patch what ails them.
2015 NL East finish: Third place; .500 season likely.
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Who is (probably) still here: 1B Ryan Howard, SP Cliff Lee, SP Cole Hamels, RP Jonathan Papelbon, SS Jimmy Rollins RP Antonio Bastardo, OF John Mayberry, CF Ben Revere, OF Domonic Brown, RP Phillippe Aumont, SP Kyle Kendrick, 2B Chase Utley, SP Tyler Cloyd, SP Jonathan Pettibone,
Who is (probably) gone: RP Mike Adams, SP Roy Halladay, SP John Lannan, RP Chad Durbin, OF Laynce Nix, C Humberto Quintero, OF Delmon Young,
Future with team remains unknown: INF Kevin Frandsen, RP Raul Valdes, RP Jeremy Horst, C Erik Kratz, INF Freddy Galvis, RP Michael Stutes, RP Justin De Fratus, 3B Michael Young, C Carlos Ruiz, RP Jake Diekman, RP Joe Savery, RP B.J. Rosenberg, 1B Darin Ruf,
What prospects are possibly in the pipeline: LHP Adam Morgan, LHP Jesse Biddle, SS Roman Quinn, C Tommy Joseph, RHP Ethan Martin, 3B Cody Asche.
What the organization might look like in 2015
Pitching staff: Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels will still be around, but Roy Halladay probably won't be unless he takes a massive pay cut.
Halladay has a vesting option for 2014, but the trigger is 225 innings pitched in 2013 or 415 innings pitching in 2012-13 and avoiding the disabled list to end the season. Considering he threw just 156.1 innings last season and is currently on the DL for at least two months after undergoing right shoulder surgery, Halladay might have seen his last days in Philadelphia.
If I'm playing for a last-place team and there's things going on, you maybe speak up. But we have a chance to go win a World Series and we have sellouts and fans have expectations," Halladay told MLB.com a few days before surgery. "You want to do everything you can to try to make it work. Really, that was a lot of the reason that I tried to keep going. I felt bad that I wasn't doing what I was supposed to be doing. I just want to reach out to the fans, thank them for the support and apologize to the fans that I won't be out there for three months. I want the fans to know I'm thinking about them. I don't take them for granted and I don't take playing for Philadelphia for granted.
The good news is the Phillies' barren farm system has turned up a couple of gems. Jonathan Pettibone is 3-0 with a 3.00 ERA in six starts this season while Tyler Cloyd has given up just four earned runs in 13.1 innings in two starts. The pair are filling in for Halladay and left-hander John Lannan. Behind Pettibone and Cloyd in the system are southpaws Adam Morgan and Jesse Biddle. If Kyle Kendrick re-signs with the club after 2014, the Phillies starting rotation will be on good footing.
In the bullpen, closer Jonathan Papelbon and reliever Antonio Bastardo should still be the anchors. Phillippe Aumont could be in the mix if he never makes it as a starter, which currently seems likely. Meanwhile, Mike Adams has reachable parameters in his vesting option for 2015 (120 appearances in 2013-14—with 60 appearances in 2014—the contract vests for $6.5 million. If he makes 65 appearances in '14, it vests for $6 million), but if he falls short, I don't see the Phillies exercising the $6 million team option, especially if they are rebuilding.
Everyday lineup: If the Phillies championship aspirations fall off a cliff, this is where it happens.
First baseman Ryan Howard will be 35 years old and earn $25 million in 2015. He's hit .233 with 20 home runs and 81 RBI in 113 games since he blew out his Achilles tendon at the end of the 2011 postseason. Some have called Howard's five-year, $125 extension an expensive mistake.
Shortstop Jimmy Rollins will be 36 and has a vesting option for $11 million that becomes guaranteed with 600 plate appearances in 2014. Since his 2007 MVP season, Rollins' OPS-plus is 95, which is below the average of 100. Also, Rollins has hit .258 with an OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .736, which is hardly worth $11 million.
Second baseman Chase Utley is in the last year of his seven-year, $85 million contract, and it's hard to see him leave Philly. Moreover, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark has gotten the impression the Phillies would approach Utley first and get a feel for whether he wants to go elsewhere at the trade deadline, especially since Utley's contract allows him to block trades to 21 teams. At 34, Utley has bounced back this season, hitting .272 with seven home runs and 25 RBI after he failed to play a game before May 23 in each of the last two seasons.
Last season, Carlos Ruiz had a career year as he hit .325 with 16 home runs and 68 RBI. Then, he got suspended for the first 25 games of 2013 after he tested positive for Adderall, an amphetamine commonly used to control attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Now, he's hitting .235 in 51 at-bats since returning. Does Ruiz's performance have any correlation to his drug suspension? Probably not. But as csnphilly.com's Jim Salisbury reports, the Phillies will listen to offers for Ruiz if they fall out of contention. Ruiz will also be 36 in 2015.
Third baseman Michael Young can still swing the bat as he's hitting .296 with a .389 on-base percentage after his trade to Philadelphia in the offseason. But Young is currently 36, has no power (one home run in 175 plate appearances), kills rallies with a major league-leading 11 double plays and was expected to be a stopgap (especially since he hasn't played third base regularly since 2010) as the Phillies continue their chase toward a World Series title.
Outfielders Ben Revere, Domonic Brown and John Mayberry will still be here in 2015, but they are not players a championship team builds an offense around. And with no prospects who could exhibit the impact Howard, Rollins and Utley once provided, scoring and winning could be hard to come by.
2015 NL East finish: Fifth place; will surpass 70 wins, but the rebuilding process will be underway.
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Who is (probably) still here: LF Jayson Werth, 3B Ryan Zimmerman, RP Rafael Soriano, SP Gio Gonzalez, CF Denard Span, RF Bryce Harper, SP Jordan Zimmermann, RP Tyler Clippard, SS Ian Desmond, RP Drew Storen, SP Ross Detwiler, SP Stephen Strasburg, RP Craig Stammen, C Wilson Ramos, RP Henry Rodriguez, RP Ryan Mattheus, 3B Anthony Rendon, C Kurt Suzuki,
Who is (probably) gone: 1B Adam LaRoche, SP Dan Haren, INF Chad Tracy, RP Zach Duke,
Future with team remains unknown: OF Roger Bernadina, 2B Danny Espinosa, 2B Steve Lombardozzi, OF Tyler Moore, RP Ryan Perry, RP Cole Kimball, SP Yunesky Maya, RP Xavier Cedeno, RP Christian Garcia, 1B Chris Marrero, C Sandy Leon, C Jhonatan Solano, OF Corey Brown, OF Eury Perez.
What prospects are possibly in the pipeline: CF Brian Goodwin, RHP A.J. Cole, RHP Nathan Karns, LHP Matt Purke.
What the organization might look like in 2015
Pitching staff: The starting rotation and the bullpen are still stacked two years later, albeit more expensive than the 2013 group.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez (21 wins in 2012, finished third in Cy Young voting) will make a measly $11 million in 2015, while Stephen Strasburg (2-5 record, 2.86 ERA; 2012 All-Star), Jordan Zimmermann (7-2, 1.62 ERA) and Ross Detwiler (2-4, 2.76 ERA) will make around the same figure through arbitration if they continue their current pace. Did we mention Strasburg will only be 26 years old by then while the other three will be 29?
What will probably help the Nationals pay those four studs is redistribute Dan Haren's $13 million and hope A.J. Cole, Nathan Karns or Matt Purke can fill the final spot in the rotation.
The trio of Rafael Soriano, Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen could still be intact in 2015. Soriano has a $14 million club option for 2015, which becomes guaranteed if Soriano finishes 120 games in 2013 and 2014 combined. Soriano has never finished more than 56 games in his career, but it's hard-pressed to see the Nationals let Soriano walk if he continues to be productive and the Nationals are in contention for a World Series title.
The one weak link in the armor is the lack of a left-hander in the bullpen. One suggestion is to transform Purke into a reliever. Purke has had a history of shoulder issues at TCU and won't pitch until June 1 as he recovers from shoulder surgery.
Everyday lineup: In two years, the Nationals offense could be just as good, if not better, than what it is today.
Let's get the bad news out of the way, which isn't much. Jayson Werth will make $21 million as a 36-year-old left fielder. Denard Span has a team option while Adam LaRoche has a mutual option for 2015. Span's $9 million option should be picked up since he's the team's only true leadoff hitter and plays Gold Glove-caliber center field defense. So that's good. The trickier situation is LaRoche.
More than likely, LaRoche's mutual option will not be picked up. The Nationals have third baseman Anthony Rendon coming down the pipeline and when he does arrive, Ryan Zimmerman, the face of the franchise, will move across the diamond to first base. This move is almost inevitable, especially with Zimmerman's throwing issues this season.
As for the rest of the squad, shortstop Ian Desmond could be playing for a new contract as he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. Last year, he hit a career-best .292 with 25 home runs and 73 RBI.
If catcher Kurt Suzuki doesn't return (the Nationals have a $8.5 million team option for 2014), then Wilson Ramos will return to full-time duties, assuming he's healthy. Ramos was hitting .267 with 19 home runs and 66 RBI in 524 at-bats from 2010-12 before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee.
The main question mark is second base, where Danny Espinosa will be under team control through 2016. Although Espinosa has shown an ability to hit for power, he's also accrued high strikeout rates (NL-leading 189 strikeouts in 2012) and a low batting average.
That said, have we mentioned the Nationals employ Bryce Harper?
2015 NL East finish: First place, could win more than 100 games en route to division title.