Now that the Marlins have signed Jose Reyes to a six-year, $106 million contract, not only have the Marlins dramatically improved overnight, but so has the shape of the National League East going forward for 2012.
The Phillies have won the division for the past five seasons, the Braves nearly made the postseason in 2011 before an epic collapse, the Nationals began to show some of their developed young talent, the Mets went through various financial issues and the Marlins once again failed to sell a lot of tickets in their final season of playing at Land Shark Stadium.
Now, the Marlins will have a more star-studded roster and will be playing at a brand new stadium. If they make a few more moves, they could definitely contend for the postseason in 2012. However, their road will not be easy. The Phillies expect to win the division again, the Braves aim to redeem themselves following their infamous collapse and the Nationals could even give those three teams a run for their money.
The Mets, on the other hand, are one clear-cut team that is not expected to contend, mainly due to their lack of payroll flexibility.
With all this being said, here are the new National League East Power Rankings.
A lot of head shaking is something that the Mets are likely to go through in 2012.
The team has lost Jose Reyes to the division rival Marlins and are not expected to go after any significant free agents in this offseason. This leaves David Wright as the Mets' lone offensive superstar and he will be heavily expected to carry the offense going forward.
If the Mets want to win, they will need big production and good health from first baseman Ike Davis and they will also need to pray that Jason Bay completely rejuvenates himself after two forgettable seasons with the Mets so far.
Aside from those three, the rest of the Mets' lineup is decent at best. Daniel Murphy had a nice season in 2011, but with all the injuries he has sustained since 2010, it will be tough to judge what to really expect from him for a full season. Justin Turner was a surprise and the Mets are hoping he can build upon his rookie season. The Mets are likely to now start the young and defensive-oriented Ruben Tejada at shortstop despite his weak offensive skills. Murphy and Turner will likely platoon at second base unless one of them gets traded. A few teams have contacted the Mets about Murphy, so he could be a good trade chip.
In the outfield, the Mets are likely to bring back Angel Pagan as the center fielder and are also likely to see how Lucas Duda can perform in right field for a full season. Duda struggled for a good chunk of the 2011 season before hitting better near the end of the season.
Despite their offensive holes, the Mets have even bigger question marks in their rotation. Will Johan Santana be healthy for all of 2012? Will he have lost any velocity? Will Mike Pelfrey bounce back from a very disappointing 2011 season? Will R.A. Dickey continue his recent success? Will Jon Niese improve his pitching and get closer towards his full potential? Can Dillon Gee put together another solid season, or was his rookie year a fluke? Assuming the Mets' rotation consists of those five pitchers, the Mets will need to get a lot of the questions answered in their favor to avoid a last-place finish.
The Mets also have many bullpen issues, most significantly at closer. They have let various closers sign with other teams and cannot afford to rely on Manny Acosta, or even Bobby Parnell to close games in 2012. If there is one position that Sandy Alderson will spend a decent amount of money on, it's a new closer. Hopefully, Alderson will come through and bring the Mets a solid closer.
All in all, the Mets are still rebuilding, but it's very unlikely that the pieces will come together in 2012. Look for the Mets to start winning though once top pitching prospects Jeruys Familia, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler get called up. Until then, the Mets may be doomed for some more poor seasons.
2012 Prediction: 5th Place, 72-76 Wins
In 2011, the Washington Nationals made significant strides as the team continues to develop its young talent.
The Nationals' offensive is led by third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who had a good season overall, but not at the level of his previous seasons. The team's breakout star though was first baseman Michael Morse, who batted .303 with 31 home runs and 95 RBI. Morse was even fourth in the National League in slugging percentage. With a healthy Adam LaRoche back on the field, Morse will likely move back to left field, but he will still be counted on to contribute once again.
The Nationals also have some good young hitters in Ian Desmond, Danny Espinosa, and Wilson Ramos. There is also the highly touted prospect Bryce Harper, who could see time in the MLB in 2012. In the 2010-2011 offseason, the Nationals signed Jayson Werth to an eight-year contract, but Werth failed to live up to his paycheck in 2011. Nonetheless, he is expected to bounce back from his poor season in a big way.
On the pitching side, the Nationals will be led by their young fireballer Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg missed the vast majority of the 2010 season due to injuries before pitching a few games in September. It will be interesting to see how well and how often he pitches in 2012 over a full season. The rest of the Nationals rotation includes lefties Tom Gorzellany and John Lannan, plus right-handers Chien-Ming Wang and Jordan Zimmermann. This group of pitchers is extend to pitch well overall, but Wang in particular has had recent injury issues and time will tell whether he will be able to stay healthy or not.
One of the Nationals' bigger strengths is their bullpen, which is anchored by the young closer Drew Storen and set-up man Tyler Clippard. If the Nationals' middle relievers are able to bride the gap between the starters and Clippard and Storen, the Nationals may win more games in 2012 than they have in each of the past ten seasons.
With the NL East expected to be rather stacked, the Nationals will not be postseason favorites, but don't count out the young talent that they have.
2012 Prediction: 4th Place, 78-82 wins
Now that the Marlins have signed both Heath Bell and Jose Reyes, they are primed to immediately contend for the postseason.
By adding Reyes, the Marlins now have one of the better overall lineups in the National League. Reyes will play alongside Hanley Ramirez, who is expected to move to third base in order to accommodate Reyes. The Marlins' infield will also consist of first baseman Gaby Sanchez and either Emilio Bonifacio or Omar Infante at second base. The Marlins also have a very solid outfield that includes Chris Coghlan, Logan Morrison and the slugging Mike Stanton. Stanton in particular asserted himself as one of baseball's most feared sluggers in 2011.
The Marlins' starting rotation will once again be anchored by ace Josh Johnson, who is looking to stay healthy after missing most of 2011 with injuries. The Marlins will also have Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez in the middle of the rotation. The back end will include the veteran Javier Vazquez and Chris Volstad. The Marlins have a very strong rotation and as long as they all stay healthy, this group can compete with any other rotation across the league.
The signing of Bell brings more stability to the Marlins' bullpen. Former closer Leo Nunez, who was revealed to be known as Juan Carlos Oviedo could potentially return in a set-up role, but the Marlins also have the young Steve Cishek, who is expected to be a big piece of this bullpen. Michael Dunn and Edward Mujica are also expected to pitch well in middle relief.
With Ozzie Guillen now the Marlins' manager, expect much better discipline across the team and better results on the field. Thanks to all the signings the Marlins have made, they will be expected to contend for the 2012 postseason. However, with teams like the Phillies and Braves in the way, the Marlins may fall short in 2012.
Projected Finish: 3rd Place, 84-87 Wins
The five-time defending NL East champion Philadelphia Phillies were expected to win it all in 2011 after signing Cliff Lee to join Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Roy Oswalt in a star-studded rotation. However, despite winning the division once again, the Phillies fell in the NLDS to the eventual World Series champion St. Louis Cardinals.
Going forward, the Phillies will try to do everything they can to get back to the World Series. However, 2012 will be tough for them.
First baseman Ryan Howard may miss a good chunk of the 2011 season after injuring his Achilles tendon during the postseason. As a result, the Phillies brought back the veteran slugger Jim Thome in case Howard's injury lasts a few months into the season. Second baseman Chase Utley and third baseman Placido Polanco will return, but longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins may not return to the Phillies. It would be a huge change for the team because Rollins has been the clubhouse leader for the past decade.The Phillies also brought in Ty Wigginton for additional infield depth.
In the outfield, the Phillies still have center fielder Shane Victorino and right fielder Hunter Pence, both of whom are expected to have big years in 2012. The question mark though is left field. The Phillies could let Domonic Brown play every day or platoon with Ben Francisco. They could also sign a left fielder to replace Raul Ibanez, who is very unlikely to return. John Mayberry is yet another option the Phillies have.
On the pitching end, the Phillies still have Halladay and Lee, two of the most dominating pitchers in baseball. Assuming both stay healthy in 2012, they will carry the team once again towards postseason contention. Hamels had a solid season in 2011 as well and the Phillies will need him to pitch well in order to win the division this time around. With Roy Oswalt unlikely to return, the back end of the rotation will likely consist of the the young Vance Worley, who won 11 games in his rookie season and the veteran Joe Blanton.
The one glaring weakness the Phillies had in 2011 was their bullpen. As a result, the first thing that general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. worked on this offseason was to sign a new closer and they got just that in Jonathan Papelbon, whom they signed to a four-year contract. This means that Brad Lidge is not likely to return, although a return for him in a set-up role should not be ruled out. Antonio Bastardo and Jose Contreras are likely to be the Phillies' main set-up men in 2012.
The Phillies have a great group of veterans, one of the best pitching staffs in baseball and a lot more stability in the bullpen. Nonetheless, if Howard misses a lot of the season, the offense will suffer dramatically without their big run producer in the lineup. The Phillies will still win a lot of games in 2011, but Howard's health could be the difference as to whether they can keep up with the Braves.
Projected Finish: 2nd Place, 88-93 Wins, Wild Card
Another young and talented team in the NL East is the Atlanta Braves, who finished within one game of clinching a playoff spot. The Braves had a large lead in the 2011 NL Wild Card going into September, but suffered a collapse, while the St. Louis Cardinals surged that month and won not only the Wild Card, but also the 2011 World Series. It was a tough pill for the Braves to swallow, but they will be ready to go in 2012 as they try to redeem themselves from the end of last September.
The Braves' offense is led by young stars Jason Heyward and Freedie Freeman, as well as veterans Dan Uggla, Chipper Jones and Brian McCann. Uggla had another solid season in 2011 that included a 30-game hitting streak, while Freeman finished in second place in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. Heyward on the other hand struggled to live up to the numbers he put up in 2010, while Jones was injured for part of the season and is nearing the end of his career at 39 years old (he will turn 40 this coming April).
At the trade deadline, the Braves also picked up speedy outfielder Michael Bourn, who should become a good catalyst for the team's explosive offense. The Braves also have good depth on their bench with Eric Hinske and Matt Diaz.
Another strength for the Braves is their rotation, which is led by the veteran Tim Hudson. It also includes Brandon Beachy, Jair Jurrgens, Tommy Hanson and Mike Minor. Jurrgens and Hanson are established startes, while Beachy and Minor will look to build upon their solid 2011 seasons.
Yet another strength for the Braves is their bullpen, which may be one of the best in all of baseball. Anchoring the bullpen is defending NL Rookie of the Year winner Craig Kimbrel, who led the National League with 46 saves and is destined to have another similar season in 2012. Kimbrel's set-up men include lefties Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters, both of whom pitched very well in 2011.
The Braves overall do not have a glaring weakness. If they don't re-sign shortstop Alex Gonzalez, they may need to shop a new shortstop, but other than that, the Braves have one of the most solid teams in the National League. As long as they stay focused and win, the sky is the limit.
Projected Finish: 1st Place, 94-97 Wins