2016 National League Preview & Predictions

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The Major League Baseball season is only four days away, so as Opening Day rosters get their final tweaks and additions, is there a better time than now to preview the season for the National League?

There is a lot of disparity between the American and National League this season, as almost every team in the American League is in position to attempt to compete for a playoff spot, while several National League teams are in rebuilding mode.

NL EAST

1. New York Mets (95-67)

The Mets are built to win now. They have one of the deepest, if not the deepest, starting rotations in baseball. It will only get boosted further when P Zack Wheeler returns mid

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Mets’ 3B David Wright will be a key player for the team this season.

season after recovering from Tommy John Surgery. The team added SS Asdrubal Cabrera in the off season, and he will prove to be a major upgrade both offensively and defensively. With OF Yoenis Cespedes returning and a full year of OF Michael Conforto in the outfield, the Mets’ offense should be improved. The X-Factor for the team will be if 3B David Wright can stay healthy and contribute at a competent level. It will be interesting to see if back injuries have sapped Wright of his power.

2. Washington Nationals (85-77)

I’m not as high on the Nationals as most are. First off, they are a perpetually injury plagued team. 1B Ryan Zimmerman will inevitably miss some time. OF Jayson Werth, P Stephen Strasburg, and 3B Anthony Rendon have shown themselves to be injury prone as well. Without P Jordan Zimmerman, the Nationals are down a No. 2 starter, putting a lot more pressure on Strasburg to perform in a contract year. With one of the game’s best pitching prospects, P Lucas Giolito, set to debut at some point in the summer, the Nats will receive some reinforcements, but I don’t believe it will be enough to make the playoffs.

3. Miami Marlins (81-81)

The Marlins are a work in progress. They are moving in the right direction, but it will take another off season of positive momentum to put this team in position for the playoffs. First, the Marlins must get OF Giancarlo Stanton and P Jose Fernandez through the season healthy. While I believe they will make it through 2016, I don’t see the back end of the Marlins’ starting rotation or bullpen holding its own through the year, limiting the team to a .500 record.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (73-89)

Fresh off a season as the worst team in baseball, the Phillies are primed for an improvement. It’s not a monumental improvement, but one nonetheless. This season is a critical one in the rebuilding process for the Phils, as many of their top prospects will debut one after another during the summer. If veteran players perform, like 1B Ryan Howard and Ps Jeremy Hellickson and Charlie Morton, expect Philadelphia to be players at the Trade Deadline to add even more depth to an already deep farm system.

5. Atlanta Braves (62-100)

The Braves are built to lose. The goal for the season is to continue to build the farm system in hopes of building a semi-competitive team for the opening of a new ballpark in the coming seasons, in order to build a winner in the future. 1B Freddie Freeman and P Julio Teheran are the best pieces that the team has, and while they have repeatedly said that neither will be traded, if they receive an offer that blows them away, they will take it. I fully expect the Braves to be the worst team in baseball this season. Expect them to be players at the Trade Deadline, shipping any and every veteran with value away for prospects.

NL CENTRAL

1. Chicago Cubs (98-64)

I believe the Cubs will be the best team in the National League. They are too deep to not win. This is the best team that manager Joe Maddon has ever had, and he will be able to

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The Chicago Cubs are looking to build off of their success from 2015.

mix and match his way through the season. The team added OF Jason Heyward and P John Lackey from the rival Cardinals, and both moves will prove to be critical down the stretch. This team could be an offensive juggernaut that has just enough pitching to make a deep October run. I’d expect the team to add a relief arm or two around the Trade Deadline to solidify the end of games.

2. St. Louis Cardinals (95-67)

The Cards are in the middle of one of the best divisions in baseball. I believe they will come up just short of the Cubs for the division crown, but still have what it takes to take a Wild Card spot. In comparison to the Cubs, the Cardinals don’t have the same offensive firepower, but have great starting pitching depth. If P Adam Wainwright can make it through the season healthy, the Cardinals top four starters rival any other team’s foursome in the game today. That will be enough to carry them through most of the season, as Cardinals’ hitters are notoriously timely and clutch, with OF/1B Matt Holliday leading the way offensively.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates (93-69)

Another year, another spot in the Wild Card game for the Bucs. While this team doesn’t have the financial power that its rivals do, the Pirates may still manage to have the most balanced squad in this division. The pitching staff is led by P Gerrit Cole, who is looking to cement his ace status with another terrific performance this season. The team will receive a boost from top pitching prospects, Tyler Glasnow and Jameson Taillon debuting at some point this summer, giving the Pirates the potential for a deep rotation. On offense, the team is led by OF Andrew McCutchen, but it is OFs Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte that are primed for big, breakout campaigns. Look for the Pirates’ outfield to be one of the best in baseball.

4. Cincinnati Reds (70-92)

The Reds have the unfortunate task of rebuilding in one of the deepest divisions in baseball. The team’s pitching staff is young, but extremely inexperienced. This will hurt the team all season long. With aging veterans 2B Brandon Phillips and OF Jay Bruce occupying roster spots that are better suited for prospects needing to prove themselves, expect the Reds to move them at the Trade Deadline. 1B Joey Votto is still one of the best hitters in baseball, but will be plagued by having no help around him offensively.

5. Milwaukee Brewers (64-98)

Baseball won’t be fun to watch in Milwaukee this summer. Another team in rebuilding mode, the Brewers are even worse off than the Reds in this division. The Brewers have little to no starting pitching depth, and boast only OF Ryan Braun as the lone intimidating offensive threat. C Jonathan Lucroy is a valuable piece, but I fully expect the Brewers to move him before the Trade Deadline for a return of prospects. It will be a few seasons before the Brewers are in position to compete again.

NL WEST

1. San Francisco Giants (94-68)

It’s an even year, so the Giants are set to win the World Series, right? Well, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility, as the Giants have one of the best starting rotations in

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Giants’ OF Hunter Pence plays a vital role in energizing the team.

baseball. Led by P Madison Bumgarner, the Giants added Ps Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardizija to the mix. With P Matt Cain returning from injury and Jake Peavy as a holdover the Giants have the makings of a dominant rotation. On offense, the team is led by C Buster Posey and OF Hunter Pence. The team is depending on Pence remaining healthy through the summer, but also betting on repeat performances from SS Brandon Crawford and IF Matt Duffy. I like those odds, and believe the Giants will find their way into the playoffs.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (89-73)

The Dodgers aren’t a bad team, but just not good enough to make the playoffs. Unable to make it out of Spring Training without a significant amount of injuries to its starting rotation, the Dodgers are already starting off the season in a deficit with a first-year manager. P Clayton Kershaw will still be a dominant force, and I expect P Kenta Maeda and SS Corey Seager to compete for Rookie of the Year honors, but pitching is what will ultimately keep LA out of the postseason.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks (83-79)

All of Arizona’s big, flashy moves in the off season have to work, right? Wrong. Yes, bringing in P Zack Greinke is a huge plus, and P Shelby Miller would’ve won 10 more games had he been in Arizona last season, but the team still plays its home games at Chase Field. That is not the easiest place for pitchers to succeed, and I believe their additions will find that it is a bit difficult to perform in that environment. On offense, 1B Paul Goldschmidt is still carrying the load, and I don’t believe that DBacks have added enough around him to make a truly elite offensive club. The team is hoping for 3B/OF Yasmany Tomas to have a big season, but I don’t think that will be enough in this pitching heavy division.

4. San Diego Padres (73-89)

The Padres are in a curious position. After GM A.J. Preller made moves like acquiring OF Matt Kemp and P James Shields last off season, the team appeared to be primed to compete. However, when those moves proved to be faulty, as Shields gave up far too many home runs, and Kemp showed that he may never truly regain his previous form from his heydays in LA. Now, I expect the Pads to try and move veterans, like Shields and Kemp, in an attempt to offload payroll and acquire prospects. This team is simply not good enough to compete in any facet of the game.

5. Colorado Rockies (68-94)

The Rockies are stuck in the cellar of the NL West. It isn’t necessarily their fault, as they are in the midst of a rebuild without much good pitching. The team is hoping for P Jon Gray to get healthy and on track to make good on his previous top prospect form. P Jeff Hoffman, acquired in last season’s Troy Tulowitzki trade, may very well debut this season, and outside of 3B Nolan Arenado, that is the most excitement that Rockies’ fans will have this season. Wait on those prospects, they’re coming.

Look out for my American League preview & predictions, which will be followed by my 2016 MLB Postseason Predictions.

Trade Deadline Winners and Losers

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The 2014 MLB Trade Deadline was definitely one of the most active that I can remember in the past 10 years. Two ace pitchers, Jon Lester and David Price, were dealt away. The Major League best Oakland A’s traded away their cleanup hitter, and arguably their best player. On top of all that, the team that was expected to be the deadline’s biggest seller, the Philadelphia Phillies, did nothing at all.

Overall, I believe some teams made great moves that either helped them in the short term or long term, while other team’s moves or non-moves have left me scratching my head. Here’s my take on this year’s Trade Deadline winners and losers:

WINNERS

Boston Red Sox

Dare I say that the Boston Red Sox were the Trade Deadline’s biggest winner? The Sox are clearly out of the postseason

Yoenis Cespedes (above) will look to boost a Boston outfield through 2015.

Yoenis Cespedes (above) will look to boost a Boston outfield through 2015.

picture this year, and had trade assets. Not to mention they received great offers. For less than half a season of P Jon Lester, the Sox got a little more than a year of OF Yoenis Cespedes, plus a chance to resign him to a large contract that Oakland couldn’t have afforded. There’s also the potential of Lester returning to the Red Sox via free agency this off season.  Boston wasn’t done there, and turned around quickly to deal P John Lackey to the Cardinals for P Joe Kelly and 1B/OF Allen Craig. For less than a season and a half of Lackey, the Red Sox acquired two young, controllable players who have each performed at a high level in the Major Leagues, but have struggled with injuries this season. Craig, 29, has driven in 90 runs in a season twice before, and can’t become a free agent until 2018. Kelly, 26, won 10 games last season, and can’t become a free agent until 2019. Finally, the Red Sox dealt P Andrew Miller to the division rival Baltimore Orioles, for pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez. A great haul came in return for two expiring contracts and a veteran pitcher.

Detroit Tigers

Tigers’ GM Dave Dombrowski has to be thinking that if this move doesn’t put Detroit over the top, I don’t know what will. The Tigers acquired former Cy Young award winner P David Price from the Rays, and sent OF Austin Jackson to the Mariners and P Drew Smyly and infield prospect Willy Adames to the Rays. This trade gives them an incredible top three pitchers of Price, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, who have each won the Cy Young. However, acquiring a great player isn’t the only reason the Tigers are winner of this trade deadline. They won because they didn’t give up their entire farm system, or lose any major pieces of the puzzle, and still added an impact pitcher to the fold. This move won’t hurt Detroit that much down the road if they fail to resign Price this off season. At least it gives them the first crack at trying to retain his services, as well as a legitimate shot at a World Series title.

Oakland Athletics

The A’s made the first splash of the day, acquiring P Jon Lester and OF Jonny Gomes from the Red Sox for OF Yoenis Cespedes. While the loss of Cespedes hurts, realistically, the A’s had no chance at resigning him next off season, and got the best value that they could for him now. Bringing Lester into the fold gives them an ace of the staff, and someone who can show the younger pitchers how to handle the postseason. It’s a toss up between who has the better rotation now, between the Tigers and A’s. However, Oakland did what was necessary to cement them as one of the league’s best teams going into the stretch run of the season. To soften the blow of losing Cespedes’ bat, the A’s reacquired OF Sam Fuld from the Minnesota Twins, forming a Fuld/Gomes platoon in the outfield.


 

LOSERS

Philadelphia Phillies

How is it possible that you are rumored to be the team with the most pieces to sell, be in last place in your division, and

Ruben Amaro (above) has some explaining to do after the Trade Deadline.

Ruben Amaro (above) has some explaining to do after the Trade Deadline.

simply stand pat and do nothing at the Trade Deadline? Well, Phillies’ GM Ruben Amaro did just that, and didn’t make a single deal at the deadline. Simply, the Phillies should have paid attention to what the Red Sox did, and maybe try and reload for next season since this one is an obvious lost cause. Instead, the Phillies will attempt to be active in August, passing their players through waivers to see if any team will bite and want to work out a deal. That will be the only way to massage this blow, it what is another sign of how bad this team truly is right now.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates were rumored to be active, and I’m sure the team explored various avenues for trades, but they too stood pat. Simply put, their rotation as currently constructed is not good enough for them to compete in the postseason. The Pirates probably thought about acquiring Lester or Price, but didn’t want to lose their top prospects for players they probably have no chance of resigning. However, I’m surprised Pittsburgh didn’t try to pull off a smaller deal, similar to how the Cardinals acquired P Justin Masterson for a prospect. Maybe they could’ve tried Mets P Bartolo Colon or Padres P Ian Kennedy? It’s hard for me to accept standing pat when there are obvious needs for a competing club. Maybe they too are waiting for an August trade.

Los Angeles Angels

The Angels aren’t necessarily losers because of what they did or didn’t do, but simply because of the moves the A’s and Tigers made. These are probably the three best teams in the American League right now, and there is simply no way for the Angels to match the kind of moves their peers made today by bringing in ace pitchers. Also, come playoff time, the Angels rotation will probably fall a pitcher or two short in comparison with one of their opponents. They’d better hope that those big contracts for 1B Albert Pujols and OF Josh Hamilton pay off in the postseason.


 

A LITTLE CONFUSED

St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are a competing team and wanted to add veteran pitchers. I understand that. I’m just not quite sure why it was  Ps Justin Masterson and John Lackey. Masterson is having a down season, has been struggling with injury, and has seen his velocity dip. It’s tough to sell that he’s an upgrade in the rotation. Lackey is having a solid year, and comes with a cheap contract for next season, but was it really worth Joe Kelly and Allen Craig? Both players were homegrown through the St. Louis system, have performed well in the past, are controllable for multiple years and were both dealing with injuries this season. I have a hard time believing a solid return for them is Lackey. By moving Craig, the Cardinals are ultimately opening up a spot for top prospect OF Oscar Taveras to play everyday, but wouldn’t it have been wiser to keep Craig for this stretch run, and then maybe revisit moving him in the off season? I guess only time can tell with these deals, but as of now, it appears to me that the Cardinals did some subtraction, not addition.

 

Reaction To Lester, Lackey Trades

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Wow.

That word best summarizes the early trades of this year’s MLB Trade Deadline.

First, the Oakland A’s acquired P Jon Lester and OF Jonny Gomes from the Boston Red Sox for OF Yoenis Cespedes and a 2015 Competitive Balance Draft Pick. My initial reaction was how could Oakland, who has been the best team in the Major Leagues this season, trade arguably their best player and their cleanup hitter in Cespedes? It is also worth noting that Cespedes is still signed through next season, while Lester and Gomes are free agents after this season.

After I let this trade digest, and the initial shock went away, I realized that this was a great trade for both teams. The Oakland A’s are primed and ready for a World Series run, and this will give them their best rotation that they’ve entered the playoffs with in the past 20 years. Consider facing this four man rotation in a postseason series:

  1. Jon Lester
  2. Jeff Samardzija
  3. Sonny Gray
  4. Scott Kazmir

Lester has been one of the best pitchers in postseason history, Kazmir and Gray have pitched there before, and Samardzija is a standout young star that is waiting for his chance to prove himself in the playoffs. While losing Cespedes hurts, you have to come to realize that he is going to command a large contract next off season, which is something that Oakland wouldn’t have been able to afford. This move allows them to get a great value for Cespedes, and sets them up for a nice playoff run. Also, with Oakland acquiring OF Sam Fuld in a separate deal with the Minnesota Twins, they are able to form a possible platoon with Fuld and Gomes.

While the Red Sox made a great haul in bringing back Cespedes for this year and next, they weren’t done dealing and adding parts. P John Lackey was dealt to the St. Louis Cardinals for P Joe Kelly and 1B/OF Allen Craig. My reaction to this is that Boston just set up a great possible lineup for next season, boosting their outfield with Cespedes and Craig. The Boston outfield has been historically bad this season, but this possible lineup for next season looks extremely formidable:

  1. CF Jackie Bradley, Jr.
  2. 2B Dustin Pedroia
  3. LF Yoenis Cespedes
  4. DH David Ortiz
  5. 1B Mike Napoli
  6. RF Allen Craig
  7. SS Xander Bogaerts
  8. C Christian Vazquez
  9. 3B Brock Holt/Will Middlebrooks

There isn’t really an easy out in that lineup, and the 3-6 hitters each have the potential to drive in 100 runs. Given the fact that the Red Sox have many young pitching prospects on the rise, and 2014 is a lost season, it is wise to give them a chance to develop at the Major League level in a somewhat stress-free situation. It will prepare them for next season, where the Red Sox have the potential to be reloaded and ready to contend again.

It has been reported that Lester has said that he would be interested in resigning with the Red Sox this off season. Is it possible he could return to lead a revamped Red Sox rotation in 2015? Stay tuned.

Masahiro Tanaka Injury Spells ‘DOOM’ For Yanks

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The most feared injury in baseball nowadays is a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament, or UCL. This injury is most common in the pitching elbows of baseball players, and the most common form of rehabilitation begins with Tommy John Surgery. Although it is possible to rehab a minor tear of the UCL, most cases result in TJ Surgery, and require almost a year of rehab before a player is able to compete again.

There have been a rash of these types of injuries this year, and it appears that the injury bug has bitten again. This time, Yankees P Masahiro Tanaka is the victim, after three different doctors diagnosed a “minor tear” in Tanaka’s UCL of his throwing arm. Despite this tear, the hope is that Tanaka can rehab the injury for 6 weeks, and avoid TJ Surgery. This type of rehabilitation has worked before, but in more rare cases. In fact, Cardinals P Adam Wainwright rehabbed his UCL injury, and was able to pitch for 5 years before finally tearing it and having TJ Surgery.

To me, it seems like the solution is obvious. It’s time for Tanaka to have the surgery to not delay the rehab process, and possibly be available for the Yankees late next season. If Tanaka delays the surgery only to have it later this year, it would rule him out for the entire 2015 season. Either way, the Yankees are in deep trouble.

Masahiro Tanaka (above) suffered a slight tear of his UCL.

Masahiro Tanaka (above) suffered a slight tear of his UCL.

Currently, 4 out of 5 of the Yankees’ pitchers from the Opening Day rotation are on the DL. Tanaka can essentially be ruled out for the season. Fellow starter P Ivan Nova has already had Tommy John Surgery. Ace P C.C. Sabathia has missed a majority of the season with a knee injury that is still ailing, but had not been effective in previous starts. Finally, P Michael Pineda has been dealing with an oft-injured shoulder since April, and was only playing catch as of last week. Only P Hiroki Kuroda remains, and is by far the most reliable starting option for the Yankees right now. They acquired P Brandon McCarthy from the Diamondbacks last week, but he was sporting a 3-10 record with a 5.01 ERA at the time of the trade. They didn’t exactly trade for a “savior” of the ball club.

Despite all of these injuries, the Yankees currently sit at 46-45, and are only 4.5 games back of the first place Baltimore Orioles. That’s some sort of freakin’ miracle. However, they will not stay there, or even have a chance to compete if they don’t make a move to add some pitching depth.

Yet, to acquire top pitching talent, the Yankees would have to part with top prospects, which they have very little of. Most, if not all the Yankees premier talent, is already at the major league level, and isn’t as desirable as young, controllable players. The options for the Yanks are slim at this point, and seem to be limited to Phillies’ pitchers A.J. Burnett and Cliff Lee, and former Yankees pitchers Phil Hughes (Minnesota) and Ian Kennedy (San Diego). I don’t think the Yankees would have enough prospects to entice the Phillies to trade Lee, but it is definitely possible to acquire Burnett, since his deal is set to expire at the end of the season. The latter two options are more interesting, as both the Twins and Padres are way out of contention, and could be interested in moving these players to give younger players a shot at the Major League Level. However, none of the talents available, outside of Lee, are a top of the rotation talent that the Yankees desperately need.

I don’t see how this can end well for the Yankees. They are simply depleted of Major League talent, and absolutely riddled by injuries. It appears as if Derek Jeter’s drift into the sunset will end with a finish in the bottom of the AL East, which is not a way that any fan would have pictured his glorious career ending.