So much for Derek Jeter wanting the world in return for Giancarlo Stanton as he gave him to the New York Yankees for a song.
When former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter became part of the ownership group that purchased the Miami Marlins earlier this year, you expected changes to be coming to South Florida. Jeter is now the Marlins CEO as well as having a 20% ownership stake in the franchise. Jeter won five World Series Championships with the Yankees as he was the greatest winner of his era in baseball. And as Jeter is seeking to change the culture for the Marlins and mold them into the Yankees of the South, he is evaluating each and every player on the roster that he inherited.
One thing that the Marlins can hang their hats on is that they have one of the game’s best power hitters on their roster in outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. For eight years Stanton has morphed into the best power hitter that the Marlins have had in their 25 years as a Major League Baseball franchise. Stanton has 267 career home runs which was paced by his record setting 2017 campaign.
This past season Stanton led Major League Baseball in home runs with 59 and in the process he became the first player in Marlins franchise history to be named as the National League’s MVP. On the surface Stanton appears to be the quintessential player for the Marlins to build their team around. At 6’5″, 245 lbs., Stanton is an imposing figure as a power hitter, and when he is hot at the plate, there is nobody like him in baseball. But those attributes have not guaranteed Stanton a spot on the Marlins roster for 2018.
In 2014, Stanton signed a lucrative 13-year, $325 million extension from the Marlins. Stanton’s extension was the largest in North American sports history and it was also back loaded. In each of Stanton’s first two years of his deal, he only received $6.5 million, while this past season he earned $14.5 million. But things will change at the start of next season as he is set to earn at least $25 million in base salary per season for the remainder of the contract. Stanton also has an opt-out clause in his deal following the 2020 Major League Baseball season when he’ll be 30-years of age. And as Stanton will still be in the prime of his career, it would be prudent for him to opt-out in order to secure another big pay day. Stanton’s production as well as his hefty salary have made Jeter think twice in regards to trading him which has made things rather interesting this off-season in Miami.
If the Marlins were to trade Stanton, it would free up salary, while also putting some prospects into their system, but be careful what you ask for. In order to trade Stanton, it means that the Marlins would need a big market team to deal with. The Yankees don’t need the services of Stanton as they have their own slugger who plays right field that is chiseled out of granite in Aaron Judge who last week was named as the American League’s Rookie of the Year. And if the Marlins are completely intent on trading Stanton, he has already let it be known that he won’t accept a trade to the St. Louis Cardinals or Boston Red Sox which changes things as far as him being traded to a big market team.
But there is always the possibility of the Los Angeles Dodgers being a landing spot for Stanton. For the past few years the Dodgers have not paid attention to Major League Baseball’s luxury tax as their team payroll is consistently north of $200 million. However the Dodgers already have a right fielder in the form of Yasiel Puig. Puig is coming off of his best season as he batted .263 to go along with 28 home runs and 74 runs batted in. Unfortunately for Puig he has been an enigma during his time with the Dodgers as he has been known to lose focus at times which has led to him being suspended as well as getting into confrontations with his teammates. Puig is set to enter the final year of his contract, and the Dodgers could be looking to move on from him, while also getting a bigger power bat in their lineup.
The Dodgers were able to win 104 games this past season, while also winning the National League Pennant for the first time since 1988. However in the World Series, the Dodgers would lose to the Houston Astros in the seven games. The Dodgers hit 10 home runs during the World Series compared to 15 by the Astros. And unfortunately for the Dodgers , many of their homers during the series were of the solo variety which don’t do that much damage as they are missing that feared power hitter like Stanton in the middle of their lineup.
Acquiring Stanton would be a match made in heaven for the Dodgers. Stanton grew up in the Los Angeles area as he was born in Panorama City. Stanton is a star and his arrival in Los Angeles would be welcomed with open arms.
The Los Angeles Angels just re-signed outfielder Justin Upton, while the New York Mets have a litany of injury issues that they must address before they can think about adding any pieces. The Chicago White Sox and Philadelphia Philadelphia Phillies are in full rebuilding mode, while the Chicago Cubs and Astros who have won the last two World Series Titles will each soon have to focus on re-signing their young stars. And this leaves the San Francisco Giants along with the Seattle Mariners as the only other big market clubs that could be in line to potentially acquire Stanton.
The Giants were only able to win 64 games this past season as they were tied with the Detroit Tigers for the worst record in Major League Baseball. But the Giants have displayed a winning pedigree as they have been able to win three World Series Championships this decade. The Giants have lacked a consistent power hitter since the days of Barry Bonds. But are the Giants ready to contend again?
The Giants were 14th in the National League in batting last season (.249), on-base percentage (.309), and runs scored (639), while they were dead last in home runs with just 128. The Giants pitching staff didn’t help things either as their team earned run average of 4.50 was eighth in the N.L. Acquiring Stanton would be one piece for the Giants, but it would not be enough to instantly make them contenders once again.
As far as things go for the Mariners, they have the longest current playoff drought in Major League Baseball. You have to go back to 2001 to find the last time in which the Mariners were postseason bound. The Mariners have come close to getting back to the playoffs on several occasions, but they’ve always found a way to come up short. The Mariners have talent in the middle of their lineup with designated hitter Nelson Cruz and second baseman Robinson Cano, But as Cruz is 37-years of age, while Cano is 35, Seattle needs a younger player that can carry this team and ultimately get them to the playoffs.
It’s not a guarantee that the Marlins will trade Stanton as Jeter is only going to make a deal which is in the best interest of his club. And with the Yankees and Red Sox not expected to be involved in attempting to acquire Stanton, that bidding war won’t be as substantial. Stanton is still owed $310 million on his deal which means this if his new potential team were to take on the bulk of his salary, they would not be parting with that many prospects. And the cherry on top is that Stanton also has the ability to opt out of his current deal following the conclusion of the 2020 Major League Baseball season which is something else that teams must also account for.
This situation is far from resolved, but if Stanton is not traded by the start of spring training, expect him to spend the entirety of the upcoming Major League Baseball season in a Marlins uniform. And even if Jeter does not deal Stanton, it won’t effect the sluggers play as he understands the business side of things.
Earlier this year Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria made it known publicly of his intentions to sell the team that he has owned since 2002. And earlier this year it was also reported that former New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter was part of a group that intended to purchase the Marlins from Loria. This finally came to fruition when it was announced in August that Loria would be selling to Jeter’s group which includes former asset manager Bruce Sherman and current Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan. And now for the folks in Miami who support the Marlins could finally be able to breathe a sigh of relief due to the new regime.
With the exception of the Marlins winning the World Series in 2003, Loria has mismanaged this franchise which included him suckering the City of Miami as well as Dade County into giving him the funding for a new stadium only to turn around and have himself a good old-fashioned fire sale not long after Marlins Park opened in 2012. Loria is reportedly getting $1.2 billion for selling the Marlins which is a far cry from the franchise being valued at $137 million when he took over the organization in 2002. Loria is a shrewd businessman as his ability to profit from selling the Marlins has been driven up due to local television deals that the franchise has as well as Marlins Park which is a state-of-the art baseball stadium that included them hosting Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game this past July. But now that Loria is taking his money and running with it, the Marlins will actually have the chance to compete.
We know about Jeter’s prowess on the baseball diamond as for 20 years he was the shortstop of the Yankees as well as being the face of that franchise. Jeter’s time with the Yankees included winning five World Series Championships, taking home the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award in 1996, and collecting 3,465 hits. With Jeter in the lineup, the Yankees never had a losing season, while they only missed the playoffs three times. And now that Major League Baseball’s team owners have approved the sale of the Marlins, you can expect some of that vintage Jeter magic to rub off on his new team.
Sherman will have the title of Marlins owner, while Jeter will be the CEO and this gives him the opportunity to build the team in his own image. Jeter already has everyone within the Marlins organization on pins and needles as he appears ready to hand out pink slips in the mode of former Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
The Marlins already have building blocks in place which includes outfielder Giancarlo Stanton who led Major League Baseball in home runs this season with 59. The Marlins shocked the baseball world in 2014 when they signed Stanton to a 13-year deal for $325 million as it went against the frugal Loria’s nature. Most people expected the Marlins to trade Stanton sooner rather than later. And although that Stanton is currently the Marlins best player, would Jeter be ready to pull the trigger on a deal to ship the slugger out of town in order to free up salary as well as bring back more assets?
This move by the Marlins with Jeter being on board with the franchise has the potential to have a similar impact as to what we saw when Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973. Steinbrenner was able to wake a sleeping giant and since then the Yankees have gone on to win seven World Series Championships which is by far more than any other Major League Baseball franchise over that stretch. Grant it that the Marlins don’t have the history that the Yankees have, but this ownership change will results in a much needed culture change in Miami.
Since the Marlins came into existence in 1993, they have never had the combination of having a dedicated owner, a contending team, and a great ball park all at the same which now changes. You might as well get accustomed to referencing to the Marlins as the Yankees of the South, and it won’t surprise me to see the franchise once again incorporating pinstripes into their uniform which they did from 1993-2011 when they were known as the Florida Marlins.
The Marlins just wrapped up their eighth consecutive losing season as this became the status quo under Loria. But with a new captain running the ship in Jeter, things will be changing on South Beach sooner rather than later.
X-Washington Nationals 90-72
Since 2012, the Washington Nationals have had one of the most talented teams in Major League Baseball, but they have struggled to live up to their potential. The Nationals have three National League East Titles to their credit since 2012, but they’ve also failed to win a playoff series. And dating back to their time as the Montreal Expos, the Nats have only won one postseason series in their 49-year history. Washington will head into the 2017 MLB season looking to buck the trend as after winning the N.L. East, they tend to really underachieve in the following season and you have to wonder if things will be any different for them now?
Dusty Baker is set to begin his second season as the Nationals skipper and he is indeed a man that knows how to get results. In Baker’s managerial career, he has now led the San Francisco Giants, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, and Nationals to the postseason. Baker gets the most out of his teams, but the biggest shock in 2016 was how he got Washington to the playoffs.
The Nationals were able to win the National League East in 2016 in spite of the fact the outfielder Bryce Harper had a down year. After Harper won the N.L. MVP Award in 2015, he only managed to hit .243 with 24 home runs and 86 runs batted in last year. Harper still gave maximum effort for the Nats, but his timing at the plate simply wasn’t there. However, Harper is the kind of player that knows how to bounce back, and for the Nationals to do some damage this year, he will need to recapture his MVP form.
But as Harper was unable to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him, Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy picked up the slack. In Murphy’s first season in Washington, he finished second in the National League MVP voting as he batted a career-high .347 with 25 home runs and 104 runs batted in. Murphy was a motivated man in 2016 after he was spurned by his former team in the New York Mets which led to his signing with the Nats. However you have to wonder if Murphy and the Nationals will be able to go the well with that once more in 2017?
But aside from Harper and Murphy, the Nats are really high on shortstop Trea Turner. In 73 games with the Nationals in 2016, Turner batted .342 with 13 home runs, 40 home runs, and 33 stolen bases. Turner is only 23-years of age and his potential led Washington to trading infielder Danny Espinosa to the Los Angeles Angels over the off-season. Turner can be a lead-off hitter for the Nats and his getting on base in front of Harper and Murphy will be important.
Third baseman Anthony Rendon has been consistent for Washington at the hot corner, while they have a veteran presence in their clubhouse in first baseman Ryan Zimmerman and outfielder Jayson Werth. But two acquisitions that flew under the radar during the off-season by National general manager Mike Rizzo were when he acquired utility man Adam Eaton and catcher Derek Norris in separate trades.
The Nationals acquisition of Eaton got some attention due to the fact that three pitchers were sent to the Chicago White Sox in exchange for him, but he could be well worth it. Two of the last three years saw Eaton lead the American League in triples as along with Turner, he could be a valuable table setter in D.C. In five Major League Baseball seasons, Eaton is a career .284 hitter, while he also brings a scrappy element to each team in which he has played for.
Last September saw catcher Wilson Ramos suffer a torn ACL which hurt the Nats chances in the playoffs. Ramos has subsequently joined the Tampa Bay Rays, but his injury paved the way for Rizzo to acquire Norris from the San Diego Padres. Norris gives the Nats another veteran back stop along with Jose Lobaton to work with this pitching staff as they look to repeat as National League Eastern Division Champions.
The Nationals team earned run average of 3.51 was second in the National League and there is potential once for this staff to be one of the best in the business.
Starting pitcher Max Scherzer became the first Nats pitcher since Gio Gonzalez in 2012 to win 20 games en route to winning the National League’s Cy Young Award, and he should once again be a force. Scherzer is one of the better power pitchers currently in baseball which is evident by him striking out at least 200 batters in each of the last five years. Scherzer knows how to dictate the pace on the mound as he tends to get ahead of hitters in the count which paves the way for his electric fastball.
After spending 2015 between the starting rotation and the bullpen, Tanner Roark got his opportunity to pitch every fifth day for the Nationals and he rewarded the team by winning a career-high 16 starts. However 2016 was the first time in Roark’s career that he threw more than 200 innings in a season and you have to wonder if there will be any carry over to 2017?
After the strong start by Gonzalez upon joining the Nats in 2012, he’s been an up and down pitcher that needs to recreate himself. Gonzalez’s velocity has dipped slightly on his pitches as it time for him to become more of a junk pitcher that locates.
Each time that starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg appears ready to turn the corner in order to become the ace in which the Nats envisioned upon drafting him first overall in 2009, he cannot overcome the injury bug. Like Scherzer, Strasburg has the potential to win 20 games, but he is still a guy that Washington must approach with the kid gloves in order to maximize his effectiveness.
All signs point to relief pitcher Blake Treinen being the Nationals closer as neither Jonathan Papelbon or Mark Melancon returned to the Nats after they combined to save 36 games last year. Treinen has only saved one game during his three-year Major League Baseball career and it will be baptism by fire to begin the 2017 campaign.
2017 will more than likely shape up as a two-team race for the National League East Crown between the Nationals and Mets. And another strong start by Washington could be just what the doctor ordered for them to win the division in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
Y-New York Mets 89-73
The New York Mets will enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season seeking to do something that they’ve never done before which is to make the postseason in three consecutive years. After winning the National League Pennant in 2015, the Mets were expected to once again reach the World Series Title last year. However injuries plagued the Mets in 2016, but somehow they were able to secure a playoff berth. And now the Mets are hopeful to be healthy in order to make another World Series push.
Pitching was the name of the game for the Mets in 2015 for their National League Pennant, and in order for them to get back to the postseason this fall, they’ll once again have to rely on their arms. The Mets allowed veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon to leave in free agency as he joined the Atlanta Braves being that they have plenty of young studs in their starting rotation.
With injuries in 2016 to starting pitchers Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz, the Mets relied on another young stud in starting pitcher Noah Syndergaard. In 30 starts last season for the Mets, Synderggard went 14-9 with a 2.60 earned run average while striking out 218 batters. Syndergaard further solidified his reputation as a big game pitcher when he struck out 10 batters, but got a no-decision against the San Francisco Giants in the National League Wild Card Game. Fans in the Big Apple have gravitated to Syndergaard due to the fact that he is fearless on the mound which is something that they can relate to.
For the second time since 2013, Harvey missed significant time due injury, and after he had shoulder surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, the man who the fans in New York City refer to as “The Dark Knight” is looking to bounce back. deGrom falls into that category of looking to bounce backas after expecting to be just stop gap starter in 2014, he would go on to win the National League’s Rookie of the Year Award. deGrom was a big part of the Mets rotation in 2015, but an elbow injury cut his season short last year. Injuries delayed starting pitcher Steven Matz’s route to the show, but he did display his potential coming down the stretch in 2015 and the early stages of 2016 for the Mets. However the same injury bug that slowed Matz down in the minors got the best of him last year as he succumb to a shoulder injury.
But the Mets are anticipating that Harvey, deGrom, and Matz will be healthy this year to rejoin Syndergaard in the starting rotation that helped to propel New York to the National League Pennant in 2015. But the Mets do have depth in their pitching staff with Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman. And if there’s another injury, both Lugo and Gsellman can contribute in the starting rotation while also providing long relief out of the bullpen.
Starting pitcher Zack Wheeler was supposed to be another one of the big arms in the Mets rotation, but Tommy John surgery has kept him out of action for the last two years. The Mets are looking to ease Wheeler back into the mix, and he could be valuable for them this year out of the bullpen.
The Mets will more than likely begin the upcoming Major League Baseball season without the services of relief pitcher Jeurys Familia. Familia set a Mets single-season record in 2016 with 51 saves, but he was arrested during the off-season for domestic violence. The chargers against Familia were subsequently dropped, however this does not mean that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred won’t reprimand him for the incident.
And if Familia isn’t available to begin the season for the Mets, they do have fall back options for the ninth inning which could be Wheeler or relief pitcher Addison Reed. Prior to joining the Mets in 2015, Reed had a past life being a closer as he combined to save 104 games for the Chicago White Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks.
But as good as the Mets pitching is which was evident by their 3.58 earned run average that was third in the National League last year, their lineup must become better at the plate in order for this team to be a legit World Series contender.
Last year the Mets were second in the National League in home runs as they hit 218. But New York was 12th in batting average (.246) and on-base percentage (.316), while they were tied for 11th in runs scored (671). Like the pitching staff, the Mets lineup was hit hard by the injury bug which included three infielders ending the year on the disabled list.
Mets third baseman and team captain David Wright was only able to appear in 37 games last year due to spinal stenosis. The Mets are hopeful that Wright will be available more this year, but the odds are against him. Wright has only appeared in 75 regular season games over the last two years and at the age of 34, a bad back is tough to overcome in order to be an everyday player. Wright’s injury also makes it harder for him to do the little things such as make a routine throw from third base to first base, and if the Mets are able to get 100 games out of him at the hot corner, I would be shocked.
After first baseman Lucas Duda belted 27 home runs for the Mets in 2015, he only appeared in 47 games last year after he suffered a stress fracture in his back. But Duda is scheduled to become at the free agent at the end of the season, and thus I expect him to bounce back in a very big way for the Metropolitans.
Last year second baseman Neil Walker tried to make the folks in Queens forget about the departed Daniel Murphy as he belted 23 home runs which tied a career high. But like Wright and Duda, Walker’s season was cut short after he underwent a lumbar microdiscectomy. Walker passed up the option to become a free agent and instead he returned to the Mets after accepting the team’s qualifying offer for $17.2 million. And if Walker is able to stay healthy in 2017, along with providing the Mets will solid defense and a good bat again, it’ll be a win-win situation for everyone involved.
But in case that the Mets are once again hit with the injury bug, they have depth in their infield. Fans were sad to see shortstop Jose Reyes leave in 2011 as he and Wright were the left side of the Mets infield. Reyes was never the same player when he left the Mets as he has spent time with the Miami Marlins, Toronto Blue Jays, and Colorado Rockies.
Reyes dealt with domestic violence issues following the end of the 2015 Major League Baseball season. Reyes would subsequently be suspended by MLB for Colorado’s first 51 games before they designated him for assignment. Reyes would return to the Mets as they were desperate for infield help, and he gave the team some of the flashes that made him a fan favorite during his first stint in Queens.
Reyes is no longer a .300 hitter, but he still possesses some speed, while he is hungry to once again have the chance to play as he has once again won over the fans in the Big Apple. However Reyes is no longer a shortstop, but he should once again be vital for the Mets at third base with questions about Wright’s health.
T.J. Rivera could be the future for the Mets at second base and I expect him to push the switch hitting Walker for time there, while Matt Reynolds could be valuable for the team as a utility infielder; even though he probably be on the shuttle back and forth to the minors.
But the biggest move that the Mets made this off-season was to re-sign outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Cespedes joined the Mets just prior to the trade deadline in 2015, and his impact in the lineup was immediate as he helped to propel the offense which led to New York winning the National League East. In 132 games for the Mets last year, Cespedes batted .280 with 31 home runs and 86 runs batted in. Cespedes opted out of his contract, but he and the Mets would agree on a new four-year deal that is worth $110 million.
Cespedes provides the Mets with a legit power bat in their lineup that they have lacked for some time as he has that rare ability to put a lineup on his back. But the downside is that Cespedes has been known to go into funks at times as well. Cespedes coming back to the Mets is a “high risk, high reward” scenario, however if it means that New York will be playing baseball in October for a third consecutive year it will be well worth it.
Last year there was speculation that the Mets would lose Cespedes in free agency which led to team general manager Sandy Alderson acquiring outfielder Jay Bruce from the Cincinnati Reds. At first Bruce struggled with the Mets as he was pressing, but he did managed to hit 8 home runs for the Metropolitans in 50 games. However when Cespedes re-signed, it created a logjam in the Mets outfield.
Cespedes is locked in as the Mets everyday left fielder, but you’ll have Bruce, Curtis Granderson, Michael Conforto, and Juan Lagares all vying for time at the other two positions. Lagares and Conforto will compete in center. But it’s Lagares who has the better glove, and Conforto who has the better bat. Granderson and Bruce are both veteran players who’ll each become free agents after this season. However Granderson has provided the Mets with a veteran presence in the clubhouse due to his work ethic and it would be hard for Alderson to part with him.
The Mets still have questions behind the plate with their three-headed monster in catchers Rene Rivera, Travis d’Arnaud, and Kevin Plawecki. The Mets have given d’Arnaud and Plawecki chances to prove themselves. Each player knows how to call a game behind the plate, but the Mets need more production from them with a bat in their hands as both d’Arnaud and Plawecki batted south of .250 last year.
This could be the final year for Mets manager Terry Collins as there’s the possibility that he could retire. But if the Mets are able start strong and take care of their business, Collins could finish off his managerial career in style with a third straight trip to the postseason.
Miami Marlins 79-83
To call the 2016 Major League Baseball season a difficult one for the Miami Marlins would be an understatement. The Marlins were in contention for a wild card spot in the National League until they ran out of gas over the final two months. There was still optimism for the Marlins to finish with some momentum for 2017 until the morning of September 25 when starting pitcher Jose Fernandez was killed in a boating accident off of the coast of Miami. Fernandez’s death impacted the baseball world as well as his native Cuba. Fernandez was one of the game’s rising stars and he was rapidly becoming a legend in Miami. Marlins manager Don Mattingly had to piece things together after Fernandez died, but there was no way to hide the raw emotion of losing a person like Fernandez.
The Marlins have now had several months to digest the loss of Fernandez and move on. And as the 2017 Major League Baseball season is set to begin, the Marlins are hoping that they can get their first winning campaign since 2009.
Fernandez’s death leaves a gaping hole in the Marlins starting rotation as he put fear into every lineup in the National League East. Fernandez was 16-8 last year with an earned run average of 2.86. But no other Marlins starting pitcher won more than 9 games with an earned run average that was below 3.85. And as the Marlins don’t have another stud in their starting rotation, things will be pieced together with spit and glue. However if the Marlins starting pitching staff is able to take a lead into the late innings, they do have a quality closer to give the baseball to.
In the last two years, relief pitcher A.J. Ramos has saved 72 games for the Marlins. Ramos is a fire baller that Mattingly can rely on to close out contests. But if the Marlins do fall out of playoff contention early on, expect Ramos to become a hot commodity on the trade front.
For the Marlins to have a realistic shot at making the postseason this year, they are going to have to rely heavily on their lineup which will require everyone staying healthy and living up to their potential. The Marlins have several players in their lineup that have the potential to hit at least 25 homers, but shockinginly as a team they were only 14th in the National League last season with 128 long balls.
Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is one of Major League Baseball’s best power hitters. In seven years with the Marlins, Stanton is already the franchise’s all-time leader in WAR (wins above replacement) at 27, and home runs (208). But as much stress that Stanton can put into opposing pitchers, he also puts that same fear into the Marlins front office. Only once during Stanton’s career has he been able to appear in at least 150 games. As most power hitters are prone to strikeout often, Stanton falls into that category as he could flirt with striking out 150 times this year. But one of the biggest issues with Stanton is that his batting average continues to dip as it is boom or bust with him. Last year Stanton only batted .240 as his propensity to swing at pitches out of the strike zone makes it very enticing for pitchers to get ahead of him in the count in order to make him chase pitches out of the zone.
Outfielder Marcel Ozuna is fresh off of his first All-Star Game appearance as he was one the Marlins most consistent hitters last season. Outfielder Christian Yelich is developing into one of the better contact hitters in the National League. Yelich batted .298 last season while hitting a career-high in homers with 21. Yelich should be in running to be an All-Star this season, while if he concentrates on hitting into the gaps at the cavernous Marlins Park, he could also flirt with getting at least 10 triples this year. Yelich also has one Gold Glove Award to his credit, and with his range in the outfield, he could once again have in name in the conversation as far taking home some more hardware.
After first baseman Justin Bour finished fifth in the National League’s Rookie of the Year voting in 2015, the expectation level was high for him last year. Bour hit 23 homers in 2015, but injuries limited him to just 90 games in 2016. And like Stanton, if Bour is able to remain healthy in 2017, it will provide some extra pop to Miami’s lineup.
After second baseman Dee Gordon led the National League batting in 2015 at .333, he was once again expected to be a catalyst last year. But it didn’t play out that way for Gordon has he failed a drug test which saw him miss 80 games. And now as Gordon is seeking to rebuild his reputation, he must once again reassert himself as the Marlins table setter if this teams expects to have a legitimate shot at the postseason.
It won’t be easy for the Marlins to begin the season as they’ll be on the road to face the Washington Nationals and New York Mets respectively as these are the two favorites to win the National League East. It will be tough for the Marlins to overtake either team, and I am not sure if this organization has still gotten over the untimely death of Fernandez.
Philadelphia Phillies 77-85
When Andy MacPhail became the Philadelphia Phillies president of baseball operations in 2015, he knew that he had a rebuilding job ahead of him. The Phillies lost 99 games in 2015 as they were a far cry from the team that made the postseason in five consecutive years from 2007-2011 which included winning the World Series in 2008. The Phillies roster got old and MacPhail knew that he would need to revamp it while also finding a new field general.
2016 was Pete Mackanin’s first full year as the manager of the Phillies and it wasn’t as bad as most people expected. The Phillies had a winning record through the first two months of the Major League Baseball season before they began to fade. The Phils would lose 91 games, but they remained competitive throughout. And although that the Phillies will be fighting an uphill battle in the National League East in 2017, their effort and hard work will make them a team that you’ll be unable to forget about.
But in order for the Phillies to realistically compete, they are going to need improvement in each phase of the game. Last year Philadelphia’s team earned run average of 4.63 was 12th in the National League. Starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson was a pleasant surprise in his first season in Philadelphia as he led the pitching staff in wins with 12.
Starting pitcher Jerad Eickhoff has plenty of potential for the Phillies. Eickhoff was one of the key prospects that Philadelphia received when they shipped starting pitcher Cole Hamels to the Texas Rangers in 2015. The 26-year old Eickhoff was able to make 33 starts for the Phillies last season as he posted a record of 11-14 while his earned run average was 3.65. Eickhoff also had 20 quality starts as he recorded 167 strikeouts. Eickhoff fell just short of the 200-innings plateau, but could flirt with winning 15 games for Philadelphia this year.
Starting pitcher Aaron Nola is one of the keys in the Phillies rebuilding process, but his 2016 Major League Baseball season was cut short due to an injury. Nola was shut down after just 15 starts last year due to an injured elbow. Nola visited Dr. James Andrews who has been known to perform his fair share of Tommy John surgeries, but he instead prescribed a platelet-rich plasma injection and rest. However it will be interesting to see if Nola’s elbow is fully healed and ready to take on the riggers of making 30-35 starts over the course of an 162-game season.
The Phillies do have a solid bullpen which features relief pitchers Hector Neris and Jeanmar Gomez. Neris was able to strike out 102 batters in 80.1 innings in 2016 which paved the way for his 37 holds. The Phillies are Gomez’s third Major League Baseball team. And after Gomez spent six years trying to figure out his role, he now appears to be someone that Philadelphia can count on in the ninth inning. But if the Phillies were to fall out of contention, I would expect MacPhail to definitely dangle Gomez out there on the trade market to see if a contender would want his services. But this Phillies pitching staff will have its hands full as they’ll once again be asked to mask the issues of the team’s offense.
Last year the Phillies were last in the National League in runs scored (610), while they were 14th in both batting average (.240), and on-base percentage (.301). Philadelphia did acquire veteran utility man Howie Kendrick from the Los Angeles Dodgers, but his presence in Philadelphia is more about working with some of the team’s young players. The Phillies do have some young potential in their lineup; especially in the infield which could once again lead this franchise to glory.
Third baseman Maikel Franco led the Phillies in home runs last year with 25, and the age of 24, he is just beginning to scratch the surface of his potential. Like Franco, shortstop Freddy Galvis is coming off of a career year as he belted 20 homers. Second baseman Cesar Hernandez doesn’t possess the power of Franco or Galvis, but he’s rounding into being a solid contact hitter as he batted .294 in 2016 to go along with an on-base percentage of .371. However this trio must improve their defense as they combined to commit 33 errors last season.
Outfielder Odubel Herrera is coming off of his first All-Star Game appearance, and in a few years he has the potential to be one of the best outfielders in the National League. Herrera is a solid contact hitter who knows how to get on base which is evident by his .361 on-base percentage from last year. Herrera also stole 25 bases for the Phils in 2016 and his ability to get on base will be important for Philadelphia to hang around in the playoff race.
The Phillies will continue to be a scrappy team, but they still have some improvement ahead of them as they’re still a year or two away from becoming a legitimate contender.
Atlanta Braves 73-89
The rebuilding process of the Atlanta Braves has been a tough one as they have not had a winning season since 2013. The Braves have seen the parade in the National League East pass them by as the Washington Nationals and New York Mets are the two best teams in the division, while the Miami Marlins and Philadelphia Phillies are inching closer to contention. The Braves have lost at least 90 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1990, and as they are set to begin life at SunTrust Park in Cobb County, Georgia, the last thing that they can afford to do is to remain an afterthought.
Brian Snitker is set to begin his first full season as the manager of the Braves. Snitker replaced Fredi Gonzalez as the Braves manager last year when he was fired after the team’s 9-28 start. Atlanta would go 59-65 the rest of the way under Snitker which was enough for Braves president of baseball operations John Hart to give him the job on a full-time basis.
Even with the Braves rebuilding process, they can still lean on one of the best first baseman in Major League Baseball in Freddie Freeman to be a center piece in their lineup. After a down 2015, Freeman bounced back in 2016 to hit a career high in home runs 34, while also batting .304. The Braves have remained steadfast in not trading Freeman in spite of interest from other teams. And if the Braves are going to shock most people in order to make the playoffs, Freeman will be a big part of it.
Outfielder Matt Kemp is not the all-around player that he was when he finished second in the National League MVP voting in 2011 as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he is a still a quality player. Kemp split 2016 with the Braves and San Diego Padres as he hit 35 home runs. Kemp is one of those players that is streaky, and the Braves would love to see a long hot streak from him in 2017.
Shortstop Dansby Swanson was the first overall pick of the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks. But the Diamondbacks quickly soured on Swanson as they felt that he would not be the player that they initially projected him to be. However the Braves were more than happy to acquire Swanson from Arizona as in 38 games with Atlanta last season, he batted .302 with an on-base percentage of .361. The Braves hope that Swanson is not a flash in the pan as they need a lead-off hitter who’ll be able to consistently get on base in front of Freeman and Kemp.
The Braves team earned run average of 4.51 was 11th in the National League last season. Like Freeman, the Braves scoffed at offers for starting pitcher Julio Teheran who was only 7-10, but he possessed an earned run average of 3.21. Teheran would have had a better record if he played on a better team. And as there have been some upgrades to the Braves for 2017, Teheran could flirt with winning 15 games.
Behind Teheran, the Braves will be relying on some veteran arms in their starting rotation. Starting pitcher Bartolo Colon is set to begin his 20th Major League Baseball season and he has become a cult hero. Colon will be 44-years of age in May, and last year he led the Mets in wins with 15. Colon is not a hard thrower, but his rubber arm can eat up innings, while also giving the Braves a valuable veteran in their rotation whom the youngsters can lean on for advice. The Braves also signed a 42-year old starting pitcher in R.A. Dickey whose knuckleball can be very difficult to deal with when he’s on. Dickey spent the last four years of his MLB career with the Toronto Blue Jays, but he was unable to recapture the success that he had in 2012 when he won the National League’s Cy Young Award as a member of the Mets.
Relief pitcher Jim Johnson is not the player that he was when he led the National League in saves in 2012 and 2013, but he could still be valuable for the Braves in spite of the fact that he more than likely will not have as many opportunities to close out games this summer in Atlanta.
The Braves will begin the upcoming season facing an uphill battle as their first eight games will be on the road, while it will also be interesting to see how many fans will make the trek from Atlanta to Cobb County in order to watch them play.
The Miami Marlins have been a Major League Baseball franchise for 24 years and in their existence they have never won a division title. But the Marlins do have a pair of World Series Championships to show for their two postseason appearances. The Marlins have been a tough team for fans to get behind as their ownership has been notorious for relenting to pay players as they typically will rank near the bottom of team payrolls in MLB each year. And each time that the Marlins appear ready to build a powerhouse, the team is dismantled. The most recent occasion where this happened came in 2012 as after spending big in free agency, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria traded the majority of his star players. The Marlins were once again back at square one as they were delicately built and here in 2016, they appear ready to make another run to the playoffs.
After Don Mattingly was fired as the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers last October, he landed on his feet rather quickly as the Marlins brought him to Miami in the same capacity. In five years as the manager of the Dodgers, Mattingly never had a losing record which included three consecutive National League West Titles. But whereas the expectations were high in Los Angeles, Mattingly was never able to lead the Dodgers to a World Series Title which was his ultimate demise; however he has been a perfect fit so far for the young Marlins.
The outset of the 2016 Major League Baseball season for the Marlins was not an easy one as they began the campaign with a record of 5-11. Then the Marlins were in the midst of a seven-game winning streak when they received the news that second baseman Dee Gordon had failed a drug test and would be suspended by Major League Baseball for 80 games. This was a huge blow for the Marlins as Gordon was their table setter as he led the National League in stolen bases in each of the last two years, while also leading in batting average in 2015 at .333.
But under Mattingly the Marlins have never wavered as after their hiccup to begin the season, they’ve never fallen back under .500 and they completed the first half of the campaign with a record of 47-41. The momentum that the Marlins developed to end the first half has now carried over for the second half as they are now 55-47. The Marlins are five games behind the Washington Nationals for first place in the National League East and they currently tied for the final wild card spot in the N.L.
Balance has been the name of the game for the Marlins as they’ve gotten contributions from their entire lineup, while also getting quality pitching. After recovering from Tommy John surgery, starting pitcher Jose Fernandez is regaining the form that made him the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 2013. On the season Fernandez is 12-5 with an earned run average of 2.79 and the Marlins are 4-2 in his last six starts. Relief pitcher A.J. Ramos is 31-of-32 in saves opportunities and he is on pace to become the first pitcher in Marlins franchise history to record at least 40 saves in a season since Todd Jones in 2005.
But the Marlins lineup hasn’t skipped a beat without the presence of Gordon as outfielder Christian Yelich is emerging as one of the best contact hitters in the National League, while outfielder Marcell Ozuna is coming into his own as an all-around player. The Marlins team batting average of .272 is tops in the National League which is a credit to their first-year hitting coach in Barry Bonds, but they still need to pick it up in the power category as they are 14th in the N.L. in home runs with (85), and 11th in runs scored (429). After missing 88 games in 2015 as the result of a wrist injury, outfielder Giancarlo Stanton is beginning to regain the form that has made him one of the most feared power hitters in baseball as he leads the club in home runs with 22. And when Stanton gets hot, he is one of the rare power hitters that can carry a lineup for a prolonged stretch. First baseman Justin Bour is currently on the disabled list with an ankle injury, but his return to the Marlins lineup will be a welcome sight as he is another power bat that will help them down the stretch as they make a push towards the postseason.
From the dugout Mattingly has provided the Marlins with a calming influence at the managerial position that they have not had since the days of Jack McKeon who led them to their last World Series Championship in 2003. Mattingly has always had a strong attention to detail which dates back to his Major League Baseball playing career when he was the starting first baseman for the New York Yankees for 14 seasons. And that calm along with the attention to detail has the Marlins in the midst of a run to the playoffs.
The Marlins are currently in the middle of a very important four-game series with the St. Louis Cardinals as both of these teams are battling for a wild card spot in the National League. Next week the Marlins will be on the road for a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs who have the best record in the N.L. as this will be opportunity for them to see if they’re indeed for real. And with several series’ against both the Washington Nationals and New York Mets which will more than likely decide the winner of the N.L. East, the young Marlins have the opportunity in front of them to win their first division title in franchise history. But even if the Marlins were to fall short of winning the N.L. East, it won’t hinder them as each time that they won the World Series, they were a wild card team as anything can happen on the baseball diamond in the month of October.
And with Stanton regaining his form, Gordon being eased back into the lineup, and Bour expected to return soon, the Marlins offense could become extremely dangerous as the team’s general manager Michael Hill finds himself in a very different position this July as he can look to be a buyer at next week’s Major League Baseball trade deadline with a team that is beginning to find their form at the right time.
Major League Baseball currently has several young players that are doing some remarkable things in their respective careers. And one player that is in that mix is Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. After being drafted by the Marlins in 2007, Stanton made his MLB debut in 2010 and he has quickly developed into one of the fiercest power hitters in the game. In 100 games as a rookie, Stanton hit 22 homers. In 2011, Stanton went yard 34 times as he was building his reputation around the league. Last season Stanton was on pace to become the Marlins single-season leader for home runs and he was also in the running to become the first player in franchise history to be named as the National League’s Most Valuabe Player. But last September, Stanton was struck in the face by a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers which abruptly ended his season.
Stanton began this season by wearing a face guard when he was batting. It took Stanton a little bit of time to get adjusted to wearing the face guard as well as mentally getting comfortable once more while batting after the accident, but he still managed to finish the month of April with 6 homers and 21 runs batted in. And like most power hitters, Stanton knows how to hit home runs in bunches.
So far for this month, Stanton has five home runs to his credit and more could be on the way. It’s not just the homers that Stanton hits, but it is also the force, distance, and overall ferocity that he hits them with. Stanton has already damaged a scoreboard at Marlins Park in Miami and last week he hit a ball completely out of Dodger Stadium. Some of the rockets that Stanton has launched should have an in-flight movie with them.
In the post-steroid era in Major League Baseball that has been dominated by starting pitching, Stanton provides a breath of fresh air to the folks that still love to see the long ball hit. Stanton is worth the price of admission and then some which is why the Marlins signed him to a 13-year, $325 million contract last off-season. And aside from the actual game, Stanton has once again made batting practice a must see event as fans, teammates, and opponents alike can revel at what he is capable of doing with a wooden bat in his hands.
Stanton already has 165 career home runs under his belt and by the time that this season finishes, he should in the range of 200.
Fear is a word that is the best way to describe what Stanton puts into an opponent. Like most power hitters, Stanton has his fair share of strikeouts as he has done it 792 for his career. But if you’re the Marlins you can happily trade the strikeouts for what Stanton is able to do when he his able to make contact with the baseball. Stanton’s ability at the plate wasn’t enough to save the job of Marlins manager Mike Redmond as he was fired today, but he does give Miami something that they have never had which is a franchise player. When it’s all said and done, Stanton will completely re-write the Marlins franchise record book for offense as this has been a team that is notorious of trading their young talent, but they appear to be on board with the Stanton. And just like the baseballs that he crushes, the folks in Miami and around baseball should just hold on and enjoy the ride.
After some wheeling and dealing over the off-season by Miami Marlins general manager Dan Jennings, the team was hopeful that the results would turn them into a contender in the National League East. But unfortunately for the Marlins, the start of the 2015 Major League Baseball season hasn’t been what they envisioned. The Marlins are off to a putrid 3-11 start and they’ve only managed to win one series so far this season. The Marlins are also 2-9 against opponents from the NL East.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond is in his third season in Miami. Redmond was handed a young and inexperienced team that lost 100 games in 2013, but they overachieved last season as they won 77 games. And when you couple that with all of the new Marlins acquisitions, the bar of expectations has been raised in South Florida.
The Marlins lineup is anchored by right fielder Giancarlo Stanton who is fresh off of inking a 13-year, $325 million extension in the off-season as he is one of the premier sluggers in Major League Baseball. Via trades, the Marlins acquired second baseman Dee Gordon from the Los Angeles Dodgers and utility man Martin Prado from the New York Yankees along with signing first baseman Michael Morse in free agency to put some protection around Stanton in the lineup. The acquisition of Gordon is paying off so far as he is batting .390 with a .403 on-base percentage. Gordon has also stolen six bases so far this season as he is one of the fastest runners in baseball. Gordon’s speed at the top of the Marlins lineup is expected to help Stanton see more pitches to hit as pitchers fear the threat of him stealing bases. But Stanton hasn’t gotten off to an electric start as he is batting just .260 with a trio homers and 12 runs batted in.
More than anything the Marlins have been done in so far by their starting pitching or lack thereof. The Marlins team earned run average of 5.28 is 14th in the NL and they are also near the bottom of most statistical categories on the Senior Circuit. In the off-season, starting pitcher Mat Latos was acquired by the Marlins from the Cincinnati Reds and he was expected to be a part of Miami’s foundation in their starting rotation. But through three starts this season, Latos is 0-3 with an earned run average of 10.24 and he has yet to pitch at least six innings in any of his starts. Marlins starting pitcher Tom Koehler is coming off of a start this past Sunday against the New York Mets where he surrendered seven runs in just 3.1 innings of work. Marlins relief pitcher Steve Cishek is coming off of a season in which he saved 39 games. But so far this year Cishek is 0-for-2 in save opportunities with an earned run average of 19.29. The Marlins are holding out hope that the 2013 NL Cy Young Award winner in starting pitcher Jose Fernandez will return to the club at some point this season, but his brethren have not been holding it down without him.
The Marlins slow start has the rumor mill swirling already in South Florida as the team could be close to moving on from Redmond unless the players begin to turn it around as team owner Jeffrey Loria has shown in the past impatience with his club. In 2012, the Marlins came into the season with tremendous expectations as they began play in a new ballpark (Marlins Park), a new logo, and a new name as they were no longer the Florida Marlins. But after a 69-93 finish in 2012, Loria had a fire sale as the only star player left was Stanton. And after the slow start this season Loria could be ready to pull the trigger once more.
But more than ever Loria needs to exercise patience with his team as with so many new players, it will take some time for the Marlins to properly gel. Stanton is returning after his 2014 MLB season was cut short after being hit in the face late last season by a pitch. Stanton is playing with a protective guard over the left side of his face this season and he has to be a bit tentative as pitchers are going to try him on the inner part of the plate more than ever. But what we have seen in the past from Stanton is a player that can get hot and when he does, he can put a team on his back for a very long time. Gordon and Stanton will work well together once they figure out the timing of one another while Prado and Morse along with shortstop Adieny Hechaverria and outfielder Marcel Ozuna will be a big part of the Marlins lineup as well. And aside from the lineup, the Marlins starting pitching has to come around if they are going to get going.
The Marlins were swept in a four-game series over the weekend by the Mets who are playing some of the best ball in Major League Baseball right now. The Marlins have already spotted the Mets an eight-game lead in the National League East, but there is plenty of time remaining in the season as we haven’t even reached the quarter pole yet. What the Marlins must do is get back to the basics of playing fundamental baseball that begins with solid starting pitching, good defense, and the little things on offense such as driving in runners that are in scoring position and things can get turned around for them. The other key for the Marlins should be to win their next series which they are in the middle of as they dropped the first game of it on the road against the Philadelphia Phillies and from there to see where they are by the end of the month. But it is still to early for Loria and crew to push the panic button on this team.
X-Washington Nationals 93-69
Over the past few seasons the Washington Nationals have emerged as the team to beat in the National League East, but it hasn’t amounted to any success in the month of October. The Nationals have won the NL East in two of the last three seasons, but have failed to win a playoff series and with parity and free agency reigning supreme in Major League Baseball, championship windows don’t remain open for a long time.
For Nationals manager Matt Williams, he can rely on having one of the best offenses in the National League. Last season the Nats scored 686 runs which was third in the NL and you can expect more of the same in 2015. Injuries limited outfielder Bryce Harper to just 100 games last season, but Williams and the Nats are hopeful that the modern day “Charlie Hustle” is able to remain healthy as he has the potential to be one of the best five-tool players in the game. After leading the Nationals in home runs last season, it wasn’t a surprise that first baseman Adam LaRoche was allowed to leave as a free agent to join the Chicago White Sox as two is a crowd at first base. Ryan Zimmerman has been the face of the Nationals franchise for quite some time now, but a shoulder injury has hampered his play at third base. The Nats did use Zimmerman sparingly in the outfield last season, but he’ll have a new home this season at first base. Zimmerman is coming off of his worst season as a pro as injuries limited him to just 61 games. But the Nationals are hopeful that Zimmerman can return to being the player that has averaged hitting 25 home runs and 96 runs batted in for his MLB career. Zimmerman’s ineffectiveness at third base has seen the rise of Anthony Rendon at the hot corner for the Nats. Rendon was the Nationals first round selection in 2011 and after batting .287 with 21 home runs and 83 runs batted in last season, he should be in the running to be the NL MVP in 2015. The past few seasons have seen Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond emerge as not only one of the best ballplayers on the club, but also as the best shortstop in the division and he can do it with his bat as well as his glove. Led by outfielder Denard Span, the Nationals stole 101 bases last season. Span had a career-high in stolen bases with 31 in 2014 with a .355 on-base percentage. Span is the table setter for this potent Nationals lineup and he’ll once again be vital to their potential success in 2015.
Make no mistake about the fact that the Nationals will once again be favored to win the NL East due to their overall team balance as they have one of the best starting rotations in baseball. The Nats led the National League in team earned run average last season at 3.03 while all five of their starting pitchers won at least 10 games. Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the NL and he should once again be in line to win at least 15 games this season. Nationals starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg made 34 starts last season while striking out 242 batters and at 26-years of age, this could be the season that he puts it altogether and takes home the National League Cy Young Award for the first time in his brief career. But rich got richer this off-season when the Nats were able to add starting pitcher Max Scherzer to their stable of strong arms. Scherzer and the Nationals agreed on a seven-year, $210 million deal that caught some baseball observers by surprise, but Washington is hopeful that this will be the last link to their potential championship chain. Scherzer was the 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner as a member of the Detroit Tigers. In five seasons with the Tigers, Scherzer was 82-35 with 1,081 strikeouts and he should flourish in the National League East.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo elected to allow relief pitcher Rafael Soriano walk in free agency and he traded relief pitcher Tyler Clippard to the Oakland Athletics. Soriano did lead the Nats in saves last season with 32, but he was erratic at times while Clippard was a solid pitcher in the eighth inning. Right now the ninth inning is Drew Storen’s job to lose for the Nationals. In five years Storen has saved 66 games for the Nats, but being a part-time closer and a full-time guy are two different animals.
It won’t take Rizzo or Williams that long to see what kind of team that they have as the Nationals will meet the Boston Red Sox, St. Louis Cardinals, and Miami Marlins in the first month of the season which will all be good tests for Washington.
Y-Miami Marlins 88-74
After losing 100 games in 2013, not much was expected of the Miami Marlins last season. But the Marlins showed signs of improvement as they avoided finishing in the cellar of the National League East for a fourth consecutive season. The Marlins won 77 games in their second year under manager Mike Redmond and they could flirt with making the postseason this year for the first time since 2003.
Any success that the Marlins will have in 2015 starts and ends with outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. At 25-years of age, Stanton is already one of the most feared sluggers in Major League Baseball as he is one day destined to hit a home run out of Marlins Park and flush into the Atlantic Ocean. The Marlins locked Stanton up this off-season to a 13-year, $325 million contract which is the largest in North American sports history. Stanton tied a career-high in home runs last season with 37. Stanton finished second in the National League MVP balloting and he may have won the award had he not suffered several facial injuries after being hit by a pitch while facing the Milwaukee Brewers late in the regular season. Stanton led the NL home runs last season without the luxury of having a ton of talent around, but that will not be the case in 2015.
Marlins general manager Dan Jennings spent this off-season wheeling and dealing in the hopes to get this club back to the postseason. The Marlins acquired second baseman Dee Gordon and starting pitcher Dan Haren from the Los Angeles Dodgers as one man’s trash could be another’s fortune. The Dodgers front office gave up on Gordon who led the National League in stolen bases last season with 64. And as long as Gordon is able to get on base, Stanton’s offensive production should increase. In a five-player trade the Marlins also acquired utility man Martin Prado and starting pitcher David Phelps from the New York Yankees. Prado can play multiple positions, but the Marlins are expecting him to settle in a third base. After helping the San Francisco Giants win the World Series last season, utility man Mike Morse is coming home. Morse is a native of Fort Lauderdale, Florida and in his 10-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged 23 home runs and 77 runs batted in per season. Marlins outfielder Marcell Ozuna is only 24-years of age, but he is coming off of a season in which he hit 23 home runs and a 30-homer season could be in the cards for him in 2015.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery last year, the Marlins are hopeful that starting pitcher Jose Fernandez could return at some point this season, but they still have a good blend of youth and veterans in their starting rotation. The Marlins acquired starting pitcher Mat Latos from the Cincinnati Reds this off-season. Latos grew up in Fort Lauderdale and the Marlins are hopeful that this will be the season that he is able to put it all together and win at least 17 games. Very quietly relief pitcher Steve Cishek saved 39 games last season for the Marlins and if he is able to save anywhere between 45-50 in 2015, it could point Miami in the direction of postseason baseball.
For the month of April, the Nationals are the only team that the Marlins face that had a winning record last season as they will look to get out of the gates with a fast start and produce some excitement for baseball in South Florida.
New York Mets 84-78
2008 was the last time that the New York Mets had a winning season. But heading into 2015 there is actually some optimism in Queens for the Mets. The past few seasons have seen the Mets live by the “destroy and rebuild” philosophy. Mets owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon have found themselves cash strapped over the past few years as they have tried to hang on to their fledgling franchise. But the adhesive in Flushing has been the Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. Alderson is entering his fifth season as the Mets general manger and he doesn’t have a winning record under his belt during his time there, but he has been able to rebuild the team’s minor league system through trades and drafting. The Mets primarily have a home grown team sprinkled in with some imports here and there.
Second baseman Daniel Murphy was drafted by the Mets in 2006 and he debuted with the club in 2008. Murphy is the best contact hitter that the Mets have in spite of the reluctancy by Alderson to give him a long-term deal. First baseman Lucas Duda was drafted by the Mets in 2007 and he made his debut with the club in 2010. Duda is a first baseman by trade, but the Mets forced him to play right field. When the Mets brass gave up on Ike Davis last year they entrusted Duda to be their everyday first baseman. Duda didn’t disappoint as he hit 30 home runs and even garnered a few votes in the voting for the National League MVP Award. The Mets are hopeful that Duda’s big season in 2014 is a harbinger of things to come as they sorely need a consistent power hitter in the heart of their lineup. Mets third baseman David Wright has been the face of the franchise for quite some time now. Wright is coming off of his worst statistical season as a pro as injuries curtailed him in 2014. But Wright is healthy this season and he has more talent around him in the Mets lineup. And all Wright needs is to hit 23 home runs this season and he will become the Mets all-time leader within the category. After being demoted to Triple-A Las Vegas last season for a spell, catcher Travis d’Arnaud returned to the Mets and became a better hitter as he finished seventh in the NL Rookie of the Year voting. The Mets are hopeful that d’Arnaud continues to trend upwards at the plate. And the Mets pitching staff likes the way that d’Arnaud calls a game behind the plate which makes him a keeper. The Mets have all but given up on Ruben Tejada at shortstop and with Alderson failing to find a trade partner or sign a free agent, the job appears to be Wilmer Flores’ to lose. The Mets have used Flores at second base, third base, and at shortstop, but if he has going to stick around in Queens he’ll have to do it at shortstop. Last year Flores batted .251 with a .286 on-base percentage, 6 home runs, and 29 runs batted in. Flores did this in 274 plate appearances as Mets manager Terry Collins didn’t consistently allow him to play. But if Flores is given his opportunity, he should not disappoint.
Mets center fielder Juan Lagares can flash the leather in center field as he won a Gold Glove for his defensive prowess in 2014. Lagares’ biggest problem is staying healthy and if he can finally do that, he will continue to flourish while making the jobs of the pitchers and corner outfielders for the Mets that much easier. Alderson and Collins are going with a pair of veterans at the corner outfield positions. Outfielder Curtis Granderson is entering his second season with the Mets as they found out last season what the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees already knew; that he is a strikeout machine waiting to happen. Granderson is a good clubhouse guy, but the Mets need him to produce on the field. And apparently any friend of Wright is a friend of the Mets. The Mets signed Wright’s good friend Michael Cuddyer to play right field. Cuddyer appeared in only 49 games last season for the Colorado Rockies and this could be another one of those infamous bad free agent signings by the Mets.
The Mets team earned run average of 3.49 was sixth in the NL last season and it should once again be the backbone of this team. After missing all of 2014 as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery, starting pitcher Matt Harvey is returning which could be good for the Mets and bad for the other teams in the NL East as he is one of the few true aces in MLB. In 22 starts last season, starting pitcher Jacob deGrom went 9-6 with a 2.69 earned run average as he became the first Mets player since Dwight Gooden in 1984 to be the selected as National League’s top rookie. Along with Harvey and deGrom, the Mets have Jon Niese, Zach Wheeler, and Bartolo Colon in their starting rotation. And it would not shock me at some point this summer to see prized prospect Noah Syndergaard take the mound for the Mets in Queens.
The law firm of Jenrry Mejia and Jeryus Familia will make things interesting in the late innings, but Collins will trust them to close out games while the returning Bobby Parnell could also be a factor in the Mets bullpen.
The Mets first month of the season will see them concentrate on battling the NL East which could make or break their 2015 before it even starts.
Atlanta Braves 79-83
Last season the Atlanta Braves saw their first losing season since 2008 and with it came wholesale changes. Late last season Frank Wren was relieved of his duties as the Braves general manager. John Hart was brought in as the interim general manager and was offered the full-time job, but instead he opted to become the Braves president of baseball operations. And in the past few months Hart has been reshaping the Braves roster.
Outfielder Jason Heyward was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals along with relief pitcher Jordan Walden in exchange for starting pitcher Shelby Miller and minor-league pitcher Tyrell Jenkins. And not too long after Heyward was traded to the Cards, Hart traded outfielder Justin Upton to the San Diego Padres. Hart also traded utility man Evan Gattis to the Houston Astros. Appearing to now be thin in the outfield, Hart and the Braves signed former Baltimore Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis. In nine seasons with the Orioles, Markakis averaged 17 homers, 78 runs batted in and a .290 batting average. Markakis has tremendous range in the outfield as well as being a two-time American League Gold Glove Award winner.
But the Braves offense starts and ends with first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman’s offensive numbers were down a little in 2014, but he is expected to bounce back as he is one of the best contact hitters in Major League Baseball.
Part of the Braves offensive woes last season were that they were 10th in the NL in on-base percentage at .305. A big part of those woes begin with outfielder B.J. Upton. Upton is entering his third year with the Braves after signing a five-year, $75 million contract and he now prefers to be called Melvin. Upon Upton’s arrival in Atlanta he was supposed to the Braves table setter, but since coming to Dixie he has only batted .179 with a .287 on-base percentage with 32 stolen bases. Upton’s lethargic play has led to Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez dropping him in the lineup and at some points benching him altogether. The Braves would love to trade Upton, but due to his lucrative salary they are on the hook for the next three years with an unproductive player and it will be darn near impossible to ship him out of town.
In 2014, the Braves had four starting pitchers win at least 11 games, but two of those pitchers in Ervin Santana and Aaron Harang are no longer with the team. The Braves are backing on 24-year old starting pitcher Julio Teheran being able to assert himself and become an ace of the pitching staff. Gonzalez and the Braves do have a stable of arms in their bullpen in Jason Grilli, James Russell, and Jim Johnson that will set things up for closer Craig Kimbrel who has saved 186 games over the last four seasons.
2015 will be a transitional period for the Braves and with their first 15 games of the upcoming season against improved teams in the Miami Marlins, New York Mets, and Toronto Blue Jays, the fans in Atlanta and the surrounding areas must show patience.
Philadelphia Phillies 74-88
The Philadelphia Phillies are coming off of consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 2000 and with one of the oldest teams in Major League Baseball, 2015 shouldn’t give the baseball fans in Philly that much hope. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro traded longtime shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the Los Angeles Dodgers and he shouldn’t stop there as he is holding on to false hope with this team. There is a trade market for starting pitcher Cole Hamels, relief pitcher Jonathan Papelbon, and second baseman Chase Utley as Amaro must completely blow this thing up. And with that the outlook for the Phillies in the National League East for 2015 is bleak at best.
Ryne Sandberg is entering is second full season as the Phillies manager and he will have his hands full in trying to get things turned around in Philadelphia. Hamels is expected to be the Phillies ace this season, but there is uncertainty around that as he could be traded. Starting pitcher Cliff Lee is 36-years of age and an elbow injury limited him to just 13 starts last season which makes it tough for the Phillies to expect him to throw 200 innings this season. Like Lee, Phillies starting pitcher Aaron Harang is 36-years of age and he is a journeyman. 2015 will mark Harang’s third different NL East team in as many seasons as it was the Mets in 2013 and the Braves last year. But like Lee, the Phillies cannot put baited breath on Harang’s arm.
In three seasons with the Phillies, Papelbon has saved 106 games, but he has been a lightning rod for controversy as he has tried his hardest to get traded with his outbursts which have all failed. However if the Phillies fall out of contention early in the NL East, maybe Papelbon will finally get his wish.
Last season the Phillies offense was near the bottom of most of the statistical categories in the NL East while they were fourth in strikeouts with 1,306. Even in his prime Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard was never the most mobile and at the age of 35 this is not an aspect of his game that will improve. The Phillies tried to rid themselves of Howard last season as they’re on the hook for pay him more than $60 million over the next three seasons which means that they could attempt to trade him to an American League team where he would be better served as a designated hitter if he gets off to a fast start. Howard’s teammate on the Phillies right side the infield for nearly the past decade has been Utley who is 36-years of age and after a bounce back 2014, it will tough for Philadelphia to expect to play more than 150 games once more this season.
After five consecutive playoff appearances from 2007-2011, the Phillies need to be full on as far as rebuilding which means that this could be a long season in the City of Brotherly Love.
As we’re in the final month of the month of the Major League Baseball season, playoff races are taking shape and the same can be said about the MVP races in both leagues. But for my money the National League MVP race is an intriguing one between Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw and Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton. Kershaw is looking to become the first Dodgers player since Kirk Gibson in 1988 to be named as the NL MVP. Kershaw is also attempting to become the first pitcher since Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals in 1968 to be selected as NL MVP. The history of the Marlins dates back to 1993 and they have never had a player be selected as National League MVP and Stanton is looking to ascend to rare air. But between Kershaw and Stanton, who will win the coveted award in 2014?
This season Kershaw is 18-3 with an earned run average of 1.67 and 210 strikeouts. Kershaw is currently leading the NL in wins and ERA. Kershaw is doing all of this in spite of the fact that he has missed six weeks of the season with a back injury. Stanton is currently leading the NL in home runs (37), runs batted in (105), walks (91), slugging percentage (.560), and on-base plus slugging (.957). Stanton is also closing in on becoming the first Marlins player since Gary Sheffield in 1996 to hit 40 home runs in a single season.
Kershaw only sees the field every fifth day while Stanton is an everyday player. But Kershaw’s Dodgers are currently leading the NL West as they appear to be on their way to the postseason while Stanton’s Marlins are currently under .500 and the postseason appears to be a long shot. Both Kershaw and Stanton are extremely valuable to their respective teams, but the voters tend to side with players who are on contending teams. The Marlins current record of 70-72 will work against Stanton as not since Ernie Banks of the Chicago Cubs in 1959 has a player been named as National League MVP while playing for a team that finished the season with a losing record.
Kershaw also plays on one of the deepest and most expensive clubs in Major League Baseball while Stanton does not have that luxury. The Dodgers payroll of roughly $240 million is the highest in MLB which is evident by the talent around him. The Marlins on the other hand have a payroll of $50 million which is the lowest in baseball. But both players know how to put their respective teams on their backs. Since June 2, the Dodgers are 16-1 in games started by Kershaw and in the process he has lowered his earned run average from 3.32 to 1.67. Stanton’s season got off to a bang as he hit 8 home runs along with 29 runs batted in in the month of April. Overall this season Stanton has had three months in which he has hit at least 8 home runs and he is looking to finish strong. Already in the month of September, Stanton has hit 4 home runs to go along with 7 runs batted in.
In the end it will more than likely be Kershaw that will be named as the 2014 National League MVP. Kershaw plays in the bigger media market and the Dodgers simply have better teams as compared to the Marlins. Whereas Kershaw can take the mound at Dodger Stadium and know that he is going to consistently pitch in front of at least 40,000 fans, Stanton launches home runs at Marlins Park in Miami where one fan could have an entire section to his or herself. Kershaw should become the first Dodger to win the NL MVP since 1988, but it should not take away from the season that Stanton is currently having for the Marlins.