MLB 2015 Preview: National League East
The Mets’ hopes and dreams: Matt Harvey.
The good news for the Nationals is that they are clearly one of the best teams in baseball. The better news for the Nationals is that nobody in the NL East is particularly close to them in terms of talent. Washington, winners of 96 games last year, added one of the top five SP in the game, Max Scherzer. As of now, their sixth starter is Tanner Roark, who posted an fWAR of 3.0 in 31 starts last year. This depth gives them plenty of ammo to fill a hole, should one arise. Washington starters project to post a fWAR of 16.6, which is really high when you factor in that projections always call for regression. Scherzer, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Fister, and Zimmerman combined for a WAR of 19.5 in 151 starts last season. Fister was not particularly good, either. This staff has the ability to challenge the 1997 Braves for highest rotation WAR of all time (25.4). Washington will cruise to a division crown.
Miami has a lot of the pieces required to be a force in the NL this year. The outfield (Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich, and Marcel Ozuna) is worth salivating over, and Jose Fernandez is one of the very best starting pitchers in baseball. The rest of the rotation provides potential as well, but each key contributor has his own questions. Can Henderson Alvarez continue to outpitch his peripherals? Can Dan Haren and Mat Latos remain healthy for a full season? Is Jarred Cosart more than a serviceable back-of-the-rotation pitcher? If the answer to the majority of those questions is “yes,” then Miami will be a strong contender for a Wild Card spot based solely on strong pitching and a fantastic outfield.
No team in the division has its hopes and dreams as dependent on one player as New York’s are on SP Matt Harvey. Harvey missed all of last season due to Tommy John surgery after setting the world on fire in 2013. In his first 36 starts at the MLB level, Harvey posted an fWAR of 7.1. While the Mets really, really need Harvey to contend, the good news is that rotation mates Jacob deGrom and Zack Wheeler offer the potential to beat their Steamer projections (1.3 fWAR and 1.4 fWAR respectively). DeGrom was NL Rookie of the Year in 2014 and posted a WAR of 3.0. Wheeler posted a WAR of 1.8 last seasons in 32 starts and was once considered a top prospect in all of baseball. If you are looking for players who can beat their projections, it is smart to look at guys with limited MLB experience who have been scouted to have a lot of talent. DeGrom and Wheeler fit this mold. Unfortunately for New York, its overall roster does not stack up to Miami and Washington. The Mets will challenge for a Wild Card spot that they will narrowly miss
The Braves are the poster children for spending money not equaling wins. They spent heavily to extend 1B Freddie Freeman, SS Andrelton Simmons, and CL Craig Kimbrel. They also brought in CF B.J. Upton at a steep price two seasons ago. Now all they have to show for it is a team that projects to be well under .500. The Freeman contract actually looks pretty solid, but Simmons swooned to a wRC+ of 71 last year. True, he managed a WAR of 2.3 based on fantastic defense, but defense peaks rather early in a player’s career (as early as 23!). The Braves are left with relatively modest financial resources and a cast of misfits to surround Freeman and Simmons. The good news for Atlanta fans is that a long-term game is in play here. The Braves traded C/1B Evan Gattis and OF Justin Upton to restock their system and compete when their new stadium opens in 2017. In the meantime, however, expect lean times as they fight it out with Philadelphia for fourth place in the NL East.
I wrote last year that Philadelphia was a trainwreck, and not a lot has changed. At a minimum, however, the Phillies did not throw any good money after bad; they did not acquire players in a feeble attempt to contend. Everybody knows the Phillies are bad, with no chance to be good, so it’s no use rehashing that. The first step in fixing the Phillies is to fire GM Ruben Amaro. It almost feels clichéd to write that, because it is all over the internet, but Philly desperately needs a wheeler and dealer with a penchant for spotting talent. They have financial resources, so they do not even need somebody in the Billy Beane/Chris Antonetti mold. They just need somebody who has a realistic view of what he (or she!) can accomplish and the gumption to move popular and expensive players. Chase Utley is the first piece of the puzzle, because he has the most attractive contract. Utley is owed $15MM in 2015 and has $15MM vesting options for the next three years. He also has full no-trade protection. Philly needs to find some place, any place, he is willing to go and pay him to go there by guaranteeing a portion of the options. The minute Cliff Lee proves he is healthy, Philly needs to eat a significant portion of his contract to receive the best possible prospects. Tough choices must be made because the Phillies are years from contention.
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