2013 MLB Preview: NL East

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The National League East is a division that is a good cross-section of the MLB with teams doing it right and doing it wrong. The MLB is full of these teams that can show how to properly build a team and how to drive a team into the ground. In no division is there more of these teams than in the NL East were new powers are emerging and old powers are freefalling. The division is a mix of the good and bad and is a perfect place to look for the good and bad of managing a team. There are the teams like the Atlanta Braves who have been at the top of the division year after year. These are the teams who know how to manage themselves with consistency being their greatest advantage. Then there are teams like the Washington Nationals who get lucky but are also good enough to realize it and create a winning team. Then there are the teams on the opposite ends of the spectrum like the Miami Marlins. The Marlins have given everyone a book on how not to manage a team especially after this offseason. Teams like the New York Mets have hit a string of bad luck and do not have the ability to come out of it. There are also teams caught in the middle like the Philadelphia Phillies who are a team looking to find an identity. The NL East is a true cross-section of the MLB and this year all five teams will be in very different places in 2013. The division is not a very difficult one to predict as there are clearly teams that have put themselves among the top of the league while others have made plenty of people question their commitment. Although the division has little competition for the top spot there is no question that there will be plenty to talk about. Whether it is the management of the teams or the decline of veteran players or even the ability to move on from a legend all teams have their own issues to deal with in the East.

 

Atlanta Braves

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The Atlanta Braves are the picture of consistency in the MLB and in 2012 they would once again show that consistency. The Braves would make the postseason once again as they have rarely been out of the hunt in multiple years. They move into this year without one of their most legendary players though as Chipper Jones will not suit up in a Braves jersey for the first time in 20 years. Usually players retiring do not mean too much but a lot of players are not Chipper Jones. He was the heart of the team and one of their best players year after year. It is tough for a team to move on from a player like Jones because that presence cannot be matched by anyone. The boost that he provided last year to push them into the postseason will no longer be there as the end of the era is here for Atlanta. Now they move on and look to continue their consistent play and make the postseason again. The Braves are not a particularly powerful team but year after year they put together a well-balanced team that can challenge for a postseason spot every year. The Braves will be back in the hunt this year even without their heart but they will have a tough time getting the top spot and will likely have to fight it out for a wild card which is not the most ideal way to make the postseason.

 

Strength:
The Bullpen
– The Braves had the second best ERA from a bullpen in the MLB last year with Craig Kimbrel holding down the ninth inning and after adding Jordan Walden this relief squad will be feared throughout the league

Weakness:
Moving On
– A player retiring is generally not the end of the world but it is a lot tougher when that player has been the heart and soul of the team for 20 seasons it is much more difficult as there is nobody on the Braves that can replace the presence of Chipper Jones

Biggest Loss:
Chipper Jones, 3B (Retirement)
– Jones retiring is clearly the biggest loss and along with his presence in the locker room and on the bench is the fact that he was a good defensive player and a very good hitter’s hitter with a .287 average last year

Biggest Addition:
The Uptons, OF (Free Agency)
– There are really two players that will make the biggest impact as BJ and Justin Upton will become a brotherly duo in the outfield and are two very good batters and will only add to a very good defence in the field

Player to Watch:
Kris Medlen, RHP
– Medlen broke out last year with a 1.57 ERA and 120 strikeouts as his biggest challenge will be whether or not he can do it again as the ace of a starting rotation that does not have a lot of depth as he will need to carry the load for the Braves

 

Miami Marlins

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Last year the Marlins would enter the season with a lot of fanfare as they would have a new look for the season. They would switch from Florida to Miami while also changing their uniforms and playing in a brand new state of the art facility. They would also sign an almost brand new team with plenty of talent to help them into the postseason. It would not work out though as the Marlins would finish last in the division. Then in the offseason it seemed as though the Marlins had given up completely on their new image. The Marlins would shock everyone in the MLB when they would get involved in a 12 player deal with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Marlins would decidedly lose the trade as they would lose their starting shortstop along with two of their starting pitchers. In return they would get a number of good but unproven prospects. The Marlins essentially held a fire sale of a team they had put together only a year ago as they had seemed to give up. To many in Miami it was a sign that the Marlins would get money for a new stadium by putting a good team together and then once they got what they wanted abandon the path. The Marlins did invest something in the future though with some good prospects that could pay off in the future. It won’t pay off right now though as they will not challenge for a playoff spot and might not for years to come.

 

Strength:
Nothing
– There really is nothing to be proud about as a member of the Marlins as there are holes in every aspect of the team with few solid pitchers to speak of and a batting lineup that seems to just be thrown together

Weakness:
Management
– The management won’t admit it but this offseason was a complete fire sale of everything they had built in 2012 and to many on the team and to the fans it showed a clear lack of commitment to the team and to winning

Biggest Loss:
Mark Buehrle, RHP (Trade)
– He is not a power pitcher or someone who will win another Cy Young any time soon but what he does do is pitch over 300 innings almost every year which is a big help to any bullpen with these innings left for the rest of the team to now carry

Biggest Addition:
Adeiny Hechavarria, SS (Trade)
– He was a prized prospect of the Toronto Blue Jays and has shown a lot of potential as he will be a great player in the future and although he might not be an exact replacement for Jose Reyes he could turn out to be a key player for the Marlins

Player to Watch:
Giancarlos Stanton, OF
– There was one star who made it out of the 2012 offseason still wearing a Marlins jersey as Stanton will now have to carry this team on his back without the help of many other players as the Marlins are now his team

 

New York Mets

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The Mets are in much the same position as the Marlins as they continue to sit at the bottom of the division with plenty of questionable managerial decisions. The Mets would end up in second last place in the division last year only ahead of the disastrous season of the Marlins. In a lot of ways the Mets decline from where they used to be in the MLB is not entirely their fault. The team would become the victims of the Bernie Madoff scheme as Mets owner Fred Wilpon would lose a lot of money in the pyramid scheme. As a result of this the Mets took a major blow in that the Wilpon’s could not invest in their team while they were being investigated. The Wilpon’s came out of the other side of this scandal but the damage was done and the Mets continued to struggle. Now the Mets move into a new year where they look to be building their team from the bottom up. They would trade away their only good story from the year before in RA Dickey and in return would receive a number of prospects. The Mets have finally done what many struggling teams should do as they would give up their hopes of competing this year to invest in the future. The Mets will not be very competitive this year but if they can stay on their new path they could end up building a contender in the future.

 

Strength:
Finally a Commitment
– The Mets have been a team, like many struggling teams, that continues to try to compete immediately but this year they took a step back in the short-term by trading away their ace to take more steps forward in the future which is more than many teams can say

Weakness:
Beginning of a new era
– With a new commitment comes a clear message that the Mets are not going to be competitive in the near future which includes the 2013 season as they will be without their best player who has moved on to a new team

Biggest Loss:
R.A. Dickey, RHP (Trade)
– Dickey has a great story and in 2012 he would bring attention to the Mets who otherwise would never be talked about as his knuckleball would give the Mets a chance every five days and now the Mets will be without that assurance in the rotation

Biggest Addition:
Travis D’Arnaud, C (Trade)
– The trade that would take away their best player did not come without its rewards as they would receive one of the most sought after prospects in the MLB in D’Arnaud who could turn out to be a perennial all-star

Player to Watch:
David Wright, 3B
– With the Mets looking for a new direction they have held one player to continue his career with the Mets as David Wright quickly became the face of the franchise as he will try to live up to his new 8-year $138 million contract extension

 

Philadelphia Phillies

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The Phillies were sitting on top of the league in 2008 and came so close to returning in 2009 but would lose in the finals. The team would believe that they were only a few moves away from returning to the top of the league and so they would load up and sign the best rotation in baseball. It has not worked out for the Phillies though as the lineup made up of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Halladay would fall short. The Phillies have still been good but the dominance that many expected from the team was nowhere to be found. The Phillies are now stuck in a strange position as they are a veteran team that needs to decide where they should go. They could continue on this path and continue using veterans in an attempt to pull off the New York Yankees plan. They could also begin to rebuild and get younger in order to get back to the top for the division and the top of the league. For now it seems as though they will choose the former as the Phillies move into the 2013 season with a veteran team that could be on their last legs. The Phillies will rely on their veterans who may be in their last seasons and are looking for one last chance to win a World Series. They won’t get that shot as the Phillies will be average once again and will not compete for the division.

 

Strength:
Starting Pitching
– even if the pitchers are on the older side for MLB pitchers they are still very good as there is plenty in the tank for Halladay, Hamels, and Lee who will continue to be the strength of this team in 2013

Weakness:
Age taking its toll
– The Phillies are an old team in the MLB but it is not the fact that they are old that is their biggest downfall as it is the fact that the age is catching up to them with injuries dominating last year and eliminating some of their top players last season

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Phillies did not lose too many players and the ones that they did lose rarely made an impact or were easily replaced in the offseason as the Phillies go into the 2013 season with the same team as 2012

Biggest Addition:
Michael Young, 3B (Trade)
– Young has regularly been considered one of the MLB’s most underrated players while a member of the Rangers and now he will take his talents to Philadelphia where he will be sure to provide a little something extra in the batting order

Player to Watch:
Roy Halladay, RHP
– Halladay left his the only team he ever knew in 2008 to get to a team that could help him win a World Series before he retired but that has yet to transpire as he is quickly running out of time to win that ring and will be on a mission this year

 

Washington Nationals

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The Washington Capitals can be considered the exact opposite of the Phillies as this young team would break through in 2012. The Nationals would take their youth movement into the playoff last year winning the NL East for the first time since they moved to Washington from Montreal. For the Nationals it was a little bit of luck and a little bit of smart managing that would bring them to the division title. The Nationals would have the good fortune of being in last place two years in a row with two of the best prospects in MLB history waiting for them. They would also have the ability to sign a number of key players in 2012 that would coincide with the breakout years of their two stars to earn a spot in the postseason. Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg are the nucleus of this team and both are under 26 years old. These two are the future of the MLB and the Nationals are looking to them to lead this team into the future. The 2012 season was the breakout year for this team and now they look to continue that progress into a new era of the NL East. Washington is built on the youth of their team and it has worked for them as it is clear that this is now the Nationals’ division. They will once again be favorites to win the division and will do it again while also making a run in the playoffs.

 

Strength:
The Youth Revolution
– The Nationals got lucky in having Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg waiting for them in the draft but they have managed them fairly well to the point where they are the leaders of this team that has an energy almost unmatched but any other teams

Weakness:
The New Pressure
– The Nationals are still a young franchise and have not had a lot of time to experience different aspects of the game with this year looking to teach them something new as they are expected to win the division putting them in a position they have never been in before

Biggest Loss:
Edwin Jackson, RHP (Free Agency)
– The Nats have a good rotation but the loss of Jackson has left one spot with a little bit of a question as Jackson may not have been a lights out pitcher but he played his role in the rotation that will need to be filled

Biggest Addition:
Denard Span, OF (Free Agency)
– Span may not be one of the younger players of the team but he does bring plenty of energy as his speed at the top of the order will be great and his outstanding defence will only add to an already good defensive team

Player to Watch:
Bryce Harper, OF
– Harper had an amazing rookie year in 2012 winning the NL Rookie of the Year but the big question now is if he will suffer from a sophomore slump especially after putting on muscle weight that may give him more power but could slow him down

 

Prediction:
1. Washington Nationals
2. Atlanta Braves
3. Philadelphia Phillies
4. New York Mets
5. Miami Marlins

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