Georgia might have just had another scare with potential snow and ice storms, but spring is in our midst and with that Spring Training is right around the corner. Pitchers and Catchers are set to report by the end of this week, while many players have already come to camp early to break off the rust and start getting their bodies back in game shape. Each spring teams enter training camp with optimism and aspirations of winning the World Series. I will be heading down to Florida to check out some Spring Training action for the first time this year. I will be attending Bradenton (Pirates) and Port St. Lucie (Mets), two teams that are primed to make the post season. With that being said, let’s take an early look at the National League East and how I think things will stack up this season.
Last year’s porous division now looks to be one of the toughest, with three of the projected top teams all having realistic sights on the playoffs. The Nationals are seemingly the new trendy pick and are 5:1 favorites to win the World Series this year after making moves that brought in Max Scherzer and Yunel Escobar. Washington has a rotation loaded with power arms, but its bullpen will need retooling. Tyler Clippard was shipped off for Escobar and Rafael Soriano is currently a free agent. Drew Storen will likely return as the closer, a full time job he had back in 2011 when he saved 43 games. While they may be the most talented team in the division, I doubt they will completely run away with it.
New York Mets
The Mets have the best young top three pitching trio in the MLB with Matt Harvey-Jacob deGrom-Zack Wheeler. Their pitching staff will be one of the strongest in the league, but questions loom on whether David Wright can ever return to the player he once was. The fences have been moved in yet again and should benefit Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda who emerged as the Mets’ number one long ball threat last year. If Wright, Granderson, and Michael Cuddyer can produce close to what their career averages are, then the Mets should be battling for the division and wild card all season long.
As they seemingly do every offseason, the Marlins have shaken their roster up like a snow globe. Mat Latos and Dan Haren give the Marlins some much needed veteran leadership atop of their young rotation that hopes to get young ace Jose Fernandez back sooner rather than later from Tommy John surgery. The addition of Dee Gordon who had a career year last season will give them speed to burn. Veteran Martin Prado was brought in to do what he always does—hit. Michael Morse should shore up first base if he can find a way to stay healthy. Miami has had strong teams on paper in the past, but they have never been able to create that type of success on the field. Now in his third year as manager, Mike Redmond will try to sneak the fish back into the postseason where they have made magic happen.
No team in the MLB has torn down the walls as much as new GM John Hart has after the Braves decided to clean house. Atlanta has tried to replenish its beleaguered farm system and has done a decent job so far. Craig Kimbrel has been whispered to be the next one on the move. It should be a long painful season as ownership eyes 2017; the good thing for Atlanta is that Philadelphia is in the same division.
No franchise has been more mismanaged in the past five years than this one. A blind loyalty to aging stars who no longer produce has crippled the franchise along with a weak farm system. Year-in and year-out, Ruben Amaro has had a chance to flip Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels for young players, but he has sat on his assets and continues to depreciate their value. Unlike the Braves, there is no light at the end of this tunnel just yet.