On Monday, STT previewed the NL West. Today, the Eastern division in the Senior Circuit is on tap.
Last season the Nationals surprised many (but not me, they were my pick to win the division) by accumulating the most wins in baseball, while the Braves made the fake playoffs and lost a coin flip game that featured garbage being thrown on the field. The Phillies disappointed and the Mets made a pretty good first half run. The Marlins stumbled and then blew up their franchise in a way only the Marlins could.
The Nationals and Braves both had big offseasons while the Phillies did weird stuff like signing Delmon Young to play defense. The Mets dealt Dickey for a good haul and extended David Wright. The Marlins traded everyone who isn’t Giancarlo Stanton, and he’ll be gone inside twelve months two I’m sure.
Here’s how the 2013 NL East looks according to STT. [Division Rank. Team (2013 W/L prediction, 2013 Preseason MLB Power Ranking]
5. Miami Marlins (63-99, 29)
I’ve made no secret of my disgust with the Marlins fire sale over the last several months and won’t rehash it at length here. They have but one player on their entire projected opening day roster that is a lock to have a 2 WAR or better season if healthy. Only Giancarlo Stanton is anything more than a bench type player going into 2013. They will no doubt have some surprises and I’m excited to see former Tigers Jacob Turner and Rob Brantly get a shot at the big leagues, but this team is so devoid of talent it borders on the criminal.
4. New York Mets (78-84, 18)
I’m actually kind of bullish on the Mets. I think their rotation of Santana, Niese, Harvey, Gee, and eventually Wheeler could be very good and they’ve made some good bullpen signings. David Wright is a centerpiece and they have some good supporting pieces in guys like Ike Davis and Daniel Murphy. The Mets need an outfield. I think they’re one great player and one pretty good player away from being a legitimate contender and maybe only one good player away from making noise. Even if they don’t make a playoff run, I’m excited to watch the Mets rotation in 2013.
3. Philadelphia Phillies (84-78, 13)
The Phillies rotation is too amazing at the top for them to be any lower on this list even if the rest of the team is questionable. Up the middle, the Phillies can play with anyone with the likes of Carlos Ruiz, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, and Ben Revere to match Halladay, Lee, and Hamels. The problem is that the corners are potential black holes of terrible. Michael and Delmon Young are written in as starters for 2013 and they were literally among the five worst starters in baseball last season costing their teams more than two wins combined. Ryan Howard has been a bit of problem at first given his lack of four tools. Each of these players could have bounce back years, but I’m not betting on it. The pitching and the middle will hold the Phillies up, but they won’t make it to the top.
2. Atlanta Braves (90-72, 4)
The Braves added Uptons for 2013 but lost Chipper Jones and Martin Prado, which makes me think they’ll be about as good in 2013 as they were in 2012. Which was good. The Braves have a great outfield and infielders who have the potential to really contribute. Their starters are solid and their bullpen is second to none. The Braves are a well-balanced club with no glaring holes. Other than Dan Uggla’s defense.
1. Washington Nationals (95-67, 1)
I’ve also made no secret of my belief in the Nationals on these pages and this is merely a formality. They were baseball’s best team last season and got better by any definition. Even if you expect regression by some, you should probably anticipate improvement by others. Their pitching staff is only challenged by the Tigers and Rays for the best in baseball and the Nats have a good bullpen and well-rounded offense. It’s hard to imagine a scenario without disproportionate injuries that doesn’t have the Nationals among the best teams in baseball for 2013.
NL East Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg
NL East MVP: Jason Heyward
Most Potentially Pivotal Player: Justin Upton
Division Storyline that Will Surprise Us: Chase Utley stays healthy and has a big year.
Boldest of the Bold: Freddie Freeman will make the All-Star team.
With the offseason still in its infancy and only the most minor moves behind us, it’s time to start thinking about how the Tigers should approach the next couple of months in preparation for the 2013 season.
Let’s start with who we know will be back on the 2013 team.
Avila ( C ), Fielder (1B), Infante (2B), Peralta (SS), Cabrera (3B), Jackson (CF), and Martinez (DH) all have starting roles locked up assuming they stay healthy this offseason. Dirks (OF) will certainly be on the club, but his role is somewhat unclear. He’ll either be a starting corner outfielder, platoon outfielder, or bench player.
That locks up eight of the 13 expected position player slots with LF, RF, backup catcher, backup infielder, backup outfielder essentially filling out the remaining spots.
Let’s start with the easy part. The Tigers should, and will, either resign Gerald Laird or go with Bryan Holaday as Avila’s backup. If Laird wants to come back, he’ll be back, if he wants more playing time, the team will go with Holaday.
The backup infield slot should be pretty cut and dry as well. I expect that it’s a fight between Santiago and Worth. Santiago really struggled in 2012 and Worth is a better defense player and is younger. But Santiago is on a major league deal, so cutting the $2 million might not be in the plans. I’d take Worth, but because I think he’s better, but I can’t fault them if they stay with Santiago and shuttle Worth to Toledo again.
The outfield is where this gets interesting. Several in-organization candidates emerge for roster spots. Dirks will obviously get one of the four spots for outfielders. After him, the Tigers have Brennan Boesch, Quintin Berry, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, Ryan Raburn, and Don Kelly.
You can put together an outfielder from that group and Dirks, but you probably should add one more piece. Dirks in LF and adding a new RF through Free Agency or trade is probably the best option for the club. Garcia and Castellanos need more time in the minors and putting them on the opening day roster is probably a poor choice. They should be ready by late 2013 or early 2014 and it’s wrong to rush them instead of paying for a Free Agent.
Let’s give the LF job to Dirks and see RF help from outside. If we do that, we need to pick two bench guys. I would like to see it be Raburn and Kelly, although I think Boesch and Berry or Boesch and another Free Agent are more likely.
Here’s why I’d advocate for Raburn and Kelly, although I know most people won’t. Kelly brings great flexibility positionally, which is what I value in a 25th man. He can fill in at 1B and 3B late in blowouts and on the rare off day for the big guys. He’s also the best defender of the bunch (other than Garcia, but I’ve already sent him to Toledo). I like Raburn because he has shown the ability to go on tears and I’d like to give him one more shot at it.
To me, Berry is a pinch runner and I’m not interested in using a roster spot on someone who isn’t a useful defensive replacement or pinch hitter. Boesch is hard to read because he’s streaky, but he doesn’t add value to my version of the team because he isn’t a defensive replacement and isn’t much of a pinch hitter.
Kelly fits as a defender and Raburn fits as a righty to balance out Dirks if you need it. Both spots are of low importance because we shouldn’t need as many ABs from them with Martinez back. You can stash Berry and Boesch in AAA, but you can’t hide Raburn and Kelly. Keep them on the club and part ways when Garcia and Castellanos are ready.
So that leaves us with an outfield target. I’ve been clear in previous posts that Torii Hunter is the ideal fit for this team. He can play RF at a high level, had a good year at the plate, and can be a mentor to Austin Jackson. He’d fit perfectly at 2, 5, or 6 in the lineup depending on how you want to play it and he’s older, so you don’t need to offer him a lot of years.
A two year deal in the Beltran range would work, or even a little more AAV to make sure he signs. If we do that, my proposed lineup and bench looks like this:
Bench: Laird/ Holaday C, Santiago/Worth INF, Raburn OF, Kelly UTIL
Waiting: Boesch, Berry, Garcia, Castellanos
I like how that looks a lot. Your outfield defense is dramatically better than it was for most of 2012, which will help out the pitchers a lot.
An intriguing backup to Hunter is Melky Cabrera if you can buy low on him. Shane Victorino is another option. If I’m the Tigers, I don’t want to pay for someone like BJ Upton or Josh Hamilton because I have OF talent coming and I have a lot of payroll tied up in my stars already. I’m looking for a 2 year, $24-30 million corner outfielder to bridge the gap to 2014-2015.
With the position players set, we’ll tackle the pitching staff early next week. Sound off in the comments section or post questions/suggestions of other targets you’d like to see and I’ll try to get a mailbag column going.