This is the second installment in SST’s MLB preview. The American League preview can be found here.
National League East
- Washington Nationals
- New York Mets
- Miami Marlins
- Philadelphia Phillies
- Atlanta Braves
The Nationals were able to successfully engineer a turnaround from their 2015 collapse, but fell short with a divisional round exit. Washington tried to maneuver trades for SP Chris Sale and OF Andrew McCutchen, but hesitated in giving up their prospects SP Lucas Giolito and SP Reynaldo Lopez. When both trades failed, the Nats panicked and traded both and another prospect in SP Dave Dunning for OF Adam Eaton, who has a high WAR but has never made an All-Star game. While they overpaid for Eaton, he provides insurance if former MVP OF Bryce Harper leaves in free agency next year and allows budding superstar SS/OF Trea Turner to slide to his natural position at shortstop. The rotation is the same as last year, but having All-Star Stephen Strasburg healthy is crucial for this team’s postseason success. Former set-up man RP Shawn Kelley will fill the hole left by departed All-Star closer Mark Melancon, though the Nats could pursue bullpen help at the trade deadline. If Harper can play at the level we saw last April, the Nationals should be in World Series contention.
The Mets have pinned their hopes on the health of their starting pitchers. If the group can avoid injury, New York has the best rotation in the MLB. Both Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz suffered from bone spurs last year, Jacob deGrom battled a number of injuries in 2016 before undergoing September elbow surgery and Matt Harvey had his season ended by surgery to fix thoracic outlet syndrome. When healthy, Syndergaard, deGrom, and Harvey have all shown the ability to be the best hurler in baseball. Resigning OF Yoenis Cespedes, essentially the only offensive threat on the roster, was a good move, as was the resigning of 2B Neil Walker. However, the Mets were quiet in free agency, and lost contributors 1B James Loney, SP Bartolo Colon and SP Jon Niese. Keep an eye out for No. 5 overall prospect SS Amed Rosario, who could carve out a big league role in 2017. New York will be a playoff contender again, but will need to another offensive piece in order to compete with the big boys.
Miami suffered the tragic loss of star pitcher Jose Fernandez in a September boating accident, though they toughed out the rest of last season. Fernandez was a great leader and the best players on the squad, leaving a gaping hole in the Marlins’ locker room. Miami brought in nine new pitchers this season, including solid starters Edinson Volquez and Dan Straily as well as RP Brad Ziegler. The rotation is mediocre but has no true weak spot, and the bullpen is strong. The Marlins have one of the best outfields in the MLB, with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna. 2B Dee Gordon is a pitcher’s nightmare with his contract hitting ability and baserunning talent. Top-to-bottom the Marlins aren’t a dangerous squad, but they have the veteran talent to sneak into the playoffs.
The Phillies have been in rebuilding mode for some time, and with the departure of Ryan Howard, the era of those great Phillies teams has officially been buried. Philadelphia has some intriguing young talent in OF Odubel Herrera and 3B Maikel Franco, and 2B/OF Howie Kendrick and OF Michael Saunders were added in free agency to bring experience. SS J.P. Crawford is the MLB’s No. 6 overall prospect and could earn a starting role at some point this season, while 2016 1st overall pick OF Mickey Moniak is still developing. Philadelphia’s rotation isn’t great, though there is hope for young starters Aaron Nola and Vince Velazquez. The No. 1 starter is Jeremy Hellickson, who is set to make over $17 million this year though his 12-10 record and 3.71 ERA aren’t exactly ace numbers. The bullpen was bolstered by the free agency additions of Joaquin Benoit and Pat Neshek, but isn’t rock solid. The Phils are on their way back to relevancy, but are at least a year out.
Atlanta has little to look forward to in 2017 beside the growth of former No. 1 overall pick SS Dansby Swanson, who is set to start the year with the big league club. No. 10 overall prospect 2B Ozzie Albies should also carve out a major league role this season, as the Braves aren’t in a position to compete in a top-heavy division. 1B Freddie Freeman is one of the better batsmen in the league, but the rest of the lineup is stacked with past-their-prime vets OF Matt Kemp, OF Nick Markakis and 2B Brandon Phillips. The rotation was revamped this offseason, with starters Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon brought in to support Julio Teheran. The bullpen is spearheaded by Jim Johnson, but is shaky. Atlanta should challenge Philly for not-last place, but there are steps to be made.
National League Central
- Chicago Cubs
- St. Louis Cardinals
- Pittsburgh Pirates
- Milwaukee Brewers
- Cincinnati Reds
Fresh off breaking their 108 year old title drought, the North Siders are poised to defend their crown. Losing OF Dexter Fowler, RP Aroldis Chapman and C/DWTS contestant David Ross will hurt, but trading OF Jorge Soler for veteran RP Wade Davis and adding RP Koji Uehara will boost the bullpen. 1B Anthony Rizzo, 2B Ben Zobrist, SS Addison Russell, 3B Kris Bryant, OF Jason Heyward and OF Kyle Schwarber represents the best core of talent in the league. The rotation lost longtime starter Jason Hammel, but the group of Cy Young winner (and 465-foot homer hitting) Jake Arrieta, Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and John Lackey is one of the best staffs in the league. The bullpen will take a hit with Chapman returning to New York, as they rode him heavily in the postseason. Davis is still a strong player, but the Cubs will have a target on their backs this year.
The Cardinals are poised for a playoff return in 2017 after snagging OF Dexter Fowler away from their bitter rival. St. Louis has no superstars, but is a well-rounded and experienced team. C Yadier Molina is one of the best defensive players in the MLB, and is still a strong contact hitter. 1B Matt Carpenter, OF Stephen Piscotty and SS Aledmys Diaz are tough outs with solid power, and the lineup has no real holes. SP Adam Wainwright is the ace of the staff, and the return of SP Lance Lynn should bolster the rotation. Korean import RP Seung-Hwan Oh will retain his role as closer with RP Trevor Rosenthal being shifted into a starting role, and displayed last year why Korean fans nicknamed him the “Final Boss” by sporting a 1.92 ERA. If St. Louis doesn’t reach the postseason again, it will be a disappointment for fans of the Redbirds.
Pittsburgh disappointed many when they failed to make the playoffs in 2016 after a 98-win 2015 year. Former MVP OF Andrew McCutchen was on the verge of being traded this offseason, and the 2018 free agent could find himself in a new uniform at the trade deadline. McCutchen is part of one of baseball’s best outfields, and is flanked by Gregory Polanco and Starling Marte. The rotation will need star hurler Gerrit Cole healthy and Ivan Nova to continue the form he showed over the back end of the 2016 season, though the development of the #1 pitching prospect Tyler Glasnow brings depth to a rotation that also includes youngster Jameson Taillon. The bullpen is the team’s weak spot, and should be addressed at the deadline if the Pirates find themselves in contention. Pittsburgh is good enough to be a playoff team right now, but the NL has a number of teams fighting for spots.
After a strong free agency period, the Brewers are on the verge of breaking out of the NL Central cellar. 1B Chris Carter and his 41 homers are gone, but 1B Eric Thames was brought in for relatively cheap after tearing up the Korean League. Milwaukee’s time at the bottom has allowed them to boost their farm, as top prospects OF Lewis Brinson and SP Josh Hader are set to make big-league contributions this year. 2B Jonathan Villar surprised in 2016 by batting .285, hitting 19 homers and swiping 63 bases, and will look to continue that success this year. OF Ryan Braun has been the face of the franchise for years, but if the Brew Crew continues to struggle he could be dealt at the deadline. The starting rotation is a disaster, but the offseason additions to the bullpen should provide insurance. The Brewers are young and have some developing talents, but are nowhere near contention.
The Reds will be competing for a 4th place finish in the division with the Brewers, and anything more than that would be unlikely. Year in and year out, 1B Joey Votto is one of the best players in the MLB, but his supporting cast is lacking. OF Billy Hamilton is a dangerous man on the basepaths and OF Adam Duvall has serious power, but the rest of the team is nothing special. C Devin Mesoraco needs to play, and play well, this year if the Reds want to pose a threat to opponents. The rotation is gutted after the departure of three starting pitchers, including Dan Straily, though adding Scott Feldman helps to cover the wound. SP Homer Bailey and SP Anthony DeSclafani are both starting the year with injuries, which hampers the staff’s capability. If Bailey and DeSclafani can get healthy, this team could reach an unspectacular 75 wins.
National League West
- San Francisco Giants
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Arizona Diamondbacks
- Colorado Rockies
- San Diego Padres
Well, the Giants’ pattern of winning the World Series in even years came to an end last season, though they gave the Cubs a run for their money in the NLDS. San Francisco was largely undone by their bullpen, which was overhauled this offseason by the addition of All-Star closer Mark Melancon. OF Angel Pagan left, though the core of the team stayed the same. C Buster Posey is a cut above the rest of catchers in the MLB, and healthy seasons from OF Hunter Pence and 2B Joe Panik would go a long way. The Giants’ rotation is scary, and SP Madison Bumgarner has cemented himself as one of the most dominant hurlers in baseball. SP Johnny Cueto and SP Jeff Samardzija would be aces on a number of other teams as well, making the Giants a dangerous opponent in a playoff series. The Giants and the Dodgers will be neck-and-neck all season, and could challenge for the NL pennant.
The Dodgers advanced to the NLCS last year before being toppled by the Cubs, and return the key cogs in their machine. All-Stars closer Kenley Jansen, SP Rich Hill and 3B Justin Turner were all resigned to new deals this offseason, and continued their win-now process by dealing stud prospect SP Jose De Leon for veteran 2B Logan Forsythe. Forsythe is an upgrade from past-his-prime 2B Chase Utley, and forms a nice double-play duo with MVP candidate SS Corey Seager. 1B Adrian Gonzalez is a veteran leader and can still mash, while Turner has quietly developed into a dangerous batsman. SP Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher, and maybe the best overall player, in baseball, while Hill and SP Kenta Maeda are studs. Jansen is a lights-out closer, boasting a 1.83 ERA in 2016. The Dodgers didn’t do much this offseason, but they hope their continuity will deliver a title.
Arizona fell long short of expectations after bringing in a number of expensive players in the offseason, and will look to rebound this year. Losing OF A.J. Pollock to injury last year was huge, and getting him back is crucial to the righting of Arizona’s ship. All-Star 1B Paul Goldschmidt had a down year by his lofty standards, and the D-Backs’ face of the franchise will look to get back into being a 30 homer guy. Losing All-Star SS Jean Segura and his blazing speed may not be the worst thing in the world, as he only had one great year of production and replacement SS Ketel Marte brings similar skills to the table. The rotation had the highest ERA in the NL last year, and will need improvement from ace SP Zack Greinke and SP Shelby Miller, though bringing in former top prospect SP Taijuan Walker from Seattle could help. If they play up to their talent, Arizona could make a wild card push. However, I don’t see that happening.
Colorado made a splash in free agency by signing 1B Ian Desmond, which became a polarizing move in MLB circles. The All-Star hit 33 homers in 2016 and would be in line for more in Colorado’s thin air. However, Desmond cooled off heavily down the stretch, leading some to believe that his power burst was a mere fluke. The Rockies should have one of the league’s best offenses in 2017, especially if young SS Trevor Story becomes more consistent. 3B Nolan Arenado and 2B DJ LeMahieu established themselves at some of the top players at their position last year, and Colorado’s outfield is well-rounded. The rotation should be better than in year’s past, but pitching in that environment is tough mentally. Adding All-Star RP Greg Holland was a good move, and having a strong bullpen will help them down the stretch. Colorado could threaten for a playoff spot, but isn’t ready to compete with the Dodgers and Giants.
San Diego shouldn’t be hopeful entering the 2017 season, though they could have 3 top 50 prospects reach the majors. 1B Wil Myers is an above average player, something that can’t be said about the rest of the entire team. Young talents 3B Yangervis Solarte, and OF Hunter Renfroe should have an everyday role from Opening Day. The rest of the lineup likely will finish the year as less than replacement-level players. Starters Trevor Hill and Jhoulys Chacin were added in free agency, which gives the rotation depth. The bullpen is chock full of nobodies, though having a good closer matters less when winning 60 games would be more than expected.