Wright, Mets reach out to officer's family

December, 24, 2014
Dec 24
4:18
PM ET
NEW YORK -- The children of an NYPD officer slain last weekend received a phone call from Mets captain David Wright and an invitation to spring training from the ballclub.

The Mets learned through police officials that the sons of NYPD officer Rafael Ramos -- Justin, 19, and Jayden, 13 -- are Mets fans. So the ballclub arranged for Wright to call the boys. They spoke for 15 minutes.

Wright's father, Rhon, is the retired assistant chief of the Norfolk, Virginia, Police Department.

The family, at the Mets' invitation, plans to attend spring training, with the boys dressed in uniforms.

Officer Ramos and partner Wenjian Liu were ambushed while sitting in their patrol car Saturday.

L.J. Mazzilli suspended 50 games

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
3:29
PM ET
[+] EnlargeLJ Mazzilli
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsL.J. Mazzilli hit a combined .301 with 11 homers and 79 RBIs and had 14 steals in 505 at-bats last season in the minors for the Mets.

NEW YORK -- Mets second base prospect L.J. Mazzilli has been suspended 50 games for a second positive test for a drug of abuse, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday.

The Mets said in a statement released Tuesday that Mazzilli "has sought counseling to address his issues."

Mazzilli, 24, is the son of former Met Lee Mazzilli. He was selected by the Mets in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of UConn.

In the statement, L.J. Mazzilli apologized to the Mets' organization and his family.

"Unfortunately, in life, you cannot go back on a bad decision that was made, and in my case, one that I very much regret," Mazzilli said. "After everything my loved ones, supporters, and the N.Y. Mets have given me, especially an opportunity to chase my childhood dream, I couldn't be more ashamed and sorry."

He hit a combined .301 with 11 homers and 79 RBIs and had 14 steals in 505 at-bats last season, primarily with Savannah and St. Lucie. Mazzilli also participated in the Arizona Fall League. where he hit .306 with a homer and seven RBIs in 49 at-bats.

Lee Mazzilli played in the major leagues from 1976 to 1989 for the Mets, Texas, the Yankees, Pittsburgh and Toronto, and was an All-Star for the Mets in 1979. He managed Baltimore in 2004 and '05.


(Read full post)


'Twas a year to forget in N.Y. sports

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
12:52
PM ET

Namath/JeterAP Photo/Charlie NeibergallDerek Jeter and Joe Namath had plenty to smile about, apparently, back in March. But unless you're a Rangers diehard, 2014 left New York sports fans frowning.

It was just March in Tampa, Florida, before anyone knew 2014 would join the Final Four of worst New York sports years of the past five decades. Joe Namath and Derek Jeter posed at Steinbrenner Field, New York sports royalty smiling together as the cameras clicked.

Looking back, the photo of those two legends could represent bookends for Big Apple misery. Namath debuted in 1965, one of the worst years in New York sports history; Jeter, of course, closed out his career this year. Five decades ago, Namath's emergence provided a glimpse of a sunrise in a gloomy sports scene, just as Jeter's farewell allowed for a tiny bit of light as a storm of defeats enveloped the city's ballparks and arenas.

Despite Jeter's farewell tour, 2014 now sits alongside 1965, 1966 and 1979 as the worst years in the past half-century of New York sports.

"This was a no-hope year," said Newark Star-Ledger columnist Jerry Izenberg, who has covered New York sports for more than six decades. "This is probably one of the most, if not the most, hopeless sports years in the history of New York City."

Still, history can be the greatest teacher. The lesson? In this case, seeds of hope might be found in the despair.


(Read full post)


Marco Scutaro has back surgery

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
5:07
PM ET
[+] EnlargeMarco Scutaro
AP Images/Wilfredo LeeMarco Scutaro played in only five games last season because of recurring back problems.

SAN FRANCISCO -- San Francisco Giants second baseman Marco Scutaro underwent back surgery that could end his career.

Giants general manager Brian Sabean announced during a conference call Monday that Scutaro had the fusion procedure performed by Dr. Michael Wang in Miami on Friday to alleviate the troublesome area at level L-2/L-3 of his spine. It will be four-to-six months before doctors determine whether Scutaro can play baseball again.

The 39-year-old Scutaro, a journeyman infielder who became the surprising 2012 NL Championship Series MVP, played in only five games last season -- all in July -- because of recurring back problems that landed him on the disabled list for good July 25. He is now resting at home and will soon begin the long rehabilitation program post-surgery.

Scutaro has known he might need the operation in order to give him a quality of life even just in his day-to-day schedule off the baseball field.

"This is the type of thing, it's four-to-six months before we can know if baseball is possible," Sabean said. "I don't want to speak for the doctor or the procedure but you'd have to how he responds to the surgery and that's months away."


(Read full post)


Wilpons' Madoff settlement down to $75.6M

December, 22, 2014
Dec 22
2:35
PM ET

Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty ImagesBernard Madoff


NEW YORK -- The trustee who is recovering money for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme announced Monday another round of intended distributions of recovered funds.

And that helps the Mets' owners, the Wilpon family.

Eligible victims of the Ponzi scheme will soon have recovered 48.546 cents for every dollar of principal they lost in the Madoff affair.

As part of the Wilpons' settlement with the trustee, the sides stipulated that the Wilpons lost $178 million in certain Madoff funds, while making $162 million from other funds.

The Wilpons, like other victims, can deduct the 48.546 cents per dollar from their lost funds from the $162 million eventually owed to the trustee.

Here's the math:

$162 million owed, minus 48.546 percent of $178 million lost, yields the actual payback to the trustee.

So the Wilpon family, businesses and charities right now would owe the trustee $75,588,120 -- divided into two installments, and payable in 2016 and 2017.

That obligation should further decrease as the trustee recovers more funds for all victims.
video

Darryl Strawberry did the work, but now you can collect his money from the New York Mets.

Next month, the Internal Revenue Service is auctioning off the remaining annuity from the deferred compensation Strawberry agreed to when he signed a six-year contract with the Mets almost 30 years ago, according to an online posting on the U.S. Department of Treasury website.

The total value of the contract, which covered his 1985 through 1990 seasons, was $7.1 million, but nearly 40 percent of his $1.8 million team option in 1990 ($700,000) was deferred and put into an annuity with a 5.1 percent annual interest rate.

On Jan. 20, the IRS will auction off the right to collect what will amount to roughly $1.28 million paid by Sterling Mets LP, parent company of the Mets, in 223 monthly installments, assuming a realistic sale close date of May 1. As this sale is required through the court system, the winning bid, which cannot be less than $550,000, has to be approved by a judge before the buyer starts collecting.

How a fan could even buy what was originally due to the Mets slugger is a complicated story.

Strawberry was forced to give a portion of the deferred money account to his wife, Charisse, as part of their divorce settlement in 2006, but the payments were never made. In 2010, his ex-wife filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection and, as part of the proceedings, asked for what was owed. But in September of this year, a judge in the Northern District of Florida ruled that the annuity was the property of the IRS, not Charisse, because Darryl still had not settled his tax debt owed for 1989, 1990, 2003 and 2004.


(Read full post)


Mets pass on Jung-Ho Kang bid

December, 20, 2014
Dec 20
9:45
AM ET
The posting period for South Korean shortstop Jung-Ho Kang has expired, and the Mets decided not to bid for the right to negotiate with him.

The winning bid for the right to negotiate with Kang's representative reportedly was $5,002,015, although the victorious team has not yet been revealed.

Daniel Kim, the former interpreter for Jae Weong Seo with the Mets, who has become a prominent baseball analyst in South Korea, offered this description of Kang (via former Mets beat writer Kevin Czerwinski):

"Line-drive hitter that will crush mistakes but chase the high fastball. He will go the other way if the pitcher tries to nibble and has decent power to all fields. Home runs in Korea will translate into doubles. He will fare well against Nos. 3-4-5 starters. Defensively he has an above-average arm and will make up for lack of speed by studying hitters' swings and pitch sequences."

Mets trade Gonzalez Germen to Yanks

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
2:53
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Right-hander Gonzalez Germen, who was designated for assignment by the Mets to clear the roster spot for the addition of John Mayberry Jr., has been traded to the Yankees for cash.

Germen, 27, had a 4.75 ERA and 1.451 WHIP in 30 1/3 innings spanning 25 relief appearances with the Mets last season.

The Yankees designated Preston Claiborne for assignment to clear the roster spot.

The Mets and Yankees have made 15 player swaps all time. The most recent had been left-hander Mike Stanton for left-hander Felix Heredia in 2004.

Mets-Tulo? 'Five percent' chance ... at best

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:47
AM ET
NEW YORK -- The Mets and Rockies have engaged in some talks this offseason regarding Troy Tulowitzki, but a well-placed source told ESPNNewYork.com the chances of something ever materializing are five percent at best.

No talks are believed to have been overly recent. And an insider said the Mets fans clamoring for a Tulo acquisition would go "bat s---" if they knew the package the Rockies wanted for Tulowitzki.

The comment came in response to a CBSSports.com report about dialogue between the Mets and Rockies. That report acknowledged the chances of a trade between the clubs involving Tulowitzki were "slim."

David Wright begins to get into swing

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
4:05
PM ET
NEW YORK -- More than his three months after his shutdown following a Sept. 8 game, David Wright has resumed swinging a bat.

Wright told ESPNNewYork.com he has "started to swing a little and the volume should increase soon."

Wright, who turns 32 on Saturday, now expects to visit new Mets hitting coach Kevin Long in Phoenix in January.

The captain finished last season inactive because of "weak" and "stretched-out" ligaments that failed to hold his non-throwing shoulder in place.

Syndergaard again tops prospect list

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
12:24
PM ET

Elsa/Getty ImagesNoah Syndergaard is rated the Mets' top prospect by Baseball America.
NEW YORK -- Baseball America released its top Mets prospects list on Wednesday, and there's no surprise atop the class. Here's the magazine's full top 10:

1. Noah Syndergaard, rhp
2. Steve Matz, lhp
3. Brandon Nimmo, of
4. Dilson Herrera, 2b/ss
5. Kevin Plawecki, c
6. Amed Rosario, ss
7. Michael Conforto, of
8. Rafael Montero, rhp
9. Marcos Molina, rhp
10. Gavin Cecchini, ss

Top 10: Mets best defensive plays (Part 2)

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
12:00
PM ET
Nick Laham/Getty ImagesEndy Chavez's catch has no match in Mets history.
This is the sixth in a series of blog posts ranking the bests in New York Mets history.

Though we covered the best defensive players in Mets history, we never got around to ranking the best plays. That's what Tuesday and Wednesay are for.

If you want to see the rest of the top 10 series (topics: home runs, pitching performances, defensive players, fastest Mets, singles) and trades click here.


On with the top five.

5 -- David Wright's barehanded snag, Aug. 9, 2005
The signature defensive play of the Mets captain's career came in the seventh inning of an otherwise uneventful 8-3 loss to the San Diego Padres.

Brian Giles hit a broken-bat flair to shallow left. Wright sprinted back about six steps then reached out with his right hand and somehow caught the ball while falling over.

Even the Padres fans gave Wright a standing ovation for the miraculous grab.

Debby Wong/USA TODAY SportsMike Baxter's catch left a lasting memory for Mets fans.
"That is the best catch I have seen since I've been playing baseball," Mike Cameron, Wright’s then-teammate and Gold Glove outfielder, told reporters after the game.

Though the play didn’t have any impact on the game, Wright may have been buoyed by its occurrence. The next day he tied a career high with six RBIs in a 9-1 Mets’ win.

4 -- Mike Baxter saves a no-hitter, June 1, 2012
Baxter grew up a Mets fan, so he certainly grasped the significance of being in the game with Johan Santana bidding for a no-hitter.

That he got to play an integral role was all the better.

Baxter made a no-hitter saving catch on Yadier Molina's fly ball to left in the seventh inning, then crashed into the fence, breaking his collarbone in the process.

Baxter got a huge ovation as he came off the field, but didn't have the chance to get another one for a couple of months (his next at-bat at Citi Field wasn't until Aug. 8), by which point many fans (at least those in the stands for the Marlins-Mets game that night) didn't fully appreciate the significance of his return.

But that June night, Baxter fully appreciated the significance of his play.

"It's an honor to be able to make a play for Johan, but ultimately, it's his night," Baxter said after the game. "It is a huge night for the Mets. We have been waiting a long time for a no-hitter."

3 -- Ron Swoboda takes a chance, Oct. 15, 1969
Swoboda forever endeared himself to Mets fans with his catch in Game 4 of the World Series.

The Mets were leading 1-0 at the time, and Swoboda took a risk with runners on first and third and one out.

He could have taken a conservative approach and played Brooks Robinson's liner to right field on a hop and conceded a base hit to avoid a potential mistake.

Win McNamee/Getty ImagesRon Swoboda practically knocked himself out with this amazing play.
But Swoboda played it bold (this was the 1969 Mets, so there was no other way) and dove full-out, making a catch inches from the ball hitting the ground. Though a run scored, the Mets got an all-important second out. They would hang in until the bottom of the 10th inning when they won on a throwing error on J.C. Martin's bunt.

I've heard many Mets fans say that the degree of difficulty on this catch is under-appreciated. Not by us. It's a tough play.

It's deserving of its spot as the No. 3 defensive play in Mets history.

2 -- Tommie Agee's amazing day, Oct. 14, 1969
Arguably the best day by a Mets player in the 53-year history of the franchise was this one by center fielder Agee in Game 3 of the 1969 World Series.

Agee led off the bottom of the first inning with a home run that looked like it cleared the center-field fence by a good 20 feet against future Hall of Famer Jim Palmer to put the Mets ahead, 1-0.

The Mets extended the lead to 3-0 by the fourth inning, in which the Orioles threatened with runners on first and third and two out. Elrod Hendricks hit a fly ball into the left-center field gap. Agee, who was playing well toward right-center, sprinted all the way into the opposite gap and made a snow-cone catch, right by the 396-foot sign at the fence (I counted that it took him 16 strides to catch up to the ball).

By the seventh inning, the Mets were up 4-0, but the Orioles loaded the bases on three walks and had Paul Blair at bat with two outs.

Blair did what Hendricks did. He hit a fly ball to the opposite field that looked like it would be a sure double, considering Agee was playing in left-center.

This one required a dive after about a dozen strides and Agee made the catch by the warning track, the ball about knee high.

The Mets won 5-0. And though Gary Gentry got the win and Nolan Ryan got the save, both really belonged to Agee, who saved five runs with his glove.

1 -- Endy Chavez's catch, Oct. 19, 2006
Bringing up this play is always a bittersweet thing for me, as I imagine it is for many who follow the team.

It is the best catch I've seen, when you combine the difficulty of the play, the athleticism of the athlete and the significance of the moment. I was in the ballpark that night and can still remember to this day how loud Shea Stadium got, and the reactions of those around me.

The best part about it was the feeling that I imagine was similar to how those felt when the ground ball rolled through Bill Buckner's legs 20 years earlier, a sense of "They're gonna win. It's meant to be."

That feeling was extinguished a couple of hours later, done in by a heck of a nasty curveball from Adam Wainwright. That buzz hasn't been back in the Mets' home ballpark since then.

The passage of time makes you appreciate a moment like that one all the more.

Globe columnist: 'No' on Hall for Piazza

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
11:55
AM ET
NEW YORK -- Grantland's Jonah Keri is compiling Hall of Fame ballots made public by voters, including mine. So far he's tallied 17 voters' ballots. And Mike Piazza appears on all but one. The lone dissenter: Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy.

Shaughnessy writes in the Globe:


Adam RubinMike Piazza is faring well in early returns for the Hall of Fame.


Objection to the Roids Boys is gradually eroding. As years pass and new voters replace older voters, it is likely there will be increased leniency. Each year there are more voters who don’t care about PEDs. The thinking becomes, “This was the era. They were all doing it.’’ Or, “Bonds and Clemens were already Hall of Famers before they started cheating.’’

Sorry, I am not there. No votes for guys caught using. And worse -- no votes for guys who just don’t look right. Bagwell and Piazza are the two players most penalized for this arbitrary crime. By any statistical measurement, Bagwell and Piazza are first-ballot Hall of Famers, yet their vote totals (62 percent for Piazza last year, 54 percent for Bagwell) remain considerably lower than their résumés merit.

A candidate needs to appear on 75 percent of submitted ballots in order to be elected. Last year, in his second year on the ballot, Piazza appeared on 62.2 percent of ballots.

Last year, 571 ballots ultimately were cast.

The new class will be announced Jan. 6 at 2 p.m.

Piazza told ESPNNewYork.com last week: "I'm a super-traditionalist. As I said many times before, the fact that Joe DiMaggio took three ballots, and Yogi Berra, I think it’s a process. And that’s part of the prestige of the Hall is the actual debates and all the discussions that go around it. I just try to step out of it a little bit and just let the experts do what they do. And I get a lot of support. So I’m optimistic. We’ll just see what happens. For me, I just let the process play itself out and just be as positive as I can be.”

Path to the playoffs: NL East

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
11:15
AM ET
It's the National League East, and I just realized this: Is there a division of owners more despised by their fans than this one? Outside of Ted Lerner in Washington, it's not exactly a group of owners who have built good faith with their fan bases.

Anyway, with the Phillies finally entering full rebuilding mode, that increases the chance a wild-card team will come out of the East. A look at each team's path to the playoffs ...

Washington Nationals
2014: 96-66, +131 run differential, lost in NLDS
2015 projection from FanGraphs: 88-74, +61

Path to the playoffs logo

The Nationals will be the big favorite in a division without an obvious No. 2 team -- the only team in the division, in fact, projected to finish above .500. Notice, however, that the projection system at FanGraphs doesn't see the Nationals as a 95-win team. Yes, projection systems tend to forecast regression for good teams and improvement for bad teams; even so, the 88-win forecast suggests the Nationals shouldn't be considered locks for the division.

So what's their path to the playoffs? Certainly, it begins with riding what may have been the best rotation in the game in 2014. The Nationals led the National League with 17.6 FanGraphs WAR from their rotation (second in the majors to the Tigers) while posting an MLB-best 3.04 ERA, ranking first in OPS allowed and second to the Dodgers in strikeout-to-walk ratio. FanGraphs projects the rotation at 12.5 WAR in 2015; I'll take the over, especially if the club doesn't trade away Jordan Zimmermann. Of course, if they do trade him, it may be because they've signed Max Scherzer, and Scherzer in the NL could put up some huge numbers.

It's hard to see a rotation with Stephen Strasburg, Zimmermann, the criminally underrated Doug Fister, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark failing to lead the Nationals to 85 wins, unless two of them suffer significant injuries. It's a great rotation of pitchers in their primes, and there's no obvious reason to expect them to regress much in 2015.

After that, you start with Anthony Rendon. In his first full season in the majors, he led the NL in runs scored and finished fifth in the MVP voting. A lot of people are going to pick him as their preseason MVP. But is Rendon even the best young player on the club? Bryce Harper will be entering his age-22 season. His postseason performance may be the sign that he's ready to have that monster, MVP-caliber season.

Nationals
If Rendon and Harper put up better numbers, I don't see a better lineup in the NL than this one:

CF Denard Span
3B Anthony Rendon
RF Jayson Werth
LF Bryce Harper
1B Ryan Zimmerman
SS Ian Desmond
C Wilson Ramos
2B Danny Espinosa

Espinosa is the weak spot, although he's a plus defender. General manager Mike Rizzo may upgrade the position before the winter is over. The bullpen -- fourth in the majors in ERA -- should be strong again with Drew Storen, Tyler Clippard, Matt Thornton and Aaron Barrett.

It's hard to find a weakness. Even the bench should be better with outfielder Steven Souza available after tearing up Triple-A. Crazy things can happen, but if I'm picking one sure bet to reach the postseason, I'd go with Washington.

New York Mets
2014: 79-83, +11 run differential
2015 projection: 79-83, -18

This could be fun:

Matt Harvey
Jacob deGrom
Zack Wheeler
Jonathon Niese
Bartolo Colon

Maybe pitching isn't actually 75 percent of baseball, but that's the kind of rotation that can carry an otherwise mediocre club into the postseason if Harvey is back to 100 percent after missing 2014 following Tommy John surgery, deGrom flourishes after winning Rookie of the Year honors, and Wheeler continues to improve and harness his electric stuff. You even have quality depth in the likes of Dillon Gee and prospects Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz. I'm not sure any NL team can match the Mets one through eight in the rotation.

The Mets signed Michael Cuddyer in a controversial move that cost them their first-round pick, and we know they're on the search for a shortstop but may have to settle for in-house candidate Wilmer Flores. The offense was middle-of-the-pack in 2014, but the best bet for improvement won't necessarily be Cuddyer or at shortstop, but better years from David Wright and a breakout season from catcher Travis d'Arnaud.

Mets
Wright slumped to a .269/.324/.374 line with just eight home runs in 535 at-bats. His OPS dropped more than 200 points since 2013. As he admitted at the end of the season, a shoulder injury had affected him much more than he let on. So Mets fans can be optimistic that a healthier Wright will return to his All-Star form (moving in the fences will help a bit, as well). D'Arnaud had a solid rookie season and hit .265/.313/.474 in the second half. If he matches that rate of production -- and maybe boosts that OBP a bit -- he's going be an All-Star catcher.

Factor in 30-plus home runs again from Lucas Duda and 40 from Cuddyer and Curtis Granderson, and the Mets' offense could be above-average.

So, killer rotation, solid offense and the best defensive center fielder on the planet in Juan Lagares. There's a lot to like here. The bullpen will need to prove its 3.14 ERA in 2014 wasn't a fluke. The Mets have had six straight losing seasons. This path to the playoffs says that streak ends.

Atlanta Braves
2014: 79-83, -24 run differential
2015 projection: 75-87, -48

After winning at least 89 games each of the past four seasons and making the playoffs three times, the Braves had their worst season since 2008 and will be trying to avoid their first back-to-back losing years since 1989-1990.

How do they do that and get back into the playoffs? Well, consider that the 2014 Braves were still in first place as late as July 20. They were just 1.5 games out of the wild card entering September before collapsing with a 7-18 record in the final month.

They still have a talented young core to build around. Freddie Freeman is one of the best all-around first basemen in the league, and at 25, this may be the year he taps into his power potential and hits 30 home runs instead of 18. Andrelton Simmons is the best defensive shortstop in the game; he hit just .244 last year even though he struck out just 60 times in 576 plate appearances. He's a contact hitter who hit 17 home runs in 2013, so there's still more potential in the bat improving. Craig Kimbrel is still arguably the best closer in the game. Julio Teheran won 14 games with a 2.89 ERA, and Alex Wood emerged with a 2.78 ERA in 171 innings. Oh, and for now, Justin Upton is still here.

Braves
That's a lot of frontline talent. To build a winner around it, you don't have to stretch reality very much:

1. Chris Johnson hits more like he did in 2013 than like he did in 2014.

2. They get something out of second base, perhaps rookie Jose Peraza, who hit .339 with 60 steals in the minors, or free-agent acquisition Alberto Callaspo.

3. Shelby Miller provides a solid season behind Teheran and Wood.

4. Mike Minor bounces back. He was worth 3.1 WAR in 2013 when he posted a 3.21 ERA, but he was replacement-level in 2014 with a 4.77 ERA.

5. B.J. Upton has a ... OK, let's not get carried away.

The Braves may have another couple of more moves in them. Maybe they trade Justin Upton for a young starter and move Evan Gattis to left field, with defensive whiz Christian Bethancourt taking over at catcher. Maybe they sign a pitcher. Maybe they just keep Justin Upton and have him and Freeman be one of the best 3-4 combos in the National League.

Miami Marlins
2014: 77-85, -29 run differential
2015 projection: 79-83, -14

It's been a busy offseason for the Marlins, so let's see how the team looks right now.

2B Dee Gordon
LF Christian Yelich
RF Giancarlo Stanton
3B Casey McGehee
CF Marcell Ozuna
1B Mike Morse
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia
SS Adeiny Hechavarria

Bench -- Garrett Jones, Derek Dietrich, Jeff Baker, Jeff Mathis

Marlins
SP Henderson Alvarez
SP Mat Latos
SP Nathan Eovaldi
SP Jarred Cosart
SP Tom Koehler

The team also has Dan Haren if he doesn't retire, and Jose Fernandez is expected back in June or July. The bullpen features Steve Cishek, A.J. Ramos, Mike Dunn, Sam Dyson and Aaron Crow.

So what do you have? A lineup with the most feared hitter in the National League, two young outfielders in Yelich and Ozuna who were worth a combined 8.0 WAR in 2014 and should improve in 2015, a speedy leadoff hitter in Gordon who helps solve the team's second-base issues and more depth on the bench now. You'd like to see an upgrade at third base, but the Marlins were seventh in the NL in runs last season, and you envision a big improvement.

What makes them even more interesting is the potential in the rotation, however. Alvarez, Eovaldi and Cosart will all be in their age-25 seasons. Alvarez is coming off a 2.65 ERA, while Cosart looked impressive after coming over from the Astros, with a 2.39 ERA in 10 starts and just two home runs allowed in 64 innings. Both have power arms, and while the advanced metrics don't like them because of low strikeout rates, that's because both have unique approaches. Alvarez throws a hard sinker that generates a lot of ground balls, while Cosart throws a cutter that, so far in his career, has induced a lot of weak contact down in the zone. Eovaldi has one of the best fastballs in the league, but he is still working on his secondary pitches.

The point here: The projection systems aren't going to rate Alvarez and Cosart very highly, but they're good bets to outperform their FIP, as they did in 2014. The other point: There is big upside here if Latos remains healthy, Eovaldi improves and Fernandez returns at full strength. There is also depth with Koehler, who had a 3.81 ERA, and Haren if he stays around.

The Marlins are a young team with a few vets sprinkled in. Young teams tend to improve. They have an MVP candidate in Stanton. They have speed at the top of the lineup. They'll be in full beast mode with Morse bringing added enthusiasm. The division could be weak outside of the Nationals. Jeffrey Loria has a plan, and it just may work.

Philadelphia Phillies
2014: 73-89, -68 run differential
2015 projection: 70-92, -92

Phillies
Sorry, I can't fake this one.

The Phillies have already started trading off parts, and it's likely that Cole Hamels and Marlon Byrd will be next. The Phillies already project as the worst team in the majors, and they're the one team where you can't envision a path to the playoffs, even in the most optimistic of scenarios.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Daniel Murphy
BA HR RBI R
.289 9 57 79
OTHER LEADERS
HRL. Duda 30
RBIL. Duda 92
RD. Murphy 79
OPSL. Duda .830
WB. Colon 15
ERAJ. Niese 3.40
SOZ. Wheeler 187