NL East: Three questions for each team

December, 8, 2013
Will anything happen at the winter meetings? Of course something will! Shin-Soo Choo is still out there, as are the top free-agent pitchers -- Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Matt Garza and Bronson Arroyo. There are trades to be made and LOOGYs to sign. Here are three questions for each NL East team.

Atlanta Braves
Atlanta Braves
What do they need? Fewer strikeouts. The willingness to use your closer for more than three outs in a playoff game. One less Upton. I kid, Braves fans! Various reports have the Braves looking to find a way to replace Dan Uggla, who hit .179 last year and was left off the playoff roster, or a starting pitcher (Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm are gone). GM Frank Wren has said he's looking for parts and is willing to trade prospects, but not pitcher Lucas Sims.

Are they counting on Evan Gattis to be the regular catcher? For now, that appears to be the case, although Gattis hit just .241/.272/.406 in the second half (although he did rebound with six home runs in September). Veteran Gerald Laird is still around and prospect Christian Bethancourt is a defensive whiz who could win the job if Fredi Gonzalez is willing to live without much offense.

Are the strikeouts really a concern? Yes and no. The Braves ranked fourth in the NL in runs scored thanks to a league-leading 181 home runs, so the strikeouts aren't necessarily a huge problem in the regular season. The playoffs are a different matter, however, when you face better pitchers and home runs are less frequent. The bigger concern is replacing the offense from the departed Brian McCann and the likelihood that Chris Johnson won't finish second in the batting race again. Better seasons from the Upton brothers will help there, and maybe this is the year Jason Heyward contends for the MVP Award.

Washington Nationals
Washington Nationals
What do they need? They acquired starter Doug Fister from the Tigers and signed outfielder Nate McLouth to add strength to a bench that was horrible. Otherwise, look for them to sign a veteran lefty for the bullpen -- Scott Downs or Eric O'Flaherty -- and there have also been rumors that Denard Span could be available.

Who's the fifth starter? The top four looks very strong with Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez and Fister, and Ross Detwiler may move to the pen, leaving Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan and Ross Ohlendorf in competition for the final slot. The Nationals were sixth in the NL with a 3.60 rotation ERA in 2013, but with Fister a likely upgrade over Dan Haren, this group has a chance to be the best in the league.

What's Bryce Harper going to do? The Steamer projection system has him at .271/.356/.480, essentially what he did last season. I'll take the over.

Philadelphia Phillies
Philadelphia Phillies
What do they need? A time machine and maybe a starting pitcher. They signed Cuban right-hander Miguel Gonzalez and he's expected to slot in behind Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels. That leaves Kyle Kendrick (4.70 ERA in 30 starts) and Jonathan Pettibone (4.04 ERA in 18 starts). They added free agent Marlon Byrd to play right field and re-signed catcher Carlos Ruiz.

Will they trade Jonathan Papelbon? His name has been out there in trade rumor land, but the Phillies undoubtedly value him more than other teams would. Considering he's still owed $39 million over the next three years if his final option year vests, good luck finding a taker, especially with viable closers (Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney, Joaquin Benoit) available via free agency. Plus, the Phillies' bullpen had the second-worst ERA in the NL, so they're not dealing from a position of strength.

When do the Cliff Lee rumors start up again? They've been quiet so far, but when the Phillies are 10 games under .500 in late June, expect them to ramp up again.

New York Mets
New York Mets
What do they need? For 2015 to arrive as soon as possible. The outfield was horrible, so they signed Curtis Granderson and Chris Young. They'll flank defensive wizard Juan Lagares, giving the Mets one of the better defensive outfields in the league.

Will they trade Ike Davis? Seems likely. Lucas Duda will move to first base with the outfield lined up, making Davis expendable. Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh are possible destinations.

Who will be the Opening Day shortstop? For now, Ruben Tejada. But maybe the Mets sign Stephen Drew to a multiyear contract. As with Granderson, they'll bank on Matt Harvey returning in 2015 and hope Granderson and Drew can remain productive.

Miami Marlins
Miami Marlins
What do they need? The Marlins were last in runs in the NL -- way last. They scored nearly 100 fewer runs than the Cubs. They've added catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and veteran infielder Rafael Furcal (who missed all of last season). They do have some young outfielders, meaning the glaring black hole is third base.

Is this the end of the Logan Morrison era? Reports say the Marlins have talked to at least 10 teams about Morrison, using him as bait to acquire a third baseman. They could then sign former Pirate Garrett Jones to play first base.

Who do teams really want? Giancarlo Stanton, of course. One team that has an extra third baseman is the Diamondbacks, with Martin Prado and Matt Davidson. The D-backs, coincidentally, are looking for a corner outfielder. Maybe the Marlins could pry Davidson and one of the young Arizona starters (Archie Bradley, Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley).

David Schoenfield | email

SweetSpot blogger



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