The off-season has not been a disappointment this season, however Prince Fielder among others still have not signed with a team. Obviously we do not know who will sign him at this minute and of course the standings that follow are my thoughts based on last season and the signings this off-season.
1. Philadelphia Phillies- The Phillies are still stacked at all positions. Even if they do shop Placido Polanco, this team still has a capable line up offensively and defensively. The team will be without Ryan Howard but Jim Thome is back and despite his age, he could help the offense. Also, a pitching staff led by Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee should not have much trouble leading the team. The signing of Jonathan Papelbon ends dilemmas as to who will close and he is an upgrade over Brad Lidge or Ryan Madson at that position.
2. Atlanta Braves- The Braves are a nice mix of young and old. Freddie Freeman and Jason Heyward help represent the youth, while Chipper Jones and Tim Hudson help represent the veteran. The pitching staff also will include Tommy Hanson and Jair Jurrjens. The bullpen also includes Eric O’Flaherty, Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel who were among the toughest to solve.
3. Miami Marlins- The Marlins had a great offseason and couple that with Gaby Sanchez at first base, Logan Morrison in left field and Mike Stanton in right field. If Josh Johnson can stay healthy then he, Mark Buehrle and Ricky Nolasco can make great front three. I do think that this team will disappoint what their expectations are, and that they are a season away. Morrison, Johnson and Stanton all got injured last season and Johnson has had long season ending injuries for the last two seasons and that is concerning. I like Heath Bell as the closer, but will Leo Nunez (or whatever his name is) come back and if so will he accept/succeed in his new role? Lastly, how will Ozzie Guillen fare in the NL and can his players respond? We will see.
4. New York Mets- The Mets have to overcome the loss of Jose Reyes. Reyes won a batting title last season and joined the Marlins. I expect Justin Turner to fill his void, but perhaps he stays at second base. They do not have a replacement. Their new bullpen signings will help them avoid the cellar and Dillon Gee will also help them. I believe that Jason Bay will have to step it up this season for this team to have any chance and the loss of their leadoff hitter Angel Pagan hurts them I think.
5. Washington Nationals- Minus Stephen Strasburg, this team is too old at starter. Livan Hernandez may be a second starter and at his age, that is never good. The team has Mike Morse and Jason Werth and that can help but I just do not think their starters can help. Drew Storen was a good closer last season and should continue that this season.
1. St. Louis Cardinals- Even without Albert Pujols, this team still is an elite power. Adam Wainwright will return as an ace on this staff and Chris Carpenter will continue his clutch pitching but during the regular season he was mostly mediocre until September. I really hope that this team finds a spot for Allen Craig. With Lance Berkman being a liability in the outfield, I would move him to first base and putting Craig in right. Matt Holliday, Jon Jay and Craig in the outfield would be a great trio. The signing of Rafael Furcal also really helps this team. Oh, and did I mention NLCS and World Series MVP David Freese will be manning third. If he stays injury free this season, then he will be a hero.
2. Cincinnati Reds- The Reds essentially stayed the same this off season and that will help. Joey Votto and Jay Bruce will lead the offense but perhaps the best all around player is Brandon Phillips who is solid offensively and great defensively. The team has options at starter but will need a new closer this season and that can be a question mark.
3. Milwaukee Brewers- This team will miss Prince Fielder. Fielder’s absence will definitely affect Ryan Braun. With the two pronged attack gone, teams will pitch Braun much differently and may even walk him if first base is open. That is of course if Braun plays. Braun’s positive testing of performance enhancing drugs means that a 50 game suspension likely comes his way and costs this team even further. Without LaTroy Hawkins, the team will be pushing more at reliever. John Axford is the best NL Central closer. If this team is to compete it is because the starting rotation led by Zach Greinke will be dominant. Brewers also have to hope that Rickie Weeks in 100%.
4. Pittsburgh Pirates- The Pirates have upgraded but they are still a season or two away from seriously competing. The pitching staff made all kinds of mistakes in the second half of the season and the relievers were forced to pitch more innings than they should have. Garrett Jones is a defensive liability at first and he cannot hit lefties for anything.
5. Chicago Cubs- This team has some pieces such as Darwin Barney, Alfonso Soriano and Marlon Bird, but with Theo Epstein on board, the team is not quite ready to compete in this division. The losses of Carlos Pena and Aramis Ramirez will hurt this team and the Cubs are very unstable at closer. Carlos Marmol blew way too many saves and Sean Marshall is not a closer type. If he opts to come back, maybe Kerry Wood could take the closer’s role. The starters are not great but Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster can help this team.
6. Houston Astros- They have no chance this season. They completely want to start over in their last National League season. They already have bid farewell to Hunter Pence and are trying to shop Carlos Pena, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers among others. This team still has young players with potential such as Jose Altuve and Bud Norris. Mark Melancon and Wilton Lopez were leaders in that bullpen.
1. Arizona Diamondbacks- The Diamondbacks just added Trevor Cahill and he will be a great left handed option in the starting rotation. Adding Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and Joe Saunders and this rotation is stacked. The relievers also get stronger with a quality lefty in Craig Breslow. Saunders could get traded as Jason Marquis and Wade Miley also have a chance to make this rotation. With young stars such as Juston Upton, Chris Young and Ryan Roberts, this team now appears to be the class of the NL West.
2. San Francisco Giants- The team clearly missed Buster Posey last season and many pieces got injured last season. They lost some relievers as well as lead off spark plug Andres Torres, but the injury prone Torres is now replaced by Angel Pagan. The outfield is shot though as Cody Ross wants to go elsewhere and Carlos Beltran was not resigned. The offense could be woeful once again and that put all of the pressure in the world on Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner among others. Brian Wilson is more than just talk but also a quality reliever. Posey will be the x-factor this season.
3. Colorado Rockies- The injuries of Carlos Gonzalez really hurt this team last season and Troy Tulowitzki cannot do all of the offense by himself. It was frustrating to be a Rockies fan last season and Ubaldo Jimenez is no longer on the team. The team still has Jorge De La Rosa and now has Kevin Slowey which can help the team. Esmil Rogers will need to be as advertised this season or else this team will go nowhere. With Huston Street gone, the team has a new closer, and that is Rafael Betancourt. This means that Matt Lindstrom and J.C. Romero among others will have to step it up.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers- I believe that this team will go as far as Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp will take them. Manager Don Mattingly made several poor decisions last season, and he better learn quickly if this team is to compete. Ultimately this team does not have enough tools to compete this season but Andre Ethier and James Loney cannot hurt. If Hiroki Kuroda leaves this team then they are doomed.
5. San Diego Padres- With the departure of Heath Bell, this team now really is in rebuilding mode. The star now is Cameron Maybin who can steal bases and occasionally show some power. He will be expected to take a big role on this team. We all know how that worked out for the Marlins, so Maybin needs to prove his doubters wrong once again. Much of the roster was injured last season so Brad Hawpe, Dustin Moseley and Clayton Richard among others need to step it up. Wherever he plays Kyle Blanks needs to show the power he can provide and Anthony Rizzo also needs to live up to his top prospect billing.