Last week I discussed the impact players on each American League club as I shared some of my feelings about each roster.
This week it is the National League teams that I will put under my microscope as I analyze the season that just concluded.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
A tip of my cap to Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Hazen and his staff for coming into a mess and directing the team to a magical season. I believe Tony La Russa was a good manager. I believer Dave Stewart was a good pitcher. Neither proved to be effective in the Diamondbacks front office. And even if one believes Chip Hale is a good baseball man, as I do, he managed looking behind him constantly. Who really made out his lineups? Who really gave the team the marching orders? Yes, the 2016 club had injuries.
But the deals La Russa and Stewart made sent good players packing and decimated the farm system. The nightmares the duo of La Russa and Stewart created are now in the rearview mirror. Except for the fact they will be paying pitcher Zack Greinke $206.5 million dollars from 2016-2021. Is it just me, or is that a lot of money? Oh, did I mention Greinke will be 34 later in October?
My point about Greinke is this. He isn’t alone in eating up payroll. Yasmani Tomas signed a $68.5 million dollar deal that doesn’t end until 2020. I could go on, but I won’t. The point is that the fear among Dbacks fans is that the team will not pony up the money to pay J. D. Martinez, the power-hitting outfielder the team stole from the Tigers for middle-infield help midway through the season. Martinez has been All-Everything. He is an incredible power-hitting machine, especially at hitter-friendly Chase Field. He and slugger Paul Goldschmidt have formed a dynamic duo that could lead the Dbacks for years to come if Arizona spends what it will take to get him.
The Diamondbacks had a fabulous season due much in part to the tone set by manager Mike Lovullo. He is a natural leader with an outstanding knowledge of the game, baseball instincts, a terrific demeanor and a desire to win. In short, he gets it.
It helped to have Goldschmidt and Martinez. But the decision Hazen and his staff made to transform the catching department to defense-first players was brilliant. Each of Chris Iannetta, Jeff Mathis and Chris Herrmann helped transform the pitching staff from throwers in some cases to quality pitchers.
When he’s in rhythm and repeats his delivery and release point, Zack Godley can be a ground ball machine. Archie Bradley found a new life as a set-up reliever and is poised to assume closer duties next year.
Daniel Descalso played everywhere in the field and did everything well. He was there when Lovullo needed him, regardless of the position.
The Dbacks defense is suspect, at best. Jake Lamb is so-so at third base and still has throwing issues. Brandon Drury is so-so at second base and still makes easy plays look tough. Both Nick Ahmed and Chris Owings were hurt. Ketel Marte played shortstop and did fine. He was part of the big deal that brought Taijuan Walker to Arizona.
Keep your eye on the Dbacks this offseason. If they sign Martinez, they can get even better than being a Wild Card team.
The Wild Card game they won against Colorado set a tone for the future.
The Rockies are one of my favorite teams to watch. How does a pitcher navigate through Charlie Blackmon, D J LeMahieu, Nolan Arenado, Mark Reynolds, Carlos Gonzalez, Trevor Story, Ian Desmond and Jonathan Lucroy without getting GERD or acid reflux? Pick your poison among that motley crew. There isn’t a weak link in the chain. Not one. How good is Nolan Arenado? He’s the best third baseman I have ever seen. Period. Bar none.
And the secret to beating Colorado has always been to pound their pitching staff. Fact: Breaking balls do not spin well in Coors Field. Ok, so they got themselves some pitchers capable of throwing fastballs with late life and a mix of other pitches that worked. Jon Gray is coming into his own as a star pitcher.
German Marquez added depth to their staff after coming over in trade. Tyler Chatwood, Kyle Freeland and Tim Anderson just add more good innings to their rotation. And the best story of all? Chad Bettis came back from cancer therapy that he had during the season and pitched very well.
The Rockies will continue to be very dangerous. But now it isn’t only with a bat in their hand. They will be heard from in the future. Bud Black, formerly unappreciated at San Diego is an outstanding manager and along with the Dbacks Lovullo, should get Manager of the Year votes aplenty.
LOS ANGELES DODGERS
The best team that money can buy? I think I really resent the fact the Dodgers can throw money at players they have on their roster and players they discard from their roster when they no longer want or need them. We owe him money? That’s fine. Pay him off. I would like to see what some smaller market teams could do with the Dodgers money.
They have some excellent players. Of course, we all know what Cody Bellinger, age 22, has done as a rookie. 39 home runs and 97 RBIs is an amazing accomplishment. They can now discard Adrian Gonzalez and install Bellinger at first base. Or will they?
Corey Seager is just 23 years old. It really is hard to imagine the ability Bellinger and Seager bring to the club at such young ages.
Justin Turner is a hitting machine. He had 457 at-bats and hit a whopping .357 with 21 homers. Not bad. But a real unsung hero is Chris Taylor. He had a fine season and should be part of a very bright Dodgers future.
But when we think Dodgers, we think Clayton Kershaw and the team’s pitching. Even missing six to seven starts due to a bum back, Kershaw still won 18 games and finished with a 2.31 ERA. This may be the year he steps up in the postseason and can be spoken of in the same breath as Sandy Koufax.
But friends, Dodgers pitching isn’t all Kershaw. Throw in Alex Wood, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Yu Darvish and Hyun-Jin Ryu along with Brandon McCarthy and you have seven guys that would be the envy of every major-league club. And that’s just starting pitching. How about flame-throwing Kenley Jansen to close games with his 109 strikeouts in 68 innings. His WHIP you ask? 0.75, thank you.
So yes, the Dodgers are very formidable. But they are human. Just as their second half of the season showed.
SAN DIEGO PADRES:
I need to get this out right from the start. I have never been a big believer in Wil Myers. Certainly not when he was with Tampa Bay and not with San Diego, either. Too much swing and miss. Too much chasing of high fastballs. Too much information for this piece, right? Myers dipped from .259 to .243. Not a huge drop, but enough to be of concern. His home run output was about the same. But I still don’t see him as a franchise player and that is exactly what he is with San Diego. He’s the guy. But the guy drove in 20 fewer runs this season. He struck out 180 times, 20 more than last year. He stole eight fewer bases. Those downward stats concern me. They could be a negative trend.
I think the upside of Hunter Renfroe is exciting. He’s the guy on the club I think can improve over his rookie .231/26/56 campaign. I also think we will see the upside of Manuel Margo next season. He had some good rookie moments, but more is yet to come.
And if the hitting lacks luster and impact, the pitching is even more woeful. Their biggest winner was Jules Chacin, a retread from several other clubs. He won 13 games. The next closest win total was eight by lefty Clayton Richard. So no, I don’t see a big future for Padres pitchers. Dinelson Lamet had some good outings and some bad outings at age 25. He could be a guy to watch in the future. Look for Cal Quantrill to make his mark in the rotation at some point next season.
Frankly, I think the cupboard is bare at every level of the Padres organization. I look for them to enter the international market again to try to shore up their depth. But they have a long way to go to be competitive in a tough NL West. Especially since the Rockies and Diamondbacks may be able to continue to chase the Dodgers.
SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS;
What have you done for me lately? The Giants collapsed. But they have been World Champions. Other teams have fallen apart after winning the biggest trophy in baseball. But this Giants collapse was monumental.
The air came out of the party balloons when Madison Bumgarner suffered his dirt bike accident and missed a good part of the season. Their ace finished with 17 starts. After Bumgarner, they could throw Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and Matt Moore at the opposition. They were each meh, at the very best. Samardzija led the group with nine wins. Cueto had a 4.52 ERA and can opt out of his contract.
The offense wasn’t much better. In fact, it was worse. Only Buster Posey had a solid year at .320. Eduardo Nunez was an excellent third base option, but they traded him. However, they did find room for…wait for it…Pablo Sandoval. Are you kidding me?
Hunter Pence has really shown a decline in his entire game. His core injuries are impacting his performance.
And while the offense didn’t produce enough runs to put a scare in the opposition, they didn’t make an impact in games. Combined with mediocre overall pitching depth, the Giants just were a mere shadow of their former clubs.
I have to wonder if Bruce Bochy will put himself through the rigors of another miserable season? I just don’t see much hope for improvement on this woeful edition of the San Francisco Giants.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
While the defending World Champions are still plenty dangerous, they don’t seem to be entering the postseason with the same sense of swagger they had last fall. Their season was fine, but it lacked luster to match the bluster.
I believe the hamstring issues being faced by Jake Arrieta have to give him and the team room for concern. He started 30 games this season, but he limped into the final starts-literally.
He still won 14 games and he’s a very good pitcher. We’ll see in the postseason if he matches up deep in games with all the other aces in opposing team’s decks.
Jon Lester is also an issue in my opinion. His ERA of 4.33 also meant Lester lost some luster as well. The improvement of Kyle Hendricks is encouraging, however. I’m not that bullish on the Cubs starting pitching.
The offense remains awesome with corner infielders Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo being impact players any day of the week. Bryant hit 29 homers, Rizzo 32. But Bryant didn’t drive in 80 runs. Kyle Schwarber came back from meh at the beginning of the year and hit 30 homers as well. That trio is really, really dangerous. But the secret weapon could be Javier Baez. When he gets going, he’s like the Energizer Bunny. He can’t be stopped.
So the Cubs are streaky. They played just well enough to win the division. They may not have the knock out punches in longer series that go seven games. They have great players. If Addison Russell is healthy, he is better than his .239 season indicated.
A team as strong as the Cubs, with the sum of their parts playing together in harmony can usually carry the day. However, they will have to pitch better and get timely hits to fend off stiff postseason competition.
It seems the Reds have been running in place and getting nowhere for years now. Were they better this year? They won 68 games and lost 94. You tell me.
For me, Joey Votto is one of the greatest players in the game. He consistently puts up monster numbers, and this season was no different. He hit .320/36/100 and few people talk about him. He remains a major-league secret. Why? Because the Reds simply have not provided him a supporting cast, that could create any sort of buzz. Votto did damage with little help.
Zack Cozart had a great year when he was healthy. He went to the plate only 438 times and hit .297 with 24 homers. And yes, Scooter Gennett was a hidden gem among a group of guys that seemed at times to be going through the motions.
Billy Hamilton stole 59 bases. He was also injured at times and had a ton of very empty at-bats from the leadoff spot. I was disappointed in the lack of consistency from José Peraza who was supposed to come close to equaling Hamilton’s stolen base mark. Peraza stole 23, a disappointment with his tremendous speed.
The true issue for the Reds remains their pitching, or lack thereof. That has been the issue now for years. Is there a starting pitcher on their staff to trust in an important game? Not for me. Not one. Not yet. I am totally unsold on Robert Stephenson and am getting more concerned about Amir Garrett’s lack of command. Michael Lorenzen was the highest winning pitcher with…are you ready?…eight wins. He also had a 4.46 ERA. Frankly, I think the pitching is a mess and unless and until they can find enough quality arms the Reds will jump back on the treadmill and run in place-going nowhere.
Realizing the team was headed to mediocrity for a long period of time, team ownership did the right thing. They brought in a very sound general manager from Houston in David Stearns. Stearns has worked wonders in giving his team a total facelift.
Jimmie Nelson, who was under the radar for quite some time, led his pitching staff. Before being injured and being shut down, Nelson won 12 games and fashioned a 3.49 ERA. He and Zach Davies, a 17-game winner formed a very dynamic duo at the top of the rotation. Mix in Chase Anderson and the team had three very high-quality starters with which to compete. It was one reason the Brewers went to the last week of the season in the playoff hunt.
Travis Shaw, picked up from Boston and Eric Thames picked up from Korea led the offense with 31 home runs each. Both those players were tremendous acquisitions for Stearns and company. Domingo Santana had a cool first half but came on strong to help the offense. There is more in Santana’s tank.
Ryan Braun was the senior citizen on the club and spent most of the year listening to trade rumors regarding his future. He remains with the Brewers.
On a negative note, Jonathan Villar, a star hitter and base runner in 2016 had to really come on strong to salvage any type of season. He only had 403 at-bats due to injury and hit .241. He stole 23 bases. If Villar can come back it would help greatly.
For me, the unsung hero of the Brewers was catcher Manny Pina. Another reclamation project for Stearns, Pina was once with the Kansas City Royals and had spent 12 seasons in the minor leagues. He came to the Brewers and played a bit last season. This year he owned the catching position and was outstanding, hitting .279 and being a great shepherd for his pitchers.
This is a crucial offseason for Stearns and the Brewers. Can they take the next step to play with the bigger fish from their own small pond?
Has the time come for Pirates fans to start turning away from their team in droves? Radio and media outlets talk often about the club’s total unwillingness to spend money on salary. I don’t know the inside story, but like the Reds, the Pirates have been using a very high-quality map that leads to nowhere.
Hanging Andrew McCutchen out to dry in front of the world was not cool. Saying publicly that they wanted to trade their former superstar and that they couldn’t get any offers was offensive. McCutchen deserves better. He finished at .279 with 28 homers and 88 RBIs.
Josh Bell, despite his weird and inconsistent swing mechanics, is a solid first base option going forward. He is a true building block and a guy to watch grow into his role. His 26 homers could well be 35 by next year. Gregory Polanco’s suspension seemed to take the steam out of the team before the first pitch was even thrown. I’m not sure he will ever be forgiven.
Age is creeping up on the offense; Josh Harrison, Jody Mercer, David Freese, Francisco Cervelli and more are getting longer in the teeth. And John Jaso may be retiring.
The pitching staff is another matter altogether. To begin, Tyler Glasnow and Jamison Taillon have not produced the expected results. Yet. They may. For that matter, highly touted Gerrit Cole, a bulldog on the mound, has been average to mediocre. He has not been the star people predicted. Maybe next year.
Or maybe they will trade him. Ivan Nova was a pleasant surprise but he, too, couldn’t sustain over a long season. He finished with a record of 11-14.
Yet, despite the less than exciting product on the field the front office returns next year. Remember, it’s never the General Manager and always the players that get to feel the toe of the boot. And I, for one, don’t buy that.
ST. LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cardinals always, and I mean always find a way to be competitive. Even though President of Baseball Operations John Mozeliak publicly spoke of the lack of execution by his players, the team still rallied enough to be in the playoff hunt.
Several of their players stood out to me as exciting pieces for the future. Did anyone think Paul DeJong would be the player he has become? I love to watch this guy mash the ball. He and outfielder Tommy Pham just rolled along hiding in the weeds and putting together great seasons. Only people in St. Louis talked about DeJong and Pham.
Matt Carpenter had a down year and has to come back to help lift the Cardinals to the next level. However, an off year for Carpenter is probably a good year for many other players. He still hit 23 homers and drove in 69 runs.
Jedd Gyorko is another unsung player with more in his game for next year.
The pitching staff will be bolstered by a more experienced, and more mature Luke Weaver next season. He’s a true winner with a good repertoire and great attitude on the mound.
Adam Wainwright is probably finished after having a terrific career. But Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Lance Lynn each had solid seasons.
The Cardinals bullpen will need lots of work over the winter. Seung Hwan Oh and Trevor Rosenthal just didn’t produce consistent results. Others stepped up and stepped in, but the pen was far from mighty.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Messing around with International player market rules cost John Coppolella his role as General Manager. There was turmoil in the Braves front office and they finished the season on a sour note. That’s a shame because they had a brand new stadium to celebrate this season.
Seasoned front office professional John Hart must now take the team in the proper direction moving forward. He will.
The Braves have a nice collection of veteran players and youth.
They have begun to sprinkle in a new middle infield with Ozzie Albies at second and Dansby Swanson at short. Albies had a nice rookie season. Swanson scuffled in his second year.
Freddie Freeman is another one of those under the radar guys that doesn’t get enough attention. Not unlike Joey Votto, Freeman is a terrific player lost among guys that get much more ink. Freeman hit .307/28/71 for the Braves.
Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis are seasoned veterans still capable of helping the club.
Pitching is the cornerstone of the future for Atlanta. The team has been stockpiling pitching and they have some young arms ready to compete. Sean Newcomb has a bright future as a starter. But it will be guys like Max Fried, Matt Wisler, and Luiz Gohara that will carve out the future for Atlanta. We should eventually see Kolby Allard, and Mike Soroka join the pitching staff.
The Braves need another big bat and another quality starting pitcher to climb the NL East ladder. They will begin the process by hunting for a new General Manager.
There were two stories to the season in Miami. One was trying to do everything in their power to recover from the tragic death of pitcher Jose Fernandez. It was almost an impossible task as Fernandez meant so much to the organization.
The second greatest impact was the quest for 60 home runs by power-hitting Giancarlo Stanton. He fell one home run short.
Not many people would argue that the Miami Marlins have the best overall outfield in baseball with Christian Yelich, Marcell Ozuna and Stanton. All three are outstanding hitters. Ozuna had a fantastic year at .312/37/124. And he’s still only 26.
Catcher J.T. Realmuto has come into his own as a good solid hitting catcher. I think he’s a Marlins keeper.
Marlins fans love Justin Bour, their powerful first baseman. He really could have won the Home Run Derby at the All-Star Game, but the rules bit him a bit.
Like so many teams I have written about, it is the pitching and nothing but the pitching that keeps the Marlins from advancing.
The tragic loss of Fernandez has set the rotation back for years. Sure, he was only one starter, but he was an ace. He could stop a losing streak in its tracks. That guy does not exist on the current roster.
New ownership led by Derek Jeter will have to revamp the pitching plan and ramp up their rotation. Jose Urena is a good place to start. The young righty shows promise. Other than Urena I think the starting pitching is a vast wasteland of arms.
NEW YORK METS:
I did an entire piece on the Mets early in the season. Built on pitching, they collapsed on pitching. When a team has the quality of starting pitching with the promise of Matt Harvey, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Zack Wheeler, Steven Matz and Robert Gsellman there is room to get excited about the season ahead. But the Mets house collapsed like the bridges I built with Popsicle sticks when I was a kid.
Why do Mets pitchers suffer so many injuries? I wish I knew. I think they wish they knew. But they do suffer injuries and they haven’t figured it out. I am beyond thinking it is a coincidence.
So could the offense pick up the broken pitching staff? No. Jay Bruce was shipped to the Indians. Lucas Duda has a new home in Tampa for now. Michael Conforto got hurt. Curtis Granderson is gone to the Dodgers. Yoenis Cespedes was hurt and only had 291 at-bats and on and on and on and on and on.
But—and this I find amazing—General Manager Sandy Alderson has announced he is returning. Good luck with that. Terry Collins will vacate his managerial role and enter the front office.
The Bernie Madoff stock and securities fraud case was discovered in 2008. Mets ownership lost money in that horrific situation. But that, my friends, was nine years ago. Almost now?
How do the Mets compete in a media market like New York against a vibrant, exciting, offensively explosive Yankees staff that has enough quality pitching lined up to be thinking World Series? How? They don’t. And they won’t.
If Syndergaard, Matz and Wheeler ever get healthy together to help deGrom carry the load, they can become somewhat competitive. But then, won’t they all miss time again with broken-down elbows, shoulders and forearms? We’ll see.
As sour as I am on the Mets is as bullish as I am on the Phillies.
They have slowly rebuilt their franchise with quality prospects. Go down the list. Which I will below.
Consider that first baseman/outfielder Rhys Hoskins got only 170 at-bats after his promotion to the parent club. He hit 18 homers and hit .259 in his first major-league exposure. There are some great years ahead for the powerful slugger who is only 24.
Nick Williams, himself a rookie, pounded out 12 homers in his 313 at-bats and is a promising young outfielder. Jorge Alfaro is on his way to taking over the catching duties along with his big, loud bat. He hit .316 in just over 100 at-bats.
Mix that group with outfielder Aaron Altherr and guys like Tommy Joseph and the team can become dangerous quickly.
I don’t like the center field play of Odubel Herrera, but he can hit. And I didn’t like the lack of offense and firepower provided by third baseman Maikel Franco, but he is young and can bounce back. He really had a very down year at .230 with 24 homers and 76 RBIs. He really is capable of much, much more.
J.P. Crawford is on his way as the team’s shortstop. I am far, far less excited about Crawford than most scouts. I am, however, a believer in Freddy Galvis. I think Crawford will have a similar start to his career as the Twins Byron Buxton. I think Crawford will scuffle for three to three and a half years and then turn things around.
Pitching? It isn’t there yet, but I sure do like the futures of Aaron Nola, Jared Eickhoff, and Vince Velasquez if they can stay healthy. Each has promise.
The Phillies need more pitching for both the rotation and the bullpen. But they can get it by moving some prospects from among a wealth of good positions players. If they aren’t traded for pitching, look for guys like Scott Kingery (second base) and Mickey Moniak (outfield) to be part of an improving Phillies future.
The Nationals fixed their remaining weak link during the season. By adding Sean Doolittle, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Madson Dusty Baker is left with an excuse for losing games late. That trio can really shut down the end of the game.
What team wouldn’t want to trot out Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Alex Rendon, Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy, and Ryan Zimmerman? They also have Michael Taylor to plug in due to the season-ending injury to highly touted sparkplug Adam Eaton.
I was struck this year by the fantastic contribution of Howard Kendrick. He can play all over the place. He hits wherever he plays. He was a great addition.
Murphy and Zimmerman really set the pace and held down the fort while Harper recovered from injury. Still not 100% going into the postseason, a healthy Harper will be key for them to move on, however.
Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez are a fine trio of starting pitchers. When healthy. But will Scherzer and Strasburg last through the postseason? Tanner Roark is available to boost the rotation.
Great balance is the key to the Nationals. General Manager Mike Rizzo has made great moves getting players like Murphy, Kendrick and the trio of relievers to supplement his already stellar club.
Any club with players like Adam Lind, and Alejandro De Aza on the bench in addition to Kendrick is very solid.
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