BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD

ONE QUESTION FOR EVERY NATIONAL LEAGUE TEAM

Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

Last week, I posed a question for every American League team regarding an issue they may want to resolve during spring training. Some of the questions were probably of more consequence than others. Some of the questions can be answered in a month in the desert or under the Florida sun.

Today I pose a question for every National League team.

ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS

What will be the impact of trading Paul Goldschmidt and losing Patrick Corbin and A J Pollock to free agency?

The Diamondbacks watched lefty Patrick Corbin and outfielder A J Pollock select new teams in free agency. Via their own decision, they traded Paul Goldschmidt to the St. Louis Cardinals.

For the past few years, those players were integral to the team making unexpected runs for a National League West title. Both Corbin (elbow surgery) and Pollock (a variety of injuries) have missed significant time, if not entire seasons with injury. With the exception of a barking elbow in late 2017, recently, Goldschmidt has been healthy for most of his career, all of which had been spent with the Dbacks.

It has been stated the Dbacks tried to sign Goldschmidt to an extension, which he chose not to sign. I have not seen a report of the length and terms of an alleged extension. What I do know is that they likely traded Goldschmidt too late rather than too early. If, in fact, Arizona was aware that Goldschmidt’s price tag would be too heavy a load for the small market club back in 2017, the best time to trade him would have been in that offseason. The return could have been far greater than it was when he finally was dealt to St. Louis. They could have traded Goldschmidt with two years remaining on his contract rather than one.

As it is, Goldschmidt’s talent was able to fetch both a pitcher with promise (Luke Weaver) and a catcher with promise (Carson Kelly). However, might they have been able to pick up Marcell Ozuna and/or Stephen Piscotty had they traded Goldschmidt a year sooner? We’ll never know. Both of those players were traded by St. Louis.

The loss of three core players have left the Diamondbacks looking nothing like their immediate past. Can they recover from those losses?

It will be difficult for Arizona to make up for the innings pitched and the effectiveness of Patrick Corbin.

It will be difficult to find a center fielder with the talent of A J Pollock.

Finally, it is almost impossible for the team to come close to making up for the production of  Paul Goldschmidt. He is an impact hitter. He’s also a gold glove caliber defensive first baseman. Indeed, the St. Louis Cardinals will greatly benefit by his presence in their lineup.

ATLANTA BRAVES

Do the Braves have enough quality pitching to compete for a playoff spot?

The Braves signed high profile free agent Josh Donaldson to play third base. They signed Brian McCann, a former Braves player to return as their primary catcher. Both of those free agent acquisitions may offer some help.

On paper, it would seem the Braves have enough offensive firepower to compete with most National League clubs. Few hitters are as dangerous at the plate than Ronald Acuna Jr., who will be in his sophomore season. First baseman Freddie Freeman is one of the league’s best power hitters as well as being an outstanding defender. Nick Markakis returns in right field. He had a superb first half last year before declining. The team can compete at the plate.

Pitching is another matter. Credible starter Mike Foltynewicz leads a starting rotation that includes Julio Teheran, Kevin Gausman, Sean Newcomb and Touki Toussaint. Newcomb is the only lefty. While each has merits, this is not a rotation that can compete in quality with the Mets, or the Nationals in their own division. One might say the Phillies staff is comparable to that of Atlanta. I think the Phillies rotation is better. Especially with Aaron Nola as the ace. And the Braves must come to grips that Foltynewicz has not thrown in spring training due to arm related soreness.

The bullpen also has some issues. Can the club rely upon the command and control of inconsistent Aroldys Vizcaino as their closer? Will A J Minter take over and get most save opportunities? There are some good arms in the pen, but I think they will get far more work than need be due to a rather mediocre rotation. Darren O’Day is now 36. He can be solid, but he may also face some regression. There are three lefties in the pen who may help. Jonny Venters, Jesse Biddle and Sam Freeman may get their share of work in the tough NL east.

I like the Braves. But this may not be their year.

The club is loaded with very, very good pitching prospects. They include names like Ian Anderson, Kyle Wright and Mike Soroka, who is currently dealing with arm issues. Toussaint is himself a 23-year old with just a bit of major league service time in his background.

Can the Braves pitching staff hold off the big bats in the East? That’s my question. And the Foltynewicz injury concerns loom large.

CHICAGO CUBS

Will the Cubs regret they didn’t pursue Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?

It would have been, or could have been a dream pairing. Imagine Bryce Harper in the same lineup with his boyhood buddy from Las Vegas, Kris Bryant. They worked out together and played baseball together as kids growing up in Nevada. What would the Cubs lineup have been with Bryant and Harper together, along with Anthony Rizzo and Javier Baez?

Frankly, I think the Cubs will be one bat and one pitcher short in their quest to return to the World Series. I’m not sure Ben Zobrist, Kyle Schwarber, Ian Happ and Jason Heyward will match up with the lower half of the batting order lineups of the Dodgers, the Phillies, the Nationals, the Mets, the Brewers, the Cardinals, and even the Rockies and Braves. Each of those clubs can give the Cubs fits on offense.

Bringing either Harper or Machado to Chicago to wear a Cubs uniform would have improved the firepower and lengthened the lineup.

The Cubs are still smarting from the eight-year $155MM contract handed to Jason Heyward in 2016. They are on the hook for anywhere from $23MM to $24.5MM until the conclusion of the 2023 season. That’s a lot of money to carry for a player that has not produced. And I believe it is the long-term contract for Heyward that has soured Cubs ownership on going all-in for Harper or Machado.

The Cubs will begin the season with 35 year-old lefty Jon Lester and 35 year-old lefty Cole Hamels in the rotation. I see regression coming for both. Yu Darvish is returning from injury. He is not much younger at 32. Kyle Hendricks and lefty Jose Quintana round out the rotation. What happens if any of them get hurt or don’t perform? The depth isn’t there for the Cubs pitching staff, and the farm system doesn’t have the answers either. I think they would rely on Tyler Chatwood stepping up from the pen to the rotation if needed.

The bullpen will see Pedro Strop as the closer until Brandon Morrow returns from injury. I’m not sure Strop will ever yield the closer’s role back to Morrow if Strop is pitching well. He can handle the job.

One more impact player would have helped the Cubs score more runs. One more player like Harper or Machado could have turned the corner on the season for the team on the North side of Chicago. Will the final results in the National League standings show they should have ponied up to help their offense?

CINCINNATI REDS

Have the Reds improved enough to gain a playoff spot?

For me, few teams in baseball have transformed from season to season more that the Cincinnati Reds. They have decided to commit financial resources to become a club with a fairly playable offense and horrible starting pitching to one with a formidable offense and a solid rotation. What they have done in a short offseason is remarkable and noteworthy.

They have added a potent bat in Yasiel Puig, who could find Great American Ballpark a haven for his home run swing. They have signed shortstop Jose Iglesias as insurance for the infield. Versatile free agent Derek Dietrich is on board to play anywhere they need him. Powerful slugger Matt Kemp will add some punch to the club from his platoon role as a right-handed hitter against left-handed pitching.

The biggest makeover comes in the rotation. Three of the five starters will be new. The team has traded for Sonny Gray from the Yankees. He will likely be the club’s No. 1 starter. Alex Wood was traded by the Dodgers to the Reds. The lefty has had both very good and very mediocre times on the mound in his career. I think he’ll do fine. The third addition is Tanner Roark who was traded to the Reds from the Nationals. It is my opinion Roark is a very credible starter, capable of offering lots of help in the rotation.

Lefty Zach Duke signed as a free agent to join a solid bullpen.

For those new starters, along with holdovers Luis Castillo and Anthony DeSclafani, the rotation will be impacted by the hitter-friendly home park environment. Those three new starters will have to adjust to the ball flying out of the park. But they are far better than the starters from last year’s rotation.

The 2019 edition of the Reds is much more balanced, much more credible and much more dangerous than any club they have fielded in the past several seasons.

Can they make the playoffs coming out of the National League Central? Time will tell, but I frankly like the improvements they have made. If nothing else, the Cincinnati Reds will field a scrappy contending club that may be giving their opponents fits.

COLORADO ROCKIES

Is the bullpen deep enough and strong enough to help the club?

For years baseball fans and virtually everyone in the world of baseball has been enamored with the Rockies offense. And why not? Any team that plays home games in the thin air of high altitude Denver should be able to produce runs. The converse, of course, is stopping the other team from scoring as much as the Rockies.

Well, history has shown that breaking ball pitchers have really scuffled in a home park that has the widest and greatest mass of space in the outfield, let alone having to deal with breaking balls that don’t break as well in Coors. But the starting pitching last year showed an ability to cope with all the factors. Right-hander German Marquez, traded to Colorado from Tampa Bay showed that his big league stuff can play in the thin air. He has a devastating repertoire of breaking balls that serve him extremely well. He has earned the role as the Rocks No. 1 starter. But he isn’t alone. Kyle Freeland grew up in Colorado and has pitched in the state his entire life. He knows what he’s doing on the mound. Jon Gray has all the ability in the world but has to show that he can complete games without having that one disastrous inning.

It would seem the last two rotations spots will likely belong to lefty Tyler Anderson and right-hander Antonio Senzatela. There are some guys in camp that can probably help as well. They include Jeff Hoffman, Chi Chi Gonzalez and others. Peter Lambert is likely a phone call away as well.

My Rockies question deals with a bullpen that will be called upon to hold and save games against a National League West that doesn’t really have overwhelming teams. The Rockies can win the division. But things have to come together with the pitching, and especially the bullpen.

I can’t help wondering how effective closer Wade Davis will be? Last season he had a career best 43 saves. That’s seven more than the previous season. That’s the good news. The problems?  He threw to an ERA of 4.13, up from 2.30 in 2017. He had a 1.05 WHIP in his first season with Colorado last year. That was actually down from his 1.14 in 2017. But he also threw 7 fewer innings than in his only season with the Cubs in 2017. My concern clearly rests with the additional 15 earned runs he yielded.

Seung Hwan Oh should be called upon to be a major set-up man in the pen. Oh is 36. He’s only 5-10. He has pitched parts of three seasons stateside. But he also pitched parts of 11 seasons in Korea and Japan. He has appeared in 782 games. One has to wonder how much tread remains on the tires?

Scott Oberg is another set-up reliever. He had a very good 2018, throwing to a 2.45 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 58.2 innings pitched during 56 games. He’s a quality arm in the pen. This is the guy that I think can be stellar for Colorado in 2019. He is the guy I think can take over the closer’s role if Davis falters.

Lefty Jake McGee and right-hander Bryan Shaw can correctly be labeled inconsistent. Both have had good careers. At times McGee was outstanding in the past. So was Shaw. Shaw scuffled last year after coming over from Cleveland. Then he improved later in the season. Can either McGee or Shaw be counted upon to hold leads in the middle innings?

Lefty Chris Rusin was counted upon last year after he had an outstanding 2017. But he dropped from a 2.65 ERA to a whopping 6.09 ERA last year. His WHIP went from 1.10 to 1.50. Can the Rockies count on Rusin this coming season?

I would guess Colorado is counting upon former pitcher and current manager Bud Black to help offer some assistance to a bullpen that could blow up the season. The closer’s role with Davis in control doesn’t seem like the same concern as the set-up roles in the bullpen. This spring training, the team will have a chance to really determine and evaluate what they have in their bullpen.

LOS ANGELES DODGERS

What happens if Clayton Kershaw simply can’t pitch?

I was worried about Clayton Kershaw’s back as we headed to the new season. Now I’m worried about Kershaw’s back and his shoulder/arm/elbow and everything he uses to throw a baseball. Maybe his back is so bad he compensated in his delivery and hurt his arm? Kershaw has started the spring with discomfort in his throwing shoulder. Shoulders are tough to fix. He may be able to get relief with shots in his shoulder using the most modern medicine. But what if his shoulder injuries begin to impact his elbow? What if he can’t find comfort in his shoulder? Last year Kershaw’s velocity was already reduced from previous years. What happens now?

What happens if Kershaw scuffles? Do the Dodgers have enough pitching if he misses any time? One would look at the rotation and say, “Yes, of course. They’re loaded”. Consider that Hyun-Jin Ryu has suffered arm related injuries almost since he arrived from Korea.

The real future ace of the Dodgers is Walker Buehler. The Dodgers have been careful with him this spring and they will ease him in to a greater workload as the spring continues. But Buehler could easily take over the top spot in the Dodgers rotation with his continued good work.

Beyond Kershaw, Ryu and Buehler sit 39 year-old lefty Rich Hill and oft-injured Kenta Maeda. Hill has a history of getting blisters on his fingers that have caused him to miss starts.

Not to worry. If any of the Dodgers pitchers are injured or falter, a stable of young and capable starters waits in the wings. Ross Stripling, Julio Urias, and Brock Stewart are only three that may be ready. Dustin May is a bit behind them in the pecking order.

The bullpen is very solid with Kenley Jansen, newly acquired Joe Kelly and Pedro Baez in the back end of the pen. Jansen had offseason heart surgery and is up and throwing. Hopefully with the heart issue behind him, Jansen can pitch without worry. And Kelly, signed as a free agent, is fresh off a great season with the Boston Red Sox. The rest of the pen is solid as well.

Kershaw’s health remains an important component of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s the ace of the staff. The team has played and won without him the past two seasons when his back was balking. Now, they have to wait and see what shape Kershaw is in when camp ends and the season begins.

MIAMI MARLINS

Can the Marlins win more than the 63 games they won in 2018

I think the Marlins are improving as a baseball club. I frankly believe this is the last season we will see them hover around the 63-67 win total. But I’m not sure they can win more than 65 games this coming season. The future is much brighter than the present.

New ownership that includes Derek Jeter has placed an emphasis on reducing payroll by eliminating higher priced veterans and trading for younger, less expensive and more controllable players. This ownership group fits right in with their compatriots in baseball ownership.

The team they put on the field this year has little chance to win games in a tough National League East that includes Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington and the Mets.  But by this time next year, we should see vast improvement.

They traded terrific catcher J.T. Realmuto to the division rival Phillies for highly regarded prospect pitcher Sixto Sanchez and young catcher Jorge Alfaro. It was a good deal. Those two players should be at the center of potential success for the Marlins for years to come.

Sanchez has a chance to be a very good top of the rotation starter, something the Marlins are desperate to incorporate into their organization. Alfaro, while not Realmuto, can hit the ball and has a very strong arm from behind the plate.

But for this year, the team seems to be planning to have Peter O’Brien in right field. True, he is a very powerful hitter. But he may also set a season strikeout record if he plays regularly. And his defense is suspect, at best. Aging Curtis Granderson is a former star. He will get time in left field, but his best years are in the rear view mirror. Now 38, Granderson is the perfect player to shepherd the young outfield prospects on the 40-man roster like Lewis Brinson, Victor Victor Mesa, and Monte Harrison. Brinson, Mesa and Harrison form the likely outfield of the future. They’re good prospects. Granderson will help make them better. But Granderson doesn’t add much to the 2019 starting lineup.

There are still some other older veterans hanging around that are simply not going to elevate the overall play and performance of the Marlins this year. How much can Martin Prado help in an effort to win games? Where does Neil Walker fit for the future? Even veteran starter Wei-Yin Chen could be seen as clogging the rotation. But he was foolishly signed to a 5-year deal that will go from 2016 until 2020 at a price tag of $80MM.  There is no way he can return value on that investment.

The future will see an infusion of players like pitcher Sandy Alcantara who came over in trade from St. Louis. Nick Neidert was traded from Seattle to Miami. Those guys, along with Sanchez are potentially solid pitchers.

Pitching is what the Marlins lack. And for that reason, and for the lack of impact players on their 25-man roster, it looks like the Marlins will linger around the 63-65 win total for at least another season.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

Should the Brewers have added another starter (especially a lefty) in the offseason?

Brewers brass has stated on several occasions that they are comfortable with their starting pitching. They probably could have traded for either Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer of the Indians due to the Brewers strengths in their outfield roster. Of course, both of those pitchers are right handed, and that has some significance for the Brewers.

The Brewers rotation as it is currently listed is all right-handed. Lefty Dallas Keuchel is still on the open market as a free agent. He might be a perfect fit for Milwaukee. But, since they are happy with what they have, he probably won’t be pitching for the Brewers this season.

Jhoulys Chacin is the No.1 starter. He’s been around forever, but he’s still only 31. He has lots of pitches on that right arm. He was good in San Diego before having a really nice season last year with the Brewers. I still have my issues about how effective he’ll be, but I’m still in the minority. He’s well regarded.

Righty Chase Anderson did well with Arizona before moving to the Brewers in 2016. Like Chacin, he’s a credible pitcher if he can stay healthy. And like most pitchers in today’s game, we have to consider the health of the pitcher in any evaluation.

The remaining three starters include Zach Davies, Brandon Woodward and Jimmy Nelson. Nelson is returning from shoulder surgery. As I’ve said many times, shoulders are tough to fix. If the Brewers get Nelson back healthy and near his last healthy outings, it will be like making a trade without giving up a player. Nelson is a key. But he may not be the biggest question for me. The question is still the depth of their starting staff.

The Brewers are loaded with pitching prospects right on the cusp of making the club. Those starters include Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta and Adrian Houser, to name three. Each is right-handed. Will the Brewers give them the ball or choose to have two good starters and then go to an “opener” approach?

I don’t see any problem with the Brewers offense or their bullpen. To me, both are loaded. Neither should be an issue. I’ll discuss both those components at length in my National League preview article.

For now, the Brewers seem content with the pitchers they have in camp. I get it. But like the Cleveland Indians, who also hope to contend, it’s very tough to navigate a major league lineup without a left-handed starter.

NEW YORK METS

Will the offseason moves impact the Mets in the standings?

Only the woeful Miami Marlins won fewer games in the National League West last year than the Mets. Enter Brodie Van Wagenen, a former player agent turned front office executive. To my way of thinking, Van Wagenen has done a masterful job of converting a moribund roster to a viable, potentially winning club. The unknown is the team chemistry. Given new players with good backgrounds, will the Mets mesh together as a club?

Newcomers to the club include veteran second baseman Robbie Cano. Cano is still an impact player. He still has plenty of offense to offer. He will drive in runs in a lineup that will depend upon his production. I think he’ll deliver.

Wilson Ramos takes over behind the plate. He’s an upgrade at the position for the Mets, and he could be a louder than expected bat in the middle of the lineup.

Houston traded first baseman J.D. Davis to the Mets this past January. My jury remains out on Davis hitting at the big league level. I do think he may be only a caretaker until prospect Peter Alonso assumes that position full time. If the designated hitter enters the National League landscape in the near future, Davis and Alonso may share that role.

The Mets strengthened their bench by obtaining slick fielding infielder Adeiny Hechavarria and outfielder Keon Broxton, who they got from the Brewers in trade.

Perhaps the best acquisition is closer Edwin Diaz, a terrific finisher who came over from the Mariners last December. He is one of the premiere closers in the game. With the outstanding starting pitching of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler and Jason Vargas, Diaz will get plenty of chances to rack up saves. And he’ll do it.

After being in Oakland, Jeurys Familia returns to the Mets as a set-up guy, joining Robert Gsellman and Justin Wilson, who was also signed as a free agent.

To me, the Mets can make the playoffs if things go right for them. To accomplish that, things may have to go wrong for Philadelphia, Atlanta or other National League clubs who still appear better on paper.

But the bottom line is that the Mets are a much, much better team (on paper) right now than they were at the end of last season. Now they have to play the games to prove me correct.

PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES

What happens now that the Phillies have signed Bryce Harper?

In some ways, the outcome for the Phillies this coming season really does depend upon what happens with Harper.

Harper’s overall impact will be immediate. He is a far better hitter than Nick Williams or Odubell Hererra, either of whom will be replaced by Harper in the outfield. He also does wonders for lengthening the lineup. Consider having to navigate through Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, J.T. Realmuto, and Rhys Hoskins in addition to Harper. He just can’t help make everyone better. Every pitcher will know what’s ahead, and Harper makes what’s ahead that much more dangerous. A pitcher may get one or two of those guys to hit his pitch, but he likely won’t get them all. It reminds me of pitching to the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees. And to a lesser extent, Houston. If one of the big bats doesn’t get you, the next one can, and will.

And the lineup navigation happens five and six times a game, and maybe more.

There are few players I believe that can impact the outcome of every game. Harper is one. Putting him in a lineup with the players I named above could catapult the Phillies to the division title, ahead of teams like Washington and Atlanta. And the Mets. They are better right now than each of those clubs, in my opinion. And the season hasn’t even started. So maybe teams will keeping adding on.

Moving Rhys Hoskins out of left field and back to first base should increase his self-confidence. He doesn’t have to take defensive issues to the plate any longer. Maybe a more relaxed playing environment will do wonders for his offensive production.

Harper is entering his prime. He is about to embark on the next few years when his physicality should be at its maximum.

Playing in Philadelphia should be able to bolster his offensive statistics well beyond where they were last year. It is an extremely good hitter’s park. His bad batting average from a year ago may be a thing of the past.

Phillies fans are known for being very tough on players that don’t provide 100% team effort. They are tough on guys that are selfish. They are also very fair and kind to players who perform. Harper is the exact type of player that can flourish in Philadelphia due to his consistent hustle and love for playing the game. He will break down a wall to make a catch.

If he doesn’t hit, well…that could be another story.

For the reasons I stated above, Manny Machado is lucky he didn’t sign with the Phillies. I think he would have had a very difficult time in Philadelphia if he loafed to first base. Remember, he’s the guy who said, “I’m not the type of player that’s going to be ‘Johnny Hustle,’ That’s just not my cup of tea. That’s just not who I am.”  Frankly, I think that quotation would have haunted him in Philadelphia. Harper will hustle. Harper will bust his tail for his team and his fans.

If they didn’t sign Harper? I believe the Phillies would have become a team fighting for a playoff spot in the National League East. And they may have come up a bit short. I think Harper makes a huge difference. But the question remains. What happens to Philadelphia now that they have signed Bryce Harper?

PITTSBURGH PIRATES

How effective will Chris Archer be with a full year in Pittsburgh?

True confession. I have never been a big fan of Chris Archer’s pitching. I have watched his outings since he was drafted and traded by the Cleveland Indians. Even then, I found Archer to be too high in the strike zone with his fastball. Now at age 30 and a seasoned veteran, I think that remains an issue. He walked an average of 3.1 hitters per nine innings after coming over from Tampa Bay. That walk rate was slightly higher than he had in Tampa last year. Perhaps moving to a new league had an impact.

My worries come from the fact he also yielded 9 hits per inning in Pittsburgh. So that’s pitching from the stretch far too much for a pitcher who will be counted upon to eat innings and win games in the rotation. He finished the season with a combined ERA of 4.31, which is too high for his projected role.

Gerrit Cole never really blossomed with the Astros. It just never seemed to click. So, the Pirates traded him to Houston, where Cole has become one of baseball’s better pitchers. Now they probably wish they had a pitcher of his quality in the rotation.

Pittsburgh is likely to be hoping Jameson Taillon lives up to the very positive flashes we have seen. He is the team’s likely No.1 starter, far ahead of Archer. But Archer remains important.

Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove, both at the prime age of 26 have to have good performances to help keep Pittsburgh afloat in a tough National League Central. The final starter in their entirely right-handed rotation appears to be Nick Kingham, a pitcher who has been long on promise for some time. Is this the year Kingham steps up and offers quality innings to the staff?

Shortstop/second baseman Erik Gonzalez and outfielders Lonnie Chisenhall and Melky Cabrera have come over from Cleveland to help the offense. Will their presence make a difference?  We’ll see. It won’t matter much if the starters can’t keep their team in games.

For me, it still remains to be seen if Chris Archer can perform better than last year. If he does, and if the rest of the rotation can eat innings and keep their team in games, the improved Pirates lineup may elevate them in the standings. Those are big “ifs.”

SAN DIEGO PADRES

What impact will Manny Machado have upon the Padres for the coming season?

The signing of Manny Machado to a ten-year contract will have an immediate impact on the Padres. First and foremost, his presence will make the Padres much more relevant in a National League West that really doesn’t have an overwhelming club. The West doesn’t have the type of team that can run away from the pack early in the season and never look back. No, I don’t think the Dodgers can do that. I don’t think the Rockies can do that. The Diamondbacks and Giants will scuffle to play above .500 baseball. The Padres? Well, what if Machado leads a team of young players beyond their projections?

Infusing an exciting player like Machado in a relatively young lineup can provide the spark that motivates. He, Eric Hosmer and Wil Myers have the type of experience that can result in leadership for younger, highly regarded prospects such as Fernando Tatis Jr., Luis Urias, Francisco Mejia, and Javy Guerra.

The Padres, my No.1 rated farm system, are developing players at virtually every position from the mound, to the infield, outfield and behind the plate. The Padres place in the standings may depend upon how quickly the club promotes their young prospects to the major league club and once promoted, how quickly the prospects acclimate to major league baseball and produce results.

I see Machado as a motivator, bringing attention and interest to a club that has little trouble drawing fans to a beautiful stadium in a wonderful city. Attendance is not a problem in San Diego. Winning, however, has been a problem.

Should the Padres get good performance from what is at best a mediocre pitching staff, they could surprise in the West. The team can no longer say their rotation is young and just needs experience. Joey Lucchesi, sitting at the top of the rotation is now 25 and has big league experience. Robbie Erlin, like Lucchesi a left-handed starter, is now 28 and has battled injuries in his past. Bryan Mitchell was well regarded when he was traded from the New York Yankees in 2017. He has time as a reliever, but he is a very capable pitcher who can likely start for San Diego. Lefty Eric Lauer (23) and right-hander Luis Perdomo (25) likely round out a meh rotation.

The bullpen is questionable as well.

It would seem the small market Padres have shown that any club can afford an impact, highly priced player. Now, if money remains in the budget, it would be wise to take a look at adding a starting pitcher like Dallas Keuchel to the mix.

No team has played a game that counts yet. However, signing Manny Machado has sent a loud message to the National League west. The Padres are in the mix. And when the regular season ends they will have shown great improvement. I just don’t think we’ll see them in the playoffs until their young prospects are well settled into their new San Diego major league uniforms. And I haven’t even mentioned their outstanding pitching prospects that are waiting in the wings.

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

Can the Giants avoid the basement in the National League West?

I think few teams are as thin in talent than the San Francisco Giants. Their 25-man, major league roster is aging and declining in skill. Their farm system is thin and unable to produce replacement players for injured or poor performing big league players. In a word, I believe the Giants are a mess.

The best aspect of the club, future Hall of Fame manager Bruce Bochy, has seen enough. He has announced he will be leaving the Giants after this season. Interestingly, I don’t think I heard him say he is retiring. He may, after all, end up as the manager of the newly revived San Diego Padres when his work in San Francisco is finished. If that happens, he will have come full circle, as he once managed the Padres and was highly regarded.

Consider that according to Roster Resource, the team will have a potential $203MM payroll in 2019 without the benefit of having any true impact players. At one time in the past Buster Posey was imposing, and Madison Bumgarner has lost a great deal off his penache.

The team is loaded with multiple year contracts to aging and ineffective veterans that will be tying up payroll for years. Posey is signed through the 2022 season after agreeing to a nine-year, $167MM deal in 2013. He will make $22,178,000 this year and for the next three.

Injured pitcher Johnny Cueto will also be paid $22MM until 2022. Insurance should help ease the Giants pain.

Jeff Samardzija will come off the payroll in after next season. But until then, he will be paid close to $40MM. And it goes on and on. The team is on the hook for huge payouts to Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, and Mark Melancon.  They will get some salary relief when Madison Bumgarner becomes a free agent after this season. A season in which he will be paid $12MM.

The Giants were so thin in younger, less expensive players that they signed veterans Gerardo Parra, Rene Rivera, Yangervis Solarte and Cameron Maybin as free agents. I don’t think any in that group will add much to the big league club’s win total.

Making matters worse for San Francisco, the team will have to watch as San Diego gets better with younger players and the addition of Manny Machado. Remember, the Giants won 73 games last year, while the Padres won only 66. It would not surprise if those records were reversed this year, and the Giants could likely take over last place in the West.

If the age of 30 is a negative turning point for baseball players, the Giants can be included among teams that have negatively turned. In their starting lineup, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, Brandon Crawford, and Gerardo Parra each have had at least 30 candles on their birthday cakes. The bench will include Rene Rivera, Pablo Sandoval, Yangervis Solarte, and Cameron Maybin. And that’s only a list of position players.

The pitching staff isn’t much better. Madison Bumgarner, Jeff Samardzija, Derek Holland, Drew Pomeranz, Mark Melancon, Tony Watson, and Sam Dyson are all at least 30. Injured Johnny Cueto adds another name to the list.

I personally find the change of fortune for the once dynamic and former World Series Champion Giants to be both sad and disheartening. Management let the team age without an infusion of younger, quality prospects. Their drafts have not been fruitful. And that’s probably why they turned to their arch rival Los Angeles Dodgers to hire Farhan Zaidi as their president for baseball operations. He is on board to help the once storied franchise turn the corner and begin a Renaissance for their future.

For this coming year, I see the Giants running in place and getting nowhere. And I see them looking up at the division at the beginning of 2020 from a last place finish.

ST. LOUIS CARDINALS

Will the acquisition of Paul Goldschmidt be the piece that was missing for St. Louis?

For the St. Louis Cardinals, the presence of Paul Goldschmidt in the middle of their lineup may be the piece that elevates the team to the top of the National League Central standings.

Put quite simply, Goldschmidt has the type of thunder in his bat that can change a game with one swing. Although he is prone to slumps, when Goldschmidt is hot, everything clicks.

Goldschmidt is a career .297 hitter over eight major league seasons, all with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has hit a total of 209 career home runs. His best season was 2013, when he hit .302/36/125. But in the following season, he suffered a broken hand and missed time. He had made the All Star team and was leading the majors in doubles when he was hit by a pitch. He still hit .300 but his homer total fell to 19 and his RBIs were reduced to 69. He had only 479 plate appearances that season. Last year, Goldy still hit well, smoking 33 homers while hitting .290 and driving in 90 runs in his 690 plate appearances.

Goldschmidt, the face of the Diamondbacks franchise for the past several years, suffered from elbow soreness in his 2017 season. Some of that may have carried over to last year, as he slumped badly at times.

Now 31, Goldschmidt will be surrounded in the Cardinals lineup by the quality bats of Matt Carpenter, Paul DeJong, and Marcell Ozuna. It is more firepower than Goldy had around him in his final Dbacks season.

The Cardinals greatest strength is most likely their starting pitching. It was strong enough for the team to trade promising right-hander Luke Weaver as part of the package to fetch Goldschmidt. The other major piece was catcher Carson Kelly.

The reason St. Louis likely won’t miss Weaver is the depth of their pitching inventory. They have a proposed rotation that includes right-handers Miles Miklos, Jake Flaherty, Adam Wainwright and Michael Wacha. The lone lefty could be Austin Gomber. If right-hander Alex Reyes is healthy after arm and elbow issues, he may make a run for a rotation spot along the way.

There are certainly some question marks with that rotation,, like there is for every team. For example, is Wainwright capable of providing enough quality innings to remain in the rotation? And can Michael Wacha be the type of pitcher he was in his rookie and sophomore seasons.

The Cardinals signed lefty reliever Andrew Miller away from Cleveland as a free agent. He had back issues for the past two seasons, but the team is counting on him to set-up closer Jordan Hicks.

Without Goldschmidt in the middle of the lineup, the Cardinals may have finished this coming season looking up at the division leaders. However, with Goldy on board and a promising young player outfielder like Harrison Bader hopefully improving, it seems there is great optimism in St. Louis that they can chase down teams like the Cubs and the Brewers, the two teams that finished ahead of them last season.

WASHINGTON NATIONALS

Can the Nationals fill a huge hole left by the departure of Bryce Harper?

Bryce Harper hit 34 home runs for Washington last season. He drove in 100 runs. He stole 13 bases, while being caught only three times. And yes, his batting average fell from .319 in 2017 to a career low of .249. Those home runs and RBI have now moved to Philadelphia, a team in the same division as the Nationals.

The left-handed hitting 26 year-old slugger changes the landscape of the National League east with both addition and subtraction. He adds to the Phillies and he subtracts from the Nationals. He is an impact player with game-changing ability. That’s hard to find. And the Nationals are reported to have tried early and often to bring him back to the Nation’s Capital. To no avail.

Harper has been known to run into walls in his approach to the game. With him gone, who replaces him in the Nationals lineup?

On paper it would seem the Washington outfield will include Adam Eaton in right field, Victor Robles in center and Juan Soto in left. The presence of Soto may ease the sting of losing Harper. Soto had a tremendous rookie year, and he may well be able to build upon his great start this coming season. Soto hit .292/22/70 with five stolen bases in seven attempts. No, they aren’t Harper numbers, but Juan Soto is only 20. His ceiling is amazing. But Soto isn’t Harper. At least not yet. But he may be. He’s a very, very talented young hitter.

Questions do surround Eaton and Robles, a rookie with only 93 plate appearances in the big leagues. I have never felt Eaton was worth a package of players the Nationals traded to the Chicago White Sox to obtain his services. He’s been hurt with Washington and we have yet to see what he can bring to the team over a 600 at-bat season for that team. In his last two seasons, he has had 107 and 370 plate appearances.

Taking the bat of Harper out of the lineup may mean that Trea Turner will be running more to set up the offense from close to the top of the order. At least, that has been the early word from the Nationals spring camp. If Turner does steal more bases, Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto will get the RBI chances that once went to Harper. The Washington club is certainly not out of run-producing options.

Every report out of the Nationals front office indicated the team offered Harper a ten-year, $300MM contract early in his free agency. Harper and his agent Scott Boras evaluated his market for months and finally found him the type of long-term financially bank breaking contract both player and agent sought. Harper’s contract of 13 years includes a full no-trade clause and there are reportedly no opt-out options. Unless the parties agree otherwise, Harper and the Phillies are joined together in harmony for what seems to be an eternity.

Putting Harper’s contract in perspective, in Phoenix, people move from their homes every seven years. They buy a car every four years. They will have lived in two new houses and own three new cars before Harper’s contract has a year remaining.

Can the Nationals win it all without Harper? Better yet, can the Nationals win their division without Harper? We’ll find out as the coming season unfolds.

—————-

For weeks now I have been providing fantasy baseball rankings position by position. Today I will provide the first of two starting pitching rankings.

MAX SCHERZER

JACOB DEGROM

JUSTIN VERLANDER

CHRIS SALE

GERRIT COLE

COREY KLUBER

AARON NOLA

TREVOR BAUER

BLAKE SNELL

CARLOS CARRASCO

WALKER BUEHLER

LUIS SEVERINO

PATRICK CORBIN

JAMISON TAILLON

ZACK GREINKE

JAMES PAXTON

MIKE CLEVINGER

STEPHEN STRASBURG

CLAYTON KERSHAW

NOAH SYNDERGAARD

KYLE HENDRICKS

JOSE BERRIOS

JACK FLAHERTY

LUIS CASTILLO

MIKE FOLTTYNEWICZ-ELBOW PAIN

GERMAN MARQUEZ

CHARLIE MORTON

RICH HILL

MASAHIRO TANAKA

SHANE  BIEBER

J A HAPP

DAVID PRICE

RICK PORCELLO

MADISON BUMGARNER

MILES MIKOLAS

ROBBIE RAY

JULES CHACIN

ZACK WHEELER

YUSEI KIKUCHI

JOSE QUINTANA

ANDREW HEANEY

DALLAS KEUCHEL-unsigned

MIKE MINOR

JON LESTER

HYUN-JIN RYU

KENTA MAEDA

KYLE FREELAND

CHRIS ARCHER

CARLOS MARTINEZ

MARIO GONZALEZ

JAKE JUNIS

JAKE ARRIETA

CARLOS RODON

TREVOR WILLIAMS

TYLER GLASNOW

JOEY LUCCHESI

CHASE ANDERSON

SONNY GRAY

DERECK RODRIGUEZ

BRAD KELLER

JOE MUSGROVE

ZACH EFLIN

EDUARDO RODRIQUEZ

JULIAN TEHERAN

TANNER ROARK

C C SABATHIA

SLEEPERS: BIEBER, BERRIOS

JOIN ME IN CUBA JANUARY 6-13, 2020

I am very excited to announce that I am partnering once again with Viva Cuba Tours to host the adventure of a lifetime from January 6 thru January 13, 2020. We will be going to Varadero, Cuba for two nights then on to Havana, Cuba for five nights to enjoy all the fabulous history and culture of the fabulous island only 90 miles from Florida.

On this educational adventure, we will watch baseball if a team is still in the Cuban playoffs at a location near us. We will go to the fabulous Tropicana Nightclub, one of the finest and most beautiful spectacles of dance and song in the world. We will visit the estate of Ernest Hemingway and see the boat he used when writing “The Old Man and the Sea.” We will stay at the iconic Hotel Nacional in Havana, the place the mob made famous in the 1950s. It is a beautiful and incredible hotel.

We will visit a cigar factory and a rum factory. We will argue baseball with very knowledgable Cuban baseball fans at the Havana “hot corner.”  We will dine in fine, fine Cuban restaurants, where even a very picky eater like me will love the food.

We will leave from Miami and return to Miami. Everything you want and need is included in the price. You will not be dipping into your pockets for anything other than perhaps one or two meals on your free day and cigars and alcohol if you wish to buy them.

The price is $5300 per double occupancy and $5600 for single occupancy. Air to and from Miami, your Cuban visa, ground transportation, transfers to and from the airports, luggage handling, beautiful high quality hotel rooms, most meals, Tropicana nightclub entrance, entrance to all site seeing venues, all lectures and all guides are included. If we do get to see a baseball game, you will have to buy a ticket. But your ticket price will only be the equivalent of a dollar or two in US money.

Please email me at BPleskoff@aol.com if you wish to get the brochure or learn more about the trip. And by the way, this trip makes for a fantastic holiday gift to someone you care about.

Tune in to our ShortHops podcast every Friday morning at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and of course, right here at ClubhouseCorner.com. My co-host Doug Hall and I talk all things baseball and fantasy baseball every week. I will also answer questions that you send me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff or @ShortHops

Follow me on twitter @BerniePleskoff

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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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