National League East—2012 Present and 2013 Future

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Click to read about the AL East, Central, and West.

Here’s the NL East.

Washington Nationals

For some it’s a validation and for others it’s an unsatisfactory and paranoid result, but now that the Stephen Strasburg debate has been concluded once and for all, the Nationals are moving on without their best pitcher. They’ve taken a tremendous and rapid leap forward to the playoffs and an all-but-certain division title. They look identical to the Braves of 1991 with a young pitching staff; power bats; and an ownership willing to spend to keep the team together and aggressive enough to improve. They also have something those Braves never had: a bullpen. It’s that bullpen that will counteract the loss of Strasburg for the playoffs. In fact, it’s probably more important to have a deep, versatile bullpen in the playoffs than it is to have a great starting rotation. That’s something else the dominant Braves of 1991-2005 proved year-after-year.

The Nats are here to stay and we’d better get used to them being in the playoffs on an annual basis.

Atlanta Braves

The Braves overcame their collapse better than any other team in recent memory that experienced a similar meltdown. Part of that is due to manager Fredi Gonzalez’s acquiescence in not overusing the bullpen early in the season; Jason Heyward’s comeback season; Michael Bourn’s full-season in his walk year; Kris Medlen’s second-half brilliance with the club overcoming underachievement from Tommy Hanson, ineffectiveness from Jair Jurrjens, the injury to Brandon Beachy, and the stagnation of Randall Delgado.

Their ownership doesn’t spend a lot of money, so it’s hard to see them keeping Bourn. Brian McCann is a free agent after 2013, but with Chipper Jones’s money coming off the books and McCann’s status as a Georgia native, that will get worked out.

With or without spending, the Braves have enough young talent to be contenders for the future.

On a note about the Braves’ bullpen, Craig Kimbrel has been all-but unhittable. I get the sense that the NL Cy Young Award voting will split between R.A. Dickey and Gio Gonzalez and Kimbrel’s going to win it.

Philadelphia Phillies

Now that the dreams of a miraculous comeback suffered a deathblow in Houston by losing 3 of 4 against the rancid Astros, then resuscitated briefly by humiliating the Mets, the Braves all but ended the Phillies’ hopes over the weekend as Roy Halladay got blasted on Saturday in the game the Phillies absolutely had to win.

Now what?

They underachieved in 2012 with a payroll of $170 million-plus and are very old. They re-signed Cole Hamels and with he, Halladay, and Cliff Lee, along with Jonathan Papelbon in the bullpen, they’ll be playoff contenders in 2013. The vault is not going to be as wide open as it was, so any thoughts of Zack Greinke should end now. They’ll need starting pitching so it’s more likely that they pursue a Dan Haren type—a good starter coming off a bad year and on a short-term deal. They need a center fielder and there’s been talk of a reunion with Michael Bourn. I would not overpay for Bourn, but GM Ruben Amaro Jr. tends to go after what he wants regardless of cost. I’d also expect Ryan Madson to return to the Phillies as a set-up man following his Tommy John surgery and lost year with the Reds, and he’ll be good.

It appears as if all systems are go for Chase Utley to move to third base, but his knees are a chronic problem. If he’s unable to start the season again, then the Phillies will be right back where they started from trusting Freddy Galvis at second and having a black hole at third. They desperately need an outfield bat of the Cody Ross variety—affordable and pretty good. If I were Amaro, I’d call the Indians about Asdrubal Cabrera.

New York Mets

Because of their second half nosedive, they’re still viewed as something of a laughingstock, but when examining even worse situations such as the Marlins, Astros, Red Sox, Cubs; and teams that spent big and haven’t gotten bang for their bucks with the Tigers, Phillies, Angels, and Dodgers, the Mets are in a pretty good position.

The young pitching prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler will join Jonathon Niese and R.A. Dickey in the rotation at some point in 2013, and they also have young arms Jeurys Familia and Jenrry Mejia. Jason Bay and Johan Santana are coming off the books after 2013 (unless they can trade one or both for commensurately expiring deals), so they’ll have money to spend after 2013.

This doom and gloom is based on looking for reasons to tear into the organization. The low minor leagues is increasingly well-stocked.

They need a catcher who can hit and desperately have to get a bat for the middle and top of the lineup. Names to pursue are Justin Upton, Shin-Soo Choo, Dexter Fowler, Ian Kinsler, B.J. Upton, and Shane Victorino.

I’d stay away from Bourn.

Miami Marlins

I wrote about them yesterday, but just when it seemed as if it couldn’t get worse, it got worse.

Heath Bell went on a radio show and basically called manager Ozzie Guillen a liar. The host of the show, Dan Sileo, prodded Bell while doling responsibility on everyone but Bell. It’s an awful interview by an awful interviewer topped off by ridiculous baseball analysis. You can find it here.

Whether or not Bell is accurate in his criticism is irrelevant. That Bell still can’t keep quiet is indicative of one of the main problems the Marlins have had: no veteran leader to stand in the middle of the clubhouse and speak up. It was Bell’s dreadful performance that, more than anything else, set the stage for the Marlins’ terrible season. But he…won’t…shut…UP!!!!

Braves’ manager Gonzalez, who was fired by the Marlins, said of Marlins’ owner Jeffrey Loria:

“There’s not a manager dead or alive that Jeffrey thinks is good enough. Not Connie Mack, not anyone.”

Loria called the comments “classless.” Does it help that the comments are 100% true?

It’s going to get worse from here for the Marlins as they plan to cut payroll from $95 million to $70-80 million. (Bet on the under.) It remains to be seen who’s going to get fired and who isn’t, but they’ll desperately try to unload Bell and if that means attaching him to any deal in which a club wants to acquire Josh Johnson, then that’s what they’ll do.

I believe Johnson will be traded this winter; Jose Reyes will be traded during the season in 2013, as will Ricky Nolasco.

All of that said, the Marlins do have some young talent with the acquisitions they made of Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner, and Rob Brantly to go along with the monster Giancarlo Stanton, so they’re not going to be an atrocity and they certainly won’t be as bad as they were in 2012.

Those advocating or actively pursuing a new stadium for the Rays need to take note what’s happened with the Marlins. Florida fans are simply not invested enough in baseball to make it a worthwhile expenditure for either private investors of public referendum. The ballpark should not have been built. Either the club should’ve been contracted, allowed to move to a baseball-friendly venue in the United States, or they should’ve sat tight and waited out the end of the Castro regime in Cuba, hoped for a new, free country 90 miles away from Miami, and moved the team there.

An MLB team in Cuba would be huge. Instead there’s a beautiful new park in Miami with few fans and a top-to-bottom case study in dysfunction and absence of responsibility. It’s a train wreck.

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Hanley Ramirez’s Brother From Another Mother…And Father

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Hanley Ramirez and Manny Ramirez are basically the same person with Hanley never putting up the numbers that Manny did to justify his self-centered and petulant behaviors.

Hanley, like Manny, forced his way out of his playing venue and wound up with the Dodgers. Manny did it with years of abuse and borderline acts that would’ve gotten him put into jail had they been perpetrated in society and not in the insular world of baseball. Hanley did it with constant tantrums and long stretches of lackadaisical play. Also like Manny, Hanley is going to the Dodgers and will go on a tear for the rest of the season, playing the part of the good teammate and leaving the team, fans and media members to wonder why such a wonderful, hard-working individual was so misunderstood by his prior employer.

Neither player has been misunderstood.

Let’s look at the trade of Hanley Ramirez and what to expect going forward.

Pennies on the dollar

Given his talent and that the Marlins were so resistant to trading him for this long, getting Nathan Eovaldi and a minor leaguer in exchange for Hanley and Randy Choate is a letdown and the equivalent of tossing their hands in the air and saying, “Get this guy outta here already.” Eovaldi has good stuff and that the Dodgers traded a member of their starting rotation is indicative of the confidence that Dodgers’ GM Ned Colletti feels in getting a starter (Ryan Dempster?) in the near future. Hanley was once a top ten player in baseball. Now, he’s not.

The problem a player has when he has a toxic reputation is that when he doesn’t play as well as he once did, the ancillary aspects are no longer explainable. With Manny, the phrase “Manny being Manny” was a term of endearment for those who didn’t have to deal with him on a daily basis; once he became unproductive and still behaved like it was his divine right to be an obnoxious, entitled jerk because he could hit, nobody wanted him around.

I didn’t think the Marlins were going to trade Hanley in-season and wrote that. That they did move him says there are serious structural changes coming to the Marlins and that they felt they had to get rid of him, period.

For all the incidents with Hanley (the ones that we know about), there was a constant circuit breaker in any attempts to discipline him: owner Jeffrey Loria. Loria treated Hanley like his son, enabled him and sabotaged his managers, front office people and advisers who either wanted to get rid of Hanley or do something significant to rein him in. Former players who confronted Hanley like Dan Uggla were dispatched while Hanley was the one Marlins star who was rewarded with a lucrative contract. Like Mike Tyson was coddled by Cus D’Amato with the refrain to Teddy Atlas, “This kid is a special case,” Hanley did what he wanted, when he wanted. Like Atlas, the Marlins had quality people tossed overboard in the choice between Hanley and anyone else.

When Loria had had enough and sent Andre Dawson and Tony Perez to discipline him, Hanley knew in the back of his mind that even if Dawson did as he threatened he would do and knock him out if he said the wrong thing, nothing was going to be done because he had the owner in his corner.

It was eerily predictable that Hanley was not going to be happy with the shift to third base in favor of Jose Reyes. Simple on paper, it wasn’t taken into account the macho perception stemming from where Hanley and Reyes grew up; that it would be seen as an usurping of Hanley’s territory for Reyes to be installed and Hanley moved to accommodate him; that Reyes got the money that Hanley didn’t; that the financial and practical idea of Reyes being “better” than Hanley would eat at his ego.

The Marlins bought a load of expensive baubles to decorate their new home without an interior designer’s input. The gaudy and cold emptiness is evident in the lack of cohesion among the roster.

How does this affect the Marlins?

Yes, they have quality baseball people in their front office in Larry Beinfest, Michael Hill and Dan Jennings, but there was very little in-depth baseball analysis put into practice when the Marlins Scotch-taped this team together. It was buy this, buy that and hope the team wins and the fans show up. The team hasn’t won and the fans haven’t shown up.

It’s not easy to run a club when there’s a mandate to keep costs down one year; to buy players the next; to do things that aren’t predicated on winning, but on the owner’s whims and needs to validate a new park built on the public’s dime. Beinfest has done the best he can under the circumstances. Don’t be stunned when it starts leaking out that there were significant members of the Marlins’ baseball operations team that wanted to trade Hanley two years ago and were prevented from pulling the trigger on better packages than what they eventually got.

The admiration for taking decisive action when the “plan” isn’t working is tempered by fan apathy. The majority of those in Miami aren’t going to notice whether Hanley’s there or not in a manner similar to them not paying attention to what the Marlins are doing at all. It’s easier to clean house when you don’t have any guests and the Marlins’ 12th place position in attendance is bound to get worse because the fans that were going to see baseball—and not get a haircut, visit an aquarium or ostentatious Miami nightspot—aren’t going to the park to watch a team that’s soon to be ten games under .500 and is, for all intents and purposes, eliminated from contention.

Like the Rays and A’s, the Marlins operate in an ambivalent vacuum where their ability to trade anyone and everyone is linked to the disinterest they generate. Nobody cares therefore nobody notices therefore it doesn’t negatively affect the business.

It’s been reported that the Marlins aren’t tearing the whole thing down so I wouldn’t expect Reyes, Mark Buehrle or Giancarlo Stanton to be traded. They’ve gotten themselves two very talented young starting pitchers in Eovaldi and Jacob Turner. But Carlos Lee, Logan Morrison, John Buck, Carlos Zambrano, Ricky Nolasco and Heath Bell (if anyone will take him) should have their bags packed.

They’ve tossed in the towel on this season because it didn’t work and the “Hanley’s fine with the move to third; fine with the money others are getting; fine with the direction of the franchise,” turned out to be cover stories for the obvious truth: it wasn’t going to work. And it didn’t.

How does this affect the Dodgers?

The Dodgers traded for Manny and the Manny package. They got the good Manny and almost went to the World Series. In a mediocre, parity-laden National League, that could happen again this season. They re-signed Manny for a lot of money and watched as he got hurt and was suspended for PEDs.

Manny was being Manny.

They just traded for Hanley and the Hanley package. They’ll get the good Hanley from now to the end of the season and presumably for 2013 because he’ll be looking for a long-term contract. His current deal expires after 2014. By mid-2013, it he’s playing well, he’ll let it be known how much he “loves” Los Angeles and wants to stay there for “the rest of his career.” That’s player speak for “Give me an extension. Now.”

With their new ownership and that Hanley’s going to revert to the superstar he was three years ago, they’ll pay him and keep him. Whether he’s going to repeat the Manny-style downfall and the behaviors that got him dumped from the Marlins and cast out by his surrogate father—Loria—remain to be seen, but judging from his history it’s not hard to imagine Hanley wearing out his welcome with the Dodgers and being back on the trading block not because of his salary or that it would improve the team, but because the Dodgers will realize what the Marlins did and say, “We hafta get him outta here,” due to his overt selfishness and team-destroying antics.

It’s not difficult to foresee—like the failures of the 2012 Marlins.

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