Who is the Class of the NL?
Posted by The Right Reverend on February 24, 2006
Ben Jacobs at The Hardball Times has his annual offseason rankings up, and the Cardinals are around the bottom, 22nd to be exact. Feel free to check it out, it’s well worth the read, but if you’re too lazy to do that, here’s the gist.
- Ponson isn’t going to be what Matt Morris was, but he’s cheaper and a better risk.
- Enc is no Larry Walker at the plate, but he will obviously give the Cardinals more playing time.
- Rolen back at full health will be great, but considering the overall turnover, we’ve taken a step backwards verses forward.
- We didn’t sign any terrible contracts, but Looper’s and Encarnacion’s contracts were “less then ideal.”
Yada, yada, not much we haven’t heard or said a million times this offseason. One thing that sorta bugs me is that he figures Ponson is Matty Mo’s replacement. That still hasn’t been determined, thought it’s already a starting to be a forgone conclusion. But Anthony Reyes could possibly represent an upgrade of Morris even in his rookie season if he does get that chance.
But the part that stuck out to me is that because of these moves Mr. Jacobs says we are the class of the NL Central, we are no longer the top contender in the NL. While I admit the pessimist inside me was inclined to agree with that statement, I had to ask myself, if not the Cardinals, then who?
Using the same sort judgment Jacobs used in order to take answer this question, I ask what did teams in the NL did enough this offseason to leap over us?
The Mets-Additions-Wagner and Delgado. Big splash. Lesser splashes-Paul Lo Duca, Xavier Nady, Duaner Sanchez, Chad Bradford, John Maine, Jorge Julio, Julio Franco, Endy Chavez, Tike Redman, Steve Schmoll
Main subtractions-Mike Cameron, Mike Piazza, Kris Benson
I think they are a lot of fans and writers favorites to win the NL this year. Carlos Beltran should bounce back, David Wright is an emerging star, Pedro Martinez is still one of the best pitchers in the game, and the additions of Delgado and Wagner should certainly help. On the other hand, Jose Reyes most likely going to be leading off, and last year only mustered a .300 OBP. Xavier Nady represents a downgrade offensively and defensively from Cameron. And their second base options consist of the feckless Kaz Matsui, the young and semi-promising Anderson Hernandez and the collapsed Bret Boone. The pitching rotation looks solid, but you wonder about Glavine who turns 40 in March, and Steve Traschel who’s had health issues and isn’t a spring chicken either. Heilman will be moved into the rotation, and he looks solid.
Overall, I think this is a team that could dethrone Atlanta, and has a good shot at contending for a championship, but I’m not quite ready to anoint them the best the NL has to offer yet.
LA Dodgers-Additions-Rafael Furcal, Nomar, Bill Mueller, Danys Baez, Brett Tomko, Jae Seo, Sandy Alomar, (GM Ned Coletti.)
Main Subtractions-Milton Bradley, Duaner Sanchez, (GM Paul DePodesta)
This is a team that looks to be improved, mostly in part of health. This team was ravaged by injuries last year. JD Drew was having a great season (.412/.520/.286) before he injured himself. Welcome to the world of JD Drew, Dodger fans. If Drew, Gagne, Garciaparra, and Perez can stay healthy, the Dodgers should vastly improve. The addition of Rafael Furcal is nice, as is Bill Mueller. Kenny Lofton put up some nice numbers last year, though he come back to earth some this season. Garciaparra is no more No-mah of old, and I sort of wonder if they were better off with Hee Slop Choi. (Though if Rolen collides with Garciaparra instead of Choi, it would be Garciaparra who breaks into a thousand pieces.) The rotation looks decent, and I think Brad Penny will have a career year. Perez has been up and down, and could bounce back this year. Derek Lowe should be helped by Furcal. Tomko and Seo are not great, but not horrible guys to have at the bottom of the rotation. Their bullpen could be their achilles heal, but if Broxton can mature, Baez be effective, and Gagne be healthy, it could be decent.
The Right Reverend prophesies that this team could win their division, though it will be because of the DePo acquisitions mainly (Penny, Kent, Drew), not just because of the Coletti ones (Furcal, Nomar, Lofton) But are they the best in the NL? Its iffy
Giants-Additions-Matt Morris, Tim Worrell, Steve Kline, Mike Sweeney, Steve Finley, Jose Vizcaino
This team was also hurt by injuries, and almost won their division in spite of a poor start. I’ll keep this one short because we all know it, Bonds healthy makes this team much more of a contender. Their pitching seems a little sketchy, but Jason Schmidt should bounce back, Noah Lowry looks like the real deal. And while Matt Morris should help them, we all know if that if Giants fans shouldn’t expect the 2001-2003 version.
I don’t think they are the best in the NL, but with the team healthy they could be a contender.
The Braves-I’ll keep this one quick too, basically the team didn’t change much, other then they replaced Furcal with Renteria. I never want to count the Braves out, but they have no clear cut closer, a very young and inexperienced bullpen, and while the starting rotation looks pretty good, especially with Hudson and Smoltz at the top, what will happen now that pitching guru Leo Mazzone is gone?
I don’t think they are the top NL team, but heck, they’ve made the playoffs for 13 years in a row. And when you are in the playoffs, you pretty much have as good a shot as anybody (unless you are the Padres). The Mets may finally have passed them, but I’m not prophesying any doom or gloom over them yet.
I’ll wrap this up with the Phils. Key additions-Aaron Rowand, Tom Gordon, Ryan Franklin, Honest Abe Nunez.
Key losses-Billy Wagner, Jim Thome, Jason Michaels, Kenny Lofton.
No, the Phils aren’t likely the class of the NL either, but I think they have a better shot then some are giving them credit for. Trading Thome for Rowand was pretty smooth, as it opens the door for Ryan Howard. Trading Jason Michaels for Arthur Rhodes seems not so smooth, but Shane Victorino looks like he could be pretty solid #4 outfielder, possibly much more then that if given the chance. Gordon is a far cry from Wagner. What this team lacks is an ace. Lieber and Myers are pretty decent, but I expect Myers to regress some, given the amount of homeruns (1.3/9) and walks (3.1) he surrenders.
Anyway, long post, but the bottom line is-
Call me a homer, but I still think the Cardinals are the team to beat. This offseason may not have inspired a lot of confidence with the media and even some fans, but when you take a look around the league, the Cardinals still stack up well with anyone in the NL. I’m still amazed that we won 100 games last year, without Rolen for most of the season, and without Reggie Sanders and Larry Walker a good chunk of the season. And it wasn’t just because we were lucky. In the pythagorean win column, last years team was still good for 99 wins, the best in the majors. And over at VEB, lboros is monkeying around with a predictive toy he found on the internet that puts the Cards up as a 90+ win again. And Diamond Mind’s simulation baseball program has the Cardinals at 96 wins, the best in the NL. Who was next? The Mets at 90, the Phils at 89 and the Dodgers at 87. Interesting. Of course baseball doesn’t always fall into complex computer formulas, and for that matter who’s to say we are a lock to win our division? Aslo according to the formulas, the Cubs will win 85. Things could terribly wrong for the Cardinals (an injury to a key player or two, God forbid) and go totally right for the Cubs (pitching staff is healthy, Lee repeats MVP caliber perfomance), and it’s possible we really could be on the outside looking in. But for now, at least by judging some of these numbers, the Cards look to me to be the class of the NL. Not to continue to harp on it, but doom and gloom sayers need to chill a little bit with their “offseason of discontent” nonsense.