NL East Hot Stove Forecast: Phillies won't need much to stay on top
The Phillies' only pressing needs are a matchup-lefty and a viable infield backup
The Braves are looking strong for 2011, except for a gaping hole in center field
Considering how little money they spend, the Marlins' lineup is impressive
This week, SI.com will analyze the offseason plans for the teams in each of MLB's six divisions. Teams are listed by 2010 order of finish.
2010 Results: 97-65, won NL East, lost NLCS to Giants
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 772/640
Pythagorean Record: 95-67
Free Agents: RF Jayson Werth, 1B Mike Sweeney, 3B Greg Dobbs, SP Jamie Moyer, RP Jose Contreras, RP J.C. Romero (option declined), RP Chad Durbin
Prospects on the Verge: RF Domonic Brown, RP Scott Mathieson, SP Vance Worley, SP Drew Carpenter, RP Mike Zagurski
Building For: A return to the World Series
Strengths: H2O, left-handed bats
Biggest Holes: utility infielder, lefty reliever
Targets: RP Pedro Feliciano, RP Will Ohman
That the Phillies' top prospect just happens to play the same position as their top outgoing free agent, and that the prospect, Domonic Brown, is just breaking into the majors as the free agent, Jayson Werth, is set to depart is a remarkably fortuitous bit of timing, particularly given the fact that, even without Werth, the Phillies' financial commitments for 2011 are already larger than their 2010 Opening Day payroll. You'll hear a lot about how the Phillies desperately need to resign the right-handed Werth to maintain balance in their otherwise lefty-heavy lineup, but even with the left-handed Brown replacing him in rightfield, there will be just four exclusively left-handed hitters in the Phillies' everyday lineup, and switch-hitters Jimmy Rollins (whose 2011 option was just picked up) and Shane Victorino are stronger batting right-handed than left. Yes, those four lefties are likely to eventually line up in the middle of the order, but Chase Utley hits lefties as well as righties, Brown hit .311/.367/.400 against lefties in Triple-A in 2010, and even Ryan Howard made large strides against southpaws this past season, slugging .492 against them. Meanwhile, outfielders Ben Francisco and John Mayberry Jr. can spell Brown and Raul Ibaņez with right-handed power off the bench when needed.
On the mound, righty Scott Mathieson, after losing roughly two and a half seasons to a pair of Tommy John surgeries, dominated out of the Triple-A bullpen last year and should be a strong replacement for Contreras in setting up Ryan Madson and closer Brad Lidge. Vance Worley and Drew Carpenter give the Phillies alternatives to Kyle Kendrick in the fifth rotation slot. That leaves LOOGY J.C. Romero as the only out-going hurler who really needs to be replaced. Thus the Phillies' only pressing needs this offseason are a matchup-lefty and a viable backup to the aging and increasingly fragile Rollins and Placido Polanco in the infield, though that last could be a challenge given the dearth of available options and the difficulty involved in convincing the Juan Uribes of the world to sign without a guarantee of playing time.
2010 Results: 91-71, won wild card, lost NLDS
Runs Scored/Runs Allowed: 738/629
Pythagorean Record: 93-69
Free Agents: 1B Derrek Lee, 1B Troy Glaus, CF Rick Ankiel (option declined), OF Eric Hinske, OF Melky Cabrera (released), RP Kyle Farnsworth (option declined)
Prospects on the Verge: 1B Freddie Freeman, SP Mike Minor
Building For: perennial contention
Strengths: pitching and infield depth
Biggest Holes: center field
Targets: a trade for a center fielder
In addition to the free agents listed above, the Braves will also be without retired closer Billy Wagner in 2011. Still, the Braves should be able to fill most of their holes in-house. Hard throwing rookie Craig Kimbrel took over for the injured Wagner in the Division Series and should retain the closer job. Blue-chip first-base prospect Freddie Freeman is ready to take over that position. Nate McLouth and Matt Diaz should be a viable platoon in left, though there's certainly room for improvement there. Most importantly, the injured Braves are coming back: Martin Prado at second, Chipper Jones at third, Jair Jurrjens to the rotation. Mix in the possibilities of a fully healthy sophomore Jason Heyward and, less compellingly, a full season of Mike Minor in the fifth spot in the rotation, and the Braves are looking strong heading in to 2011.
Or would be if they could find a viable major league center fielder. Prospect Jordan Schafer, who opened the 2009 season in center for Atlanta, was supposed to own that position by now, but he suffered a left wrist injury just days into the 2009 season and, despite having surgery on the wrist in September, continued to be hampered by the wrist in 2010. That means that the Braves need outside help. Trades for McLouth, Melky Cabrera and Rick Ankiel were all busts, at least as far as filling the position goes, and reflected poorly on the organization's scouting department, but there's really no viable starting center fielder on the free-agent market this winter, so another trade is likely in the cards for the Braves.
That's why they should be rooting hard for the Yankees to sign Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford. Brett Gardner is a South Carolina native, one of the best defensive outfielders and base stealers in the majors and an on-base machine at the plate. He's also a year away from arbitration and already displaced into left field by Curtis Granderson. If the Yankees sign Werth or Crawford, Gardner becomes the best fourth outfielder in baseball, and the Yankees, who could use some infield depth behind the aging Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, would likely be interested in the best utility infielder in baseball, 2010 All-Star Omar Infante. The only problem is that the Yankees seem more focused on pitching, specifically Cliff Lee, than those two big-money outfielders.
Other trade options are either even less likely (the Cardinals' Colby Rasmus and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp aren't going anywhere, nor are the Mets' Carlos Beltran or the Indians' Grady Sizemore if they bounce back from their 2010 seasons lost to injury) or less desirable (the Rays' B.J. Upton hasn't really hit since 2007, Boston's Mike Cameron is old and spent more time on the DL than in the lineup in 2010, and the defense and bat of the Red Sox' Jacoby Ellsbury are both suspect). The Giants would love to unload Aaron Rowand's contract (he's still owed $12 million annually for the next two years), but that's partially because he has hit just .257/.318/.405 in his three years on the Bay. Vernon Wells of the Blue Jays is another player on an albatross contract, but he's a sub-par defender in center and owed an unbelievable $63 million over the next three years. Most of the lower-profile players who might be available are either duds at the plate, overextended defensively in center, or both.
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