NL East Hot Stove preview (cont.)
It'd be a shock to see them land Hamilton, but Upton and their former prospect, Bourn, are in play. They've surprised by reaching deep into their coffers before (see the free agent contract for Cliff Lee or the extension for Cole Hamels). Pursuing Pagan or taking a chance on Melky Cabrera might work, as would trading for someone to fill that hole -- Jacoby Ellsbury, Dexter Fowler and Denard Span are all players who could be available at various prices.
At third base Philadelphia recanted on an early whim to try Chase Utley at the position. Kevin Frandsden had an .834 OPS in 55 games last season, but he'll be 31 in the spring and his track record doesn't suggest he'll be able to sustain that production, making him best suited to be a backup infielder. Jeff Keppinger or Eric Chavez could be reasonably priced options to pair with Frandsden.
Bottom line: Ravaged by injuries in the first half of last season, the Phillies sputtered early and never fully recovered despite a late run at the periphery of wild card contention. With better health -- and the addition of an impact offensive player (or two) -- Philadelphia should have the pitching to remain in next year's hunt.
2012 Results: 74-88, fourth in the NL East
Third-Order Record: 80-82
Pending Free Agents: OF Scott Hairston, RHP Jon Rauch, RHP Ramon Ramirez, RHP D.J. Carrasco, IF Ronny Cedeņo, RHP Chris Young, LHP Tim Byrdak, C Kelly Shoppach
Hairston acquitted himself well against lefthanded pitching, and Rauch and Byrdak were generally effective relievers. But Byrdak will miss most of the year after shoulder surgery while Hairston and Rauch fit the mold of role players who'll help fill gaps on contenders, which the 2013 Mets will not be. Young, if affordable, would be good for rotation depth.
Top Prospect on the Verge: RHP Zack Wheeler
Matt Harvey's brilliant first 10 starts (2.73 ERA in 59 1/3 innings) means he won't be eligible for 2013 Rookie of the Year consideration, but the timing of Wheeler's promotion could give him a chance at the award. Wheeler, a former first-round pick who was No. 10 in Baseball America's midseason prospect rankings, made a half-dozen starts in Triple-A last season and should reach the majors by midseason. He has a 3.49 ERA and 9.7 K/9 in three minor league seasons.
Targets: Relief pitching, outfield, rotation depth
The Mets had the majors' second-worst bullpen ERA (4.63) last season, so look for them to target stability for the late innings. They probably won't sign an expensive closer, as that's a luxury this club won't need for a year or two.
Meanwhile, New York ranked 28th in the majors in offensive production from its outfielders with just a .696 OPS. Mike Baxter and Lucas Duda are creeping later and later into their 20s -- Baxter will be 28 next year and Duda will be 27 -- making one wonder if they still have room to grow or will persist as complementary players. Jason Bay is under contract for one more (expensive) season. The Mets could use an impact player or two to join the mix, but it's unclear whom they'll pursue. A low-risk deal for Melky Cabrera might make sense.
Given the uncertainty surrounding Johan Santana (only 21 starts last season), Dillon Gee (surgery to remove a blood clot) and Matt Harvey (rookie who made only 10 big league starts), the Mets would be wise to add a starter or two, whether it's Young or someone comparable.
Bottom line: The Mets' dalliance among the division's leaders ended in a wretched month of July from which they never recovered. They have two blue-chip pitching prospects in Harvey and Wheeler, but the cupboard is mostly barren when it comes to position players, meaning the club should at least listen to trade offers for corner infielders David Wright or Ike Davis, as moving one or both could quickly re-stock the system with a bevy of prospects. Given Wright's stature as the face of the franchise and Davis' relative youth (he'll be 26 next year), however, the Mets should tread carefully and only make such a move if the deal is an obvious organization-changing long-term win.
2012 Results: 69-93, fifth in the NL East
Third-Order Record: 72-90
Pending Free Agents: 1B/OF Carlos Lee, RHP Carlos Zambrano, RHP Juan Carlos Oviedo RHP Chad Gaudin, OF Austin Kearns
Lee arrived when the Marlins still thought they had a chance to compete last summer, and he proved to be a dud, hitting just four homers with a .654 OPS in 81 games. Miami could move Logan Morrison, a first baseman converted to leftfield, back to first or find a better match in the free agent market. Zambrano wasn't much better as a reliever (4.15 ERA) than as a starter (4.54 ERA) and should only return if he'll do so for a fraction of the $18 million he earned a year ago. Gaudin and Kearns provide decent depth and could return.
Top Prospect on the Verge: 3B Zack Cox
Cox's first full professional season, split between High Class A and Double-A in the Cardinals' organization, was a successful one, with a .306/.363/.434 slash line, but his average and on-base skills took a tumble against Triple-A pitching, posting a .254/.294/.421 line in 84 games before his midseason trade to the Marlins, who placed him at Double-A. In 24 games he had a .253/.321/.368 line that doesn't suggest he's ready for the big leagues just yet, though Miami has enough of a hole a third that he'll get a look in spring training.
Don't assume that Miami's system is depleted because it doesn't have an elite on-the-verge prospect. The Marlins' two most highly touted young players -- righthander Jose Fernandez and centerfielder Christian Yelich -- haven't advanced past High A ball, and righthander Jacob Turner has already thrown 67 2/3 big league innings, rendering him ineligible for this consideration. The club's trade deadline moves gave the organization a big boost.
Targets: Third base, set-up relievers, outfielder(s) and maybe second base
Trading Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante and Gaby Sanchez opened up several holes in the Marlins' lineup. Among the returning players are Morrison, who could play either first base or leftfield, and Emilio Bonifacio, who could play either second base or centerfield, giving Miami some flexibility in the way it targets whom to add this winter. Also, if the club believes Donovan Solano (.342 OBP in 316 plate appearances) can be an everyday option at second base, then surely Bonifacio remains in the outfield.
The Marlins had the majors' worst production from their lefthanded hitters last season with just a .648 OPS and their 30 home runs were tied for second-fewest, meaning some balance would be helpful. Given that the club as a whole had a .308 OBP -- 13th in the NL -- someone like LaRoche or Swisher would be a great fit but both may be too pricey for Miami this offseason. If Lance Berkman is interested and in shape, he'd be an intriguing fit. Also, Carlos Peņa could be worth an incentive-laden contract.
Similarly, trading Heath Bell opened the door for 2012 revelation Steve Cishek to remain the club's closer, but the rest of the bullpen still needs significant work.
Bottom line: In their first year in their new ballpark the Marlins stole headlines with their big name free agent haul of Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle and Bell. Reyes and Buehrle had good seasons -- Bell did not -- but it wasn't nearly enough to put Miami in the playoff race, leading to several mid-summer trades. This winter expect the Marlins to be active in the free agent market but with more of an eye on low- and mid-level acquisitions. This franchise needs work, but management likely won't splurge on big names in the same fashion again.
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