New Year's resolutions for National League teams
New Year's resolutions for NL teams (cont.)
With 2012 drawing to a close and 2013 about to begin, it's time for the 30 major league teams to make their New Year's resolutions. We started yesterday with the 15 American League teams. Today we finish up with the 15 NL clubs.
The Washington Nationals resolve to let Stephen Strasburg finish the season.
For all the teeth-gnashing, garment-rending and general pouting in response to general manager Mike Rizzo's decision to shut down Strasburg before the end of the regular season, the lack of Strasburg wasn't why the Nationals, who were one strike away from moving on to the National League Championship Series, were eliminated from the playoffs.
The cost, therefore, was minimal, and the benefit could arrive as soon as the coming season as Strasburg will be allowed to pitch without a limit for the first time in his professional career. That will mean not only a longer season, but longer starts (he averaged a hair more than 5 2/3 innings per start in 2012, in part due to the Nationals' concern regarding his workload). Add Bryce Harper's age-20 season, Dan Haren, Denard Span and better health, and Washington, which had the best record in baseball in 2012, could be right back on top in 2013.
The Atlanta Braves resolve to sort out their young starting pitchers.
The Braves were supposed to have a new rotation filled with young, homegrown arms by now, but, as with all things related to pitching prospects, things haven't exactly gone according to plan. Tommy Hanson, deemed too large of an injury risk, is now an Angel. Jair Jurrjens was non-tendered in December. Arodys Vizcaino was first moved to the bullpen, then to the Cubs, with whom he is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Julio Teheran posted a 5.08 ERA in a repeat of Triple-A in 2012. Brandon Beachy will miss the first half of 2013 following his own Tommy John surgery. Randall Delgado looks like a back-end starter at best. Mike Minor posted a 2.12 ERA in his final 15 starts of 2012 but did so with the help of considerable luck on balls in play and had a 6.20 ERA in his first 15 starts with a more typical BABIP. Kris Medlen was a sensation down the stretch in 2012, posting a 0.97 ERA while the Braves went 12-0 in his starts before finally losing in the wild card game against the Cardinals, but that's clearly an unrepeatable performance and Medlen is already 27, older than every other pitcher listed above.
Among the staff's veterans, Tim Hudson will be 38 in July and is entering the final year of his contract. Paul Maholm is also in his walk year and is, well, Paul Maholm. The Braves are still loaded with pitching talent, but they need that talent to translate to projectable performance this year to avoid losing their grip on contention in 2013 and beyond.
The Philadelphia Phillies resolve to remain relevant.
The Phillies had a pretty awful 2012. It started with injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Roy Halladay, was epitomized by Cliff Lee having to wait until July to notch his first win and was confirmed by the deadline deals that sent Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino out West. Nonetheless, Philadelphia made a late run at the wild card and finished with a .500 record.
Heading into 2013, Howard, Utley and Halladay appear healthy, the Phils still have Halladay, Lee and Cole Hamels atop their rotation and they have a speedy new ballhawk in centerfield in Ben Revere. The latter's range should help compensate for Domonic Brown's defensive deficiencies as the Phillies finally seem prepared to give Brown a proper chance to stick in the major leagues.
Still, Revere's next major league home run will be his first, Carlos Ruiz will miss the first 25 games of the season after testing positive for amphetamines and the core of the club is aging. Halladay will turn 36 in May, Lee is 34, Ruiz will be 34 this month, their youngest infielder is the 33-year-old Howard, Utley's knees are made of chalk and the fork sticking out of new third baseman Michael Young's back is going to cause problems with airport security. The Phillies missed the postseason in 2012 for the first time since 2006 and they may have a hard time getting back there this season.
The New York Mets resolve to downplay the Mike Piazza comparisons.
For Mets fans, losing R.A. Dickey, the NL Cy Young award winner and perhaps the easiest player in all of baseball to root for, has to sting, but the team did a fantastic job turning a 2010 non-roster invitee into two top prospects in catcher Travis d'Arnaud and righthander Noah Syndergaard. The Mets will have all six team-controlled years of both players, and d'Arnaud, the top catching prospect in baseball, is ready to start in the major leagues this season.
The lazy thing to do to get Mets fans to shift their focus from the ace they lost to the young stud they gained would be to compare d'Arnaud, who hit .320/.375/.563 between Double- and Triple-A over the last two seasons, to Piazza, who hit .296/.373/.542 in his eight years with the Mets. That would be a mistake, not only because d'Arnaud, as good as he could be, won't be the equal of the best-hitting catcher of all time, but because the Mets' fanbase is one that seizes upon unreasonable expectations and turns stars into scapegoats (see Beltran, Carlos and Wright, David). Let the fans gripe about Dickey, and let d'Arnaud become a star on his own terms.
The Miami Marlins resolve to . . . oh, like it matters.
Whatever their resolution is, the only guarantee their fans have is that it will be broken it by the trading deadline.
The Cincinnati Reds resolve to let Aroldis Chapman start.
Chapman, who started for the Cuban National team, appeared to earn a rotation job out of Reds camp last year, but when intended closer Ryan Madson tore his ulnar collateral ligament, the team panicked and moved Chapman back into the bullpen. In 2013, with Jonathan Broxton on board to close, Cincinnati intends to give Chapman another shot at the rotation, and this time should stick with it. Imagine a Reds rotation of Johnny Cueto (2.58 ERA over the last two seasons), Mat Latos (13-2 with a 3.09 ERA after a rough April this past season), Homer Bailey (3.12 ERA over his final 18 starts in 2012) and Chapman with Bronson Arroyo eating up innings as the fifth starter.
Cincinnati also boasts a lineup that has jettisoned Scott Rolen in favor of more Todd Frazier, should have a fully-healthy Joey Votto and has added Shin-Soo Choo. That's a recipe that could have the Reds reaching the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since their World Series victories in 1975 and '76.
The St. Louis Cardinals resolve to keep both of their aces healthy for a full season.
That's largely beyond their control, of course, but in the last two years, the Cardinals have won the World Series and had a 3-games-to-1 lead in the National League Championship Series despite Adam Wainwright missing all of 2011 due to Tommy John surgery and Chris Carpenter being limited to three regular season starts totaling 17 innings in 2012 due to Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. So what can the team accomplish in 2013 with both pitchers healthy for 30-plus starts? St. Louis would love to find out.
The Milwaukee Brewers resolve to pick up where they left off.
After being shut out by Kyle Kendrick and the Phillies on Aug. 19, the Brewers were 54-66 (.450), 19 games out in fourth place in the NL Central. Over the remainder of the 2012 season they went 19-13 (.594), moving past the Pirates into third place and missing a wild card berth by just five games. The Brewers outscored their opponents in every month except April this past season and, though they've lost Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum from their rotation, they have some live young arms to replace them in Wily Peralta, Mark Rogers and Tyler Thornburg. Trading Greinke netted them the Angels' top prospect in Jean Segura, who solidified shortstop for Milwaukee during that late-season run.
The Pittsburgh Pirates resolve to avoid another late-season collapse.
The similarities are alarming. In 2011, the Pirates were tied for first place on July 25 with a 53-47 record. The next day, they lost a 19-inning game and from that day forward they went 19-43 to finish 24 games out in fourth place. In 2012, the Pirates were tied for first place on July 18 and were just two games out with 58-42 record on July 28. They then went 21-41 over the remainder of the season, playing another 19 inning contest along the way, to finish 18 games out in fourth place. The Pirates would love a repeat of the April to July part, but this time without the August and September nosedive.
The Chicago Cubs resolve to avoid last place.
The Astros' defection to the American League West would seem to make the Cubs, who finished fifth in each of the last three seasons, the de facto last-place team in the NL Central in 2013. Chicago would prefer not to be so easily pigeonholed.
There are some reasons for optimism. There's promise in the front of the team's rotation, with Matt Garza, Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson, and depth behind those three via the additions of Scott Feldman and Carlos Villanueva, incumbent Travis Wood, and post-Tommy John cases Scott Baker and Arodys Vizcaino. Japanese closer Kyuji Fujikawa pushes everyone else in the bullpen up an inning, and there's potential in the lineup with a full-season of Anthony Rizzo in the three-spot, the continued maturation of Starlin Castro and up-side plays in rookies Brett Jackson and Josh Vitters, sophomore catcher Welington Castillo and veteran slugger Alfonso Soriano, who had a solid 2012 campaign.
The Cubs aren't going to contend, but if another team in their division falters, the Pirates and Brewers being the most likely candidates, Chicago could surprise everybody and slip into fourth place.
The San Francisco Giants resolve to prepare their fans for a future without Tim Lincecum.
Lincecum will be a free agent next fall coming off a season in which he'll be paid $22 million. Following a 2012 campaign in which he was dead last among qualified pitchers in ERA+ (67), what would he have to do in 2013 to get the Giants to give him a contract commensurate with his reputation and place in the team's recent history? Even with Barry Zito coming off the books (via a $7 million buyout), a new contract for Lincecum is no sure thing, and very likely a bad investment. He'll turn 30 in June of the first year of his new deal, and the sum total of his last three seasons (due largely to his awful 2012) has been league-average work: a 98 ERA+, a 39-39 record, and an inflated walk rate (3.7 BB/9IP).
He was instrumental in the Giants winning two championships, ending 52 years of frustration in the Bay Area. As great as he was in a classic multi-inning relief-ace role in the 2012 postseason, allowing just one run in 13 relief innings and stranding all five inherited runners, when given a chance to start a game in the National League Championship Series, he reverted to his regular season form (4 2/3 innings, four runs and the loss).
The Los Angeles Dodgers resolve to give a long-term contract to Clayton Kershaw . . . and Robinson Cano.
Kershaw, the 2011 NL Cy Young award winner and 2012 runner-up, is currently on track to be arbitration eligible for the final time in January 2014 after his current two-year deal expires and to be a free agent after the 2014 season. Given how great Kershaw has been to this point in his career (2.60 ERA in his four full seasons at ages 21 to 24 with 874 strikeouts in 836 1/3 innings) and how freely the Dodgers have been spending, they have almost no bargaining leverage against their ace, but given their seemingly unlimited budget, that shouldn't matter. Keeping Kershaw in Dodger blue at least through the end of his 20s should be a top priority for the team in the coming year.
While they're at it, they might as well throw a heap of money at Cano, who will be the top free agent on the market next offseason, reportedly won't give the suddenly cost-conscious Yankees a discount and will fill a hole in the Dodgers lineup while representing a huge upgrade on fellow free agent Mark Ellis.
The Arizona Diamondbacks resolve to prove that trading Trevor Bauer for Didi Gregorius wasn't a mistake.
This could be a hard resolution to keep. That move was a headscratcher at the time, but the other seven players in the three-team trade between the Diamondbacks, Reds and Indians distracted from just how odd it was from Arizona's perspective. Now, just three weeks later, it seems like a clear mistake.
Yes, pitching prospects are volatile assets and that the Diamondbacks had rotation depth, a hole at shortstop and had soured on Bauer, but Gregorius still seems like an insufficient return. Gregorius is the sort of slick-fielding shortstop prospect one hopes will be able to hit enough to start in the major leagues, which is to say, his upside seems to represent the bare minimum value required for this trade not to be a bust for Arizona. The deal won't necessarily look any better if Bauer flames out in Cleveland as his value as a trade chip will still have been squandered on a player that, at the moment, appears easily replaceable.
The San Diego Padres resolve to earn the optimism.
The sabermetric community is getting bully on the Padres, painting them as an up-and-coming young team in the NL West that is much closer to contention than the mainstream media or even their fans realize. As of now, that optimism may be unwarranted. Jedd Gyorko's rookie season should be exciting to watch, but Yasmani Grandal must serve a 50-game suspension for testing positive for illegal testosterone, and neither Yonder Alonso or Cameron Maybin are likely to have break-out age-26 seasons. Carlos Quentin has to prove he can stay healthy and it's uncertain whether Chase Headley can repeat his career year.
What's more, the emergence of a quality rotation built around young arms Cory Luebke, Joe Wieland, Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin has been delayed by the Tommy John surgeries of the first two, while the last has yet to pitch above Double-A. Maybe there's something happening here, but I need to see more before I'm ready to jump on the bandwagon.
The Colorado Rockies resolve to continue to try to overcome a lack of pitching talent with overthinking.
This past June, the Rockies tried a radical plan to implement a four-man rotation while limiting their starters to 75 pitches per start and following each with a pre-assigned relief pitcher. The experiment didn't quite last until the end of the season, but that doesn't mean we've seen the end of general manager Dan O'Dowd's Project 5183. Colorado has upgraded the position of bullpen coach to "assistant pitching coach" and created a new "director of pitching operations" position in the front office, filled by former Rockies pitching coach Mark Wiley, a good indication that the franchise intends to continue to take a think-tank approach to its pitching staff.
I'm all for innovative thinking, four-man rotations and multi-inning relievers (though not so much the low pitch counts), and the Rockies' roster isn't completely lacking in pitching talent, but whether or not the team revives O'Dowd's seven-pitcher rotation (four starters followed by three "piggyback" relievers, also working in rotation), their ideas will only be as good as the pitchers they have to implement them.