This two part series will look at all 15 teams in the National League and determine their seaworthiness and potential to make the NL Playoffs in October. Farm system rankings based on published Top 10 Prospects from Baseball America for the 2015 season. Today will look at the also-rans and teams that may be on the outside looking in at the end. Tomorrow will look at the playoff contenders.
Abandon Hope Ye Who Enter Here
It’s hard for this author to see any of these teams being even close to the playoff race come June 1st. Some of them may be setting up the “For Sale” sign on their players around that time, in order to maximize returns.
The Phillies have finally come to grips with what the rest of the baseball world knew three years ago — they’re old and need to rebuild. Fueled by the twin disasters of an incompetent, analytically-disinterested GM in Ruben Amaro, Jr. and an overwhelming sense of loyalty to the vets that delivered back-to-back World Series appearances in 2008-2009, the Phillies have become a bloated payroll with little farm system assistance.
This offseason, though, they have moved out the moderately useful Marlon Byrd to the Reds and longtime Phillie Jimmy Rollins to the Dodgers. None of the players they got back are of impact quality, but they could be contributors one day. The rebuild won’t be fully complete until Ryan Howard’s massive albatross contract is off the books in 2017 (still has a $10M [!] buyout that year). By that time, Cliff Lee will be gone, the insufferable Jonathan Papelbon will be departed, and Cole Hamels will probably be traded. Hopefully by 2017, the Phillies will be rid of Amaro and have a farm system well-stocked with high draft picks to create the next winning Phillies team, especially one that has the financial muscle to augment via free agency.
Until then…it’s going to be bleak.
Kevin’s rank of the Phillies’ farm system — 22nd out of 30
Prediction — 65-70 wins
The Braves have done everything but hang a sign on Turner Stadium that says “See you in Cobb County in 2017” this offseason. On August 31st last year, the Braves were 72-65 and in the mix for a wild card spot. In September, they went 7-18 in a spectacular crash to finish the season. After GM Frank Wren was fired, it was decided by new GM John Hart that it was time to retool.
Both Justin Upton and Jason Heyward only had the 2015 season under team control, so Upton was sent to San Diego and Heyward to St. Louis. Evan Gattis was shipped over to Houston. Relievers Chasen Shreve and David Carpenter were traded to the Yankees. The summation and quality of prospects were greater than those received by the Phillies, but the Braves had more upside to trade. In particular, the Gattis-to-Houston deal was my favorite, as the return included RHP Mike Foltynewicz, who will either be a competent mid-rotation starter or dominating reliever. Shelby Miller came back in the Heyward deal, but his inconsistent performances in 2013-14 have me wondering if he’s a broken toy.
The two contracts that the Braves probably wanted to move the most, B.J. Upton and Chris Johnson, were unable to be traded. Both Upton ($48M remaining) and Johnson ($22M remaining) are on the books through the 2017 season.
The Braves, unlike the Phillies, have the makings of a good team. They still have a solid pitching staff, led by Julio Teheran, and a deep bullpen highlighted by the brilliant Craig Kimbrel. They still have defensive wizard SS Andrelton Simmons and slugging 1B Freddie Freeman. The problem is that the rest of their offensive lineup is going to be pretty anemic.
Kevin’s rank of the Braves’ farm system — 18th out of 30
Prediction — 68-73 wins
The Diamondbacks are simultaneously trying to shed payroll and sign free agents, which has resulted in a somewhat confusing offseason. On the one hand, they salary dumped C Miguel Montero on the Cubs and traded LHP Wade Miley to the Red Sox, but on the other hand they signed two Cubans to big money deals. The first was OF Yasmany Tomas (who they insist will be tried at 3B) to a 6 yr/$68.5M deal and the second was a record-setting $8.25M bonus to 21-year old RHP Yoan Lopez. The Diamondbacks still have some bad deals, but most expire after 2015 –Arroyo is out most of the year with Tommy John recovery for $9.5M, Cody Ross is awful at $9.5M, Trevor Cahill forgot how to pitch at $12.2M. Only Aaron Hill and his $12M in 2015 and 2016 will burden the payroll past this year.
The main problem with the Diamondbacks is that they have no pitcher for 2015 that projects as a top-of-the-rotation starter. Pat Corbin will be working his way back from Tommy John and he’s the closest thing they have. The rest of the projected rotation are middle/back-of-rotation guys, at best. There is hope in the minors, though, as the Diamondbacks have three pitchers that all project to be #2-caliber pitchers in RHP Archie Bradley, RHP Aaron Blair, and RHP Braden Shipley. Each of them is more realistically ready for 2016, though.
It’s a shame that the Diamondbacks will essentially be burning off one of 1B Paul Goldschmidt’s prime seasons this year. However, once they shed some bad contracts and see how close the pitching is in the minors, there is a chance that the Diamondbacks could come back strong in 2016 with a good farm system and a lot of payroll capacity to add new players.
Kevin’s rank of the Diamondbacks’ farm system — 10th out of 30
Prediction — 72-77 wins
The setup for the 2015 Rockies is the same mantra it has always been for this franchise — there’s no pitching. This rotation is completely devoid of #1 or #2-level starter. Just as frustrating is that this team could be spunky enough to hang around if their top two stars weren’t made of glass. The best way to know when school lets out for kids is to see when either Troy Tulowitzki or Carlos Gonzalez gets injured. The end of school is just right around the corner.
It’s especially maddening with Tulowitzki because he’s a perennial MVP candidate — when healthy. His constant injuries also dampen his trade value to other teams; the Mets desperately need a SS and he would be a great fit, one they would be willing to trade premium prospects for — when healthy. Quite simply, the Rockies have too much payroll tied up in Tulo/Gonzalez. This year, $36M of their projected $95M payroll is invested in these two injury-prone players. The Rockies have Gonzalez on the books through 2017 and Tulowitzki through 2020 on one of those mega-extensions that never work out for the team. They have to diversify their portfolio.
The good news is that the Rockies have a really good farm system. They even have two pitchers in Jon Gray and Eddie Butler that project to be the elusive #1/#2 this team needs to front their rotation. Whether they can succeed in the high-altitude environment of Coors Field is a question that has dogged this franchise since its inception in 1993.
Kevin’s rank of the Rockies’ farm system — 7th out of 30
Prediction — 73-78 wins
The Reds found themselves at a crossroads this offseason. Four-fifths of their starting rotation were set to become free agents after the 2015 season. They had an injury-plagued year, with 1B Joey Votto and OF Jay Bruce having down years. Even worse, they didn’t have a lot of payroll capacity to make sweeping changes.
After seeing what kind of teams the Cardinals and Pirates have, coupled with the rise of the Cubs, the Reds realistically should have engaged in a full rebuild. Instead, they’re doing a half-rebuild/half-contend that fully never works. They traded RHP Mat Latos to the Marlins and RHP Alfredo Simon to the Tigers and got some middling returns. To address their LF issue, they traded for Marlon Byrd. I suppose they’re hoping that with improved health and luck they can still make a run for the wild card, but this team sure looks weak on paper.
Trading RHP Johnny Cueto and reliever/Pirate-irritant Aroldis Chapman could have gone a long way to remaking the next competitive Reds team. As it were, the Reds will probably be out of it by June and then look to sell off assets. They may wait, for PR purposes, until the All-Star game in Cincy has passed.
Kevin’s rank of the Reds’ farm system — 20th out of 30
Prediction — 73-78 wins
Fools’ Gold Awaits Ye
These teams have pre-season designs on contending for a playoff spot, but to me will ultimately be found outside the discussion by the trade deadline. Both of them have had too quiet of offseasons and plenty of question marks remaining.
The Brewers could easily be in the previous category of teams that have little hope of reaching the playoffs, as they are pretty similar to the Reds, but the Brewers still have a potentially more explosive offense than the Reds, which may give their decision makers some false hope.
Whether it’s being off of PED’s or his nagging thumb injury, Ryan Braun’s production has been severely curtailed the past two seasons. The good news is that he’s only on the books until 2020 for $20M/year starting in 2016, Milwaukee fans! If Braun can rebound to a semblance of himself, a Lucroy-Braun-Gomez heart of the order is pretty strong. If Aramis Ramirez can creak his way to a healthy season and Jean Segura can rebound from 2014’s personal tragedy, there’s a real dangerous team here.
Downside is that their pitching staff doesn’t really scare anyone. They recently traded Gallardo, but that was a head-scratcher to pick his option up anyway. Garza-Lohse-Peralta simply is not a playoff-caliber top three of a rotation.
Kevin’s rank of the Brewers’ farm system — 24th out of 30
Prediction — 74-79 wins
New York Mets
The Mets started the offseason early by inking Michael Cuddyer to a 2 yr/$21M deal (forfeiting their 1st round pick in the process) and then…nothing. In an offseason where they should be poised to make the leap to a playoff contender, due to all their young pitching and the return of ace Matt Harvey, the Mets made a move for an aging slugger and stopped. They’re trying to trade a veteran pitcher from the Colon/Gee/Neise trio, but it’s hard to see the return being a meaningful piece for the 2015 Mets.
The Mets are set in the rotation with Harvey-Jacob deGrom as the top two, with whoever remains from Colon/Gee/Neise filling out the back end. With young guns Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero biding their time in Triple A, starting pitching is not the issue for the Mets, even with the loss of Zack Wheeler to Tommy John surgery. Rather, it’s their aging offense that doesn’t have much power that’s the problem. David Wright is in decline and Curtis Granderson is really here just for the homers at this point. The only plus defender they have is Juan Lagares in center field.
The Mets should have made at least two moves more to re-work their offense, but instead they’re going to take their shot with what’s on hand. They’ll come close, but ultimately they’ll be on the outside looking in when October rolls around.
Kevin’s rank of the Mets’ farm system — 6th out of 30
Prediction — 79-84 wins