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2016 National League Preview — The Rebuilders and Pretenders

This two part series will look at all 15 teams in the National League and determine their potential to make the NL Playoffs in October. 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. In addition to forecasting a number for how many wins the team may achieve, I’m also looking at what each team’s contention window may be, based on existing contracts and potential farm system replacements.

Waving The White Flag Before The First Pitch

I can’t remember a time when six teams were clearly rebuilding at the same time in the National League. It’s hard to see any of these teams even without shouting distance of .500 this year.

philliesPhiladelphia Phillies

The Phillies are going to have an atrocious on-field product this year, but for the first time in a while there is a lot of hope around this franchise. The scourge of analytics, Ruben Amaro, Jr., was dismissed at the end of last season and a young, analytically-inclined GM was brought in to replace him in the form of 35-year old, Matt Klentak. Of the five GM jobs open last fall, this was the one that I thought was the most appealing. The Phillies play in a large market, have a large payroll capacity that is typically a top-5 payroll, have very little in the way of future salary commitments, and a great farm system.

On his way out the door, Amaro brought back a lot of value for Cole Hamels with OF Nick Williams, C Jorge Alfaro, and pitchers Jake Thompson, Jerad Eickhoff, and Alec Asher. The Phillies had to assume the contract of pitcher Matt Harrison, who may never pitch again due to back issues, but the vast majority of that will be picked up by insurance, probably. Then in December, new GM Klentak flipped reliever Ken Giles to the Astros for five prospects, highlighted by pitcher Vincent Velasquez and over-hyped pitcher Mark Appel.

This year is all about seeing what current young talent on the Major League level can be part of the next great Phillies team. With only Ryan Howard’s buyout ($10M) and Matt Harrison’s salary ($12M) on the books for 2017 and just Harrison’s $2M buyout in 2018, there is a clean slate for payroll capacity to start signing young talent to long-term extensions. Pitcher Aaron Nola and 3B Maikel Franco seem like perfect candidates. The 2016 season could also see the arrival of top prospect, SS J.P. Crawford, who is hoped to be the leader of the next Phillies’ playoff team.

The lack of contract commitments is also the reason that I see the Phillies as big players for OF Bryce Harper after the 2018 season. He would be the perfect capstone on what could be a very talented young team.

Contention Window — 2018 to 2022

2016 Prediction — 60-65 wins

bravesAtlanta Braves

The Braves are going to be just as bad as the Phillies, but unlike the Phillies the Braves haven’t ripped it all down to the studs. The Braves are in a holding pattern until they move to their new Cobb County stadium for the 2017 season and start to reap the influx of new monies. Until then, they’re doing all the right things — offloading bad contracts for other bad contracts with a shorter term (Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn’s contracts are up after this year, in exchange for Chris Johnson), acquiring prospects for veterans, and taking flyers on partially subsidized players (LF Hector Olivera from the Dodgers, paying 1/3 of his salary).

In fact, the Diamondbacks should probably block the phone number of Braves’ GM John Coppolella after the fleecing he did on GM Dave Stewart. In exchange for #3-level pitcher Shelby Miller, the Diamondbacks got OF Ender Inciarte (who would have been a fair 1-for-1 swap for Miller), SS Dansby Swanson (the #1 overall pick of the Diamondbacks just 6 months prior), and pitcher Aaron Blair (a top 100 prospect). Aside from that trade, though, I don’t care for the Braves’ farm system as much as other national writers do. I see a lot of talent recovering from injuries and a lot of talent with moderate upsides, not impact players.

The Braves still have 1B Freddie Freeman to build around and show off to the new stadium patrons in 2017, though, and he’s a solid building block. If they keep Ender Inciarte, he would also be a solid complementary player. However, I’m not as sanguine about the Braves’ future chances of success as I was with the Phillies.

Contention Window — maybe starting in 2019

2016 Prediction — 63-68 wins

brewersMilwaukee Brewers

Much like the Phillies, the Brewers hired a very young, analytically-inclined GM in 30-year old David Stearns. Actually, in many ways the Brewers are like Phillies-lite. They have a stud SS prospect in Orlando Arcia, but he’s not quite as good as the Phillies’ Crawford. The Brewers have a good farm system, but not as strong as the Phillies. They have few long-term payroll commitments, but not as much of a clean slate as the Phillies, thanks to Ryan Braun’s semi-onerous contract running through 2020. And they definitely don’t have as high of a payroll ceiling as the Phillies do in the future, either.

But they do have a headstart of the Phillies and some solid, present talent. With C Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Will Smith still realistic trade pieces this year, the Brewers can still continue to stockpile the farm while sifting through the pieces in Milwaukee this year. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Brewers try to sign pitchers Jimmy Nelson and/or Wily Peralta to long-term, team-friendly deals.

There do not appear to be any #1/#2 starters either in Milwaukee presently or in the minors, so that is something the Brewers need to address in upcoming drafts.

Contention Window — maybe starting in 2019

2016 Prediction — 66-71 wins

redsCincinnati Reds

After all that sweet All-Star money had been cashed, the Reds started to sell of assets last July. It continued this winter with the trades of Todd Frazier to the White Sox and Aroldis Chapman to the Yankees, but the returns for both of these players were less than inspiring. The Reds have decided to focus on getting quantity over quality and are getting prospects closer to the Majors, albeit with lower upsides.

The Reds have tried to trade Jay Bruce twice, but both times fell through due to injury concerns from the prospects coming back. Brandon Phillips refused to waive his 10-and-5 rights to go to the Nationals in a trade. Coupled with the high value $20M+/year, long term deals to Homer Bailey and Joey Votto (2019 and 2023, respectively), the Reds appear to be stuck in the middle of rebuilding and contending. That’s a story that rarely has a happy ending.

Perhaps after GM Walt Jocketty steps down at the end of the year things will be different, but it has been presumed that the mandate to contend is from owner Bob Castellini. Votto is still a very productive player and they have some other decent pieces here and there, but the Reds are going to be bad and don’t seem to have a clear path on how to get out.

Contention Window — I don’t see one developing as of now

2016 Prediction — 67-72 wins

rockiesColorado Rockies

Here’s another franchise that can’t come to grips with fully rebuilding, also probably coming from straight the Monfort ownership group. After trading Troy Tulowitzki to the Blue Jays, it sure seemed like the Rockies would continue to tear it down, especially in the very competitive NL West. But this past offseason, they didn’t move the contract of OF Carlos Gonzalez. Instead, they signed OF Gerardo Parra, the kind of player good on a contender as a 4th OF and bad as a full-time starter on a bad team, and traded OF Corey Dickerson to the Rays for closer Jake McGee.

They continued to bolster their bullpen by signing Jason Motte and Chad Qualls to 2-year deals, as well. For all of the work put into the bullpen, the starting rotation continues to be devoid of any front line starters. The Rockies drafted Jon Gray to be that guy, but his stuff has backed up and his control has not been great. They did obtain stud pitching prospect Jeff Hoffman in the Tulowitzki trade, so some hope remains there, I suppose.

Aside from their outstanding 3B Nolan Arenado and Carlos Gonzalez, I don’t see an imposing offense on this team to carry them, either. It looks like another year with a win total in the 70’s.

Contention Window — I don’t see one developing as of now

2016 Prediction — 70-75 wins

padresSan Diego Padres

In an offseason where pitching was going on the free agent market and the trade market for premiums, the San Diego Padres decided to hold onto the outstanding Tyson Ross (two years of control) and Andrew Cashner (one year of control). Yet another team that is stuck in the mire of whether to fully rebuild or contend with what they have on limited payroll capacity. The Padres traded closer Craig Kimbrel to the Red Sox for a very good haul, but then stopped.

Both this season and in 2017, the Padres have nearly $60M of their roughly $100M payroll committed to three players in various stages of decline — OF Matt Kemp, pitcher James Shields, and OF Melvin (ne B.J.) Upton. They have no young impact talent on this roster nor any game-changing talents in their farm system. The Padres seem destined to be mediocre for a very long time. Or at least until the end of this year’s All-Star Game. A ha! There it is. Much like the Reds this past season, the Padres are most likely juicing up the fanbase with “name players” until the ASG is over. I expect to see quite a smoke cloud over Petco Park at the end of July.

Contention Window — I don’t see one developing as of now

2016 Prediction — 71-76 wins

On The Outside Looking In

marlinsMiami Marlins

Last year I bought into the hype of the Marlins and predicted them to get a wild card spot. I loved their outfield, thought that Gordon/Prado would help lengthen the lineup, and thought their pitching behind Jose Fernandez would be just enough.

Between slumps by Ozuna, ineffectiveness from Prado and Mat Latos, coupled with injuries to Stanton and a slow recovery from Fernandez, it was a terrible year for the Marlins. Then I had an epiphany. This franchise, as long as it is owned by walking oil slick Jeffrey Loria, will always be under a black cloud. I’ve vowed to never be on the leading edge of the Marlins again. Thankfully, they haven’t given me much reason to this offseason.

They did sign Wei-Yin Chen to slot in behind Jose Fernandez, but that’s really about it. They’re hoping Ozuna rebounds, after flirting with trading him all offseason, and they’re hoping for a healthy season from both Christian Yelich and Giancarlo Stanton. The health fairy has not been kind to them already, as closer Carter Capps is out for the year recovering from pre-season Tommy John surgery. There won’t be much help coming from the farm in 2016 or beyond, as they have an atrocious farm system that rivals the bottom-of-the-barrel Angels’ system.

Much like the city of Miami, this team looks flashy and cool on the outside, but as you peer behind the facade and dig deeper, you see it’s just a house of lies.

Contention Window — With a real owner willing to spend money, I would say 2017-2020, but realistically I can’t say I see one.

Prediction — 77-82 wins

About Kevin Creagh (142 Articles)
Nerd engineer by day, nerd writer at night. Kevin is the co-founder of The Point of Pittsburgh. He is the author of Creating Christ, a sci-fi novel available on Amazon.

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