Strasburg will return in 2013, will the Nationals repeat as NL East champions
Editor’s Note: Baseball News Source provided a division-by-division series that address what teams might do this off-season in the American League. We start in the National League with the NL East.
Would the Washington Nationals have won the World Series if the team decided not to shut down ace Stephen Strasburg in September? It’s a debate that will never produce a definitive answer. One point is certain. Barring an injury, Strasburg will return in 2013, but will the Nationals repeat as NL East champions?
Regardless of their starting rotation’s depth and talent, Washington will not have an easy task defending their division crown.
Atlanta appears poised to contend for a playoff spot again with its impressive rotation. The New York Mets remain a mystery (will they contend or finish several games below .500?). As for the Miami Marlins, it appears that owner Jeffrey Loria is undergoing a rebuilding project one off-season after emptying a Brink’s truck.
A 98-64 regular season record and the club’s first NL East title since moving from Montreal to Washington D.C. became irrelevant when the Nationals opted to cap the 24-year-old Strasburg at 159.1 innings. The right-hander was 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP, a .230 opponent’s batting average and 197 strikeouts over 28 starts.
Without Strasburg in the post-season rotation, Washington fell to St. Louis in the NLDS, though the Cardinals needed yet another miraculous rally to erase a two-run ninth inning deficit in the deciding Game Five.
In 2013, the Nationals will have Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, and Ross Detwiler in the rotation. Edwin Jackson is a free agent, and it is uncertain if the team will try to bring him back. John Lannan, who was paid $5 million in 2012, will likely be non-tendered. According to MLB.com, Washington could be major players for free agent right-hander Zack Greinke.
Everyone in the lineup is slated to return except for first baseman Adam LaRoche, who hit .271 with a .877 OPS, 33 home runs and 100 RBI. The Nationals are expected to exercise LaRoche’s $10 million mutual option but LaRoche is expected to decline it and pursue a multi-year deal. The Nationals are reportedly interested in re-signing the left-handed hitter, who will be 34 in November.
Unlike in September 2011, the Braves held onto their wild card spot, this time because of solid starting pitching. When spring training arrives next year, the club will have a different look without future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones, who retired after Atlanta’s wild card game loss to St. Louis.
The Braves will have to determine who will play third base and also decide if they will pick up catcher Brian McCann‘s $12 million option. McCann, who will be 29 next February, underwent surgery on his right shoulder on Tuesday. Playing with shoulder discomfort most of the year, he hit .230 with 20 home runs, 67 RBI and a .698 OPS. Over his eight-year Major League career, McCann has a .279 average and a .826 OPS.
Tim Hudson ($9 million team option or $1 million buyout) and Paul Maholm ($6.5 million team option or $500,000 buyout) are other decisions confronting the Braves. Veteran right-hander Ben Sheets announced his retirement, but the rotation includes Kris Medlen, Tommy Hanson and Mike Minor with Brandon Beachy slated to return from Tommy John surgery. Julio Teheran, a 21-year-old right-hander who posted a 5.08 ERA this year at Triple-A Gwinnett but is ranked as the club top overall prospect and the No. 24 prospect in baseball by MLB.com, could be ready to join the rotation next season.
Likely, Atlanta will at least pick up Hudson’s option. Without a Major League ready catcher – and with veteran David Ross best suited as a backup – the Braves will probably bring back McCann, who is expected to be ready for Opening Day. Ross is a free agent.
The Braves will need to find a replacement in center field if Bourn departs and fill the vacancy at third base.
Even with a plethora of injuries to key players, the Phillies made a late wild card push but fell short and finished 81-81.
Halladay, Lee, Hamels and Vince Worley are slated to return in 2013 and give Philadelphia one of the deepest rotations in the National League. Howard, Utley, Ruiz and shortstop Jimmy Rollins will be back as well, though the Phillies must decide on whether to exercise their side of Placido Polanco‘s $5.5 mutual option is move on his $1 million buyout. The latter will likely happen, meaning that the team will need a third baseman. Ty Wigginto, who plays multiple positions (including third base), has a $4 million option and a 500,000 buyout.
Juan Pierre is a free agent, so there is a vacancy in left field, unless the team is comfortable with Nate Schierholtz (who the Phillies acquired from San Francisco in the Hunter Pence trade). John Mayberry Jr. is not a sure bet in center field, so the Phillies could be looking for two outfielders in the off-season. Philadelphia hopes that 2013 is the year that prospect Domonic Brown will emerge and claim a spot in the starting lineup in right field.
The Phillies are likely to bring in two outfielders via free agency and/or trade. They will be in on all the big names, including Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton and even a less expensive option like Angel Pagan. Arizona’s Justin Upton, Colorado’s Dexter Fowler and Chicago Cubs veteran Alfonso Soriano are possible trade targets.
The Mets would surely unload the contracts of often-injured left-handed starting pitcher Johan Santana ($25.5 million in 2013 before a $25 million team option or a $5.5 million buyout in 2014) and left fielder Jason Bay ($16 million in 2013 and then a $17 million team option or a $3 million buyout in 2014) if they could. That; however, is not likely to happen.
Retaining third baseman David Wright -the face of the franchise – is a priority. He has a $16 million team option that will be exercised according to media reports, and the club is likely to explore an extension. Picking up National League Cy Young Award contender R.A. Dickey‘s $5 million team option is a no-brainer.
The outfield picture is uncertain even though left fielder Lucas Duda is promising. Andres Torres will return, but Scott Hairston is a free agent. The Mets could use upgrades at shortstop and second base as well, and they must decide if Josh Thole is ready to become the full-time catcher.
Behind Santana and Dickey, the Mets’ 2013 rotation could include young arms like soon-to-be 27-year-old left-hander Jonathan Niese and top prospects Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler.
Miami’s first season in its sparkling new stadium was a disaster as players underperformed, manager Ozzie Guillen sparked his usual controversy and the club finished in the NL East basement with a 69-93 record.
Guillen could be fired, though that has yet to happen. The Marlins traded Hanley Ramirez, Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante before July’s non-waiver trade deadline, and this off-season could see the team unload costly veterans like left-handed starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, reliever Heath Bell and right-handed ace Josh Johnson, who is due $13.75 in 2013, the final season of his current contract.
A rotation of Johnson, Buehrle, Ricky Nolasco, Nathan Eovaldi (who was acquired from the Dodgers in the Ramirez trade) and top prospect Jacob Turner (who was part of the package Miami received from Detroit for Sanchez and Infante) would be formidable if Loria was committed to keeping it together.
With Ramirez, Sanchez, Lee and Zambrano no longer on the books, perhaps Loria will keep the rotation intact and do something eye-opening like acquire Alex Rodriguez if the Yankees are willing to pay for a bulk of the third baseman’s remaining contract. The Marlins would likely ask the Yankees to take on Bell’s salary, too.