Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Season 34 NL South Preview

Houston Astros
Season 33:  99-63, Wild Card, advanced to NLCS, lost to Pittsburgh
GM:  steelforge

Offseason: The 'Stros had a few FA losses but none from the core group that has produced 4 World Championships in the last 7 years.  They were pretty aggressive in free agency this year, the boldest move probably signing 36-yo RP Brian Murata to a 5-year deal.  It's a team-friendly $5.5MM and $6.3MM this year and next, then goes to $8.8MM, $6.0MM, and $8.5MM for his age 38, 39, and 40 seasons.  steelforge is going all-out to win a couple more titles while the window's still open.  They also inked Kyuji Yang and Christopher Healy on budget deals to form a potent 1B committee with Hippy De Aza, gave a boost to the defense by getting Shannon Romero at SS and Francisco Lopez at CF (bargains both, imo), and grabbed another bargain in short reliever Esmerling Javier.

Outlook:  Playoffs for as far as the eye can see.  They look like they're going with a 4-man rotation (Moya, Ward, Martin, Davis) and bringing in Murata after the starter for 2-4 innings whenever he can go.  Interesting experiment.  The Stefan Palmeiro 2B experiment is doomed to fail, the bad plays mount for the lefty-throwing Palmerio, the manager will adjust.  I love Houston's free-agent moves...they'll be over 100 wins again.

Atlanta Braves
Season 33: 103-59, Won Division, lost to Houston in Round 2
GM: majnun

Offseason:   Atlanta also lost only fringe players in free agency, but that's where their similarity to Houston's offseason ends.  Rather than a number of budget deals, the Braves went big with a 5-year, $42.8MM deal for power-hitting SS Richard Mohr; and traded for slugging infielder Hal Hernandez, lefty SP Paxton Buhner, and short RP/closer Ray Ferrell.

Outlook:  This offense might overtake D.C.'s as tops in the holes anywhere.  Mohr won't hit for average but might hit 40 longballs, Hernandez will also find his new home park more to his liking, and Freddie Lanning will be better than last year.  Look out 800 runs. Their rotation doesn't match Houston's but it's plenty good.  Wayne Counsell matches Murata's quality and volume pitch-for-pitch; Cruz, Rowe, Ferrell and Jose Palmeiro join him to rival D.C.'s bullpen as the league's best.  

St. Louis Cardinals
Season 33:  79-83
GM:  jclarkbaker

Offseason:  SP Jesus Francisco (3.45 ERA in 229 IP) departed for a big contract in Oakland, and Asdrubal Azocar pursues 600 HR as a Cardinal. That was about it for free agency.  And they promoted 3B Christian Robinson (Season 31 #17) to round out the roster.

Outlook:  With Pederson, Jeffries, et al, the Cards have been one of the better pitching teams the last several seasons...the problem has been scoring runs.  Even at 35, Azocar will help, but it's not enough.  A rebound season from RF Jack Hodges (OPS off 150 points last year from Sea 32) would help, too.  They have a pair of nice pitching prospects - Sea 30 #14 Esteban Mateo and Sea 30 #17 Ross Cook - in those guys create enough of a pitching surplus to trade for a hitter or 2?  Slim chance of supplanting Atlanta or Houston, but somehow I think they'll get back above .500 and maybe contend for a wild card.

From GM jclarkbaker: Signed two OK FAs in Asdrubal Azocar (1B) and Nigel Sugawara (P) . Azocar gives me a bit of power-which I had none last year, and Sugawara gives me a left handed specialist/set up guy. My pitching should be OK. Hoping for some offense. Not counting on making any noise. Looking to future. Pretty much will be selling at or near the deadline.

Florida Marlins
Season 33:  67-95
GM: cyben5150

Offseason:  The Marlins lost RF Christobal Almanzar, short reliever Jorge Guerrero, and SP Julio Pettit in free agency.  They signed 1B Edwards McInerney and SP Bernie Amaro, and promoted 2B Minnie Priddy (Season 30 #39), RP Rick Fulchino (Season 29 #40), and RP Erisbel Chavez (Season 30 IFA).

Outlook:  Year 2 of the cyben rebuild.  They added a couple more SP's to the farm system last year via the draft and IFA (although they got a little unlucky - thin IFA year), and have the ML payroll pared down to $35MM this year.  It'll take awhile, but this team will contend. The interesting question is whether the Houston and Atlanta windows will still be open when Florida surges...then we'll really have some NL South fireworks.

Division Outlook:

Pick 'em between Houston and Atlanta.  Both improved this offseason.  I prefer Houston's rotation, but Atlanta's 'pen and lineup...I'll say the Braves take it but wouldn't be at all surprised if steelforge is wearing the crown at season's end.

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