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Once again ladies and gentlmen, it is that time of the year. The grass in Florida has begun to sprout, and before we know it, that same grass will dry out and wither away due to that nasty Florida heat.
The National League East has looked like a game of musical chairs, with some players leaving the division all together, others have merely been traded to or signed as free agents with rival clubs.
NL East (listed from 5th to 1st):
5. Florida Marlins - Speaking of Florida, it seems only fair to start off speaking of the youngest and weakest organization in the NL East. It is true that this team is chock full of many a young talented player, however they traded away one of the best hitters in the game this offseason in Miguel Cabrera, and the Ace of their pitching rotation for the past few years in Dontrelle Willis. Many scouts would argue that while the Marlins sold high, they also obtained several players including lefty pitching prospect Andrew Miller and outfielder Cameron Maybin, who few have not heard of at this point. Add these pieces together with a core that includes Dan Uggla, Josh Willingham, Mike Jacobs, and a new stadium deal in Miami and what you get is a solid team that can grow together and may actually return to the form, if not improve upon that, from the days when Joe Girardi helped them overachieve in 2006.
4. Washington Nationals - An interesting dynamic has taken place in Washington D.C. While the pundits attempt to put this years Presidential election into perspective, Baseball pundits will be interested in seeing how newly acquired Lastings Milledge flourishes in the newly built Nationals Park. A few unfamiliar faces will pepper the team, as the departure of Ryan Church and Brian Schneider, leaving in the deal that brought Milledge to the district, coupled with the newly acquired catcher Paul Lo Duca who will solidify a very questionable pitching staff, will make for an interesting dynamic. Unfortunately for the Nationals they have to compete with three of the most competetive teams in the National League and may have been better suited for the NL Central.
3. Atlanta Braves - The battle for the division lead will be a dog-fight all season long. The ever talented Braves have lost their most familiar face; center fielder Andruw Jones, however even finishing in third place last season, the Braves never seemed to struggle as a whole. The addition last year of Mark Teixera, now competing for a full season in the National League, will have a huge impact on the success of this team. While some might see the addition of Tom Glavine as a rejuvenating move for himself and the entire team as a whole, the addition of Tom Glavine may mostly improve the success of John Smoltz. The addition of Glavine, however, will put a strain on the bullpen as he will almost certainly not be able to pitch beyond the 5th inning in most of his outtings and will put a strain on the rest of the pitching staff.
2. Philadelphia Phillies - The Phighting Phils were a big nuissance in the NL East last season, from Flash Gordon all the way down to the reigning MVP of the National League, Jimmy Rollins. The Phillies have a great team core. As a bizzarro mirror-image of the Mets, the Phillies right side of the infield should be a force to reckon with for at least the next five years. The combination of hitting for average in Chase Utley, and the mamoth power in the bat of Ryan Howard make for an exciting team that the fans will love to watch. The loss of a great defensive Center Fielder, Aaron Rowand, will have zero affect on the Phillies production. The main concern for the Phillies is pitching, as is the case with every other MLB team. The addition of Brad Lidge, and his succumbing to an early knee injury may seem like bad luck, however some might argue, myself included, that Lidge is no longer the pitcher he once was, and his addition this offseason, may in fact turn out to bite the Phillies in the rear. Pat Gillick may just find himself wishing that Tom "Flash" Gordon were his full-time closer, and may in fact request that such a change in the bullpen dynamic be made permanent.
1. New York Mets - While it may come as no surprise to many of you baseball fans, the Mets have done the unthinkable this offseason. They traded away several prospects to obtain Johan Santana. Santana bolsters this team beyond any other free agent, or player that would have been available in a trade, and the Mets got him for a steal. While baseball analysts may be picking the Mets to run away with the division, I believe, as stated earlier, that the top three spots in the NL East will be a completely brutal, gut-wrenching race. A notable offseason pick-up for the Mets, was pitcher Matt Wise, formerly of the Milwaulkee Brewers. Wise will be an integral part of the bullpen that collapsed down the stretch in the heartbreaking September the Mets had in 2007. Assuming Duaner Sanchez can return to form following a two-year hiatus, the Mets bullpen will be a force, one that can hopefully carry them to a championship season. Other notable transactions this past offseason were the additions by subtraction; the departure of Guillermo Mota, as well as Tom Glavine will in fact create a stronger pitching staff overall. The departure of Milledge, although not on the same level as the dreaded Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano trade, can work out for either good or bad; Milledge is said to have a terrible work ethic, however his upside, abilities, and (still) raw talent, may turn out to be the second worse trade the Mets have made in the past 10 years.