This is Part Two in a series of three that are broad, back-of-the-napkin estimates of how the estimable, formidable, and ecological Paul Boye and I see the 2016 season playing out. If you are interested in Part One ( AL & NL Central) you can check that out here. Bookmark these so that in 8 months you can ridicule me / admire Paul's foresight. Also worth noting is that Paul is a Phillies guy, so he has even more information to bring to bear on the NL East.
Paul: I never, ever feel comfortable predicting this division. It’s a stupid division.
Nick: I kept re-arranging this before I shared it with you, and I anticipate shuffling it at least one more time before publishing.
I think Boston will be better this year, I just think there’s a lot more risk in this lineup than others seem to, and I don’t really trust their internal depth options. E.g. I don’t think Henry Owens is very good, etc. I don’t want to be relying on Rick Porcello and Clay Buchholz to carry your rotation.
Paul: I’m betting on better years - even if they’re not sterling ones - from Buchholz and Porcello and really anybody else the team will throw out there to start. It’s hard to be worse, sure, but maybe I’m just feeling a little 180ed from last offseason, when I spent every third breath decrying the thin rotation as the Achilles heel that would keep them from the playoffs. Of course, other reasons ended up compounding the issue for that 2015 club, but the point stands that I’m feeling bullish. David Price is great, the bullpen is reloaded and it stands to reason that some of the young hitters could improve on what could (easily) be classified as early breakouts last year.
Nick: I think Mookie Betts can be counted on to do what he did last year, I just don’t know how much better he’s going to be other than normal fluctuations to batting average. I do think there may be more in Bogaerts. But I’m not sure that Sandoval bounces back in any meaningful way, Castillo and JBJ both seem pretty risky, and I don’t even know how many PAs you count on of Pedroia given his health track record, age, and position.
From my perspective, the Blue Jays’ strengths are more bankable than Boston’s (with a few exceptions) and I think the lack of impact starters in their rotation is offset by the sheer volume of options they have to throw at the problem.
We both have Rays-Yankees-Orioles next, though. Do you think any of these three teams is more likely, through variance in performance / ceilings / health to overtake the teams we have ahead of them than the others?
Paul: I like the Rays this year, but they’re about as volatile a team as you’ll find in the entire league. It’s almost as possible they bottom out and finish 5th as it is they get some 80th percentile chip-ins from role players and fringe starters to snag a playoff spot. So I’m equally hesitant and assured to suggest the Rays would be that team. The Orioles aren’t deep enough to catch up, and they key cogs for the Yankees just weren’t good enough last year and are now a year older without any significant additions apart from Aroldis Chapman (who’s a reliever and may be suspended) and Starlin Castro (who isn’t very good).
Nick: Right, I mean, just off the top of my head the Rays have three guys who have flashed front-line stuff but have almost no ability to stay healthy in Cobb, Moore, and Smyly. If lightning strikes and you get any sort of innings out of those guys behind Archer all of a sudden they're scary, but what are the odds of that? They also really don’t have any bats that I’m excited about, given that Longoria has regressed to merely good instead of MVP-candidate.
The Yankees have a formula for getting underrated in that they seem to have decent options everywhere. McCann isn’t exciting, but he’s solid, Ellsbury is way overpriced but he’s pretty good, etc. But, there’s so much injury risk on this roster (and the potential for a defensive meltdown, or age-related collapse at multiple spots) that unless Tanaka and Severino etc. all hit their 70-90th percentile outcomes I don’t really see it.
Baltimore didn’t really add anything from last year, and I see their current players eroding more than improving, outside of what...Schoop? Machado’s amazing but predicting him doing better than last year is asking for a lot. Maybe Wieters rides in on a white horse and has the best year of his life?
And now with Fowler jilting them for the Cubs, the Orioles are in the same boat as the White Sox and Angels of trying to compete with a huge hole in the outfield and no really elegant way to solve it readily apparent.
Paul: Yeah, I don’t love Baltimore’s chances right now. And all that after adding that giant Chris Davis contract? Having lived through something similar, I hope it takes a while for that to become dead weight (if it indeed does one day).
Nick: Hindsight is 20-20, but it was never clear whom they were bidding against for Davis. If I were Baltimore I might have just run Trumbo out at 1B and tried to get two of the big FA outfielders instead (which looks eminently possible now, contrasted to the after-deferred-payments ~$125 million deal that Davis got).
Now Paul -- are there any teams in the NL East that you are familiar with at all?
Paul: Alright, remember when I called the AL East a stupid division? I didn’t really mean it. This is a stupid division. Two good teams, one might-be-good team, two terrible teams. I only think the Braves finish ahead of the Phillies if guys like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn play well before inevitably getting traded, because it’s entirely possible that the Phillies don’t finish in last. Now, that’s a small chance, but that’s really pretty irrelevant; both teams will be picking top 5 next June.
As for the actual good teams? Yeah, Miami could surprise if Giancarlo Stanton stays on the field for more than 120 games and Wei-Yin Chen proves to be the quietly smart acquisition lots of people think it might be. And there’s talent in other parts of that roster, too, so with a couple breaks, they could be in the hunt. The problem lies in both the Mets and Nats being demonstrably better at the moment, and it would be silly to think a different team wins this division. Their records might be a bit inflated come playoff time after beating up on Philly and Atlanta for almost 40 games, but that’ll belie the point that they’re certainly legit contenders.
Nick: I hate this division for making me: a) Pick between the Mets and Nationals, because I can talk myself into either. The fact that I perceive them as a coin flip makes me lean Nationals because them disappointing last year and the Mets surprising probably warps the perception; and b) Having to pick the Marlins ahead of TWO teams. Arrrghhhhhh.
And now I’m looking at the Braves again and getting really mad at myself at the thought of picking them ahead of anyone, even Philly. But yeah, first things first -- why Mets > Nats?
Paul: The obvious answer is the pitching, namely the starting pitching. It’s really good! If the lot of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard and Steven Matz can stay healthy enough to throw like 700 innings, plus Bartolo doing whatever he does, they’ll be able to overcome a potential bullpen depth shortfall. That, and I think they’ll be a pretty good offensive team now that they’ve put Asdrubal Cabrera and Neil Walker in the infield to go with Luca Duda, 65% of David Wright, Curtis Granderson and the maybe-possibly-breaking-out-in-2016 Michael Conforto. I just like the way the club’s built right now.
Nick: I love Syndergaard, DeGrom, Harvey, and to a lesser extent Matz and Wheeler whom they should be getting back at some point this season. There’s huge injury risks on this roster (granted, that’s also true of Washington), but I think my biggest concern is their team defense. Asdrubal’s been a bad defensive SS for a long time, and Conforto-Cespedes-Granderson might give back whatever balls opponents can manage to put into play off of their insane pitchers. I also have no idea what to expect from David Wright or Travis d’Arnaud health-wise specifically. I suppose Lagares is there as a late inning defensive replacement, but if Cespedes isn’t going nuclear with the bat like he did last year, and hits more like he had in his previous 3 seasons, him in CF isn’t quite as thrilling as it has felt this offseason.
Paul: Maybe that makes him a sleeper! He’s not the best CF in the world, no, but I’d feel okay putting him there if, yes, he still hits. I imagine he will, as that’s his most bankable skill just ahead of his arm, but if he doesn’t, then yeah, the whole idea just sort of crumbles.
Nick: I picked Washington because Scherzer-Strasburg is hardly a bad beginning as a retort to the Mets’ 1-4, and some combination of Gio Gonzalez / Joe Ross / A.J. Cole / Tanner Roark should work. They’ve spent most of a (very weird) offseason trying to shore up a bullpen that conspicuously failed them in 2015. But most importantly, I just think they have a lot of guys who are going to be better than they were last year -- Rendon and Werth are better players than they were in 2015. Daniel Murphy and Ben Revere aren’t the most exciting players in the world, but I think it matters that Trea Turner may be a really dynamic player at a position of weakness for them who comes up early in the season and moves the needle for them. I really, really think this team needs to trade for Lucroy, though.
I also don’t think it’s crazy to think Giolito could make an impact this season either. So in short, I would argue they’re comparable rosters in terms of quality as it stands now - although both have a LOT of volatility, particularly when it comes to health - but that the Nats have better reinforcements on the horizon.
I assume I’ve persuaded you, because that’s just brilliant stuff there.
Paul: I certainly can’t say “you’re wrong” just because that all lines up, and I agree to the extent that Washington will be better (as far as having a narrower gap in the standings is concerned). I just think the Mets are and will be better. How about that? Huh? That’s what I thought.
Nick: I think the only way to find out who will be better in 2016 - Mets or Nationals - is for the two of us to have a fight to the death. Or they can play the season out. Either way.
For my part, I...really don’t like the Marlins. They have a #1 starter, a mid-rotation guy in Chen, and then a mess of garbage. I love Stanton, Yelich is really good, and Ozuna has a lot of potential, but...
Jeeze. I dunno. Everything in the infield leaves me cold. I feel like their ceiling is really low, just because roster spots 10-25 are so bad. Just having that OF, Stanton, Fernandez, and Chen puts them a clear cut above Atlanta and Philly to start the season, but I am starting to wonder if the Marlins aren’t going to hit a death spiral in the next few years.
Paul: I think the Marlins are just your average team that could benefit from Yelich being a touch better as he gets into his mid-20s. Same goes for Ozuna, to a lesser extent, and it seems like he’s on the path toward being dealt for something in July or next winter.
There’s also the point I brought up in the first paragraph that I’ve left untouched to this point, but there is that chance - and not some infinitesimal one - that the Braves finish behind the Phillies in the division.
Nick: Maybe I need to look more closely at the Braves, but it feels like the Phillies have more players who are going to improve already on the roster or who will join the roster as the season progresses. I mean, we saw what a difference Lindor made to the entire team defense of Cleveland last year and regardless of his bat, Crawford offers similar potential, and that’s before we touch on...I dunno, Nick Williams et al.
I also like guys like Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco better than pretty much anybody on the Braves not named Freeman, and I’ve been a huge Nola fan ever since I was reading up on him when he was linked to the White Sox with the #3 pick of 2014. I think his strengths get underrated constantly, and as we’ve discussed off the record, “plus fastball, plus changeup, wonky delivery, excellent command” is a profile that I like to grow really well. Probably because I root for the team Chris Sale plays for and that was his starter kit pre-elite slider, but still.
I think the Braves’ future is a lot brighter than it was even a few months ago, and maybe Swanson races up to the majors this year, but it just seems more likely that the Phillies - further along in the rebuilding process - will improve as 2016 goes on at a faster rate than the Braves will. I suppose it depends in part on how you feel about some of the Braves’ younger arms and whether Teheran will resume his pre-2015 Young #2 Starter thing or be bad.
Paul: It’s true that the Phils have some intriguing guys knocking on the door. I’m hoping their progression takes them up to the top level this year, although management has already come out with the tempering quotes (letting them develop at their own pace &c.). There’s certainly not a lot of irreplaceable stuff taking the field at Citizens Bank Park to start the season, so the right breaks could see two or three or four pretty exciting guys up by late summer. Being that patient is going to take some work, but the hope is that it’ll be worth it in the end.
Nick: I suppose picking between these teams is whether safe, veteran mediocrity (perhaps I’m selling Inciarte short, but think Markakis, Aybar) will prevail over lotto tickets.
Both teams will have protected first round picks next year, but I like the Phillies to arrive later this year. In February and March it feels like the Opening Day roster is the be all end all and then the season turns out to be crazy long after all and guys arriving in May really can change the season. Then again, Jeremy Hellickson is #2 on the Phillies’ depth chart right now according to RotoWorld so maybe I’m an idiot.
Paul: Go Phillies, baby.
Check out Paul Boye's other writing at Today's Knuckleball, and follow The Catbird Seat @TheCatbird_Seat and Nick @Nick_TCS.