Moving and Shaking in the National League East
Asher B. Chancey, Baseball Evolution
November 28, 2005
The Mets, it would appear, have made two moves which automatically make them the conventional favorite next year in the NL East – acquiring Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner. The great thing about these two moves if you are the Mets, other than the material benefit that will be conferred by these two players, is that they get the daily double which comes from knowing that your acquisition is your division-mates’ loss. The Mets’ chances already improved when Carlos Delgado and Billy Wagner left the Marlins and Phillies, respectively, and they improved once again because these players joined the Mets.
Overall, you really do have to like the Mets’ chances next year. First of all, it is clear that the toughest division in baseball this past year will feature four viable teams in 2006, as opposed to the five it featured in 2005, because the Marlins are apparently throwing in the towel now. This Marlins team, with Joe Girardi at the helm next season, will likely resemble the Cleveland Indians of two years ago – young and talented but not ready for primetime. If this does in fact turn out to be a total firesale, meaning Juan Pierre and Luis Castillo are soon to follow Beckett, Lowell, Delgado and Burnett out of town, then the Marlins will likely solidify their spot in last place.
There is likewise little optimism up here in the D.C. area. The Nationals totally over-achieved last season, and there is no reason to expect them to do it again unless they start signing players, and there is no reason for them to start signing players until they get new ownership in place, and there is no reason to expect new ownership in place any time soon. Last year, the Nationals tried to create a splash in the off-season by signing “big name” free agents Vinny Castilla and Cristian Guzman, and those moves turned out to be disasters. And besides, the Mets finished ahead of the Nationals anyway, so no reason to think it will be different next year. So really, the Mets will probably be one of three viable NL East teams in 2006. And if the Phillies can’t do any better than getting Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome, that number becomes two.
Shockingly, the Mets finished third in pitching last season. This is really a result of Pedro Martinez, Jae Seo, and Aaron Heilmann being pretty good, but it is also a reflection of the fact that Benson, Zambrano, and Glavine weren’t completely terrible. If the Mets rotation pitches as well in 2006 as it did last year, they should win many more games than they did last year for two reasons. First, their offense was downright terrible last season. With no regular first baseman, Mike Cameron and Kaz Matsui out for half of the year, and Carlos Beltran stinking it up, the Mets got essentially no production out of first base, second base, centerfield and right field. This year, with a possible Beltran rebound, a full season (presumably) from Victor Diaz in right, and Delgado at first, the Mets offense could be formidable. Second, factor in the marked improvement at closer with Wagner replacing Braden Looper, the Producer, and the Mets could win over 90 games next season.
Keep two things in mind, though. First, this is the NL East we are talking about, and the Braves have been threatened before only to win the division year after year. And second, these are the Mets we are talking about – losing despite big name acquisitions has been their specialty the last few years.
Asher B. Chancey can be reached at email@example.com.