Like you, I’ve been watching teams all over the league add and subtract from their clubs all off-season. Sure, I’ve paid closer attention to the Pittsburgh Pirates than others, but something struck me the other day, man the National League is going to be tough this season.
Let’s take it division by division and talk about who is in contention.
Atlanta Braves – They’ve lost their third baseman, but I wouldn’t imagine they’ll be giving up on getting one before the deadline if not spring training. A solid lineup with veterans and youngsters stocked with hitters from 1 through 7 and a pitching staff loaded with young starters building on a successful campaign last year.
Washington Nationals – No Rendon. That’s the main difference between the team that caught fire at the right time last season and rode it all the way to a World Series championship. It’s one player, but it’s an MVP-level player and it's hard to imagine them getting past it. I know there are other departures and arrivals, but this is the one that will hurt. When you’re 1 and 2 are Strasburg and Scherzer you’ll have a chance.
Philadelphia Phillies – Close but no cigar. I think that will be the story of the Phillies in 2020. They’ll be in the conversation, but they don’t have the rock-solid lineup the Braves do or the top heavy but stellar starting pitching of the Nationals.
New York Mets – They have some nice stars. Top-end pitchers. The Mets, as usual, don’t have a team. The holes they possess won’t be overcome this season and they lack the nerve to go get it. Marte could have made a big difference in this lineup and they wouldn’t budge on the return which turned out to be eminently doable if the ask was anything like what the Pirates received from Arizona. Sad faces in NY (at least this NY).
St. Louis Cardinals – They lost Ozuna and many of the position playing stars are aging themselves out of being top performers. That starting rotation can cure a whole lot of ills though and they still have some pop in the heart that few can compete with. Question is, who protects Goldschmidt in the lineup?
Chicago Cubs – I don’t think they are ready to say it yet, but the Cubbies are at a crossroads, they faced down Kris Bryant in his grievance against his free agent status, but he is clearly disgruntled. Anthony Rizzo is up for an extension. They lost Castellanos, and Lester, Quintana, Kendricks are all another year older. Baez is still an absolute stud and they won’t stink, but it's not all roses in Chicago (at least not the North Side).
Cincinnati Reds – By far the most active in the division this season. The offense, especially at Great American Ballpark, will be scary. The starting pitching is improved. This team should be at the top of the division this season, but I need to see it play out. Votto is trending the wrong direction. Bauer, Grey and Castillo could be a powerhouse rotation base, but Bauer needs to find the magic again.
Milwaukee Brewers – The Brew Crew took a step back. I’ll never count out a team with Christian Yelich on it, but I’m not feeling it. They lost arguably the best catcher in the league to the White Sox and did little to replace his bat or defense. Pitching is going to be an issue. After a nice run the Brewers are desperately trying to not waste the years they have left with Yelich.
Pittsburgh Pirates – The lineup is still solid. The rotation could be ok. I and both of my colleagues are going to go pretty in depth on our season predictions later in the spring, but this division is going to be pretty evenly split. If the Reds don’t run away and hide, most teams will feel like they’re in the conversation well into the summer, but not for a wild card. I think this year the Central will only punch their ticket by winning the division. The East is too stacked to not threaten to take both wild cards.
Los Angeles Dodgers – They’re good. Pitching will be led by an aging Clayton Kershaw and some young starters with promise. They of course have two candidates for Rookie of the Year and the offense is still loaded. I wouldn’t rule out the acquisition of Nolan Arenado either.
San Diego Padres – As always, the Padres have executed the plan they’ve had since, oh, 1984. They collect baseball cards. This time it was Hosmer and Machado, toss in a nice-looking rookie like Tatis and they’ll be the “hot pick” again. But they still don’t have the pitching and won’t compete for much of anything.
Arizona Diamondbacks – Marte squared! Too soon? Well, if it makes you feel any better, they won’t smell the playoffs this season, which makes you wonder why they would pull the trigger on a deal for a 31-year-old center fielder when they still need so much to compete with the top of this division.
San Francisco Giants – It's full on rebuild for the Giants. Without the steadying voice and leadership of Bruce Bochy, they might finally look like it. The Giants have a way of looking way better than the sum of their parts and that was in no small part due to incredible coaching. New era, new feel in the bay area.
Colorado Rockies – If you’ve watched baseball for the last 15 years this will make sense, they will be the Rockies. Not enough pitching, frightening offense, aging stars, questionable stats because of altitude. Same old, same old.
When your team isn’t enjoying the experience it's hard to sit back and really look at your league. Parody is a thing in the National League this year and while none of these teams have closed the lid on their roster and called it a team yet, you certainly can see how things are trending.
Things to watch the rest of the winter and into the spring are, do the Rockies move Arenado. Do the Cubs move Bryant? Do the Red Sox move Betts or re-sign Holt, this one could be really interesting especially if the suitor is an NL team. At this point most impact has been taken out of the free agent pool so all that remains are the trades and these teams are what they are for a while. What I see right now is a pretty strong league.
Follow Gary on Twitter: @garymo2007