Grading MLB divisional offseasons part III: The NL East

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By Jake McCormick

Much like it’s American League counterpart, the National League East contains the highest rollers and tightest wallets in their respective league. Every team in the division made at least one significant move that will affect their title chances.

Other divisional offseason grades:
NL Central
AL Central

Philadelphia Phillies

Best: Roy Halladay
There’s no question the Phillies nabbed the best pitcher in the American League, and can sit back and enjoy the consistency every fifth day. Halladay will headline one of the best rotations in the NL East and may even coax Cole Hamels back to his 2007 form.

Worst: Jose Contreras
Contreras will start, and probably finish, the 2010 season in the Phillies bullpen, but he can’t be much better than Pedro Martinez was in limited duty last year. Consider him a replacement for Chan Ho Park’s role in 2009, and it may pan out for the aging Cuban. I wouldn’t put a lot of stock in Contreras becoming a key contributor given his spottiness over the past few years.

Sleeper: Placido Polanco
Polanco has had a very quietly consistent career, and there’s no reason to believe he’s in line for a big drop off in production. Surrounded by the talent of the Phillies offense, Polanco has to be licking his chops at the steady diet of fastballs he’ll see. Consider him a good late round sleeper in fantasy this year.

Overall grade: B+
Philadelphia will get an upgrade over Cliff Lee with Roy Halladay, and Placido Polanco is a much better choice at third than Pedro Feliz. Once again, the Phillies are in the driver’s seat in the NL East and are expected to repeat their 2009 division title, thanks to their offseason pitching and infield upgrades.

Washington Nationals

Best: Jason Marquis
Marquis experienced a drop off in the second half of 2009, but he’s a better option than Livan Hernandez and will provide a little veteran leadership on a developing staff. Moving out of Colorado should help him a bit, and he’ll eat a significant number of innings while providing a little bit of pop in the ninth spot in the order. I saw Marquis smack a triple a few years ago…how many people can say that about a pitcher?

Worst: Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge’s impact will mostly be felt through his work with the Nationals young and talented pitching staff, but he’s basically the Washington version of Jason Kendall. Like the Brewers, the National offense doesn’t need a lot of help, but there will be moments where Nats fans will be praying that Jesus Flores develops faster. Rodriguez isn’t a terrible find, as he was the best veteran option for defense and staff management on the market.

Sleeper: Chien Ming-Wang
To use the cliched cliche to describe the recent signing of Wang, it’s “low risk, high reward.” If he comes back healthy, Wang could be a huge find for a team in dire need of proven pitching. A combo of Wang and Marquis could give the Nationals a solid veteran base that could take some pressure off their developing starters. This is definitely one of the most interesting stories to watch unfold as the season moves on.

Overall grade: B+
I like how the Nationals’ offseason shaped up, and it shows the steps Washington management is willing to take to change the team’s culture. They won’t be in contention for the AL East title or Wild Card in September, but 2010 will bring a lot more optimism to their fan base than in year’s past.

Atlanta Braves

Best: Arodys Vizcaino
The 19-year-old hurler has been handed the pressure of making the Javier Vasquez trade worth it, but the results can’t be judged for a few years as he continues to develop. Still, the Braves have quite a few young players and pitchers (Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Jason Heyward) and Vizcaino could push them to the next level in two years.

Worst: Billy Wagner
The oft-injured slingblade fireballer Wagner is a clear downgrade from Rafael Soriano, and bringing in another injury risk in Takashi Saito as insurance wasn’t the best move either. Bobby Cox has a lot of depth in his bullpen, but that doesn’t matter if the deepest end of the pool has a few cracks.

Sleeper: Troy Glaus
Just two seasons ago, Glaus hit .270 with 27 home runs and 99 RBIs. He’s the perfect example of a low risk, high reward signing that could give the Braves at least part of the big bat they need. Put him on the early season candidates for Comeback Player of the Year.

Overall grade: C+
The Braves were unable to get rid of the expensive and aging Derek Lowe, and failed to grab Johnny Damon (they deserve a pass for this one because $8 million is way too much for a team trying to trim their payroll). Atlanta has a chance to send Bobby Cox out as a playoff team, but they’re going to need a lot of offense from either unproven or aging players.

Florida Marlins

Best: Josh Johnson extension
The Marlins rarely bring in anyone that’s going to make a bigger impact than a relief pitcher, so I have to give them kudos for pledging to spend more money and then doing it on their ace as well as second baseman Dan Uggla.

Worst: Derrick Turnbow
Slim pickings here, but I’m going to say Wild Thing Turnblow isn’t going ot crack the roster anytime soon. He throws in the upper-90s enough to keep getting looks, even though Charlie Sheen was much more accurate and probably still is.

Sleeper: Seth McClung
McClung had a few pan flashes as a Brewer, and the Marlins have a similar way of turning journeymen into quality relievers. As long as he’s healthy, McClung can go anywhere from one to three innings at a time. That’s a good thing for a Florida team that burned through relievers in 2010 like E! and TMZ burn through Tiger Woods’ mistresses and their phony tears.

Overall grade: C
Considering the Marlins didn’t trade anyone of significance, inked two key players to longer contracts, and made even fewer moves to affect their chances in 2010, their offseason is no more than average. Florida typically sacrifices quality contributors for cheaper prospects each offseason, but opted against a Heidi Montag-level facelift, which will keep them in the discussion for a divisional title.

New York Mets

Best: Jason Bay
Bay is the Butcher of Bakersfield in left, but he’ll bring consistency behind David Wright in an offense that was beaten and battered in 2009 and will be missing Carlos Beltran for at least the first month of the season. The second ranked outfielder on the market came at half Matt Holliday’s price and Bay fills a big, offensive hole in the Big Apple.

Worst: Gary Matthews Jr.
With every passing year, the reality that Matthews’ MLB legacy will be his 2006 theft of a Mike Lamb home run and his “natural cycle” against the Tigers. He might be the one of the first cases of extremely noticeable declining play after being caught with steroids or HGH, as his numbers have gotten progressively worse.

Sleeper: Kelvim Escobar
For a team that had four starting pitchers end the 2009 season on the DL, Omar Minaya failed to provide much proven depth in a shakey rotation. Coincidentally, Escobar also signed a season-long contract with the DL last year, and he could eventually work his way into the rotation out of the bullpen if any starter goes down. Again, if he’s healthy.

Overall grade: D+
Ever since the 2007 Omar Minaya cover story in Sports Illustrated, the Mets have free fallen through a plethora of interesting, questionable moves to the point where Minaya’s job may be on the line. Bay’s arrival could be seen from the St. Louis Arch, but everything else Minaya has done isn’t inspiring a lot of fan confidence.

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