The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: NL Season Preview

As Spring Training begins again, MLB’s offseason activity fades and executives let their work show on the field. Many teams accomplished their goals over the winter, while others came up short. Some struggling clubs righted the ship, while others continued to take on water. Who won, who lost, and who really blew it? Read on and find out.

NL West

The Good:

Los Angeles Dodgers—They spent a few dollars to solidify a very good starting rotation, led by young ace Clayton Kershaw. Juan Uribe may not be an All Star-caliber second baseman, but he will fit into the lineup and hit for power. Solving the issue in left field is all that stands between Ned Colletti and a true playoff contender.

Colorado Rockies—Though locking up the franchise’s young stars—Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez—to very long-term deals took the headlines, this team is built for both short- and long-term success. Their lineup should remain potent, especially if Chris Iannetta or Jose Lopez can produce, while relief help in the form of Matt Lindstrom should help the staff. The NL West will be a dogfight to the end, but the Rockies plan to be in it.

The Bad:

San Diego Padres—Replaced MVP Candidate Adrian Gonzalez with… Brad Hawpe? Ouch. They upgraded their middle infield with two good inexpensive moves, but without the terrific offense and stalwart defense provided by Gonzalez, everyone in San Diego should suffer. GM Jed Hoyer may have a long-term plan in place, but don’t expect immediate results.

San Francisco Giants—They re-signed 2010 hero Aubrey Huff, essentially giving him $22 million for veteran leadership; any offense would be a bonus. Uribe and Edgar Renteria are gone and replaced by Miguel Tejada, while Pablo Sandoval (minus 38 pounds) should improve at the hot corner. The pitching staff returns, but can they really count on every little thing going right again?

The Ugly:

Arizona Diamondbacks—They got rid of their biggest power source in Mark Reynolds to improve an ailing bullpen. The bullpen will still struggle until new GM Kevin Towers gets enough time to build one himself. Their young rotation needs time to mature, and the offense is full of question marks. Bargain bin free agents did little to summon hope for 2011.

NL Central

The Good:

Milwaukee Brewers—GM Doug Melvin wanted pitching. So what did he do? He acquired the AL’s 2009 Cy Young winner, Zack Greinke, and the 2010’s most underrated AL pitcher, Shawn Marcum. His minor league system is running on fumes, but who cares when the big league club looks this good? If they could fill the hole occupied (or created) by Yuniesky Betancourt, I’d pick them to take this division.

Cincinnati Reds—Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, and Drew Stubbs will be around for a few more years, and they’ll rely on Paul Janish to take over for the consistently awful Orlando Cabrera. The offseason’s major acquisitions were a fourth outfielder (Fred Lewis) and backup shortstop (Renteria), but making sure everything stayed intact from their 2011 NL Central-champion squad was enough to earn them a “Good” rating. Let’s see if they can hold off the Brewers.

The Bad:

St. Louis Cardinals—The Cards were stuck between a rock and a hard place this offseason. They needed to improve their squad to give Albert Pujols motivation to re-sign, but had to avoid spending money so they could afford to do so. They signed rapidly declining first baseman Lance Berkman to play right field, and light-hitting and mentally unstable infielder Ryan Theriot? If it weren’t for two of the league’s truly lost franchises residing in the same division, this team’s offseason would certainly earn the “Ugly” label. Hey, at least they kept Jake Westbrook!

Chicago Cubs—Handcuffed by huge contracts wasted on aging stars all over the field, using the farm system was the only way to acquire much talent. Aside from Carlos Pea, whose contract is one of agent Scott Boras’s great magic tricks, turning a .196 batting average into $10 million, there weren’t many offensive upgrades. Matt Garza should improve the pitching staff, but when the rest of the depth chart looks like this, who cares?

The Ugly:

Houston Astros—This team is trapped until the franchise gets sold, which doesn’t look imminent. They made no true impact moves to upgrade one of the league’s worst offenses, and the pitching staff is decent at best. Game after game, even a solid start will give way to an atrocious bullpen and a tenuous lead will evaporate, as will any hope of franchise success in the early part of the decade.

Pittsburgh Pirates—Everyone knows the Pirates are a mediocre club, so almost as if to prevent confusion, GM Neal Huntington made sure his offseason moves helped the team maintain its stature as the laughingstock of baseball. The best signing of the winter was Joe Beimel, an effective relief pitcher. He should fit well into a decent bullpen, but then there are the other acquisitions of Lyle Overbay, Matt Diaz, Scott Olsen… Yes, it’s that bad.

NL East

The Good:

Atlanta Braves—Picking up Dan Uggla, one of the few legitimate bombers at second base, was huge for a club that thinks it can win right now. Giving Freddie Freeman some on-the-job training may help their offense as well, and their young bullpen looks to be a strength again this year. They may not have the rotation to pitch their way to the division title, but they may not need it; just let Uggla and Jason Heyward take care of things.

Philadelphia Phillies—the day Cliff Lee chose to take his talents to Philly, the Phillies instantly became favorites in the National League. Losing Jayson Werth may hurt, but adding a bona fide ace to a rotation that already contains a few means that, as long as its somewhat depleted bullpen can keep a lead, this team is built to celebrate in November.

The Bad:

Florida Marlins—They added some strong relief options through trade and free agency. They also brought in a catcher coming off a career year, John Buck, and a boom-or-bust starting pitcher, Javier Vasquez. Losing Dan Uggla, however, is not a loss they will quickly forget. This team has many of the pieces needed to contend, but without Uggla, there will be some major questions creeping up, possibly as early as the summer.

Washington Nationals—They gave Jayson Werth the Contract of Death when most teams were hesitant to hit triple digits, and their rotation’s savior should miss the entire season after having Tommy John. They failed to upgrade their rotation (despite numerous attempts), and pretty much stagnated as a whole. Change may have come to the White House, but it’s a couple years away at RFK Stadium across town.

The Ugly:

New York Mets—New GM Sandy Alderson may not have known exactly what he was getting himself into, but the warning signs were there. Tied down by huge contracts to Luis Castillo and Carlos Beltran, the buzz around the franchise is focused on the terrible ownership situation. A bunch of mediocre free agent signings has this team looking at a potential last-place finish, with no immediate hope of rescue.

This article is courtesy Claremont Sports Connection. For more sports coverage and live scores, head over tohttp://www.claremontsportsconnection.com.

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